29 July 2011

"Kangaroo in the Field"

By Curtis C. Chen

"He's not breathing!" I drop the pressure suit helmet onto the washroom floor, grab the ambassador's shoulders with both hands, and shake him while shouting his name. He doesn't respond.

"Check his pulse," says the female voice in my left ear.

I don't know how Jessica can remain so calm. It probably helps that she only hears me, and can't see the ambassador's face turning bright pink. I decide not to mention it and press two fingers against the side of his neck.

"Pulse is weak. But fast," I say, doing some quick math. "Gotta be at least a hundred, maybe one-twenty."

"Anaphylactic shock," Jessica says. "Did he eat or drink anything in the last few minutes?"

"I don't know. Maybe?" This was supposed to be a simple extraction: meet Ambassador Fisher at an embassy reception, get him into a spacesuit, put him in my pocket, walk out the front door. Another team was transporting his family, but with local security watching Fisher so closely, I was the only one who could smuggle him out.

"You weren't watching him?"

"Nobody said he had food allergies!"

"He doesn't," Jessica mutters.

"Just tell me what to do!" I say.

"Does he have an epi pen?" Jessica asks. She's not talking to me.

A male voice buzzes in my right ear. "Yes. It's in your pocket, Kay," Oliver says. "Chimpanzee with an orange popsicle."

I envision the primate with the frozen treat and open my pocket to the associated location. A one-meter-wide, glowing white disk appears in midair in front of me—the barrier keeps atmosphere from leaking into the pocket, like a pressure curtain. I reach inside, close my hand around a vinyl pouch, and pull it into our universe. Then I close the pocket again.

Three plastic cylinders are secured inside the pouch. I remove one, pop off the black cap covering the tip, and jab it hard against Fisher's thigh. "Nothing's happening!" I try it twice more, making creases in the ambassador's trouser leg. "Damn, this thing is cold."

"Cold?" Jessica says. "How cold?"

"That pouch should have been insulated," Oliver says. "Check the temperature—"

"You're storing medication in hard vacuum without thermal controls?" Jessica says.

"Later!" Oliver says.

"Forty degrees," I say, reading the colored strip on the side of the pen. "The epi's still liquid. And clear."

"The cold could have affected the auto-injector mechanism," Oliver says. "Try the other two."

I do, with the same results. "They're not working either! Is he going to die?"

"No," Jessica says. "I'm looking at the ambassador's medical records. He had a vagus nerve stimulator implanted recently to treat a partial seizure disorder. Kangaroo, I'm going to use your implants to trigger a signal from Fisher's VNS. That should get him breathing again."

"Hang on," Oliver says.

"Put your left hand on the back of his neck," Jessica says.

"You're going to shock his brain?" Oliver says.

"We're going to save his life," Jessica says. "Kangaroo! Are you ready?"

I take a deep breath and place my palm under Fisher's skull. "Clear."


Image: My collection of passport stamps by Ho John Lee, February, 2006