Author : Bob Newbell
I slowly wake up. I’m in a hospital bed. An IV in my left antecubital vein slowly infuses normal saline. I feel like I need to urinate, but I have a suspicion. I look. Yep, Foley catheter in place. I smile. “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind,” I say aloud.
I hear a knock at the door. A man wearing blue surgical scrubs walks in.
“Hello. I’m Dr. Waples. Was that Neil Armstrong you were quoting right before I walked in?”
“Yes,” I say. “I assume I’m not the first guy to use that line to appear wittily ironic under the circumstances?”
“I’ve had two other patients in the past do the same,” the doctor says with a smile. “How do you feel?”
I look at my hands. They’re perfect right down to the scar on my left index finger. Cut myself slicing an orange when I was a kid. I run my tongue across the interior surface of my teeth. The left maxillary central incisor protrudes slightly compared to the right just as it always has.
“I feel fine. Except I could do without…” I gesture at the Foley catheter.
“Nurse will be in in a minute to remove that,” the doctor says.
“You know,” I say, “I thought I’d be…different. I mean, at least a little.”
The doctor nods. “Everyone says that. I said it myself when I ‘arrived’. The scanners back on Earth image all the way down to the atomic level and the fabricators on this end synthesize cells and tissues and organs with the same precision. A few months ago I had a new arrival who had the same cold she — or rather her original — had back at the time she was scanned. Fabricators reconstituted the rhinovirus.
“I need to ask you a few simple questions just to check your orientation,” the doctor continues. “What is your name?”
“And what is the current date, by which I mean last date you recall from a few subjective minutes ago on Earth before you woke up here?”
“February 3rd, 2452.”
“That’s correct, although the current date is in fact October 23rd, 2456. Travel time for your scan data to get here plus time for fabrication. Could you tell me where we are right now? What is this place we’re in?”
“The Niven Reconstitution Station orbiting Alpha Centauri B.”
The doctor nods. “Alert and oriented times three,” he says.
Another knock at the door. A robot walks in and stands next to the doctor.
“I’ll step out and let the nurse take care of your catheter and IV. I’ll be back to do a complete exam in a few minutes. Then we can let you start a liquid diet and advance you up to solids if you handle the liquids okay.”
“Sounds good, doc,” I say with a laugh.
“Something funny?” the doctor asks as he’s turning to leave.
“Just this,” I respond sweeping my hands over my trunk and legs and extending them out at the room. “It took a hundred years for this station to travel here from Earth orbit so we could start replicating scanned copies of people. No mighty starships with magical faster-than-light drives. No dramatic teleporting down to ‘explore strange new worlds’. And this is how space explorers make their entrance into the final frontier: an IV in an arm, an oxygen mask, and a tube running from one’s bladder to a plastic bag.”
The doctor smiles and nods and leaves the room as the machine nurse walks toward my bed.
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