Out On A Limb
by S Shane Thomas

Val Ricks had spent his fair share of time working on the starship’s dangerous engineering assignments. The engineering department kept a rotation for the sort of work that put you directly in harm’s way. Though their journey brought the LARC3 hundreds of years away from their home on Earth, and their technology made leaps and bounds in the interim, someone still had to manually perform tasks like repairing sensory equipment damaged while traveling through asteroid belts.

The engineer peered up from his work from time to time to visually gauge the distance from other asteroids to his position. It would be delusional to assume asteroids don’t dent the hull in the same place twice. Steady hands removed the smashed bits of equipment, then wired and bolted the replacement array into place. He had the accident during the hundred yard walk back to the maintenance hatch. Though the man had been at the job well past what Earth considered retirement age, no action of reflex would have prevented the accident.

Not twenty paces from the hatch, a potato shaped rock the size of a beach ball bounced off the hull and scraped its way into Val Rick’s path, wedging the man’s booted foot into hull plating with a sickening crunch. The engineer reeled in pain, stunned only for a second until he saw the atmosphere from his pressurized suit venting from his ruined ankle. Teeth gritted from pain, he squeezed his eyes shut. While Val would do what was necessary to survive the ordeal, he would not watch the suit severe at the calf and reseal itself with emergency foam.

The following afternoon Val sat in his wheelchair gazing out the window at the asteroid field through the wake of the starship’s propulsion stream. A man barely acquainted with Val paced the room and chatted pointlessly. Val had heard and reheard the story about losing both hands while dislodging a hydraulic arm in the day they shared rehabilitation.

Val shook his head; the man had finally baited him into conversation. “Your hands and my foot are nothing. Last time I landed in one of these recovery rooms, I’d been impaled in the engine room. It’s one thing looking at a limb and stumps, try asking for help while staring at your lung on the shaft poking out of your chest like a flag pole.”

His companion raised eyebrows in contemplation. Before he could recall a tale to get one up on Val, the door slid open and a young woman in a lab coat greeting her patients with a smile.

“Winston, let’s take a look at those new hands,” Dr. Jeffries said. She unwound bandages to reveal two new half-grown appendages. “You are being transferred to the rehabilitation room this afternoon; these hands are growing right on schedule.” The geneticist made her way across the room to Val’s wheel chair. “Well guys, did you ever think that DNA infusions with lizard cells would have such a consistently remarkable effect? Look here Mister Ricks, your new toes are already wiggling!”

On Val’s unwrapped stump, a tiny foot and ankle no larger than that of a doll writhed under the doctor’s prodding.

“Great Doc,” said Val with an unamused expression, “I guess I’ll be back on the job in no time.” 

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