He slapped me on the back. “And I would owe you drink in afterlife, yes?! Ha-ha-ha-ha!”
* * *
“Huh,” I say to myself. “So that’s how the spin drive works.”
I munch on my burrito.
So I guess I have a thousand of those (“A thousand and nine!” I hear Dimitri’s voice in my head). At least—that’s how many I started with. Some probably went kaput during the trip. There’s probably a panel on the Spin Drive console that’ll tell me the status of each little one.
The proximity alert interrupts my thoughts.
I “drop” the burrito (it floats where I leave it) and launch myself up to the control room. The hatch from the dormitory to the lab doesn’t line up with the hatch from the lab to the control room, but there’s a diagonal line of travel that will send me through both if I do it just right.
I don’t get it right this time. I have to push off a lab wall en route. Still, I’m getting better at it.
I check the Radar panel and, sure enough, the Blip-A is approaching! Not a cylinder this time. The whole ship is coming my way. Nice and slow. Maybe they’re going for a nonthreatening kind of approach? In any event, it’s almost here.
Looks like its hull has a new addition. In that diamond part that’s as big as the whole Hail Mary, there’s a cylindrical tube sticking straight up. The hull robot is sitting next to it, looking proud of itself. I may be anthropomorphizing a tad.
The tube looks like xenonite. Patchy gray and tan with grainlike lines running its length. Hard to tell from this angle, but it also looks to be hollow.
I think I know what comes next. If they follow the plan they indicated with the model, they’ll be putting the other end of it against my airlock.
How will they attach their tunnel? My airlock does have docking capability—probably for whatever ship brought me and my crewmates to the Hail Mary—but I can’t expect Eridians to know the intricacies of a universal airlock.
The Blip-A edges ever closer. What if there’s a mistake? What if they miscalculate? What if they accidentally poke a hole in my hull? I’m all that stands between humanity and extinction. Will an alien math error doom my entire species?
I hustle to the airlock and pull on the EVA suit. I’m in there in record time. Better safe than sorry.
The Blip-A is so close now, the Telescope screen just shows a patch of mottled hull. I switch to the external cameras. My hull is littered with them. They’re all controlled from a window on the EVA panel. Always good to know where your astronaut is when giving them EVA instructions, I guess.
The tunnel is about 20 feet long. Or 7 meters. Man, being an American scientist sucks sometimes. You think in random, unpredictable units based on what situation you’re in.
The hull robot reaches out with some seriously telescoping arms. I had no idea it could do that. It extends well beyond the tunnel toward my airlock. Not creepy at all. Five ever-growing alien robot arms reaching for my front door. No cause for alarm.
Each arm’s three-fingered “hand” is holding…something. A curved bar with a flat plate attached on the ends. Like a coffee-mug handle. Three of the arms reach the Hail Mary and stick the flat parts of their devices to the hull. Shortly after, the other two arms do the same. Then, all five retract, pulling the Hail Mary toward the tunnel.
Okay. So those flat things are handles. How are they attached? Good question! My hull is smooth and made of nonmagnetic aluminum (why do I remember that all of a sudden?). The handles certainly aren’t connected by any mechanical means. Must be an adhesive.
And it all starts to make sense.
Of course they aren’t going to work out how the docking mechanism works. They’re going to glue one end of the tunnel to my ship. Why not? Much simpler.
My ship groans. It’s a 100,000-kilogram piece of equipment that was definitely not designed to be pulled along by its airlock. Will the hull put up with this?
I double-check the seals on my EVA suit.
The control room moves around me. It’s not fast—just a few centimeters per second. Hey, for small spaceship velocities I think in metric! Much better than “cubits per fortnight” or whatever.
I let the wall catch up to me. At some lizard-brain level, I like being a little farther from the airlock. Some scary stuff is going on over there.
The Eridian tunnel has hit the hull. Clicks and scrapes follow. I watch the hull camera feeds.
The mouth of the tunnel, now firmly held to the airlock aperture, is larger than the entire airlock door. I guess that’s that. Presuming the glue will hold pressure. They don’t even know what my atmospheric pressure is. What’s the glue made of? So many questions.
I can’t operate the control-room panels with my EVA suit gloves. I wish I could zoom in or something. I squint at one of the feeds showing the tunnel. It sure looks tight against the hull to me. There’s some curvature to the hull around that spot. Kind of a complicated shape to make, but the Eridians duplicated it perfectly.
After another minute, the robot arms let go of their handles, leaving them on the hull.
A muffled sound comes from the airlock. It’s a whooshing sound. Is that airflow? They’re pressurizing the tunnel!
My heart races. Can my hull handle this? What if their air dissolves aluminum? What if aluminum is highly toxic to Eridians and one whiff of it kills them instantly? This is a terrible idea!
The whooshing stops.
They’re done. Nothing dissolved yet. I float over to the airlock for a look-see.
I had both airlock doors sealed, of course. More protection in case of a breach. I open the inner door and float inside. I peek out the porthole window.
The blackness of space gone, replaced with the blackness of a dark tunnel. I turn on the helmet lamps and angle my head to shine light through the porthole.
The end of the tunnel is too close. I don’t mean I’m bothered by it. I mean the end of it is not 20 feet away. It’s more like 10 feet. And while the rest of the tunnel is made of gray and tan blotchy xenonite, the wall at the end is a hexagonal pattern of random colors.
They didn’t just connect a tunnel. They connected my airlock to theirs, with a wall in the middle.
I close the inner airlock door with me inside and depressurize it. I spin the outer door’s hatch handle and push. It opens without resistance. The tunnel is a vacuum—at least, it is on my side of the divider.
I think I see. This is a test. They had all the same concerns I had. Attach it, let me pressurize my half with my air, and see what happens. Either it works or it doesn’t. If it works, great! If not, they’ll try something else. Or maybe ask me to try something.