I sat in the cargo bay of a Marsplane, somewhere over the depths of Valles Marineris. We had received a distress call from a field geologist gathering samples- or rather, from his suit. He wasn't talking, and that by itself was a bad thing. The only option was to send a medic, and the only way to get to him in time was in the rocket-powered aircraft MARSEC (the Mars Expoloration Corporation) used to drop supplies to outposts across the vast planet.
The bay was windowless, unlit except for the illumination provided by my external spotlights. That was going to change in about 3 minutes, according to the pilot. His voice came over the communications link,
“OK Doc, we're coming up on the drop zone. Ready for a ride?”
I answered, “You betcha” as the cargo bad doors opened. Rolling beneath was the pitted orange surface of Mars, 3,000 meters away. The pilot came back on and started his countdown,
“Drop in 10. 9. 8. 7. 6. 5. 4. 3. Over the DZ. Bombs away!”
The cargo bay disappeared and I was hanging over the surface, floating in the gentle Martian gravity. My Heads Up Display showed the location of the emergency beacon ahead of me, and the computer began figuring out how to get me there through the thin atmosphere. I looked up to see the Marsplane already dwindling in the distance as the computer fired puffs of compressed gas to keep me on target. Unlike an Earthbound skydiver who can alter his course and speed due to wind resistance, there was little atmosphere on Mars to provide any lift or drag- one reason the Marsplane looked like an old U2 spy plane with long, thin wings. Still, I could tell I was going to put down within a klick of the beacon, thanks to an on-target drop by the pilot.
The chute opened a moment later and the descent began to slow perceptibly. Soon I could see the geologist's rover parked near the lip of a crater which had impacted a range of small mountains- undoubtedly why he was interested in the place.
As the HUD ticked the altitude down, a warning flashed on the display: RETRO FIRING 5 SECONDS. This was the part that made me anxious. If something was going to go wrong, it would go wrong now, as numerous failed Mars probes had shown in the days before man arrived on the red planet.
This time however, things went smoothly. There was a blast of retrorockets, dust everywhere, and I was down on the ground with a thud, the parachutes having jettisoned themselves moments before.
I made a beeline for the rover, which appeared to be intact. That was a relief, since it would be my ride out, as well as the only way I could move the geologist.
The beacon showed up on the HUD as a blinking red dot just over the lip of the crater. As I came to dropoff, I looked down and could see the form of the geologist's suit about 300m below. How the hell had he managed to fall down that cliff? Looking around, I spotted his suit tracks and followed them to a section of the crater wall that had given away.
Well. That answers that question.
As I backed away from the unstable crater rim, I tried calling on the radio to the geologist, but got no answer. His suit radio was either damaged or he was unconscious. Or both. I returned to the rover and hooked my winch line to it and headed back to the most stable-looking part of the crater, a rocky outcrop. I rappelled over the side, touching down a few meters from the geologist.
He was prone, and his suit looked largely intact. But then, the suits themselves were nearly indestructible. It was the people inside them that were fragile. Rolling him over I could see geologists face slightly fogging the visor.
I shook him, “Dr. Androne? Can you hear me? This is Dr. Barnes.” His eyelids fluttered for a moment, and I thought he might have said something, but nothing came over the link. Thankfully, the communications delay was minimal, which made my job a lot easier. I plugged a direct-connect cable into his suit, and repeated asked him to blink if he could hear me. This time I hear a couple of wheezy gasps. His radio was obviously busted, and he didn't sound so good either. I pulled up his suit info on my HUD and started to get a clinical picture.
The Marsuits are marvel of technology. Personal spacecraft that you can live in for weeks at a time, they can provide limited first aid. Dr. Androne's suit was telling me his ECG showed sinus tach at 120, BP of 90/60, SPO2 of 88% on oxygen, ETCO2 of 30. It didn't take a genius to figure he was in shock, but I needed to find out why. I unrolled an imaging plate and laid it under his back. The hand held x ray source fired, and within a second I had a 3D image of his chest X ray on the HUD, showing a pneumothorax, and a small hemo.
I adjusted the gas mixture and pressure in his suit. The suit could act as a sort of giant ventilator, but only to a limited extent. By increasing the pressure and activating the medical protocol, the suit began to cycle ventilations with PEEP.
Thankfully, the patient was protecting his own airway and it didn't look like I would have to begin the complicated procedure of opening his helmet to place an airway (that would involve a tent-like hood with armholes to maintain air pressure once the helmet was off).
I pulled out the chest spike from my kit and drilled through the tough layers of his suit. This was one of the few procedures you could do without getting the patient out of his suit. The drill punched through and I pulled the trigger to fire the chest spike, which was connected to a length of tubing that uncoiled from the drill. The suit was self-sealing around any punctures, so I wasn't worried about air leaking around the tubing. I secured the end of the tube to a one way valve (the Martian atmosphere provided an excellent vacuum) to help reinflate the lung. I would lose some of his oxygen that way, but his suit had nearly a week of reserve life support.
The only other thing I could do was get IV access, although since he was in the suit, that actually meant interosseus- fluid infused into the bone marrow. I quickly drilled through the leg of his suit, fired the IO needle into his tibia, and connected it to a life support pack that I strapped to the leg. It would begin to infuse oxygenated artificial blood, vasopressors, and anything else I programmed.
His vital signs started to look a little better, and I called Armstrong Base for the shuttle. It was almost 500km away, and driving him there in the rover wasn't an option. He'd need emergency surgery in the sickbay, the only medical facility on Mars.
I reassured my patient over the link, “OK Doctor, I'm going to get you out of here.” as I clipped him to the same winch line. I programmed his suit for immobilization mode, and the whole thing went rigid as a cast. After that it was just a matter of winching back up to the surface.
A few kilometers away the glare from the shuttle's retrorockets grew brighter, and the conical-shaped craft touched down gently on the Martian plain. I was waiting at the rover, my patient loaded into the back. The pilot came over the radio and directed me to load him into the cargo bay, while I strapped on to the exterior.
The pilot checked his systems, made sure we were both secure, and began his countdown.
That’s when my world went blank.
* * *
The door of the VR telemedicine pod opened and my assistant helped pull me out.
“Good job, doc. Dr. Adnan is already in the surgical pod. He'll get to work as soon as the shuttle brings the patient into the sickbay at Armstrong.”
“Thanks Tony. Anything happen while I was on Mars?”
“Just a call from you wife. She says to pick up some milk on your way home.”
Mankind's foothold on Mars was tenuous- less than 100 personnel on the planet, 2 planes, and a single shuttle. No medevac helicopters or EMS here.
Medgagdet recently announced the winner and runners up of the fourth annual Medical Sci-Fi Writing Contest. Evan Perriello is this year's winner of the Amazon Kindle reader for his short story "HeartPlus." Runners up were James H. Dawdy for "Mars Rescue" and Hans Patrick Griesser for "WHAT'S MORE AFFORDABLE THAN FREE?"