Project Hail Mary

Page 4


Who am I to question a creepy robot-armed computer overlord? I cautiously lick the substance.

Oh my God it’s good! It’s so good! It’s like thick gravy but not too rich. I squeeze more straight into my mouth and savor it. I swear it’s better than sex.

I know what’s going on here. They say hunger is the greatest seasoning. When you’re starving, your brain rewards you handsomely for finally eating. Good job, it says, we get to not die for a while!

The pieces fall into place. If I was in a coma for a long time, I must have been getting fed. I didn’t have an abdominal tube when I woke up, so it was probably feeding me with an NG tube running down my esophagus. It’s the least-intrusive way to feed a patient who can’t eat but has no digestion issues. Plus, it keeps the digestive system active and healthy. And it explains why the tube wasn’t around when I woke up. If possible, you should remove an NG tube while the patient is still unconscious.

Why do I know that? Am I a doctor?

I squeeze another shot of gravy-goo into my mouth. Still delicious. I gobble it down. Soon the tube is empty. I hold it up. “More of this!”

“Meal complete.”

“I’m still hungry! Give me another tube!”

“Food allotment for this meal has been met.”

It makes sense. My digestive system is getting used to semi-solid food right now. Best to take it easy. If I eat as much as I want I’ll probably get sick. The computer is doing the right thing.

“Give me more food!” No one cares about the right thing when they’re hungry.

“Food allotment for this meal has been met.”


Still, I feel a ton better than I did before. The food energized me on the spot, plus I’ve had more rest.

I roll out of bed, ready to make a break for the wall, but the arms don’t chase me. I guess I’m allowed out of bed now that I’ve proven I can eat.

I look down at my naked body. This just doesn’t feel right. I know the only other people around are dead, but still.

“Can I have some clothes?”

The computer says nothing.

“Fine. Be that way.”

I pull the sheet off the bed and wrap it around my torso a couple of times. I pull one corner over my shoulder from behind my back and tie it to another from the front. Instant toga.

“Self-ambulation detected,” says the computer. “What’s your name?”

“I am Emperor Comatose. Kneel before me.”


Time to see what’s up that ladder.

I’m a little unsteady, but I start walking across the room. This is a victory in itself—I don’t need wobbly beds or walls to cling to. I’m on my own two feet.

I make it to the ladder and grab hold. I don’t need something to hang on to, but it sure makes life easier. The hatch above looks pretty darn solid. I assume it’s airtight. And there’s every chance it’s locked. But I have to at least try.

I climb up one rung. Tough, but doable. Another rung. Okay, I have the hang of this. Slow and steady.

I make it to the hatch. I hang on to the ladder with one hand and turn the hatch’s circular crank with the other. It actually turns!

“Holy moly!” I say.

“Holy moly”? Is that my go-to expression of surprise? I mean, it’s okay, I guess. I would have expected something a little less 1950s. What kind of weirdo am I?

I turn the crank three full rotations and hear a click. The hatch tilts downward and I get out of the way. It falls open, suspended by its hefty hinge. I’m free!

Sort of.

Beyond the hatch, there’s just darkness. A little intimidating, but at least it’s progress.

I reach into the new room and pull myself up to the floor. Lights click on as soon as I enter. Presumably the computer’s doing.

The room looks to be the same size and shape as the one I left—another round room.

One large table—a lab table from the look of it—is mounted to the floor. Three lab stools are mounted nearby. All around the walls are pieces of lab equipment. All of it mounted to tables or benches that are bolted to the floor. It’s like the room is ready for a catastrophic earthquake.

A ladder along the wall leads to another hatch in the ceiling.

I’m in a well-stocked laboratory. Since when do isolation wards let patients into the lab? And this doesn’t look like a medical lab, anyway. What the fudge is going on?!

Fudge? Seriously? Maybe I have young kids. Or I’m deeply religious.

I stand to get a better look at things.

The lab has smaller equipment bolted to the table. I see an 8000x microscope, an autoclave, a bank of test tubes, sets of supply drawers, a sample fridge, a furnace, pipettes—wait a minute. Why do I know all those terms?

I look at the larger equipment along the walls. Scanning electron microscope, sub-millimeter 3-D printer, 11-axis milling machine, laser interferometer, 1-cubic-meter vacuum chamber—I know what everything is. And I know how to use it.

I’m a scientist! Now we’re getting somewhere! Time for me to use science. All right, genius brain: come up with something!

…I’m hungry.

You have failed me, brain.

Okay, well I have no idea why this lab is here or why I’m allowed in. But…onward!

The hatch in the ceiling is 10 feet off the ground. It’s going to be another ladder adventure. At least I’m stronger now.

I take a few deep breaths and start climbing the ladder. Same as before, this simple act is a massive effort. I may be getting better, but I’m not “well.”

Good lord I’m heavy. I make it to the top, but only just.

I situate myself on the uncomfortable bars and push on the hatch’s handle. It doesn’t budge.

“To unlock hatch, state your name,” says the computer.

“But I don’t know my name!”


I smack the handle with the palm of my hand. The handle doesn’t move and now the palm of my hand hurts. So…yeah. Not fruitful.

This will have to wait. Maybe I’ll remember my name soon. Or find it written somewhere.

I climb back down the ladder. At least, that’s my plan. You’d think going down would be easier and safer than going up. But no. No. Instead of gracefully descending the ladder, I put my foot on the next rung down at an awkward angle, lose my grip on the hatch handle, and fall like an idiot.

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