I wake up covered in medical equipment and pain.
There’s an oxygen mask on my face. My right arm has an IV and my left arm is bandaged from wrist to shoulder. It hurts like heck.
Everything else hurts too. Especially my eyes.
But at least I can see. That’s good.
“Computer,” I say with a raspy voice. “How long have I been asleep?”
“Unconsciousness lasted six hours, seventeen minutes.”
I take a deep breath. My lungs feel like they’re coated in tar. Probably phlegm or some other gunk. I look over to Rocky’s area. He’s right where I left him in the airlock.
How can I tell if an Eridian is dead? When Rocky sleeps all movement stops. But that’s also presumably what happens when an Eridian dies.
I spot a pulse-ox monitor on my right index finger.
“Compu—” I cough. “Computer: What is my blood oxygen content?”
“It’ll have to do.” I take the mask off and sit up in bed. My bandaged arm stings with every movement. I pull the various things off of my body.
I open and close my left hand. It’s working. The muscles are only a little bit sore.
I got hit with a quick blast of very hot, very high-pressure ammonia. Most likely, I have chemical burns in my lungs and on my eyes. And probably a physical burn on my arm. My left side took the brunt of the blast.
Twenty-nine atmospheres of pressure at 210 degrees Celsius (over 400 degrees Fahrenheit!). That must be what a grenade feels like. Side note: With no one manning the helm, it’s pure luck we didn’t crash into the planet.
The ship is either in a stable orbit or we escaped Adrian’s gravity entirely. I shake my head. It’s truly ridiculous how much power I have sitting in the fuel bay. To not even know if I’m still near a planet…wow.
I’m lucky to be alive. There’s no other way to put it. Anything I do beyond that moment is a gift from the universe to me. I step off the bed and stand in front of the airlock. Gravity is still at one-half g and everything is still upside down.
What can I do for Rocky?
I sit on the floor opposite his body. I put my hand on the airlock wall. That feels too melodramatic, so I pull it back. Okay, I know the very basics of Eridian biology. That doesn’t make me a doctor.
I grab a tablet and swipe through various documents I’ve made. I don’t remember everything he told me, but at least I took copious notes.
When severely wounded, an Eridian body will shut down so it can try to work on everything at once. I hope Rocky’s little cells are doing their thing in there. And I hope they know how to fix damage done by: (1) dropping air pressure to one twenty-ninth what he evolved to live in, (2) being suddenly exposed to a bunch of oxygen, and (3) being almost 200 degrees colder than his body expects.
I shake off the worry and return to my notes.
“Ah, here!” I say.
There’s the information I need: Those capillaries in his carapace radiator are made of deoxidized metal alloys. The ambient circulatory system pumps his mercury-based blood through those vessels and air passes over them. In Erid’s oxygen-free atmosphere, this makes perfect sense. In ours, it makes a perfect tinderbox.
A bunch of oxygen just passed over very hot metal pipes no thicker than a human hair. They burned. That’s the smoke I saw coming out of Rocky’s vents. His radiator was literally on fire.
The whole organ must be completely full of soot and other combustion products. And the capillaries will be coated in oxides, which ruin heat conductivity. Heck, oxides are insulators. The worst-possible outcome.
Okay. If he’s dead, he’s dead. I can’t do any further harm. But if he’s alive, I have to help. There’s no reason not to try.
But what do I do?
* * *
So many pressures. So many temperatures. So many air mixtures. I have to keep track of them all. My own environment, Rocky’s environment, and now the Adrian Astrophage breeding-ground environment too.
But first: gravity. I’m sick of living in The Poseidon Adventure. Time to right this ship.
I make my way back “down” to the control room. The center panel is ruined, but the others work fine. And they’re interchangeable anyway. I’ll mount a replacement in the middle when I have time.
I bring up the Centrifuge screen and poke around at the controls a bit. I finally find the manual controls for the crew-compartment rotation. They were buried pretty deep in the options; I’m glad I didn’t try to find them during the crisis.
I order the crew compartment to rotate. Very, very slowly. I set the rate at 1 degree per second. It takes three minutes to turn around. And I hear a lot of thunks, clunks, and crashes from the lab. I don’t care about any of that. I just want to make sure Rocky doesn’t get further injured. This slow rate should make his body slide along the airlock ceiling, then along the wall, and finally to the floor. That’s the plan, anyway.
Once the rotation is complete, things are back to feeling normal, albeit at half a g. I go back down to the dormitory to check on Rocky. He’s now on the airlock floor, and still right-side up. Good. He slid rather than tumbled.
I really want to work on Rocky, but I have to make sure the adventure that may have killed him wasn’t in vain. I grab the sample container from the ship’s airlock. I’m kind of glad I left it there, honestly. It got cushioned from the crazy sudden accelerations by the EVA suit wadded up with it.
Rocky had the foresight to put readouts on the sampler to tell us what the temperature and pressure inside were. They’re analog dial indicators in Eridian base-six numerology. But I’ve seen enough of that to be able to translate. The inside of the ball is minus 51 degrees Celsius with a pressure of 0.02 atmospheres. And I know from my spectrometry earlier what the atmospheric makeup is.
Okay, that’s the environment I have to duplicate.
I sort through what’s left of the lab. It’s slow going because I only have minimal use of my left arm. But I can use it to help slide things aside, at least. Just no heavy lifting for now.
I find a vacuum container that’s only a little broken. It’s a drum-shaped glass cylinder about a foot in diameter. I patch up the crack with epoxy and give it a test. It’s able to pump the air out and maintain a vacuum. If it can maintain a vacuum, it can maintain 0.02 atmospheres.
I put the sample container inside.
The chemical-storage cabinet is still firmly anchored to the wall. I open it up. Everything is jumbled around inside, of course, but most containers look intact. I grab the small vial of Earth Astrophage.