Strong arms lifted her.
Rachel felt the powerful strangers drying her body and wrapping her in blankets. She was being placed on a medical bed of some sort and vigorously massaged on her arms, legs, and feet. Another injection in her arm.
Adrenaline, someone said.
Rachel felt the drug coursing through her veins like a life force, invigorating her muscles. Although she still felt an icy hollowness tight like a drum in her gut, Rachel sensed the blood slowly returning to her limbs.
Back from the dead.
She tried to focus her vision. Tolland and Corky were lying nearby, shivering in blankets as the men massaged their bodies and gave them injections as well. Rachel had no doubt that this mysterious assemblage of men had just saved their lives. Many of them were soaking wet, apparently having jumped into the showers fully clothed to help. Who they were or how they had gotten to Rachel and the others in time was beyond her. It made no difference at the moment. Were alive.
Where . . . are we? Rachel managed, the simple act of trying to speak bringing on a crashing headache.
The man massaging her replied, Youre on the medical deck of a Los Angeles class‑
On deck! someone called out.
Rachel sensed a sudden commotion all around her, and she tried to sit up. One of the men in blue helped, propping her up, and pulling the blankets up around her. Rachel rubbed her eyes and saw someone striding into the room.
The newcomer was a powerful African‑American man. Handsome and authoritative. His uniform was khaki. At ease, he declared, moving toward Rachel, stopping over her and gazing down at her with strong black eyes. Harold Brown, he said, his voice deep and commanding. Captain of the U.S.S. Charlotte. And you are?
U.S.S. Charlotte, Rachel thought. The name seemed vaguely familiar. Sexton . . . . . she replied. Im Rachel Sexton.
The man looked puzzled. He stepped closer, studying her more carefully. Ill be damned. So you are.
Rachel felt lost. He knows me? Rachel was certain she did not recognize the man, although as her eyes dropped from his face to the patch on his chest, she saw the familiar emblem of an eagle clutching an anchor surrounded by the words U.S. NAVY.
It now registered why she knew the name Charlotte.
Welcome aboard, Ms. Sexton, the captain said. Youve gisted a number of this ships recon reports. I know who you are.
But what are you doing in these waters? she stammered.
His face hardened somewhat. Frankly, Ms. Sexton, I was about to ask you the same question.
Tolland sat up slowly now, opening his mouth to speak. Rachel silenced him with a firm shake of her head. Not here. Not now. She had no doubt the first thing Tolland and Corky would want to talk about was the meteorite and the attack, but this was certainly not a topic to discuss in front of a Navy submarine crew. In the world of intelligence, regardless of crisis, CLEARANCE remained king; the meteorite situation remained highly classified.
I need to speak to NRO director William Pickering, she told the captain. In private, and immediately.
The captain arched his eyebrows, apparently unaccustomed to taking orders on his own ship.
I have classified information I need to share.
The captain studied her a long moment. Lets get your body temperature back, and then Ill put you in contact with the NRO director.
Its urgent, sir. I‑ Rachel stopped short. Her eyes had just seen a clock on the wall over the pharmaceutical closet.
Rachel blinked, staring. Is . . . is that clock right?
Youre on a navy vessel, maam. Our clocks are accurate.
And is that . . . Eastern time?
7:51 P.M. Eastern Standard. Were out of Norfolk.
My God! she thought, stunned. Its only 7:51 P.M. ? Rachel had the impression hours had passed since she passed out. It was not even past eight oclock? The President has not yet gone public about the meteorite! I still have time to stop him! She immediately slid down off the bed, wrapping the blanket around her. Her legs felt shaky. I need to speak to the President right away.
The captain looked confused. The president of what?
Of the United States!
I thought you wanted William Pickering.
I dont have time. I need the President.
The captain did not move, his huge frame blocking her way. My understanding is that the President is about to give a very important live press conference. I doubt hes taking personal phone calls.
Rachel stood as straight as she could on her wobbly legs and fixed her eyes on the captain. Sir, you do not have the clearance for me to explain the situation, but the President is about to make a terrible mistake. I have information he desperately needs to hear. Now. You need to trust me.
The captain stared at her a long moment. Frowning, he checked the clock again. Nine minutes? I cant get you a secure connection to the White House in that short a time. All I could offer is a radiophone. Unsecured. And wed have to go to antenna depth, which will take a few‑
Do it! Now!