Page 25 of Deception Point

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Sexton hung up, looking pleased with himself.

"New Sexton fan?" Gabrielle asked.

"They're multiplying," he said. "This guy's a heavy hitter."

"Must be. Meeting him in your apartment?" Sexton usually defended the sanctified privacy of his apartment like a lion protecting its only remaining hiding place.

Sexton shrugged. "Yeah. Thought I'd give him the personal touch. This guy might have some pull in the home stretch. Got to keep making those personal connections, you know. It's all about trust."

Gabrielle nodded, pulling out Sexton's daily planner. "You want me to put him in your calendar?"

"No need. I'd planned to take a night at home anyway."

Gabrielle found tonight's page and noticed it was already shaded out in Sexton's handwriting with the bold letters "P.E."-Sexton shorthand for either personal event, private evening, or piss-off everyone; nobody was quite sure which. From time to time, the senator scheduled himself a "P.E." night so he could hole up in his apartment, take his phones off the hook, and do what he enjoyed most-sip brandy with old cronies and pretend he'd forgotten about politics for the evening.

Gabrielle gave him a surprised look. "So you're actually letting business intrude on prescheduled P.E. time? I'm impressed."

"This guy happened to catch me on a night when I've got some time. I'll talk to him for a little while. See what he has to say."

Gabrielle wanted to ask who this mystery caller was, but Sexton clearly was being intentionally vague. Gabrielle had learned when not to pry.

As they turned off the beltway and headed back toward Sexton's office building, Gabrielle glanced down again at the P.E. time blocked out in Sexton's planner and had the strange sensation Sexton knew this call was coming.


The ice at the center of the NASA habisphere was dominated by an eighteen-foot tripod structure of composite scaffolding, which looked like a cross between an oil rig and an awkward model of the Eiffel Tower. Rachel studied the device, unable to fathom how it could be used to extract the enormous meteorite.

Beneath the tower, several winches had been screwed into steel plates affixed to the ice with heavy bolts. Threaded through the winches, iron cables banked upward over a series of pulleys atop the tower. From there, the cables plunged vertically downward into narrow bore holes drilled in the ice. Several large NASA men took turns tightening the winches. With each new tightening, the cables slithered a few inches upward through the bore holes, as if the men were raising an anchor.

I'm clearly missing something, Rachel thought, as she and the others moved closer to the extraction site. The men seemed to be hoisting the meteorite directly through the ice.

"EVEN TENSION! DAMN IT!" a woman's voice screamed nearby, with all the grace of a chain saw.

Rachel looked over to see a small woman in a bright yellow snowsuit smeared with grease. She had her back to Rachel, but even so, Rachel had no trouble guessing that she was in charge of this operation. Making notations on a clipboard, the woman stalked back and forth like a disgusted drillmaster.

"Don't tell me you ladies are tired!"

Corky called out, "Hey, Norah, quit bossing those poor NASA boys and come flirt with me."

The woman did not even turn around. "Is that you, Marlinson? I'd know that weenie little voice anywhere. Come back when you reach puberty."

Corky turned to Rachel. "Norah keeps us warm with her charm."

"I heard that, space boy," Dr. Mangor fired back, still making notes. "And if you're checking out my ass, these snow pants add thirty pounds."

"No worries," Corky called. "It's not your woolly-mammoth butt that drives me wild, it's your winning personality."

"Bite me."

Corky laughed again. "I have great news, Norah. Looks like you're not the only woman the President recruited."

"No shit. He recruited you."

Tolland took over. "Norah? Have you got a minute to meet someone?"

At the sound of Tolland's voice, Norah immediately stopped what she was doing and turned around. Her hardened demeanor dissolved instantly. "Mike!" She rushed over, beaming. "Haven't seen you in a few hours."

"I've been editing the documentary."

"How's my segment?"

"You look brilliant and lovely."

"He used special effects," Corky said.

Norah ignored the remark, glancing now at Rachel with a polite but standoffish smile. She looked back at Tolland. "I hope you're not cheating on me, Mike."

Tolland's rugged face flushed slightly as he made introductions. "Norah, I'd like you to meet Rachel Sexton. Ms. Sexton works in the intelligence community and is here at the request of the President. Her father is Senator Sedgewick Sexton."

The introduction brought a confused look to Norah's face. "I won't even pretend to understand that one." Norah did not remove her gloves as she gave Rachel's hand a half-hearted shake. "Welcome to the top of the world."

Rachel smiled. "Thanks." She was surprised to see that Norah Mangor, despite the toughness of her voice, had a pleasant and impish countenance. Her pixie haircut was brown with streaks of gray, and her eyes were keen and sharp-two ice crystals. There was a steely confidence about her that Rachel liked.

"Norah," Tolland said. "Have you got a minute to share what you're doing with Rachel?"

Norah arched her eyebrows. "You two on a first-name basis already? My, my."

Corky groaned. "I told you, Mike."

Norah Mangor showed Rachel around the base of the tower while Tolland and the others trailed behind, talking among themselves.

"See those boreholes in the ice under the tripod?" Norah asked, pointing, her initial put-out tone softening now to one of rapt fervor for her work.

Rachel nodded, gazing down at the holes in the ice. Each was about a foot in diameter and had a steel cable inserted into it.

"Those holes are left over from when we drilled core samples and took X rays of the meteorite. Now we're using them as entry points to lower heavy-duty screw eyes down the empty shafts and screw them into the meteorite. After that, we dropped a couple hundred feet of braided cable down each hole, snagged the screw eyes with industrial hooks, and now we're simply winching it up. It's taking these ladies several hours to get it to the surface, but it's coming."

"I'm not sure I follow," Rachel said. "The meteorite is under thousands of tons of ice. How are you lifting it?"

Norah pointed to the top of the scaffolding where a narrow beam of pristine red light shone vertically downward toward the ice beneath the tripod. Rachel had seen it earlier and assumed it was simply some sort of visual indicator-a pointer demarking the spot where the object was buried.

"That's a gallium arsenide semiconductor laser," Norah said.

Rachel looked more closely at the beam of light and now saw that it had actually melted a tiny hole in the ice and shone down into the depths.

"Very hot beam," Norah said. "We're heating the meteorite as we lift."

When Rachel grasped the simple brilliance of the woman's plan, she was impressed. Norah had simply aimed the laser beam downward, melting through the ice until the beam hit the meteorite. The stone, being too dense to be melted by a laser, began absorbing the laser's heat, eventually getting warm enough to melt the ice around it. As the NASA men hoisted the hot meteorite, the heated rock, combined with the upward pressure, melted the surrounding ice, clearing a pathway to raise it to the surface. The melt water accumulating over the meteorite simply seeped back down around the edges of the stone to refill the shaft.

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