Project Hail Mary

Page 7

I leaned back in the booth. “I don’t know, Marissa. Spotting an exponential progression that early seems really unlikely. But okay, let’s say the JAXA scientists are right. Where’s the energy going?”

“The Petrova line.”


“JAXA took a good long look at the Petrova line and they say it’s getting brighter at the same rate that the sun is getting dimmer. Somehow or another, whatever it is, the Petrova line is stealing energy from the sun.”

She pulled a sheaf of papers from her purse and put them on the table. It looked like a bunch of graphs and charts. She shuffled through them until she found the one she wanted, then pushed it toward me.

The x-axis was labeled “time” and the y-axis was labeled “luminosity loss.” The line was exponential, for sure.

“This can’t be right,” I said.

“It’s right,” she said. “The sun’s output will drop a full percent over the next nine years. In twenty years that figure will be five percent. This is bad. It’s really bad.”

I stared at the graph. “That would mean an ice age. Like…right away. Instant ice age.”

“Yeah, at the very least. And crop failures, mass starvation…I don’t even know what else.”

I shook my head. “How can there be a sudden change in the sun? It’s a star, for cripes’ sake. Things just don’t happen this fast for stars. Changes take millions of years, not dozens. Come on, you know that.”

“No, I don’t know that. I used to know that. Now I only know the sun’s dying,” she said. “I don’t know why and I don’t know what we could do about it. But I know it’s dying.”

“How…” I furrowed my brow.

She downed the rest of her drink. “President addresses the nation tomorrow morning. I think they’re coordinating with other world leaders to all announce at the same time.”

The waiter dropped off my Guinness. “Here you go, sir. The steaks should be out shortly.”

“I need another whiskey,” Marissa said.

“Make it two,” I added.


* * *


I blink. Another flash of memory.

Was it true? Or is that just a random memory of me talking to someone who got sucked into a bogus doomsday theory?

No. It’s real. I’m terrified just thinking about it. And it’s not just sudden terror. It’s a cozy, comfortable terror with a permanent seat at the table. I’ve felt it for a long time.

This is real. The sun is dying. And I’m tangled up in it. Not just as a fellow citizen of Earth who will die with everyone else—I’m actively involved. There’s a sense of responsibility there.

I still don’t remember my own name, but I remember random bits of information about the Petrova problem. They call it the Petrova problem. I just remembered that.

My subconscious has priorities. And it’s desperately telling me about this. I think my job is to solve the Petrova problem.

…in a small lab, wearing a bedsheet toga, with no idea who I am, and no help other than a mindless computer and two mummified roommates.

My vision blurs. I wipe my eyes. Tears. I can’t…I can’t remember their names. But…they were my friends. My comrades.

Only now do I realize I’ve been facing away from them the whole time. I’ve done everything I can to keep them out of my line of sight. Scrawling on the wall like a madman with the corpses of people I cared about right behind me.

But now the distraction is over. I turn to look at them.

I sob. It comes without warning. I remember bits and pieces all in a rush. She was funny—always quick with a joke. He was professional and with nerves of steel. I think he was military and he was definitely our leader.

I fall to the floor and put my head in my hands. I can’t hold anything back. I cry like a child. We were a lot more than friends. And “team” isn’t the right word either. It’s stronger than that. It’s…

It’s on the tip of my tongue…

Finally, the word slides into my conscious mind. It had to wait until I wasn’t looking to sneak in.

Crew. We were a crew. And I’m all that’s left.

This is a spacecraft. I know that now. I don’t know how it has gravity but it’s a spaceship.

Things start to fall into place. We weren’t sick. We were in suspended animation.

But these beds aren’t magical “freeze chambers” like in the movies. There’s no special technology at play here. I think we were in medically induced comas. Feeding tubes, IVs, constant medical care. Everything a body needs. Those arms probably changed sheets, kept us rotated to prevent bedsores, and did all the other things ICU nurses would normally do.

And we were kept fit. Electrodes all over our bodies to stimulate muscle movement. Lots of exercise.

But in the end, comas are dangerous. Extremely dangerous. Only I survived, and my brain is a pile of mush.

I walk over to the woman. I actually feel better, looking at her. Maybe it’s a sense of closure, or maybe it’s just the calmness that comes after a crying jag.

The mummy has no tubes attached. No monitoring equipment at all. There’s a small hole in her leathery wrist. That’s where the IV was when she died, I guess. So the hole never healed.

The computer must have removed everything when she died. Waste not, want not, I guess. No point in using resources on dead people. More for the survivors.

More for me, in other words.

I take a deep breath and let it out. I have to be calm. I have to think clearly. I remembered a lot just then—my crew, some aspects of their personalities, that I’m on a spaceship (I’ll freak out about that later). The point is I’m getting more memories back, and they’re coming sort of when I want them instead of at random intervals. I want to focus on that, but the sadness is just so strong.

“Eat,” says the computer.

A panel in the center of the ceiling opens up, and a food tube drops out. One of the robot arms catches it and places it on my bed. The label reads DAY 1—MEAL 2.

I’m not in the mood to eat, but my stomach growls as soon as I see the tube. Whatever my mental state may be, my body has needs.

I open the tube and squirt goop into my mouth.

I have to admit: It’s another incredible flavor sensation. I think it’s chicken with hints of vegetable. There’s no texture, of course—it’s basically baby food. And it’s a little thicker than my earlier meal. It’s all about getting my digestive system used to solid food again.

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