Section Manager, PODS 3


The President heaved a weighty sigh. The proposal was clear. Restructure NASA to become part of the U.S. military intelligence community. Although similar restructurings had happened with other agencies in the past, Herney refused to entertain the idea of placing NASA under the auspices of the Pentagon, the CIA, the NRO, or any other military directive. The National Security Council was starting to splinter on the issue, many siding with the intelligence community.

Lawrence Ekstrom never looked pleased at these meetings, and this was no exception. He shot an acrimonious glare toward the CIA director. At the risk of repeating myself, sir, the technologies NASA develops are for nonmilitary, academic applications. If your intelligence community wants to turn one of our space telescopes around and look at China, thats your choice.

The CIA director looked like he was about to boil over.

Pickering caught his eye and stepped in. Larry, he said, careful to keep an even tone, every year NASA kneels before Congress and begs for money. Youre running operations with too little funding, and youre paying the price in failed missions. If we incorporate NASA into the intelligence community, NASA will no longer need to ask Congress for help. You would be funded by the black budget at significantly higher levels. Its a win‑win. NASA will have the money it needs to run itself properly, and the intelligence community will have peace of mind that NASA technologies are protected.

Ekstrom shook his head. On principle, I cannot endorse painting NASA with that brush. NASA is about space science; we have nothing to do with national security.

The CIA director stood up, something never done when the President was seated. Nobody stopped him. He glared down at the administrator of NASA. Are you telling me you think science has nothing to do with national security? Larry, they are synonymous, for Gods sake! It is only this countrys scientific and technological edge that keeps us secure, and whether we like it or not, NASA is playing a bigger and bigger part in developing those technologies. Unfortunately, your agency leaks like a sieve and has proven time and again that its security is a liability!

The room fell silent.

Now the administrator of NASA stood up and locked eyes with his attacker. So you suggest locking twenty thousand NASA scientists in airtight military labs and making them work for you? Do you really think NASAs newest space telescopes would have been conceived had it not been for our scientists personal desire to see deeper into space? NASA makes astonishing breakthroughs for one reason only‑our employees want to understand the cosmos more deeply. They are a community of dreamers who grew up staring at starry skies and asking themselves what was up there. Passion and curiosity are what drive NASAs innovation, not the promise of military superiority.

Pickering cleared his throat, speaking softly, trying to lower the temperatures around the table. Larry, Im certain the director is not talking about recruiting NASA scientists to build military satellites. Your NASA mission statement would not change. NASA would carry on business as usual, except you would have increased funding and increased security. Pickering turned now to the President. Security is expensive. Everyone in this room certainly realizes that NASAs security leaks are a result of underfunding. NASA has to toot its own horn, cut corners on security measures, run joint projects with other countries so they can share the price tag. I am proposing that NASA remain the superb, scientific, nonmilitary entity it currently is, but with a bigger budget, and some discretion.

Several members of the security council nodded in quiet agreement.

President Herney stood slowly, staring directly at William Pickering, clearly not at all amused with the way Pickering had just taken over. Bill, let me ask you this: NASA is hoping to go to Mars in the next decade. How will the intelligence community feel about spending a hefty portion of the black budget running a mission to Mars‑a mission that has no immediate national security benefits?

NASA will be able to do as they please.

Bullshit, Herney replied flatly.

Everyones eyes shot up. President Herney seldom used profanity.

If there is one thing Ive learned as president, Herney declared, its that those who control the dollars control the direction. I refuse to put NASAs purse strings in the hands of those who do not share the objectives for which the agency was founded. I can only imagine how much pure science would get done with the military deciding which NASA missions are viable.

Herneys eyes scanned the room. Slowly, purposefully, he returned his rigid gaze to William Pickering.

Bill, Herney sighed, your displeasure that NASA is engaged in joint projects with foreign space agencies is painfully shortsighted. At least someone is working constructively with the Chinese and Russians. Peace on this planet will not be forged by military strength. It will be forged by those who come together despite their governments differences. If you ask me, NASAs joint missions do more to promote national security than any billion‑dollar spy satellite, and with a hell of a lot better hope for the future.

Pickering felt an anger welling deep within him. How dare a politician talk down to me this way! Herneys idealism played fine in a boardroom, but in the real world, it got people killed.

Bill, Marjorie Tench interrupted, as if sensing Pickering was about to explode, we know you lost a child. We know this is a personal issue for you.

Pickering heard nothing but condescension in her tone.

But please remember, Tench said, that the White House is currently holding back a floodgate of investors who want us to open space to the private sector. If you ask me, for all its mistakes, NASA has been one hell of a friend to the intel community. You all might just want to count your blessings.


A rumble strip on the shoulder of the highway jolted Pickerings mind back to the present. His exit was coming up. As he approached the exit for D.C . . . he passed a bloody deer lying dead by the side of the road. He felt an odd hesitation . . . but he kept driving.

He had a rendezvous to keep.




The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial is one of the largest memorials in the nation. With a park, waterfalls, statuary, alcoves, and basin, the memorial is divided into four outdoor galleries, one for each of FDRs terms in office.

A mile from the memorial, a lone Kiowa Warrior coasted in, high over the city, its running lights dimmed. In a town boasting as many VIPs and media crews as D.C . . . helicopters in the skies were as common as birds flying south. Delta‑One knew that as long as he stayed well outside what was known as the dome"‑a bubble of protected airspace around the White House‑he should draw little attention. They would not be here long.

The Kiowa was at twenty‑one hundred feet when it slowed adjacent to, but not directly over, the darkened FDR Memorial. Delta‑One hovered, checking his position. He looked to his left, where Delta‑Two was manning the night vision telescopic viewing system. The video feed showed a greenish image of the entry drive of the memorial. The area was deserted.

Now they would wait.

This would not be a quiet kill. There were some people you simply did not kill quietly. Regardless of the method, there would be repercussions. Investigations. Inquiries. In these cases, the best cover was to make a lot of noise. Explosions, fire, and smoke made it appear you were making a statement, and the first thought would be foreign terrorism. Especially when the target was a high‑profile official.

Delta‑One scanned the night‑vision transmission of the tree‑shrouded memorial below. The parking lot and entry road were empty. Soon, he thought. The location of this private meeting, though in an urban area, was fortuitously desolate at this hour. Delta‑One turned his eyes from the screen to his own weapons controls.

The Hellfire system would be the weapon of choice tonight. A laser‑guided, anti‑armor missile, the Hellfire provided fire‑and‑forget capability. The projectile could home in on a laser spot that was projected from ground observers, other aircraft, or the launching aircraft itself. Tonight, the missile would be guided autonomously through the laser designator in a mast‑mounted sight. Once the Kiowas designator had painted the target with a laser beam, the Hellfire missile would be self‑directing. Because the Hellfire could be fired either from the air or ground, its employment here tonight would not necessarily imply an aircrafts involvement. In addition, the Hellfire was a popular munition among black‑market arms dealers, so terrorist activity could certainly be blamed.

Sedan, Delta‑Two said.

Delta‑One glanced at the transmission screen. A nondescript, black luxury sedan was approaching on the access road exactly on schedule. This was the typical motor pool car of large government agencies. The driver dimmed the cars headlights on entering the memorial. The car circled several times and then parked near a grove of trees. Delta‑One watched the screen as his partner trained the telescopic night vision on the drivers side window. After a moment, the persons face came into view.

Delta‑One drew a quick breath.

Target confirmed, his partner said.

Delta‑One looked at the night‑vision screen‑with its deadly crucifix of cross‑hairs‑and he felt like a sniper aiming at royalty. Target confirmed.

Delta‑Two turned to the left side avionics compartment and activated the laser designator. He aimed, and two thousand feet below, a pinpoint of light appeared on the roof of the sedan, invisible to the occupant. Target painted, he said.

Delta‑One took a deep breath. He fired.

A sharp hissing sound sizzled beneath the fuselage, followed by a remarkably dim trail of light streaking toward the earth. One second later, the car in the parking lot blew apart in a blinding eruption of flames. Twisted metal flew everywhere. Burning tires rolled into the woods.

Kill complete, Delta‑One said, already accelerating the helicopter away from the area. Call the controller.


Less than two miles away, President Zach Herney was preparing for bed. The Lexan bullet‑proof windows of the residence were an inch thick. Herney never heard the blast.




The Coast Guard Group Air Station Atlantic City is located in a secure section of William J. Hughes Federal Aviation Administration Technical Center at the Atlantic City International Airport. The groups area of responsibility includes the Atlantic seaboard from Asbury Park to Cape May.

Rachel Sexton jolted awake as the planes tires screeched down on the tarmac of the lone runway nestled between two enormous cargo buildings. Surprised to find she had fallen asleep, Rachel groggily checked her watch.

2:13 A.M. She felt like shed been asleep for days.

A warm onboard blanket was tucked carefully around her, and Michael Tolland was also just waking up beside her. He gave her a weary smile.

Corky staggered up the aisle and frowned when he saw them. Shit, you guys are still here? I woke up hoping tonight had been a bad dream.

Rachel knew exactly how he felt. Im headed back out to sea.

The plane taxied to a stop, and Rachel and the others climbed out onto a barren runway. The night was over‑cast, but the coastal air felt heavy and warm. In comparison to Ellesmere, New Jersey felt like the tropics.

Over here! a voice called out.

Rachel and the others turned to see one of the Coast Guards classic, crimson‑colored HH‑65 Dolphin helicopters waiting nearby. Framed by the brilliant white stripe on the choppers tail, a fully suited pilot waved them over.

Tolland gave Rachel an impressed nod. Your boss certainly gets things done.

You have no idea, she thought.

Corky slumped. Already? No dinner stop?

The pilot welcomed them over and helped them aboard. Never asking their names, he spoke exclusively in pleasantries and safety precautions. Pickering had apparently made it clear to the Coast Guard that this flight was not an advertised mission. Nonetheless, despite Pickerings discretion, Rachel could see that their identities had remained a secret for only a matter of seconds; the pilot failed to hide his wide‑eyed double take upon seeing television celebrity Michael Tolland.

Rachel was already feeling tense as she buckled herself in beside Tolland. The Aerospatiale engine overhead shrieked to life, and the Dolphins sagging thirty‑nine‑foot rotors began to flatten out into a silver blur. The whine turned to a roar, and it lifted off the runway, climbing into the night.

The pilot turned in the cockpit and called out, I was informed you would tell me your destination once we were airborne.

Tolland gave the pilot the coordinates of an offshore location about thirty miles southeast of their current position.

His ship is twelve miles off the coast, Rachel thought, feeling a shiver.

The pilot typed the coordinates into his navigation system. Then he settled in and gunned the engines. The chopper tipped forward and banked southeast.

As the dark dunes of the New Jersey coast slipped away beneath the aircraft, Rachel turned her eyes away from the blackness of the ocean spreading out beneath her. Despite the wariness of being back over the water again, she tried to take comfort in knowing she was accompanied by a man who had made the ocean a lifetime friend. Tolland was pressed close beside her in the narrow fuselage, his hips and shoulders touching hers. Neither made any attempt to shift positions.

I know I shouldnt say this, the pilot sputtered suddenly, as if ready to burst with excitement, but youre obviously Michael Tolland, and Ive got to say, well, weve been watching you on TV all night! The meteorite! Its absolutely incredible! You must be in awe!

Tolland nodded patiently. Speechless.

The documentary was fantastic! You know, the networks keep playing it over and over. None of tonights duty pilots wanted this gig because everyone wanted to keep watching television, but I drew short straw. Can you believe it! Short straw! And here I am! If the boys had any idea Id be flying the actual‑

We appreciate the ride, Rachel interrupted, and we need you to keep our presence here to yourself. Nobodys supposed to know were here.

Absolutely, maam. My orders were very clear. The pilot hesitated, and then his expression brightened. Hey, we arent by any chance heading for the Goya, are we?

Tolland gave a reluctant nod. We are.

Holy shit! the pilot exclaimed. Excuse me. Sorry, but Ive seen her on your show. The twin‑hull, right? Strange‑looking beast! Ive never actually been on a SWATH design. I never dreamed yours would be the first!

Rachel tuned the man out, feeling a rising uneasiness to be heading out to sea.

Tolland turned to her. You okay? You could have stayed onshore. I told you that.

I should have stayed onshore, Rachel thought, knowing pride would never have let her. No thanks, Im fine.

Tolland smiled. Ill keep an eye on you.

Thanks. Rachel was surprised how the warmth in his voice made her feel more secure.

Youve seen the Goya on television, right?

She nodded. Its a . . . um . . . an interesting‑looking ship.

Tolland laughed. Yeah. She was an extremely progressive prototype in her day, but the design never quite caught on.

Cant imagine why, Rachel joked, picturing the ships bizarre profile.

Now NBC is pressuring me to use a newer ship. Something . . . I dont know, flashier, sexier. Another season or two, and theyll make me part with her. Tolland sounded melancholy at the thought.

You wouldnt love a brand‑new ship?

I dont know . . . a lot of memories onboard the Goya.

Rachel smiled softly. Well, as my mom used to say, sooner or later weve all got to let go of our past.

Tollands eyes held hers for a long moment. Yeah, I know.




Shit, the taxi driver said, looking over his shoulder at Gabrielle. Looks like an accident up ahead. We aint going nowhere. Not for a while.

Gabrielle glanced out the window and saw the spinning lights of emergency vehicles piercing the night. Several policemen stood in the road ahead, halting traffic around the Mall.

Must be a hell of an accident, the driver said, motioning toward some flames near the FDR Memorial.

Gabrielle frowned at the flickering glow. Now, of all times. She needed to get to Senator Sexton with this new information about PODS and the Canadian geologist. She wondered if NASAs lies about how they found the meteorite would be a big enough scandal to breathe life back into Sextons campaign. Maybe not for most politicians, she thought, but this was Sedgewick Sexton, a man who had built his campaign on amplifying the failures of others.

Gabrielle was not always proud of the senators ability to put negative ethical spin on opponents political misfortunes, but it was effective. Sextons mastery of innuendo and indignity could probably turn this one compartmentalized NASA fib into a sweeping question of character that infected the entire space agency‑and by association, the President.

Outside the window, the flames at the FDR Memorial seemed to climb higher. Some nearby trees had caught fire, and the fire trucks were now hosing them down. The taxi driver turned on the car radio and began channel‑surfing.

Sighing, Gabrielle closed her eyes and felt the exhaustion roll over her in waves. When shed first come to Washington, shed dreamed of working in politics forever, maybe someday in the White House. At the moment, however, she felt like shed had enough politics for a lifetime‑the duel with Marjorie Tench, the lewd photographs of herself and the senator, all of NASAs lies . . .

A newscaster on the radio was saying something about a car bomb and possible terrorism.

Ive got to get out of this town, Gabrielle thought for the first time since coming to the nations capital.




The controller seldom felt weary, but today had taken its toll. Nothing had gone as anticipated‑the tragic discovery of the insertion shaft in the ice, the difficulties of keeping the information a secret, and now the growing list of victims.

Nobody was supposed to die . . . except the Canadian.

It seemed ironic that the most technically difficult part of the plan had turned out to be the least problematic. The insertion, completed months ago, had come off without a hitch. Once the anomaly was in place, all that remained was to wait for the Polar Orbiting Density Scanner (PODS) satellite to launch. PODS was slated to scan enormous sections of the Arctic Circle, and sooner or later the anomaly software onboard would detect the meteorite and give NASA a major find.

But the damned software didnt work.

When the controller learned that the anomaly software had failed and had no chance of being fixed until after the election, the entire plan was in jeopardy. Without PODS, the meteorite would go undetected. The controller had to come up with some way to surreptitiously alert someone in NASA to the meteorites existence. The solution involved orchestrating an emergency radio transmission from a Canadian geologist in the general vicinity of the insertion. The geologist, for obvious reasons, had to be killed immediately and his death made to look accidental. Throwing an innocent geologist from a helicopter had been the beginning. Now things were unraveling fast.

Wailee Ming. Norah Mangor. Both dead.

The bold kill that had just taken place at the FDR Memorial.

Soon to be added to the list were Rachel Sexton, Michael Tolland, and Dr. Marlinson.

There is no other way, the controller thought, fighting the growing remorse. Far too much is at stake.




The Coast Guard Dolphin was still two miles from the Goyas coordinates and flying at three thousand feet when Tolland yelled up to the pilot.

Do you have NightSight onboard this thing?

The pilot nodded. Im a rescue unit.

Tolland had expected as much. NightSight was Raytheons marine thermal imaging system, capable of locating wreck survivors in the dark. The heat given off by a swimmers head would appear as a red speck on an ocean of black.

Switch it on, Tolland said.

The pilot looked confused. Why? You missing someone?

No. I want everyone to see something.

We wont see a thing on thermal from this high up unless theres a burning oil slick.

Just switch it on, Tolland said.

The pilot gave Tolland an odd look and then adjusted some dials, commanding the thermal lens beneath the chopper to survey a three‑mile swatch of ocean in front of them. An LCD screen on his dashboard lit up. The image came into focus.

Holy shit! The helicopter lurched momentarily as the pilot recoiled in surprise and then recovered, staring at the screen.

Rachel and Corky leaned forward, looking at the image with equal surprise. The black background of the ocean was illuminated by an enormous swirling spiral of pulsating red.

Rachel turned to Tolland with trepidation. It looks like a cyclone.

It is, Tolland said. A cyclone of warm currents. About a half mile across.

The Coast Guard pilot chuckled in amazement. Thats a big one. We see these now and then, but I hadnt heard about this one yet.

Just surfaced last week, Tolland said. Probably wont last more than another few days.

What causes it? Rachel asked, understandably perplexed by the huge vortex of swirling water in the middle of the ocean.

Magma dome, the pilot said.

Rachel turned to Tolland, looking wary. A volcano?

No, Tolland said. The East Coast typically doesnt have active volcanoes, but occasionally we get rogue pockets of magma that well up under the seafloor and cause hot spots. The hot spot causes a reverse temperature gradient‑hot water on the bottom and cooler water on top. It results in these giant spiral currents. Theyre called megaplumes. They spin for a couple of weeks and then dissipate.

The pilot looked at the pulsating spiral on his LCD screen. Looks like this ones still going strong. He paused, checking the coordinates of Tollands ship, and then looked over his shoulder in surprise. Mr. Tolland, it looks like youre parked fairly near the middle of it.

Tolland nodded. Currents are a little slower near the eye. Eighteen knots. Like anchoring in a fast‑moving river. Our chains been getting a real workout this week.

Jesus, the pilot said. Eighteen‑knot current? Dont fall overboard! He laughed.

Rachel did not laugh. Mike, you didnt mention this megaplume, magma dome, hot‑current situation.

He put a reassuring hand on her knee. Its perfectly safe, trust me.

Rachel frowned. So this documentary you were making out here was about this magma dome phenomenon?

Megaplumes and Sphyrna mokarran.

Thats right. You mentioned that earlier.

Tolland gave a coy smile. Sphyrna mokarran love warm water, and right now, every last one for a hundred miles is congregating in this mile‑wide circle of heated ocean.

Neat. Rachel gave an uneasy nod. And what, pray tell, are Sphyrna mokarran?

Ugliest fish in the sea.


Tolland laughed. Great hammerhead shark.

Rachel stiffened beside him. Youve got hammerhead sharks around your boat?

Tolland winked. Relax, theyre not dangerous.

You wouldnt say that unless they were dangerous.

Tolland chuckled. I guess youre right. He called playfully up to the pilot. Hey, how long has it been since you guys saved anyone from an attack by a hammerhead?

The pilot shrugged. Gosh. We havent saved anyone from a hammerhead in decades.

Tolland turned to Rachel. See. Decades. No worries.

Just last month, the pilot added, we had an attack where some idiot skin diver was chumming‑

Hold on! Rachel said. You said you hadnt saved anyone in decades!

Yeah, the pilot replied. Saved anyone. Usually, were too late. Those bastards kill in a hurry.




From the air, the flickering outline of the Goya loomed on the horizon. At half a mile, Tolland could make out the brilliant deck lights that his crewmember Xavia had wisely left glowing. When he saw the lights, he felt like a weary traveler pulling into his driveway.

I thought you said only one person was onboard, Rachel said, looking surprised to see all the lights.

Dont you leave a light on when youre home alone?

One light. Not the entire house.

Tolland smiled. Despite Rachels attempts to be lighthearted, he could tell she was extremely apprehensive about being out here. He wanted to put an arm around her and reassure her, but he knew there was nothing he could say. The lights are on for security. Makes the ship look active.

Corky chuckled. Afraid of pirates, Mike?

Nope. Biggest danger out here is the idiots who dont know how to read radar. Best defense against getting rammed is to make sure everyone can see you.

Corky squinted down at the glowing vessel. See you? It looks like a Carnival Cruise line on New Years Eve. Obviously, NBC pays your electric.

The Coast Guard chopper slowed and banked around the huge illuminated ship, and the pilot began maneuvering toward the helipad on the stern deck. Even from the air, Tolland could make out the raging current pulling at the ships hull struts. Anchored from its bow, the Goya was aimed into the current, straining at its massive anchor line like a chained beast.

She really is a beauty, the pilot said, laughing.

Tolland knew the comment was sarcastic. The Goya was ugly. Butt‑ugly according to one television reviewer. One of only seventeen SWATH ships ever built, the Goyas Small‑Waterplane‑Area Twin‑Hull was anything but attractive.

The vessel was essentially a massive horizontal platform floating thirty feet above the ocean on four huge struts affixed to pontoons. From a distance, the ship looked like a low‑slung drilling platform. Up close, it resembled a deck barge on stilts. The crew quarters, research labs, and navigation bridge were housed in a series of tiered structures on top, giving one the rough impression of a giant floating coffee table supporting a hodgepodge of multistaged buildings.

Despite its less than streamlined appearance, the Goyas design enjoyed significantly less water‑plane area, resulting in increased stability. The suspended platform enabled better filming, easier lab work, and fewer seasick scientists. Although NBC was pressuring Tolland to let them buy him something newer, Tolland had refused. Granted, there were better ships out there now, even more stable ones, but the Goya had been his home for almost a decade now‑the ship on which he had fought his way back after Celias death. Some nights he still heard her voice in the wind out on deck. If and when the ghosts ever disappeared, Tolland would consider another ship.

Not yet.


When the chopper finally set down on the Goyas stern deck, Rachel Sexton felt only half‑relieved. The good news was that she was no longer flying over the ocean. The bad news was that she was now standing on it. She fought off the shaky sensation in her legs as she climbed onto the deck and looked around. The deck was surprisingly cramped, particularly with the helicopter on its pad. Moving her eyes toward the bow, Rachel gazed at the ungainly, stacked edifice that made up the bulk of the ship.

Tolland stood close beside her. I know, he said, talking loudly over the sound of the raging current. It looks bigger on television.

Rachel nodded. And more stable.

This is one of the safest ships on the sea. I promise. Tolland put a hand on her shoulder and guided her across the deck.

The warmth of his hand did more to calm Rachels nerves than anything he could have said. Nonetheless, as she looked toward the rear of the ship, she saw the roiling current streaming out behind them as though the ship was at full throttle. Were sitting on a megaplume, she thought.

Centered on the foremost section of rear deck, Rachel spied a familiar, one‑man Triton submersible hanging on a giant winch. The Triton‑named for the Greek god of the sea‑looked nothing like its predecessor, the steel‑encased Alvin. The Triton had a hemispherical acrylic dome in front, making it look more like a giant fishbowl than a sub. Rachel could think of few things more terrifying than submerging hundreds of feet into the ocean with nothing between her face and the ocean but a sheet of clear acrylic. Of course, according to Tolland, the only unpleasant part of riding in the Triton was the initial deployment‑being slowly winched down through the trap door in the Goyas deck, hanging like a pendulum thirty feet above the sea.

: 2015-09-14; : 4;

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