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The office of Senator Sedgewick Sexton was located in the Philip A. Hart Senate Office Building on C Street to the northeast of the Capitol. The building was a neo‑modern grid of white rectangles that critics claimed looked more like a prison than an office building. Many who worked there felt the same.

On the third floor, Gabrielle Ashe’s long legs paced briskly back and forth in front of her computer terminal. On the screen was a new e‑mail message. She was not sure what to make of it.

The first two lines read:



Gabrielle had been receiving messages like this for the last couple of weeks. The return address was bogus, although she’d been able to track it to a “” domain. It seemed her mysterious informant was a White House insider, and whoever it was had become Gabrielle’s source for all kinds of valuable political information recently, including the news of a covert meeting between the NASA administrator and the President.

Gabrielle had been leery of the e‑mails at first, but when she checked out the tips, she was amazed to find the information consistently accurate and helpful‑classified information on NASA overexpenditures, costly upcoming missions, data showing that NASA’s search for extraterrestrial life was grossly overfunded and pathetically unproductive, even internal opinion polls warning that NASA was the issue turning voters away from the President.

To enhance her perceived value to the senator, Gabrielle had not informed him she was receiving unsolicited e‑mail help from inside the White House. Instead, she simply passed the information to him as coming from “one of her sources.” Sexton was always appreciative and seemed to know better than to ask who her source was. She could tell he suspected Gabrielle was doing sexual favors. Troublingly, it didn’t seem to bother him in the least.

Gabrielle stopped pacing and looked again at the newly arrived message. The connotations of all the e‑mails were clear: Someone inside the White House wanted Senator Sexton to win this election and was helping him do it by aiding his attack against NASA.

But who? And why?

A rat from a sinking ship, Gabrielle decided. In Washington it was not at all uncommon for a White House employee, fearing his President was about to be ousted from office, to offer quiet favors to the apparent successor in hopes of securing power or another position after the changeover. It seemed someone smelled Sexton victory and was buying stock early.

The message currently on Gabrielle’s screen made her nervous. It was like none other she had ever received. The first two lines didn’t bother her so much. It was the last two:



Her informant had never before asked to meet in person. Even so, Gabrielle would have expected a more subtle location for a face‑to‑face meeting. East Appointment Gate? Only one East Appointment Gate existed in Washington, as far as she knew. Outside the White House? Is this some kind of joke?

Gabrielle knew she could not respond via e‑mail; her messages were always bounced back as undeliverable. Her correspondent’s account was anonymous. Not surprising.

Should I consult Sexton? She quickly decided against it. He was in a meeting. Besides, if she told him about this e‑mail, she’d have to tell him about the others. She decided her informant’s offer to meet in public in broad daylight must be to make Gabrielle feel safe. After all, this person had done nothing but help her for the last two weeks. He or she was obviously a friend.

Reading the e‑mail one last time, Gabrielle checked the clock. She had an hour.