Gabrielle knew Sexton was eagerly awaiting her arrival for a complete rundown on the PODS situation. Unfortunately, she also now realized that Sexton had deftly manipulated her tonight. Gabrielle Ashe did not like being managed. The senator had kept things from her tonight. The question was how much. The answers, she knew, lay inside his office-just on the other side of this restroom wall.
"Five minutes," Gabrielle said aloud, mustering her resolve.
Moving toward the bathroom's supply closet, she reached up and ran a hand over the door frame. A key clattered to the floor. The cleaning crews at Philip A. Hart were federal employees and seemed to evaporate every time there was a strike of any sort, leaving this bathroom without toilet paper and tampons for weeks at a time. The women of Sexton's office, tired of being caught with their pants down, had taken matters into their own hands and secured a supply room key for "emergencies."
Tonight qualifies, she thought.
She opened the closet.
The interior was cramped, packed with cleansers, mops, and shelves of paper supplies. A month ago, Gabrielle had been searching for paper towels when she'd made an unusual discovery. Unable to reach the paper off the top shelf, she'd used the end of a broom to coax a roll to fall. In the process, she'd knocked out a ceiling tile. When she climbed up to replace the tile, she was surprised to hear Senator Sexton's voice.
From the echo, she realized the senator was talking to himself while in his office's private bathroom, which apparently was separated from this supply closet by nothing more than removable, fiberboard ceiling tiles.
Now, back in the closet tonight for far more than toilet paper, Gabrielle kicked off her shoes, climbed up the shelves, popped out the fiberboard ceiling tile, and pulled herself up. So much for national security, she thought, wondering how many state and federal laws she was about to break.
Lowering herself through the ceiling of Sexton's private restroom, Gabrielle placed her stockinged feet on his cold, porcelain sink and then dropped to the floor. Holding her breath, she exited into Sexton's private office.
His oriental carpets felt soft and warm.
Thirty miles away, a black Kiowa gunship chopper tore over the scrub pine treetops of northern Delaware. Delta-One checked the coordinates locked in the auto navigation system.
Although Rachel's shipboard transmission device and Pickering's cellphone were encrypted to protect the contents of their communication, intercepting content had not been the goal when the Delta Force pulse-snitched Rachel's call from sea. Intercepting the caller's position had been the goal. Global Positioning Systems and computerized triangulation made pinpointing transmission coordinates a significantly easier task than decrypting the actual content of the call.
Delta-One was always amused to think that most cellphone users had no idea that every time they made a call, a government listening post, if so inclined, could detect their position to within ten feet anywhere on earth-a small hitch the cellphone companies failed to advertise. Tonight, once the Delta Force had gained access to the reception frequencies of William Pickering's cellular phone, they could easily trace the coordinates of his incoming calls.
Flying now on a direct course toward their target, Delta-One closed to within twenty miles. "Umbrella primed?" he asked, turning to Delta-Two, who was manning the radar and weapons system.
"Affirmative. Awaiting five-mile range."
Five miles, Delta-One thought. He had to fly this bird well within his target's radar scopes to get within range to use the Kiowa's weapons systems. He had little doubt that someone onboard the Goya was nervously watching the skies, and because the Delta Force's current task was to eliminate the target without giving them a chance to radio for help, Delta-One now had to advance on his prey without alarming them.
At fifteen miles out, still safely out of radar range, Delta-One abruptly turned the Kiowa thirty-five degrees off course to the west. He climbed to three thousand feet-small airplane range-and adjusted his speed to 110 knots.
On the deck of the Goya, the Coast Guard helicopter's radar scope beeped once as a new contact entered the ten-mile perimeter. The pilot sat up, studying the screen. The contact appeared to be a small cargo plane headed west up the coast.
Probably for Newark.
Although this plane's current trajectory would bring it within four miles of the Goya, the flight path obviously was a matter of chance. Nonetheless, being vigilant, the Coast Guard pilot watched the blinking dot trace a slow-moving 110-knot line across the right side of his scope. At its closest point, the plane was about four miles west. As expected, the plane kept moving-heading away from them now.
4.1 miles. 4.2 miles.
The pilot exhaled, relaxing.
And then the strangest thing happened.
"Umbrella now engaged," Delta-Two called out, giving the thumbs-up from his weapons control seat on the port side of the Kiowa gunship. "Barrage, modulated noise, and cover pulse are all activated and locked."
Delta-One took his cue and banked hard to the right, putting the craft on a direct course with the Goya. This maneuver would be invisible to the ship's radar.
"Sure beats bales of tinfoil!" Delta-Two called out.
Delta-One agreed. Radar jamming had been invented in WWII when a savvy British airman began throwing bales of hay wrapped in tinfoil out of his plane while on bombing runs. The Germans' radar spotted so many reflective contacts they had no idea what to shoot. The techniques had been improved on substantially since then.
The Kiowa's onboard "umbrella" radar-jamming system was one of the military's most deadly electronic combat weapons. By broadcasting an umbrella of background noise into the atmosphere above a given set of surface coordinates, the Kiowa could erase the eyes, ears, and voice of their target. Moments ago, all radar screens aboard the Goya had most certainly gone blank. By the time the crew realized they needed to call for help, they would be unable to transmit. On a ship, all communications were radio-or microwave-based-no solid phone lines. If the Kiowa got close enough, all of the Goya's communications systems would stop functioning, their carrier signals blotted out by the invisible cloud of thermal noise broadcast in front of the Kiowa like a blinding headlight.
Perfect isolation, Delta-One thought. They have no defenses.
Their targets had made a fortunate and cunning escape from the Milne Ice Shelf, but it would not be repeated. In choosing to leave shore, Rachel Sexton and Michael Tolland had chosen poorly. It would be the last bad decision they ever made.
Inside the White House, Zach Herney felt dazed as he sat up in bed holding the telephone receiver. "Now? Ekstrom wants to speak to me now?" Herney squinted again at the bedside clock. 3:17 A.M.
"Yes, Mr. President," the communications officer said. "He says it's an emergency."
While Corky and Xavia huddled over the electron microprobe measuring the zirconium content in the chondrules, Rachel followed Tolland across the lab into an adjoining room. Here Tolland turned on another computer. Apparently the oceanographer had one more thing he wanted to check.
As the computer powered up, Tolland turned to Rachel, his mouth poised as if he wanted to say something. He paused.
"What is it?" Rachel asked, surprised how physically drawn to him she felt, even in the midst of all this chaos. She wished she could block it all out and be with him-just for a minute.
"I owe you an apology," Tolland said, looking remorseful.
"On the deck? The hammerheads? I was excited. Sometimes I forget how frightening the ocean can be to a lot of people."