4:30 A.M., Saturday, October 25, Miami, Florida
Dennis Cavendish became aware that he was drifting toward consciousness and forced himself to open his eyes, demanded his brain kick into high gear. Too much was going to happen today for him to allow himself the luxury of a slow awakening, or even another round with the pair of warm, lush redheads flanking him. He pulled himself to a sitting position, then gave the woman on his left a light slap on her well-shaped behind.
"Time to go."
He shook the other woman’s shoulder, and both began to make small murmurs, indicating that waking them would not be an easy task. He climbed over one of them, took a moment to stretch his pleasantly aching muscles, then ripped the covers off both women. The chill in the air-conditioned room sent them into fetal crouches.
He flipped on one of the lamps next to the bed. "I said it’s time to go."
One of the women pushed herself upright on one elbow, brushing hair out of her eyes with her other hand. "Is something wrong? What time is it?" She looked at him blearily, her eye makeup smudged.
"It’s four-thirty and you have to go. I’ve got work to do," Dennis lied smoothly. "Get your friend to wake up. You have to be out of here in five minutes. There will be a car waiting for you when you get downstairs."
Still confused and squinting, the woman nevertheless pushed her companion until she woke up. With barely a word spoken between them, the women threw on most of their clothes, and Dennis escorted them to the elevator door in the living room of his condo. They departed with wary, friendly waves. The moment the door slid shut, Dennis went to the shower to brace himself for the day ahead.
Forty-five minutes later Dennis was airborne, the engines of his Lear jet screaming as his pi lot executed a steep takeoff from Miami International Airport. He would be on the ground on his island, Taino, in twenty minutes. Not long after that he would be in a small submarine headed four thousand feet to the bottom of his slice of the Caribbean. It wouldn’t be a joy ride; it would be the last trip to see the dream of his lifetime while it still belonged just to him: Atlantis, the first fully staffed habitat ever built at that depth—and the operations center for the newest and best means of changing the way the world worked.
In a few hours, Atlantis would begin to retrieve methane hydrate crystals from beneath the seafloor and introduce the world to the next, arguably the only, clean fuel that the planet had to offer.
From entertaining the first glimmer of a thought to watching the last beams being sunk into place, Dennis had known that this was what life was about. This was the brass ring, the golden goose; attaining this kind of power was what every hackneyed cliché referred to, what every fairy tale was about, what every emperor and despot had ever dreamed of—the power to make the world change at one person’s command. He was that person.
He picked up his phone and punched a single number. Less than a minute later, he heard a sleepy female voice, that of Victoria Clark, his secretary of national security and chief paranoiac. The woman whose job it was to keep him safe and happy.
"Hi, Vic.I’m on my way to the island. Meet me at my office in half an hour."
"Is something wrong? Is everyone with you?"
The thought of dragging the senior executives of some of the world’s major corporations out of bed and onto a plane before dawn made him smile. "No, I’m alone. I want to get the day going. It’s going to be unforgettable, Vic. Let’s get ’em, tiger. See you in thirty."
"Wait. Don’t hang up."
Dennis could tell by the soft noises in the background that she was pushing herself to sitting position, getting focused. It rarely took Vic this long to focus on anything, but then, he didn’t usually get her up in the middle of the night.
Vic was his workhorse, his closest confidante, and the person who knew more of his secrets than anyone. She was the person he trusted the most—at least that’s what he told people. The reality was that Dennis trusted no one but himself.
He had to let people into his circle, but he knew the closer he let them get, the more they had on him, the more he was worth to them. The market price of betrayal was something that never lost value, and Vic was the one person who could command the highest fee for betraying him.
Betrayal was a lesson he’d learned the hard way and, as such lessons do, it had altered his thinking in an instant. Since the first time Dennis had been stabbed in the back by someone he trusted, the degree of closeness and his level of real trust in a person had moved along opposing axes. As one went up, the other went down. Treating betrayal as a "when" rather than an "if" made life much easier.
It was his only gospel, and it worked.
"Dennis, you need to fly with your guests. You need to be there with them—"
"I’ve been with them for two days nonstop. I’ll see them when they get in, in a few hours. Look, I want to go straight down to the habitat when I get there, okay? With you."
"Not interested in all the many reasons you can’t or won’t go there, Vic," he interrupted. "You’re going."
Dennis disconnected before she could reply and sat back to sip his coffee.
In less than twenty- four hours, the world would be a different place. Victoria Clark was one of the few people who knew just how different it would be, and she was going to be at his side today. All day. Today of all days the risk was inordinately high.
4:30 A.M., Saturday, October 25, Miami, Florida
Lieutenant Colonel Wendy Watson lay naked on the rough sheets, staring at the shifting patterns of light playing on the cheap popcorn ceiling of an apartment that wasn’t hers. Being there, next to a man she’d only met three months ago, a man who had changed her life and its purpose, was an atypical move for her. And that was a word she’d rarely—make that never— known to be applied to herself. If there was one word that she’d heard used to describe her more than any other, despite all the obstacles she’d overcome in her life, despite everything she’d accomplished, that word was "typical."
It wasn’t a fair description nor was it an accurate one. That didn’t matter to the many people who had uttered it, under their breath derisively or more loudly with intimations of expectations met, upon hearing what Wendy Watson had done, was doing, or was intending to do. She’d heard it when she’d graduated at the top of her class from the most prestigious public high school in Connecticut. When she’d graduated at the top of her class from the United States Air Force Academy. When she’d been selected to train for the elite Combat Search and Rescue force. When it was announced she’d received enough commendations to make her the most highly decorated female air force officer serving in Afghanistan.
She hadn’t heard it when she refused the offer to become a flight instructor in favor of resigning from the military. But the hated word had quickly resumed its place as a staple in her life when she became the chief pi lot for the Climate Research Institute.
The institute was a small, quiet, privately funded think tank and the plaything of the occasionally flamboyant and perpetually eccentric Dennis Cavendish, a telecommunications wunderkind who had retired at forty to take on the challenges of climate change. In his spare time, he served as president for life of The Paradise of Taino, his own private tropical nation-state snugly situated between the Florida Keys and the Bahamas.
Wendy loved her job; it paid well, provided her with lots of perks, and allowed her to have her say in what sort of planes Dennis bought. That had been enough when she’d been hired and for the four years that had passed since then. It had been enough until she’d met Garner Blaylock, a beautiful, earthy man who was lit from within with passions and understanding Wendy could only marvel at. He’d swept her into a world she’d never known existed and had reframed her life, banishing from it forever the association with anything remotely "typical."
And in a few hours from now, to cement her commitment to Garner, to her new way of thinking, to the cause he had introduced her to and which they now shared, Wendy would do something that was anything but typical by anyone’s standards. The event was going to be spectacular and meaningful; if her actions were ever to become public knowledge, they would be called crazy by many, but adjudged heroic by the people she cared about most. By the person she cared about most. By Garner.
"What are you thinking about?"
Wendy rolled over and looked into the deep brown, soulful eyes of her lover, her mentor, the man for whom she was about to make the biggest sacrifice in her life.
She reached up and smoothed his tousled golden curls, threaded her fingers through them. "What do you think I’m thinking about?"
He cupped her cheek as he eased his thumb along her bottom lip. "Well, I hope you’re thinking about how we spent the last few hours, but I imagine you’re thinking of what you’ll be doing in the next few." His deep, cultured British voice was husky with sleep and sex.
She didn’t allow herself to respond with anything other than a smile.
"Are you afraid?" he asked gently.
Garner watched her, peering into her soul with eyes that were soft and loving. "Were you afraid every time you flew into a battle zone? Or is it just this task that has you worried?" he asked, his voice low.
She hesitated, not wanting him to mistake her fear for doubt. "I was afraid every time, every mission. We all were. The fear helped us keep our edge. If you weren’t scared, you weren’t focused. But you had to subdue the fear by keeping foremost in your mind the knowledge that you’d be coming back." She paused. "This time, that knowledge, that assurance isn’t there, Garner. It’s an odd feeling to know I won’t be coming back."
"When you flew for them—" He never uttered the name of any of the groups he fought, so deep was his loathing of all things political.
"When you flew for them, you would have died for them, wouldn’t you? It’s what they expected you to do, if necessary. Am I right?"
He drew his thumb across her lips again, silencing her. "The oath you lived by then was an oath to a political body, Wendy, a myopic, human-centric organization that survives by cannibalizing its allies if they don’t support its warped economic ideals." His hand slid to hers, brought her palm to his lips. "You’re different now, darling. You operate at a different level of understanding, at a different harmonic frequency as it were. You’ve learned how badly the Earth needs us. It’s left to us—to you—to send the rest of humanity a wake- up call. There’s no other way to save Her and all Her creatures from senseless destruction at the hands of shortsighted, parasitic mercenaries." His grip tightened slightly as his voice became more intense. "You’re no longer bound to the empty words they made you believe in, Wendy, nor to the desperate actions they made you carry out. You’re bound to the true reality now, my love. To the tangible. To the eternal." He looked into her eyes with a passion that stopped just short of ferocity.
The energy radiating from him made her light- headed.
She took in a shaky breath, her eyes never leaving his beautiful face.
"My darling Wendy, the war we’re fighting is bigger than all of us. It’s so, so much greater. It’s the battle for ultimate justice and you, my love, you’re our warrior. Our lovely golden warrior," he whispered, trailing his fingers down the front of her body.
She caught her breath as a rush of cool air followed the warmth of his hand, leaving her skin tingling with the cold burn of sparks and desire.
"Only you can do this for me, for us, Wendy. It’s your destiny and your debt. Tell me again that you won’t fail us. Let me know the depth of your commitment, my love."
Wendy closed her eyes against the tears welling in them. With every pulse of life beating inside her, she knew that what she was going to do today was the right thing, a necessary and noble action undertaken for the good of the Earth. She’d known it since the day three months ago when she’d met Garner purely by chance and had fallen in love with him as if guided by Fate. It never failed to astonish her that he’d felt the same passion for her before that first week’s end.
The heady rush of desire she’d felt when she met him was one she’d never expected to feel, and therefore undeserved—until he convinced her otherwise. And when he’d asked her to help him a few weeks later, she hadn’t hesitated. She’d known before he’d told her that she was the only person in the entire organization who could execute his plan.
And she would. She had never failed at anything and she would not fail now. It was not in her to fail.
Wendy slid her arms around his hard, muscular body and reveled in his heat and power.
"You don’t have to persuade me, Garner," she said in a voice as strong as she could muster, her gaze unwavering as she looked into his endless eyes. "I’ve made my decision. I accepted the assignment and I’ll complete the mission. But there is a part of me—"
"No ‘buts,’ Wendy," he whispered, his lips warm and soft against hers. "There is no weakness in you. You are my fearless warrior princess and for the rest of my life, if ever I falter, it will be you who will inspire me to continue the fight for justice. Let’s stop talking, love. Let me live within you in this moment, and forever."
As he finished speaking, he moved on top of her. His hands, his mouth offered an escape she seized without hesitation. But even his lovemaking, so sure, so tender, could not alter her reality, could not obliterate the knowledge humming in her brain.
In six hours, she was going to die. Horribly.
5:30 A.M., Saturday, October 25, Gainesville, Florida
Sam Briscoe smiled as he made the transition from sleep to wakefulness with a little help from a pair of warm, feminine lips pressed against the back of his neck. He smiled into the pillow and a moment later lifted his head. Slowly, so as not to dislodge the lips.
"I’m leaving." Cynthia’s voice was soft, barely a whisper against his skin.
He rolled over as he blinked his way to a clear focus on her face, fully made up and ready to meet the day. Even though day hadn’t broken yet.
"It’s five-thirty," he mumbled, coherency coming slowly. "What in God’s name are you doin’?"
She smiled. "If I’d told you last night what time I had to get up, you wouldn’t have let me stay. And I didn’t want to miss out on that goodbye . . ." Her voice trailed off, bringing a bigger smile to his face and greater clarity to his brain.
"You wouldn’t have anyway," he replied, returning her smile although his voice was still hoarse with sleep. "I thought your flight was at nine."
"I lied. We fly out of here at seven and I still have to pick up Stephanie and Grace." She placed a small kiss on the end of his nose.
"Here" was Gainesville, Florida, a vibrant, bustling town when the University of Florida was in session, and a hot, humid, laid- back town when it wasn’t. Right now, the university was bracing for a day of football, which should have meant that Professor Briscoe could sleep in for a few more hours before deciding whether to put on his blue and orange fanwear and head into the madness on campus. But today his long- term girlfriend was heading off for a week- long Carib be an sailing cruise with some girlfriends, and that required wakefulness, at least until her car was backing down the driveway.
Sam didn’t bother to stifle a yawn. "Shoot, Cyn, you can get to the airport in fifteen minutes. Come back to bed for a spell." He backed up his offer with a grin.
"I can’t get there that fast when I have to pick up Stephanie and Grace," she repeated, pulling away and straightening up just as some of his more primitive mechanical parts were waking up. "You know how disorganized they are."
"I’ll make it worth your while," he drawled as he led the hand he held toward the newly erected tent of sheets.
"I’ll take a rain check." She stood up with a laugh and stepped away from the bed, slipping her hand out of his grip. Then she reached over and brushed some hair out of his eyes. Like a mother would.
Annoyance flickered within him. They were going to be apart for seven days. No way should picking up her girlfriends take precedence over some last-minute grab-and-tickle.
"So why did you get me up?" he asked mildly, not betraying the shift in his mood. Much.
"To say goodbye."
She cocked her head at him with a look that should have been accompanied by her hands thumping onto her hips. But that might wrinkle the pants she was wearing. He knew that too well. Backwater Georgia boys, even ones with Ph.D.s, learned a lot of new things when they dated princesses from Washington, D.C.
"Don’t do this. I want to enjoy myself, Sam. Don’t try to send me off all guiltified. It won’t work and it’ll just piss me off."
"Is that a word? Guiltified?"
"You stick to the weather and let me worry about syntax." She blew him a kiss—letting him know in her own princessy way just how well he’d succeeded in infuriating her—and turned toward the bedroom door.
Well, damn. He pushed himself from elbow to upright and ran a hand over his face. "Hey, Cyn?"
She turned and glanced at him over her shoulder. "Yes?"
"How about you bring that fine body and gorgeous face of yours back over here so we can start this goodbye again?"
The hint of a smile twitched at the corner of her lips. "Apology accepted. I really have to go, Sam. I don’t want to be late."
He grinned at her and raised an eyebrow slowly. It was an expression that rarely failed to get him what he wanted. "I won’t make you late, darlin’."
"Don’t give me any of that whinin’, woman. Just get over here and give me a kiss that doesn’t make me think you’re channeling Grandmother Briscoe."
The way she hesitated let him know it was just for show, and the way she walked back to the bed made him know that her expectations were high.
"That’s my girl," he murmured as she sank onto the bed next to him and ran a cool hand over his chest.
"I’m going to miss you, Sam," she whispered as he brought his face to hers.
"Damned right you will," he growled against her mouth.
They sank into each other with a warmth that had nothing to do with the weather. She pushed him away gently after not nearly enough time. "I really have to go, Sammy."
"I know." Her neck was soft and sweet and too damned close to his mouth for him to think straight.
"We should have planned to go together. All those stars and the sea air . . ." Her words drifted into a contrite smile.
He lifted his head to meet her dark eyes and let his hand trail down her warm, silky arm. "Next time you suggest taking a cruise with those girlfriends of yours, I’m going to remind you that you said that. Gotta be a big boat, though. Not one of them pissant little things. They turn this big dog into a pup."
She laughed and pushed herself off the bed, sliding out of his grasp. "Okay, Sam. A big boat."
"Hey, just a sec. There’s something I forgot to ask you last night," he said, feigning a yawn as she turned to walk to the bedroom door.
"What’s that?" she replied, her all- business persona slipping back into place.
He reached into the shallow drawer of the nightstand next to his bed, grabbed the small velvet box in it, and casually tossed it to her.
She caught it with both hands and he watched her eyes widen as she realized what it was. After a long, silent look, she snapped it open. A moment later she looked back to him, even more wide- eyed and pleasingly slack jawed.
"Yeah, I meant to bring it up last night, but a certain gorgeous wildcat sorta pushed it clear out of my head," he said with an easy shrug. "But think about it, darlin’. I’m kinda crazy about you. And I was wonderin’ if you’d let me continue to be for—" He shrugged again. "Well, forever, I guess."
"Sam." It came out as a whisper, with a hoarse edge to it.
"Yes, ma’am?" There was no point in trying to hide his grin.
Without saying anything more, she walked back to the bed and kissed him again, softly this time, and unhurriedly.
"Is that a ‘yes’?"
She smiled. "It’s a ‘yes.’ But can I leave this here with you? I don’t want to put it on and then disappear for a week. I want to wear it around you at first, not the girls." She paused and looked down at the diamond solitaire nestled against blue velvet. "It’s beautiful, Sam. I love it."
Trying not to frown at her logic, he nodded his reluctant assent, and was rewarded with another kiss.
"Thank you, Sam. I love you." And then she straightened up and left the room, leaving the ring in its box in his hand.
He felt a little stunned and a little lost, and not at all like a man who’d just gotten engaged.
6:45 A.M., Saturday, October 25, the White House, Washington, D.C.
Lucy Denton, a former CIA case officer and the current director of national intelligence, walked into the anteroom of the Oval Office and nodded a greeting at the president’s secretary.
"He’s expecting you, Director Denton. Please go in," the woman said with a polite smile, which Lucy returned before continuing to the door and walking through it.
President Winslow Benson was standing at one of the windows, with his back to the room. He was dressed casually, presumably in anticipation of heading out to a golf course shortly, but he still managed to look imposing and almost regal.
The Sterling Fox.
It was what she’d always privately called him, even before he was her commander in chief. Winslow Benson was highly polished, beautiful to look at, and worth a lot of money. But other than the fact that he was dangerous if you crossed him, there wasn’t a lot of substance beneath his gleaming exterior.
He glanced at her over his left shoulder and gave a short nod. "Lucy."
"Good morning, Mr. President," she replied, and then glanced around the room, nodding her greetings to the rest of the people gathered there.
It was the usual Saturday- morning crowd: a few national security advisors, the secretaries of state and defense, two of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the secretary of homeland security, and the president’s campaign manager. Everyone was in a suit. No one was smiling. They never did during these "informal and off-the-record" chats about the state of the world, as the president liked to call them.
Lucy was the newest member of the team, everyone else having served with the president throughout his not-yet-complete first term in office. She’d been named DNI less than a year ago, shortly after her predecessor had suffered a catastrophic health failure. She hadn’t known the man personally, but he’d seemed to be a pretty fit man. Lucy had found it somewhat odd that a fifty-five-year-old triathlete had suffered such a massive stroke, but then, he had just been blamed for the intelligence failure that had allowed Hurricane Simone and Carter Thompson to terrorize the Eastern seaboard. It wasn’t the first time she’d heard of something like that happening and it likely wouldn’t be the last, but she didn’t like coincidences like that and preferred not to dwell on them. She just did her job and took the necessary hits.
It was a dubious honor to be part of what the president considered his inner circle, much like it had been an honor to be grilled in class by the toughest professor when she’d been in law school. She was certain that the only reason she was part of this group was because of what the president’s team had called her "stellar performance" during the confirmation hearings. She’d been the dark horse, the nominee no one had ever heard of. There was no reason they should have—her personal history was classified at the highest level. What had been released to the press and carefully placed into the wild as "confirmable" had been an artful and charming work of fiction. It was just another part of the game, and one she was well used to.
She’d been a hell of a good case officer, spending her entire career on the dark side taking calculated risks, facing occasionally terrifying odds, and receiving accolades she could never publicly acknowledge. But that part of her track record was not what had made the powers that be bring her in from the cold and set her into the heat of the spotlight.
Lucy had been made the president’s DNI because she had a cool head, a steady hand, and a flexible morality, and she was known not to flinch. Ever.
If she took aim, she took the shot.
And her shots always hit their mark.
Lucy walked farther into the room and came to a stop in front of one of the two empty chairs opposite the one President Benson usually chose as his own. She could have sat closer to the president, but that would have meant she would have had to sit next to Katy Wirth, the secretary of defense, and that was something she always tried to avoid doing. Their paths had crossed in law school, and later in their training at the Farm. Katy had failed to make the cut into the Agency, though, and they hadn’t met again until Lucy had been brought into this office for an interview eleven months ago. By then, they’d hated each other too long to even pretend to get along.
The room was quiet except for the muted clink of silver against china as the occupants served themselves coffee.
"All right. I’m teeing off in an hour. Let’s get this show on the road," the president said abruptly, turning from the window and crossing the room. His trademark stride had always struck Lucy as an odd combination of Ronald Reagan’s macho Marlboro Man walk and the fluid movement of a trained dancer. It brought to mind both elegance and restrained power, as it was no doubt supposed to, and it fit perfectly with Winslow Benson’s aristocratic bearing and silvered good looks.
But something about that walk had never seemed to blend in completely with the rest of the package. That’s how Lucy had always perceived the president, even before he’d taken office: a carefully crafted package put forth for public consumption. But she knew there was a flaw in that package and, though she couldn’t identify it, the imperfection made it impossible for her to trust him.
The rest of the group seated themselves after the president had lowered himself into his favorite wing chair. Before the last of them was settled, he began to bark out the names of regions, countries, corporations, and their leaders, and the others in the room responded with information relevant to business, the economy, and any real or perceived threats to America’s stability. It was like a high- stakes pop quiz where no one person knew all the answers, but everyone was delighted to torch you for missing a nuance.
"Okay, not a whole lot of surprises," the president said at last. The tension in the room dissipated as he rose to his feet.
"It’s not a big surprise, sir, but I do have something I’d like to mention," Lucy interjected quietly. All eyes turned to her. Most of the hostility in them was subtle. Grandstanding was not appreciated among this crowd.
"What’s that, Lucy?" The president stopped moving, and didn’t sit back down. The message was unmistakable. Make this quick.
"Dennis Cavendish is hosting some sort of small conference on—"
"Oh, for Christ’s sake, Lucy. That’s hardly—" Ken Proust, the presi-dent’s campaign manager and part- time minion of Satan, rolled his eyes.
Not for the first time Lucy thought how nice it would be to Taser Ken’s testicles, just to find out if he’d enjoy the sensation.
"Ken." The president didn’t have to say anything more and Ken retreated, glowering.
Lucy continued. "We’ve confirmed that six heads of major corporations are flying to Taino later today. There may be more. He’s been wining and dining a bunch of them in Miami for the past two days. We’re still attempting to learn why, but we’re fairly certain that it has to do with his underwater drilling project."
"Who’s heading there?"
"Kobiashi Nakamura, head of Takayashi International; Muriel Gastenau, CEO of PetroPharmacol; Dave Coopersmith, CEO of Austral Petroleum, and Fritz Dierbaum, his CFO; Tim Flannery, CEO of BGC Industries; and Peggy Lester, COO of Flint Agrochemical."
The president narrowed his eyes as he looked at her. "That’s an impressive lineup." He looked at one of the national security advisors. "What do you make of it?"
The woman, a former Wall Street wunderkind, smiled. "As a group, those companies represent highly diversified holdings, and each has a little problem with too much cash on hand right now. They’re primed to make some serious capital investment."
President Benson turned his gaze back to Lucy. "And you think there are more heading down there? What’s Cavendish drilling for?"
"Yes, sir. As far as the drilling project, we’re fairly certain it’s for methane hydrate. There has been speculation for years that there is a huge deposit beneath the eastern Caribbean."
"No proof, though?" He looked from Lucy to the security advisor.
The other woman cleared her throat. "I don’t mean to be flippant, sir, but that’s very deep water. Designing a rig for experimentation is a high-risk, extremely expensive proposition. No company wants to undertake it alone. There are several consortia considering it now but their plans are still only on paper."
"But you think Dennis the Menace is doing it?" the president asked, more than a hint of sarcasm in his voice.
Lucy didn’t smile. "Yes, we do, sir. We haven’t been able to penetrate security on the island, but we’ve been tracking purchases and shipping manifests for years, and monitoring everything we can via satellite. If he’s not already drilling, he’s preparing to drill for something that’s not oil or natural gas. We’re sure of that."
"How the hell can we not know what he’s doing?" The president turned to the chief of naval operations, who was seated to his right. "You people keep telling me and Congress and everyone else who will listen that we have state- of- the- art equipment that can identify anything that moves underwater. Why the hell don’t we know what that bastard is doing fifty miles off our coast? And I don’t want to hear that his equipment is better than ours."
To his credit, the admiral didn’t visibly react to the president’s anger. "It’s not just about the equipment and technology, sir, although those are certainly significant to the situation. President Cavendish—"
"Don’t call him that. That island is all of, what, four square miles?" the president snapped. "I don’t give a shit if he wears a crown and calls himself emperor of the dolphins. It’s a fucking banana republic with a constituency of one."
No one in the room so much as let out a breath, although Lucy was hard- pressed not to laugh.
"Taino is a very small island, sir, about thirty- two square miles, but it’s well secured," the admiral replied evenly. "Taino’s security forces are relatively small but very highly trained, from what we know. He’s picked from among the best, sir. SEALs, Delta Force, Mossad, the Royal Navy. They guard a relatively small area and they use technology that we’re still trying to deploy. Cavendish has been able to establish an extremely high level of situational awareness. His entire outfit is tight and fluid, sir, just like a SEAL team. It can adapt to meet threats almost as they occur. And we’re his biggest threat."
"If I can add to what the admiral said, sir," Lucy interjected, "we’ve been monitoring him as heavily as we can. He knows it, too, and has taken a lot of steps to deflect our interest and obscure what he’s doing. It doesn’t hurt that his secretary of national security is extremely clever."
"So is everyone in this room, Lucy, and everyone in our intelligence ser vices," the president replied with no small amount of acid. "Your people can tell me what Putin ate for breakfast and what time Chavez got out of bed, so I find it damned hard to believe they can’t tell me what Dennis Cavendish is drilling for on the seabed fifty God-damned miles off Marathon Key. What is he doing that we can’t fucking find out what he’s up to?" He pulled in a hard breath. "That prick has been a serious pain in this country’s ass for fifteen years. I want to know what the hell he’s up to."
Lucy met the president’s angry eyes. "I understand that, sir. Part of the difficulty in determining what he’s doing is that for more than ten years now he’s had a heavy security net set up just inside the boundaries of his territorial waters—"
"A net? What the hell does that mean? Like some giant fishing net?"
"In some respects, yes, sir. It’s along the lines of the antisubmarine nets used to secure strategic ports during World War II. In those situations, the nets were raised and lowered, or moved on booms to allow transit. Cavendish has a permanently secured mesh of electronic sensors. In some places it’s a physical mesh, almost like a flexible chain- link fence. In most areas it’s just a series of huge sensor arrays. They can identify whatever passes near them— similar to the instruments we’ve been putting on our ships for the last few years. They use sonar, radar, temperature differentials, water displacement, 3- D mapping, electronic frequency and wavelength signatures—the full gamut of identification technologies. He’s deployed them around the entire circumference of the island’s territorial waters."
The president stared at her in silence for a moment, as did everyone else in the room.
"Lucy, you’ve got to be fucking kidding me," he said eventually.
"I assure you, sir, I’m not."
"He’s built an underwater fence around his entire island? How deep is it?"
"A fence is a reasonable analogy, but it’s actually primarily an extensive sensor array. And from what we’ve been able to determine, it does encircle the island from close to the sea surface to the seafloor," she said, explaining as if she hadn’t just said the same thing seconds before.
Another brief silence filled the room.
"Lucy, Taino is a volcanic island on the edge of a Carib be an abyss. The water around that island is thousands of feet deep—" Katy Wirth began.
Lucy refused to react to the patronizing tone. "Yes, Madam Secretary, you’re right. The island does sit at the edge of an abyss. The deepest part that’s been mapped sits at approximately four thousand feet." She shifted her attention back to the president, who didn’t seem convinced. "This barrier is extraordinary in the extreme, sir. The arrays took years, perhaps a decade, to build and deploy, and the project was probably under development long before the U.S. became interested in what Dennis Cavendish was doing on his little island. For years after he bought that island and declared sovereignty, he was written off as another eccentric billionaire with some eco- issues. There have been enough of them." She shrugged. "Even when he built a deepwater port and began bringing in people and equipment, our ser vices took note of it but never bothered to do the math, so to speak."
"Why can’t we get in there? We’ve got people everywhere else on the planet. Why not there?" President Benson demanded.
"Because his secretary of national security, Victoria Clark, is damned close to a genius when it comes to security, sir, if you’ll pardon my language. While we haven’t been able to penetrate the organi zation, we’ve been able to determine who he has working for him on the island and at his embassy here in Washington. We’ve collected background data on them and tried to piece it together with the satellite and environmental data we’ve collected to figure out what he’s up to. The personnel list of Cavendish’s Climate Research Institute reads like a Who’s Who of academic and industrial brain power. Marine architects, engineers from every discipline, informatics and computer geeks, physicists, hydrogeologists, marine biologists—you name it. Stanford, MIT, CalTech, Oxford. They’re from everywhere. It’s an international brain trust." Lucy paused and looked the president straight in the eyes. "They’re also all single, and nearly every one of them fits the clinical definition of having Asperger’s syndrome."
The president frowned at her. "What’s that?"
Lucy let the faintest hint of a smile appear on her face. "Generally speaking, it’s a variation of autism that’s broadly characterized by low emotional involvement, poor social skills, rigid, repetitive behaviors, and a propensity to develop an intense, narrow focus on specific subjects. It’s a pretty good set of traits to have in a group of geniuses whom you want to work nonstop for a few years on a small island where there’s nothing much to do but work. It presents an extra challenge for us, though. We’ll eventually infiltrate Cavendish’s organization, but these individuals will be difficult to turn. What we consider social norms aren’t typically normal for them. They operate on different wavelengths, so to speak, and each person’s wavelength will be different from the next."
The silence in the room was only broken by the gradually louder noise of Marine One’s rotors slicing the air as it came to a rest on the lawn beyond the walls of the White House.
"Okay, we’re done," the president announced and stood up, causing everyone else in the room to get to their feet. "See you next week."
Lucy blinked as she watched the president walk through the doors and wondered if she was the only person in the room who thought what she’d just said was important.
Excerpted from Frozen Fire by William H. Evans and Marianna Jameson.
Copyright 2009 by William H. Evans and Marianna Jameson.
Published in June 2009 by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.