Confused is a good way to describe my protagonist, Sted Richardson, in what was originally the first chapter of my first novel. I decided the story needed a little more background and added five chapters preceding this original start. Let me know if you think this would have made a good start to the book.
The quiet is very disturbing. Where am I? I know I’m lying down on something soft, but perspiration under my head and neck has soaked into my hair and made this a cold and clammy bed. Bed. I must be in a bed. But where? Why won’t the fog clear out of my head? I know something is very wrong, but I can’t figure out what.
“Hello, Captain Richardson. The monitors tell me you’re waking up. Please try not to worry about anything. The lights have been dimmed, and the monitors have been silenced to help you sleep. You are in the recovery room after surgery. We can get into the details later. Right now, your body needs rest and time to recover from the trauma it has suffered. I know you have many questions. I’ll answer them all very soon. Right now, I am administering more sedative through your IV. You will sleep for another four to six hours. Then we will talk again. I will count down from one hundred. You should not hear me saying ninety-five, but we will see. One hundred, ninety-nine, ninety-eight, ninety. . . . ”
Emily Fry stood over the recumbent figure of Captain Sted Richardson. She knew he was about to wake up based on the detailed story displayed on the monitors that surrounded his hospital bed.
“Sted? Can you hear me Sted?”
Sted heard a pleasant voice calling to him. Waking up was not easy. His mouth seemed to be filled with cotton. Lifting his tongue seemed almost impossible. He needed water to loosen it. All he could get out was “aw-er.”
This appeared to be enough, because the next thing he felt was a straw being inserted between his lips.
“Sip a little at a time, Captain Richardson. That should help. The IV has your body hydrated, but sometimes the mouth needs some extra help.”
He didn’t recognize the voice, but it was soft and pleasant. A female voice. Was it a nurse or more than just a nurse?
“Where am I?” This was the first question on his mind. Orientation was the key to his life. Somehow he knew this, but what it meant just wouldn’t surface in his mind.
“You are in Tranquility Hospital,” the voice said. “Can you open your eyes? You have been through surgery, and your recovery seems to be progressing normally. We need to have a brief conversation, and I like to look the other person in the eye when serious discussions take place. Please try to open your eyes.”
Sted opened his eyes. Everything was blurry.
Come on Sted! Focus! Ah, that’s better.
The recessed light panel in the ceiling was still on a low setting, and the corners of the rectangular fixture coalesced into single points.
He sensed her presence to his left. He could hear her soft breathing. “Can you step a little closer so I can see you?” He had trouble swiveling his head because of the dull but persistent ache in his neck, shoulders, and back, but his eyes shifted to the left.
She stepped closer to the bed. “My name is Emily Fry, and I am your nurse advocate. Can you see me better now?”
“Emily,” he said as she filled his field of vision. “Please tell me what happened.”
Emily peered down at him with a small light in her hand. “Let me check how your eyes react to the light, and then we can talk.” She shone the light first into his right eye, and then into his left. He still had not gotten a good look at her. The light was distracting and seemed to knife into his brain. Finally, she snapped it off.
“Your pupils are reacting normally, and there appears to be no lasting effects from the concussion you suffered. I think it’s time to get you back up to speed. After all, you’ve been unconscious for almost two days now, and things have finally quieted down again around the base. Let’s start with the accident. Can you tell me the last thing you remember?”
The accident? What accident? The base? Tranquility Hospital? Trauma? Surgery? Concussion? What was the question? Oh yeah, what was the last thing he remembered?
“Emily! Is the Revere safe? My crew? Please tell me, are they all right?”
“The ship and your crew are still docked at the Neil Armstrong Shipyard, and are all okay. Do you remember anything about the accident when you were cycling through the airlock into the base?”
“Something happened in the airlock,” Sted replied with certainty as he tried to focus his memory. He knew it was somewhere in his head, but it kept slipping away like a minnow in a bait bucket. “I know it’s somewhere in there, but I can’t seem to get ahold of it long enough to focus. I think I need some help. What happened?”
“Apparently, a small meteorite struck the airlock door just as you were reaching base pressure levels, and there was explosive decompression. The force of the meteorite was enough to blow in the exterior lock door. Your suit was shredded from the knees down, and it went into immediate survival mode and closed off your torso from just above your knees to protect you from exposure to steep vacuum and temperature gradients. Captain Richardson, you have lost both of your legs from the knees down, but everything else appears to be intact.”
Her expression was sympathetic. That was the first thing he noticed about Emily. What she was telling him, however, was just being recorded and stored in some subconscious vault, deep inside, where it could not hurt him, at least not for the moment. Needing distraction, he focused on her face. Sympathy emanated from her eyes, but her expression told him more than he wanted to know. He could see concern, pain, resolve, and even something akin to his own personal loss in the set of her jaw, her furrowed brow, and the slight puffiness around her eyes. She was obviously very empathetic.
“Your crew has been very concerned about you. Unfortunately, they are not your crew anymore, Captain. Your recovery will be long and tedious, and a new captain is being assigned to the Revere. They will be departing soon on a mission to head off a near Earth asteroid that will come uncomfortably close to striking Earth. That mission could not be delayed.” She took a breath before continuing. “You, on the other hand, will have to make some tough decisions about your future. Vice Admiral Bunting will be coming over from the naval base tomorrow morning to discuss the details of your accident and your potential paths forward.
“But let’s not concern ourselves about tomorrow. Today, we need to get you started on some liquid food, get you up to speed on all of this equipment surrounding you, and then you need to get more rest to allow your body to push through the recovery process. I have taken the liberty to order a liquid lunch and a soft-solid dinner based upon your taste preferences. Solid food will start tomorrow.”
This is all too much! I’ve just woken up and found out that my whole life has changed. My crew! The Revere! How will they react to a sudden change in captain?
My legs are gone? They feel just fine. That must have been a mistake. I didn’t hear that right, did I?
“My legs feel just fine! What are you telling me, Emily?”
“I’m very sorry, Captain Richardson. You may feel like your legs are there, but believe me; your spacesuit saved your life in the only way possible. You do remember how the suits operate, don’t you, Captain?”
“Of course I do! If the suit loses compression in any of the limbs, it isolates that limb above the nearest joint with internal clamping. If the suit detects that the limb is freezing and pressure has not been restored, it amputates the limb, establishes new suit integrity, and stabilizes the suit’s internal pressure while cauterizing the amputated stump. The sailor survives, but the limb doesn’t. So, I lost both of my legs?’
Emily nodded. “Yes. Again, I am very sorry, but you will have to learn to live without your biological legs. We have already cast your stumps and are in the process of preparing prosthetic legs for you to train with going forward. The legs will be delivered in about two weeks on a shuttle coming up to the base from the space naval yard outside of Santa Fe. Meanwhile, it’s time you got a little more rest. Tomorrow, we start rehab, and we have much to accomplish before your new legs arrive.”
That was when it all came flooding back!
“Lorraine and Jeremy are dead!” he cried as he began sobbing uncontrollably. His memory flashed with the image of bloody pieces of their helmets flying over his head. How could this be possible? It couldn’t be true. “What about the plans we made just before we left the Revere? She can’t be dead!”
Emily knew it was time for more sedation. Captain Richardson was obviously unable to handle all of the grief right now. She administered a sedative in the IV line and watched as his uncontrolled sobbing subsided.