Project Hail Mary

Page 59

“You talk to you, question?”

“Yes! I’m talking to me.”

“Humans are unusual.”

“Yes,” I say.

Rocky stretches his legs. “I sleep now.”

“Wow,” I say. This is the first time he’s had to sleep since we met. Good. This will provide me some time for some lab work. But how much time?

“How long do Eridians sleep?”

“I not know.”

“You don’t know? You’re Eridian. How can you not know how long Eridians sleep?”

“Eridians not know how long sleep last. Maybe short time. Maybe long time.”

They sleep unpredictable amounts of time. I guess there’s no rule saying sleep has to evolve as a regular pattern. Does he at least know a range of times it might be?

“Is there a minimum time? A maximum time?”

“Minimum is 12,265 seconds. Maximum is 42,928 seconds.”

I often get strangely specific numbers from Rocky on things that should be rough estimates. It took me a while to figure out, but I finally did. He actually is coming up with rough, round numbers. But they’re in his units and in base six. It’s actually easier for him to convert those values to base-ten Earth seconds than it is for him to think directly in Earth seconds.

If I converted those values back to Eridian seconds and looked at the numbers in base six, I bet they’d be some round number. But I’m too lazy. Why un-convert data he already converted? I’ve never seen him be wrong on arithmetic.

Meanwhile, I have to divide by 60 twice on a calculator just to convert from one of my own planet’s units to another of my own planet’s units. He’ll sleep for a minimum of three and a half hours and a maximum of almost twelve hours.

“I understand,” I say. I head back toward the airlock.

“You observe, question?” Rocky asks.

He watched me sleep, so it’s only fair he offer to let me watch him. I’m sure Earth scientists would jump all over the place to learn anything about what an Eridian sleeping looks like. But I finally have time to do some deep analysis of xenonite and I’m just dying to know how xenon bonds with other elements. If I can get any of my lab equipment to work in zero g, that is.

“Not necessary.”

“You observe, question?” he asks again.



“You want me to observe you sleep?”

“Yes. Want want want.”

Through unspoken agreement, a tripled word means extreme emphasis.


“I sleep better if you observe.”


He waves a few arms, trying to find a way to phrase it. “Eridians do that.”

Eridians watch one another sleep. It’s a thing. I should be more culturally sensitive, but he threw shade when I talked to myself. “Eridians are unusual.”

“Observe. I sleep better.”

I don’t want to watch a dog-sized spider not move for several hours. There’s a crew in there, right? Have one of them do it. I point to his ship. “Have some other Eridian observe you.”


“Why not?”

“I am only Eridian here.”

My mouth hangs open. “You’re the only person on that huge ship?!”

He’s quiet for a moment, then says, “♫♩♪♫♩♪♫ ♫♪ ♩♪♫ ♫♪♫♪♩ ♫♪♩♪ ♫♩ ♪ ♫♩♪ ♫ ♩♪♫♩♪ ♫♩♪ ♫.”

Complete nonsense. Did my kludged-together translation software fail? I check it out. No, it’s working fine. I examine the waveforms. They seem similar to the ones I’d seen before. But they’re lower. Come to think of it, that whole sentence seemed lower in pitch than anything Rocky has ever said before. I select the whole segment in the software’s recording history and bump it up an octave. The octave is a universal thing, not specific to humans. It means doubling the frequency of every note.

The computer immediately translates the result. “Original crew was twenty-three. Now is only me.”

That octave-drop…I think it’s emotion.

“They…did they die?”


I rub my eyes. Wow. The Blip-A had a crew of twenty-three. Rocky is the sole survivor and he’s understandably upset about it.

“Wh…er…” I stammer. “Bad.”

“Bad bad bad.”

I sigh. “My original crew was three. Now it’s just me.” I put my hand up against the divider.

Rocky puts a claw on the divider opposite my hand. “Bad.”

“Bad bad bad,” I say.

We stay like that for a moment. “I’ll watch you sleep.”

“Good. Me sleep,” he says.

His arms relax and he looks for all the world like a dead bug. He floats free in his side of the tunnel, no longer hanging on to any support bars.

“Well, you’re not alone anymore, buddy,” I say. “Neither of us are.”

“Mr. Easton, I don’t think we need to be searched,” said Stratt.

“I think you do,” said the head prison guard. His thick New Zealand accent sounded friendly, but there was an edge to it. This man had made a whole career out of not putting up with people’s crap.

“We’re exempt from all—”

“Stop,” Easton said. “No one gets in or out of Pare without a full search.”

Auckland Prison, which the locals called “Pare” for some reason, was New Zealand’s only maximum-security prison unit. The sole point of entry was awash with security cameras and a micro-scanner for all guests. Even the guards passed through the detector on their way in.

Easton’s assistant and I stood off to the side while our bosses had their dispute. He and I looked at each other and mutually shrugged. A small fraternity of underlings with stubborn bosses.

“I’m not turning over my Taser. I can call your prime minister if you like,” Stratt said.

“Sure,” said Easton. “She’ll tell you the same thing I’m about to tell you now: We don’t let weapons anywhere near those animals in there. Even my own guards only have batons. There are some rules we don’t change. I’m fully aware of your authority, but it has limits. You’re not magical.”

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