Deception Point Page 83

Deception Point Page 83

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, I’m fine.”

Tolland smiled. “I’ll keep an eye on you.”

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

“You’ve seen the Goya on television, right?”

She nodded. “It’s 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.”

“Can’t imagine why,” Rachel joked, picturing the ship’s bizarre profile.

“Now NBC is pressuring me to use a newer ship. Something… I don’t know, flashier, sexier. Another season or two, and they’ll make me part with her.” Tolland sounded melancholy at the thought.

“You wouldn’t love a brand-new ship?”

“I don’t know… a lot of memories onboard the Goya.”

Rachel smiled softly. “Well, as my mom used to say, sooner or later we’ve all got to let go of our past.”

Tolland’s eyes held hers for a long moment. “Yeah, I know.”

98

“Shit,” the taxi driver said, looking over his shoulder at Gabrielle. “Looks like an accident up ahead. We ain’t 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 NASA’s lies about how they found the meteorite would be a big enough scandal to breathe life back into Sexton’s 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 senator’s ability to put negative ethical spin on opponents’ political misfortunes, but it was effective. Sexton’s 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 she’d first come to Washington, she’d dreamed of working in politics forever, maybe someday in the White House. At the moment, however, she felt like she’d had enough politics for a lifetime-the duel with Marjorie Tench, the lewd photographs of herself and the senator, all of NASA’s lies…

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

I’ve got to get out of this town, Gabrielle thought for the first time since coming to the nation’s capital.

99

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 didn’t 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 meteorite’s 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.

100

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

“Do you have NightSight onboard this thing?”

The pilot nodded. “I’m a rescue unit.”

Tolland had expected as much. NightSight was Raytheon’s marine thermal imaging system, capable of locating wreck survivors in the dark. The heat given off by a swimmer’s 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 won’t see a thing on thermal from this high up unless there’s 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. “That’s a big one. We see these now and then, but I hadn’t heard about this one yet.”

“Just surfaced last week,” Tolland said. “Probably won’t 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 doesn’t 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. They’re 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 one’s still going strong.” He paused, checking the coordinates of Tolland’s ship, and then looked over his shoulder in surprise. “Mr. Tolland, it looks like you’re 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 chain’s been getting a real workout this week.”