* * *
The memories are coming back more smoothly now. I still can’t remember everything, but it’s no longer an epiphany when they happen. It’s just sort of…“Oh hey, I know that. Always knew it, really.”
I guess I’m one of those people with coma resistance. That explains why I’m here instead of any of the far more qualified candidates that should have been sent.
But Yáo and Ilyukhina probably had those genes, too, and they didn’t make it. My guess is the medical robot wasn’t perfect. They must have had some medical situation arise it couldn’t figure out.
I shake off their memory.
The next several days are an exercise in patience. I learn more about the ship to distract myself.
I catalog the entire lab. One of the first things I find is a touchscreen computer in a pull-out drawer in the center table. It’s actually a fantastic find, because it has a bunch of research-related screens. As opposed to the panels in the control room, which are all about the ship or its instruments.
I see a bunch of math and science apps—most of which are off-the-shelf that I’m familiar with. But the real boon is the library!
As far as I can tell, this panel can bring up literally any scientific textbook ever written, every scientific paper ever published on any topic, and a whole lot more. There’s one directory just called “Library of Congress,” and it appears to be the entire digital catalog of everything that’s ever been copyrighted in the United States. No books about the Hail Mary, unfortunately.
And the reference manuals. So many reference manuals. Data on top of data with data in between. I guess they figured solid-state hard drives are light, so there was no reason to be stingy with information. Heck, they may have just burned the data into ROMs.
They gave me reference material on stuff that can’t possibly be useful. But hey, it’s nice to know that if I need the average rectal temperature of a healthy goat, I can find that out! (It’s 103.4°F / 39.7°C.)
Playing with the panel leads to my next discovery: I know how I’ll report back to Earth with the beetles.
I knew they’d be involved, but now I know specifics. In addition to the absurd data storage array aboard the ship, the panel also has four comparatively small external drives mounted: John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Each one of those shows 5 terabytes free. It’s not a huge leap to assume that’s the beetle’s data.
So how do I launch them when the time comes? To find out, I head to the control room.
I have to dig through a few layers of UI on the Beetles panel to find the launch command, but I find it. As far as I can tell, it’s just a button labeled “Launch.” I guess they orient themselves based on stars and head toward Earth on their own. The Hail Mary did the same thing to get here, so they know how to do it. No reason to introduce human error in the course selection.
While I’m here, I poke around the Scientific Instrumentation screen. The first few subwindows are the helioscope, the Petrovascope, and a telescope that can see in the visible spectrum, IR spectrum, and a bunch of other bands.
I play with the visible-light telescope. It’s kind of fun. I can look at the stars. I mean, there’s nothing else out there. Even Tau Ceti’s planets would just be little dots from where I am. But it’s still nice to see the outside from my confined little world.
I also found a dedicated EVA screen. It has more or less what I would have expected. There are a bunch of controls for the EVA suit itself, so an operator in the control room can manage any issue with the suit during an EVA. That way, the person in the suit doesn’t have to deal with it. Plus, it looks like the ship has a complicated tethering system on the hull. Basically a bunch of tracks that the tether hook can run along. They really figured an EVA would be important. Probably to collect local Astrophage.
If there is any.
If Tau Ceti has a Petrova line, then there’s Astrophage to be collected. Getting ahold of some would be step one. Getting that down to the lab, and seeing if it differs from the Astrophage on Earth. Maybe it’s a less virulent strain?
The next two days are, basically, me worrying about what happens next. Oh, I know what happens next—I’m just worrying about it anyway.
I fidget in the control room and watch the seconds tick away.
“You’re going to be in zero g,” I say. “You are not going to be falling. You will not be in danger. The acceleration of the ship will stop. But that’s okay.”
I don’t like roller coasters or water slides. That dropping sensation scares the pants off me. And in a few seconds I’m going to feel that exact sensation because the “gravity” I’ve been experiencing will stop altogether.
The seconds tick off. “Four…three…two…”
“Here we go,” I said.
Right on schedule, the engines shut off. The 1.5 g’s I’ve been feeling all this time vanishes. Gravity is gone.
I panic. No amount of mental preparation would have worked. I straight-up panic.
I scream and flail around. I force myself to curl into a fetal position—it’s comforting and keeps me from hitting any controls or screens.
I shiver and shake as I float around the control room. I should have strapped myself to the chair, but I didn’t think to. Dummy.
“I’m not falling!” I scream. “I’m not falling! This is just space! Everything is fine!”
It’s not fine. I feel my stomach in my throat. I’m going to puke. Puke in zero g is not okay. I don’t have a bag. I severely underprepared for this. I was stupid to think I could just talk myself out of a primal fear.
I pull the collar of my jumpsuit open and tilt my head down. I’m just in the nick of time. I puke out the entirety of “Day 9—Meal 3” into my shirt. I hold the collar tight to my chest afterward. It’s disgusting, but contained. Better than letting it float around the control room and becoming a choking hazard.
“Oh gosh…” I whimper. “Gosh…this is…”
Can I do this? Will I be rendered completely worthless from this point on? Will humanity die because I can’t handle zero g?
I clench my teeth. I clench my fists. I clench my butt. I clench every part of me that I know how to clench. It gives me a feeling of control. I’m doing something by aggressively doing nothing.
After an eternity, the panic begins to ebb away. Human brains are amazing things. We can get used to just about anything. I’m making the adjustment.
The slight reduction of fear has a feedback effect. I know I will get less afraid now. And knowing that makes the fear subside even faster. Soon, the panic dies down to fear, which diffuses into general anxiousness.