I nudge away from the table and float to the edge of the room. “There’s a lot here. What do you want to know about first?”
He starts to point in one direction, then stops. Then he picks a new thing, but stops there too. Like a kid in a candy shop. Finally, he settles on the 3-D printer. “That. What is that, question?”
“It makes small things. I tell the computer a shape, and it tells this machine how to make it.”
“I can see it make small thing, question?”
“It needs gravity.”
“That is why your ship rotates, question?”
“Yes!” I say. Wow, he’s quick. “The rotation makes gravity for science things.”
“You ship no can rotate with tunnel attached.”
He thinks it over.
“You ship has more science than my ship. Better science. I bring my things into you ship. Release tunnel. You make you ship spin for science. You and me science how to kill Astrophage together. Save Earth. Save Erid. This is good plan, question?”
“Uh…yes! Good plan! But what about your ship?” I tap his xenonite bubble. “Human science can’t make xenonite. Xenonite is stronger than anything humans have.”
“I bring materials to make xenonite. Can make any shape.”
“Understand,” I say. “You want to get your things now?”
I’ve gone from “sole-surviving space explorer” to “guy with wacky new roommate.” It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.
* * *
“Have you met Dr. Lamai?” Stratt asked.
I shrugged. “I meet so many people these days I honestly don’t know.”
The carrier had a sick bay, but that was for the crew. This was a special medical center set up on the second hangar bay.
Dr. Lamai pressed her hands together and bowed her head slightly. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Dr. Grace.”
“Thanks,” I said. “Um, you too.”
“I’ve put Dr. Lamai in charge of all things medical for the Hail Mary,” Stratt said. “She was the lead scientist for the company that developed the coma technology we’re going to use.”
“Nice to meet you,” I said. “So you’re from Thailand, I assume?”
“Yes,” she said. “The company did not survive, unfortunately. Because the technology only works on one in every seven thousand people and thus has limited commercial potential. I am very happy that my research may yet help humanity.”
“Understatement,” said Stratt. “Your technology might save humanity.”
Lamai averted her eyes. “You compliment me too much.”
She led us into her lab. A dozen bays were each full of slightly different apparatus experiments, each connected to an unconscious monkey.
I looked away. “Do I have to be here?”
“You’ll have to excuse Dr. Grace,” Stratt said. “He’s a bit…tender on certain topics.”
“I’m fine,” I said. “I know animal testing is necessary. I just don’t like to stare at it.”
Lamai said nothing.
“Dr. Grace,” Stratt said. “Stop being an asshole. Dr. Lamai, please bring us up to speed.”
Lamai pointed to a set of metal arms over the nearest test monkey. “We developed these automated coma-monitoring and care stations when we believed we would have tens of thousands of patients. It never came to pass.”
“Do they work?” Stratt asked.
“Our original design was not intended to be fully independent. It would handle everything routine, but if it encountered a problem it could not solve, a human doctor would be alerted.”
She walked along the line of unconscious monkeys. “We are making significant progress on the fully automated version. This armature is run by extremely high-end software being developed in Bangkok. It will care for a subject in a coma. It watches their vitals, applies whatever medical care is needed, feeds them, monitors their fluids, and so on. It would still be better to have an actual doctor present. But this is a close second.”
“Are they artificial intelligence of some kind?” Stratt asked.
“No,” said Lamai. “We do not have time to develop a complicated neural network. This is a strictly procedural algorithm. Very complex, but not AI at all. We have to be able to test it in thousands of ways and know exactly how it responds and why. We can’t do that with a neural network.”
She pointed to some diagrams on the wall. “Our most important breakthrough was, unfortunately, the undoing of our company. We successfully isolated the genetic markers that indicate long-term coma resistance. We can run a simple blood test to find out. And, as you know, once we tested this on the general population, we learned that very, very few people actually have those genes.”
“Couldn’t you still help those people, though?” I asked. “I mean, sure it’s only one in seven thousand people, but it’s a start, right?”
Lamai shook her head. “Unfortunately, no. This is an elective procedure. There is no pressing medical need to be unconscious throughout chemotherapy. In fact, it adds a small amount of risk. So there just would not be enough customers to sustain a company.”
Stratt rolled up her sleeve. “Test my blood for the genes. I’m curious.”
Lamai was briefly taken aback. “V-Very well, Ms. Stratt.” She walked over to a rolling supply cart and got a blood-draw kit. Someone this important wasn’t used to doing actual medical grunt work. But Stratt was Stratt.
Still, Lamai was no slouch. She got the needle into Stratt without delay and on the first try. The blood flowed into the tube. When the blood draw was complete, Stratt rolled down her sleeve. “Grace. You’re up next.”
“Why?” I asked. “I’m not volunteering.”
“To set an example,” she said. “I want everyone on this project, even tangentially related, to get tested. Astronauts are a rare breed, and only one in seven thousand of them will be coma-resistant. We might not have enough qualified candidates. We need to be ready to expand the pool.”
“It’s a suicide mission,” I said. “It’s not like we’ll have a line of people saying, ‘Oh, me! Please! Please me! Pick me!’ ”