Rachel inserted the entire stack into the hydrolab's fax machine. Knowing only a few fax numbers by heart, she had limited choices, but she had already made up her mind who would be receiving these pages and her note. Holding her breath, she carefully typed in the person's fax number.
She pressed "send," praying she had chosen the recipient wisely.
The fax machine beeped.
ERROR: NO DIAL TONE
Rachel had expected this. The Goya's communications were still being jammed. She stood waiting and watching the machine, hoping it functioned like hers at home.
After five seconds, the machine beeped again.
Yes! Rachel watched the machine lock into an endless loop.
ERROR: NO DIAL TONE
ERROR: NO DIAL TONE
Leaving the fax machine in search of a dial tone, Rachel dashed out of the hydrolab just as helicopter blades thundered overhead.
One hundred and sixty miles away from the Goya, Gabrielle Ashe was staring at Senator Sexton's computer screen in mute astonishment. Her suspicions had been right.
But she had never imagined how right.
She was looking at digital scans of dozens of bank checks written to Sexton from private space companies and deposited in numbered accounts in the Cayman Islands. The smallest check Gabrielle saw was for fifteen thousand dollars. Several were upward of half a million dollars.
Small potatoes, Sexton had told her. All the donations are under the two-thousand-dollar cap.
Obviously Sexton had been lying all along. Gabrielle was looking at illegal campaign financing on an enormous scale. The pangs of betrayal and disillusionment settled hard now in her heart. He lied.
She felt stupid. She felt dirty. But most of all she felt mad.
Gabrielle sat alone in the darkness, realizing she had no idea what to do next.
Above the Goya, as the Kiowa banked over the stern deck, Delta-One gazed down, his eyes fixating on an utterly unexpected vision.
Michael Tolland was standing on deck beside a small submersible. Dangling in the sub's robotic arms, as if in the clutches of a giant insect, hung Delta-Two, struggling in vain to free himself from two enormous claws.
What in the name of God!?
Equally as shocking an image, Rachel Sexton had just arrived on deck, taking up a position over a bound and bleeding man at the foot of the submersible. The man could only be Delta-Three. Rachel held one of the Delta Force's machine guns on him and stared up at the chopper as if daring them to attack.
Delta-One felt momentarily disoriented, unable to fathom how this possibly could have happened. The Delta Force's errors on the ice shelf earlier had been a rare but explainable occurrence. This, however, was unimaginable.
Delta-One's humiliation would have been excruciating enough under normal circumstances. But tonight his shame was magnified by the presence of another individual riding with him inside the chopper, a person whose presence here was highly unconventional.
Following the Delta's kill at the FDR Memorial, the controller had ordered Delta-One to fly to a deserted public park not far from the White House. On the controller's command, Delta-One had set down on a grassy knoll among some trees just as the controller, having parked nearby, strode out of the darkness and boarded the Kiowa. They were all en route again in a matter of seconds.
Although a controller's direct involvement in mission operations was rare, Delta-One could hardly complain. The controller, distressed by the way the Delta Force had handled the kills on the Milne Ice Shelf and fearing increasing suspicions and scrutiny from a number of parties, had informed Delta-One that the final phase of the operation would be overseen in person.
Now the controller was riding shotgun, witnessing in person a failure the likes of which Delta-One had never endured.
This must end. Now.
The controller gazed down from the Kiowa at the deck of the Goya and wondered how this could possibly have happened. Nothing had gone properly-the suspicions about the meteorite, the failed Delta kills on the ice shelf, the necessity of the high-profile kill at the FDR.
"Controller," Delta-One stammered, his tone one of stunned disgrace as he looked at the situation on the deck of the Goya. "I cannot imagine... "
Nor can I, the controller thought. Their quarry had obviously been grossly underestimated.
The controller looked down at Rachel Sexton, who stared up blankly at the chopper's reflective windshield and raised a CrypTalk device to her mouth. When her synthesized voice crackled inside the Kiowa, the controller expected her to demand that the chopper back off or extinguish the jamming system so Tolland could call for help. But the words Rachel Sexton spoke were far more chilling.
"You're too late," she said. "We're not the only ones who know."
The words echoed for a moment inside the chopper. Although the claim seemed far-fetched, the faintest possibility of truth gave the controller pause. The success of the entire project required the elimination of all those who knew the truth, and as bloody as the containment had turned out to be, the controller had to be certain this was the conclusion.
Someone else knows...
Considering Rachel Sexton's reputation for following strict protocol of classified data, the controller found it very hard to believe that she would have decided to share this with an outside source.
Rachel was on the CrypTalk again. "Back off and we'll spare your men. Come any closer and they die. Either way, the truth comes out. Cut your losses. Back off."
"You're bluffing," the controller said, knowing the voice Rachel Sexton was hearing was an androgynous robotic tone. "You have told no one."
"Are you ready to take that chance?" Rachel fired back. "I couldn't get through to William Pickering earlier, so I got spooked and took out some insurance."
The controller frowned. It was plausible.
"They're not buying it," Rachel said, glancing at Tolland.
The soldier in the claws gave a pained smirk. "Your gun is empty, and the chopper's going to blow you to hell. You're both going to die. Your only hope is to let us go."
Like hell, Rachel thought, trying to assess their next move. She looked at the bound and gagged man who lay at her feet directly in front of the sub. He looked delirious from loss of blood. She crouched beside him, looking into the man's hard eyes. "I'm going to take off your gag and hold the CrypTalk; you're going to convince the helicopter to back off. Is that clear?"
The man nodded earnestly.
Rachel pulled out the man's gag. The soldier spat a wad of bloody saliva up into Rachel's face.
"Bitch," he hissed, coughing. "I'm going to watch you die. They're going to kill you like a pig, and I'm going to enjoy every minute."
Rachel wiped the hot saliva from her face as she felt Tolland's hands lifting her away, pulling her back, steadying her as he took her machine gun. She could feel in his trembling touch that something inside him had just snapped. Tolland walked to a control panel a few yards away, put his hand on a lever, and locked eyes with the man lying on the deck.
"Strike two," Tolland said. "And on my ship, that's all you get."
With a resolute rage, Tolland yanked down on the lever. A huge trapdoor in the deck beneath the Triton fell open like the floor of a gallows. The bound soldier gave a short howl of fear and then disappeared, plummeting through the hole. He fell thirty feet to the ocean below. The splash was crimson. The sharks were on him instantly.
The controller shook with rage, looking down from the Kiowa at what was left of Delta-Three's body drifting out from under the boat on the strong current. The illuminated water was pink. Several fish fought over something that looked like an arm.