Spatial Delivery by Garrett, Randall

SPATIAL DELIVERY

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, a woman was in pain.

There, high in the emptiness of space, Space Station One swung in its orbit. Once every two hours, the artificial satellite looped completely around the planet, watching what went on below. Outside its bright steel hull was the silence of the interplanetary vacuum; inside, in the hospital ward, Lieutenant Alice Britton clutched at the sheets of her bed 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 minutes yet. "Fine, doctor. It's no worse than I was expecting. How long will it before we can contact White Sands?"

The major looked nervously at his wristwatch. "Nearly an hour. You'll be all right."

"Certainly," she agreed, running a hand through her brown hair, "I'll be okay. Just you be on tap when I call."

The major's grin broadened. "You don't think I'd miss a historical event like this, do you? You take it easy. We're over Eastern Europe now, but as soon as we get within radio range of New Mexico, I'll beam a call in." He paused, then repeated, "You just take it easy. Call the nurse if anything happens." Then he turned and walked out of the room.

Alice Britton closed her eyes. Major Banes was all smiles and cheer now, but he hadn't been that way five months ago. She chuckled softly to herself as she thought of his blistering speech.

"Lieutenant Britton, you're either careless or brainless; I don't know which! Your husband may be the finest rocket jockey in the Space Service, but that doesn't give him the right to come blasting up here on a supply rocket just to get you pregnant!"

Alice had said: "I'm sure the thought never entered his mind, doctor. I know it never entered mine."

"But that was two and a half months ago! Why didn't you come to me before this? Of all the tom-fool--" His voice had died off in suppressed 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 frown which almost hid the green eyes that contrasted so startlingly with the flaming red of his hair. "The question is: what do we do next? We're not equipped for obstetrics up here."

"Send me back down to Earth, of course."

And he had looked up at her scathingly. "Lieutenant Britton, it is my personal opinion that you need your head examined, and not by a general practitioner, either! Why, I wouldn't let you get into an airplane, much less land on Earth in a rocket! If you think I'd permit you to subject yourself to eight gravities of acceleration in a rocket landing, you're daffy!"

She hadn't thought of it before, but the major was right. The terrible pressure of a rocket landing would increase her effective body weight to nearly half a ton; an adult human being couldn't take that sort of punishment for long, much less the tiny life that was growing within her.

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 the station. Her pregnancy had never made her uncomfortable; the slow rotation of the wheel-shaped station about its axis gave an effective gravity at the rim only half that of Earth's surface, and the closer to the hub she went, the less her weight became.

According to the major, the baby was due sometime around the first of September. "Two hundred and eighty days," he had said. "Luckily, we can pinpoint 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 to me at least once a week, Lieutenant."

As the words went through her mind, another spasm of pain hit her, and she clenched her fists tightly on the sheets again. It went away, and she 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 more than ten miles per second, but it had managed to punch its way through the shielding of the station.

The self-sealing walls had closed the tiny hole quickly, but even in that short time, a lot of air had gone whistling out into the vacuum of space.

The depressurization hadn't hurt her too much, but the shock had been enough to start labor. The baby was going to come two months early.

She relaxed a little more, waiting for the next pain. There was nothing to worry about; she had absolute faith in the red-haired major.

The major himself was not so sure. He sat in his office, massaging his fingertips and looking worriedly at the clock on the wall.

The Chief Nurse at a nearby desk took off her glasses and looked at him speculatively. "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 an incubator."

The nurse's eyes widened. "Good Lord! I never thought of that! What are you going to do?"

"Right now, I can't do anything. I can't beam a radio message through to 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--"

"But what?"

"Will we have time? The pains are coming pretty fast now. It will be at least three hours before they can get a ship up here. If they miss us on the next time around, it'll be five hours. She can't hold out that long."

The Chief Nurse turned her eyes to the slowly moving second hand of the wall clock. She could feel a lump in her throat.

Major Banes was in the Communications Center a full five minutes before the coastline of California appeared on the curved horizon of the globe beneath them. He had spent the hour typing out a complete report of what had happened to Alice Britton and a list of what he needed. He handed it to the teletype operator and paced the floor impatiently as he waited for the answer.

When the receiver teletype began clacking softly, he leaned over the page, waiting anxiously for every word.

WHITE SANDS ROCKET BASE 4 JULY 1984 0913 HRS URGENT TO: MAJ PETER BANES (MC) 0-266118 SS-1 MEDICAL OFFICER FROM: GEN DAVID BARRETT 0-199515 COMMANDING WSRB ROCKET. ORBIT NOW BEING COMPUTED FOR RENDEZVOUS WITH SS-1 AS OF NEXT PASSAGE ABOVE USA. CAPT. JAMES BRITTON PILOTING. MEDICS LOADING SHIP TWELVE WITH INCUBATOR AND OTHER SUPPLIES. BASE OBSTETRICIAN LT COL GATES ALSO COMING TO ASSIST IN DELIVERY. HANG ON. OVER.

Banes nodded and turned to the operator. "I want a direct open telephone line to my office in case I have to get another message to the base before we get out of range again."

He turned and left through the heavy door. Each room of the space station was protected by airtight doors and individual heating units; if some accident, such as a really large meteor hit, should release the air 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 strain around 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 a time, she said: "I'm doing fine, but you look as if you'd been through the mill. What's eating you?"

He forced a nervous smile. "Nothing but the responsibility. You're going to be a very famous woman, you know. You'll be the mother of the first child born in space. And it's my job to see to it that you're both 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 delivery in September, so when White Sands contacted us, they said he was coming immediately." He paused, and a genuine smile crossed his face. "Your husband is bringing him up."

"Jim! Coming up here? Wonderful! But I'm afraid the colonel will be too late. 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. Let nature take its course. I'm not such a glory hog that I'd not let Gates have 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 eyes kept wandering to his wristwatch, timing Alice's pain intervals. They were coming too close together to suit him.

There was a faint rap, and the heavy airtight door swung open to admit the 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 that sort of rot," he said in a phony British accent.

"Oh, raw_ther_, 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 PETER BANES (MC) 0-266118 SS-1 MEDICAL OFFICER FROM: GEN DAVID BARRETT 0-199515 COMMANDING WSRB ROCKET. ORBIT COMPUTED FOR RENDEZVOUS AT 1134 HRS MST. CAPT BRITTON SENDS PERSONAL TO LT BRITTON AS FOLLOWS: HOLD THE FORT, BABY, THE WHOLE WORLD IS PRAYING FOR YOU. OUT.

* * * * *

Banes sat on the edge of his desk, pounding a fist into the palm of his left hand. "Two hours. It isn't soon enough. She'll never hold out that long. And we don't have an incubator." His voice was a clipped monotone, timed with the rhythmic slamming of his fist.

The Chief Nurse said: "Can't we build something that will do until the rocket gets here?"

Banes looked at her, his face expressionless. "What would we build it out of? There's not a spare piece of equipment in the station. It costs money to ship material up here, you know. Anything not essential is left 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 tape recorded all the monitor pickups from the Earth radio stations, and it looks as though the Space Service has released the information to the public. Lieutenant Britton's husband was right when he said the whole world's praying for her. Do you want to hear the tapes?"

"Not now, but thanks for the information." He hung up and looked into the 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 dam about that? I'm interested in saving a life, not in worrying about what people may think!"

"Yes, sir. I just thought--"

"Well, think about something useful! Think about how we're going to save 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 space medicine. I can handle depressurization, space sickness, and things like that, but I don't know anything about babies! I know what I read in medical school, and I watched a delivery once, but that's all I know. I don't even have any references up here; people aren't supposed to 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 had one! Prepare the ward room next to the one she's in now, I guess. It's the 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 the Brittons; it was simply his way of letting off steam to ease the tension within him.

The slow, monotonous rotation of the second hand on the wall clock seemed to drag time grudgingly along with it. Banes wished he could smoke to calm his raw nerves, but it was strictly against regulations. Air was too precious to be used up by smoking. Every bit of air on board had had to be carried up in rockets when the station was built in space. The air purifiers in the hydroponics section could keep the air fresh enough for breathing, but fire of any kind would overtax the system, leaving too little oxygen in the atmosphere.

It was a few minutes of ten when he decided he'd better get back to Alice Britton. She was trying to read a book between spasms, but she wasn't getting much read. She dropped it to the floor when he came in.

"Am I glad to see you! It won't be long now." She looked at him analytically. "Say! Just what _is_ eating you? You look more haggard than I do!"

Again he tried to force a smile, but it didn't come off too well. "Nothing serious. I just want to make sure everything comes out all right."

She smiled. "It will. You're all set. You ordered the instruments months ago. Or did you forget something?"

That hit home, but he just grinned feebly. "I forgot to get somebody to boil water."

"Whatever for?"

"Coffee, of course. Didn't you know that? Papa always heats up the water; that keeps him out of the way, and the doctor has coffee afterwards."

Alice's hands grasped the sheet again, and Banes glanced at his watch. Ninety seconds! It was long and hard.

When the pain had ebbed away, he said: "We've got the delivery room all ready. It won't be much longer now."

"I'll say it won't! How about the incubator?"

There was a long pause. Finally, he said softly: "There isn't any incubator. I didn't take the possibility of a premature delivery into account. It's my fault. I've done what I could, though; the ship is bringing one up. I--I think we'll be able to keep the child alive until--"

He stopped. Alice was bubbling up with laughter.

"Lieutenant! Lieutenant Britton! Alice! This is no time to get hysterical! Stop it!"

Her laughter slowed to a chuckle. "_Me_ get hysterical! That's a good one! What about you? You're so nervous you couldn't sip water out of a bathtub without spilling it!"

He blinked. "What do you mean?"

Another pain came, and he had to wait until it was over before he got her answer. "Doctor," she said, "I thought you would have figured it out. Ask yourself just one question. Ask yourself, 'Why is a space station like an incubator?'"

* * * * *

Space Ship Twelve docked at Space Station One at exactly eleven thirty-four, and two men in spacesuits pushed a large, bulky package through the airlock.

Major Peter Banes, haggard but smiling, met Captain Britton in the corridor as he and the colonel entered the hospital ward.

Banes nodded to Colonel Gates, then turned to Britton. "I don't know whether to congratulate you or take a poke at you, Captain, but I suppose congratulations come first. Your son, James Edward Britton II, is doing fine, thank you."

"You mean--_already_?"

The colonel said nothing, but he raised an eyebrow.

"Over an hour ago," said Banes.

"But--but--the incubator--"

Banes' grin widened. "We'll put the baby in it, now that we've got it, but it really isn't necessary. Your wife figured that one out. A space station is a kind of incubator itself, you see. It protects us poor, weak humans from the terrible conditions of space. So all we had to do was close up one of the airtight rooms, sterilize it, warm it up, and put in extra oxygen from the emergency tanks. Young James is perfectly comfortable."

"Excellent, Major!" said the colonel.

"Don't thank me. It was Captain Britton's wife who--"

But Captain Britton wasn't listening any more. He was headed toward his wife's room at top speed.