“Good good good, indeed!” I say.
“Now you do much testing. Venus air. Threeworld air.”
He shifts back and forth from one tunnel wall to the other. “Exact same gases in each test. Same pressure. Same temperature. Same death ‘radiation’ from space. Same light from nearby star. Same same same.”
“Yes. I’ll do that. I’ll do all of that.”
“I need rest! I just did an eight-hour EVA!”
“Ugh! No!” I float over to his tunnel and face him through the xenonite. “First I’m going to breed up a bunch more Taumoeba-82.5. Just to make sure we have enough for testing. And I’ll make several stable colonies of it in sealed containers.”
“Yes! And some on my ship too!”
“Yes. The more backups the better.”
He bounces back and forth some more. “Erid will live! Earth will live! Everyone live!” He curls the claws of one hand into a ball and presses it against the xenonite. “Fist me!”
I push my knuckles against the xenonite. “It’s ‘fist-bump,’ but yeah.”
* * *
There has to be liquor somewhere. I can’t imagine Ilyukhina going on a suicide mission without insisting on some booze. I can’t imagine her going across the street without some booze, honestly. And after looking through every box in the storage compartment, I finally find it—the personal kits.
The box has three zipped duffels. Each one is labeled with a crewman’s name. “Yáo,” “Ilyukhina,” and “DuBois.” I guess they never replaced DuBois’s personal kit, because I never got a chance to make mine.
Still a little mad about how that played out. But maybe I’ll get a chance to tell Stratt my feelings on the topic.
I pull the kits into the dormitory with me and Velcro them to the wall. Deeply personal belongings of three people who are now dead. Friends who are now dead.
I may have a somber moment later and spend some time looking at all these bags have to offer. But for now, this is a time of celebration. I want booze.
I open Ilyukhina’s bag. There are all sorts of random knickknacks inside. A pendant with some Russian writing on it, a worn old teddy bear she probably had as a kid, a kilogram of heroin, some of her favorite books, and there we are! Five 1-liter bags of clear liquid labeled водка.
It’s Russian for “vodka.” How do I know that? Because I spent months on an aircraft carrier with a bunch of crazy Russian scientists. I saw that word a lot.
I zip up her bag and leave it Velcroed to the wall. I fly through to the lab where Rocky waits in his tunnel.
“Found it!” I say.
“Good good!” His usual jumpsuit and tool-belt bandolier are nowhere to be seen. He has an outfit on I’ve never seen before.
“Well, well, well! What have we here?” I say.
He juts out his carapace with pride. It’s covered with a smooth cloth underlayment that supports symmetrical rigid shapes here and there. Almost like armor, but not as fully covering, and I don’t think they’re metal.
The top hole, where his vents are, is ringed with rough gems. Definitely jewelry of some kind. They’re faceted, similar to how Earth jewelry might be cut, but the quality is horrible. They’re blotchy and discolored. But they’re really big and I bet they sound great to sonar.
The sleeves leading off the shirt stop about halfway down his arms and are similarly ornamented at the cuffs. Each shoulder is connected to its neighbors by loose braided cords. And for the first time I’ve ever seen, he has gloves on. All five hands are covered in coarse, burlap-like material.
This outfit would severely limit Rocky’s ability to move freely, but hey, fashion isn’t about comfort or convenience.
“You look great!” I say.
“Thank! This is special clothing for celebration.”
I hold up a liter of vodka. “This is special liquid for celebration.”
“Humans…eat to celebrate?”
“Yeah. I know Eridians eat in private. I know you think it’s gross to see. But this is how humans celebrate.”
“Is okay. Eat! We celebrate!”
I float over to the two experiments mounted to the lab table. Inside one is an analog of the atmosphere of Venus. Inside the other is the atmosphere of Threeworld. In both cases, I made them as precise as I could. I used the best reference data I have, which is considerable thanks to my collection of every human reference book ever and Rocky’s knowledge about his own system.
In both cases, Taumoeba have not only survived but thrived. They breed as fast as ever, and even the smallest amount of Astrophage injected into either experiment gets eaten immediately.
I hold the bag of vodka up. “To Taumoeba-82.5! Savior of two worlds!”
“You will give that liquid to the Taumoeba, question?”
I unclip the fastener on the straw. “No, it’s just a thing humans say. I am honoring Taumoeba-82.5.” I take a sip. It’s like fire in my mouth. Ilyukhina apparently liked her vodka strong and rough.
“Yes. Much honoring!” he says. “Human and Eridian work together, save everyone!”
“Ah!” I say. “That reminds me: I need a life-support system for Taumoeba—something that feeds them just enough Astrophage to keep the colony alive. It has to be completely automatic, has to work on its own for several years, and it has to weigh less than a kilogram. I need four of them.”
“Why so small, question?”
“I’m going to put one on each beetle. Just in case something happens to the Hail Mary on the way home.”
“Good plan! You are smart! I can make these for you. Also, today I finish fuel-transfer device. Can give you Astrophage now. Then we both go home!”
“Yeah.” My smile fades.
“This is happy! Your face opening is in sad mode. Why, question?”
“Going to be a long trip and I’ll be all alone.” I haven’t decided if I want to risk a coma on the way home. I may have to for my own sanity. Total solitude and nothing to eat but chalky, nasty coma slurry might just be too much. For the first part of the trip, at least, I definitely plan to stay awake.
“You will miss me, question? I will miss you. You are friend.”
“Yeah. I’m going to miss you.” I take another swig of vodka. “You’re my friend. Heck, you’re my best friend. And pretty soon we’re going to say goodbye forever.”