Page 102 of Deception Point

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"Hello," Sexton's 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 man's voice had a lucid rawness to it. "This is William Pickering, director of the National Reconnaissance Office. You're 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 that's the director of-"

"Senator," Pickering continued, sounding almost relieved that no one had picked up. "I'm afraid I am calling with some very troubling news. I've 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. I'm sorry to be so blunt, sir; I do it for clarity's sake. Your daughter's life is being threatened. If she has indeed faxed you something, do not share it with anyone. Not yet. Your daughter's 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 anyone's 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 won't 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."


It's over, Rachel thought.

She and Tolland sat side by side on the deck staring up into the barrel of the Delta soldier's 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 Sexton's 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. senator's 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 they'd 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 Celia's death, Tolland had endured nights when he'd 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 don't have to make it alone. You'll find another love.

Rachel's 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 Celia's ghost looking over him as she often did. Her voice was in the rushing water... speaking the last words she'd spoken to him in life.

"You're a survivor," her voice whispered. "Promise me you'll find another love."

"I'll never want another," Tolland had told her.

Celia's smile was filled with wisdom. "You'll 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."

Rachel's 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 ship's 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-Two's feet, free him from the clamps, and eliminate Rachel Sexton and Michael Tolland.

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