Castaway Planet – Chapter 13

Chapter 13

Laura restrained the urge to leap forward. Panic would not help her.

Even as she scanned the data from Sakura’s internal medical nanos, she categorized the symptoms of the shaky girl. Skin reddening… pupils dilating… heart rate increasing. Sakura was also looking dizzy, disoriented.

The data from the nanos confirmed her guess. “It’s a hyoscyamine derivative, something like atropine. And a few other chemicals, too.” Thankfully, she knew how to counteract that kind of thing. It was in the basic medikit data.

She first directed the medical nanos to counteract some of the symptoms — bring the heart rate under control. “It’s okay, honey, I can handle this. Are you with me?”

“Funny… hard to think. Hurts.” Sakura was clearly working hard to focus on her mentally as well as visually.

Heavy dose. But the nanos can slow the reaction, and the kit’s able to do a physostigmine variant. Timed and controlled release to the proper sites, then the nanos can finish adapting to the toxin and start cleaning it out.

Laura made the injection, feeling her own heart starting to slow down finally as she took action. The bright red color faded and slowly, slowly Sakura’s pupils began to contract. “Feeling better?”

“Yes, mom,” Sakura answered, and shakily sat up, then leaned back into Whips’ supporting arms. “It still hurts bad, though.”

The stung area was a twining pattern of reddened welts with dark and light banding. “Looks very much like a jellyfish sting.” Laura looked up. “A land anemone-like thing, then.” She studied the details from the internal nanos in that area. “Yes, there’s cnidoblasts or something like it. Mostly inactive now. The pain’s mostly from an associated toxin, probably meant as a warning to accompany the main poison. Even if the sting doesn’t kill you, you’ll remember it. I’ve got the nanos doing some anesthetic damping. Better?”

“Lots.” She watched her little girl — not so little any more, but she’ll always be little to me anyway — close her eyes and relax.

“That scared the light right out of me,” Whips said quietly. Laura could see that even now Whips’ colors were subdued.

“An important lesson for us, though. We had started to relax after getting through all that underbrush without trouble. Now we know that even things that look like red flowers could be dangerous.”

Sakura smiled weakly. “Don’t think I want to be a demonstration again.”

Laura reached out and hugged Sakura tightly, letting the tears flow finally. “Neither do I. Thank God you’re all right.”

After a few moments she let go and wiped her eyes. “How do you feel? Can you stand up?”

Sakura was a little wobbly, but in a few more minutes she seemed steadier on her feet. “I’m getting better.”

“End of an expedition?” Whips asked.

“Yes. We don’t want to push things any farther, and I want Sakura back to camp and lying down until tomorrow. We don’t know for sure if there are any other effects of those toxins, and without a full medical system I can’t simulate it well enough. I’m also not getting any contact with the base camp, so we need to get closer before we can even update them.”

Laura took the lead, with Sakura in the middle being partly supported and watched over by Whips. It took longer to get out of the forest, but by the time they reached the open area in front of the forest Sakura was moving almost as well as she normally did, though she was still holding her arm well away from anything that could touch it.

Suddenly her omni pinged. “Laura? Are you there?”

“We’re on our way back, sweetheart. Something stung Sakura –”

Stung her? Is she all right? I’m coming –”

“Akira, don’t panic,” she said in her most confident tones. “She’s walking fine right now. It was dangerous for a few minutes, and we’ve learned a lot, but I think everything’s okay. You stay right where you are. We came out of the woods a little farther west than we went in, but it shouldn’t take more than, oh, forty minutes to get back to you.”

“All right. Sorry,” he answered, his voice a tiny bit sheepish.

“It’s all right, I’d react the same way.”

“So,” he said in a more normal voice, as they continued moving back toward the camp, “you said stung. How?”

She described the events, from the time they’d left the fallen column to the time Sakura had recovered from her sting. “So I think we’re looking at something like a land-dwelling anemone.”

“Or hydroid, which is probably also what those plant-like things that Whips noticed are like. Yes. Very interesting. I’ll have to get some samples of all these things later. I’m also very interested in your samples of potential food — and that ground — dwelling attacker. Did you keep its head?”

“No, honey, sorry. I didn’t want to burden us and thought we’d go farther and get more samples.”

“Don’t worry about it. Unless it was one of a kind, which I very highly doubt, I’m sure we’ll run into more. Hopefully without being bitten.”

“That does worry me, though,” Caroline put in. “We don’t have multiple outfits, and none of us have good hiking boots.”

“We’ll have to start thinking about how to address that,” agreed Laura. “but for now let’s take one problem at a time.” They came to the edge of the crash scar, and Sakura gave a delighted laugh. Laura smiled as well. “It seems that you’ve helped solve one of the problems, anyway.”

Tucked slightly under an overhang from the crash, the inflatable temporary shelter looked large and solid, a rounded almost igloo-like shape with a tall entrance hall and two rounded lobes extending out to each side. Transparent windows were visible, allowing natural light in when desired, and the faint, dark sheen on the outer side of the shelter showed that it was coated with active high-efficiency rugged photovoltaics.

She could see Melody, sitting on a flat-topped stone a short distance from the shelter, and her husband was visible now, just coming around the other side, but… “Where are Caroline and Hitomi?”

“We’re on our way back. We went up the scar some distance and we’ve been picking up metal and composite junk that might be usable.”

“I found bowls!” Hitomi announced proudly.

“Bowls?” echoed Whips. “What do you mean?”

“She found empty shells or carapaces that are close enough in size that we can actually carry them pretty easily, and look like they could work as bowls or small pots,” Caroline answered. “They’re quite tough, too, so I think we can use them freely, if there isn’t something poisonous in the material.”

“Can we determine that?” Akira asked cautiously.

“Definitely,” Laura said, picking her way down the slope. “My medkit will certainly be able to do that much. Melody, why are you sitting down reading when everyone else is working?”

Melody flushed slightly. “I helped put up the shelter.”

“I know, honey, but you can’t just stop because you finish one task. Why don’t you go inside and see if you can figure out the best setup for our living and sleeping space? You like solving space puzzles.”

Somewhat to her credit, Melody managed to restrain a roll of her eyes, and stood up. “Yes, mom.”

Laura shook her head as Melody disappeared inside the shelter. “Where does she get that from? Neither of us were like that.”

Akira laughed and came over to hug Sakura. “My love, you didn’t know me when I was young. Melody reminds me rather forcefully of me, which is why I try not to encourage her.” He looked down at Sakura. “Now you go lie down and rest.”

“But I’m –”

“Don’t argue with your father. Or your doctor, who happens to be your mother,” Laura said with a smile. “I wouldn’t have had you walk at all if we’d had any choice on the matter. After what you’ve gone through, you should get a lot of rest. Melody,” she said to her omni, and saw the twelve-year-old acknowledge the signal, “pull out Sakura’s bed now.”

“You okay, Saki?” Melody’s laziness was no longer evident when asking about her sister.

“I think so, but mom and dad don’t want to take chances.”

Laura noted that Sakura’s gait wasn’t nearly as bouncy as its usual habitual rhythm as she went inside. Whips obviously saw it too. “She’s more tired than she lets on,” the big Bemmie said.

“I’d be astounded if she wasn’t.” She pulled out the sample bags. “Let’s check out what we found.”

“While you do that, I’ll go make myself a land-nest,” Whips said. Before she could say anything, Whips continued, “Doctor… Laura, I’m a lot bigger than the rest of you and I’m also a lot tougher. I don’t mind being outside; if it rains, that’s just fine with me. If you don’t have to squeeze me into the shelter, you’ll be a lot more comfortable. If I bury myself in dirt and sand, it’ll be hard for anything to just come bother me, anyway.”

“He’s right,” Akira said. “It makes sense. Plus if he has to go to the sea for any reason, it will be much easier from here in the open than trying to go out through the entranceway. He’s also got better senses than ours in some areas, so he might help protect us that way. I’ve set up Caroline’s omni as a security monitor, but it can’t hurt to have someone outside who can be a second line of defense.”

She couldn’t argue the logic, even though a part of her still felt that it was like marginalizing the young Bemmie to a less-desirable neighborhood. Quashing that irrational feeling, she nodded. “All right, go ahead.”

The two adults bent over their analysis devices and studied readouts. After fifteen minutes, Akira shook his head. “Those are indeed berries, but they’ve got alkaloids or some close analogues which are quite toxic in them. On the other hand, their very existence gives me hope that we will find other fruits which are, in fact, edible.”

Analysis of the meat went somewhat faster, partly because they were both getting used to this much more primitive setup, and Laura found herself grinning foolishly at Akira as they finished. “Completely edible… and nutritious,” he said, and the two of them hugged. “Food, honey. There is food we can eat here!”

“That’s worth celebrating,” agreed Caroline’s voice behind them. The oldest and youngest of her children came around the side of the shelter in the now-setting sunlight. Caroline had a large bundle of assorted junk on her back, strapped together with what appeared to be salvaged cable. Hitomi was doggedly half-carrying, half-dragging a string of moderate-sized objects. “Of course, let’s hope it doesn’t taste terrible.”

“Look, Mommy — bowls!” Hitomi held the string of objects up.

The shells were of a peculiar shape — effectively flat-bottomed, with perhaps a tiny curve, generally cylindrical, and the top flared out in small ripples around the edge. Something about the shape and green color tugged at her memory; then she realized the truth and laughed again.

“What is it, Mom?”

“I think what Hitomi’s picked up are a bunch of shells of the same kind of creature that stung Sakura,” she said.

Akira glanced at them and then looked over the footage that Laura had brought back. “I do believe you’re right.”

“I’m going to go show her!” Hitomi said, but Laura caught at her sleeve.

“Wait a while, honey,” Laura said. In her monitor, she saw Sakura, and her vital signs. A faint snore came from the girl.

“Wait a while,” she repeated and smiled over at Akira. “She’s sleeping like a rock.”