“I not notice.”
“It was dim. We must be far away. Hang on…” I switch to the Telescope screen and pan to where the flash came from. I sweep back and forth with small movements until I catch a slight discoloration in the blackness. Taulight reflecting off the Blip-A. “Yeah, we’re pretty far away.”
“Beetles have much fuel remaining. Is okay. Tell me angle change.”
I check the readouts at the bottom of the screen. All we have to do is align the Hail Mary with the current telescope angle. “Rotate yaw plus 13.72 degrees. Rotate pitch minus 9.14 degrees.”
“Yaw plus one three mark seven two. Pitch minus nine mark one four.” He grabs the beetle controls from their holders and gets to work. By flicking on and off the beetles in sequence, he angles the ship toward the Blip-A.
I zero the telescope and zoom in to confirm. The difference between background space and the ship is so small as to be barely perceivable. But it’s there. “Angle correct.”
He focuses hard on his texture screen. “I no detect anything on-screen.”
“Light difference is very very small. Need human eyes to detect. Angle is good.”
“Understand. What is range, question?”
I switch to the Radar screen. Nothing. “Too far for my radar to see. At least ten thousand kilometers.”
“Accelerate to what velocity, question?”
“How about…three kilometers per second? Will get to the Blip-A in an hour or so.”
“Three thousand meters per second. Standard acceleration rate is acceptable, question?”
“Yes. Fifteen meters per second per second.”
“Two hundred second thrust. Begin now.”
I brace for gravity.
We did it!
We actually did it!
I have Earth’s salvation in a little tank on the floor.
“Happy!” Rocky says. “Happy happy happy!”
I’m so giddy I might throw up. “Yes! But we’re not done yet.”
I strap myself into my bunk. A pillow tries to float away, but I snag it in time and wedge it under my head. I’m all wired up, but if I don’t go to sleep soon, Rocky will start hassling me. Sheesh—you almost ruin a mission one time and all of a sudden you have an alien-enforced bedtime.
“Taumoeba-35!” Rocky says. “Took many many generations but finally success!”
It’s a weird feeling, scientific breakthroughs. There’s no Eureka moment. Just a slow, steady progression toward a goal. But man, when you get to that goal it feels good.
We linked the ships back up together weeks ago. Rocky was pretty stoked to have access to his much larger ship again. First thing he did was set up a tunnel directly from his portion of the Hail Mary to the Blip-A. It meant another hole in my hull, but at this point I trust Rocky to do any engineering task. Heck, if he wanted to do open-heart surgery on me, I’d probably let him. The guy is amazing at this stuff.
With the ships linked, I can’t have the Hail Mary’s centrifuge going, which means we’re back to zero g. But now that we’re just breeding Taumoeba in tanks, I can live without my gravity-dependent lab equipment for now.
Over the weeks, we watched generation after generation of Taumoeba become more and more nitrogen-resistant. And now, today, we finally have Taumoeba-35: a strain of Taumoeba that can survive 3.5 percent nitrogen in a 0.02 atmosphere overall air pressure—the same situation found on Venus.
“You. Be happy now,” Rocky says from his workbench.
“I am, I am,” I say. “But we need to get to 8 percent so it can survive on Threeworld. Until then, we’re not done.”
“Yes yes yes. But this is moment. Important moment.”
“Yeah.” I smile.
He fiddles with some kind of new gadget. He’s always working on one thing or another. “Now you make exact Venus atmosphere in one tank and do detailed tests on Taumoeba-35, question?”
“No,” I say. “We’ll keep going until we get to Taumoeba-80. It should work on Venus and Threeworld. I’ll test everything then.”
I turn to face his side of the room. The whole “watching me sleep” thing doesn’t creep me out anymore. If anything, it’s comforting. “What are you working on?”
The device is clamped to his workbench to keep it from drifting away. He works on it from many angles with many hands holding many tools. “This is Earth electricity unit.”
“You’re making a power converter?”
“Yes. Convert from Eridian prime-sequence electric amplitude to inefficient Earth direct-current system.”
“Would take long time to explain.”
I make a mental note to ask about it later. “Okay. What will you use that for?”
He puts down two tools and picks up three more. “If all plans work, we make good Taumoeba. I give you fuel. You go Earth and I go Erid. We say goodbye.”
“Yeah, I guess,” I mumble. I should be happier about surviving a suicide mission, returning home a hero, and saving my entire species. But saying goodbye to Rocky forever will be hard. I put it out of my mind.
“You have many portable thinking machines. I ask favor: You give one to me as gift, question?”
“A laptop? You want a laptop? Sure, I have a bunch of them.”
“Good good. And thinking machine have information, question? Science information from Earth, question?”
Ah, of course. I’m an advanced alien race with knowledge far beyond Eridian science. I think the laptops have terabyte drives. I could copy the entire contents of Wikipedia over to him.
“Yes. I can do that. But I don’t think a laptop will work in Eridian air. Too hot.”
He points to the device. “This is just one part of thinking-machine life-support system. System will give power, keep Earth temperature, Earth air inside. Many redundant backups. Make sure thinking machine not break. If break, no Eridian can fix.”
“Ah, I see. How will you read the output?”
“Camera inside convert from Earth light readout to Eridian texture readout. Like camera in control room. Before we leave, you explain written language to me.”
He certainly knows enough English to look up any words he doesn’t know. “Yeah, sure. Our written language is easy. Kind of easy. There are only twenty-six letters, but many strange ways to say them. Well, I guess there are actually fifty-two symbols because capital letters look different even though they’re pronounced the same. Oh, and then there’s punctuation…”