Page 44 of Deception Point

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"Let's go!" Norah shouted, pulling the tethered group along as she headed toward the perimeter of the illuminated circle. "I don't know what NASA's up to here, but I sure as hell don't appreciate being used as a pawn for their-"

Norah Mangor's neck snapped back as if she'd been rammed in the forehead by some invisible force. She let out a guttural gasp of pain, wavered, and collapsed backward onto the ice. Almost instantly, Corky let out a cry and spun around as if his shoulder had been propelled backward. He fell to the ice, writhing in pain.

Rachel immediately forgot all about the printout in her hand, Ming, the meteorite, and the bizarre tunnel beneath the ice. She had just felt a small projectile graze her ear, barely missing her temple. Instinctively, she dropped to her knees, yanking Tolland down with her.

"What's going on!" Tolland screamed.

A hailstorm was all Rachel could imagine-balls of ice blowing down off the glacier-and yet from the force with which Corky and Norah had just been hit, Rachel knew the hailstones would have to be moving at hundreds of miles an hour. Eerily, the sudden barrage of marble-sized objects seemed now to focus on Rachel and Tolland, pelting all around them, sending up plumes of exploding ice. Rachel rolled onto her stomach, dug her crampon's toe spikes into the ice, and launched toward the only cover available. The sled. Tolland arrived a moment later, scrambling and hunkering down beside her.

Tolland looked out at Norah and Corky unprotected on the ice. "Pull them in with the tether!" he yelled, grabbing the rope and trying to pull.

But the tether was wrapped around the sled.

Rachel stuffed the printout in the Velcro pocket of her Mark IX suit, and scrambled on all fours toward the sled, trying to untangle the rope from the sled runners. Tolland was right behind her.

The hailstones suddenly rained down in a barrage against the sled, as if Mother Nature had abandoned Corky and Norah and was taking direct aim at Rachel and Tolland. One of the projectiles slammed into the top of the sled tarp, partially embedding itself, and then bounced over, landing on the sleeve of Rachel's coat.

When Rachel saw it, she froze. In an instant, the bewilderment she had been feeling turned to terror. These "hailstones" were man-made. The ball of ice on her sleeve was a flawlessly shaped spheroid the size of a large cherry. The surface was polished and smooth, marred only by a linear seam around the circumference, like an old-fashioned lead musket ball, machined in a press. The globular pellets were, without a doubt, man-made.

Ice bullets...

As someone with military clearance, Rachel was well acquainted with the new experimental "IM" weaponry-Improvised Munitions-snow rifles that compacted snow into ice pellets, desert rifles that melted sand into glass projectiles, water-based firearms that shot pulses of liquid water with such force that they could break bones. Improvised Munitions weaponry had an enormous advantage over conventional weapons because IM weapons used available resources and literally manufactured munitions on the spot, providing soldiers unlimited rounds without their having to carry heavy conventional bullets. The ice balls being fired at them now, Rachel knew, were being compressed "on demand" from snow fed into the butt of the rifle.

As was often the case in the intelligence world, the more one knew, the more frightening a scenario became. This moment was no exception. Rachel would have preferred blissful ignorance, but her knowledge of IM weaponry instantly led her to a sole chilling conclusion: They were being attacked by some kind of U.S. Special Ops force, the only forces in the country currently cleared to use these experimental IM weapons in the field.

The presence of a military covert operations unit brought with it a second, even more terrifying realization: The probability of surviving this attack was close to zero.

The morbid thought was terminated as one of the ice pellets found an opening and came screaming through the wall of gear on the sled, colliding with her stomach. Even in her padded Mark IX suit, Rachel felt like an invisible prizefighter had just gut-punched her. Stars began to dance around the periphery of her vision, and she teetered backward, grabbing gear on the sled for balance. Michael Tolland dropped Norah's tether and lunged to support Rachel, but he arrived too late. Rachel fell backward, pulling a pile of equipment with her. She and Tolland tumbled to the ice in a pile of electronic apparatus.

"They're... bullets...," she gasped, the air momentarily crushed from her lungs. "Run!"


The Washington MetroRail subway now leaving Federal Triangle station could not speed away from the White House fast enough for Gabrielle Ashe. She sat rigid in a deserted corner of the train as darkened shapes tore past outside in a blur. Marjorie Tench's big red envelope lay in Gabrielle's lap, pressing down like a ten-ton weight.

I've got to talk to Sexton! she thought, the train accelerating now in the direction of Sexton's office building. Immediately!

Now, in the dim, shifting light of the train, Gabrielle felt like she was enduring some kind of hallucinogenic drug trip. Muted lights whipped by overhead like slow-motion discotheque strobes. The ponderous tunnel rose on all sides like a deepening canyon.

Tell me this is not happening.

She gazed down at the envelope on her lap. Unclasping the flap, she reached inside and pulled out one of the photos. The internal lights of the train flickered for a moment, the harsh glare illuminating a shocking image-Sedgewick Sexton lying naked in his office, his gratified face turned perfectly toward the camera while Gabrielle's dark form lay nude beside him.

She shivered, rammed the photo back inside, and fumbled to reclasp the envelope.

It's over.

As soon as the train exited the tunnel and climbed onto the aboveground tracks near L'Enfant Plaza, Gabrielle dug out her cellphone and called the senator's private cellular number. His voice mail answered. Puzzled, she phoned the senator's office. The secretary answered.

"It's Gabrielle. Is he in?"

The secretary sounded peeved. "Where have you been? He was looking for you."

"I had a meeting that ran long. I need to talk to him right away."

"You'll have to wait till morning. He's at Westbrooke."

Westbrooke Place Luxury Apartments was the building where Sexton kept his D.C. residence. "He's not picking up his private line," Gabrielle said.

"He blocked off tonight as a P.E.," the secretary reminded. "He left early."

Gabrielle scowled. Personal Event. In all the excitement, she'd forgotten Sexton had scheduled himself a night alone at home. He was very particular about not being disturbed during his P.E. blocks. Bang on my door only if the building is on fire, he would say. Other than that, it can wait until morning. Gabrielle decided Sexton's building was definitely on fire. "I need you to reach him for me."


"This is serious, I really-"

"No, I mean literally impossible. He left his pager on my desk on his way out and told me he was not to be disturbed all night. He was adamant." She paused. "More so than usual."

Shit. "Okay, thanks." Gabrielle hung up.

"L'Enfant Plaza," a recording announced in the subway car. "Connection all stations."

Closing her eyes, Gabrielle tried to clear her mind, but devastating images rushed in... the lurid photos of herself and the senator... the pile of documents alleging Sexton was taking bribes. Gabrielle could still hear Tench's raspy demands. Do the right thing. Sign the affidavit. Admit the affair.

As the train screeched into the station, Gabrielle forced herself to imagine what the senator would do if the photos hit the presses. The first thing to pop in her mind both shocked and shamed her.