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Swimmers May Surface without Warning 3




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  1. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 1
  2. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 10
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 11
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 12
  5. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 13
  6. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 14
  7. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 15
  8. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 16
  9. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 2
  10. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 3

 

I owe my life to his fax machine, Gabrielle thought.

Only minutes ago shed been sitting at Sextons computer, trying to make printouts of the images of illegal checks on his computer. The files were protected somehow, and she was going to need more time to figure out how to print them. She would probably still be trying right now if Sextons fax machine had not rung, startling her and snapping her back to reality. Gabrielle took it as her cue to get out. Without taking time to see what the incoming fax was, she logged off Sextons computer, tidied up, and headed out the way she had come. She was just climbing out of Sextons bathroom when she heard him coming in.

Now, with Sexton standing before her, staring down, she sensed him searching her eyes for a lie. Sedgewick Sexton could smell untruths like nobody Gabrielle had ever met. If she lied to him, Sexton would know.

Youve been drinking, Gabrielle said, turning away. How does he know I was in his office?

Sexton put his hands on her shoulders and spun her back around. Were you in my office?

Gabrielle felt a rising fear. Sexton had indeed been drinking. His touch was rough. In your office? she demanded, forcing a confused laugh. How? Why?

I heard my Jourdain in the background when I called you.

Gabrielle cringed inwardly. His clock? It had not even occurred to her. Do you know how ridiculous that sounds?

I spend all day in that office. I know what my clock sounds like.

Gabrielle sensed she had to end this immediately. The best defense is a good offense. At least thats what Yolanda Cole always said. Placing her hands on her hips, Gabrielle went for him with all she had. She stepped toward him, getting in his face, glaring. Let me get this straight, senator. Its four oclock in the morning, youve been drinking, you heard a ticking on your phone, and thats why youre here? She pointed her finger indignantly down the hall at his door. Just for the record, are you accusing me of disarming a federal alarm system, picking two sets of locks, breaking into your office, being stupid enough to answer my cellphone while in the process of committing a felony, rearming the alarm system on my way out, and then calmly using the ladies room before I run off with nothing to show for it? Is that the story here?



Sexton blinked, wide‑eyed.

Theres a reason people shouldnt drink alone, Gabrielle said. Now do you want to talk about NASA, or not?

Sexton felt befuddled as he walked back into his office. He went straight to his wet bar and poured himself a Pepsi. He sure as hell didnt feel drunk. Could he really have been wrong about this? Across the room, his Jourdain ticked mockingly. Sexton drained his Pepsi and poured himself another, and one for Gabrielle.

Drink, Gabrielle? he asked, turning back into the room. Gabrielle had not followed him in. She was still standing in the doorway, rubbing his nose in it. Oh, for Gods sake! Come in. Tell me what you found out at NASA.

I think Ive had enough for tonight, she said, sounding distant. Lets talk tomorrow.

Sexton was in no mood for games. He needed this information now, and he had no intention of begging for it. He heaved a tired sigh. Extend the bond of trust. Its all about trust. I screwed up, he said. Im sorry. Its been a hell of a day. I dont know what I was thinking.



Gabrielle remained in the doorway.

Sexton walked to his desk and set Gabrielles Pepsi down on his blotter. He motioned to his leather chair‑the position of power. Have a seat. Enjoy a soda. Im going to go stick my head in the sink. He headed for the bathroom.

Gabrielle still wasnt moving.

I think I saw a fax in the machine, Sexton called over his shoulder as he entered the bathroom. Show her you trust her. Have a look at it for me, will you?

Sexton closed the door and filled the sink with cold water. He splashed it on his face and felt no clearer. This had never happened to him before‑being so sure, and being so wrong. Sexton was a man who trusted his instincts, and his instincts told him Gabrielle Ashe had been in his office.

But how? It was impossible.

Sexton told himself to forget about it and focus on the matter at hand. NASA. He needed Gabrielle right now. This was no time to alienate her. He needed to know what she knew. Forget your instincts. You were wrong.

As Sexton dried his face, he threw his head back and took a deep breath. Relax, he told himself. Dont get punchy. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply again, feeling better.

When Sexton exited the bathroom, he was relieved to see Gabrielle had acquiesced and come back into his office. Good, he thought. Now we can get to business. Gabrielle was standing at his fax machine flipping through whatever pages had come in. Sexton was confused, however, when he saw her face. It was a mask of disorientation and fear.

What is it? Sexton said, moving toward her.

Gabrielle teetered, as if she were about to pass out.



What?

The meteorite . . . she choked, her voice frail as her trembling hand held the stack of fax papers out to him. And your daughter . . . shes in danger.

Bewildered, Sexton walked over, and took the fax pages from Gabrielle. The top sheet was a handwritten note. Sexton immediately recognized the writing. The communique was awkward and shocking in its simplicity.

 

Meteorite is fake. Heres proof. NASA/White House trying to kill me. Help! RS

 

The senator seldom felt totally at a loss of understanding, but as he reread Rachels words, he had no idea what to make of them.

The meteorite is a fake? NASA and the White House are trying to kill her?

In a deepening haze, Sexton began sifting through the half dozen sheets. The first page was a computerized image whose heading read Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR). The picture appeared to be an ice‑sounding of some sort. Sexton saw the extraction pit they had talked about on television. His eye was drawn to what looked like the faint outline of a body floating in the shaft. Then he saw something even more shocking‑the clear outline of a second shaft directly beneath where the meteorite had been‑as if the stone had been inserted from underneath the ice.

What in the world?

Flipping to the next page, Sexton came face‑to‑face with a photograph of some sort of living ocean species called a Bathynomous giganteus. He stared in utter amazement. Thats the animal from the meteorite fossils!

Flipping faster now, he saw a graphic display depicting the ionized hydrogen content in the meteorites crust. This page had a handwritten scrawl on it: Slush‑hydrogen burn? NASA Expander Cycle Engine?

Sexton could not believe his eyes. With the room starting to spin around him, he flipped to the final page‑a photo of a rock containing metallic bubbles that looked exactly like those in the meteorite. Shockingly, the accompanying description said the rock was the product of oceanic volcanism. A rock from the ocean? Sexton wondered. But NASA said chondrules form only in space!

Sexton set the sheets down on his desk and collapsed in his chair. It had taken him only fifteen seconds to piece together everything he was looking at. The implications of the images on the papers were crystal clear. Anyone with half a brain could see what these photos proved.

The NASA meteorite is a fake!

No day in Sextons career had been filled with such extreme highs and lows. Today had been a roller‑coaster ride of hope and despair. Sextons bafflement over how this enormous scam could possibly have been pulled off evaporated into irrelevance when he realized what the scam meant for him politically.

When I go public with this information, the presidency is mine!

In his upwelling of celebration, Senator Sedgewick Sexton had momentarily forgotten his daughters claim that she was in trouble.

Rachel is in danger, Gabrielle said. Her note says NASA and the White House are trying to‑

Sextons fax machine suddenly began ringing again. Gabrielle wheeled and stared at the machine. Sexton found himself staring too. He could not imagine what else Rachel could be sending him. More proof? How much more could there be? This is plenty!

When the fax machine answered the call, however, no pages came through. The machine, detecting no data signal, had switched to its answering machine feature.

Hello, Sextons outbound message crackled. This is the office of Senator Sedgewick Sexton. If you are trying to send a fax, you may transmit at any time. If not, you may leave a message at the tone.

Before Sexton could pick up, the machine beeped.

Senator Sexton? The mans voice had a lucid rawness to it. This is William Pickering, director of the National Reconnaissance Office. Youre probably not in the office at this hour, but I need to speak immediately. He paused as if waiting for someone to pick up.

Gabrielle reached to pick up the receiver.

Sexton grabbed her hand and violently yanked it away.

Gabrielle looked stunned. But thats the director of‑

Senator, Pickering continued, sounding almost relieved that no one had picked up. Im afraid I am calling with some very troubling news. Ive just received word that your daughter Rachel is in extreme danger. I have a team trying to help her as we speak. I cannot talk in detail about the situation on the phone, but I was just informed she may have faxed you some data relating to the NASA meteorite. I have not seen the data, nor do I know what it is, but the people threatening your daughter have just warned me that if you or anyone goes public with the information, your daughter will die. Im sorry to be so blunt, sir; I do it for claritys sake. Your daughters life is being threatened. If she has indeed faxed you something, do not share it with anyone. Not yet. Your daughters life depends on it. Stay where you are. I will be there shortly. He paused. With luck, senator, all of this will be resolved by the time you wake up. If, by chance, you get this message before I arrive at your office, stay where you are and call no one. I am doing everything in my power to get your daughter back safely.

Pickering hung up.

Gabrielle was trembling. Rachel is a hostage?

Sexton sensed that even in her disillusionment with him, Gabrielle felt a pained empathy to think of a bright young woman in danger. Oddly, Sexton was having trouble mustering the same emotions. Most of him felt like a child who had just been given his most wanted Christmas present, and he refused to let anyone yank it out of his hands.

Pickering wants me to be quiet about this?

He stood a moment, trying to decide what all of this meant. In a cold, calculating side of his mind, Sexton felt the machinery beginning to turn‑a political computer, playing out every scenario and evaluating each outcome. He glanced at the stack of faxes in his hands and began to sense the raw power of the images. This NASA meteorite had shattered his dream of the presidency. But it was all a lie. A construct. Now, those who did this would pay. The meteorite that his enemies had created to destroy him would now make him powerful beyond anyones wildest imagination. His daughter had seen to that.

There is only one acceptable outcome, he knew. Only one course of action for a true leader to take.

Feeling hypnotized by the shining images of his own resurrection, Sexton was drifting through a fog as he crossed the room. He went to his copy machine and turned it on, preparing to copy the papers Rachel had faxed him.

What are you doing? Gabrielle demanded, sounding bewildered.

They wont kill Rachel, Sexton declared. Even if something went wrong, Sexton knew losing his daughter to the enemy would only make him more powerful still. Either way he would win. Acceptable risk.

Who are those copies for? Gabrielle demanded. William Pickering said not to tell anyone!

Sexton turned from the machine and looked at Gabrielle, amazed by how unattractive he suddenly found her. In that instant, Senator Sexton was an island. Untouchable. Everything he needed to accomplish his dreams was now in his hands. Nothing could stop him now. Not claims of bribery. Not rumors of sex. Nothing.

Go home, Gabrielle. I have no more use for you.

 

 

 

Its over, Rachel thought.

She and Tolland sat side by side on the deck staring up into the barrel of the Delta soldiers machine gun. Unfortunately, Pickering now knew where Rachel had sent the fax. The office of Senator Sedgewick Sexton.

Rachel doubted her father would ever receive the phone message Pickering had just left him. Pickering could probably get to Sextons office well before anyone else this morning. If Pickering could get in, quietly remove the fax, and delete the phone message before Sexton arrived, there would be no need to harm the senator. William Pickering was probably one of the few people in Washington who could finagle entry to a U.S. senators office with no fanfare. Rachel was always amazed at what could be accomplished in the name of national security.

Of course if that fails, Rachel thought, Pickering could just fly by and send a Hellfire missile through the window and blow up the fax machine. Something told her this would not be necessary.

Sitting close to Tolland now, Rachel was surprised to feel his hand gently slip into hers. His touch had a tender strength, and their fingers intertwined so naturally that Rachel felt like theyd done this for a lifetime. All she wanted right now was to lie in his arms, sheltered from the oppressive roar of the night sea spiraling around them.

Never, she realized. It was not to be.

 

Michael Tolland felt like a man who had found hope on the way to the gallows.

Life is mocking me.

For years since Celias death, Tolland had endured nights when hed wanted to die, hours of pain and loneliness that seemed only escapable by ending it all. And yet he had chosen life, telling himself he could make it alone. Today, for the first time, Tolland had begun to understand what his friends had been telling him all along.

Mike, you dont have to make it alone. Youll find another love.

Rachels hand in his made this irony that much harder to swallow. Fate had cruel timing. He felt as if layers of armor were crumbling away from his heart. For an instant, on the tired decks of the Goya, Tolland sensed Celias ghost looking over him as she often did. Her voice was in the rushing water . . . speaking the last words shed spoken to him in life.

Youre a survivor, her voice whispered. Promise me youll find another love.

Ill never want another, Tolland had told her.

Celias smile was filled with wisdom. Youll have to learn.

Now, on the deck of the Goya, Tolland realized, he was learning. A deep emotion welled suddenly in his soul. He realized it was happiness.

And with it came an overpowering will to live.

 

Pickering felt oddly detached as he moved toward the two prisoners. He stopped in front of Rachel, vaguely surprised that this was not harder for him.

Sometimes, he said, circumstances raise impossible decisions.

Rachels eyes were unyielding. You created these circumstances.

War involves casualties, Pickering said, his voice firmer now. Ask Diana Pickering, or any of those who die every year defending this nation. You of all people should understand that, Rachel. His eyes focused in on her. Iactura paucourm serva multos.

He could see she recognized the words‑almost a cliche in national security circles. Sacrifice the few to save the many.

Rachel eyed him with obvious disgust. And now Michael and I have become part of your few?

Pickering considered it. There was no other way. He turned to Delta‑One. Release your partner and end this.

Delta‑One nodded.

Pickering took a long last look at Rachel and then strode to the ships nearby portside railing, staring out at the sea racing by. This was something he preferred not to watch.

 

Delta‑One felt empowered as he gripped his weapon and glanced over at his partner dangling in the clamps. All that remained was to close the trapdoors beneath Delta‑Twos feet, free him from the clamps, and eliminate Rachel Sexton and Michael Tolland.

Unfortunately, Delta‑One had seen the complexity of the control panel near the trapdoor‑a series of unmarked levers and dials that apparently controlled the trapdoor, the winch motor, and numerous other commands. He had no intention of hitting the wrong lever and risking his partners life by mistakenly dropping the sub into the sea.

Eliminate all risk. Never rush.

He would force Tolland to perform the actual release. And to ensure he did not try anything tricky, Delta‑One would take out insurance known in his business as biological collateral.

Use your adversaries against one another.

Delta‑One swung the gun barrel directly into Rachels face, stopping only inches from her forehead. Rachel closed her eyes, and Delta‑One could see Tollands fists clench in a protective anger.

Ms. Sexton, stand up, Delta‑One said.

She did.

With the gun firmly on her back, Delta‑One marched her over to an aluminum set of portable stairs that led up to the top of the Triton sub from behind. Climb up and stand on top of the sub.

Rachel looked frightened and confused.

Just do it, Delta‑One said.

 

Rachel felt like she was moving through a nightmare as she climbed up the aluminum gangway behind the Triton. She stopped at the top, having no desire to step out over the chasm onto the suspended Triton.

Get on top of the sub, the soldier said, returning to Tolland and pushing the gun against his head.

In front of Rachel the soldier who was in the clamps watched her, shifting in pain, obviously eager to get out. Rachel looked at Tolland, who now had a gun barrel to his head. Get on top of the sub. She had no choice.

Feeling like she was edging out onto a precipice overhanging a canyon, Rachel stepped onto the Tritons engine casing, a small flat section behind the rounded dome window. The entire sub hung like a massive plumb bob over the open trapdoor. Even suspended on its winch cable, the nine‑ton sub barely registered her arrival, swinging only a few millimeters as she steadied herself.

Okay, lets move, the soldier said to Tolland. Go to the controls and close the trapdoor.

At gunpoint, Tolland began moving toward the control panel with the soldier behind him. As Tolland came toward her, he was moving slowly, and Rachel could feel his eyes fixing hard on her as if trying to send her a message. He looked directly at her and then down at the open hatch on top of the Triton.

Rachel glanced down. The hatch at her feet was open, the heavy circular covering propped open. She could see down into the one‑seater cockpit. He wants me to get in? Sensing she must be mistaken, Rachel looked at Tolland again. He was almost to the control panel. Tollands eyes locked on her. This time he was less subtle.

His lips mouthed, Jump in! Now!

 

Delta‑One saw Rachels motion out of the corner of his eye and wheeled on instinct, opening fire as Rachel fell through the subs hatch just below the barrage of bullets. The open hatch covering rang out as the bullets ricocheted off the circular portal, sending up a shower of sparks, and slamming the lid closed on top of her.

Tolland, the instant hed felt the gun leave his back, made his move. He dove to his left, away from the trapdoor, hitting the deck and rolling just as the soldier spun back toward him, gun blazing. Bullets exploded behind Tolland as he scrambled for cover behind the ships stern anchor spool‑an enormous motorized cylinder around which was wound several thousand feet of steel cable connected to the ships anchor.

Tolland had a plan and would have to act fast. As the soldier dashed toward him, Tolland reached up and grabbed the anchor lock with both hands, yanking down. Instantly the anchor spool began feeding out lengths of cable, and the Goya lurched in the strong current. The sudden movement sent everything and everyone on the deck staggering sidelong. As the boat accelerated in reverse on the current, the anchor spool doled out cable faster and faster.

Come on, baby, Tolland urged.

The soldier regained his balance and came for Tolland. Waiting until the last possible moment, Tolland braced himself and rammed the lever back up, locking the anchor spool. The chain snapped taut, stopping the ship short and sending a tremulous shudder throughout the Goya. Everything on deck went flying. The soldier staggered to his knees near Tolland. Pickering fell back from the railing onto the deck. The Triton swung wildly on its cable.

A grating howl of failing metal tore up from beneath the ship like an earthquake as the damaged strut finally gave way. The right stern corner of the Goya began collapsing under its own weight. The ship faltered, tilting on a diagonal like a massive table losing one of its four legs. The noise from beneath was deafening‑a wail of twisting, grating metal and pounding surf.

White‑knuckled inside the Triton cockpit, Rachel held on as the nine‑ton machine swayed over the trapdoor in the now steeply inclined deck. Through the base of the glass dome she could see the ocean raging below. As she looked up, her eyes scanning the deck for Tolland, she watched a bizarre drama on the deck unfold in a matter of seconds.

Only a yard away, trapped in the Tritons claws, the clamped Delta soldier was howling in pain as he bobbed like a puppet on a stick. William Pickering scrambled across Rachels field of vision and grabbed on to a cleat on the deck. Near the anchor lever, Tolland was also hanging on, trying not to slide over the edge into the water. When Rachel saw the soldier with the machine gun stabilizing himself nearby, she called out inside the sub. Mike, look out!

But Delta‑One ignored Tolland entirely. The soldier was looking back toward the idling helicopter with his mouth open in horror. Rachel turned, following his gaze. The Kiowa gunship, with its huge rotors still turning, had started to slowly slide forward down the tipping deck. Its long metal skids were acting like skis on a slope. It was then that Rachel realized the huge machine was skidding directly toward the Triton.

 

Scrambling up the inclined deck toward the sliding aircraft, Delta‑One clambered into the cockpit. He had no intention of letting their only means of escape slide off the deck. Delta‑One seized the Kiowas controls and heaved back on the stick. Lift off! With a deafening roar, the blades accelerated overhead, straining to lift the heavily armed gunship off the deck. Up, goddamn it! The chopper was sliding directly toward the Triton and Delta‑Two suspended in its grasp.

With its nose tipped forward, the Kiowas blades were also tipped, and when the chopper lurched off the deck, it sailed more forward than up, accelerating toward the Triton like a giant buzz saw. Up! Delta‑One pulled the stick, wishing he could drop the half ton of Hellfire warheads weighing him down. The blades just missed the top of Delta‑Twos head and the top of the Triton sub, but the chopper was moving too fast. It would never clear the Tritons winch cable.

As the Kiowas 300‑rpm steel blades collided with the subs fifteen‑ton capacity braided steel winch cable, the night erupted with the shriek of metal on metal. The sounds conjured images of epic battle. From the choppers armored cockpit, Delta‑One watched his rotors tear into the subs cable like a giant lawn mower running over a steel chain. A blinding spray of sparks erupted overhead, and the Kiowas blades exploded. Delta‑One felt the chopper bottom out, its struts hitting the deck hard. He tried to control the aircraft, but he had no lift. The chopper bounded twice down the inclined deck, then slid, crashing into the ships guardrail.

For a moment, he thought the rail would hold.

Then Delta‑One heard the crack. The heavily laden chopper listed over the brink, plummeting into the sea.

 

Inside the Triton, Rachel Sexton sat paralyzed, her body pressed back into the subs seat. The minisub had been tossed violently as the choppers rotor wrapped around the cable, but she had managed to hang on. Somehow the blades had missed the main body of the sub, but she knew there had to be major damage to the cable. All Rachel could think of at that point was escaping from the sub as fast as she could. The soldier trapped in the clamps stared in at her, delirious, bleeding, and burned from the shrapnel. Beyond him, Rachel saw William Pickering still holding on to a cleat on the slanting deck.

Wheres Michael? She didnt see him. Her panic lasted only an instant as a new fear descended. Overhead, the Tritons shredded winch cable let out an ominous whipping noise as the braids unraveled. Then, there was a loud snap, and Rachel felt the cable give way.

Momentarily weightless, Rachel hovered above her seat inside the cockpit as the sub hurtled downward. The deck disappeared overhead, and the catwalks under the Goya raced by. The soldier trapped in the claws went white with fear, staring at Rachel as the sub accelerated downward.

The fall seemed endless.

When the sub crashed into the sea beneath the Goya, it plunged hard under the surf, ramming Rachel down hard into her seat. Her spine compressed as the illuminated ocean raced up over the dome. She felt a suffocating drag as the sub slowed to a stop underwater and then raced back toward the surface, bobbing up like a cork.

The sharks hit instantly. From her front‑row seat, Rachel sat frozen in place as the spectacle unfolded only a few feet away.

 

Delta‑Two felt the sharks oblong head crash into him with unimaginable force. A razor sharp clamp tightened on his upper arm, slicing to the bone and locking on. A flash of white‑hot pain exploded as the shark torqued its powerful body and shook its head violently, tearing Delta‑Twos arm off his body. Others sharks moved in. Knives stabbing at his legs. Torso. Neck. Delta‑Two had no breath to scream in agony as the sharks ripped huge chunks of his body away. The last thing he saw was a crescent‑shaped mouth, tilting sideways, a gorge of teeth clamping down across his face.

The world went black.

 

Inside the Triton, the thudding of heavy cartilaginous heads ramming into the dome finally subsided. Rachel opened her eyes. The man was gone. The water washing against the window was crimson.

Badly battered, Rachel huddled in her chair, knees pulled to her chest. She could feel the sub moving. It was drifting on the current, scraping along the length of the Goyas lower dive deck. She could feel it moving in another direction as well. Down.

Outside, the distinctive gurgling of water into the ballast tanks grew louder. The ocean inched higher on the glass in front of her.

Im sinking!

A jolt of terror shot through Rachel, and she was suddenly scrambling to her feet. Reaching overhead, she grabbed the hatch mechanism. If she could climb up on top of the sub, she still had time to jump onto the Goyas dive deck. It was only a few feet away.

Ive got to get out!

The hatch mechanism was clearly marked which way to turn it to open. She heaved. The hatch did not budge. She tried again. Nothing. The portal was jammed shut. Bent. As the fear rose in her blood like the sea around her, Rachel heaved one last time.

The hatch did not move.

The Triton sank a few inches deeper, bumping the Goya one last time before drifting out from underneath the mangled hull . . . and into the open sea.

 

 

 

Dont do this, Gabrielle begged the senator as he finished at the copy machine. Youre risking your daughters life!

Sexton blocked out her voice, moving back to his desk now with ten identical stacks of photocopies. Each stack contained copies of the pages Rachel had faxed him, including her handwritten note claiming the meteorite was a fake and accusing NASA and the White House of trying to kill her.

The most shocking media kits ever assembled, Sexton thought, as he began carefully inserting each stack into its own large, white linen envelope. Each envelope bore his name, office address, and senatorial seal. There would be no doubt where this incredible information had originated. The political scandal of the century, Sexton thought, and I will be the one to reveal it!

Gabrielle was still pleading for Rachels safety, but Sexton heard only silence. As he assembled the envelopes, he was in his own private world. Every political career has a defining moment. This is mine.


: 2015-09-14; : 5;







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