Along comes Connington, a HR director for the project. He convinces Hawkes, the project manager that what he really needs is a crazy man who doesn't care about death, and delivers him Barker, a suicidal narcissist with a flair for daring-do. The other major element of this story, and I think the one that was more important to Budrys, was characterization. The characters here were not as full as they could have been, but Budrys crafted them as well as he needed to, and played their dominant traits against one another masterfully. Added to the three above was Claire, Barker's woman. The character's names are excellent metaphors for their behavior. Barker was always making as much noise as he could and trying to draw attention to himself. Hawkes just cared about the project and did not care whom he killed. Connington was a conniver and con man who was more interested in getting into Claire's drawers, and Claire used her sex to get whatever she wanted; she was a treat for Connington who may have been motivated to send Barker to his death so he could have Claire, rather than helping Hawkes get the job done. Though get the job done they do, but in probably the biggest let down in the history of the genre. Barker makes his way gradually through the artifact over the course of months, dying on the Moon who knows how many times, but never going insane or dying on Earth, until one day he announces that he is at the end. Hawkes teleported with him on the next mission and went through the artifact with him, and together they walk out the other door, and immediately forget about the artifact for good. There are no answers here about the artifact; nothing about its purpose or its builders. Instead Hawkes reveals that the teleportation only works one way. There is no way back to Earth, so for all their work, the two are doomed to die on the Moon when they run out of air.
I think that Budrys was writing about foolish strategies that people use to make themselves happy. None of the characters were likeable people. All of them had neuroses that were so deeply welded to their personalities that they came off like fetishists. And despite failure after failure, none of them changed, save for Hawkes who in the end managed to find it within himself to care about someone else more than himself or his job. Although Budrys may actually have been trying to make a comment about the opposite; about how people's personalities tend to drive them to do stupid things to get noticed, but only wind pushing away important people in their lives. Take a look at the Connington-Barker-Claire triangle. Claire was constantly trying to move up by hooking a new and better man, which pushes Barker away. Connington tries too hard to bed Claire, which causes her to recoil time after time. And Barker puts his life on the line daily. Claire shrinks from him as a result.