Acetylene and Blood

They named the spaceship Langosta because it was shaped like a lobster. With two protruding side arms (the crew called them claws), all it needed to blend in with its fellow sea creatures was a coat of red paint. The claws were filled with living and lounging quarters while the abdomen housed the engine room, the flight deck and all other important mechanical features. The tail fins were where the rockets had been. Now scattered as ash across the Atlantic ocean, they had freed Langosta of Earth’s grip when it launched six months ago.

Riley Lovelace was reading, slumped across a bean bag in the starboard claw. She was way out at the very tip in the viewing pod. Covered almost entirely in glass, the tip of the claw was where Riley came to relax when not tied up with her ship mechanic’s duties. Today, they were orbiting a small moon that hung at the edge of an asteroid belt. The tiny, pockmarked moon floated just above its bright silver skirt of asteroids.

Having dozed off, Riley was awoken by the alarm sometime later. Bolting upright, she raced down to the cargo bay, from where the alarm was coming.

“Oh my god! Oh my god!” she heard Tag’s shouts from far off, as she raced down the main deckway towards the bay.

Riley reached the edge of the balcony and looked down to the cargo bay. Dr. Brenner had landed on a piece of scrap metal and it had pierced his side. She tumbled down the staircase and, reaching the deck, ran over to him. She grasped his hand, looked first at his face and then down at the wound. Seeing the viscera the metal had pushed out on its deadly path, she ran to the corner and vomited.

Tag was muttering, “Ohmygod, ohmygod.”

Riley heaved a few more times, regained her breath and, panting, rushed back to the doctor’s side. “What the fuck do we do?”

Dr. Brenner’s eyes were glassy and the color had drained from his face. “I’m so sorry Lucinda.” He lifted a shaking hand to Riley’s face.

Riley frowned. To Tag, she asked: “Is he hallucinating? Already?” Turning back to the doctor: “Doctor, what the hell do we do?” He looked at her with those glassy eyes, relaxed and far away.

“Oh Lucinda, I knew you’d come. Luce. I let you down. I really, really let you down.”

Riley peeled back through her own memories of gory TV shows. What did they do when their guys got impaled? She knew with certainty that she wasn’t to remove the spike from his side. She bent down, inspecting the piece of metal. It looked to be an old cargo door. It was a massive hunk of steel that had gathered a thick layer of rust. Those fucking cheapos at FronteirZ. What had they sent them out to space with? And why hadn’t Tag and the doctor cleared the area before they started their soccer game?

“Luce. Luce. I didn’t love her, not like I loved you. It was different, between us.”

The door system was giant, connected by welds. It looked to be an ancient system for an air-lock mechanism. There were multiple hatches in each compartment. The piece that had punctured his side had been flipped up, either by the impact of the fall, or by random chance. She could cut off the piece, Riley realized. She could wrap him up, stop the bleeding that way. Then, she could try to extract the metal.

She looked back at Tag. “Tag, listen to me. Go get the acetylene torch.”

He turned to her, surprised, as if he hadn’t known she was there until she spoke. “The… the… torch…” he stammered, trying to focus on her eyes.

“Yes, Tag, the TORCH. GO!!!” She screamed at him, hoping to knock him back into reality, into the moment, where he could actually help.

His eyes focused and he turned, charging down the hall to the galley.

Riley yelled after him, “NO! TAG, no! The OTHER way, to the engine room! Where all my fucking tools are!”

He stopped and turned back, a pale face floating on a body he didn’t seem to be in touch with. He turned and raced down the hall to the left, the correct way to get to the torch.

Riley sighed and took Dr. Brenner’s hand in hers. “My sweet, it’s Luce. I’m here.”

His cheeks flushed just a tiny bit. “Oh Luce. Oh Luce.”

She squeezed his hand and raised her voice. “Henry. Stay with me. I need you here.”

His eyes were drooping, he was fading. Riley had absolutely no idea what to do if he lost consciousness. On the shows she had watched, it was important to keep the wounded conscious. Also, if he was awake, maybe he could direct her through the metal extraction. If he made it that far. If she made it that far. His eyes closed.

Riley slapped him.

His eyes flashed open. “I deserved that, Luce, I really deserved that. For what I’ve done. For leaving you alone with the boys.” He paused, studying Riley’s face with more clarity in his eyes than before. “Slap me again. Slap me.”

Riley brought her hand up again and, for a split second, marveled at how strange this was. Dr. Brenner had been the quietest crewmember. He kept to himself, mostly, and didn’t say anything about his life on earth. He had been kind, and had treated Riley with respect. He hadn’t once made her feel odd for being the only woman aboard.

Riley slapped him again.

His eyes grew even clearer, seemed to focus more and he smiled up at her. “I needed that Luce, I really needed that. That’s what I needed to close it. Close it in my mind. Thank you.” Then, after that moment of fierce clarity, locking eyes with Riley, his hand relaxed in hers and his eyes slid closed again.

“No, no, no,” Riley took his face in her hands, “Henry, stay with me. We need you! Henry, we need you here, with us. Me and the boys. Your boys.”

“They have you Luce, and Mark. I know what I said, but I didn’t really mean it. He could actually be there for you. I see how much you love him, and how much he loves you. You don’t need me, they don’t need me, no one needs me…”

“Henry! Mark is… Mark is leaving me! I need you!”

“Luce, you can’t be serious? Mark couldn’t possibly do better than you. It’s unfathomable. Inconceivable! Unless… did YOU meet someone?”

“Yes, Henry, I did meet someone. A long, long time ago. He is the father of my children and the light of my life. I need him with me. I need him by my side.”

Henry thought for a moment. “Luce, you can’t be serious! I’m going to space next month!”

“Henry, I don’t care. Even if you’re not on this planet, I still need you to be mine. I won’t have anyone but you, I can’t have anyone but you.”

“Luce! You’re talking absolutely crazy. I’ll probably never come back! The first four missions still haven’t returned!”

Riley was shocked out of her acting. FronteirZ had been clear, Langosta would be the first mission of asteroid reconnaissance. There had been no mention of previous attempts.

Tag came lumbering back to their side, torch bag slung over his shoulder.

Riley grabbed for it, a starving man lunging at a roast turkey. She hastily assembled the contraption, attached the fuel canister and fired up.

“Tag, cover your eyes,” she barked.

She shifted the torch guard over her eyes, and, depressing the switch, the torch flamed hot and blue. She turned down the level a bit, to make the first pass. She shifted around to where the metal had pierced his side.

“Tag, keep him awake!”

Tag looked alert now, and a bit calmer. He was still shaking as he took Henry’s face in his hands. “Stay with me Henry, please. I was about to score a goal on you. You pussied out!”

Riley inspected the metal flap. It had pierced his lower back. She peered down and around the flap, wishing she had waited to ignite the torch until after she had inspected the situation. Panic, no time to think. She shifted Henry’s arm to hang across his chest, exposing the seam where the flap connected to the main door. Though the flap protruded quite a ways, there was not much room between the flesh of Henry’s back and the door. She would burn him.. There was no way around it.

“Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck.” She hesitated, torch roaring in her hand, as she stared at the wound. There was absolutely no way in they could move him and the massive door. They had to cut that fucking flap.

“TAG! Grab him something to bite on.”

Tag looked around himself, frantically. After a few scans of the area, he took off his shirt, rolled it into a long snake and pried open Henry’s mouth. He was compliant and calm, not seeming to mind when Tag shoved the wad of cotton between his teeth.

“OK! Ready.” he yelled back at her over the roar of the torch.

She was not ready. There was just no time for anything else. No time to consider other options. Time to go. She angled the torch low and towards the flap. With a quick push she slid it into position, as far away from Henry’s back as she could manage. But even still, he began to moan. She saw his skin start to get red and knew it was burning him. He started to scream.

“HOLD HIM DOWN!” she roared. The torch touched the seam, flame to metal, and it began to melt away.

Even as Tag grasped his chest, his arms straining, Riley could still see Henry’s convulsions. He was moving up and down the metal piece and more blood gushed out.

Riley moved the torch down the seam, a third of the way through, when he finally passed out. Tag loosened his grip a bit, eyes terrified, and turned to watch Riley. Halfway through, almost there, then, with a satisfying click, it was separated.

Tag lifted Henry’s body up, careful to put his arms on either side of the metal piece.

“Don’t touch it! Be so damn careful!” Riley quickly turned off the torch and dismantled it. The last thing they needed was a fire in the cargo bay. Tearing the torch guard from her face she rushed to help Tag carry him. They navigated him down the central corridor, steering his limp body into the operating room. Thankfully, where FronteirZ had been cheap in the cargo and food departments, they had spared no expense on their medical equipment.

Riley powered on the monitor for the EasiSurgi, the robot-operated assistant surgeon.

“What do I do now?” Tag asked, standing in the corner and watching as Riley whirled around the starched white room, opening drawers, taking out tools. She pressed the menu button on the touch-screen monitor of EasiSurgi and pressed the “Start” button next to the “Diagnose Scan”. The EasiSurgi jumped to life, humming and whirring. A bright green beam of light emanated from the bottom. It dragged across Henry’s body, lying on the operating table. It made a series of beeps and once it reached the metal, stopped for a few moments, seemingly computing the problem.

[Stop the blood flow] it said, in a monotone voice.

Tag jumped to attention and began rifling through drawers. He found a rag and pressed it on the wound.

Riley cursed. Why hadn’t she thought of that earlier? Of course they had to stop the blood flow. Goddammit. Hopefully he had enough left. If not, though, there was a Blood Manufacturer in the corner. It looked dusty and a bit dilapidated but hopefully it would still work.

Tag was clutching the rag and pressing it to Henry’s body. It slowly turned a pink, then a dark red, as the blood kept gushing out.

EasiSurgi, with a bright peep and a click, finished its scan.

[Male. Critical Condition. Steel puncture wound. Internal bleeding. Kidney, spleen, large intestine, stomach pierced. Chance of survival, 13%.]

“FUCK!” Riley yelled, examining the screen that gave the EasiSurgi full diagnosis report.

Tag was looking up at Riley, awaiting instruction.

She punched her own leg in frustration. The only thing left to try? Surgery. She exited the diagnosis report on the touch-screen and navigated to the surgery menu. It had auto-populated a few options, with necessary tools. There were three options on the screen, each a strange medical name that Riley didn’t have much time to read through. They each had odds. The first, 15:1. The second, 100:1. The third, 250:1.

“Why even put the one that has a 250:1 chance?” Riley exclaimed. She punched the first option, not taking the time to read the name or procedure description.

“Tag, turn on that Blood Manufacturer and get it going! I don’t have time to answer questions. Just get it done.”

He had opened his mouth, presumably to ask questions, but shut it and turned to work.

Once she chose the procedure, a list of tools had flashed up on the screen. Each tool had an arrow pointing to a dock on the EasiSurgi machine where it would need to be inserted. Riley whirled around the room, searching drawers, to find each scalpel and pair of tweezers, inserting them into the machine as she went. Fortunately, the screen had pictures of each tool. A helpful feature for someone with no medical experience, save for that which she had seen on TV. She plugged in the last tool, something that looked like a tiny lasso, and the machine immediately lurched into action. A camera was pushed out through one of the holes and began to scan Henry’s body. Once it was trained on the metal, it began to descend, scalpel first. Riley quickly tugged off the t-shirt Tag had applied, so that the tool could have an unobstructed view. With scissors, the EasiSurgi went to work, first cutting off his shirt to expose his flesh. Riley, now free to watch, looked over at Tag. He was pressing what seemed to be random buttons on the Blood Manufacturer. The EasiSurgi began to beep.

[Alert. Alert. Code blue. Commence charge.]

Riley watched in horror as the two paddles that she had fitted on the robot were lowered onto Henry’s chest.

[Clear.]

Henry jumped with the shock that coursed through his body.

The machine began to beep again.

[Blood needed, immediately. Please provide transfusion.]

“Tag!” Riley rushed over to his side. “His heart has stopped and he needs blood, NOW!” She looked down at the machine. He had managed to power it on and was now searching through the menu for the universal donor. He pressed it and with a whoosh, a long tube shot out, connecting to a port that had just opened on the EasiSurgi. Once connected with a whoosh of air, it began to pump blood to the EasiSurgi, which, in turn extending its own tube that it had connected to one of Henry’s arms, began to supply blood. Riley heaved a sigh of relief. They had just bought him more time.

[Clear.]

The paddles descended again and Henry jumped on impact. The beep of his heart rate started again a few moments later. What if he pulled through this, thought Riley, giving herself a moment to hope. She found her mind sliding away just then. It was so overloaded, and now that the machine was in charge, far more capable in the operating room than she would ever be. She wanted to crawl into her nook and go to sleep, curled in a tiny ball. She took a deep breath, the first deep breath since she had heard his yelp of pain.

[Update: blood replenishing, heart rate stabilize, chance of survival: 14%]

“What the hell?! Only 1% increase in chance of survival?” Riley yelled.

The machine cut her off [Blood loss: substantial. Commencing sutures]

Five arms extended from the machine and probed towards Henry’s body, each seeming to target a specific area. One was peeling away by the metal and began to stitch up the pulsing dark pink mass there. Riley guessed that this was the stomach. Her nose crinkled. She covered her mouth with her hand and dry heaved into it but nothing came up.

Tag came over to her and put a hand on her back. “It’s going to be OK, Riley, we did the best we could.”

She looked up at him and snapped: “He’s going to die, Tag, he’s going to fucking die. From a soccer game. How stupid is that. Why didn’t you check the area before you started?”

Tag didn’t say anything to that.

Riley let her breath go, exhaling loudly. After a moment: “I’m sorry. That wasn’t totally fair. I nearly got myself killed too, last week on that “Stargazing Mission”.”

Tag smiled, rubbing her shoulders. “Riley, if we’re going to call that wild hare a mission, then each time I number two, I’m conducting a FronteirZ-approved scientific experiment.”

Riley guffawed.

They stood silently after that, watching EasiSurgi do its work. There was not much input it needed now. Just one addition of a scalpel. It gave updates throughout its work.

[Stomach suture: complete]

After an hour, they brought in a few chairs from the lounge. Tag had also ventured to the kitchen and, crackers in hand, plopped down to watch.

“You’re eating? In front of this?” Riley’s stomach was still roiling, especially now that EasiSurgi was exposing so many different layers of flesh, guts and intestines that Riley had never seen before, not in real life.

“I don’t know. I’ve played a lot of video games. I’m fine.”

Riley was watching the scalpel. The EasiSurgi was amazing. It looked so calm, collected and as if it could make no mistake.

[Chance of survival update: 25%]

Riley and Tag cheered. They smiled at each other and Riley felt her stomach relax a bit.

Over the ship’s loudspeakers came the nightly announcement: Commencing sunset in 1 hour. Commencing sunset in 1 hour.

The Langosta had lighting installed that mimicked the sun, to keep voyagers from becoming Vitamin D deficient. With true UV rays, it would even cause a sunburn if one stayed out in it for too long. After many decades of wrangling with the vitamin and supplements industry, the FDA and CDC finally released a study that showed that such artificial supplements had little to no effect. Though the supplement industry responded with a tranche of convincing studies, the establishment of an entire research facility and university faculty at the University of Wisconsin, and a series of smear campaigns, many of the nation’s highly scientific organizations quietly transitioned from vitamins to sun-similar lighting systems. FronteirZ was one. An organization that had to keep its space voyagers healthy on long missions away from the sun, FronteirZ was keen to outfit their crew with the best.

“Tag, it’s going to be a long night.”