Castaway Odyssey – Chapter 18

Chapter 18.

It wasn’t a conscious decision, but a reflexive action, almost as instinctive as the not-quite-dead-enough creature’s strike. Campbell had seen Tavana move forward, his leg lift, and he knew exactly what Tavana was going to do – and having seen this scenario on half a dozen worlds, knew how it might go wrong.

But that was the conscious thought, and it lagged far behind the reaction, which was to shout a warning and lunge, as fast as he could, to shove Tavana out of harm’s way.

For an instant – just an instant – he thought he could relax, because he saw Tavana falling far to the side, clear, definitely clear of the thing’s striking range.

And then a red-hot nail drove deep into his upper calf.

Campbell heard himself use language he’d promised he wouldn’t around the kids. Damnation! Saved him, got bit myself. Great, Campbell, just great.

A quick glance – and the increasing pressure with the pain – showed him the reflexive bite also included a clamping reflex. On the positive side, that gave him a chance to reach down and grab the thing just behind the head. Glove will probably keep any spines or such from penetrating… but maybe not. What the hell are its teeth made of? There’s carbonan weave in these pants!

“Oh my God. Sergeant!”

“Calm down, Tav. Panic won’t do us any good.” He gripped the creature’s head tightly, started levering against the one fang that had penetrated. “Gotta get this thing out. Call Xander, let him know what’s happening.”

An alert went red in his retinal’s field of vision – reality overlay from his omni and medical nanos. Oh, sweet mother of… poisoned. Damn thing was venomous. He gritted his teeth. This ain’t gonna be no picnic, but I don’t have much of a choice. He pulled hard.

The pain was shocking, even for him; as the fang tore free and he hurled the body away, he could see tatters of his own flesh caught in serrated barbs. Extended out when it hit? Damn. That’s gonna be a bad one.

He’d managed to keep from screaming, but there’d been a definite pained grunt, and Tavana was staring at the blood now flowing freely from the wound, looking noticeably paler – which was pretty bad when one considered his Polynesian deep-brown complexion. “Tavana! Stick with me, son! Don’t lose it now.”

Merde, Sergeant… it’s my fault, I was –”

“Stop with the blame, talk about that later. Right now I need you to focus. That thing’s bite was venomous.” His head was starting to feel like it was floating, and at the same time he noted an ominous tightening of his chest. Damn medical nanos, what the hell are they doing? Get on the job!

Tavana shook himself, still looking sick. “What… what can I do?”

“Call Xander, like I said. But while you do that, run, don’t walk, to the lander and get me one of those medical nano injectors, fast.”

“Fast.” He blinked, then seemed to finally snap back to the present. “Right! Fast!” Tavana sprinted towards LS-88, shouting “Xander! Xander! The Sergeant’s hurt!”

That’ll get their attention, all right. His mouth felt dry. That could be his imagination, but the data his military nanos were conveying was not comforting. Neurotoxin. Powerful one, too, mixed with a necrotic. Fantastic. The nanos were, of course, trying to counter it, but countering an unknown venom without medical backup wasn’t easy even for those top-of-the-line micromachines. He could hear his breathing becoming labored.

Pounding footsteps approached, and Tavana was there, looking oddly distant even when he knelt beside Campbell. “I have the injector, Sergeant. Do I use it?”

The words were hard to assemble into meaning. Campbell had heard the words, but he had to focus hard to force them into a coherent thought. Not good. Not good at all. Must be able… able to leak across the blood-brain barrier. “Yes,” he said, slowly, hearing his voice tense and awkward. “Inject… above wound site.”

The pinprick and warm tingling told him the injector was working. Instantly telltales on his retinals showed the medical nanos communicating with his resident nanorepair systems. Better… get working fast. “Xander?” he managed to say.

“Here!” Xander’s face swam into view, blurred and indistinct.

Here? Didn’t … notice him arrive. Can’t focus eyes. Not good. “Another… injector. Need…” What the hell was the word? Stuff you breathe… hard to breathe. Hard to concentrate. “… need oxygen.”

“I have it right here,” Tavana said.

A distant part of him realized that meant that even half-panicked, Tavana had thought ahead and brought just the right equipment. Good kid.

He could barely feel it as Tavana clumsily put the mask on and started the oxygen concentrator running. Descendant of old OBOGS units, his brain said, completely out of the blue. It was true – the same concept of a selective sorbent that trapped the inert nitrogen of the air and let oxygen through was at the heart of the device – but that little tidbit wasn’t very useful or even relevant right now. Dammit, brain! Think… useful things!

The fog lifted a tiny bit as the concentrator hit its stride. Major trouble breathing. Muscles close to paralyzed. Nanos overriding where they can, forcing action. Trying to clean out the poison.

What are the kids going to do if I die?

The gray fog was still there, and he could barely make out the others at all. “X… Xander,” he managed.

“Yes, Sergeant?” The older boy’s voice sounded as though it came from half a mile away, and was shaking.

Concentrate. Got… to… finish. “Open… omni interface…”

A moment later he heard a distant ping and could make out, with great effort, the fact that Xander Bird’s omni was open.

Now… just one more… job…

The fog and detachment were deepening. But Chief Master Sergeant Samuel Morgan Campbell had never left anything undone, and he wasn’t going to let that happen now. With a supreme effort, he managed to gather his scattered thoughts, activate the right protocols to dump the data that had to be sent.

The fog darkened, and Campbell slid down into blackness.