In that same edition, paleobiologist Stephen Jay Gould summed up the problems with ALH84001 by pointing out that the evidence in it was chemical and inferential, rather than "solid," like an unambiguous bone or shell.
Now, however, Rachel realized NASA had found irrefutable proof. No skeptical scientist could possibly step forward and question these fossils. NASA was no longer touting blurry, enlarged photos of alleged microscopic bacteria-they were offering up real meteorite samples where bio-organisms visible to the naked eye had been embedded in the stone. Foot-long lice!
Rachel had to laugh when she realized she'd been a childhood fan of a song by David Bowie that referred to "spiders from Mars." Few would have guessed how close the androgynous British pop star would come to foreseeing astrobiology's greatest moment.
As the distant strains of the song ran through Rachel's mind, Corky hurried up behind her. "Has Mike bragged about his documentary yet?"
Rachel replied, "No, but I'd love to hear about it."
Corky slapped Tolland on the back. "Go for it, big boy. Tell her why the President decided that the most important moment in science history should be handed over to a snorkeling TV star."
Tolland groaned. "Corky, if you don't mind?"
"Fine, I'll explain," Corky said, prying his way in between them. "As you probably know, Ms. Sexton, the President will be giving a press conference tonight to tell the world about the meteorite. Because the vast majority of the world is made up of half-wits, the President asked Mike to come onboard and dumb everything down for them."
"Thanks, Corky," Tolland said. "Very nice." He looked at Rachel. "What Corky's trying to say is that because there's so much scientific data to convey, the President thought a short visual documentary about the meteorite might help make the information more accessible to mainstream America, many of whom, oddly, don't have advanced degrees in astrophysics."
"Did you know," Corky said to Rachel, "that I've just learned our nation's President is a closet fan of Amazing Seas?" He shook his head in mock disgust. "Zach Herney-the ruler of the free world-has his secretary tape Mike's program so he can decompress after a long day."
Tolland shrugged. "The man's got taste, what can I say?"
Rachel was now starting to realize just how masterful the President's plan was. Politics was a media game, and Rachel could already imagine the enthusiasm and scientific credibility the face of Michael Tolland on-screen would bring to the press conference. Zach Herney had recruited the ideal man to endorse his little NASA coup. Skeptics would be hard-pressed to challenge the President's data if it came from the nation's top television science personality as well as several respected civilian scientists.
Corky said, "Mike's already taken video depositions from all of us civilians for his documentary, as well as from most of the top NASA specialists. And I'll bet my National Medal that you're next on his list."
Rachel turned and eyed him. "Me? What are you talking about? I have no credentials. I'm an intelligence liaison."
"Then why did the President send you up here?"
"He hasn't told me yet."
An amused grin crossed Corky's lips. "You're a White House intelligence liaison who deals in clarification and authentication of data, right?"
"Yes, but nothing scientific."
"And you're the daughter of the man who built a campaign around criticizing the money NASA has wasted in space?"
Rachel could hear it coming.
"You have to admit, Ms. Sexton," Ming chimed in, "a deposition from you would give this documentary a whole new dimension of credibility. If the President sent you up here, he must want you to participate somehow."
Rachel again flashed on William Pickering's concern that she was being used.
Tolland checked his watch. "We should probably head over," he said, motioning toward the center of the habisphere. "They should be getting close."
"Close to what?" Rachel asked.
"Extraction time. NASA is bringing the meteorite to the surface. It should be up any time now."
Rachel was stunned. "You guys are actually removing an eight-ton rock from under two hundred feet of solid ice?"
Corky looked gleeful. "You didn't think NASA was going to leave a discovery like this buried in the ice, did you?"
"No, but...," Rachel had seen no signs of large-scale excavation equipment anywhere inside the habisphere. "How the heck is NASA planning on getting the meteorite out?"
Corky puffed up. "No problem. You're in a room full of rocket scientists!"
"Blather," Ming scoffed, looking at Rachel. "Dr. Marlinson enjoys flexing other people's muscles. The truth is that everyone here was stumped about how to get the meteorite out. It was Dr. Mangor who proposed a viable solution."
"I haven't met Dr. Mangor."
"Glaciologist from the University of New Hampshire," Tolland said. "The fourth and final civilian scientist recruited by the President. And Ming here is correct, it was Mangor who figured it out."
"Okay," Rachel said. "So what did this guy propose?"
"Gal," Ming corrected, sounding smitten. "Dr. Mangor is a woman."
"Debatable," Corky grumbled. He looked over at Rachel. "And by the way, Dr. Mangor is going to hate you."
Tolland shot Corky an angry look.
"Well, she will!" Corky defended. "She'll hate the competition."
Rachel felt lost. "I'm sorry? Competition?"
"Ignore him," Tolland said. "Unfortunately, the fact that Corky is a total moron somehow escaped the National Science Committee. You and Dr. Mangor will get along fine. She is a professional. She's considered one of the world's top glaciologists. She actually moved to Antarctica for a few years to study glacial movement."
"Odd," Corky said, "I heard UNH took up a donation and sent her there so they could get some peace and quiet on campus."
"Are you aware," Ming snapped, seeming to have taken the comment personally, "that Dr. Mangor almost died down there! She got lost in a storm and lived on seal blubber for five weeks before anyone found her."
Corky whispered to Rachel, "I heard no one was looking."
The limousine ride back from the CNN studio to Sexton's office felt long for Gabrielle Ashe. The senator sat across from her, gazing out the window, obviously gloating over the debate.
"They sent Tench to an afternoon cable show," he said, turning with a handsome smile. "The White House is getting frantic."
Gabrielle nodded, noncommittal. She'd sensed a look of smug satisfaction on Marjorie Tench's face as the woman drove off. It made her nervous.
Sexton's personal cellphone rang, and he fished in his pocket to grab it. The senator, like most politicians, had a hierarchy of phone numbers at which his contacts could reach him, depending on how important they were. Whoever was calling him now was at the top of the list; the call was coming in on Sexton's private line, a number even Gabrielle was discouraged to call.
"Senator Sedgewick Sexton," he chimed, accentuating the musical quality of his name.
Gabrielle couldn't hear the caller over the sound of the limo, but Sexton listened intently, replying with enthusiasm. "Fantastic. I'm so pleased you called. I'm thinking six o'clock? Super. I have an apartment here in D.C. Private. Comfortable. You have the address, right? Okay. Looking forward to meeting you. See you tonight then."