Writer: Dan Brown
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (US)
Published Year: 2001
ISBN: 0-552-15176-4 (US)
ISBN: 9780552159722 (UK)
Summary of the Book
Intelligence Analyst Rachel Sexton is in her mid-thirties, is single, and works for the NRO (National Reconnaissance Office). Her father, Senator Sedgewick Sexton, is a presidential candidate who is more popular than incumbent President of the United States Zachary Herney. The President sends her to the Arctic as part of a team of experts to confirm and authenticate findings made by NASA deep within the Milne Ice Shelf. NASA's new Polar Orbiting Density Scanner (PODS), part of the Earth Observation System (EOS), a collection of satellites monitoring the globe for signs of large-scale change, has found an extremely dense spot in the Milne Ice Shelf. At this spot NASA discovers a very dense meteorite. In it are insect fossils very similar to, but not the same as, species on earth. NASA claims this as proof of extraterrestrial life.
The find is something NASA needs in the light of recent failures. Senator Sexton uses these failures as an example of government overspending to further his campaign; he wants to abolish NASA and direct the funding toward public schools instead. In order to ensure that the discovery is not tarnished by the reputation that NASA has developed, the President sends four leading civilian scientists (Michael Tolland, a famous oceanographer and TV personality; Corky Marlinson, a brilliant but eccentric astrophysicist; Norah Mangor, a prickly glaciologist and Wailee Ming, a palaeontologist) to the Arctic to verify the meteorite's authenticity.
A Delta MNVAS Force team is also observing the discovery, monitoring the NASA staff for an unknown commander. Ming observes an irregularity within the pit from which the meteorite was extracted. He reaches into the water to obtain a sample and falls in due to an attack by microbots operated by the Delta Force team. He soon drowns to the bottom of the pit.
When Tolland sees the irregularity, he shares it with Corky Marlinson and Rachel Sexton. They report it to Mangor, who confirms that there is sea water in what should be a closed area with only freshwater. The four go outside to scan the ice from a distance. The scan shows Ming's body in the water and a column of frozen sea ice beneath the meteorite where it was drilled up into the glacier. Upon discovering this, the four are attacked by the Delta Force team, leaving Norah Mangor dead. Sexton, Tolland and Marlinson escape and are picked up by the Navy submarine USS Charlotte. The Delta Force team believes them to be dead, leaving the scientists a chance to tell the President's advisor and Rachel's boss at the NRO about their discovery, and the subsequent attack. Rachel's boss, NRO director William Pickering, has them airlifted from the sub to a chopper which escorts them away from the meteorite discovery site.
Eventually, the Senator Sexton's true motive for wanting to abolish NASA is revealed to be his work for the interests of private corporations from the Space Frontier Foundation, who wish to profit off of space exploration in the event that NASA is dismantled. Rachel is unaware of this, and believes that the President and NASA are part of the conspiracy to kill them. If so, their motive would be to cover up evidence that the meteorite is fake and solely designed to gain support for the incumbent President in the upcoming election. Aboard Tolland's ship off the New Jersey coast, where the Delta Force arrives via helicopter to kill them, Rachel sends a fax message to her father asking for help.
Sexton, Tolland, and Marlinson work together to kill the Delta Force squad in self-defense. Rachel is surprised to see Pickering emerging from the helicopter, revealing that he is the commander of the Delta Force squad. He tells Rachel about her father's true motivations for becoming President, and that he (Pickering) masterminded the fake meteorite to hurt Senator Sexton's campaign, protecting the American people in his eyes. When the President sent the civilian team to verify the authenticity of the meteorite, Pickering realized that they would discover his plot and that they needed to be eliminated at all costs. Rachel attempts to reason with Pickering, saying that murder is not a justifiable way of solving the problem. Pickering, however, says that he is "sacrificing a few to save many", and that he will finish the job personally. Pickering shoots at the three with an machine gun, but they manage to get off of the ship. The helicopter slides off the ship into the sea, sinking to the bottom. When the intense heat at the bottom ignites the Tomahawk Missiles still on the helicopter, it tears the existent magma plume at the bottom of the sea, creating a water vortex. The ship is sucked in by the vortex, and Pickering is implied to have been killed in the wreck.
Senator Sexton then reads the fax message his daughter sent him to the public, possibly incriminating the President and NASA. However, the truth eventually comes to light about Senator Sexton's ulterior motives and Pickering's meteorite plot, securing Zachary Herney a second term as President.
By the end of the story, Michael and Rachel have developed a romantic relationship.