Oh. Well. That’s anticlimactic.
The old tunnel drifts off into space—its use is at an end, apparently. The robot places the new tunnel in position and administers xenonite glue along the edge of the Blip-A’s hull.
How did Eridians pilot a ship that traveled near the speed of light without using computers? Dead reckoning? They’re pretty good at doing math in their heads. Maybe they never needed to invent computers. But still. No matter how good they are at math, there are limits.
The clunking stops. I peek out the window again. The tunnel has been fully installed.
It looks like the previous tunnel, except it has a much larger airlock section. Pretty much the entire divider wall is a cabinet large enough to hold Rocky with room to spare. It is not, however, large enough to hold me. I guess I won’t be visiting the Blip-A anytime soon.
“Hmph,” I say. I try not to let it bother me, but come on. He gets to see an alien spaceship. How come I don’t get to see one?
Rocky’s side of the tunnel no longer has the network of gripping bars. Instead, there is a metal stripe running along the long axis of the tunnel. It extends into the divider airlock and further into my side of the tunnel. It leads right up to my airlock door.
Opposite the metal stripe is what looks like a pipe. It’s made of the same drab xenonite browns and tans that the tunnel wall is made of. And it’s square. It also runs the long axis of the tunnel.
With a whoosh, Rocky’s side of the tunnel fills with fog. Then a second whoosh fills my side. That’s what the pipe was for, I guess. Delivering the appropriate atmosphere to both sides. I’m glad Rocky has a supply of oxygen to work with.
The Blip-A door opens, and Rocky emerges, encased in his geodesic ball. He wears something like overalls with a bandolier across the bottom of his carapace. The AC unit is on his back. Two of his hands hold metal blocks. The other three are free. One of them waves to me. I wave back.
The spaceball (what else should I call it?) floats into the airlock and then sticks to the metal plate.
“What?” I say. “How…”
Then I see it. The ball didn’t magically move. Those blocks Rocky is holding are magnets. Fairly powerful ones, I guess. And the metal strip is obviously magnetic. Probably iron. He rolls the ball along the metal line and into the divider airlock. He manipulates metal controls through the xenonite shell with his magnets. It’s mesmerizing to watch.
After some hissing and the sound of pumps, he repels a plate away, which opens up the door on my side of the airlock. From there, he rolls along the metal line to my door. I open it.
“So…do I carry you around? Is that the plan?”
“Yes. Carry. Thank.”
I gingerly grab the ball, worried it might be hot. But it isn’t. Among other things, xenonite is an excellent insulator. I pull him through and into the ship.
Rocky is heavy. Much heavier than I thought he would be. If there were gravity, I probably wouldn’t be able to lift him at all. As it is, he has a lot of inertia. It takes a lot of oomph to pull him along. It’s like pushing a motorcycle in neutral. Seriously—he’s as heavy as a motorcycle.
I shouldn’t be surprised. He told me all about his biology and how it uses metals. Heck, his blood is mercury. Of course he’s heavy.
“You are very heavy,” I say. I hope he doesn’t take that to mean Hey, fatty! Go on a diet!
“My mass is one hundred sixty-eight kilograms,” he says.
Rocky weighs over 300 pounds!
“Wow,” I say. “You weigh a lot more than me.”
“What is you mass, question?”
“Maybe eighty kilograms.”
“Humans have very small mass!” he says.
“I’m mostly water,” I say. “Anyway. This is the control room. I operate the ship from here.”
I push him ahead of me down the tunnel to the lab. He skitters around within his ball. He tends to shift around when he’s looking at something new. I think it helps him get a better “view” of things with his sonar. Kind of like a dog tilting its head to get more information about a sound.
“This is my lab,” I say. “All the science happens here.”
“Good good good room!” he squeals. His voice is a full octave higher than normal. “Want to understand all!”
“I’ll answer any questions you have,” I say.
“Later. More rooms!”
“More rooms!” I say dramatically.
I push him along into the dormitory. I give us a very slow velocity so he can take it all in from the center of the room. “I sleep here. Well, I used to. Then you made me sleep in the tunnel.”
“You sleep alone, question?”
“I also sleep alone many times. Sad sad sad.”
He just doesn’t get it. A fear of sleeping alone is probably hardwired in his brain. Interesting…that might have been the beginning of their pack instinct. And a pack instinct is required for a species to become intelligent. That weird (to me) sleep pattern could be the reason I’m talking to Rocky right now!
Yeah, that was unscientific. There are probably a thousand things that led to them being sapient and stuff. The sleep thing is likely just one part of it. But hey, I’m a scientist. I have to come up with theories!
I open a panel to the storage area and push his ball partially inside. “This is a small room for storage.”
I pull him back out. “That’s all the rooms. My ship is much smaller than yours.”
“You ship has much science!” he says. “Show me things in science room, question?”
I take him back up to the lab. He shifts around in the ball, taking it all in. I float us to the center of the room and grab the edge of the table.
I push the ball against the lab table. I think it’s steel, but I’m not sure. Most lab tables are. Let’s find out.
“Use your magnets,” I say.
He pushes one of his magnets against the pentagon face touching the table. With a clunk the magnet takes hold. He’s now anchored in place.
“Good!” he says. He uses his magnets on one face after another to roll across the table and back. It’s not graceful, but it gets the job done. At least I don’t have to hold him in place.