BY RANDALL GARRETT
Women on space station assignments
shouldn't get pregnant. But there's a first
time for everything. Here's the story of
such a time——and an historic situation.
[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Worlds of If Science Fiction, October 1954.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
One thousand seventy-five miles above the wrinkled surface of Earth, awoman was in pain.
There, high in the emptiness of space, Space Station One swung in itsorbit. Once every two hours, the artificial satellite looped completelyaround the planet, watching what went on below. Outside its brightsteel hull was the silence of the interplanetary vacuum; inside, in thehospital ward, Lieutenant Alice Britton clutched at the sheets of herbed in pain, then relaxed as it faded away.
Major Banes looked at her and smiled a little. "How do you feel,Lieutenant?"
She smiled back; she knew the pain wouldn't return for a few minutesyet. "Fine, doctor. It's no worse than I was expecting. How long willit before we can contact White Sands?"
The major looked nervously at his wristwatch. "Nearly an hour. You'llbe all right."
"Certainly," she agreed, running a hand through her brown hair, "I'llbe okay. Just you be on tap when I call."
The major's grin broadened. "You don't think I'd miss a historicalevent like this, do you? You take it easy. We're over Eastern Europenow, but as soon as we get within radio range of New Mexico, I'll beama call in." He paused, then repeated, "You just take it easy. Call thenurse if anything happens." Then he turned and walked out of the room.
Alice Britton closed her eyes. Major Banes was all smiles and cheernow, but he hadn't been that way five months ago. She chuckled softlyto herself as she thought of his blistering speech.
"Lieutenant Britton, you're either careless or brainless; I don'tknow which! Your husband may be the finest rocket jockey in the SpaceService, but that doesn't give him the right to come blasting up hereon a supply rocket just to get you pregnant!"
Alice had said: "I'm sure the thought never entered his mind, doctor. Iknow it never entered mine."
"But that was two and a half months ago! Why didn't you come tome before this? Of all the tom-fool—" His voice had died off insuppressed anger.
"I didn't know," she had said stolidly. "You know my medical record."
"I know. I know." A puzzled frown had come over his face then, a frownwhich almost hid the green eyes that contrasted so startlingly with theflaming red of his hair. "The question is: what do we do next? We'renot equipped for obstetrics up here."
"Send me back down to Earth, of course."
And he had looked up at her scathingly. "Lieutenant Britton, it ismy personal opinion that you need your head examined, and not by ageneral practitioner, either! Why, I wouldn't let you get into anairplane, much less land on Earth in a rocket! If you think I'd permityou to subject yourself to eight gravities of acceleration in a rocketlanding, you're daffy!"
She hadn't thought of it before, but the major was right. The terriblepressure of a rocket landing would increase her effective body weightto nearly half a ton; an adult human being couldn't take that sort ofpunishment for long, much less the tiny life that was growing withinher.
So she had stayed on in the Space Station, doing her job as always.As Chief Radar Technician, she was important in the operation of thestation. Her pregnancy had never made her uncomfortable; the slowrotation of the wheel-shaped station about its axis gave an effectivegravity at the rim only half that of Earth's surface, and the closer tothe hub she went, the less her weight became.
According to the major, the baby was due sometime around the first ofSeptember. "Two hundred and eighty days," he had said. "Luckily, we canpinpoint it almost exactly. And at a maximum of half of Earth gravity,you shouldn't weigh more than seventy pounds then. You're to report tome at least once a week, Lieutenant."
As the words went through her mind, another spasm of pain hit her, andshe clenched her fists tightly on the sheets again. It went away, andshe took a deep breath.
Everything had been fine until today. And then, only half an hour ago,a meteor had hit the radar room. It had been only a tiny bit of rock,no bigger than a twenty-two bullet, and it hadn't been traveling morethan ten miles per second, but it had managed to punch its way throughthe shielding of the station.
The self-sealing walls had closed the tiny hole quickly, but even inthat short time, a lot of air had gone whistling out into the vacuum ofspace.
The depressurization hadn't hurt her too much, but the shock had beenenough to start labor. The baby was going to come two months early.
She relaxed a little more, waiting for the next pain. There was nothingto worry about; she had absolute faith in the red-haired major.
The major himself was not so sure. He sat in his office, massaging hisfingertips and looking worriedly at the clock on the wall.
The Chief Nurse at a nearby desk took off her glasses and looked at himspeculatively. "Something wrong, doctor?"
"Incubator," he said, without taking his eyes off the clock.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Incubator. We can't deliver a seven-month preemie without anincubator."
The nurse's eyes widened. "Good Lord! I never thought of that! What areyou going to do?"
"Right now, I can't do anything. I can't beam a radio message throughto the Earth. But as soon as we get within radio range of White Sands,I'll ask them to send up an emergency rocket with an incubator. But—"
"Will we have time? The pains are coming pretty fast now. It will be atleast three hours before they can get a ship up here. If they miss uson the next time around, it'll be five hours. She can't hold out thatlong."
The Chief Nurse turned her eyes to the slowly moving second hand of thewall clock. She could feel a lump in her throat.
Major Banes was in the Communications Center a full five minutesbefore the coastline of California appeared on the curved horizon ofthe globe beneath them. He had spent the hour typing out a completereport of what had happened to Alice Britton and a list of what heneeded. He handed it to the teletype operator and paced the floorimpatiently as he waited for the answer.
When the receiver teletype began clacking softly, he leaned over thepage, waiting anxiously for every word.
WHITE SANDS ROCKET BASE 4 JULY 1984 0913 HRS URGENT TO: MAJ PETERBANES (MC) 0-266118 SS-1 MEDICAL OFFICER FROM: GEN DAVID BARRETT0-199515 COMMANDING WSRB ROCKET. ORBIT NOW BEING COMPUTED FORRENDEZVOUS WITH SS-1 AS OF NEXT PASSAGE ABOVE USA. CAPT. JAMESBRITTON PILOTING. MEDICS LOADING SHIP TWELVE WITH INCUBATOR AND OTHERSUPPLIES. BASE OBSTETRICIAN LT COL GATES ALSO COMING TO ASSIST INDELIVERY. HANG ON. OVER.
Banes nodded and turned to the operator. "I want a direct opentelephone line to my office in case I have to get another message tothe base before we get out of range again."
He turned and left through the heavy door. Each room of the spacestation was protected by airtight doors and individual heating units;if some accident, such as a really large meteor hit, should release theair from one room, nearby rooms would be safe.
Banes' next stop was the hospital ward.
Alice Britton was resting quietly, but there were lines of strainaround her eyes which hadn't been there an hour before.
"How's it coming, Lieutenant?"
She smiled, but another spasm hit her before she could answer. After atime, she said: "I'm doing fine, but you look as if you'd been throughthe mill. What's eating you?"
He forced a nervous smile. "Nothing but the responsibility. You'regoing to be a very famous woman, you know. You'll be the mother of thefirst child born in space. And it's my job to see to it that you'reboth all right."
She grinned. "Another Dr. Dafoe?"
"Something on that order, I suppose. But it won't be all my glory.Colonel Gates, the O.B. man, was supposed to come up for the deliveryin September, so when White Sands contacted us, they said he was comingimmediately." He paused, and a genuine smile crossed his face. "Yourhusband is bringing him up."
"Jim! Coming up here? Wonderful! But I'm afraid the colonel will be toolate. This isn't going to last that long."
Banes had to fight hard to keep his face smiling when she said that,but he managed an easy nod. "We'll see. Don't hurry it, though. Letnature take its course. I'm not such a glory hog that I'd not let Gateshave part of it—or all of it, for that matter. Relax and take it easy."
He went on talking, trying to keep the conversation light, but his eyeskept wandering to his wristwatch, timing Alice's pain intervals. Theywere coming too close together to suit him.
There was a faint rap, and the heavy airtight door swung open to admitthe Chief Nurse. "There's a message for you in your office, doctor.I'll send a nurse in to be with her."
He nodded, then turned back to Alice. "Stiff uppah lip, and all thatsort of rot," he said in a phony British accent.
"Oh, rawther, old chap," she grinned.
Back in his office, Banes picked up the teletype flimsy.
WHITE SANDS ROCKET BASE 4 JULY 1984 0928 HRS URGENT TO: MAJ PETERBANES (MC) 0-266118 SS-1 MEDICAL OFFICER FROM: GEN DAVID BARRETT0-199515 COMMANDING WSRB ROCKET. ORBIT COMPUTED FOR RENDEZVOUS AT 1134HRS MST. CAPT BRITTON SENDS PERSONAL TO LT BRITTON AS FOLLOWS: HOLDTHE FORT, BABY, THE WHOLE WORLD IS PRAYING FOR YOU. OUT.
Banes sat on the edge of his desk, pounding a fist into the palm ofhis left hand. "Two hours. It isn't soon enough. She'll never hold outthat long. And we don't have an incubator." His voice was a clippedmonotone, timed with the rhythmic slamming of his fist.
The Chief Nurse said: "Can't we build something that will do until therocket gets here?"
Banes looked at her, his face expressionless. "What would we build itout of? There's not a spare piece of equipment in the station. It costsmoney to ship material up here, you know. Anything not essential isleft on the ground."
The phone rang. Banes picked it up and identified himself.
The voice at the other end said: "This is Communications, Major. I taperecorded all the monitor pickups from the Earth radio stations, and itlooks as though the Space Service has released the information to thepublic. Lieutenant Britton's husband was right when he said the wholeworld's praying for her. Do you want to hear the tapes?"
"Not now, but thanks for the information." He hung up and looked intothe Chief Nurse's eyes. "They've released the news to the public."
She frowned. "That really puts you on the spot. If the baby dies,they'll blame you."
Banes slammed his fist to the desk. "Do you think I give a tinker's damabout that? I'm interested in saving a life, not in worrying about whatpeople may think!"
"Yes, sir. I just thought—"
"Well, think about something useful! Think about how we're going tosave that baby!" He paused as he saw her eyes. "I'm sorry, Lieutenant.My nerves are all raw, I guess. But, dammit, my field is spacemedicine. I can handle depressurization, space sickness, and thingslike that, but I don't know anything about babies! I know what I readin medical school, and I watched a delivery once, but that's all Iknow. I don't even have any references up here; people aren't supposedto go around having babies on a space station!"
"It's all right, doctor. Shall I prepare the delivery room?"
His laugh was hard and short. "Delivery room! I wish to Heaven we hadone! Prepare the ward room next to the one she's in now, I guess. It'sthe best we have.
"So help me Hannah, I'm going to see some changes made in regulations!A situation like this won't happen again!"
The nurse left quietly. She knew Banes wasn't really angry at theBrittons; it was simply his way of letting off steam to ease thetension within him.
The slow, monotonous rotation of the second hand on the