The NASA administrator was feeling less edgy now that the meteorite was successfully out of the ice. Everything is falling into place, he told himself as he headed across the dome to the work area of Michael Tolland. Nothing can stop us now.
Hows it coming? Ekstrom asked, striding up behind the television scientist.
Tolland glanced up from his computer, looking tired but enthusiastic. Editing is almost done. Im just overlaying some of the extraction footage your people shot. Should be done momentarily.
Good. The President had asked Ekstrom to upload Tollands documentary to the White House as soon as possible.
Although Ekstrom had been cynical about the Presidents desire to use Michael Tolland on this project, seeing the rough cuts of Tollands documentary had changed Ekstroms mind. The television stars spirited narrative, combined with his interviews of the civilian scientists, had been brilliantly fused into a thrilling and comprehensible fifteen minutes of scientific programming. Tolland had achieved effortlessly what NASA so often failed to do‑describe a scientific discovery at the level of the average American intellect without being patronizing.
When youre done editing, Ekstrom said, bring the finished product over to the press area. Ill have someone upload a digital copy to the White House.
Yes, sir. Tolland went back to work.
Ekstrom moved on. When he arrived at the north wall, he was encouraged to find the habispheres press area had come together nicely. A large blue carpet had been rolled out on the ice. Centered on the rug sat a long symposium table with several microphones, a NASA drape, and an enormous American flag as a backdrop. To complete the visual drama, the meteorite had been transported on a palette sled to its position of honor, directly in front of the symposium table.
Ekstrom was pleased to see the mood in the press area was one of celebration. Much of his staff was now crowded around the meteorite, holding their hands out over its still‑warm mass like campers around a campfire.
Ekstrom decided that this was the moment. He walked over to several cardboard boxes sitting on the ice behind the press area. Hed had the boxes flown in from Greenland this morning.
Drinks are on me! he yelled, handing out cans of beer to his cavorting staff.
Hey, boss! someone yelled. Thanks! Its even cold!
Ekstrom gave a rare smile. Ive been keeping it on ice.
Wait a minute! someone else yelled, scowling good‑naturedly at his can. This stuffs Canadian! Wheres your patriotism?
Were on a budget, here, folks. Cheapest stuff I could find.
Attention shoppers, one of the NASA television crew yelled into a megaphone. Were about to switch to media lighting. You may experience temporary blindness.
And no kissing in the dark, someone yelled. This is a family program!
Ekstrom chuckled, enjoying the raillery as his crew made final adjustments to the spotlights and accent lighting.
Switching to media lighting in five, four, three, two . . .
The domes interior dimmed rapidly as the halogen lamps shut down. Within seconds, all the lights were off. An impenetrable darkness engulfed the dome.
Someone let out a mock scream.
Who pinched my ass? someone yelled, laughing.
The blackness lasted only a moment before it was pierced by the intense glare of media spotlights. Everyone squinted. The transformation was now complete; the north quadrant of the NASA habisphere had become a television studio. The remainder of the dome now looked like a gaping barn at night. The only light in the other sections was the muted reflection of the media lights reflecting off the arched ceiling and throwing long shadows across the now deserted work stations.
Ekstrom stepped back into the shadows, gratified to see his team carousing around the illuminated meteorite. He felt like a father at Christmas, watching his kids enjoy themselves around the tree.
God knows they deserve it, Ekstrom thought, never suspecting what calamity lay ahead.