Inside the habispheres staging room, Rachel Sexton felt like an astronaut as she slid into one of NASAs Mark IX microclimate survival suits. The black, one‑piece, hooded jumpsuit resembled an inflatable scuba suit. Its two‑ply, memory‑foam fabric was fitted with hollow channels through which a dense gel was pumped to help the wearer regulate body temperature in both hot and cold environments.
Now, as Rachel pulled the tight‑fitting hood over her head, her eyes fell on the NASA administrator. He appeared as a silent sentinel at the door, clearly displeased with the necessity for this little mission.
Norah Mangor was muttering obscenities as she got everyone outfitted. Heres an extra pudgy, she said, tossing Corky his suit.
Tolland was already half into his.
Once Rachel was fully zipped up, Norah found the stopcock on Rachels side and connected her to an infusion tube that coiled out of a silver canister resembling a large scuba tank.
Inhale, Norah said, opening the valve.
Rachel heard a hiss and felt gel being injected into the suit. The memory foam expanded, and the suit compressed around her, pressing down on her inner layer of clothing. The sensation reminded her of sticking her hand underwater while wearing a rubber glove. As the hood inflated around her head, it pressed in on her ears, making everything sound muffled. Im in a cocoon.
Best thing about the Mark IX, Norah said, is the padding. You can fall on your ass and not feel a thing.
Rachel believed it. She felt like she was trapped inside a mattress.
Norah handed Rachel a series of tools‑an ice ax, tether snaps, and carabiners, which she affixed to the belt harnessed on Rachels waist.
All this? Rachel asked, eyeing the gear. To go two hundred yards?
Norahs eyes narrowed. You want to come or not?
Tolland gave Rachel a reassuring nod. Norahs just being careful.
Corky connected to the infusion tank and inflated his suit, looking amused. I feel like Im wearing a giant condom.
Norah gave a disgusted groan. Like youd know, virgin boy.
Tolland sat down next to Rachel. He gave her a weak smile as she donned her heavy boots and crampons. You sure you want to come? His eyes had a protective concern that drew her in.
Rachel hoped her confident nod belied her growing trepidation. Two hundred yards . . . not far at all. And you thought you could find excitement only on the high seas.
Tolland chuckled, talking as he attached his own crampons. Ive decided I like liquid water much better than this frozen stuff.
Ive never been a big fan of either, Rachel said. I fell through the ice as a kid. Waters made me nervous ever since.
Tolland glanced over, his eyes sympathetic. Sorry to hear that. When this is over, youll have to come out and visit me on the Goya. Ill change your mind about water. Promise.
The invitation surprised her. The Goya was Tollands research ship‑well‑known both from its role in Amazing Seas as well as its reputation as one of the strangest‑looking ships on the ocean. Although a visit to the Goya would be unnerving for Rachel, she knew it would be hard to pass up.
Shes anchored twelve miles off the coast of New Jersey at the moment, Tolland said, struggling with his crampon latches.
Sounds like an unlikely spot.
Not at all. The Atlantic seaboard is an incredible place. We were gearing up to shoot a new documentary when I was so rudely interrupted by the President.
Rachel laughed. Shooting a documentary on what?
Sphyrna mokarran and megaplumes.
Rachel frowned. Glad I asked.
Tolland finished attaching his crampons and looked up. Seriously, Ill be filming out there for a couple weeks. Washingtons not that far from the Jersey coast. Come out when you get back home. No reason to spend your life afraid of the water. My crew would roll out the red carpet for you.
Norah Mangors voice blared. Are we going outside, or should I get you two some candles and champagne?