Page 98 of Deception Point

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Jesus Christ.

The controller looked back at the deck. Delta-Two still hung in the Triton's claws, but now the sub was suspended over a gaping hole in the deck. His feet dangled over the void. All Tolland had to do was release the claws, and Delta-Two would be next.

"Okay," the controller barked into the CrypTalk. "Hold on. Just hold on!"

Rachel stood below on the deck and stared up at the Kiowa. Even from this height the controller sensed the resolve in her eyes. Rachel raised the CrypTalk to her mouth. "You still think we're bluffing?" she said. "Call the main switchboard at the NRO. Ask for Jim Samiljan. He's in P A on the nightshift. I told him everything about the meteorite. He will confirm."

She's giving me a specific name? This did not bode well. Rachel Sexton was no fool, and this was a bluff the controller could check in a matter of seconds. Although the controller knew of no one at the NRO named Jim Samiljan, the organization was enormous. Rachel could quite possibly be telling the truth. Before ordering the final kill, the controller had to confirm if this was a bluff-or not.

Delta-One looked over his shoulder. "You want me to deactivate the jammer so you can call and check it out?"

The controller peered down at Rachel and Tolland, both in plain view. If either of them made a move for a cellphone or radio, the controller knew Delta-One could always reactivate and cut them off. The risk was minimal.

"Kill the jammer," the controller said, pulling out a cellphone. "I'll confirm Rachel's lying. Then we'll find a way to get Delta-Two and end this."

In Fairfax, the operator at the NRO's central switchboard was getting impatient. "As I just told you, I see no Jim Samiljan in the Plans and Analysis Division."

The caller was insistent. "Have you tried multiple spellings? Have you tried other departments?"

The operator had already checked, but she checked again. After several seconds, she said, "Nowhere on staff do we have a Jim Samiljan. Under any spelling."

The caller sounded oddly pleased by this. "So you are certain the NRO employs no Jim Samil-"

A sudden flurry of activity erupted on the line. Someone yelled. The caller cursed aloud and promptly hung up.

Onboard the Kiowa, Delta-One was screaming with rage as he scrambled to reactivate the jamming system. He had made the realization too late. In the huge array of lighted controls in the cockpit, a tiny LED meter indicated that a SATCOM data signal was being transmitted from the Goya. But how? Nobody left the deck! Before Delta-One could engage the jammer, the connection from the Goya terminated on its own accord.

Inside the hydrolab, the fax machine beeped contentedly.



Kill or be killed. Rachel had discovered a part of herself she never knew existed. Survival mode-a savage fortitude fueled by fear.

"What was in that outbound fax?" the voice on the CrypTalk demanded.

Rachel was relieved to hear confirmation that the fax had gone out as planned. "Leave the area," she demanded, speaking into the CrypTalk and glaring up at the hovering chopper. "It's over. Your secret is out." Rachel informed their attackers of all the information she had just sent. A half dozen pages of images and text. Incontrovertible evidence that the meteorite was a fake. "Harming us will only make your situation worse."

There was a heavy pause. "Who did you send the fax to?"

Rachel had no intention of answering that question. She and Tolland needed to buy as much time as possible. They had positioned themselves near the opening in the deck, on a direct line with the Triton, making it impossible for the chopper to shoot without hitting the soldier dangling in the sub's claws.

"William Pickering," the voice guessed, sounding oddly hopeful. "You faxed Pickering."

Wrong, Rachel thought. Pickering would have been her first choice, but she had been forced to choose someone else for fear her attackers had already eliminated Pickering-a move whose boldness would be a chilling testimony to her enemy's resolve. In a moment of desperate decision, Rachel had faxed the data to the only other fax number she knew by heart.

Her father's office.

Senator Sexton's office fax number had been painfully engraved into Rachel's memory after her mother's death when her father chose to work out many of the particulars of the estate without having to deal with Rachel in person. Rachel never imagined she would turn to her father in a time of need, but tonight the man possessed two critical qualities-all the correct political motivations to release the meteorite data without hesitation, and enough clout to call the White House and blackmail them into calling off this kill squad.

Although her father was most certainly not in the office at this hour, Rachel knew he kept his office locked like a vault. Rachel had, in effect, faxed the data into a time-lock safe. Even if the attackers knew where she had sent it, chances were slim they could get through the tight federal security at the Philip A. Hart Senate Office Building and break into a senator's office without anyone noticing.

"Wherever you sent the fax," the voice from above said. "You've put that person in danger."

Rachel knew she had to speak from a position of power regardless of the fear she was feeling. She motioned to the soldier trapped in the Triton's claws. His legs dangled over the abyss, dripping blood thirty feet to the ocean. "The only person in danger here is your agent," she said into the CrypTalk. "It's over. Back off. The data is gone. You've lost. Leave the area, or this man dies."

The voice on the CrypTalk fired back, "Ms. Sexton, you do not understand the importance-"

"Understand?" Rachel exploded. "I understand that you killed innocent people! I understand that you lied about the meteorite! And I understand that you won't get away with this! Even if you kill us all, it's over!"

There was a long pause. Finally the voice said, "I'm coming down."

Rachel felt her muscles tighten. Coming down?

"I am unarmed," the voice said. "Do not do anything rash. You and I need to talk face-to-face."

Before Rachel could react, the chopper dropped onto the Goya's deck. The passenger door on the fuselage opened and a figure stepped out. He was a plain-looking man in a black coat and tie. For an instant, Rachel's thoughts went totally blank.

She was staring at William Pickering.

William Pickering stood on the deck of the Goya and gazed with regret at Rachel Sexton. He had never imagined today would come to this. As he moved toward her, he could see the dangerous combination of emotions in his employee's eyes.

Shock, betrayal, confusion, rage.

All understandable, he thought. There is so much she does not understand.

For a moment, Pickering flashed on his daughter, Diana, wondering what emotions she had felt before she died. Both Diana and Rachel were casualties of the same war, a war Pickering had vowed to fight forever. Sometimes the casualties could be so cruel.

"Rachel," Pickering said. "We can still work this out. There's a lot I need to explain."

Rachel Sexton looked aghast, nauseated almost. Tolland had the machine gun now and was aiming at Pickering's chest. He too looked bewildered.

"Stay back!" Tolland yelled.

Pickering stopped five yards away, focusing on Rachel. "Your father is taking bribes, Rachel. Payoffs from private space companies. He plans to dismantle NASA and open space to the private sector. He had to be stopped, as a matter of national security."

Rachel's expression was blank.

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