Major Poppy Seaver exited the airlock and used her MMU to propel herself smoothly toward the Well. “Command, I’m on approach.”
Earthside, Command could see everything she was doing. More than 100 technicians filled the massive control room and crowded around monitors and control stations on countertops, on wheel carts, and occasionally on the floor. They monitored her air consumption, composition, pressure, temperature, flow, humidity, filtering, and electrical charge—and that was just the air team. For as many techs as they had dedicated to her health, maneuvering, and communication, there were still far more gathering data on the Well.
The artifact appeared in high Earth orbit seemingly from nowhere. It hadn’t come up from Earth, and it hadn’t been captured from outside either. It just…appeared. But one thing was clear; it was artificial. And if it didn’t come from Earth, the obvious question was, “Who put it there?” Major Seaver, being the only astronaut stationed at the DARPA HEO Laboratory, had the heavy honor of knocking on the door and seeing if anyone was home.
“What do you see, Major?”
“Nearly there, Command. Its shape is a geodesic sphere; tiled hexagons, each made of six triangular panels. The panels are moving at regular intervals, pulsing in a way. The structure appears to be made of a yellowish gray metal. Stand by, I’m circling it now.”
The images beamed back to control matched her description on the visual spectrum. A band of energy quickly skimmed the object’s surface on the infrared like a ring spinning on its axis, and there were unusual bright energy spikes in the ultraviolet and gamma ranges, though her suit didn’t detect any abnormal radiation.
“Oh,” she said suddenly. It was a casualness she’d never displayed on the job before. “One of the hexagons is opening up like a flower. It’s just big enough; I should be able to fit.”
“Negative, Major. Do not enter the Well. I repeat, do not enter. Please confirm.”
But Major Seaver didn’t respond, and on the monitors they watched her cross the plane of the Well. As she did, every last piece of monitoring equipment registered energy levels at their maximum ability to measure for just over three seconds, and then went quiet.
“Major? Do you copy? Major Sea—”
And then she said what would become the most famous sentence in human history, just before she and the Well disappeared forever.
“They say we’re not ready.”