"No," the director said, "but I can."
His words rumbled a bit, reminding Rachel of the other reason Pickering was called The Quaker. Despite being a small man, William Pickering could cause political earthquakes if he were crossed.
"My concerns here are simple," Pickering said, "I have a responsibility to protect the people who work for me, and I don't appreciate even the vague implication that one of them might be used as a pawn in a political game."
"What do you recommend I do?"
Pickering sighed. "My suggestion is that you meet with him. Commit to nothing. Once the President tells you what the hell is on his mind, call me. If I think he's playing political hardball with you, trust me, I'll pull you out so fast the man won't know what hit him."
"Thank you, sir." Rachel sensed a protective aura from the director that she often longed for in her own father. "And you said the President already sent a car?"
"Not exactly." Pickering frowned and pointed out the window.
Uncertain, Rachel went over and gazed out in the direction of Pickering's outstretched finger.
A snub-nosed MH-60G PaveHawk helicopter sat idling on the lawn. One of the fastest choppers on earth, this PaveHawk was emblazoned with the White House insignia. The pilot stood nearby, checking his watch.
Rachel turned to Pickering in disbelief. "The White House sent a PaveHawk to take me fifteen miles into D.C.?"
"Apparently the President hopes you are either impressed or intimidated." Pickering eyed her. "I suggest you are neither."
Rachel nodded. She was both.
Four minutes later, Rachel Sexton exited the NRO and climbed into the waiting helicopter. Before she had even buckled herself in, the craft was airborne, banking hard across the Virginia woods. Rachel gazed out at the blur of trees beneath her and felt her pulse rising. It would have risen faster had she known this chopper would never reach the White House.
The frigid wind battered the fabric of the ThermaTech tent, but Delta-One hardly noticed. He and Delta-Three were focused on their comrade, who was manipulating the joystick in his hand with surgical dexterity. The screen before them displayed a live video transmission from a pinpoint camera mounted aboard the micro-robot.
The ultimate surveillance tool, Delta-One thought, still amazed every time they powered it up. Lately, in the world of micro-mechanics, fact seemed to be outpacing fiction.
Micro Electro Mechanical Systems (MEMS)---microbots---were the newest tool in hi-tech surveillance ."fly on the wall technology" they called it.
Although microscopic, remote-controlled robots sounded like science fiction, in fact they had been around since the 1990's. Discovery Magazine had run a cover story in May 1997 on microbots--- featuring both "flying" and "swimming" models. The swimmers---nano-subs the size of salt-grains---could be injected into the human bloodstream a lá the movie Fantastic Voyage. They were now being used by advanced medical facilities to help doctors navigate arteries by remote control, observe live intravenous video transmissions, and locate arterial blockages without ever lifting a scalpel.
Contrary to intuition, building a flying microbot was even simpler business. The aerodynamics technology for getting a machine to fly had been around since Kittyhawk, and all that remained had been the issue of miniaturization. The first flying microbots, designed by NASA as unmanned exploration tools for future Mars missions, had been several inches long. Now, however, advances in nano-technology, lightweight energy-absorbent materials, and micro-mechanics had made the flying microbots a reality.
Copyright Dan Brown 2001. All rights reserved.
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