Under the Knife

The Lunar Gateway orbital station was made not only of polymers and carbon fibers and lightweight alloys, but, principally, of rules. If humans had been intended for space they would have been born there. To survive in such a hostile and unforgiving environment, a strict, ordered constellation of rules was required. The Gateway had been manned continuously for the last five years of its construction and now the first three years after its completion, and throughout that time, in accordance with the rules, a medical professional was always among the crew members in permanent residency. The Earth was, after all, three days away. Currently that role was occupied by Dr. Elizabeth Ebima.

And her appendix was bursting.

For a time there’d been discussions about a mandatory battery of prophylactic surgeries prior to assignment beyond LEO—appendectomies, cholecystectomies, even extraction of wisdom teeth—but it was finally decided that these procedures would introduce more risk than they’d avert. At this particular moment, she couldn’t say she agreed with that evaluation. She couldn’t say much of anything around the ball of gauze she’d stuffed in her mouth to muffle her shrieking. At her insistence, she would attempt the surgery herself.

The problem with any low-gravity surgery was fluids. They spurt out and block your vision of the work area, and the surface tension makes the globs stick to everything. As a second consideration, bacteria and contaminants were evenly distributed in the air, increasingly the risk of infection. For these reasons, Dr. Ebima decided to perform the surgery in the airlock; if she didn’t survive, the remaining crew members could easily space her to clean out the compartment. Plus, it was the only compartment she could effectively lock herself in. Not everyone—okay, no one—was on board with her decision to self-operate, but she didn’t want her colleagues opening her up. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust them; she just knew she would almost certainly die, and she didn’t want them to have to live with the guilt.

She swabbed the lower right quadrant of her abdomen and prepared to slice. That’s when they blew the lock—from the outside, clever bastards—and she was launched into silent blackness. That was the last thing she remembered.

She found out later, in an Earthside recovery room, that her crewmates packed her in ice, tranquilized her, and indeed performed the surgery themselves. Then they’d kept her on ice and launched her home. One of them even braved the cold to take the trip with her, and ultimately to guide the descent.

She’d gone into space to support the advancement of science; she hadn’t expected to be an experiment herself. But the way she saw it, she was low risk for a second case of appendicitis, so she’d make an excellent candidate to backfill her own position. She still wasn’t back on her feet yet, but no one at the Gateway spent any time on their feet anyway. It was time to go back.

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