Project Hail Mary

Page 77

He opens one of his many soft-sided bags and pulls out a sealed package. He tears it open with his claws and there are various shapes I can’t identify. Mostly rocky material like his carapace. He sets about tearing them apart into smaller and smaller pieces with his claws.

“That’s your food?” I ask.

“Social discomfort,” he says. “No talk.”


I guess eating for them is something gross that is to be done in private.

He tears the rocky chunks off the food and exposes meat underneath. It’s definitely meat—it looks just like Earth meat. Considering we are almost certainly descended from the same basic building blocks of life, I bet we use the same proteins and have the same general solutions to various evolutionary challenges.

Once again I’m struck by melancholy. I want to spend the rest of my life studying Eridian biology! But I have to save humanity first. Stupid humanity. Getting in the way of my hobbies.

He pulls all of the rocky chunks off the meat and sets that aside. Then he tears the meat up into small chunks. At all times, he keeps the food on the packaging it came in. It never touches the floor. I wouldn’t want my food touching the floor either.

After a while, he has shredded the edible parts of his meal down as far as his hands can do it. Far more than any human would with their food.

Then he steps over to the other side of his compartment, leaving his food where it was. He pulls a flat, cylindrical container from a sealed box and places it under his thorax.

Then things…get gross. He did warn me. I can’t complain.

The rocky armor on his abdomen splits and I see something fleshy rip open underneath. A few drops of shiny silver liquid dribbles out. Blood?

Then a gray blob plops out of his body into the pan. It lands with a damp-sounding splat.

He seals the pan and puts it back in the box it came from.

He returns to the food and flips over onto his back. The gaping abdominal hole is still open. I can see inside. There’s soft-looking flesh in there.

He reaches over with a few of his hands and grabs some choice morsels of food. He brings them to his opening and drops them in. He repeats this process, slowly and methodically, until all the food is in his…mouth? Stomach?

There is no chewing. There are no teeth. As far as I can tell, there are no moving parts inside.

He finishes the last of his meal, then lets his arms fall limp. He lies spread-eagle on the floor, immobile.

I resist the urge to ask if he’s okay. I mean, he looks dead. But this is probably just how Eridians eat. And poop. Yeah. I’m guessing that blob that came out earlier was what’s left of his previous meal. He’s a monostome—that is, the waste comes out the same opening that food goes into.

The opening in his abdomen closes slowly. A scab-like material forms where the break in the skin was. But I don’t see it for long. The rocky abdominal covering folds back into place shortly thereafter.

“I…sleep…” he slurred. “You…watch…question?”

A food coma for Rocky is no small thing. This doesn’t look voluntary at all. This is a biologically enforced post-meal siesta.

“Yes, I watch. Sleep.”

“Sle…ee…p…” he mumbles. Then he conks out, still belly-up on the floor.

His breathing speeds up. It always does when he first falls asleep. His body has to dump all the heat in the hot circulatory system.

After a few minutes, he stops panting. Now I know he’s well and truly asleep. Once he gets past the panting phase, I’ve never seen him wake back up in less than two hours. I can sneak off to do my own thing. In this case, I’ll write down everything I just saw about his digestive cycle.

Step 1: Subject defecates from mouth.


“Yup,” I say to myself. “That was pretty freaking gross.”

I wake up with Rocky staring at me.

It happens every morning now. But it never stops being creepy.

How do I know that a pentagonally symmetrical creature with no eyes is “staring” at me? I just know. Something in the body language.

“You awake,” he says.

“Yeah.” I step out of bed and stretch. “Food!”

The arms reach up and hand me a hot box. I open it up and take a peek. Looks like eggs and sausage.


The arms dutifully hand me a cup of coffee. It’s kind of cool that the arms will hand me a cup when there’s gravity, but a pouch when there isn’t. I’ll remember this when writing up the Hail Mary’s Yelp review.

I look to Rocky. “You don’t have to watch me sleep. It’s okay.”

He turns his attention to a worktable in his partition of the dormitory. “Eridian culture rule. Must watch.” He picks up a device and tinkers with it.

Ah, the c-word. “Culture.” We have an unspoken agreement that cultural things just have to be accepted. It ends any minor dispute. “Do it my way because it’s how I was raised,” basically. We haven’t run into anything where our cultures clash…yet.

I eat my breakfast and drink my coffee. Rocky doesn’t say anything to me during that time. He never does. Eridian courtesy.

“Trash,” I say.

The arms collect my empty cup and meal package.

I head up to the control room and settle into the pilot’s seat. I bring up the telescope view on the main screen. Planet Adrian sits in the center. I’ve been watching it grow larger and larger for the past ten days. The closer we get, the more I respect Rocky’s astronomy skills. All of his observations on its motion and mass have been spot-on.

Hopefully his gravity calculation is right too. Or we’ll have a very short and painful attempt to orbit.

Adrian is a pale-green planet with wispy white clouds in the upper atmosphere. I can’t see the ground at all. Again, I’m amazed at the software that must have gone into this ship’s computers. We are spinning around as we hurtle through space. But the image on-screen is rock solid.

“We’re getting close,” I say. Rocky is two floors below me, but I speak at a normal volume. I know he can hear it just fine.

“You know air yet, question?” Rocky calls out. Just as I know his hearing prowess, he knows my hearing limitations.

“I’ll try again right now,” I say.

I switch to the Spectrometer screen. The Hail Mary has been incredibly reliable in almost every way, but you can’t expect everything to work perfectly. The spectrometer has been acting up. I think it has something to do with the digitizer. I’ve been trying it every day, and it keeps saying it can’t get enough data to analyze.

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