The ice at the center of the NASA habisphere was dominated by an eighteen‑foot tripod structure of composite scaffolding, which looked like a cross between an oil rig and an awkward model of the Eiffel Tower. Rachel studied the device, unable to fathom how it could be used to extract the enormous meteorite.
Beneath the tower, several winches had been screwed into steel plates affixed to the ice with heavy bolts. Threaded through the winches, iron cables banked upward over a series of pulleys atop the tower. From there, the cables plunged vertically downward into narrow bore holes drilled in the ice. Several large NASA men took turns tightening the winches. With each new tightening, the cables slithered a few inches upward through the bore holes, as if the men were raising an anchor.
Im clearly missing something, Rachel thought, as she and the others moved closer to the extraction site. The men seemed to be hoisting the meteorite directly through the ice.
EVEN TENSION! DAMN IT! a womans voice screamed nearby, with all the grace of a chain saw.
Rachel looked over to see a small woman in a bright yellow snowsuit smeared with grease. She had her back to Rachel, but even so, Rachel had no trouble guessing that she was in charge of this operation. Making notations on a clipboard, the woman stalked back and forth like a disgusted drillmaster.
Dont tell me you ladies are tired!
Corky called out, Hey, Norah, quit bossing those poor NASA boys and come flirt with me.
The woman did not even turn around. Is that you, Marlinson? Id know that weenie little voice anywhere. Come back when you reach puberty.
Corky turned to Rachel. Norah keeps us warm with her charm.
I heard that, space boy, Dr. Mangor fired back, still making notes. And if youre checking out my ass, these snow pants add thirty pounds.
No worries, Corky called. Its not your woolly‑mammoth butt that drives me wild, its your winning personality.
Corky laughed again. I have great news, Norah. Looks like youre not the only woman the President recruited.
No shit. He recruited you.
Tolland took over. Norah? Have you got a minute to meet someone?
At the sound of Tollands voice, Norah immediately stopped what she was doing and turned around. Her hardened demeanor dissolved instantly. Mike! She rushed over, beaming. Havent seen you in a few hours.
Ive been editing the documentary.
Hows my segment?
You look brilliant and lovely.
He used special effects, Corky said.
Norah ignored the remark, glancing now at Rachel with a polite but standoffish smile. She looked back at Tolland. I hope youre not cheating on me, Mike.
Tollands rugged face flushed slightly as he made introductions. Norah, Id like you to meet Rachel Sexton. Ms. Sexton works in the intelligence community and is here at the request of the President. Her father is Senator Sedgewick Sexton.
The introduction brought a confused look to Norahs face. I wont even pretend to understand that one. Norah did not remove her gloves as she gave Rachels hand a half‑hearted shake. Welcome to the top of the world.
Rachel smiled. Thanks. She was surprised to see that Norah Mangor, despite the toughness of her voice, had a pleasant and impish countenance. Her pixie haircut was brown with streaks of gray, and her eyes were keen and sharp‑two ice crystals. There was a steely confidence about her that Rachel liked.
Norah, Tolland said. Have you got a minute to share what youre doing with Rachel?
Norah arched her eyebrows. You two on a first‑name basis already? My, my.
Corky groaned. I told you, Mike.
Norah Mangor showed Rachel around the base of the tower while Tolland and the others trailed behind, talking among themselves.
See those boreholes in the ice under the tripod? Norah asked, pointing, her initial put‑out tone softening now to one of rapt fervor for her work.
Rachel nodded, gazing down at the holes in the ice. Each was about a foot in diameter and had a steel cable inserted into it.
Those holes are left over from when we drilled core samples and took X rays of the meteorite. Now were using them as entry points to lower heavy‑duty screw eyes down the empty shafts and screw them into the meteorite. After that, we dropped a couple hundred feet of braided cable down each hole, snagged the screw eyes with industrial hooks, and now were simply winching it up. Its taking these ladies several hours to get it to the surface, but its coming.
Im not sure I follow, Rachel said. The meteorite is under thousands of tons of ice. How are you lifting it?
Norah pointed to the top of the scaffolding where a narrow beam of pristine red light shone vertically downward toward the ice beneath the tripod. Rachel had seen it earlier and assumed it was simply some sort of visual indicator‑a pointer demarking the spot where the object was buried.
Thats a gallium arsenide semiconductor laser, Norah said.
Rachel looked more closely at the beam of light and now saw that it had actually melted a tiny hole in the ice and shone down into the depths.
Very hot beam, Norah said. Were heating the meteorite as we lift.
When Rachel grasped the simple brilliance of the womans plan, she was impressed. Norah had simply aimed the laser beam downward, melting through the ice until the beam hit the meteorite. The stone, being too dense to be melted by a laser, began absorbing the lasers heat, eventually getting warm enough to melt the ice around it. As the NASA men hoisted the hot meteorite, the heated rock, combined with the upward pressure, melted the surrounding ice, clearing a pathway to raise it to the surface. The melt water accumulating over the meteorite simply seeped back down around the edges of the stone to refill the shaft.
Like a hot knife through a frozen stick of butter.
Norah motioned to the NASA men on the winches. The generators cant handle this kind of strain, so Im using manpower to lift.
Thats crap! one of the workers interjected. Shes using manpower because she likes to see us sweat!
Relax, Norah fired back. You girls have been bitching for two days that youre cold. I cured that. Now keep pulling.
The workers laughed.
What are the pylons for? Rachel asked, pointing to several orange highway cones positioned around the tower at what appeared to be random locations. Rachel had seen similar cones dispersed around the dome.
Critical glaciology tool, Norah said. We call them SHABAs. Thats short for step here and break ankle. She picked up one of the pylons to reveal a circular bore hole that plunged like a bottomless well into the depths of the glacier. Bad place to step. She replaced the pylon. We drilled holes all over the glacier for a structural continuity check. As in normal archeology, the number of years an object has been buried is indicated by how deep beneath the surface its found. The farther down one finds it, the longer its been there. So when an object is discovered under the ice, we can date that objects arrival by how much ice has accumulated on top of it. To make sure our core dating measurements are accurate, we check multiple areas of the ice sheet to confirm that the area is one solid slab and hasnt been disrupted by earthquake, fissuring, avalanche, what have you.
So how does this glacier look?
Flawless, Norah said. A perfect, solid slab. No fault lines or glacial turnover. This meteorite is what we call a static fall. Its been in the ice untouched and unaffected since it landed in 1716.
Rachel did a double take. You know the exact year it fell?
Norah looked surprised by the question. Hell, yes. Thats why they called me in. I read ice. She motioned to a nearby pile of cylindrical tubes of ice. Each looked like a translucent telephone pole and was marked with a bright orange tag. Those ice cores are a frozen geologic record. She led Rachel over to the tubes. If you look closely you can see individual layers in the ice.
Rachel crouched down and could indeed see that the tube was made up of what appeared to be strata of ice with subtle differences in luminosity and clarity. The layers varied between paper thin to about a quarter of an inch thick.
Each winter brings a heavy snowfall to the ice shelf, Norah said, and each spring brings a partial thaw. So we see a new compression layer every season. We simply start at the top‑the most recent winter‑and count backward.
Like counting rings on a tree.
Its not quite that simple, Ms. Sexton. Remember, were measuring hundreds of feet of layerings. We need to read climatological markers to benchmark our work‑precipitation records, airborne pollutants, that sort of thing.
Tolland and the others joined them now. Tolland smiled at Rachel. She knows a lot about ice, doesnt she?
Rachel felt oddly happy to see him. Yeah, shes amazing.
And for the record, Tolland nodded, Dr. Mangors 1716 date is right on. NASA came up with the exact same year of impact well before we even got here. Dr. Mangor drilled her own cores, ran her own tests, and confirmed NASAs work.
Rachel was impressed.
And coincidentally, Norah said, 1716 is the exact year early explorers claimed to have seen a bright fire‑ball in the sky over northern Canada. The meteor became known as the Jungersol Fall, after the name of the explorations leader.
So, Corky added, the fact that the core dates and the historic record match is virtual proof that were looking at a fragment of the same meteorite that Jungersol recorded seeing in 1716.
Dr. Mangor! one of the NASA workers called out Leader hasps are starting to show!
Tours over, folks, Norah said. Moment of truth. She grabbed a folding chair, climbed up onto it, and shouted out at the top of her lungs. Surfacing in five minutes, everyone!
All around the dome, like Pavlovian dogs responding to a dinner bell, the scientists dropped what they were doing and hurried toward the extraction zone.
Norah Mangor put her hands on her hips and surveyed her domain. Okay, lets raise the Titanic.