It was a Tuesday morning that everything changed for Maddie.
It wasn't really Tuesday morning, that was just the time it was back on earth in Houston. Up here on the ESS, it wasn't Tuesday morning anymore than it was Christmas eve. Thinking too much about that gave Maddie a headache though so she tried not to concentrate on it.
She was preparing for her daily observations, part of her routine dictated by a room full of people a lot smarter than her, when she saw it. The thing that changed everything. It didn't look like much at first, two rotating dots on the scope.
"Hrm, that's weird." she said.
"Can I get a repeat on that?" Paul said.
"There's a thing on the scope." she said.
"Wow, thanks I'll be sure to mention it in my acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize of Vagueness. There's some stuff on the thingy that's weird. Truly what a way with words you have." He said.
"Come and have a look at this." She said.
"I thought you'd never ask." he said.
Paul fell gracefully into the observatory, not really falling as it up from his orientation but it was like falling.
"Make some room Maddie, I'm not that skinny yet." He said.
She pulled herself to the side and tried to puzzle at the thing she could see on the scope.
"Is that? Wait what." He said.
"Weird right." she said.
"How is there a rock coming towards us?" He said.
"Houston, can you see what we're seeing up here?" She said. There was a pause before the response came. Light delay was only a few fractions of a second but it wasn't quite the same as being in the same room as them.
"That's a negative flight, hang tight we're realigning some of our instruments down here. Can you give us a reading so we know where to point?" They said.
"Yeah, computer what's our telemetry?" He said. Maddie made some notes and eyed the readouts on the screen in front of her.
"Its 44 degrees on latitude -23.2 and longitude 11.7" She said.
"I was figuring that out, nerd." Paul said.
"You were doing it too slow, dummy." She said.
Paul looked down the scope again.
"It's spinning right?" He said.
"Both parts, its a centrifuge." she said.
"I know what a centrifuge is Maddie, but just in case I don't maybe explain it real quick." Paul.
"It spins and replicates the effect of gravity, relative to where you are from the centre of the spin." Maddie said.
"Right and why would it be spinning like that?" Paul said.
"Maybe it collided with something and it split apart and this is just one part of it."
"Is that likely?" Paul said.
"No." She said.
"Weird." Paul said.
"Very weird." Maddie said.
"Flight this is Houston, we're picking up your Blip and the boys down here are taking a look at it. Maddie, you want to jump on the scopes and see where our little friend is heading?" They said.
"Copy Houston, we'll keep you clued in." Maddie said.
"I need you to move over so I can do the science things." Maddie said.
"Pfft, you barely do any science. It's just applied physics." Paul said.
"Fine move over so I can do Medicine, I mean applied biology." Maddie said. Paul stuck his tongue out at her but moved so she could do some work.
"What your jokes? I know they suck." Paul said.
"No it's, spinning more slowly. I think it's slowing down entirely." Maddie said. She made some rough calculations, double checked her numbers against the readings and frowned.
"It's coming towards us, based on this it'll match our orbit in a few minutes." Maddie said.
"Ruh roh Raggy, are they aliens?" Paul said.
Maddie didn't laugh.
"Wait what?" Paul said.
"I mean..." Maddie said.
"No. No we are not having an alien discussion right now. We're in Space and I'm black, there is no way I survive an alien discussion." Paul said.
"If you've got a better explanation I'd love to hear it." Maddie said.
"Faulty instruments." Paul said.
"Houston, can you confirm you're seeing a slow down?" Maddie said.
"That's a copy flight, we are measuring a slow down. Seems like this is gonna come to a stable orbit alongside. Hold fire for now, we're talking about the next steps." They said.
"See." Maddie said.
"It's spinning to create gravity." Paul said.
"Spinning and changing its gravity and propulsion." Maddie said.
"One thing at a time." Paul said.
"Spinning to create gravity." Maddie said.
"Is that a sign of intelligence?" Paul said.
"In a way, yeah." Maddie said.
"What do we do about that?" Paul said.
"Well...wait say that again?" Maddie said.
"What do we do about that?" Paul said.
"We spin back, match their spin." Maddie said.
"Houston this is flight, we're engaging in a spin." Maddie said.
"Copy this is Houston, there's an awful lot of people down here that don't like that idea." They said.
"We can discuss it at our hearing." Paul said. He gave Maddie a thumbs up.
"Better get yourself fixed to something, it could be a bumpy ride." Maddie said.
"I'm gonna do it you know? In our Nobel Prize speech about making first contact with alien life. I'm gonna talk about your thing on the thingy. Assuming I don't get eaten by Aliens. If I do make sure you tell them that are engaging in stereotype." Paul said.
Maddie ignored him. She set the controls, ignoring several warnings and messages asking if she was sure.
It wasn't that gravity started, they were always affected by gravity it was one of those things that made Maddie's head hurt too much when she thought about it, it was that the ship pitched and rolled in such a way that their falling was 'caught' by the ship.
It made Maddie's stomach turn a little but she dry swallowed the bile. No big deal, just like being on a big roller coaster in space with a centrifuge rock coming over to say hi. Exactly like that very relatable thing which everybody experiences.
The rock came alongside them, the spin of the two objects matching. They were within a couple hundred meters of it, nothing is that close in space.
"What now?" Maddie said.
"It spun, we spun back, now its their turn." Paul said.
Maddie shrugged, it was fair enough.
It didn't take long. The pair of rocks, close enough that they could see with the external cameras, were two lumps of greyish brown with a very thin line connecting them. The line was like a cable, but not like anything Maddie had ever seen before.
The spinning stopped and the rocks opened.
"Well would you look that." Maddie said, as a form composed entirely of light stepped out from the rocks.