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Wondering what she had agreed to, Rachel stood near the entrance of the G4 cockpit, stretching a radio transceiver cable into the cabin so she could place her call out of earshot of the pilot. Corky and Tolland looked on. Although Rachel and NRO director William Pickering had planned to maintain radio silence until her arrival at Bollings Air Force Base outside of D.C . . . Rachel now had information she was certain Pickering would want to hear immediately. She had phoned his secure cellular, which he carried at all times.

When William Pickering came on the line, he was all business. “Speak with care, please. I cannot guarantee this connection.”

Rachel understood. Pickering’s cellular, like most NRO field phones, had an indicator that detected unsecured incoming calls. Because Rachel was on a radiophone, one of the least secure communication modes available, Pickering’s phone had warned him. This conversation would need to be vague. No names. No locations.

“My voice is my identity,” Rachel said, using the standard field greeting in this situation. She had expected the director’s response would be displeasure that she had risked contacting him, but Pickering’s reaction sounded positive.

“Yes, I was about to make contact with you myself. We need to redirect. I’m concerned you may have a welcoming party.”

Rachel felt a sudden trepidation. Someone is watching us. She could hear the danger in Pickering’s tone. Redirect. He would be pleased to know she had called to make that exact request, albeit for entirely different reasons.

“The issue of authenticity,” Rachel said. “We’ve been discussing it. We may have a way to confirm or deny categorically.”

“Excellent. There have been developments, and at least then I would have solid ground on which to proceed.”

“The proof involves our making a quick stop. One of us has access to a laboratory facility‑”

“No exact locations, please. For your own safety.”

Rachel had no intention of broadcasting her plans over this line. “Can you get us clearance to land at GAS‑AC?”

Pickering was silent a moment. Rachel sensed he was trying to process the word. GAS‑AC was an obscure NRO gisting shorthand for the Coast Guard’s Group Air Station Atlantic City. Rachel hoped the director would know it.

“Yes,” he finally said. “I can arrange that. Is that your final destination?”

“No. We will require further helicopter transport.”

“An aircraft will be waiting.”

“Thank you.”

“I recommend you exercise extreme caution until we know more. Speak to no one. Your suspicions have drawn deep concern among powerful parties.”

Tench, Rachel thought, wishing she had managed to make contact with the President directly.

“I am currently in my car, en route to meet the woman in question. She has requested a private meeting in a neutral location. It should reveal much.”

Pickering is driving somewhere to meet Tench? Whatever Tench was going to tell him must be important if she refused to tell him on the phone.

Pickering said, “Do not discuss your final coordinates with anyone. And no more radio contact. Is that clear?”

“Yes, sir. We’ll be at GAS‑AC in an hour.”

“Transport will be arranged. When you reach your ultimate destination, you can call me via more secure channels.” He paused. “I cannot overstate the importance of secrecy to your safety. You have made powerful enemies tonight. Take appropriate caution.” Pickering was gone.

Rachel felt tense as she closed the connection and turned to Tolland and Corky.

“Change of destination?” Tolland said, looking eager for answers.

Rachel nodded, feeling reluctant. “The Goya.”

Corky sighed, glancing down at the meteorite sample in his hand. “I still can’t imagine NASA could possibly have . . . “He faded off, looking more worried with every passing minute.

We’ll know soon enough, Rachel thought.

She went into the cockpit and returned the radio transceiver. Glancing out the windscreen at the rolling plateau of moonlit clouds racing beneath them, she had the unsettling feeling they were not going to like what they found onboard Tolland’s ship.