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Michael Tolland had been at sea enough times to know the ocean took victims without remorse or hesitation. As he lay in exhaustion on the expansive sheet of ice, he could just make out the ghostly outline of the towering Milne Ice Shelf receding in the distance. He knew the powerful Arctic current flowing off the Elizabethan Islands spiraled in an enormous loop around the polar ice cap and would eventually skirt land in northern Russia. Not that it mattered. That would be months from now.

We’ve got maybe thirty minutes . . . forty‑five at the most.

Without the protective insulation of their gel‑filled suits, Tolland knew they would be dead already. Thankfully, the Mark IXs had kept them dry‑the most critical aspect of surviving cold weather. The thermal gel around their bodies had not only cushioned their fall, but it was now helping their bodies retain what little heat they had left.

Soon hypothermia would set in. It would start with a vague numbness in limbs as the blood retreated to the body’s core to protect the critical internal organs. Delirious hallucinations would come next, as the pulse and respiration slowed, cheating the brain of oxygen. Then, the body would make a final effort to conserve its remaining heat by shutting down all operations except the heart and respiration. Unconsciousness would follow. In the end, heart and respiration centers in the brain would stop functioning altogether.

Tolland turned his gaze toward Rachel, wishing he could do something to save her.

The numbness spreading through Rachel Sexton’s body was less painful than she would have imagined. Almost a welcome anesthetic. Nature’s morphine. She had lost her goggles in the collapse, and she could barely open her eyes against the cold.

She could see Tolland and Corky on the ice nearby. Tolland was looking at her, eyes filled with regret. Corky was moving but obviously in pain. His right cheekbone was smashed and bloody.

Rachel’s body trembled wildly as her mind searched for answers. Who? Why? Her thoughts were muddled by a growing heaviness inside her. Nothing was making sense. She felt like her body was slowly shutting down, lulled by an invisible force pulling her to sleep. She fought it. A fiery anger ignited within her now, and she tried to fan the flames.

They tried to kill us! She peered out at the threatening sea and sensed their attackers had succeeded. We’re already dead. Even now, knowing she would probably not live to learn the whole truth about the deadly game being played out on the Milne Ice Shelf, Rachel suspected she already knew who to blame.

Administrator Ekstrom had the most to gain. He was the one who sent them out on the ice. He had ties to the Pentagon and Special Ops. But what did Ekstrom have to gain by inserting the meteorite beneath the ice? What did anyone have to gain?

Rachel flashed on Zach Herney, wondering if the President was a coconspirator or an unknowing pawn? Herney knows nothing. He’s innocent. The President obviously had been duped by NASA. Now Herney was only about an hour away from making NASA’s announcement. And he would do so armed with a video documentary containing endorsements from four civilian scientists.

Four dead civilian scientists.

Rachel could do nothing to stop the press conference now, but she vowed that whoever was responsible for this attack would not get away with it.

Summoning her strength, Rachel tried to sit up. Her limbs felt like granite, all her joints screaming in pain as she bent her legs and arms. Slowly, she pulled herself to her knees, steadying herself on the flat ice. Her head spun. All around her the ocean churned. Tolland lay nearby, gazing up at her with inquisitive eyes. Rachel sensed he probably thought she was kneeling in prayer. She was not, of course, although prayer probably had as good a chance of saving them as what she was about to attempt.

Rachel’s right hand fumbled across her waist and found the ice ax still bungeed to her belt. Her stiff fingers gripped the handle. She inverted the ax, positioning it like an upside down T. Then, with all her energy, she drove the butt downward into the ice. Thud. Again. Thud. The blood felt like cold molasses in her veins. Thud. Tolland looked on in obvious confusion. Rachel drove the ax down again. Thud.

Tolland tried to lift himself onto his elbow. “Ra . . . chel?”

She did not answer. She needed all her energy. Thud. Thud.

“I don’t think . . . . .” Tolland said, “this far north . . . that the SAA . . . could hear . . . “

Rachel turned, surprised. She had forgotten Tolland was an oceanographer and might have some idea what she was up to. Right idea . . . but I’m not calling the SAA.

She kept pounding.

The SAA stood for a Suboceanic Acoustic Array, a relic of the Cold War now used by oceanographers worldwide to listen for whales. Because underwater sounds carried for hundreds of miles, the SAA network of fifty‑nine underwater microphones around the world could listen to a surprisingly large percentage of the planet’s oceans. Unfortunately, this remote section of the Arctic was not part of that percentage, but Rachel knew there were others out there listening to the ocean floor‑others that few on earth knew existed. She kept pounding. Her message was simple and clear.


THUD . . . THUD . . . THUD . . .


Rachel had no delusions that her actions would save their lives; she could already feel a frosty tightness gripping her body. She doubted she had a half hour of life left in her. Rescue was beyond the realm of possibility now. But this was not about rescue.


THUD . . . THUD . . . THUD . . .


“There’s . . . no time . . . “Tolland said.

It’s not . . . about us, she thought. It’s about the information in my pocket. Rachel pictured the incriminating GPR printout inside the Velcro pocket of her Mark IX suit. I need to get the GPR printout into the hands of the NRO . . . and soon.

Even in her delirious state, Rachel was certain her message would be received. In the mid‑eighties, the NRO had replaced the SAA with an array thirty times as powerful. Total global coverage: Classic Wizard, the NRO’s $12 million ear to the ocean floor. In the next few hours the Cray supercomputers at the NRO/NSA listening post in Menwith Hill, England, would flag an anomalous sequence in one of the Arctic’s hydrophones, decipher the pounding as an SOS, triangulate the coordinates, and dispatch a rescue plane from Thule Air Force Base in Greenland. The plane would find three bodies on an iceberg. Frozen. Dead. One would be an NRO employee . . . and she would be carrying a strange piece of thermal paper in her pocket.

A GPR printout.

Norah Mangor’s final legacy.

When the rescuers studied the printout, the mysterious insertion tunnel beneath the meteorite would be revealed. From there, Rachel had no idea what would happen, but at least the secret would not die with them here on the ice.