Castaway Odyssey – Chapter 19
Xander sensed the information dump hit, stream through him and into his omni, even as he saw the Sergeant slump down and felt as though the bottom was dropping out of his world as it did. No. This can’t happen.
The other three boys were staring at him and the unconscious Sergeant, eyes wide, tears trickling down Francisco’s terrified face. His own terror was clawing at his mind, the thought of facing a world filled with things like that monster without Sergeant Campbell looming up like a monster before him.
But he remembered his mother, years ago…
“Xander, Uncle Phil will take care of you both. But you’re going to have to help him. You take care of Maddox for me, okay?”
He nodded, not trusting himself to speak without crying, without begging her and Dad to stay again – when they’d been through this, through it many times. They didn’t really have much choice, and even at fifteen, Xander understood that this was probably harder on them than it was on him. Finally, he swallowed. “O… okay, Mom. I’ll take care of Maddox. I promise.”
She hugged him so tightly his ribs hurt, but he didn’t complain, just hugged back. “I know you will, Xander. I know you will. And when the second wave comes, when you’ve graduated, you’ll both join us.”
He couldn’t stop himself. “But that will be four years!”
Mom’s body shook, and he heard a repressed sob. “I know. It will be a long time for you, and even longer for Maddox. But you know–”
He pulled away, straightened, wiped the tears away angrily. “I know. I know!” Xander stopped himself from starting the argument again, though it felt like he was trying to shove a plug into a firehose. It won’t change anything. It won’t do any good. We’ll just yell and cry and Dad will come in and try to calm us down and end up crying, and at the end nothing will change. They’ll still be leaving.
“I know,” he said, hating how his voice shook, but saying it quietly, calmly. “And… I want you and Dad to do good out there. I mean do well.”
Mom gave a teary smile at that.
“And I will take care of Maddox,” he said, and that part he didn’t have any doubt of. Maddox might be four years younger, and a big pain in the ass sometimes… but he loved his little brother more than just about anything in the world. “I will, Mom. I promise.”
She hugged him again. “I know you will.”
Xander Bird straightened up, forcing back the tears. At least I don’t have to smile; not a time for smiling no matter who you are. “Sergeant’s unconscious,” he said. “But he’s not dead.” He could immediately see some of the incipient panic … not fade, but draw back, waiting. Better than turning into real panic. “Tav, run back and check the medical supplies; I’m pretty sure we had some folding stretchers –”
“Yes, there were! Sorry! I should have –”
“You’re doing great, you remembered the oxygen. Just go get it now.”
“Can… can I do anything?” Maddox asked, voice unsteady but mostly controlled.
Give him something to do. “Go prep the Sergeant’s bed in the main shelter. Put down one of the self-cleaning sheets at the foot end, in case he bleeds more.” The nanos seemed – for the moment – to be winning the battle against blood loss, but he couldn’t tell what was going on inside. “Francisco, you stay with the Sergeant. It’s important to have someone watching him.”
The smallest boy nodded and hunkered down next to Sergeant Campbell.
Now that I have a few seconds… He turned his attention inward. What the heck did the Sergeant send me?
As soon as he thought the question, his omni responded, displaying the data and annotations on his internal retinal display.
What he saw sent chills through him, because it told him how worried the Sergeant was. He just gave me full authorization over everything – even his medical nanos, the secure ship procedures, weapons locks, everything. He wasn’t taking any chances that he might die and something be unavailable to us.
As far as the ship systems – and even medical nanos and other related systems were concerned – he, Xander Bird, was Chief Master Sergeant Samuel M. Campbell, at least insofar as authority was concerned. The authorization was revocable – if the Sergeant woke up, he had a code to do so – but as long as the Sergeant was out, the authority remained.
Tavana came running up, a small package in his hand. “Here!”
Xander took the folding stretcher, found the release and pulled. The little package swiftly unfolded into a full-size stretcher, including hollow but nicely broad handholds for the bearers; it would easily support someone even twice the Sergeant’s weight, or even more, due to being composed of carbonan weave. “Great!” He checked the Sergeant’s vital signs – not that he knew a great deal about them – and was at least reassured to see none of them had changed too much in the last few minutes. “He doesn’t have any injuries other than the leg wound, so we don’t have to worry about how to get him onto the stretcher too much.”
This was a good thing, since the Sergeant was a very big man. Xander was tall, but the Sergeant topped his 191 centimeters by at least seven centimeters and probably had at least twenty kilos on Xander, too. But Tavana was startlingly strong for a kid who was honest about his preference for working by sitting down, so together he and Tavana got Campbell onto the stretcher pretty quickly. Carrying the stretcher with the unconscious man on it wasn’t easy, but with a couple of pauses to rest, they finally got Campbell into the shelter and onto his bed.
“Do you think… think he’ll be okay?” Maddox asked finally.
Xander hesitated. I can’t lie to these kids. Not about stuff like this. “I don’t know, Maddox. But… check the medical kit. Maybe there’s a diagnostic and treatment database in there somewhere. If I were sending medical kits to pioneer colonies or putting them on lifeboats, I’d sure want to add in reference material for amateurs.”
“That almost makes too much sense,” Tavana said, trying to sound casual and funny. “but we can hope.”
A few minutes later Maddox gave a shout of triumph. “Yes! There is one! It just wasn’t automatically online, it was actually on a chip, if you can believe that!”
“Can your omni –”
“Already loading it, Xander! Everyone should take a copy, just in case!”
That made sense to Xander. “Just a warning – and I’ll bet there’s a warning like this in the database – we’re amateurs, and the best database, even a smart linking one, won’t make us into real doctors.” The local omni network, linked through LS-88, quickly transferred the data.
Now let’s see if I can make sense out of what’s happening with the Sergeant. He pulled up the data feeds from the Sergeant’s medical nanos and fed them to the active database.
The database responded instantly. Envenomation. Two primary components with additional supporting elements; one neuroactive venom and one necrotic.
Xander didn’t know what “necrotic” meant exactly but it didn’t sound good; a query told him that it was in fact worse than he thought, a venom that triggered extensive cell death in a self-destructive cascade. Based on patient data and current status, treatment and prognosis?
The answer came in a set of weighted probabilities, with the database obviously basing its evaluations on known similar venoms, doses, and nano capability. Provide IV fluids and nutrient solution END-5W for support. If subject remains unconscious longer than six hours, support for excretory functions will be needed.
Ugh. Catheters and stuff. He hoped it wouldn’t come to that. But now that he thought about it, didn’t their spacesuits come with that capability? If so, he could probably get that part taken care of automatically just by putting the Sergeant into his suit.
Internal nanosupport appears (85% confidence level) to have neutralized 65% of the necrotic activity and is progressing swiftly. 82% of the delivered dose of neurotoxin has been neutralized, and other nanos are attempting to undo the binding on specific active sites. Recommended treatment: two additional nanosupport injections, and maintain oxygen support until the patient becomes conscious. Repair of the wound will require significant time due to necrotic damage. Full analysis of other venom components and interactions are uncertain, but generally positive. Overall prognosis is 79% for a full recovery in between one and five weeks, 9% for a full recovery in between five and nine weeks, 10% for significant recovery with minor remaining damage, 1% for loss of limb due to necrosis, and 1% for worse outcomes.
It required a moment to take that in, but then Xander felt a huge surge of relief. He’s going to make it. Oh, there was that one percent unknown, but much more important was the almost ninety percent chance of full recovery in a couple of months or less. “Everyone, the Sergeant is almost certainly going to be all right!”
“Dieu Merci!” Tavana said in his Polynesian-accented French. Francisco just gave a cheer and clapped.
Maddox sighed and sat down shakily. “So what next, bro?”
“Well…” Can’t stop working just because one of us is down. He’s going to be okay, probably. “First I’m going to get an IV going. Maddox, you get two more of the nanosupport injectors and administer them. Tav…” a thought occurred to him. “Tav, get one of the brush machetes out of storage. I want you to go and first cut the head off that thing.”
Tavana raised an eyebrow. “I guess I can, yes. But why?”
“Because we’re stuck here for at least a while, right?”
“Right…” Tavana agreed, face still clearly puzzled.
“Well, I want to find out if we can eat things that live here. And before we try fillet of monster, I want its head off.”
Tavana’s face cleared. “Oui! That I can do!” He headed out of the shelter.
Francisco made a face. “That thing? But it’s poisonous!”
Xander held the injector for the IV over the Sergeant’s arm; after a moment it pinged and latched on. Relieved, he hung the IV bag on a hook above the bed. “No, it’s venomous. There’s a difference. Venom’s a weapon, something the animal injects into you. Poison’s stuff that kills you if you eat it. Of course I’ll bet most venoms are poisonous, but they’re not through the whole body. I remember reading about people eating rattlesnakes, and they’re venomous.”
“Oh,” Francisco said. “So it isn’t dangerous to eat?”
“That’s what we have to find out,” Xander said.
Maddox looked up from finishing his injections. “How? We don’t have chemical analysis stuff.”
“Well, actually, we do. Just not labeled as that.” He tapped the medikit.
Maddox’ eyes narrowed. “But that only works if it’s in a living body for diagnosis.”
Xander shrugged, trying to look more casual than he felt. “Well, yes. But I’ll only eat a tiny bit at first.”
“No!” Xander was surprised to see that both Maddox and Francisco had spoken. Maddox continued, “You’re the Captain now, right? Now that the Sergeant’s out?”
“Yes, I think so.”
Maddox nodded, folding his arms in the way that he usually did when he’d made up his mind on something and was ready to fight about it. “Then you can’t be the guinea pig. We can’t take a risk on you ending up down too!”
He opened his mouth to argue, then suddenly realized that Maddox was right. He was the only other person qualified with firearms. He was the oldest, the best trained, the biggest, probably the toughest. The others would be in a lot of trouble without him.
Maddox read the expression on his face – as Maddox often did. “You know I’m right.”
“Yeah,” Xander said after a moment. “Yeah, Maddox. You are, a lot of the time.”
His brother’s hazel eyes lit up for a moment with the compliment, then looked serious. “Okay. So that means that I will be the test –”
This time it was Xander and Francisco; he glanced at the younger boy, who was looking at both of them fiercely.
“No,” repeated Francisco, holding himself straight and jaw set. “It will be me.”
Xander stared at the smallest of their crew, startled; he could see, out of the corner of his eye, that Maddox’ expression mirrored his own. “Francisco, no, we can’t –”
“Yes you can!” Francisco stamped his foot. “You think I am a baby, but I’m eight years old, and I am a Coronel! I am not a coward and I’m not stupid either!”
“Franky… Francisco, no one thinks you’re a coward or stupid, but you are a kid. Not a baby, but you’re someone we’re supposed to take care of, right?”
Francisco looked down, but then looked back up. His face was scared, but still as determined as it had been. “We… the Sergeant told us the ship is not coming back. Maybe not ever, right?”
He wasn’t going to deny the obvious. “Right.”
“So we all need to do what we can.”
Xander wanted to hesitate, but he couldn’t argue that, either. “Right, Francisco, but –”
“¡Cállate!” shouted the eight-year-old; he was obviously fighting off a crying fit, despite the tears on his face that were bright in the light against his dark skin. “I am not an engineer. I do not shoot or fight. I am not even big and strong like you and T-Tavana. I just draw pictures and things.” He drew himself up to his full one hundred thirty-five centimeters and jabbed his thumb at his chest. “But I eat like everyone else, so I can try food for you, and if it makes me sick, everyone else is not sick and can help me better and help everyone else better!”
Xander found himself unable to speak. He really wanted to. He really wanted to argue against this.
But in cold, hard fact, Francisco Alejandro Coronel was dead right. In their current situation, the eight year old couldn’t contribute too much yet to their survival. But this way he could.
And with the medical nanos, and very small bites, it shouldn’t be a terrible risk. But still…
Finally, after a long pause, he knelt down in front of Francisco, whose teary gaze was still locked defiantly on Xander. He reached out and put his hands on the little boy’s shoulders, like the Sergeant sometimes did. “Francisco… you’re right. You’re one of the bravest people I’ve met, and you are one hundred percent right.”
Francisco’s deep brown eyes widened. “I… I am?”
“You are. We can take care of you better than you can take care of us, and you haven’t had time to learn other things that you can help us with. I know you will… but for now, you’re right that this might just be the best thing you could do. It shouldn’t be too dangerous… but it will be, at least some.”
Francisco swallowed so hard Xander could hear it. “I… I’ll do it anyway.”
“Your parents will kill me for this if they ever find out,” Xander said after a moment. “But… they’ll also be incredibly proud of you.”
Francisco did burst out crying then, but there was a tremulous smile on his face.