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Rachel Sexton is a single, attractive Intelligence Analyst for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). She has a strained relationship (with good reason) with her father, Senator Sedgewick Sexton, who's currently running for President against the incumbent President Zachary Herney. The Senator has been gradually gaining support due to focusing on an overlooked issue: the fact that NASA has cost the tax payers billions of dollars that would have been better spent elsewhere with little results beyond a string of blunders and "pictures of space dust". Sexton denounces Herney's enthusiastic support of NASA as harmful and plans upon election to dismantle NASA and open up space exploration to the private sector, something that obviously causes a lot of people to fear the worst.
One day, straight out of the blue Rachel is summoned by the President and then sent to Ellesmere Island in the Arctic, all in utmost secrecy as to why. There she meets Michael Tolland, a celebrity oceanographer and documentary host; and Corky Marlinson, a highly respected astrophysicist. Both are members of a special civilian scientist team assigned to investigate an "amazing find". Said "find" being a meteorite embedded in the ice containing fossils similar, but not identical, to species found on Earth; in other words, conclusive proof of extraterrestrial life. NASA is incredibly excited, and hopes this will serve as proof that NASA deserves its continued existence...
...However, Michael then notices an irregularity in the meteorite's extraction pit. He, Rachel, Corky and experienced glaciologist Dr. Norah Mangor venture into the Arctic wastes to survey the extraction pit with a ground penetrating radar and make a shocking discovery: the meteorite was actually drilled into the shaft, after which the salt water under it froze. The discovery is actually a fake!
Before they can tell anyone of this, they are immediately attacked by a Delta Force team apparently sent to prevent this from coming to light. What follows is a struggle to survive the ordeal and find out the truth: did NASA fake the discovery to prevent its potential dismantlement in case Sexton wins the election? Or was it the current administration, going to extreme lengths to stay in office? Meanwhile Senator Sexton sends his assistant, Gabrielle Ashe to investigate the matter after noticing some inconsistencies himself. What she finds however, will not only cause her to doubt NASA's integrity but also that of her employer...
This novel features examples of:
- Author Filibuster: Several characters give speeches on why letting the private sector explore space is a bad idea, more in comparison to those in which the opposite is stated.
- Big Bad: William Pickering
- Black Helicopter: the Delta Force's unmarked Kiowa Warrior.
- Blood Knight: The Delta Force operatives seems to enjoy their job a little too much.
- Brand X - Averted: all of the aerospace companies mentioned in Sexton's illicit meeting with their representatives are real.
- Dan Browned - Obviously:
- The novel mentions special "Improvised munitions"- weapons that are capable of firing water at sufficient speed to shatter bones or turn sand or ice into bullets. In reality, "Improvised Munitions" in military jargon means something else entirely, and of those possibilities mentioned, only the first one is remotely feasible: turning sand into glass bullets would require a power source too big to conveniently carry and ice bullets were shown to be ineffective by Myth Busters.
- Director Pickering addresses Rachel as "Agent Sexton". Intelligence analysts are not law enforcement officers and the NRO does not have clandestine field operatives.
- NASA sets up a huge camp in Ellesmere Island and does all its business unhindered. Ellesmere Island is part of Canada, who would presumably also want to take part in this.
- It gets worse when you consider Canada has a military base there.
- Japan's Seven Gods of Good Fortune (Shichi-fukujin) are misidentified as "Shichigosan, which is pretty hilarious.
- Engineered Public Confession - How Sexton gets his comeuppance: he gives to the press what he thought was the evidence of the meteorite cover-up but Gabrielle switched the envelope with one containing pictures of the sexual tryst between the two which he has vigorously denied to the press much earlier.
- Faceless Goons - Interestingly invoked: the fact that Delta One, Two and Three are never physically described, coupled with only being referred to by their codenames conveys this impression.
- Even more curious considering Brown's penchant for using single assassins with distinct physical features in his other books.
- Government Conspiracy - Averted, seeing as Pickering acted without the government's knowledge.
- History Marches On - Although NASA is still around, as of 2010-2011, it's suffering massive budget cuts while the private space companies that aligned with Sexton in the stories are playing a larger role in US space exploration. In other words, Sexton is winning.
- Literal Surveillance Bug - Delta Force uses these.
- The Password Is Always Swordfish
- Politically-Incorrect Villain - Senator Sexton. "If it were up to me, the faggots wouldn't even have the right to vote". And he thinks this to himself while simultaneously agreeing to tone down condemnation of same-sex marriage in his campaign.
- Later on, he tells his daughter this charming line: "You're just like your mother: idealistic and small. Women cannot grasp the true meaning of power." And this after Rachel called him out on leaving her to die.
- Red Herring - Lawrence Ekstrom and Marjorie Tench
- Smug Snake - Senator Sexton, hands down. His crossing of the Moral Event Horizon mentioned above arguably propels him into Complete Monster territory.
- Strawman Political - Who do you think?
- Vasquez Always Dies - Dr. Mangor.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist - William Pickering. He orchestrated the meteorite forgery and the attempted silencing of Rachel, Michael and Corky so NASA's sensitive data wouldn't end up in the hands of the private sector and potentially in those of the USA's enemies.
- He's so dedicated to his country that he goes to these lengths to save NASA despite its incompetence being indirectly responsible for his only daughter's death. What a trooper.
- Why Did It Have to Be Snakes? - Rachel's aquaphobia, which she developed after falling through a frozen lake as a child.
- Incidentally this makes her another Dan Brown protagonist who developed a phobia after falling into some water as a child.