The battery-powered conditioning units struggled to keep the clear polymer face shields of the pressurized protective suits clear or fog as the three scientists and their escorts made for the crest of the crater. Immense, the shadow of the ridge from the sun rising behind them masked the true size of the hole, but it was immense and simmering ash and sulphuric vapor in a steady cloud.
The escort—military men trained in explosive and chemical hazards—reached the crest first and stopped short—staring down into the abyss.
“For the love of God.” one whispered audible through the radio system. “That’s...”
Dr. Evan Harman stopped at the edge beside him. The geophysicist brought his hand up to touch his forehead—a gesture interrupted by the suit.
The crater was at least six miles across, and intersected a small river—the water was draining rapidly and vaporizing as it hit the bottom. The far side was invisible in the smoke and distance.
“We shouldn’t be standing here.” He said in a pale voice.
“Is it unsafe?” an escort asked.
Dr. Harman shook his head inside his suit. “It’s not that. Whatever happened here... Whatever hit or exploded or... The mass that filled this hole had to go somewhere and it should have taken this whole county... state... Christ! I don’t know. It should have been big and we shouldn’t be alive.” He exhaled audibly through the radio.
“Look at the edges.” The only woman in the party said. “They’re jagged and not angled. Is that important?”
Dr. Harman looked at his colleague, his craggy brow furrowed, and said “I don’t know.”