The man's deceit was doubly painful because he was the only family Rachel had left. Rachel's mother had died three years ago, a devastating loss whose emotional scars still raked at Rachel's heart. Rachel's only solace was knowing that the death, with ironic compassion, had liberated her mother from a deep despair over a miserable marriage to the senator.
Rachel's pager beeped again, pulling her thoughts back to the road in front of her. The incoming message was the same.
---RPRT DIRNRO STAT---
Report to the Director of NRO stat.
She sighed. I'm coming, for God's sake!
With rising uncertainty, Rachel drove to her usual exit, turned onto the private access road, and rolled to a stop at the heavily armed sentry booth. This was 14225 Leesburg Highway---one of the most secretive addresses in the country.
While the guard scanned her car for bugs, Rachel gazed out at the mammoth structure in the distance. The one million square foot complex sat majestically on 68 forested acres just outside D.C. in Fairfax, Virginia. The building's façade was a bastion of one-way glass that reflected the army of satellite dishes, antennas, and rayodomes on the surrounding grounds, doubling their already awe-inspiring numbers.
Two minutes later, Rachel had parked and crossed the manicured grounds to the main entrance, where a carved granite sign announced:
NATIONAL RECONNAISSANCE OFFICE (NRO)
The two, armed Marines flanking the bullet-proof revolving door stared straight ahead as Rachel passed between them. She had the same sensation she always had as she pushed through these doors that she was entering the belly of a sleeping giant.
Inside the vaulted lobby, Rachel sensed the faint echoes of hushed conversations all around her as if the words were sifting down from the offices above. An enormous tiled mosaic announced the NRO directive:
ENABLING U.S GLOBAL INFORMATION SUPERIORITY, DURING PEACE AND THROUGH WAR.
The walls here were lined with massive photographs---rocket launches, submarine christenings, intercept installations---towering achievements that could be celebrated only within these walls.
Now, as always, Rachel felt the problems of the outside world fading behind her. She was entering the shadow world. A world where the problems thundered in like freight trains, and the solutions were meted out with barely a whisper.
As Rachel approached the final checkpoint, she wondered what kind of problem had caused her pager to ring twice in the last thirty minutes.
"Good morning, Ms. Sexton." The guard smiled as she approached the steel doorway.
Rachel returned the smile as the guard held out a tiny swab for Rachel to take.
"You know the drill," he said.
Rachel took the hermetically sealed cotton swab and removed the plastic covering. Then she placed it in her mouth like a thermometer. She held it under her tongue for two seconds. Then, leaning forward, she allowed the guard to remove it. The guard inserted the moistened swab into a slit in a machine behind him. The machine took four seconds to confirm the DNA sequences in Rachel's saliva. Then a monitor flickered on, displaying Rachel's photo and security clearance.
The guard winked. "Looks like you're still you." He pulled the used swab from the machine and dropped it through an opening where it was instantly incinerated. "Have a good one." He pressed a button and the huge steel doors swung open.
As Rachel made her way into the maze of bustling corridors beyond, she was amazed that even after six years here she was still daunted by the colossal scope of this operation. The agency encompassed six other U.S. installations, employed over 10,000 agents, and had operating costs of over ten billion dollars per year.
Copyright Dan Brown 2001. All rights reserved.
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