Frontier Medicine

12 06 2007

Medical Bay

"…the medical bays were relatively small; each colony pod had ten or so, not counting the prefab-packs still in storage. They could be rigged onto M-1010 catepillar rigs to create mobile medico stations, which proved useful during the initial stages of colonial construction."

It was simple enough – a procedure practiced for hundreds of years, the doctors said. Sanna was nonetheless nervous, and the rest of the colony with her. She felt the weight of anticipation upon her, as heady as the painkillers.

“Okay, Sanna,” the doctor spoke to her, “we’re performing a lower uterine segment section. One cut, right across here.”

Sanna saw the doctor’s arm move, but could not feel the gloved finger draw a line across her abdomen. Her heartbeat quickened. She remember the epidural anaesthetic.

“Right above the bladder. There will be less blood loss, and it’s much easier for us to repair.”

Sweat had clustered on Sanna’s brow; someone wiped it away. She wished Lia had been here. She conjured Lia’s face, and imagined him stroking her jaw line, whispering reassurances. Lia replaced the doctor, drowned him out entirely: she heard nothing of the caesarean hysterectomy, the effect of interstellar deceleration on her placenta and uterus, or the statistics of miscarriages since leaving Sol.

Sanna blinked at the light, mounted on an articulated arm, which the doctor positioned over her. The vitals software beeped and clicked; she heard her own heartbeat pounding in her ears and emulated by the monitors in a shrill monotone. She felt dizzy, hot, like she would pass out; she wondered if this was anaesthesia, or analgesia, or simple fatigue.

There were no contractions, of course. Her pregnancy had been complicated – by the tail-end of Quoqasi’s deceleration, by planetfall, by the effects of rationing. These were the somatic problems; Lia’s death so close to full term was the most worrying. Sanna had been carefully monitored throughout her pregnancy, particularly after planetfall. When Lia was killed in the mining accident, the doctors began to prepare for surgery.

There was one quick, confident motion; a transverse cut across her swollen belly.

The anaesthetist scrutinized her readouts. She couldn’t see her smile, of course, but read comfort in her eyes and the way they softened at their outer edges. Sanna stared into her eyes, desperate for human contact; the anaesthetist reassured her without any words.

A sheet was draped across her body, below her breasts; above this she saw the doctor lift a purple mass, sticky with amniotic fluid. There was a cough, more of a choked splutter, and then the beep of her heartbeat and the buzz of electronics were replaced by a febrile, urgent crying.

Tears came to Sanna’s eyes, tears of joy and of sorrow, as, she saw, they came to the eyes of the doctors and nurses.

The doctor clipped and cut the umbilical cord. When her child was brought to her, Sanna again feared fainting. She looked into his eyes, grey like marble and misted over, but alive and curious.

“Peregrine White,” Sanna whispered. “Peregrine White Winslow.”

The anaesthetist leaned over to her. “He’s the first child of a new generation. This place is really home for him – he’ll never know Earth, or the light of Sol, or even the Ship. All he will know is Fram; everything else will be legend, the stuff the old-timers talk about.”

Sanna was lost. This child, her child, was the first for the Colony. For the first time she felt the importance of this child’s life – the first human to be born under a different sun.

“Miss Winslow,” the doctor said evenly, “In this moment, in this theatre, we’re at a milestone for the species. A hundred a fifty billion humans have existed throughout our history, up to this point – but your son is the first of us to be born away from the cradle of our species…”

She knew that she should feel proud, moved, happy, but she felt those emotions only as a background, projected dimly on her consciousness. All Sanna wanted was for Lia to be there, to hold his son, even just for a moment…


A Few Eggs

11 06 2007


"…COIL mining was only a short-term initiative, at least using the MMRs. They’re very unstable machines, many parts seem faulty…or have next to nothing in the way of durability, not to mention a severe lack of safety features.

…Once the May’ gets here, we can leave these temperamental pressure-cookers to the dogs."

When we had our first accident with the MMRs, we got off pretty lightly. One of the chlorine lines burst, overwhelming the crew on the gantry stacks. We lost more than a dozen people straight away, though it could have been much worse. The chlorine or the iodine could have mixed, the oxygen by-product could have exploded, or the two components of the COIL could have met in uncontrolled circumstances and we’d have lost the whole rig.

Until the accident, we’d relied on trauma kits and first aid to deal with the injuries that cropped up: cuts, bruises, sprains, concussions, a broken leg. Suddenly we were dealing with things our e-suits couldn’t handle, or at least mitigate. Our inability to respond quickly was what cost those fifteen people their lives.

As with everything in the past fortnight, the hardware was the easiest part to fix. It’s strange to think that, a few weeks ago, all we thought of was spare parts and inventories. Sure, we still had frightening supply problems – we were all hungry from rationing, after all. And we were still on a knife-edge in terms of our capability to maintain even our basic existence, much less the expansion timetable we had for the arrival of the Mayflower.

But a chlorine line and a pump was easier to replace than fifteen of us. We weren’t Home; we’d left Home with four thousand people and, as awful as it was, our numbers where being whittled away by the harshness of our new life. Now, we were hyperaware of our own frailties, of how far from our Home we had come, of how alone and isolated we were, and of how close we were to collapsing under the weight of our own, human ambitions.

Home. Nobody called that star on the edge of Cassiopeia "Sol", not anymore. It was "Home", even for those of us dedicated to Fram and to Alpha Centauri and to seeing out what we had started here, in this place, whether that ended with the expansion of human civilization into other stars systems, or the slow death of a preemptive reach for the stars. I wonder, if we even live out the year, how many generations it will take to breed out that habit.

KOVTAR-3C Webfoot

10 06 2007


“…the KOVTAR-3C was nicknamed “Webfoot”, due to the additional stabiliser plates adorning its feet and the subsequent comparison to the biped locomation of waterfowl. The slide-crane module was attached to a basic KOVTAR-3 biped chassis, with a counterweight section situated behind the main engine manifold. Reinforced legs meant the Webfoot mobilised in a slow, lumbering way; each footfall accompanied by a sharp hiss and a blast from the suspension valves. With a gross lift limit of fifty tonnes, the Webfoot was an essential part of colonial construction projects. Incidentally, it was around the Webfoot where the phraseology for KOVTAR-related accidents or breakdowns took root; any incident being subsequently referred to as ‘Duck a l’orange!’.”


“Wow, look at that,” said Zimmerman.

Yi looked up from the tablet. When the tip of his stylus left the screen, the schematics, covered in scrawled notes, blacked out into standby mode.

Yi followed Zimmerman’s outstretched finger. He pointed into the sky, where dots of brown-yellow light were moving. These were silicate remnants of Amundsen, probably no larger than a Sprat, gliding across the red bowl of the sky. But Yi saw a smaller, brighter light among them – this was an orbiter, rolling over its axis, one of its arrow-shaped wings catching the light of Alpha B.

Yi returned to the tablet. There was a marshalling yard, by the side of the carbon ribbon, where the flatbeds were dumping the prefab boxes shipped from the colonies. Of course the arterial had been started on both ends, but did not yet meet in the middle; the flatbeds coming from the old Alpha-2 site were caught in the regolith between when the lead vehicle bogged in a drift and threw its gears. It looked like the KOVTARs would have to unload the lead truck while the other two ground toward their original destination; Yi had to find space in the marshalling yard for the components.

There was a spark of light from Zimmerman’s faceplate – arc welders, the magnesium white light flickering from the shell of the ground station. The base was completed, although the elevator station and the port facilities were still prefabricated frameworks, and the loading platform hadn’t even been started. There were three buildings under construction, and the foundation for a fourth being laid; these were skeletons encased in scaffolding, lit by welders and crawling with regolith-smeared e-suits.

There were two and a half weeks remaining until the supply ship arrived in orbit of Fram. Zimmerman, his head forever turned to the sky, spent each evening searching for the fusion torch of the decelerating Mayflower. For now he was content to watch the orbiter trace a line across the sky – as stressed as Yi was with the timetable for the ground station, he knew those vacuum-sucking orbiter crews were pulling multiple EVAs each day to clear NFO space, and slip the tether into perfect, geosynchronous orbit directly over his head.

One of those lights, behind the spiralling orbiter, could well be that asteroid: rockets flaring at its nose and decelerating with each orbit until, just before the May arrived, it would be in position and ready to dock with both Mayflower and the abandoned Quoqasi.

“Zimmerman,” Yi said, snapping his assistant out of his stargazing, “let’s get two of the Webfoots out to those jackasses stuck in the dust. We’ll stick those crates here and here, but we’ll have to move the lift hydraulics over there…”

With his stylus and with the schematics of the half-built ground station, Yi set to work.

Velt Patrol

10 06 2007

Relay Maintenance 70%

“…One of the few vehicles that thrived on Fram’s surface, needing no initial retrofitting, was the Sprat-11, a two-man buggy with a remarkable load-bearing capacity of three-quarter tonne. They proved invaluable to maintenance crews tasked with the upkeep of the many remote-region sensor pylons that reported scientific data to the laboratories and monitoring stations at the colony. The Sprat-11 was perhaps the most efficient and rugged vehicle within the colonial motor pool, and would only prove itself further by becoming the trusted and reliable workhorse of the medical field-teams. The Sprat-11 chassis was also highly customisable, eventually leading to a broad variation in practical applications; from sporting excavator frames and forklift attachments to bristling with multi-band receivers and transferring data from isolated sensor fields back to the colony.”

The sky was ablaze with stars, bisected by the fuzz that was the planet’s ring. Cassiopeia had set, although Orion had risen far above the Sprat. We could see Betelgeuse and Mintaka and the whole Belt, but Rigel and Sirius were obscured by the ring. I kicked the buggy as hard as it could go. It was bounding off ridges of regolith with a spray of dirt and ice crystals. The engine over-revved after each jolt. I was grinning, of course, though I knew Gingrich, riding tandem behind me, was not. We’d both got our licenses on the same day, but I’d put in more hours, and so knew how to get more out of the Sprat than she did.

It was an automatic vehicle, with simple controls. It could be squirrely, though, especially in loose regolith or crunching along the lips of craters or ridgelines. Ours had been worked hard – almost every creak and rattle in the chassis, and strained growl of the engine, was my fault. There was a rock-strewn path up and out of a crater near Alpha-3 that I loved to belt the Sprat along; you had to hit the incline at just the right speed and with enough revs, or else it wouldn’t make it to the top.

Gingrinch, geo-caching behind me, overlaid our destination on the HUD in my faceplate. It appeared as a red triangle off to our left, with numbers counting down the distance as we approached, which I angled for immediately. The brakes were strong and in good order; I pushed down with pounds of pressure and the Sprat fishtailed to a stop. I kept pushing the brake until there was a click of the handbrake engaging.

Sensor Pylons were meant to be strapped beneath the crew cabin over the wheel clearance. But almost immediately we’d found that the all-terrain suspension of the Sprat, combined with Fram geography, meant that the wheels would at some point bounce up, carried by the loose suspension, and snap the Pylons. Now we stored them higher up on the frame, along the sides of the chassis, so that when stowed they became booms that locked to the sides of the driver and passenger seats. We unhooked these before we could dismount.

Gingrinch and I didn’t much like one another, which was one reason why I floored the Sprat so. We worked in silence, setting the Pylon into the regolith and initializing its systems. It was as close to night time as Fram got at this point in its orbit, and while both stars had set, their light still illuminated all the dust along the ecliptic. Every star was the same as Home, although there was only one pointer to Crux instead of two, and Home was now embedded in a constellation of its own.

Once the Pylon had been networked and was broadcasting telemetry, we headed back to the Sprat and on to our next waypoint. It didn’t have enough juice to kick over with the headlights on; I had to dim these and then start it. With a flick of methane ice billions of years old and, until now, undisturbed for that long, we headed off to the Northern Sky waypoint.

Birth of a Settlement

10 06 2007

Colony Pod

"…The colony pods were designed to be completely modular upon deployment. Once the kilometre-long vessels had blazed through the atmosphere and settled upon the surface, their structural options opened up exponentially. Specific modules, such as meteorological and aerospace laboratories, were elevated and stacked up in the higher sections of the pod, while geo-survey stations were constructed at the end of unfurled carbon-fibre road tiles, away from the thunderous activity within the colony pod-cum-settlement and all that entailed in its expansion."


It took fifteen minutes for the crawler to travel the half dozen kilometers from the new Alpha-2 site to Alpha-1. It would have taken twice that time if not for the carbon arterial which connected the two sites. Gina took some small pleasure in those fifteen minutes, a pleasure that went beyond simple convenience – it was pride, she realized, pride in those highways, the first of the projects entirely manufactured on Fram’s surface, from materials mined from Fram itself.

The Alpha-2 site was so far the only colony entirely connected by the carbon ribbons. Alpha-2 had been connected to every other colony through sheer necessity: it had been the first, simply because it made the relocation effort, already immense, that much easier and more efficient.

As the crawler drew closer to Alpha-1, though, Gina saw the progress made connecting that site to the others – perfectly straight lines fanned out from beneath the colony’s courtyard, tracing black parabolic arcs over the horizon toward the deep-core mining site, the launch facility, and toward the elevator ground station. Vehicles moved across these, she noticed, diminished by the distance.

The crawler fell into the deeper of the shadows cast by the superstructure of Alpha-1, cast by the nearer and brighter of the twin stars. Gina saw towers silhouetted in the brown light; atop the weather and radar stations she saw dishes, made of fine mesh, rotating. Although the modular components which had spread over the upper surface of the colony pod were entirely prefabricated, they impressed her no less than did the carbon highway upon on which the crawler’s caterpillar tracks now grinded.

These rectilinear shapes stretched far into the sky, like skyscrapers did in the magnificent cities on Earth. Where those buildings had been rooted to the surface of Earth, these component towers were based atop an immense slab itself almost half the height of the skyscrapers back Home. A kilometer in length, the colony pods, the foundation of these growing cities, were a hundred meters tall once embedded in the duricrust of Fram.

Gina also felt a pang of regret, and envy. The relocation of Alpha-2 had meant leaving the colony pod, borne across the light years by the Quoqasi, at the original site. It had simply been impossible to move, once it fell from orbit and grounded itself. It had been a near-impossible feat of logistics and raw payload capacity to relocate the fusion plant, and all the prefabricated components which kept the colonists of Alpha-2 alive. The immense size of the colony pod was the central feature of the other colonies – indeed, it was also a foundation for all subsequent expansion. By comparison, the collection of buildings and domes – separated by regolith-washed carbon sheets – which made up Alpha-2 looked ramshackle, primitive, like a clutch of Mongol yurts.

Forever more the inhabitants of Alpha-2 would be at a disadvantage. Already they’d slipped far behind the others in development, and relied heavily on the other sites for consumables, resources, even maintenance. The other sites had begun to develop their specialties – Alpha-1 the embryonic space program and solar fields; Alpha-3 the manufacturing powerhouse of the four colonies; and Alpha-4, responsible for both the deep-core and open-cut mines. There were projections circling in the soviets of the mid-term economic decline of Alpha-2, including social projections placing the citizens of Alpha-2 in a nightmarish second-class.

Each time Gina, representative of the Alpha-2 soviet, visited another of the colonies, she felt the regret of the one poor decision made by her contemporaries which had precipitated this situation. But for now there was nothing that could be done – everyone was struggling, everyone was on rations, everyone was tired, and everyone was doubtful of the future.

She saw workers, clad in e-suits, erecting more equipment atop one of the domes which studded that part of Alpha-1 immediately above the vehicle park. The colony had become the seat of the upper soviet, that which nominally governed the entire colonization effort on Fram. The capital was growing, exponentially, while Gina’s own fell further and further behind…