Chapter 1 Summary
The novel opens with Mary, a fighter pilot, attempting to evacuate her F16, which is plummeting toward the earth.
Stanley, the lowly night editor for the Washington Spectator, gets the first wires about the crash. At first, there are conflicting reports—a bus crash, a plane with the president on board—and Stanley is unsure of the nature of the incident.
Mary parachutes from the plane and is severely roughed up in the process; one of her legs gets twisted out of joint. She lands in the trees and awaits the Coast Guard rescue team. She knows she has always been the kind of woman who does what scares her most.
Married journalists Mabel Cannon and Don Grady are hosting a dinner party of Washington’s elite. The guests converse about politics, either playing up or down their knowledge of current events in an effort to impress.
Conflicting reports continue to rush in, so Stanley calls his supervisor, Adam Sanger. Stanley, Adam, and Don had started out together, but Stanley’s journalism career stalled while those of his classmates soared. Adam’s wife answers the phone and tells Stanley her husband will be right over.
At the dinner party, the conversation turns to war, with comparisons of past wars to the current one in the Middle East. When Mabel brings up a top-secret Senate report, her husband, Don, admits that he knows something about it. There is tension in the room as everyone realizes Mabel has been scrambling for a story her husband already has.
Hanging from the tree, Mary considers how she has always been different. In her youth, she’d never had much luck with boys, who weren’t always polite about expressing their disinterest in her. Swinging from her parachute, she tries to grab onto the tree to steady herself.
At the party, the guests (many of whom are writers) are anxious to get details from Don about the report, but he gives few answers.
Mary watches the Lincoln Memorial as she swings in the tree. In shock, Mary sobs openly and secretly hopes the rescue will not happen for a little while longer.
As wine and the later hour make the party sag, Mabel considers her relationship with Don. She is always trailing behind him professionally, and he knows it.
Will Holmes, a government operative, knows about the plane that crashed into the Potomac. It is part of a project from an agency called DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). The agency is testing a program that could take over a jet remotely without the pilot’s knowledge. Will had killed the wrong person on one of his first missions, and now he is glad this assignment didn’t have the same potential.