With calm bred from the performance of countless executions, Delta-One dialed a ten-second delay into the grenade's screw-dial, slid out the pin, and threw the grenade down into the chasm. The bomb plummeted into the darkness and disappeared.
Then Delta-One and his partner cleared back up onto the top of the berm and waited. This would be a sight to behold.
Even in her delirious state of mind, Rachel Sexton had a very good idea what the attackers had just dropped into the crevasse. Whether Michael Tolland also knew or whether he was reading the fear in her eyes was unclear, but she saw him go pale, shooting a horrified glance down at the mammoth slab of ice on which they were stranded, clearly realizing the inevitable.
Like a storm cloud lit by an internal flash of lightning, the ice beneath Rachel illuminated from within. The eerie white translucence shot out in all directions. For a hundred yards around them, the glacier flashed white. The concussion came next. Not a rumble like an earthquake, but a deafening shock wave of gut-churning force. Rachel felt the impact tearing up through the ice into her body.
Instantly, as if a wedge had been driven between the ice shelf and the block of ice supporting them, the cliff began to shear off with a sickening crack. Rachel's eyes locked with Tolland's in a freeze-frame of terror. Corky let out a scream nearby.
The bottom dropped out.
Rachel felt weightless for an instant, hovering over the multimillion-pound block of ice. Then they were riding the iceberg down-plummeting into the frigid sea.
The deafening grating of ice against ice assaulted Rachel's ears as the massive slab slid down the face of the Milne Ice Shelf, sending towering plumes of spray into the air. As the slab splashed downward, it slowed, and Rachel's previously weightless body crashed down onto the top of the ice. Tolland and Corky landed hard nearby.
As the block's downward momentum plunged it deeper into the sea, Rachel could see the foaming surface of the ocean racing upward with a kind of taunting deceleration, like the ground beneath a bungee-jumper whose cord was a few feet too long. Rising... rising... and then it was there. Her childhood nightmare was back. The ice... the water... the darkness. The dread was almost primal.
The top of the slab slipped below the waterline, and the frigid Arctic Ocean poured over the edges in a torrent. As the ocean rushed in all around her, Rachel felt herself sucked under. The bare skin on her face tightened and burned as the saltwater hit. The flooring of ice disappeared beneath her, and Rachel fought her way back to the surface, buoyed by the gel in her suit. She took in a mouthful of saltwater, sputtering to the surface. She could see the others floundering nearby, all of them tangled in tethers. Just as Rachel righted herself, Tolland yelled out.
"It's coming back up!"
As his words echoed above the tumult, Rachel felt an eerie upwelling in the water beneath her. Like a massive locomotive straining to reverse direction, the slab of ice had groaned to a stop underwater and was now beginning its ascent directly beneath them. Fathoms below, a sickening low frequency rumble resonated upward through the water as the gigantic submerged sheet began scraping its way back up the face of the glacier.
The slab rose fast, accelerating as it came, swooping up from the darkness. Rachel felt herself rising. The ocean roiled all around as the ice met her body. She scrambled in vain, trying to find her balance as the ice propelled her skyward along with millions of gallons of seawater. Buoying upward, the giant sheet bobbed above the surface, heaving and teetering, looking for its center of gravity. Rachel found herself scrambling in waist-deep water across the enormous, flat expanse. As the water began pouring off the surface, the current swallowed Rachel and dragged her toward the edge. Sliding, splayed flat on her stomach, Rachel could see the edge looming fast.
Hold on! Rachel's mother's voice was calling the same way it had when Rachel was just a child floundering beneath the icy pond. Hold on! Don't go under!
The wrenching yank on her harness expelled what little air Rachel had left in her lungs. She jerked to a dead stop only yards from the edge. The motion spun her in place. Ten yards away, she could see Corky's limp body, still tethered to her, also jolting to a stop. They had been flowing off the sheet in opposite directions and his momentum had stopped her. As the water ran off and grew more shallow, another dark form appeared over near Corky. He was on his hands and knees, grasping Corky's tether and vomiting saltwater.
As the last of the wake drained past her and flowed off the iceberg, Rachel lay in terrified silence, listening to the sounds of the ocean. Then, feeling the onset of deadly cold, she dragged herself onto her hands and knees. The 'berg was still bobbing back and forth, like a giant ice cube. Delirious and in pain, she crawled back toward the others.
High above on the glacier, Delta-One peered through his night-vision goggles at the water churning around the Arctic Ocean's newest tabular iceberg. Although he saw no bodies in the water, he was not surprised. The ocean was dark, and his quarry's weather suits and skullcaps were black.
As he passed his gaze across the surface of the enormous floating sheet of ice, he had a hard time keeping it in focus. It was receding quickly, already heading out to sea in the strong offshore currents. He was about to turn his gaze back to the sea when he saw something unexpected. Three specks of black on the ice. Are those bodies? Delta-One tried to bring them into focus.
"See something?" Delta-Two asked.
Delta-One said nothing, focusing in with his magnifier. In the pale tint of the iceberg, he was stunned to see three human forms huddled motionless on the island of ice. Whether they were alive or dead, Delta-One had no idea. It hardly mattered. If they were alive, even in weather suits, they'd be dead within the hour; they were wet, a storm was coming in, and they were drifting seaward into one of the most deadly oceans on the planet. Their bodies would never be found.
"Just shadows," Delta-One said, turning from the cliff. "Let's get back to base."
Senator Sedgewick Sexton set his snifter of Courvoisier on the mantelpiece of his Westbrook apartment and stoked the fire for several moments, gathering his thoughts. The six men in the den with him sat in silence now... waiting. The small talk was over. It was time for Senator Sexton to make his pitch. They knew it. He knew it.
Politics was sales.
Establish trust. Let them know you understand their problems.
"As you may know," Sexton said, turning toward them, "over the past months, I have met with many men in your same position." He smiled and sat down, joining them on their level. "You are the only ones I have ever brought into my home. You are extraordinary men, and I am honored to meet you."
Sexton folded his hands and let his eyes circle the room, making personal contact with each of his guests. Then he focused in on his first mark-the heavyset man in the cowboy hat.
"Space Industries of Houston," Sexton said. "I'm glad you came."
The Texan grunted. "I hate this town."
"I don't blame you. Washington has been unfair to you."
The Texan stared out from beneath the rim of his hat but said nothing.
"Twelve years back," Sexton began, "you made an offer to the U.S. government. You proposed to build them a U.S. space station for a mere five billion dollars."
"Yeah, I did. I still have the blueprints."
"And yet NASA convinced the government that a U.S. space station should be a NASA project."
"Right. NASA started building almost a decade ago."