Project Hail Mary

Page 69

“Yes. I hear light.”

While we chat, he uses his many hands to assemble some complicated-looking piece of equipment. It’s almost as big as he is. I recognize several parts on it as things he’s been repairing these past few days. He can hold a conversation and work on delicate machinery at the same time. I think Eridians are much better at doing multiple tasks than humans are.

“How, question?” he asks. “How can you hear light, question?”

I point to my eyes. “These are special body parts that focus and detect light. They send the information to my brain.”

“Light gives you information, question? Enough information to understand room, question?”

“Yes. Light gives information to humans like sound gives information to Eridians.”

A thought occurs to him. He stops working on his device entirely. “You hear light from space, question? You hear stars, planets, asteroids, question?”


“Amaze. What about sound, question? You can hear sound.”

I point to my ears. “I hear sound with these. How do you hear sound?”

He gestures all over his carapace and arms. “Everywhere. Tiny receptors on outer shell. All report back to brain. Like touch.”

So his whole body is a microphone. His brain must be doing some serious processing. It has to know the exact position of the body, sense the time difference between sound hitting different parts of it…man, that’s interesting. But hey, my brain gives me an entire 3-D model of my surroundings just from two eyeballs. Sensory input is really impressive across the board.

“I can’t hear as well as you,” I say. “Without light, I can’t understand the room. I can hear you talk, but no more.”

He points to the divider. “This is wall.”

“This is a special wall. Light passes through this wall.”

“Amaze. I give you many choices for wall when first build. You choose this because light pass through, question?”

It seems like so long ago—back when the divider was a mosaic of hexagons of different textures and colors. I’d picked the clear one, of course.

“Yes. I chose this because light passes through.”

“Amaze. I gave choices for different ♫♩♪♫ of sound. Never thought of light.”

I glance at the laptop to check what that mystery word was. I almost never have to look at the laptop now. Still, once in a while there’s a chord I just don’t remember. The computer reports that word was “qualities.” Okay, I can’t fault myself for not knowing it. That one doesn’t come up very often.

“Just good luck,” I say.

“Good luck,” he agrees. He makes a few more adjustments to the device, puts his tools back in his bandolier, then says, “I am done.”

“What is it?”

“Device keeps me alive in small room.” He looks happy. I think. He’s holding his carapace just a little higher than usual. “Wait.”

He disappears back into his ship, leaving the device behind. He returns with several plates of transparent xenonite. Each plate is a pentagon about a centimeter thick and a foot across. I hate myself for thinking in hybrid units like that. But that’s what my brain came up with.

“I make room now,” he says.

He assembles the pentagons edge to edge, using some kind of thick liquid glue from a tube to hold them together. Soon, he has two halves of a dodecahedron assembled. He holds them toward me proudly and places them together. “Room.”

The “room” is a geodesic sphere made of pentagons. The total diameter is about a meter. Easily big enough to contain Rocky.

“What’s the purpose of that room?” I ask.

“Room and device keep me alive in you ship.”

I raise my eyebrows. “You’re coming into my ship?”

“Want to see human technology. Is allowed, question?”

“Yes! Allowed! What do you want to see?”

“Everything! Human science better than Eridian science.” He points to the laptop floating beside me. “Machine that think. Eridians no have that.” He points to my toolkit. “Many machines there Eridians no have.”

“Yes. Come look at anything you want!” I point to the small airlock drawer in the divider wall. “How will you get it through that?”

“You leave tunnel. I make new divider wall. Bigger airlock.”

He pulls the completed device—which I now realize is a life-support system—onto his carapace and straps it on. It covers the radiator slits at the top of his carapace.

“Is that blocking your radiator? Isn’t that dangerous?”

“No. This make hot air into cold air,” he says.

Air conditioning. Not what I think of when I see a species that lives comfortably at over 200 degrees Celsius. But we all have our tolerances.

He seals the globe around himself with glue. “I test.”

He just floats there for a minute. Then, he says, “Works! Happy!”

“Great!” I say. “How does it work, though? Where does the heat go?”

“Easy,” he says. He taps one small part of the device. “Astrophage here. Astrophage take all heat hotter than ninety-six degrees.”

Ah, right. To humans, Astrophage is hot. To Eridians, it’s quite cold. And it’s the perfect air-conditioning medium. All Rocky has to do is run the air over some Astrophage-filled cooling fins or something.

“Clever,” I say.

“Thank. You leave now. I make large airlock for tunnel.”

“Yes yes yes!” I say.

I collect all my belongings in the tunnel, including the mattress clamped to the wall, and stuff them into the control room, then go into the control room myself and seal both airlock doors.

I spend the next hour tidying up. I wasn’t expecting company.

It’s been a few hours. But I just have to know. How does he modify the tunnel?

He needs massive atmospheric pressure to stay alive. My hull can’t handle that. And he can’t handle being in a vacuum. So how does he make modifications?

I hear clinks and clanks from the other side of the airlock. This time I’m going to find out!

I enter the airlock and look through the porthole. The Blip-A’s hull robot has removed the old tunnel and is installing a new one.

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