With one of the Barbaras in attendance, I have been trying out the Fuegan equivalent of the skintight surface suit. This turns out to be quite different to the Martian suit I have been used to. It opens in front, and down both legs and arms as far as the tight cuffs.
Once I have stepped inside and manually closed the seals, it tightens and shrinks to fit my body. At this point it feels a bit like the snug Martian suits, which flow around the wearer and close themselves, but feel similarly tight. Obviously these suits are based on somewhat older technology.
The skinsuit has to be tight, because the pressure on the surface of Tierra del Fuego is so low. Currently the pressure is about 70 millibars, and this is much lower than the minimum partial pressure of oxygen which is needed for life support. If I just wore an oxygen mask and no skinsuit, my lungs would fill with a minimum of 200 millibars of oxygen and I wouldn't be able to breathe out. So the skin suit exerts mechanical counter-pressure on my chest, replicating the pressure of a much thicker atmosphere. The suit covers every part of my body, particularly my ears (too much pressure inside my ears would soon leave me deaf)- but not my hands, which have separate and much lighter gloves with minimal counter- pressure.
This all sounds fine in theory, but the suit is stiff and inflexible without active control, and the joints and groin are particularly uncomfortable. I expect the groin area would be particularly excruciating for a male of the species; this is perhaps why Ellie and myself have been chosen to try them out first. In the Martian suits we were accustomed to back in the old Solar System, the suits were linked via Direct Neural Interface to the wearer's nervous system, allowing the suit's nanocloth to move in anticipation of the movements of the wearer. Apparently these suits operate on a similar system, with a network of tensioning chords instead of active cloth.
However the DNI systems the Stevens clan uses are completely different and incompatible with the ones we have.
"The link is easy to install; the tip is based on the structure of a nematode worm, but is under perfect control. You will feel no pain,"
the Barbara said in a reassuring voice. I was not completely reassured. "The link enters at the back of your neck here; this will not make problems with your present link behind your ears."
"I'm not sure about this," I said. "If we wait a few days we will bring the first fabricator down from the Starlark; then we can make suits which are compatible with our neural links. There will be no need for new links."
"I do not agree so," said the Barbara, her accent thick. "So many of our devices are controlled by these links; it is better that you have our system installed, then you can make everything work. Yes, and when your machines arrive, some of us can get your links installed too; then everyone will be able to work with both types of technology. Do you not agree?"
After some thought I agreed to have their worm install its little link in my head. Ellie agreed too, although with some distaste. The installation of a new neural link is something I had not foreseen, but I suppose it is inevitable it reminded me of the far-off day when I had my first neural link installed, at the tender age of five. The tiny nanotech filaments that filtered into my skull back then were completely painless- and I hoped that the wormy links that the Stevens were going to place into my central nervous system would be just as unnoticeable.
A couple of hours later I had found out that my hope was misplaced- the Stevens link made me nauseous and my head ache, and I began to regret my decision. But that soon passed, and I feel fine now. Ellie says the procedure didn't bother her one bit, and I'm just getting too old for all this. I do find that she is capable of being irritating without any effort at all.