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Swimmers May Surface without Warning 1 ñòðàíèöà
—Boats Proceed with Caution—
Rachel could only assume Michael did not intend for them to do any swimming. Her trepidation intensified when Tolland stopped at a bank of wire‑mesh storage lockers flanking the catwalk. He pulled open the doors to reveal hanging wetsuits, snorkels, flippers, life jackets, and spearguns. Before she could protest, he reached in and grabbed a flare gun. “Let’s go.”
They were moving again.
Up ahead, Corky had reached the switchback ramps and was already halfway down. “I see it!” he shouted, his voice sounding almost joyous over the raging water.
See what? Rachel wondered as Corky ran along the narrow walkway. All she could see was a shark‑infested ocean lapping dangerously close. Tolland urged her forward, and suddenly Rachel could see what Corky was so excited about. At the far end of the decking below, a small powerboat was moored. Corky ran toward it.
Rachel stared. Outrun a helicopter in a motorboat?
“It has a radio,” Tolland said. “And if we can get far enough away from the helicopter’s jamming . . .”
Rachel did not hear another word he said. She had just spied something that made her blood run cold. “Too late,” she croaked, extending a trembling finger. We’re finished . . .
When Tolland turned, he knew in an instant it was over.
At the far end of the ship, like a dragon peering into the opening of a cave, the black helicopter had dropped down low and was facing them. For an instant, Tolland thought it was going to fly directly at them through the center of the boat. But the helicopter began to turn at an angle, taking aim.
Tolland followed the direction of the gun barrels. No!
Crouched beside the powerboat untying the moorings, Corky glanced up just as the machine guns beneath the chopper erupted in a blaze of thunder. Corky lurched as if hit. Wildly, he scrambled over the gunwale and dove into the boat, sprawled himself on the floor for cover. The guns stopped. Tolland could see Corky crawling deeper into the powerboat. The lower part of his right leg was covered with blood. Crouched below the dash, Corky reached up and fumbled across the controls until his fingers found the key. The boat’s 250 hp Mercury engine roared to life.
An instant later, a red laser beam appeared, emanating from the nose of the hovering chopper, targeting the powerboat with a missile.
Tolland reacted on instinct, aiming the only weapon he had.
The flare gun in his hand hissed when he pulled the trigger, and a blinding streak tore away on a horizontal trajectory beneath the ship, heading directly toward the chopper. Even so, Tolland sensed he had acted too late. As the streaking flare bore down on the helicopter’s windshield, the rocket launcher beneath the chopper emitted its own flash of light. At the same exact instant that the missile launched, the aircraft veered sharply and pulled up out of sight to avoid the incoming flare.
“Look out!” Tolland yelled, yanking Rachel down onto the catwalk.
The missile sailed off course, just missing Corky, coming the length of the Goya and slamming into the base of the strut thirty feet beneath Rachel and Tolland.
The sound was apocalyptic. Water and flames erupted beneath them. Bits of twisted metal flew in the air and scattered the catwalk beneath them. Metal on metal ground together as the ship shifted, finding a new balance, slightly askew.
As the smoke cleared, Tolland could see that one of the Goya’s four main struts had been severely damaged. Powerful currents tore past the pontoon, threatening to break it off. The spiral stairway descending to the lower deck looked to be hanging by a thread.
“Come on!” Tolland yelled, urging Rachel toward it. We’ve got to get down!
But they were too late. With a surrendering crack, the stairs peeled away from the damaged strut and crashed into the sea.
Over the ship, Delta‑One grappled with the controls of the Kiowa helicopter and got it back under control. Momentarily blinded by the incoming flare, he had reflexively pulled up, causing the Hellfire missile to miss its mark. Cursing, he hovered now over the bow of the ship and prepared to drop back down and finish the job.
Eliminate all passengers. The controller’s demands had been clear.
“Shit! Look!” Delta‑Two yelled from the rear seat, pointing out the window. “Speedboat!”
Delta‑One spun and saw a bullet‑riddled Crestliner speedboat skimming away from the Goya into the darkness.
He had a decision to make.
Corky’s bloody hands gripped the wheel of the Crestliner Phantom 2100 as it pounded out across the sea. He rammed the throttle all the way forward, trying to eke out maximum speed. It was not until this moment that he felt the searing pain. He looked down and saw his right leg spurting blood. He instantly felt dizzy.
Propping himself against the wheel, he turned and looked back at the Goya, willing the helicopter to follow him. With Tolland and Rachel trapped up on the catwalk, Corky had not been able to reach them. He’d been forced to make a snap decision.
Divide and conquer.
Corky knew if he could lure the chopper far enough away from the Goya, maybe Tolland and Rachel could radio for help. Unfortunately, as he looked over his shoulder at the illuminated ship, Corky could see the chopper still hovering there, as if undecided.
Come on, you bastards! Follow me!
But the helicopter did not follow. Instead it banked over the stern of the Goya, aligned itself, and dropped down, landing on the deck. No! Corky watched in horror, now realizing he’d left Tolland and Rachel behind to be killed.
Knowing it was now up to him to radio for help, Corky groped the dashboard and found the radio. He flicked the power switch. Nothing happened. No lights. No static. He turned the volume knob all the way up. Nothing. Come on! Letting go of the wheel, he knelt down for a look. His leg screamed in pain as he bent down. His eyes focused on the radio. He could not believe what he was looking at. The dashboard had been strafed by bullets, and the radio dial was shattered. Loose wires hung out the front. He stared, incredulous.
Of all the goddamned luck . . .
Weak‑kneed, Corky stood back up, wondering how things could get any worse. As he looked back at the Goya, he got his answer. Two armed soldiers jumped out of the chopper onto the deck. Then the chopper lifted off again, turning in Corky’s direction and coming after him at full speed.
Corky slumped. Divide and conquer. Apparently he was not the only one with that bright idea tonight.
As Delta‑Three made his way across the deck and approached the grated ramp leading belowdecks, he heard a woman shouting somewhere beneath him. He turned and motioned to Delta‑Two that he was going belowdecks to check it out. His partner nodded, remaining behind to cover the upper level. The two men could stay in contact via CrypTalk; the Kiowa’s jamming system ingeniously left an obscure bandwidth open for their own communications.
Clutching his snub‑nose machine gun, Delta‑Three moved quietly toward the ramp that led belowdecks. With the vigilance of a trained killer, he began inching downward, gun leveled.
The incline provided limited visibility, and Delta‑Three crouched low for a better view. He could hear the shouting more clearly now. He kept descending. Halfway down the stairs he could now make out the twisted maze of walkways attached to the underside of the Goya. The shouting grew louder.
Then he saw her. Midway across the traversing catwalk, Rachel Sexton was peering over a railing and calling desperately toward the water for Michael Tolland.
Did Tolland fall in? Perhaps in the blast?
If so, Delta‑Three’s job would be even easier than expected. He only needed to descend another couple of feet to have an open shot. Shooting fish in a barrel. His only vague concern was Rachel standing near an open equipment locker, which meant she might have a weapon‑a speargun or a shark rifle‑although neither would be any match for his machine gun. Confident he was in control of the situation, Delta‑Three leveled his weapon and took another step down. Rachel Sexton was almost in perfect view now. He raised the gun.
One more step.
The flurry of movement came from beneath him, under the stairs. Delta‑Three was more confused than frightened as he looked down and saw Michael Tolland thrusting an aluminum pole out toward his feet. Although Delta‑Three had been tricked, he almost laughed at this lame attempt to trip him up.
Then he felt the tip of the stick connect with his heel.
A blast of white‑hot pain shot through his body as his right foot exploded out from under him from a blistering impact. His balance gone, Delta‑Three flailed, tumbling down the stairs. His machine gun clattered down the ramp and went overboard as he collapsed on the catwalk. In anguish, he curled up to grip his right foot, but it was no longer there.
Tolland was standing over his attacker immediately with his hands still clenching the smoking bang‑stick‑a five‑foot Powerhead Shark‑Control Device. The aluminum pole had been tipped with a pressure‑sensitive, twelve‑gauge shotgun shell and was intended for self‑defense in the event of shark attack. Tolland had reloaded the bang‑stick with another shell, and now held the jagged, smoldering point to his attacker’s Adam’s apple. The man lay on his back as if paralyzed, staring up at Tolland with an expression of astonished rage and agony.
Rachel came running up the catwalk. The plan was for her to take the man’s machine gun, but unfortunately the weapon had gone over the edge of the catwalk into the ocean.
The communications device on the man’s belt crackled. The voice coming out was robotic. “Delta‑Three? Come in. I heard a shot.”
The man made no move to answer.
The device crackled again. “Delta‑Three? Confirm. Do you need backup?”
Almost immediately, a new voice crackled over the line. It was also robotic but distinguishable by the sound of a helicopter noise in the background. “This is Delta‑One,” the pilot said. “I’m in pursuit of the departing vessel. Delta‑Three, confirm. Are you down? Do you need backup?”
Tolland pressed the bang‑stick into the man’s throat. “Tell the helicopter to back off that speedboat. If they kill my friend, you die.”
The soldier winced in pain as he lifted his communication device to his lips. He looked directly at Tolland as he pressed the button and spoke. “Delta‑Three, here. I’m fine. Destroy the departing vessel.”
Gabrielle Ashe returned to Sexton’s private bathroom, preparing to climb back out of his office. Sexton’sphone call had left her feeling anxious. He had definitely hesitated when she told him she was in her office‑as if he knew somehow she was lying. Either way, she’d failed to get into Sexton’s computer and now was unsure of her next move.
Sexton is waiting.
As she climbed up onto the sink, getting ready to pull herself up, she heard something clatter to the tile floor. She looked down, irritated to see that she’d knocked off a pair of Sexton’s cuff links that had apparently been sitting on the edge of the sink.
Leave things exactly as you found them.
Climbing back down Gabrielle picked up the cuff links and put them back on the sink. As she began to climb back up, she paused, glancing again at the cuff links. On any other night, Gabrielle would have ignored them, but tonight their monogram caught her attention. Like most of Sexton’s monogrammed items, they had two intertwining letters. SS. Gabrielle flashed on Sexton’s initial computer password‑SSS. She pictured his calendar . . . POTUS . . . and the White House screensaver with its optimistic ticker tape crawling around the screen ad infinitum.
President of the United States Sedgewick Sexton . . . President of the United States Sedgewick Sexton . . . President of the . . .
Gabrielle stood a moment and wondered. Could he be that confident?
Knowing it would take only an instant to find out, she hurried back into Sexton’s office, went to his computer, and typed in a seven‑letter password.
The screensaver evaporated instantly.
She stared, incredulous.
Never underestimate the ego of a politician.
Corky Marlinson was no longer at the helm of the Crestliner Phantom as it raced into the night. He knew the boat would travel in a straight line with or without him at the wheel. The path of least resistance . . .
Corky was in the back of the bouncing boat, trying to assess the damage to his leg. A bullet had entered the front part of his calf, just missing his shinbone. There was no exit wound on the back of his calf, so he knew the bullet must still be lodged in his leg. Foraging around for something to stem the bleeding, he found nothing‑some fins, a snorkel, and a couple of life jackets. No first‑aid kit. Frantically, Corky opened a small utility chest and found some tools, rags, duct tape, oil, and other maintenance items. He looked at his bloody leg and wondered how far he had to go to be out of shark territory.
A hell of a lot farther than this.
Delta‑One kept the Kiowa chopper low over the ocean as he scanned the darkness for the departing Crestliner. Assuming the fleeing boat would head for shore and attempt to put as much distance as possible between itself and the Goya, Delta‑One had followed the Crestliner’s original trajectory away from the Goya.
I should have overtaken him by now.
Normally, tracking the fleeing boat would be a simple matter of using radar, but with the Kiowa’s jamming systems transmitting an umbrella of thermal noise for several miles, his radar was worthless. Turning off the jamming system was not an option until he got word that everyone onboard the Goya was dead. No emergency phone calls would be leaving the Goya this evening.
This meteorite secret dies. Right here. Right now.
Fortunately, Delta‑One had other means of tracking. Even against this bizarre backdrop of heated ocean, pinpointing a powerboat’s thermal imprint was simple. He turned on his thermal scanner. The ocean around him registered a warm ninety‑five degrees. Fortunately, the emissions of a racing 250 hp outboard engine were hundreds of degrees hotter.
Corky Marlinson’s leg and foot felt numb.
Not knowing what else to do, he had wiped down his injured calf with the rag and wrapped the wound in layer after layer of duct tape. By the time the tape was gone, his entire calf, from ankle to knee, was enveloped in a tight silver sheath. The bleeding had stopped, although his clothing and hands were still covered with blood.
Sitting on the floor of the runaway Crestliner, Corky felt confused about why the chopper hadn’t found him yet. He looked out now, scanning the horizon behind him, expecting to see the distant Goya and incoming helicopter. Oddly, he saw neither. The lights of the Goya had disappeared. Certainly he hadn’t come that far, had he?
Corky suddenly felt hopeful he might escape. Maybe they had lost him in the dark. Maybe he could get to shore!
It was then he noticed that the wake behind his boat was not straight. It seemed to curve gradually away from the back of his boat, as if he were traveling in an arc rather than a straight line. Confused by this, he turned his head to follow the wake’s arc, extrapolating a giant curve across the ocean. An instant later, he saw it.
The Goya was directly off his port side, less than a half mile away. In horror, Corky realized his mistake too late. With no one at the wheel, the Crestliner’s bow had continuously realigned itself with the direction of the powerful current‑the megaplume’s circular water flow. I’m driving in a big friggin’ circle!
He had doubled back on himself.
Knowing he was still inside the shark‑filled megaplume, Corky recalled Tolland’s grim words. Enhanced telencephalon olfactory lobes . . . hammerheads can smell a droplet of blood a mile away. Corky looked at his bloody duct‑taped leg and hands.
The chopper would be on him soon.
Ripping off his bloody clothing, Corky scrambled naked toward the stern. Knowing no sharks could possibly keep pace with the boat, he rinsed himself as best as he could in the powerful blast of the wake.
A single droplet of blood . . .
As Corky stood up, fully exposed to the night, he knew there was only one thing left to do. He had learned once that animals marked their territory with urine because uric acid was the most potent‑smelling fluid the human body made.
More potent than blood, he hoped. Wishing he’d had a few more beers tonight, Corky heaved his injured leg up onto the gunwale and tried to urinate on the duct tape. Come on! He waited. Nothing like the pressure of having to piss all over yourself with a helicopter chasing you.
Finally it came. Corky urinated all over the duct tape, soaking it fully. He used what little was left in his bladder to soak a rag, which he then swathed across his entire body. Very pleasant.
In the dark sky overhead, a red laser beam appeared, slanting toward him like the shimmering blade of an enormous guillotine. The chopper appeared from an oblique angle, the pilot apparently confused that Corky had looped back toward the Goya.
Quickly donning a high‑float life vest, Corky moved to the rear of the speeding craft. On the boat’s bloodstained floor, only five feet from where Corky was standing, a glowing red dot appeared.
It was time.
Onboard the Goya, Michael Tolland did not see his Crestliner Phantom 2100 erupt in flames and tumble through the air in a cartwheel of fire and smoke.
But he heard the explosion.
The West Wing was usually quiet at this hour, but the President’s unexpected emergence in his bathrobe and slippers had rustled the aides and on‑site staff out of their “day‑timer beds” and on‑site sleeping quarters.
“I can’t find her, Mr. President,” a young aide said, hurrying after him into the Oval Office. He had looked everywhere. “Ms. Tench is not answering her pager or cellphone.”
The President looked exasperated. “Have you looked in the‑”
“She left the building, sir,” another aide announced, hurrying in. “She signed out about an hour ago. We think she may have gone to the NRO. One of the operators says she and Pickering were talking tonight.”
“William Pickering?” The President sounded baffled. Tench and Pickering were anything but social. “Have you called him?”
“He’s not answering either, sir. NRO switchboard can’t reach him. They say Pickering’s cellphone isn’t even ringing. It’s like he’s dropped off the face of the earth.”
Herney stared at his aides for a moment and then walked to the bar and poured himself a bourbon. As he raised the glass to his lips, a Secret Serviceman hurried in.
“Mr. President? I wasn’t going to wake you, but you should be aware that there was a car bombing at the FDR Memorial tonight.”
“What!” Herney almost dropped his drink. “When?”
“An hour ago.” His face was grim. “And the FBI just identified the victim . . . “
Delta‑Three’s foot screamed in pain. He felt himself floating through a muddled consciousness. Is this death? He tried to move but felt paralyzed, barely able to breathe. He saw only blurred shapes. His mind reeled back, recalling the explosion of the Crestliner out at sea, seeing the rage in Michael Tolland’s eyes as the oceanographer stood over him, holding the explosive pole to his throat.
Certainly Tolland killed me . . .
And yet the searing pain in Delta‑Three’s right foot told him he was very much alive. Slowly it came back. On hearing the explosion of the Crestliner, Tolland had let out a cry of anguished rage for his lost friend. Then, turning his ravaged eyes to Delta‑Three, Tolland had arched as if preparing to ram the rod through Delta‑Three’s throat. But as he did, he seemed to hesitate, as if his own morality were holding him back. With brutal frustration and fury, Tolland yanked the rod away and drove his boot down on Delta‑Three’s tattered foot.
The last thing Delta‑Three remembered was vomiting in agony as his whole world drifted into a black delirium. Now he was coming to, with no idea how long he had been unconscious. He could feel his arms tied behind his back in a knot so tight it could only have been tied by a sailor. His legs were also bound, bent behind him and tied to his wrists, leaving him in an immobilized backward arch. He tried to call out, but no sound came. His mouth was stuffed with something.
Delta‑Three could not imagine what was going on. It was then he felt the cool breeze and saw the bright lights. He realized he was up on the Goya’s main deck. He twisted to look for help and was met by a frightful sight, his own reflection‑bulbous and misshapen in the reflective Plexiglas bubble of the Goya’s deepwater submersible. The sub hung right in front of him, and Delta‑Three realized he was lying on a giant trapdoor in the deck. This was not nearly as unsettling as the most obvious question.
If I’m on deck . . . then where is Delta‑Two?
Delta‑Two had grown uneasy.
Despite his partner’s CrypTalk transmission claiming he was fine, the single gunshot had not been that of a machine gun. Obviously, Tolland or Rachel Sexton had fired a weapon. Delta‑Two moved over to peer down the ramp where his partner had descended, and he saw blood.
Weapon raised, he had descended belowdecks, where he followed the trail of blood along a catwalk to the bow of the ship. Here, the trail of blood had led him back up another ramp to the main deck. It was deserted. With growing wariness, Delta‑Two had followed the long crimson smear along the sideboard deck back toward the rear of the ship, where it passed the opening to the original ramp he had descended.
What the hell is going on? The smear seemed to travel in a giant circle.
Moving cautiously, his gun trained ahead of him, Delta‑Two passed the entrance to the laboratory section of the ship. The smear continued toward the stern deck. Carefully he swung wide, rounding the corner. His eye traced the trail.
Then he saw it.
Delta‑Three was lying there‑bound and gagged‑dumped unceremoniously directly in front of the Goya’s small submersible. Even from a distance, Delta‑Two could see that his partner was missing a good portion of his right foot.
Wary of a trap, Delta‑Two raised his gun and moved forward. Delta‑Three was writhing now, trying to speak. Ironically, the way the man had been bound‑with his knees sharply bent behind him‑was probably saving his life; the bleeding in his foot appeared to have slowed.
As Delta‑Two approached the submersible, he appreciated the rare luxury of being able to watch his own back; the entire deck of the ship was reflected in the sub’s rounded cockpit dome. Delta‑Two arrived at his struggling partner. He saw the warning in his eyes too late.
The flash of silver came out of nowhere.
One of the Triton’s manipulator claws suddenly leaped forward and clamped down on Delta‑Two’s left thigh with crushing force. He tried to pull away, but the claw bore down. He screamed in pain, feeling a bone break. His eyes shot to the sub’s cockpit. Peering through the reflection of the deck, Delta‑Two could now see him, ensconced in the shadows of the Triton’s interior.
Michael Tolland was inside the sub, at the controls.
Bad idea, Delta‑Two seethed, blocking out his pain and shouldering his machine gun. He aimed up and to the left at Tolland’s chest, only three feet away on the other side of the sub’s Plexiglas dome. He pulled the trigger, and the gun roared. Wild with rage at having been tricked, Delta‑Two held the trigger back until the last of his shells clattered to the deck and his gun clicked empty. Breathless, he dropped the weapon and glared at the shredded dome in front of him.
“Dead!” the soldier hissed, straining to pull his leg from the clamp. As he twisted, the metal clamp severed his skin, opening a large gash. “Fuck!” He reached now for the CrypTalk on his belt. But as he raised it to his lips, a second robotic arm snapped open in front of him and lunged forward, clamping around his right arm. The CrypTalk fell to the deck.
It was then that Delta‑Two saw the ghost in the window before him. A pale visage leaning sideways and peering out through an unscathed edge of glass. Stunned, Delta‑Two looked at the center of the dome and realized the bullets had not even come close to penetrating the thick shell. The dome was cratered with pockmarks.
An instant later, the topside portal on the sub opened, and Michael Tolland emerged. He looked shaky but unscathed. Climbing down the aluminum gangway, Tolland stepped onto the deck and eyed his sub’s destroyed dome window.
“Ten thousand pounds per square inch,” Tolland said. “Looks like you need a bigger gun.”
Inside the hydrolab, Rachel knew time was running out. She had heard the gunshots out on the deck and was praying that everything had happened exactly as Tolland had planned. She no longer cared who was behind the meteorite deception‑the NASA administrator, Marjorie Tench, or the President himself‑none of it mattered anymore.
They will not get away with this. Whoever it is, the truth will be told.
The wound on Rachel’s arm had stopped bleeding, and the adrenaline coursing through her body had muted the pain and sharpened her focus. Finding a pen and paper, she scrawled a two‑line message. The words were blunt and awkward, but eloquence was not a luxury she had time for at the moment. She added the note to the incriminating stack of papers in her hand‑the GPR printout, images of Bathynomous giganteus, photos and articles regarding oceanic chondrules, an electron microscan printout. The meteorite was a fake, and this was the proof.
Rachel inserted the entire stack into the hydrolab’s fax machine. Knowing only a few fax numbers by heart, she had limited choices, but she had already made up her mind who would be receiving these pages and her note. Holding her breath, she carefully typed in the person’s fax number.
She pressed “send,” praying she had chosen the recipient wisely.
The fax machine beeped.
ERROR: NO DIAL TONE
Rachel had expected this. The Goya’s communications were still being jammed. She stood waiting and watching the machine, hoping it functioned like hers at home.
After five seconds, the machine beeped again.
REDIALING . . .
Yes! Rachel watched the machine lock into an endless loop.
ERROR: NO DIAL TONE
REDIALING . . .
ERROR: NO DIAL TONE
REDIALING . . .
Leaving the fax machine in search of a dial tone, Rachel dashed out of the hydrolab just as helicopter blades thundered overhead.
One hundred and sixty miles away from the Goya, Gabrielle Ashe was staring at Senator Sexton’s computer screen in mute astonishment. Her suspicions had been right.
But she had never imagined how right.
She was looking at digital scans of dozens of bank checks written to Sexton from private space companies and deposited in numbered accounts in the Cayman Islands. The smallest check Gabrielle saw was for fifteen thousand dollars. Several were upward of half a million dollars.
Small potatoes, Sexton had told her. All the donations are under the two‑thousand‑dollar cap.
Obviously Sexton had been lying all along. Gabrielle was looking at illegal campaign financing on an enormous scale. The pangs of betrayal and disillusionment settled hard now in her heart. He lied.
She felt stupid. She felt dirty. But most of all she felt mad.
Gabrielle sat alone in the darkness, realizing she had no idea what to do next.
Above the Goya, as the Kiowa banked over the stern deck, Delta‑One gazed down, his eyes fixating on an utterly unexpected vision.
Michael Tolland was standing on deck beside a small submersible. Dangling in the sub’s robotic arms, as if in the clutches of a giant insect, hung Delta‑Two, struggling in vain to free himself from two enormous claws.
What in the name of God!?
Equally as shocking an image, Rachel Sexton had just arrived on deck, taking up a position over a bound and bleeding man at the foot of the submersible. The man could only be Delta‑Three. Rachel held one of the Delta Force’s machine guns on him and stared up at the chopper as if daring them to attack.
Äàòà äîáàâëåíèÿ: 2015-09-14; ïðîñìîòðîâ: 6; Íàðóøåíèå àâòîðñêèõ ïðàâ