Excerpt: 'Frozen Fire' by Bill Evans and Marianna Jameson

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Frozen Fire

Bill Evans and Marianna Jameson first teamed up to write the New York Times bestseller "Category 7," vividly portraying the devastating impact of a powerful hurricane on New York City. Now Evans and Jameson return with "Frozen Fire," another edge-of-the-seat thriller that mixes atmospheric science with cutting edge technology.

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5:50 a.m., Wednesday, October 22, off the western coast of The Paradise of Taino, Eastern Caribbean

The equally high-risk parallels of probable success and possible failure sent twin feeds of adrenaline streaming into Micki Crenshaw's veins as she watched her shadow gradually stretch less and less far across the gently pitching deck of the research ship and submersible tender Wangari Maathai. The sun had crept above the horizon and around the low swell of Taino's lone volcanic peak. That small tip of light was gilding the waters of the eastern Caribbean and expanding the roseate glow that hung low in the sky. The low hum of the engine throbbed beneath her feet. The slap of small waves against the hull and the screams of the seabirds overhead broke the early subtropical stillness. The flag identifying the ship as part of the fleet of the Paradise of Taino--her home and her target--flapped randomly in the cool, quiet air.

It was a beautiful morning in paradise.

A morning more beautiful than this paradise deserves.

Micki glanced over her shoulder at the ship's captain, whom she knew was only pretending to be absorbed by the contents of the clipboard in his hands. He was young, handsome, ex-Royal Navy, and nobody's fool, and he'd been gently flirting with her for the last few weeks. There was little else to do on such a small island and, although the difference in their rank made it a bad idea, she'd allowed it. Actually, she'd encouraged it. She'd never had any qualms about using anything in her repertoire if it would help the cause. And being on Captain Simon Broadhurst's good side, and having him think he was on hers, could help.

"Captain Broadhurst, the sun is up. Can we get underway?" she asked quietly, even though there wasn't a crewmember within earshot.

I'm English, Micki. The proprieties must be observed, he'd said earlier, giving her that smile. She'd wanted to roll her eyes but had stopped herself.

"In a few more minutes, ma'am. I'm still reviewing your dive plan."

She turned to face him full on with a mildly amused expression on her face and one slim eyebrow cocked. Deploying her silkiest Alabama drawl, she answered him. "I know it's unorthodox, captain. But, as we've discussed, that unorthodoxy is necessary. Vital."

"You ought to have briefed me before we left port," he replied.

Tradition and the law of the sea gave him absolute authority on his ship. However, both Micki and the captain knew that, as the second-in-command of Taino's security forces, she outranked him on land, and that's what she was leveraging out here in the soft pre-dawn light. And that's why the censure in his tone was more mild than it would have been had she been anyone else.

"Your dive plan flouts protocol, and may thereby endanger yourself and my crew," he continued in his starchiest, high-street voice. "You're not to dive alone without tracking capabilities. I shouldn't allow it."

She looked down and made her lips twitch as though they were concealing laughter, then looked him in the eyes as she let loose a smile that left him a bit dazzled, as intended.

"But you will allow it, Captain, despite its unorthodoxy, won't you?" she said softly. "This is a high-priority mission and one that will be over quickly. I've tried to make it clear that we have to place this equipment this morning."

He let a silent moment slide by, then folded his arms across his broad, uniformed chest, all the while maintaining eye contact. "I'm not certain you understand the risks, Ms. Crenshaw. They're substantial."

"Oh, I understand them, captain. I also understand, to a degree that you can't, that the risk faced by not executing this mission is one that will be felt by everyone connected with Taino. I thought I'd made it clear that the placement and purpose of this equipment is top secret, and that's why I have to do the dive alone and without you tracking my movements." She let her voice fumble, stopping short of overdoing the emotion. "The accountability for undertaking this mission is mine and mine alone, captain, and I willingly accept that."

"Ms. Crenshaw--"

"Captain Broadhurst--Simon--please don't make me get all official on you," she said, interrupting him with a near-whisper. "Darlin', this little dive of mine is a national security issue and your failure to assist me with it would be a grave violation of the oath you took when you became an officer of the Taino Security Force. As a senior official, I wouldn't be able to overlook something like that." She paused and gave him a sad smile. "You really only have two options, Simon. You can help me execute this mission, or you can refuse to help."

Her quiet words hung in the air, as did the words she didn't have to say. Under Taino's laws, if he didn't help her, she could relieve him of his command and have him secured to his quarters. Then she'd carry out the mission anyway.

Clearly displeased at having his options so neatly delineated, however softly Micki might have done it, the captain gave clipped orders to his crew, his now-cool gaze never leaving Micki's face. She acknowledged his surrender with a nod that held a convincing hint of feminine contrition, but inside triumph reigned. Then she turned her attention to the approaching crew member who would help her into the one-atmosphere diving tube. She was going down. That's all that mattered now.

In one easy movement, she pulled off the wind pants she wore over her swimming suit, then slid the matching anorak over her head. She reveled for a moment in the cool breeze that brushed her bare flesh. Pretending not to notice the surreptitious looks Simon and the small, all-male crew were giving her almost-naked body, Micki began to tug on the black and yellow wet suit she'd brought along.

A few feet way, the crew was doing their final checkout on the dive tube they'd christened Flipper. It was sleek, gray, and highly maneuverable underwater, but that's where the resemblance to everyone's favorite dolphin ended. It was just another useful high-tech toy, as far as Micki was concerned. She'd trained in it, as all the security personnel had trained in this and all the other high-tech dive equipment her commander-in-chief, Dennis Cavendish, kept acquiring. Despite never having actually used the tube for any purpose other than training, Micki was confident that she could carry out her duty and be topside before anyone could learn that the entire mission was a fabrication.

This dive was an extremely daring act, but it was a necessary part of the plan. It was a heady feeling to know that the years she'd put into gaining her boss's trust and into learning everything there was to know about nation of Taino--and the reality behind its clever façade--would soon pay off. All the condescension she'd endured at Dennis's hands was a small price to pay to ensure that the money and energy Dennis and his minions had put into achieving his megalomaniacal dream of controlling the world's next-generation energy source would be wasted. The world would be shown once again, vividly, that greed and arrogance led inevitably to incalculable damage to the Earth and all Her inhabitants.

Yes, Dennis, in a few days, you will have changed the world forever. For the worse. Fully ensconced in the one-person diving tube, Micki mentally counted the clicks and hisses as the crew secured the seals that would keep her separate from the sea and safe from its frigid pressures. As she waited for the dive master to speak to her through the headphones, she kept her eyes trained on the small black boxes she'd carefully secured to the platform at the front of the tiny vessel.

When she'd approached Simon about this unscheduled trip, Micki had told him the twin units were a new, state-of-the-art surveillance device made by a boutique firm in Switzerland. With a deprecating roll of her eyes, she'd added that they were being deployed as a favor to the company's owner, a business associate of Dennis's. The boxes were beta units and Dennis had agreed to let Taino be their first real-world test bed because he believed the technology held promise and would provide them with useful data if it worked as planned. Micki had added, as off-hand as ever, that even she wasn't entirely sure what the devices were meant to do; she had been told only that she was to place them in specific secure locations without her movements being tracked.

Everything she'd said was a lie, of course. The units were highly sophisticated bombs, the brainchild of Garner Blaylock, Earth activist, unsung genius, and Dennis Cavendish's worst nightmare. When activated remotely by Micki, the black boxes would exploit the one vulnerability that Victoria Clark, Taino's white-hat paranoiac Secretary of National Security and Micki's immediate boss, hadn't taken into account in all of her continual brainstorming about terrorism: sabotage. The kind that could be carried out by an insider, a member of Victoria's trusted, hand-picked inner circle. All those endless hours of security audits and exhaustive tabletop exercises would have been for nothing. Micki couldn't wait to see the look on Victoria's face when she realized it.

Talk about a blind spot.

Working side-by-side with Victoria for the last few years and overseeing the ubiquitous background checks, covert surveillance, network trolling, and physical searches on the employees, it had become apparent to an incredulous Micki that Victoria hadn't taken any precautions against the most obvious option. She'd never considered that someone she trusted implicitly -- and investigated so thoroughly -- could set a bomb and destroy everything Victoria was meant to protect. This ludicrous arrogance was a rather alarming character flaw in Victoria, who prided herself on her emotionless perfectionism. In a moment of supreme and deliberate irony, Micki had even suggested the notion of a mole, an insider with malicious intent.

Victoria had considered it carefully, of course. She considered everything carefully. But then she dismissed insider cooperation as a viable threat. For such a plan to be carried out would require there to be too many gaps in her heavily fortified, overtly redundant security perimeter. Micki had listened in awe as Victoria, one of the most highly respected security experts in the world, told her that--on Taino, on her turf--such a threat fell into the category identified by security experts as having extremely high impact but extremely low probability. Micki had even argued with her, pointing out that that was the same category into which the notion of people flying airliners into tall office buildings had once been placed. But Victoria was adamant. Not on Taino. Not with her security parameters in place.

It was a significant source of amusement to Micki that Victoria had never considered that the very person responsible for maintaining those parameters could be the black hat Victoria never stopped looking for. And it a was a source of tremendous pride to Micki that she was able to create those vital, improbable gaps, leaving Taino's computer and security networks riddled with hidden virtual tunnels. And today, in less than an hour, she would place the matched set of small explosives into critical fissures in the cliff walls that loomed above Atlantis, the top-secret, deep-sea habitat and methane hydrate mining operation on which Dennis Cavendish was staking the world's future.

Later, Micki would detonate the devices, triggering a submarine landslide that would destroy the entire installation. All of Dennis's proprietary technological advances would be lost and his minions would be sacrificed--horrible but necessary deaths. Dennis Cavendish, the man who'd crowned himself a king and wanted to be a god, would be hated and reviled, his name cursed, his legacy ruined, his dreams literally crushed.

The plan was so simple, so clean, so elegant, that it made Micki want to laugh out loud each time she'd thought about it over the past few months. That she'd come up with the plan herself, and that Garner had seized on it as viable, just added to the buzz in her bloodstream.

"All set, Ms. Crenshaw?" The dive master's voice came through the headphones clearly and Micki fought back a smile at the rush of adrenaline through her blood.

"I'm ready when you are," she replied, briefly nodding at the beautiful and still-furious Simon Broadhurst through the porthole in front of her.

The dive master issued a command and Micki felt a low vibration begin as the ship's winch was brought to life. Seconds later, the pod encasing her was lifted from the tender ship's dive platform. The deck disappeared from her view as the dive tube was swung slowly away from the ship to hang in mid-air above the surface of the calm early-dawn sea. She felt a brief shudder as the winch's gear shifted and then the sensation of falling in slow motion took over.

The splash-down was easy and controlled, and the dive tube's motors started flawlessly when she initiated the ignition sequence. Less than ten minutes after she'd been given the captain's begrudging clearance to dive, she heard the loud metallic clunk as the tether released her and retracted, leaving her free to maneuver the sleek unit to her destination two thousand feet below the surface, and two thousand feet above the most daring mining operation ever undertaken.

Pointing the nose down, Micki left the surface world. The first thing she did was switch off the communications link to the Wangari . With the faint radio static gone, the only noises she could hear were the muted hum of the pod's motor and the sparkling rush of bubbles past the porthole. The sounds soothed her as she aimed the vessel away from the well-lit surface and toward the dark, dramatic cliff created by a tectonic shift thousands of years ago. Time seemed suspended as she moved quickly and effortlessly through the water.

As she neared the shallow, twilit floor of the continental shelf, she cut her speed so she could enjoy what would be her last trip to this pristine undersea paradise. She felt no regret about what she was intending to do. She'd been granted an opportunity to right some of humanity's wrongs, and the vista before her was her reward. Coral and anemones and brightly colored fish, doing what they'd done for millennia, displayed no curiosity toward the noisy monster that moved past them in the watery dusk. Micki slowed further, gliding just above the smooth sea floor.

Octopi slithered away. Eels and their clueless prey watched her from their crevices among the rocks and maddening human debris that littered the bottom. Curiosity got the best of a pair of shy hammerhead sharks and they swam toward her, arcing up and away seconds before they would have made impact. Moving at a speed that barely registered, Micki steered the submersible to the stark, jagged line where the sea floor gave way to the abyss and hovered there, pointing downward, for a few seconds.

Then, with an abrupt burst of acceleration, she sent the dive tube surging over the edge. The deepest dark appeared beneath her, replacing the half-light reflected by the pale, sandy bottom now behind her. Her body braced itself against the sensation of falling that her intuition insisted was taking place, though the tube was stable in the water.

Embraced by the primordial darkness of the abyss, Micki closed her eyes as something close to an orgasmic rush tightened every muscle, electrified every nerve, in her body. Her gasp echoed in the tight space and it took more than a moment for her to catch her breath, to bring her mind to the task at hand.

Hands shaking from both excitement and a sliver of fear, she set the controls to pick up speed as she resumed her dark descent, moving past the craggy outcropping of the abyssal walls. Turning on the external floodlights was an option that she refused to exercise. Part of the thrill, part of the delicious risk was slicing through the silent, lethal, dimensionless darkness guided only by the ghostly glow of the head-up display in front of her.

As she approached a depth of eighteen hundred feet, the small radar screen at the left of her field of view showed her first destination coming into range. Now she flipped on the vessel's powerful outside lights and the stark, forbidding face wall became clearly visible as she continued to descend parallel to it.

Moments later, she brought the vehicle to a stop opposite a small cave two thousand vertical feet above the habitat and approximately two hundred feet north of it. Setting the gyroscopes to stabilize her position and maintain pitch and attitude, Micki began initiating the sequences needed to extend the small robotic arm from its sheltered tube at the front of the pod.

Carefully, she maneuvered the arm to allow one of its pincers to open and slide beneath the handle at the top of the first ceramic box. The pincer firmly locked in place, Micki released the clamps that had held the box secure for the descent, and delicately negotiated the box out of its "nest" on the platform. Once clear of the diving unit's structure, she gently rotated the arm holding the deadly, precious cargo and extended its reach deep into the stygian depths beyond the cave's narrow opening.

Her gaze glued to the small screen on the dashboard, Micki worked as hard at keeping her breathing even and her hands dry and steady on the controls as she did at maneuvering the bomb past the random outcroppings and occasional creatures in the cave. She was operating practically blind. Her only guidance came from the small light mounted on the end of the arm and the live video feed from the even smaller camera next to it. She moved the box forward at a painstakingly slow pace.

Fully extended, the mechanical arm had a range of twelve feet. When it had reached that distance into the cave, Micki set the ceramic box carefully onto a clear space on the floor, released it from the pincers, and began retracting the arm as slowly and carefully as she'd inserted it. Being set so far into the cave, would preclude the box from being seen by anyone who might be sent to these coordinates to investigate her actions--which would only happen if Simon disobeyed her orders and tracked her movements. Not that it really mattered. Even if Simon could convince Victoria to send an investigative team to find out what she'd been doing, it would be too late. Investigators would not be facing an abyssal wall. They would be facing a blank expanse of ocean, still turbid with the debris of a catastrophic submarine landslide.

The arm fully retracted, Micki moved forward three hundred feet along the wall and repeated the procedure with the second box. Her mission accomplished, she aimed the pod upward and moved in a slow arc back toward the tender ship. When she broke the surface, she reactivated the communications channel and announced to the dive master that she was ready to be retrieved. It wasn't easy keeping the triumph out of her voice.