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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.

The controller.

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.

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.