Project Hail Mary

Page 57

The computer translates: Astrophage on me star. Bad bad bad.

Okay! Theory confirmed. He’s here for the same reason I am. I want to ask so many more questions. But we just don’t have the words. It’s infuriating!

“♫♫ ♫♩♪♪♫ ♫♪♫,” Rocky says.

My computer pops up the text: You come from where, question?

Rocky has picked up the basic word ordering of English. I think he realized early on that I can’t automatically remember stuff, so he works with my system rather than trying to teach me his. I probably seem pretty stupid, honestly. But some of his own grammar sneaks in once in a while. He always ends a question with the word “question.”

“No understand,” I say.

“You star is what name, question?”

“Oh!” I say. He wants the name of my star. “Sol. My star is called ‘Sol.’ ”

“Understand. Eridian name for you star is ♫♪♫♪♩♩.”

I note down the new word. That’s Rocky’s word for “Sol.” Unlike two humans fumbling to communicate, Rocky and I can’t even pronounce each other’s proper nouns.

“My name for your star is ‘Eridani,’ ” I say. Technically we call it “40 Eridani,” but I decide to keep it simple.

“Eridian name for my star is ♫♩♪♪♪.”

I add the word to the dictionary. “Understand.”


I don’t have to read the computer screen for that particular translation. I’ve started to recognize some of the more frequent words like “you,” “me,” “good,” “bad,” et cetera. I’ve never been artistic and I’m about as far from having a musical ear as anyone can be. But after you hear a chord a hundred times, you tend to remember it.

I check my watch—yes, I have a watch now. The stopwatch has a clock feature. It took me a while to notice. I had other things on my mind.

We’ve been at it all day and I’m exhausted. Do Eridians even know what sleep is? I guess it’s time to find out.

“Human bodies must sleep. Sleep is this.” I curl up into a ball and close my eyes in an overdramatic representation of sleep. I make a fake snoring sound because I’m a bad actor.

I return to normal and point to his clock. “Humans sleep for twenty-nine thousand seconds.”

Along with perfect memory, Eridians are extremely good at math. At least, Rocky is. As we worked our way through scientific units, it became immediately apparent that he can convert from his units to mine in the blink of an eye. And he has no problem understanding base ten.

“Many seconds…” he says. “Why be still so many seconds, question…Understand!”

He relaxes his limbs and they go limp. He curls up like a dead bug and remains motionless for a while. “Eridians same! ♪♫♫♪!”

Oh thank God. I can’t imagine explaining “sleep” to someone who had never heard of it. Hey, I’m going to fall unconscious and hallucinate for a while. By the way, I spend a third of my time doing this. And if I can’t do it for a while, I go insane and eventually die. No need for concern.

I add his word for “sleep” to the dictionary.

I turn to leave. “I’m going to sleep now. I’ll come back in twenty-nine thousand seconds.”

“I observe,” he says.

“You observe?”

“I observe.”


He wants to watch me sleep? In any other context that would be creepy, but when you’re studying a new life-form it’s appropriate, I guess.

“I will be still for twenty-nine thousand seconds,” I warn him. “Many seconds. I will not do anything.”

“I observe. Wait.”

He returns to his ship. Is he finally going to get something to take notes with? After a few minutes, he comes back with a device in one of his hands and a satchel held in two more.

“I observe.”

I point to the device. “What is that?”

“♫♪♩♫.” He pulls some kind of tool out of the satchel. “♫♪♩♫ not function.” He pokes the device with the tool a few times. “I change. ♫♪♩♫ function.”

I don’t bother to note down the new word. What would I enter it as? “Thing Rocky was holding that one time”? Whatever it is, it has a couple of wires sticking out and an opening that reveals some complex internals.

The object itself is irrelevant. The point is he’s repairing it. New word for us.

“Fix.” I say. “You fix.”

“♫♪♫♪,” he says.

I add “fix” to the dictionary. I suspect it’ll come up a lot.

He wants to watch me sleep. He knows it’s not going to be exciting, but he wants to do it anyway. So he brought some work with him to keep busy.

Okay. Whatever floats his boat.

“Wait,” I say.

I return to the ship and head to the dormitory.

I pull the mattress pad, sheets, and blanket from my bunk. I could use one of the other two bunks but…they had my dead friends in them so I don’t want to.

I bring the pad and sheets through the lab, awkwardly through the control room, and into the tunnel. I use a copious amount of duct tape to affix the mattress pad to the wall, then cinch up the sheets and blanket.

“I sleep now,” I say.


I turn off the lights in the tunnel. Total darkness for me, no effect for Rocky, who wants to watch me. Best of both worlds.

I shimmy into bed and resist the urge to say good night. It would just lead to more questions.

I drift off to the occasional clink and scrape of Rocky working on his device.


* * *


The next several days are repetitive, but far from boring. We greatly increase our shared vocabulary and a decent amount of grammar. Tenses, plurals, conditionals…language is tricky. But we’re getting it piece by piece.

And slow though the process is, I’m memorizing more of his language. I don’t need the computer as often. Though I still can’t go without it completely—that’ll take a long time.

I spend an hour every day studying Eridian vocabulary. I made a little script to pick random words from my Excel spreadsheet and play the notes with a MIDI app. Again, a rudimentary program, inefficiently written but computers are fast. I want to be free of the spreadsheet as soon as I can. For now, I still need it all the time. But once in a while I’ll understand an entire sentence without resorting to the computer. Baby steps.

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