|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|Pages||372 (hardback) 580 (paperback)|
The novel follows White House intelligence analyst Rachel Sexton's involvement in corroborating NASA's discovery of a meteorite that supposedly contains proof of extraterrestrial life, resembling the ALH84001 case. The discovery comes at a time close to the United States presidential election in which her father is running. The discovery will aid the campaign of her employer, the incumbent president of the United States, Zachary Herney, but put her further at odds with her already estranged father, Senator Sedgwick Sexton, a senator who is running for election. Sexton, accompanied by a team of experts, must uncover the authenticity of the meteorite which will either make or break the campaign of President Herney.
On the eve of a U.S. presidential election, NASA discovers concrete proof of extraterrestrial life within a meteorite in the Milne Ice Shelf. The discovery gains overwhelming political importance because NASA's gross expenditure and low yield is the hottest topic of debate. To verify the authenticity of the evidence, the president sends a team of five carefully chosen individuals: four scientists – Michael Tolland, Corky Marlinson, Norah Mangor and Wailee Ming – and a National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) employee, Rachel Sexton, daughter of Senator Sexton, the presidential candidate.
The authenticity of the discovery seems beyond doubt. But when the team discovers a seemingly insignificant anomaly, a Delta Force team that was secretly monitoring NRO team attacks, kills Ming and Mangor while leaving Rachel, 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 adviser, Marjorie Tench and the NRO director, William Pickering about the incident. Tench hushes up their report while Pickering takes it seriously and sends them an air transport.
Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., Tench tries to hurt Sexton's campaign through his aide, Gabrielle Ashe. She attempts to blackmail Gabrielle with photos of her extramarital affair with Senator Sexton and reveals that the senator's sponsors are private aerospace corporations who would reap profit from taking NASA's place. A distraught Ashe investigates the claims and discovers that they are true but also finds out that NASA had lied about the origin of their discovery.
The surviving researchers retreat to Tolland's research ship off the New Jersey coast where they fully re-analyze their data and discover that the meteorite is fake. A surprise attack by the Delta Force team however, prompts Rachel to fax the result of the analysis to her father, asking for help. In the ensuing skirmish, all Delta Force soldiers are killed, their helicopter is sunk and Pickering is revealed to be their commander. He tells Rachel about her father's true motivations for becoming President, and that Pickering masterminded the fake meteorite to hurt Herney's campaign. The ship and Pickering are sucked in by a vortex, while a Coast Guard Osprey picks up Rachel, Tolland and Marlinson.
Senator Sexton attempts to publicize Rachel's fax, incriminating the president and NASA. However, during his press conference, Rachel and Gabrielle swap the envelopes containing copies of Rachel's fax with those containing evidences of his extramarital affairs, humiliating him and ruining his chances for the presidency. 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 possesses excellent educational and social skills and does not exhibit unchecked anger, as other characters do. Tolland can remain calm under fire and think out of the box. Having lost his wife to cancer, Tolland gradually develops a crush on Rachel.
- Corky Marlinson: A world-renowned astrophysicist 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 prickly glaciologist, Norah has a tough, tomboyish personality; she is suffocated with ice and snow early in the book by Pickering's death squad and was thrown into the Arctic Ocean along with her sled.
- Wailee Ming: A paleontologist with an impeccable dress habit; he is drowned early in the book by Pickering's death squad when he attempted to investigate an irregularity in the extraction hole.
- Zachary Herney: The President of the United States, 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 funds. 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 his daughter to crush his political opponent harder, but the consequences of his actions eventually destroy his political standing. Because of 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 Rachel 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 Rachel 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, he is the mastermind behind main plot line. 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 clandestine. 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 have access to state-of-the-art technology of the time, such as surveillance microbots, an Aurora aircraft, a Kiowa Warrior helicopter and weapons that manufacture their own munitions. All three were killed: Two were eaten by sharks and their leader was drowned inside a Kiowa Warrior.