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Deception Point is a 2001 techno-thriller novel by Dan Brown. The plot concerns a meteorite found within the Arctic Circle that may provide proof of extraterrestrial life, and attempts by the antagonists to prevent the evidence against it from becoming public.
Intelligence analyst Rachel Sexton works for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). 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 on Ellesmere Island, 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 discovery is something NASA needs to regain the old grandeur 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 to the Arctic to verify the meteorite's authenticity: Michael Tolland, a famous oceanographer and TV personality; Corky Marlinson, a brilliant but socially inept astrophysicist; Norah Mangor, a prickly glaciologist and Wailee Ming, a palaeontologist.
A Delta Force team is also monitoring the discovery site 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 and drowns, when the Delta Force team have their surveillance microbot attack him.
When Tolland sees the irregularity within the pit, he shares it with Marlinson, Rachel and Mangor. They 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 Delta Force team opens fire on them, killing Mangor and leaving Rachael, Tolland and Marlinson to perish on an ice floe. The three, however, are picked up by the Navy submarine USS Charlotte and manage to inform the president's advisor and the NRO director about the incident. Marjorie Tench, the president's advisor, hushes up their report while the NRO director, William Pickering, has them airlifted from the sub and taken back to U.S. mainland.
Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., Senator Sexton's aide, Gabrielle Ashe, meets with her anonymous contact inside the White House who has been providing the reliable reports on the government expenditure. The contact is revealed to be Tench, who attempts to blackmail Gabrielle with photos of her extramarital affair with Senator Sexton.
Senator Sexton's true motive for abolishing NASA is revealed to the interests of private corporations from the Space Frontier Foundation, who wish to profit from space exploration. 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.
The Delta Force attacks the three aboard Tolland's ship off the New Jersey coast, where Rachel sends a fax message to her father asking for help. As Rachael, Tolland and Marlinson work together to incapacitate or kill two of the Delta Force squad in self-defense, Pickering reveals himself as their commander. 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. Tolland disrupts the ships balance, which sends the landed Delta Force helicopter off the ship into the sea. The intense heat at the bottom ignites the ordnance on the helicopter, tearing a magma plume at the bottom of the sea, creating a water vortex. The ship and Pickering are sucked in by the vortex, while a Coast Guard Osprey picks up Rachael, Tolland and Marlinson.
Senator Sexton attempts to publicize Rachael's fax, incriminating the president and NASA. However, during his press conference, Rachael and Gabrielle swap the envelopes containing copies of Rachael's fax with those containing evidences of his extramarital affairs, humiliating him. By the end of the story, Michael and Rachel have developed a romantic relationship.
Authentication team: During the story, NASA invites five external experts to help authenticate the meteorite finding as secondary sources:
- Rachel Sexton: A data analyst for NRO and Senator Sexton's daughter, Rachel's relationship with her father is antagonistic because of his infidelity, which indirectly contributed to her mother's death in an accident. Her involvement in the authentication is eventually proven to be purely political.
- Michael Tolland: An oceanographer and television celebrity-scientist, Tolland possess excellent educational and social skills and does not exhibit unchecked anger, as other characters do. Having lost his wife to cancer, Tolland gradually develops a crush on Rachel.
- Corky Marlinson: A world-renowned astrophysist and a staunch proponent of the authenticity of the meteorite, Corky has little knowledge of proper social conduct. Corky survives a shark attack.
- Norah Mangor: A glaciologist, Norah is tough and harsh; she is killed early in the book by Pickering's death squad.
- Wailee Ming: A paleontologist; he is killed early in the book by Pickering's death squad.
- Zachary Herney: The incumbent President of the United States in the book, who is criticized for his extravagant expenditure of U.S. money on low-yield areas (including the allegedly futile search for extraterrestrial life) while the important areas of nation (such as education) suffer from the lack of fund. Although he maintains his office for another term, the events of the story lead him into revising government extravagance.
- Senator Thomas Sedgewick Sexton: Rachel's father and an ambitious presidential candidate in the book. Senator Sexton is corrupt, promiscuous, and ruthless: He accepts bribes, engages in several extramarital affairs and even would sacrifice her daughter to crush his political opponent slightly harder and slightly sooner, but the consequences of his actions eventually destroy his political standing, causing him to go into hiding. Despite his ego, he does not take computer security seriously and chooses weak passwords for his computer.
- Marjorie Tench: Senior Adviser to the president. Described as very astute and ruthless, she anonymously sends information about the president's expenditure in NASA to lure Sexton into attacking the organization. Tench has kept the meteorite discovery a secret, intending to use it as a justification for the expenditure, making Sexton's criticism backfire. When Rachael informs her of the fake nature of the meteorite, Tench attempts to hush it up before being killed by Pickering's death squad.
- Gabrielle Ashe: Senator Sexton's aide and one-time mistress, she relays information about NASA's extravagance to Senator Sexton. When the senator's campaign collapses, she infiltrates NASA to help salvage the campaign by finding potential evidences of falsification. Gabrielle later threatens to expose her one-time illegitimate affair to dissuade Sexton from sacrificing her daughter for his political ambitions. Failing to succeed, she and Rachael cooperate to replace the meteorite fiasco evidence with photos of said affair.
- Lawrence Ekstrom: Administrator of NASA; serves no purpose in the book beyond attracting suspicion.
- Chris Harper: NASA section manager; he appears in four dedicated chapters and explains how NASA did not find the meteorite as claimed.
- William Pickering: The main antagonist, director of NRO and the handler of the Delta Force team featured in the book. Pickering's intention is to help president Herney maintain the office for ulterior motivations of his own: his ultimate goal is to make NASA a division of NRO, thus rendering its operations top secret. He and the Delta Force team under his command would kill anyone who is a threat to his plan, even Marjorie Tench, the president's adviser, who once had disagreed with him. Pickering is sucked into a vortex.
- Delta force team: A team of three, apparently male, they are the death squad of William Pickering and take advantage of the state-of-the-art technology of the time, such as surveillance microbots, Aurora aircraft, a Kiowa Warrior helicopter and weapons that manufacture their own munitions. All three were killed: One was eaten by sharks and two others drowned.