Silent black helicopters.
The conspiracy theorists were going nuts over these. Some claimed the invasion of silent black helicopters was proof of "New World Order storm troopers" under the authority of the United Nations. Others claimed the choppers were silent alien probes. Still others who saw the Kiowas in tight formation at night were deceived into thinking they were looking at fixed running lights on a much larger craft-a single flying saucer that was apparently capable of vertical flight.
Wrong again. But the military loved the diversion.
During a recent covert mission, Delta-One had flown a Kiowa armed with the most secretive new U.S. military technology-an ingenious holographic weapon nicknamed S M. Despite conjuring associations with sadomasochism, S M stood for "smoke and mirrors"-holographic images "projected" into the sky over enemy territory. The Kiowa had used S M technology to project holograms of U.S. aircraft over an enemy anti-aircraft installation. The panicked anti-aircraft gunners fired maniacally at the circling ghosts. When all of their ammunition was gone, the United States sent in the real thing.
As Delta-One and his men lifted off the runway, Delta-One could still hear the words of his controller. You have another mark. It seemed an egregious under-statement considering their new target's identity. Delta-One reminded himself, however, that it was not his place to question. His team had been given an order, and they would carry it out in the exact method instructed-as shocking as that method was.
I hope to hell the controller is certain this is the right move.
As the Kiowa lifted off the runway, Delta-One headed southwest. He had seen the FDR Memorial twice, but tonight would be his first time from the air.
"This meteorite was originally discovered by a Canadian geologist?" Gabrielle Ashe stared in astonishment at the young programmer, Chris Harper. "And this Canadian is now dead?"
Harper gave a grim nod.
"How long have you known this?" she demanded.
"A couple of weeks. After the administrator and Marjorie Tench forced me to perjure myself in the press conference, they knew I couldn't go back on my word. They told me the truth about how the meteorite was really discovered."
PODS is not responsible for finding the meteorite! Gabrielle had no idea where all of this information would lead, but clearly it was scandalous. Bad news for Tench. Great news for the senator.
"As I mentioned," Harper said, looking somber now, "the true way the meteorite was discovered was through an intercepted radio transmission. Are you familiar with a program called INSPIRE? The Interactive NASA Space Physics Ionosphere Radio Experiment."
Gabrielle had heard of it only vaguely.
"Essentially," Harper said, "it's a series of very low frequency radio receivers near the North Pole that listen to the sounds of the earth-plasma wave emissions from the northern lights, broadband pulses from lightning storms, that sort of thing."
"A few weeks ago, one of INSPIRE's radio receivers picked up a stray transmission from Ellesmere Island. A Canadian geologist was calling for help at an exceptionally low frequency." Harper paused. "In fact, the frequency was so low that nobody other than NASA's VLF receivers could possibly have heard it. We assumed the Canadian was long-waving."
"Broadcasting at the lowest possible frequency to get maximum distance on his transmission. He was in the middle of nowhere, remember; a standard frequency transmission probably would not have made it far enough to be heard."
"What did his message say?"
"The transmission was short. The Canadian said he had been out doing ice soundings on the Milne Ice Shelf, had detected an ultradense anomaly buried in the ice, suspected it was a giant meteorite, and while taking measurements had become trapped in a storm. He gave his coordinates, asked for rescue from the storm, and signed off. The NASA listening post sent a plane from Thule to rescue him. They searched for hours and finally discovered him, miles off course, dead at the bottom of a crevasse with his sled and dogs. Apparently he tried to outrun the storm, got blinded, went off course, and fell into a crevasse."
Gabrielle considered the information, intrigued. "So suddenly NASA knew about a meteorite that nobody else knew about?"
"Exactly. And ironically, if my software had been working properly, the PODS satellite would have spotted that same meteorite-a week before the Canadian did."
The coincidence gave Gabrielle pause. "A meteorite buried for three hundred years was almost discovered twice in the same week?"
"I know. A little bizarre, but science can be like that. Feast or famine. The point is that the administrator felt like the meteorite should have been our discovery anyway-if I had done my job correctly. He told me that because the Canadian was dead, nobody would be the wiser if I simply redirected PODS to the coordinates the Canadian had transmitted in his SOS. Then I could pretend to discover the meteorite from scratch, and we could salvage some respect from an embarrassing failure."
"And that's what you did."
"As I said, I had no choice. I had let down the mission." He paused. "Tonight, though, when I heard the President's press conference and found out the meteorite I'd pretended to discover contained fossils... "
"You were stunned."
"Bloody well floored, I'd say!"
"Do you think the administrator knew the meteorite contained fossils before he asked you to pretend PODS found it?"
"I can't imagine how. That meteorite was buried and untouched until the first NASA team got there. My best guess is that NASA had no idea what they'd really found until they got a team up there to drill cores and x-ray. They asked me to lie about PODS, thinking they'd have a moderate victory with a big meteorite. Then when they got there, they realized just how big a find it really was."
Gabrielle's breath was shallow with excitement. "Dr. Harper, will you testify that NASA and the White House forced you to lie about the PODS software?"
"I don't know." Harper looked frightened. "I can't imagine what kind of damage that would do to the agency... to this discovery."
"Dr. Harper, you and I both know this meteorite remains a wonderful discovery, regardless of how it came about. The point here is that you lied to the American people. They have a right to know that PODS is not everything NASA says it is."
"I don't know. I despise the administrator, but my coworkers... they are good people."
"And they deserve to know they are being deceived."
"And this evidence against me of embezzlement?"
"You can erase that from your mind," Gabrielle said, having almost forgotten her con. "I will tell the senator you know nothing of the embezzlement. It is simply a frame job-insurance set up by the administrator to keep you quiet about PODS."
"Can the senator protect me?"
"Fully. You've done nothing wrong. You were simply following orders. Besides, with the information you've just given me about this Canadian geologist, I can't imagine the senator will even need to raise the issue of embezzlement at all. We can focus entirely on NASA's misinformation regarding PODS and the meteorite. Once the senator breaks the information about the Canadian, the administrator won't be able to risk trying to discredit you with lies."
Harper still looked worried. He fell silent, somber as he pondered his options. Gabrielle gave him a moment. She'd realized earlier that there was another troubling coincidence to this story. She wasn't going to mention it, but she could see Dr. Harper needed a final push.