Project Hail Mary

Page 96

“Gotcha!” I say.

Now I know where it’s pointed. I do some guesswork and aim for Rocky’s carapace vents. Nothing happens, so I do a grid search, back and forth, up and down, until I get a result.

And oh, what a result it is!

I hit the sweet spot. All of a sudden, Rocky’s carapace vents belch out black smoke. The nasty dust and debris that built up when he was on fire. It’s intensely satisfying. Like that feeling when you blast an air duster into an old computer.

I sweep back and forth, trying to hit each vent one by one. The latter vents don’t cause nearly the commotion as that first one. I think they all lead to the same organ—like a human’s mouth and nose do. Multiple orifices for redundancy and safety.

After a few minutes, no more sooty dust is coming out. I shut off the pump.

“Well, buddy,” I say. “I’ve done all I can. I just hope you can do the rest.”

I spend the rest of the day working on a secondary and tertiary containment box. I glue them in place over my device. The Eridian air will have to breach three seals to get into my compartment now. That will have to do.

I hope Rocky wakes up.

“We can do this in private,” I said. “I can meet with you one at a time.”

The three astronauts sat on a couch in front of me. I’d commandeered the breakroom and locked the door for this meeting. Yáo sat in the center, looking stern as always. DuBois was to his left, his back arched to provide perfect posture. Ilyukhina slouched to Yáo’s left, sipping a beer.

“No need for individual meetings,” said Yáo. “There’s no room on this mission for secrets.”

I shifted in my chair. Why did Stratt send me to do this job? I’m not a people person and I don’t know how to approach delicate matters. She said something about the crew liking me more than anyone else. Why? Maybe I just seemed friendly and pleasant because I was usually standing next to Stratt.

In any event, launch was just a month away and I had to get this information.

“Okay,” I said. “Who wants to go first?”

DuBois raised his hand. “I can start if that’s amenable to everyone.”

“Sure.” I did a quick test-scribble with my pen. “So…how would you like to die?”

Yeah. Awkward topic. But one that had to be covered. These three were going to give their lives just so the rest of us could have a fighting chance. The least we could do was help them die on their own terms.

DuBois handed me a crisp piece of paper. “I’ve detailed my request in this document. I believe you’ll find everything in order.”

I took the paper. There were bullet points, charts, and some references at the bottom. “What am I looking at here?”

DuBois pointed somewhere at the middle of the page. “I would like to die by nitrogen asphyxiation. All my research shows it is among the least painful ways to die.”

I nodded and took some notes.

“That paper includes a list of the equipment I will need to ensure my death. It’s well within my personal-item mass allowance.”

I furrowed my brow, mostly to hide the fact that I had no idea what to say.

He folded his hands on his lap. “It’s a simple matter of a nitrogen tank and a universal connector to the EVA suit. I can wear the suit and have it pump in nitrogen instead of oxygen. The suffocation reflex comes from excess carbon dioxide in the lungs, not lack of oxygen. The suit’s systems will continuously remove the carbon dioxide that I exhale, leaving only nitrogen behind. I will simply get tired and perhaps a bit lightheaded. Then I will lose consciousness.”

“All right.” I tried to remain professional. “How about if the EVA suit isn’t available?”

“Subsection four details the backup plan. If I cannot use the EVA suit, I will use the ship’s airlock. The volume of the airlock will be sufficient to ensure the carbon-dioxide buildup isn’t unpleasant.”

“Okay.” I wrote a few more notes down. Though I hardly had to. His paper was very thorough. “We’ll make sure there’s a tank with plenty of nitrogen, and a backup tank as well just in case the first one leaks.”

“Excellent. Thank you.”

I set the paper aside. “Ilyukhina? How about you?”

She set her beer down. “I want heroin.”

Everyone looked at her. Even Yáo blanched a little.

“Sorry, what?” I said.

“Heroin.” She shrugged. “I have been good girl all my life. No drugs. Limited sex. I want to experience massive pleasure before I die. People die from heroin all the time. Must be very nice.”

I rubbed my temples. “You want to die…from a heroin overdose?”

“Not immediately,” she said. “I want to enjoy. Start with normal effective dose. Get high. Addicts all agree first few uses are best. Then downhill from there. I want to feel those first few doses. Then overdose when time is right.”

“I guess…we can do that,” I said. “Death by overdose can be really unpleasant, though.”

She waved the concern away. “Have doctors work out best dose schedule for me. Correct amount to maximize pleasantness on earlier doses. Then lethal dose can have other drugs inside to make sure I die without pain.”

I wrote down her request. “Okay. Heroin. I don’t know where we’ll get it, but we’ll work it out.”

“You have entire world working for you,” she said. “Get pharma company to make me heroin. Cannot be hard.”

“Right. I’m sure Stratt can make a call or something.”

I sighed. Two down, one to go. “All right. Commander Yáo? How about you?”

“I want a gun, please,” he said. “A Type-92 handgun. Standard Chinese military-issue. Store the ammunition in a dry, sealed plastic container for the trip.”

At least that made some sense. Quick and painless. “A gun. Got it. That’s easy enough.”

He looked back and forth to his crewmates. “I will be the last to die. If anything goes wrong with either of your methods, I will be on-hand with the weapon. Just in case.”

“Very considerate,” said DuBois. “Thank you.”

“Don’t shoot me if I look like I’m having a good time,” Ilyukhina said.

“Understood,” said Yáo. He turned back to me. “Will that be all?”

“Yeah,” I said, already standing. “This has been very awkward, thanks. I’m going to…go be somewhere else now.”

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