Excerpts - The Rock From Mars

Chapter One

Robbie Score had no idea what she had found, and yet it was exactly what she was looking for. She noticed the object first as a dark green blemish on the clean expanse of ancient blue that shimmered around her.

In this stretch of Antarctica, December 27, 1984, was a balmy summer day, the temperature around zero Fahrenheit, the winds abating. The sunlight shone thermonuclear white. It could play tricks on your eyes. Score was on her first trip to “the ice,” cruising downslope on a snowmobile in loose formation with five others who had come here for the hunt. Inside a sarcophagus of expedition-weight clothes, she felt the painful bite of the breeze intensified by her own motion over the ground. She wore dark Polaroid glasses and three layers of gloves—glove liners, insulated gloves, and “bear paw” mittens that fit over the top of the cuff of her red polar anorak with the fur-lined hood. That and her black wind pants were standard government issue. She wore her own hat, a jaunty red, white, and black knit, which (when not covered by the hood) distinguished her from the others.

They were working in a region of soul-searing desolation known as the Far Western Icefield, whose nearest landmark was a forked ridge of rock called Allan Hills. They were a good 150 miles from the nearest outpost of anything resembling civilization. Ordinarily, the hunters would spread out in a line, about a hundred feet separating each from the next, and sweep in tandem one way and then the other across a designated grid as large as three or even five miles in one direction. Back and forth, back and forth. The downwind legs weren’t bad; but heading into the wind could be brutal, the chill searing right into your face.

In places, the ice turned washboard rough, jarring the riders with ranks of long, concrete-hard dunes called sastrugi. Built of windblown ice crystals, they could stretch to hundreds of yards in length and grow to the height of a person.

To an observer looking down from a godlike vantage, the behavior might have seemed puzzling—these bright-colored motes of life sweeping out their puny patterns in terrible isolation against a continent. But they had come here with a purpose. Their begoggled eyes were scouring the bright ground for bits of dark rubble. They were hunting the fallen husks of shooting stars. Meteorites.

The exercise itself was a little like plowing a Kansas wheat field. But you had to concentrate. Done right, the job meant hour after hour of relentless, brain-numbing eyeball concentration. If you blinked, . . .