Project Hail Mary

Page 76

I got us going a good head of steam and we’re on course for Tau Ceti e. I’ll do the orbital-insertion burn in about eleven days. While we wait, we may as well have gravity. So we’re back to centrifuge mode.

Eleven days. Truly astonishing. The total distance we’ll be traveling to get there is over 150 million kilometers. That’s about the same as the distance from Earth to the sun. And we’re doing it in eleven days. How? By having an absurd velocity.

I did three hours of thrust to get us going, and I’ll do another three when we get to Tau Ceti e to slow down. Right now, we’re cruising along at 162 kilometers per second. It’s just ridiculous. If you left Earth at that speed, you’d get to the moon in forty minutes.

This entire maneuver, including the burn I’ll have to do to slow down at the end, will consume 130 kilograms of fuel.

Astrophage. Crazy stuff.

Rocky stands in a bulb of clear xenonite in the floor of the control room.

“Boring name,” Rocky says.

“What? What name is boring?” I ask.

He’d spent days building up the Eridian Zone throughout the ship. He even installed his own new tunnels from deck to deck. It’s like having giant hamster Habitrails running everywhere.

He shifts his weight from one handhold to another. “Tau Ceti e. Boring name.”

“Then give it a name.”

“Me name? No. You name.”

“You were here first.” I unclip my seatbelts and stretch out. “You identified it. You plotted its orbit and location. You name it.”

“This is you ship. You name.”

I shake my head. “Earth-culture rule. If you’re at a place first, you get to name everything you discover there.”

He thinks it over.

Xenonite is truly amazing. Just a centimeter of transparent material separates my one-fifth atmosphere of oxygen pressure from Rocky’s 29 atmospheres of ammonia. Not to mention my 20 degrees Celsius from Rocky’s 210 degrees Celsius.

He’s taken over more of some rooms than others. The dormitory is almost entirely his domain now. I insisted he move all his crap into his compartment, so we agreed he could have most of the space in there.

He also put a large airlock in the dormitory. He based it on the size of the Hail Mary’s airlock on the assumption that anything important in the ship would likely be small enough to fit through that. I can’t ever go into his zone. My EVA suit would never stand up to his environment. I’d get squished like a grape. The airlock is really so we can pass items back and forth.

The lab is mostly mine. He has a tunnel leading up the side and another teeing off to run along the ceiling and ultimately through the ceiling into the control room. He can observe any of the scientific stuff I do. But in the end, Earth equipment wouldn’t work in his environment, so it has to be in mine.

As for the control room…it’s tight. Rocky put the xenonite bulb in the floor next to the hatchway. He really did try to keep the intrusion to a minimum. He assures me the holes he added to my bulkheads won’t affect the ship’s structural integrity.

“Okay,” he finally says. “Name is ♫♩♪♫.”

I don’t need the frequency analyzer anymore. That was an A-below-middle-C major fifth, followed by an E-flat octave, and then a G-minor seventh. I enter it into my spreadsheet. Though I don’t know why. I haven’t had to look at that thing in days. “What does it mean?”

“It is name of my mate.”

I widen my eyes. That little devil! He never told me he had a mate! I guess Eridians don’t kiss and tell.

We’d covered some biological basics during our travels. I explained how humans make more humans, and he told me where baby Eridians come from. They’re hermaphrodites and they reproduce by laying eggs next to each other. Stuff happens between the eggs and one of them absorbs the other, leaving one viable egg that will hatch in one Eridian year—forty-two Earth days.

Laying eggs together is, basically, the Eridian equivalent of sex. And they mate for life. But this is the first I’ve heard of Rocky doing it.

“You have a mate?”

“Unknown,” Rocky says. “Mate possibly has new mate. I gone a long time.”

“Sad,” I say.

“Yes, sad. But necessary. Must save Erid. You pick human word for ♫♩♪♫.”

Proper nouns are a headache. If you’re learning German from a guy named Hans, you just call him Hans. But I literally can’t make the noises Rocky makes and vice versa. So when one of us tells the other about a name, the other one has to pick or invent a word to represent that name in their own language. Rocky’s actual name is a sequence of notes—he told it to me once but it has no meaning in his language, so I stuck with “Rocky.”

But my name is actually an English word. So Rocky just calls me the Eridian word for “grace.”

Anyway, now I have to come up with an English word that means “Rocky’s spouse.”

“Adrian,” I say. Why not? “Human word is ‘Adrian.’ ”

“Understand,” he says. He heads down his tunnel into the lab.

I put my hands on my hips and crane my neck to watch him leave. “Where are you going?”


“Eat?! Wait!”

I’ve never seen him eat. I’ve never even seen an orifice other than the radiator vents on top of his carapace. How does he get food in? For that matter, how does he lay eggs? He’s been pretty cagey about it. He ate in his ship when we were connected. And I think he snuck a few meals here and there while I slept.

I scamper down the ladder into the lab. He’s already halfway down his vertical tunnel, climbing the many handholds. I keep up, climbing my own ladder. “Hey, I want to watch!”

Rocky reaches the lab’s floor and pauses. “Is private. I sleep after eat. You watch me sleep, question?”

“I want to watch you eat!”

“Why, question?”

“Science,” I say.

Rocky shifts his carapace left and right a few times. Eridian body language for mild annoyance. “Is biological. Is gross.”


He wiggles his carapace again. “Okay. You watch.” He continues downward.

“Yes!” I follow him down.

I squeeze into my little area of the dormitory. All I have these days is my bed, the toilet, and the robot arms.

To be fair, he doesn’t have much room either. He has most of the volume, but it’s laden with all his junk. Plus, he made an ad-hoc workshop in there and a life-support system out of parts from his ship.

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