Project Hail Mary

Page 3

 The infrared glow is very faint. I was only able to detect it at all because I was using extremely sensitive detection equipment while searching for IR emissions from nebulae.

 But to be certain, I called in a favor from the Atacama observatory in Chile—in my opinion the best IR observatory in the world. They confirmed my findings.

 There are many reasons one might see IR light in interplanetary space. It could be space dust or other particles reflecting sunlight. Or some molecular compound could be absorbing energy and re-emitting it in the infrared band. That would even explain why it’s all the same wavelength.

 The shape of the arc is of particular interest. My first guess was that it is a collection of particles moving along magnetic field lines. But Venus has no magnetic field to speak of. No magnetosphere, no ionosphere, nothing. What forces would make particles arc toward it? And why would they glow?

   Any suggestions or theories would be welcome.

* * *


What the heck was that?

I remembered it all at once. It just kind of showed up in my head without warning.

I didn’t learn much about myself. I live in San Francisco—I remember that. And I like breakfast. Also I used to be into astronomy but now I’m not?

Apparently my brain decided it was critical that I remember that email. Not trivial things like my own name.

My subconscious wants to tell me something. Seeing the line of blood must have reminded me of the “Thin Red Line” title of that email. But what’s that got to do with me?

I shimmy out from under the bed and sit up against the wall. The arms angle toward me, but still can’t reach.

Time to get a look at my fellow patients. I don’t know who I am or why I’m here, but at least I’m not alone—aaaand they’re dead.

Yes, definitely dead. The one closest to me was a woman, I think. At least, she had long hair. Other than that, she’s mostly a mummy. Desiccated skin draped over bones. There’s no smell. Nothing is actively rotting. She must have died a long time ago.

The person in the other bed was a man. I think he’s been dead even longer. His skin is not only dry and leathery but also crumbling away.

Okay. So I’m here with two dead people. I should be disgusted and horrified, but I’m not. They’re so far gone they don’t even look human. They look like Halloween decorations. I hope I wasn’t close friends with either of them. Or, if I was, I hope I don’t remember it.

Dead people is a concern, but I’m more concerned that they’ve been here so long. Even a quarantine area would remove dead people, wouldn’t they? Whatever’s wrong must be pretty darn bad.

I get to my feet. It’s slow and it takes a lot of effort. I steady myself at the edge of Ms. Mummy’s bed. It wobbles and I wobble with it, but I stay upright.

The robot arms make a play for me, but I flatten myself against the wall again.

I’m pretty sure I was in a coma. Yeah. The more I think of it, I was definitely in a coma.

I don’t know how long I’ve been here, but if I was put here at the same time as my roommates it’s been a while. I rub my half-shaved face. Those arms are designed to manage long-term unconsciousness. More evidence I was in a coma.

Maybe I can get to that hatch?

I take a step. Then another. Then I sink to the floor. It’s just too much for me. I have to rest.

Why am I so weak when I have these well-toned muscles? And if I was in a coma, why do I even have muscles? I should be a withered, spindly mess right now, not beach-bod buff.

I have no idea what my endgame is. What should I do? Am I really sick? I mean, I feel like crud of course, but I don’t feel “sick.” I’m not nauseated. I don’t have a headache. I don’t think I have a fever. If I don’t have a disease, why was I in a coma? Physical injury?

I feel around my head. No lumps or scars or bandages. The rest of my body seems pretty solid too. Better than solid. I’m ripped.

I want to nod off but I resist it.

Time to take another stab at this. I push myself back up. It’s like weightlifting. But it’s a little easier this time. I’m recovering more and more (I hope).

I shuffle along the wall, using my back for support as much as my feet. The arms constantly reach for me but I stay out of range.

I pant and wheeze. I feel like I’ve run a marathon. Maybe I have a lung infection? Maybe I’m in isolation for my own protection?

I finally make it to the ladder. I stumble forward and grab one of the rungs. I’m just so weak. How am I going to climb a 10-foot ladder?

Ten-foot ladder.

I think in imperial units. That’s a clue. I’m probably an American. Or English. Or maybe Canadian. Canadians use feet and inches for short distances.

I ask myself: How far is it from L.A. to New York? My gut answer: 3,000 miles. A Canadian would have used kilometers. So I’m English or American. Or I’m from Liberia.

I know Liberia uses imperial units but I don’t know my own name. That’s irritating.

I take a deep breath. I hang on to the ladder with both hands and put my foot on the bottom rung. I pull myself up. It’s a shaky process, but I get it done. Both feet are on the lower rung now. I reach up and grab the next rung. Okay, making progress. I feel like my whole body is made of lead—everything is so much effort. I try to pull myself up, but my hand just isn’t strong enough.

I fall backward off the ladder. This is going to hurt.

It doesn’t hurt. The robot arms catch me before I hit the ground because I fell into grabbing range. They don’t miss a beat. They return me to bed and settle me in like a mother putting her child to sleep.

You know what? This is fine. I’m really tired at this point and lying down kind of works for me. The gentle rocking of the bed is comforting. Something bugs me about how I fell off the ladder. I replay it in my head. I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s just a…“wrongness” to it.


I drift off.


* * *



There’s a toothpaste tube on my chest.


“Eat,” the computer says again.

I lift the tube. It’s white with black text that reads DAY 1—MEAL 1.

“The heck is this?” I say.


I unscrew the cap and smell something savory. My mouth waters at the prospect. Only now do I realize how hungry I am. I squeeze the tube and disgusting-looking brown sludge comes out.

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