Page 19 of Deception Point

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Rachel found herself uncharacteristically tongue-tied. Sensory overload was setting in... the habisphere, the meteorite, the secrets, finding herself unexpectedly face-to-face with a television star. "I'm surprised to see you here," she said, attempting to recover. "When the President told me he'd recruited civilian scientists for authentication of a NASA find, I guess I expected... " She hesitated.

"Real scientists?" Tolland grinned.

Rachel flushed, mortified. "That's not what I meant."

"Don't worry about it," Tolland said. "That's all I've heard since I got here."

The administrator excused himself, promising to catch up with them later. Tolland turned now to Rachel with a curious look. "The administrator tells me your father is Senator Sexton?"

Rachel nodded. Unfortunately.

"A Sexton spy behind enemy lines?"

"Battle lines are not always drawn where you might think."

An awkward silence.

"So tell me," Rachel said quickly, "what's a world-famous oceanographer doing on a glacier with a bunch of NASA rocket scientists?"

Tolland chuckled. "Actually, some guy who looked a lot like the President asked me to do him a favor. I opened my mouth to say 'Go to hell,' but somehow I blurted, 'Yes, sir.'"

Rachel laughed for the first time all morning. "Join the club."

Although most celebrities seemed smaller in person, Rachel thought Michael Tolland appeared taller. His brown eyes were just as vigilant and passionate as they were on television, and his voice carried the same modest warmth and enthusiasm. Looking to be a weathered and athletic forty-five, Michael Tolland had coarse black hair that fell in a permanent windswept tuft across his forehead. He had a strong chin and a carefree mannerism that exuded confidence. When he'd shaken Rachel's hand, the callused roughness of his palms reminded her he was not a typical "soft" television personality but rather an accomplished seaman and hands-on researcher.

"To be honest," Tolland admitted, sounding sheepish, "I think I was recruited more for my PR value than for my scientific knowledge. The president asked me to come up and make a documentary for him."

"A documentary? About a meteorite? But you're an oceanographer."

"That's exactly what I told him! But he said he didn't know of any meteorite documentarians. He told me my involvement would help bring mainstream credibility to this find. Apparently he plans to broadcast my documentary as part of tonight's big press conference when he announces the discovery."

A celebrity spokesman. Rachel sensed the savvy political maneuverings of Zach Herney at work. NASA was often accused of talking over the public's head. Not this time. They'd pulled in the master scientific communicator, a face Americans already knew and trusted when it came to science.

Tolland pointed kitty-corner across the dome to a far wall where a press area was being set up. There was a blue carpet on the ice, television cameras, media lights, a long table with several microphones. Someone was hanging a backdrop of a huge American flag.

"That's for tonight," he explained. "The NASA administrator and some of his top scientists will be connected live via satellite to the White House so they can participate in the President's eight o'clock broadcast."

Appropriate, Rachel thought, pleased to know Zach Herney didn't plan to cut NASA out of the announcement entirely.

"So," Rachel said with a sigh, "is someone finally going to tell me what's so special about this meteorite?"

Tolland arched his eyebrows and gave her a mysterious grin. "Actually, what's so special about this meteorite is best seen, not explained." He motioned for Rachel to follow him toward the neighboring work area. "The guy stationed over here has plenty of samples he can show you."

"Samples? You actually have samples of the meteorite?"

"Absolutely. We've drilled quite a few. In fact, it was the initial core samples that alerted NASA to the importance of the find."

Unsure of what to expect, Rachel followed Tolland into the work area. It appeared deserted. A cup of coffee sat on a desk scattered with rock samples, calipers, and other diagnostic gear. The coffee was steaming.

"Marlinson!" Tolland yelled, looking around. No answer. He gave a frustrated sigh and turned to Rachel. "He probably got lost trying to find cream for his coffee. I'm telling you, I went to Princeton postgrad with this guy, and he used to get lost in his own dorm. Now he's a National Medal of Science recipient in astrophysics. Go figure."

Rachel did a double take. "Marlinson? You don't by any chance mean the famous Corky Marlinson, do you?"

Tolland laughed. "One and the same."

Rachel was stunned. "Corky Marlinson is here?" Marlinson's ideas on gravitational fields were legendary among NRO satellite engineers. "Marlinson is one of the President's civilian recruits?"

"Yeah, one of the real scientists."

Real is right, Rachel thought. Corky Marlinson was as brilliant and respected as they came.

"The incredible paradox about Corky," Tolland said, "is that he can quote you the distance to Alpha Centauri in millimeters, but he can't tie his own necktie."

"I wear clip-ons!" a nasal, good-natured voice barked nearby. "Efficiency over style, Mike. You Hollywood types don't understand that!"

Rachel and Tolland turned to the man now emerging from behind a large stack of electronic gear. He was squat and rotund, resembling a pug dog with bubble eyes and a thinning, comb-over haircut. When the man saw Tolland standing with Rachel, he stopped in his tracks.

"Jesus Christ, Mike! We're at the friggin' North Pole and you still manage to meet gorgeous women. I knew I should have gone into television!"

Michael Tolland was visibly embarrassed. "Ms. Sexton, please excuse Dr. Marlinson. What he lacks in tact, he more than makes up for in random bits of totally useless knowledge about our universe."

Corky approached. "A true pleasure, ma'am. I didn't catch your name."

"Rachel," she said. "Rachel Sexton."

"Sexton?" Corky let out a playful gasp. "No relation to that shortsighted, depraved senator, I hope!"

Tolland winced. "Actually, Corky, Senator Sexton is Rachel's father."

Corky stopped laughing and slumped. "You know, Mike, it's really no wonder I've never had any luck with the ladies."


Prize-winning astrophysicist Corky Marlinson ushered Rachel and Tolland into his work area and began sifting through his tools and rock samples. The man moved like a tightly wound spring about to explode.

"All right," he said, quivering excitedly, "Ms. Sexton, you're about to get the Corky Marlinson thirty-second meteorite primer."

Tolland gave Rachel a be-patient wink. "Bear with him. The man really wanted to be an actor."

"Yeah, and Mike wanted to be a respected scientist." Corky rooted around in a shoebox and produced three small rock samples and aligned them on his desk. "These are the three main classes of meteorites in the world."

Rachel looked at the three samples. All appeared as awkward spheroids about the size of golf balls. Each had been sliced in half to reveal its cross section.

"All meteorites," Corky said, "consist of varying amounts of nickel-iron alloys, silicates, and sulfides. We classify them on the basis of their metal-to-silicate ratios."

Rachel already had the feeling Corky Marlinson's meteorite "primer" was going to be more than thirty seconds.

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