Page 33 of Deception Point

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"Advanced stages of lymphoma," the doctors explained. "Rare in people her age, but certainly not unheard of."

Celia and Tolland visited countless clinics and hospitals, consulting with specialists. The answer was always the same. Incurable.

I will not accept that! Tolland immediately quit his job at Scripps Institute, forgot all about the NBC documentary, and focused all of his energy and love on helping Celia get well. She fought hard too, bearing the pain with a grace that only made him love her more. He took her for long walks on Kingman Beach, made her healthy meals, and told her stories of the things they would do when she got better.

But it was not to be.

Only seven months had passed when Michael Tolland found himself sitting beside his dying wife in a stark hospital ward. He no longer recognized her face. The savageness of the cancer was rivaled only by the brutality of the chemotherapy. She was left a ravaged skeleton. The final hours were the hardest.

"Michael," she said, her voice raspy. "It's time to let go."

"I can't." Tolland's eyes welled.

"You're a survivor," Celia said. "You have to be. Promise me you'll find another love."

"I'll never want another." Tolland meant it.

"You'll have to learn."

Celia died on a crystal clear Sunday morning in June. Michael Tolland felt like a ship torn from its moorings and thrown adrift in a raging sea, his compass smashed. For weeks he spun out of control. Friends tried to help, but his pride could not bear their pity.

You have a choice to make, he finally realized. Work or die.

Hardening his resolve, Tolland threw himself back into Amazing Seas. The program quite literally saved his life. In the four years that followed, Tolland's show took off. Despite the matchmaking efforts of his friends, Tolland endured only a handful of dates. All were fiascos or mutual disappointments, so Tolland finally gave up and blamed his busy travel schedule for his lack of social life. His best friends knew better, though; Michael Tolland simply was not ready.

The meteorite extraction pit loomed before Tolland now, pulling him from his painful reverie. He shook off the chill of his memories and approached the opening. In the darkened dome, the melt water in the hole had taken on an almost surreal and magical beauty. The surface of the pool was shimmering like a moonlit pond. Tolland's eyes were drawn to specks of light on the top layer of the water, as if someone had sprinkled blue-green sparkles onto the surface. He stared a long moment at the shimmering.

Something about it seemed peculiar.

At first glance, he thought the gleaming water was simply reflecting the glow of the spotlights from across the dome. Now he saw this was not the case at all. The shimmers possessed a greenish tint and seemed to pulse in a rhythm, as if the surface of the water were alive, illuminating itself from within.

Unsettled, Tolland stepped beyond the pylons for a closer look.

Across the habisphere, Rachel Sexton exited the PSC trailer into darkness. She paused a moment, disoriented by the shadowy vault around her. The habisphere was now a gaping cavern, lit only by incidental effulgence radiating out from the stark media lights against the north wall. Unnerved by the darkness around her, she headed instinctively for the illuminated press area.

Rachel felt pleased with the outcome of her briefing of the White House staff. Once she'd recovered from the President's little stunt, she'd smoothly conveyed everything she knew about the meteorite. As she spoke, she watched the expressions on the faces of the President's staff go from incredulous shock, to hopeful belief, and finally to awestruck acceptance.

"Extraterrestrial life?" she had heard one of them exclaim. "Do you know what that means?"

"Yes," another replied. "It means we're going to win this election."

As Rachel approached the dramatic press area, she imagined the impending announcement and couldn't help but wonder if her father really deserved the presidential steamroller that was about to blindside him, crushing his campaign in a single blow.

The answer, of course, was yes.

Whenever Rachel Sexton felt any soft spot for her father, all she had to do was remember her mother. Katherine Sexton. The pain and shame Sedgewick Sexton had brought on her was reprehensible... coming home late every night, looking smug and smelling of perfume. The feigned religious zeal her father hid behind-all the while lying and cheating, knowing Katherine would never leave him.

Yes, she decided, Senator Sexton was about to get exactly what he deserved.

The crowd in the press area was jovial. Everyone held beers. Rachel moved through the crowd feeling like a coed at a frat party. She wondered where Michael Tolland had gone.

Corky Marlinson materialized beside her. "Looking for Mike?"

Rachel startled. "Well... no... sort of."

Corky shook his head in disgust. "I knew it. Mike just left. I think he was headed back to go grab a few winks." Corky squinted across the dusky dome. "Although it looks like you can still catch him." He gave her a puggish smile and pointed. "Mike becomes mesmerized every time he sees water."

Rachel followed Corky's outstretched finger toward the center of the dome, where the silhouette of Michael Tolland stood, gazing down into the water in the extraction pit.

"What's he doing?" she asked. "That's kind of dangerous over there."

Corky grinned. "Probably taking a leak. Let's go push him."

Rachel and Corky crossed the darkened dome toward the extraction pit. As they drew close to Michael Tolland, Corky called out.

"Hey, aqua man! Forget your swimsuit?"

Tolland turned. Even in the dimness, Rachel could see his expression was uncharacteristically grave. His face looked oddly illuminated, as if he were being lit from below.

"Everything okay, Mike?" she asked.

"Not exactly." Tolland pointed into the water.

Corky stepped over the pylons and joined Tolland at the edge of the shaft. Corky's mood seemed to cool instantly when he looked in the water. Rachel joined them, stepping past the pylons to the edge of the pit. When she peered into the hole, she was surprised to see specks of blue-green light shimmering on the surface. Like neon dust particles floating in the water. They seemed to be pulsating green. The effect was beautiful.

Tolland picked up a shard of ice off the glacial floor and tossed it into the water. The water phosphoresced at the point of impact, glowing with a sudden green splash.

"Mike," Corky said, looking uneasy, "please tell me you know what that is."

Tolland frowned. "I know exactly what this is. My question is, what the hell is it doing here?"


"We've got flagellates," Tolland said, staring into the luminescent water.

"Flatulence?" Corky scowled. "Speak for yourself."

Rachel sensed Michael Tolland was in no joking mood.

"I don't know how it could have happened," Tolland said, "but somehow this water contains bioluminescent dinoflagellates."

"Bioluminescent what?" Rachel said. Speak English.

"Monocelled plankton capable of oxidizing a luminescent catalyst called luceferin."

That was English?

Tolland exhaled and turned to his friend. "Corky, there any chance the meteorite we pulled out of that hole had living organisms on it?"

Corky burst out laughing. "Mike, be serious!"

"I am serious."

"No chance, Mike! Believe me, if NASA had any inkling whatsoever that there were extraterrestrial organisms living on that rock, you can be damn sure they never would have extracted it into the open air."