* * *
I spend the whole next day examining the fuel lines I can get to. It’s the same story everywhere. Instead of Astrophage suspended in oil, it’s Taumoeba and (let’s call it what it is) a lot of Taumoeba poop. Mostly methane with a bunch of other trace compounds. I guess that explains the methane in Adrian’s atmosphere. Circle of life and all that.
There’s some live Astrophage here and there, but with the overwhelming population of Taumoeba in the fuel they won’t live long. It’s pointless to try to salvage this. It’d be the same as trying to separate good meat from the botulism infecting it.
“Hopeless,” I say, slamming the latest fuel sample onto the lab table. “The Taumoeba is everywhere.”
“I have Astrophage on my side of partition,” Rocky says. “Approximately two hundred sixteen grams remaining.”
“That wouldn’t power my spin drive for long. Thirty seconds or so. And it probably wouldn’t live long enough. There’s Taumoeba everywhere on my side of the partition. Keep your Astrophage safe on your side.”
“I make new engine,” Rocky says. “Taumoeba turn Astrophage into methane. React with oxygen. Make fire. Make thrust. Get to my ship. Much Astrophage there.”
“That’s…not a bad idea.” I pinch my chin. “Use Taumoeba farts to propel ourselves through space.”
“No understand word after Taumoeba.”
“It’s not important. Hang on, let me do the math….”
I pull up a tablet—the computer screen in the lab is still offline. I don’t remember the specific impulse of methane, but I do know that a hydrogen-oxygen reaction is about 450 seconds. Call that the best-case scenario. I had 20,000 kilograms of Astrophage, so pretend that’s all methane now. The ship has a dry mass around 100,000 kilograms. I don’t know if I even have enough oxygen for this reaction, but ignore that for now….
Concentration is a constant struggle. I’m groggy and I know it.
I type away on the calculator app, then shake my head. “It’s no good. The ship would get less than 800 meters per second velocity. We can’t escape Adrian’s gravity with that, let alone cross 150 million kilometers of the Tau Ceti system.”
I drop the tablet on the table and rub my eyes. “Yes. Bad.”
He clicks along his tunnel to hover above me. “Give me generator.”
I slump my shoulders. “Why? What good would it do?”
“I clean and sterilize. Remove all Taumoeba. I make tiny fuel tank with my Astrophage. Seal generator airtight. Give back to you. You hook up to ship. Power restored.”
I rub my aching arm. “Yeah. It’s a good idea. If the generator doesn’t melt in your air.”
“If melt, I fix.”
A few hundred grams of Astrophage isn’t enough to fly around the galaxy, but it’s more than enough to power the ship’s electrical system for…I don’t know…the rest of my life at least.
“Okay. Yeah. That’s a good idea. At least we’ll have the ship back online.”
I trudge to the hatch. “I’ll get the generator.”
I really shouldn’t be using tools in my state, but I press on. I go back to the dormitory, get into the crawlspace, and detach the generator. Or maybe it’s the backup generator. I don’t know. In any event, it turns Astrophage into electricity and that’s the point.
I get back into the dormitory proper and put the generator in our airlock there. Rocky cycles the airlock and brings the generator to his workbench. Two claws get to work on it right away. A third points to my bunk. “I work on this now. You sleep.”
“Make sure you don’t get Taumoeba in your Astrophage over there!”
“My Astrophage in sealed xenonite container. Is safe. You sleep now.”
Everything aches, especially my bandaged arm. “I can’t sleep.”
He points more firmly. “You tell me humans need to sleep eight hours every sixteen hours. You no sleep for thirty-one hours. You sleep now.”
I sit on my bunk and sigh. “You make a good point. I should at least try. It’s been a hard day. Night. Whatever. A hard day’s night.” I lie back in the bunk and pull the blanket over me.
“That sentence make no sense.”
“It’s an Earth saying. From a song.” I close my eyes and mumble. “…and I’ve been working like a dog…”
A moment passes while I drift off…
“Whoa!” I shoot bolt-upright. “The beetles!”
Rocky is surprised enough to drop the generator. “What is problem, question?”
“Not a problem! A solution!” I leap to my feet. “The beetles! My ship has four smaller ships aboard called beetles! They’re made to take information back to Earth!”
“You tell me this before,” Rocky says. “But they use same fuel, correct? Astrophage all dead now.”
I shake my head. “They use Astrophage, yeah, but each beetle is self-contained and sealed. They don’t share air, fuel, or anything else with Hail Mary. And each beetle has 120 kilograms of fuel aboard! We have plenty of Astrophage!”
Rocky waves his arms in the air. “Enough to get us to my ship! Good news! Good good good!”
I wave my arms in the air too. “Maybe we won’t die here after all! I need to do an EVA to get beetles. I’ll be right back.” I hop off the bunk and head to the ladder.
“No!” Rocky says. He skitters over to the partition and taps the divider. “You sleep. Human no function well after no sleep. EVA dangerous. Sleep first. EVA next.”
I roll my eyes. “All right, all right.”
He points back to my bunk. “Sleep.”
“Sarcasm. You sleep. I watch.”
* * *
“This doesn’t seem like a good idea anymore,” I say into my radio.
“Do task,” Rocky replies mercilessly.
I slept well and woke up ready to face the day. I had a nice breakfast. I got some stretches in. Rocky presented me with a sealed, fully functional generator that will last basically forever. I installed it and got the ship’s power back on without a hitch.
Rocky and I chatted about the best way to use the beetles to get back to the Blip-A. Everything seemed like a good idea until just this moment.