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Section Manager, PODS 6 ñòðàíèöà
It was too late.
Rachel spun back toward Corky and Tolland, who were running full speed now toward the helicopter. She lunged outward into their path, arms outstretched trying to stop them. The collision felt like a train wreck as the three of them crashed to the deck in a tangle of arms and legs.
In the distance, a flash of white light appeared. Rachel watched in disbelief and horror as a perfectly straight line of exhaust fire followed the path of the laser beam directly toward the helicopter.
When the Hellfire missile slammed into the fuselage, the helicopter exploded apart like a toy. The concussion wave of heat and noise thundered across the deck as flaming shrapnel rained down. The helicopter’s flaming skeleton lurched backward on its shattered tail, teetered a moment, and then fell off the back of the ship, crashing into the ocean in a hissing cloud of steam.
Rachel closed her eyes, unable to breathe. She could hear the flaming wreckage gurgling and sputtering as it sank, being dragged away from the Goya by the heavy currents. In the chaos, Michael Tolland’s voice was yelling. Rachel felt his powerful hands trying to pull her to her feet. But she could not move.
The Coast Guard pilot and Xavia are dead.
The weather on the Milne Ice Shelf had settled, and the habisphere was quiet. Even so, NASA administrator Lawrence Ekstrom had not even tried to sleep. He had spent the hours alone, pacing the dome, staring into the extraction pit, running his hands over the grooves in the giant charred rock.
Finally, he’d made up his mind.
Now he sat at the videophone in the habisphere’s PSC tank and looked into the weary eyes of the President of the United States. Zach Herney was wearing a bathrobe and did not look at all amused. Ekstrom knew he would be significantly less amused when he learned what Ekstrom had to tell him.
When Ekstrom finished talking, Herney had an uncomfortable look on his face‑as if he thought he must still be too asleep to have understood correctly.
“Hold on,” Herney said. “We must have a bad connection. Did you just tell me that NASA intercepted this meteorite’s coordinates from an emergency radio transmission‑and then pretended that PODS found the meteorite?”
Ekstrom was silent, alone in the dark, willing his body to awake from this nightmare.
The silence clearly did not sit well with the President. “For Christ’s sake, Larry, tell me this isn’t true!”
Ekstrom’s mouth went dry. “The meteorite was found, Mr. President. That is all that’s relevant here.”
“I said tell me this is not true!”
The hush swelled to a dull roar in Ekstrom’s ears. I had to tell him, Ekstrom told himself. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. “Mr. President, the PODS failure was killing you in the polls, sir. When we intercepted a radio transmission that mentioned a large meteorite lodged in the ice, we saw a chance to get back in the fight.”
Herney sounded stunned. “By faking a PODS discovery?”
“PODS was going to be up and running soon, but not soon enough for the election. The polls were slipping, and Sexton was slamming NASA, so . . .”
“Are you insane! You lied to me, Larry!”
“The opportunity was staring us in the face, sir. I decided to take it. We intercepted the radio transmission of the Canadian who made the meteorite discovery. He died in a storm. Nobody else knew the meteorite was there. PODS was orbiting in the area. NASA needed a victory. We had the coordinates.”
“Why are you telling me this now?”
“I thought you should know.”
“Do you know what Sexton would do with this information if he found out?”
Ekstrom preferred not to think about it.
“He’d tell the world that NASA and the White House lied to the American people! And you know what, he’d be right!”
“You did not lie, sir, I did. And I will step down if‑”
“Larry, you’re missing the point. I’ve tried to run this presidency on truth and decency! Goddamn it! Tonight was clean. Dignified. Now I find out I lied to the world?”
“Only a small lie, sir.”
“There’s no such thing, Larry,” Herney said, steaming.
Ekstrom felt the tiny room closing in around him. There was so much more to tell the President, but Ekstrom could see it should wait until morning. “I’m sorry to have woken you, sir. I just thought you should know.”
Across town, Sedgewick Sexton took another hit of cognac and paced his apartment with rising irritation.
Where the hell is Gabrielle?
Gabrielle Ashe sat in the darkness at Senator Sexton’s desk and gave his computer a despondent scowl.
Invalid Password—Access Denied
She had tried several other passwords that seemed likely possibilities, but none had worked. After searching the office for any unlocked drawers or stray clues, Gabrielle had all but given up. She was about to leave when she spotted something odd, shimmering on Sexton’s desk calendar. Someone had outlined the date of the election in a red, white, and blue glitter pen. Certainly not the senator. Gabrielle pulled the calendar closer. Emblazoned across the date was a frilly, glittering exclamation: POTUS !
Sexton’s ebullient secretary had apparently glitterpainted some more positive thinking for him for election day. The acronym POTUS was the U.S. Secret Service’s code name for President of the United States. On election day, if all went well, Sexton would become the new POTUS.
Preparing to leave, Gabrielle realigned the calendar on his desk and stood up. She paused suddenly, glancing back at the computer screen.
She looked again at the calendar.
She felt a sudden surge of hope. Something about POTUS struck Gabrielle as being a perfect Sexton password. Simple, positive, self‑referential.
She quickly typed in the letters.
Holding her breath, she hit “return.” The computer beeped.
Invalid Password—Access Denied
Slumping, Gabrielle gave up. She headed back toward the bathroom door to exit the way she had come. She was halfway across the room, when her cellphone rang. She was already on edge, and the sound startled her. Stopping short, she pulled out her phone and glanced up to check the time on Sexton’s prized Jourdain grandfather clock. Almost 4:00 A.M. At this hour, Gabrielle knew the caller could only be Sexton. He was obviously wondering where the hell she was. Do I pick up or let it ring? If she answered, Gabrielle would have to lie. But if she didn’t, Sexton would get suspicious.
She took the call. “Hello?”
“Gabrielle?” Sexton sounded impatient. “What’s keeping you?”
“The FDR Memorial,” Gabrielle said. “The taxi got hemmed in, and now we’re‑”
“You don’t sound like you’re in a taxi.”
“No,” she said, her blood pumping now. “I’m not. I decided to stop by my office and pick up some NASA documents that might be relevant to PODS. I’m having some trouble finding them.”
“Well, hurry up. I want to schedule a press conference for the morning, and we need to talk specifics.”
“I’m coming soon,” she said.
There was a pause on the line. “You’re in your office?” He sounded suddenly confused.
“Yeah. Another ten minutes and I’ll be on my way over.”
Another pause. “Okay. I’ll see you soon.”
Gabrielle hung up, too preoccupied to notice the loud and distinctive triple‑tick of Sexton’s prized Jourdain grandfather clock only a few feet away.
Michael Tolland did not realize Rachel was hurt until he saw the blood on her arm as he pulled her to cover behind the Triton. He sensed from the catatonic look on her face that she was not aware of any pain. Steadying her, Tolland wheeled to find Corky. The astrophysicist scrambled across the deck to join them, his eyes blank with terror.
We’ve got to find cover, Tolland thought, the horror of what had just happened not yet fully registering. Instinctively, his eyes raced up the tiers of decks above them. The stairs leading up to the bridge were all in the open, and the bridge itself was a glass box‑a transparent bull’s‑eye from the air. Going up was suicide, which left only one other direction to go.
For a fleeting instant, Tolland turned a hopeful gaze to the Triton submersible, wondering perhaps if he could get everyone underwater, away from the bullets.
Absurd. The Triton had room for one person, and the deployment winch took a good ten minutes to lower the sub through the trap door in the deck to the ocean thirty feet below. Besides, without properly charged batteries and compressors, the Triton would be dead in the water.
“Here they come!” Corky shouted, his voice shrill with fear as he pointed into the sky.
Tolland didn’t even look up. He pointed to a nearby bulkhead, where an aluminum ramp descended belowdecks. Corky apparently needed no encouragement. Keeping his head low, Corky scurried toward the opening and disappeared down the incline. Tolland put a firm arm around Rachel’s waist and followed. The two of them disappeared belowdecks just as the helicopter returned, spraying bullets overhead.
Tolland helped Rachel down the grated ramp to the suspended platform at the bottom. As they arrived, Tolland could feel Rachel’s body go suddenly rigid. He wheeled, fearing maybe she’d been hit by a ricocheting bullet.
When he saw her face, he knew it was something else. Tolland followed her petrified gaze downward and immediately understood.
Rachel stood motionless, her legs refusing to move. She was staring down at the bizarre world beneath her.
Because of its SWATH design, the Goya had no hull but rather struts like a giant catamaran. They had just descended through the deck onto a grated catwalk that hung above an open chasm, thirty feet straight down to the raging sea. The noise was deafening here, reverberating off the underside of the deck. Adding to Rachel’s terror was the fact that the ship’s underwater spotlights were still illuminated, casting a greenish effulgence deep into the ocean directly beneath her. She found herself gazing down at six or seven ghostly silhouettes in the water. Enormous hammerhead sharks, their long shadows swimming in place against the current‑rubbery bodies flexing back and forth.
Tolland’s voice was in her ear. “Rachel, you’re okay. Eyes straight ahead. I’m right behind you.” His hands were reaching around from behind, gently trying to coax her clenched fists off the banister. It was then that Rachel saw the crimson droplet of blood roll off her arm and fall through the grating. Her eyes followed the drip as it plummeted toward the sea. Although she never saw it hit the water, she knew the instant it happened because all at once the hammerheads spun in unison, thrusting with their powerful tails, crashing together in a roiling frenzy of teeth and fins.
Enhanced telencephalon olfactory lobes . . . They smell blood a mile away.
“Eyes straight ahead,” Tolland repeated, his voice strong and reassuring. “I’m right behind you.”
Rachel felt his hands on her hips now, urging her forward. Blocking out the void beneath her, Rachel started down the catwalk. Somewhere above she could hear the rotors of the chopper again. Corky was already well out in front of them, reeling across the catwalk in a kind of drunken panic.
Tolland called out to him. “All the way to the far strut, Corky! Down the stairs!”
Rachel could now see where they were headed. Up ahead, a series of switchback ramps descended. At water level, a narrow, shelflike deck extended the length of the Goya. Jutting off this deck were several small, suspended docks, creating a kind of miniature marina stationed beneath the ship. A large sign read:
Äàòà äîáàâëåíèÿ: 2015-09-14; ïðîñìîòðîâ: 3; Íàðóøåíèå àâòîðñêèõ ïðàâ