Chris will fall to his death unless Maya saves him. The level of trust he shows in her gives Jack a rush.
Jack finds his legs moving under him before he has time to think about what he’s doing. He darts forward, with Maya by his side. There’s nowhere Jack would rather be than with these people. He would dive into the guts of hell with them, and hell had better look out.
As they dive, a slap of cold wind hits his face. Chris reaches for the black line hanging from the helicopter. His arms get a tenuous grip. He spins around it, slipping down fast. There’s no way he can hold on without Maya’s help.
“Hold tight!” she yells.
Chris’s body slows, and clings to the line several feet below them.
Jack begins falling far short of the line, but then an unnatural gravity pulls him to it. He grabs on with both hands. Maya grips the line under him.
The helicopter motor pounds in Jack’s ears as its pitch shifts, the vehicle rolling to one side momentarily and adjusting to the additional weight.
Jack spins to look behind them. Maintaining his precarious hold on the line, he sees the men in the Pentagon moving to the window with guns raised. “Behind us!”
“Not today!” Maya yells.
The men are thrown back like a dog yanked hard on a leash, crashing inside the secretary’s office.
“Other men!” Chris yells.
Jack looks down to see a man hanging on the end of the line below Chris raising an assault rifle. Jack suspects he won’t fire for fear of hitting the helicopter, but Maya evidently doesn’t want to take the chance. She brushes him down the line. He untangles from his Swiss set harness and drops to the ground. Next, she drops the men repelling on lines from the roof. She yells like she’s punched in the stomach. Jack knows it’s raking daggers across her mind to burn this much energy after recovering from near depletion only seconds ago.
“Which way to the White House?” Chris yells.
Jack’s first and only thought is that they won’t get through the front door without Sabine.
“Maya,” Jack yells at the top of his voice.
She looks up at him.
“How far away do you have to be to move somebody?”
“I don’t know. I’m pushing it now.”
He decides they’ll just have to get as close as they can. He yells down to Chris, “Sabine first! Around front!”
Jack considers that she may not be anywhere near the front entrance. It’s only a guess. And either way, this will put them back into the line of fire.
“Wish me luck! I’ve never tried to move anything this big!” Chris yells.
“Push it!” Jack commands.
The helicopter groans as it banks left, making its way around the Pentagon. The kids swing wildly as the vehicle curves and arcs unevenly through the air. As the lines swing back toward the building, Chris gets close enough to pound it with his feet as if running across it.
They round two of the angled sides of the Pentagon. Jack spots the squad cars ahead. There are fewer officers among them. He expects most are now inside.
He scans the area for Sabine, from one mind to the next. He finds minds concerned about their safety: What’s going on? Are we under attack?
Past this first layer of people, he finds one or two that read like law enforcement. They’re comforted to know they’ve apprehended a suspect. They’re confused by the strange things they’ve witnessed, but focused on their duty: We have to get them before they do some real damage. What if I come face-to-face with them?
He zeroes in on the group of officers, searching, sifting through the confidence, the aggression, the training. Inside this cluster he finds a lone mind that’s scared, that just wants to disappear. She’s struggling, pushed to the point of exhaustion.
The police walk with her toward the entrance.
“Bring us in close!” Jack yells.
The helicopter sinks low to the ground and swings and twists them like a pendulum in a cyclone.
“Pull her out, Maya!” Jack yells.
“I can’t see her!”
“Pull ’em all out!”
“Oh god. That’s going to drain me,” she yells. “Hold on. I may not be able to hold us.”
Jack wraps his legs around the line and tightens his grip. His palms sting from sliding on the thin, tightly wrapped synthetic rope.
Maya lets out a pained cry.
Flailing bodies spill through the air out of the Pentagon entrance: a woman in a pantsuit, several officers, agents, an old man. They’re like toys dumped sideways from a box.
“Got you, girl,” Maya says.
The others fall clumsily to the ground as Sabine floats upward. Jack lets go of one hand and holds it out to her.
She streams toward him faster until she flies into his embrace.
“Did you see? I was flying!” Sabine says.
“Grab on!” Jack says.
Sabine’s small hands latch instantly to the rope. Jack envelops her, welling with tears at the smell of her hair and the feel of her delicate frame against him. “Couldn’t leave without you.”
Jack draws on the doctor’s intimate knowledge of Washington, reaches out his arm in front of him in the direction of the White House, and then yells to Chris, “Go! Go!” Chris looks up at him and then the helicopter jerks forward. The wind hits them like a wall of ice.
Jack hears a sound like popping corn piercing through the clamor of the blades. At first it doesn’t register, but then he knows. It’s gunshots. As he suspected after seeing the agents with their weapons drawn in the secretary’s office, they’re not trying to apprehend them anymore. They’ve been given the order to kill.
Jack ducks his head and holds Sabine tightly. He hears bullets rip past them as they round the east side of the Pentagon and head over the Potomac.
“I knew you would come,” Sabine says. “I knew it.”
“Buckle up,” he says. “Things aren’t going to get any easier.”
“I don’t care.” She holds onto him like a vice.
He cherishes her trust in him, not just her belief that he’d rescue her, but for holding her safely against a thin rope, dangling a hundred feet in the air.
The helicopter rolls left, surging forward at a sharp angle. It zooms straight for the White House, its nose tilted down like a predator on the prowl.
Jack thinks maybe he and Sabine aren’t so different. With her, Chris, and Maya, even at this dangerous moment, he feels safer than he ever has.
The iconic columns and arched windows of the White House come into view.
“Bring us in nice and gentle!” Maya yells.
“I don’t know if I can!” Chris shouts back.
They dip close to the wrought-iron perimeter fence. Chris lifts up his legs over it as the helicopter jolts up, tugging Jack’s insides.
“Are you trying to make me barf?” Maya says. “My stomach is still back there.”
Jack spots men on the roof, scrambling. He centers on a group of them holding a long object pointed at the helicopter. This time it’s not going to be just bullets. Jack reaches for their minds to take out the order to fire. But before he can home in on the one with his finger on the trigger, he sees a small blast behind it. The projectile heads for the helicopter.
“Chris! Move!” he yells, unable to articulate any more specific suggestion.
Chris looks up frantically. The helicopter sputters as if weakening. It seems Chris has expended himself. The craft half-heartedly yaws right, but not enough.
The pilot jumps out, his headset and cables tearing off him as he falls.
The missile cleaves the helicopter dead on and it erupts in a blinding white fire. Jack feels the sudden scorching heat as the force of the explosion pushes Sabine and him zipping down the line.
The rope no longer holds them up. They fall the few remaining yards to the lawn.
The helicopter’s blasted-out hull angles toward the base of the White House portico. It collapses into the side of the building with a horrendous sound of wrenching metal and fire, its tail twisting and snapping into the first-floor windows. Shattered glass shoots inward.
Jack coughs, blinded by black smoke.
Gunshots follow, some from above, some from the ground.
“Run!” He grabs Sabine by the arm. She’s limping. They duck through the black smoke and race for the White House entrance.