I float closer to the divider wall and talk softly. “It’s okay. I made my decision. This is the only way to save both of our worlds.”
He backs away. “Then you go home. Go home now. I wait here. Erid maybe send another ship someday.”
“That’s ridiculous. Do you really want to risk the survival of your entire species on that guess?”
He’s silent for a few moments and finally answers. “No.”
“Okay. Get that ball thing you use as a spacesuit and come on over. Talk me through how to patch up the xenonite walls. Then you can move your stuff in—”
“Wait,” he says. “You no can eat Erid life. You no have Earth life to eat. What about Adrian life, question?”
I snort. “Astrophage? I can’t eat that! It’s ninety-six degrees all the time! It would burn me alive. Plus, I doubt my digestive enzymes would even work on its weird cell membrane.”
“Not Astrophage. Taumoeba. Eat Taumoeba.”
“I can’t eat—” I pause. “I…what?”
Can I eat Taumoeba?
It’s alive. It has DNA. Is has mitochondria—the powerhouse of the cell. It stores energy as glucose. It does the Krebs cycle. It’s not Astrophage. It’s not 96 degrees. It’s just an amoeba from another planet. It won’t have heavy metals like Eridian life evolved to have—they aren’t even present in Adrian’s atmosphere.
“I…I don’t know. Maybe I can.”
He points to his ship. “I have twenty-two million kilograms of Taumoeba in fuel bays. How much you want, question?”
I widen my eyes. It’s the first time I’ve felt genuine hope in a long time.
“Settled.” He puts his claw against the divider. “Fist my bump.”
I laugh and put my knuckles against the xenonite. “Fist-bump. It’s just ‘fist-bump.’ ”
I finish off the last bite of my meburger and gulp down the vitamin-enriched soda. I put my dishes in the sink and check the clock on my kitchen wall. Wow, is it VℓIλλ already? I better hurry up.
My first few years on Erid were touch-and-go. Taumoeba kept me alive, but I became severely malnourished. The microbes gave me calories, but they weren’t a balanced diet.
Those were painful days. I had scurvy, beriberi, and a raft of other maladies. Was it worth it? I still don’t know. I might never know. There’s no way to communicate with Earth. It’s sixteen light-years away.
For all I know, the beetles may have malfunctioned or missed their target. I don’t even know if the climatologists like Leclerc were right in their models for what would happen. The Hail Mary might have been hopeless from the get-go. Earth might already be a frozen wasteland with billions of corpses.
But I try to stay positive. What else have I got?
For what it’s worth, the Eridians are fantastic hosts. They don’t have a government, per se, but all the important entities agreed to do whatever it takes to keep me alive. After all, I played a critical role in saving their planet. And even if I hadn’t, I’m a living, breathing alien. Of course they’re going to keep me alive. I’m of extreme scientific interest.
I live in a big dome in the middle of one of their “cities.” Though “city” isn’t quite the right word. A better description might be a “cluster.”
I have grounds and everything. Thirty Eridians outside the dome maintain my life-support systems, or so I’m told. And my dome is very close to one of the larger science centers. Many of Erid’s greatest minds collect there and thrum. That’s sort of a song and discussion in one. But everyone talks at the same time and it’s not really conscious on their part. Somehow the thrum leads to conclusions and decisions. The thrum itself is much smarter than any Eridian in it. In a way, Eridians can become ad-hoc neurons in a group mind. But they come and go as they please.
I’m particularly interesting, so pretty much every scientist on the planet came together to thrum up ways to keep me alive. I’m told it was the second-largest science-oriented thrum ever executed. (The largest, of course, was when they had to make a plan for dealing with Astrophage.)
Thanks to my Earth scientific journals, they know all my nutritional needs and how to synthesize the various vitamins in labs. Once they solved that, smaller, less-focused groups worked on making them taste better. That’s more or less up to me, actually. Lots of taste tests. Glucose, common to both Eridian and Human biomes, comes up a lot.
The best thing, though, is they managed to clone my muscle tissue and grow it in labs. I can thank Earth science for that. They were nowhere near that technology when I first showed up. But that was sixteen years ago—they’re catching up quite well.
Anyway, it means I can finally eat meat. Yes, that’s right, I’m eating human meat. But it’s my own meat, and I don’t feel bad about it. Spend a decade eating nothing but odd-tasting, vaguely sweet vitamin shakes and then see if you’ll turn down a burger.
I love meburgers. I eat one every day.
I grab my cane and head out. I’m not a young man anymore, and the high gravity of Erid has only made my bones degenerate faster. I think I’m fifty-three years old now, but I’m not sure. I’ve done a lot of time-dilated travel. I can accurately say seventy-one years have gone by on Earth since I was born, for what it’s worth.
I leave through my front door and cross the grounds. There are no plants or anything—I’m the only thing on this planet that can survive my environment. But there are some very tasteful and aesthetically pleasing rocks. It’s become a hobby of mine: making the grounds as pretty as possible. The Eridians just see a bunch of rocks, but I see all the colors.
They installed lights at the top of the dome that get brighter and dimmer on a twenty-four-hour cycle. I explained that’s critical to my mood and they took my word for it. Though I did have to explain to this species of interstellar travelers how to make lightbulbs.
I make my way along the gravel pathway to one of the many “meeting” rooms at the dome’s wall. Eridians value face-to-carapace communication as much as humans do, and this is a good compromise. My side is within my bubble environment. And on the other side of the 1-centimeter clear xenonite is a room that’s out in Erid’s natural atmosphere.
I hobble in. It’s one of the smaller meeting rooms, really only suitable for a one-on-one conversation. But it’s become our go-to spot for meeting up.
Rocky waits for me on the Eridian side. “Finally! I’ve been waiting for ℓλ minutes! What took you so long?!”