Project Hail Mary

Page 80

The wispy clouds of Adrian coast by beneath us. Or, more accurately, the wispy clouds barely move at all and we zoom by overhead. Adrian has a higher gravity than Earth, so our orbital velocity is just over 12 kilometers per second—far more than what’s needed to orbit Earth.

The pale-green planet that I’ve been watching for eleven days has a lot more detail now that we’re on top of it. It’s not just green. There are dark and light bands of green wrapping around it. Just like Jupiter and Saturn. But unlike those two gas-giant leviathans, Adrian is a rocky world. Thanks to Rocky’s notes, we know the radius and mass, which means we know its density. And it’s far too dense to be just gas. There’s a surface down there, I just can’t see it.

Man, what I wouldn’t give for a lander!

Realistically, it wouldn’t do me any good. Even if I had some way of landing on Adrian, the atmosphere would crush me dead. It’d be like landing on Venus. Or Erid, for that matter. Heck, in that case, I wish Rocky had a lander. The pressure down there might not be too much for an Eridian.

Speaking of Erid, Rocky’s calibrating some kind of device in his control-room bubble. It looks almost like a gun. I don’t think we’ve started a space war, so I assume it’s something else.

He holds the device with one hand, taps it with another, and uses two more to hold a rectangular panel that is connected to the device by a short cable. He uses his remaining hand to anchor himself at a handhold.

He makes some more adjustments to the device with what looks like a screwdriver, and suddenly the panel springs to life. It was completely flat, but now has a texture to it. He waves the gun part left and right and the patterns on the screen move left and right.

“Success! It functions!”

I lean over the edge of the pilot’s seat for a better look. “What’s that?”

“Wait.” He points the gun part at my external camera readout screen. He adjusts a couple of controls and the pattern on the rectangle settles into a circle. Looking closer, I see some parts of the circle are a little more raised than others. It looks like a relief map.

“This device hear light. Like human eye.”

“Oh. It’s a camera.”

“♫♪♫,” he says quickly. Now we have “camera” in our vocabulary.

“It analyze light and show as texture.”

“Oh, and you can sense that texture?” I say. “Cool.”

“Thank.” He attaches the camera to the bulb wall and fixes its angle to point at my central screen. “What are wavelengths of light humans can see, question?”

“All wavelengths between 380 nanometers and 740 nanometers.” Most people don’t just know that off the top of their head. But most people aren’t junior high schoolteachers who have giant charts of the visible spectrum on their classroom walls.

“Understand,” he says. He turns a few knobs on his device. “Now I ‘see’ what you see.”

“You’re an amazing engineer.”

He waves a claw dismissively. “No. Camera is old technology. Display is old technology. Both were on my ship for science. I only modify to use inside.”

I think Eridians have a lot of modesty in their culture. Either that, or Rocky is one of those people who just can’t take a compliment.

He points to the circle on his display. “This is Adrian, question?”

I check the exact region of Adrian he’s pointing at, then compare to my screen. “Yes, and that part is ‘green.’ ”

“I not have word for this.”

Of course the Eridian language has no words for colors. Why would it? I never thought of colors as a mysterious thing. But if you’ve never heard of them before, I guess they’re pretty weird. We have names for frequency ranges in the electromagnetic spectrum. Then again, my students all have eyes and they were still amazed when I told them “x-rays,” “microwaves,” “Wi-Fi,” and “purple” were all just wavelengths of light.

“You name it then,” I say.

“Yes yes. I name this color: middle-rough. My display pattern is smooth for high-frequency light. Rough for low-frequency light. This color is middle-rough.”

“Understand,” I say. “And yes, green is right in the middle of the wavelengths humans can see.”

“Good good,” he says. “Is sample ready, question?”

We’ve been in orbit for about a day now and I activated the sampler right when we got here. I flip to the External Collection Unit screen. It reads as fully functional and even reports how long it’s been open: 21 hours and 17 minutes.

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“You get.”

“Ugh,” I groan. “EVAs are so much work!”

“Lazy human. Go get!”

I laugh. He has a slightly different tone when he’s joking around. It took a long time for me to identify. It’s like…it’s in the timing between words. They don’t have the same cadence. I can’t really put my finger on it, but I know when I hear it.

From the External Collection Unit screen, I order the sampler to close its doors and return to its flat configuration. The panel reports that it’s been done, and I confirm it with hull cameras.

I climb into the Orlan EVA suit, enter the airlock, and cycle it.

Adrian is absolutely gorgeous in person. I stay out on the hull staring at the huge world for several minutes. Bands of dark and light green cover the orb, and the reflected glow from Tau Ceti is simply breathtaking. I could stare at it for hours.

I probably got to do this with Earth too. I wish I could remember. Man, I really wish I could remember that. It must have been every bit as beautiful.

“You out long time,” comes Rocky’s voice through the headset. “You are safe, question?”

I set up the EVA panel to always play my radio feed over speakers in the control room. Plus, I taped a headset microphone to Rocky’s control-room bulb and set it to be voice-activated. All he has to do is talk and it broadcasts.

“I’m looking at Adrian. It’s pretty.”

“Look later. Get sample now.”

“You’re pushy.”


I climb along the hull, bathed in Adrian-light. Everything has a light-green tinge to it. I find the sample collector right where it’s supposed to be.

It’s not as big as I expected. It’s a half-meter square or so. There’s a lever beside it with red and yellow stripes all around it. Text on the lever reads PULL LEVER TO RELEASE ECU—ПОТЯНУТЬ РЫЧАГ ЧТОБЫ ОСВОБОДИТЬ ECU—拉杆释放ECU.

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