She rummaged in the pack for the medkit and brought it and the water, along with a T shirt she’d grabbed. Tearing it into strips, she got ready to clean the wounds, which had stopped bleeding but were becoming puffy around the edges and a scary reddish black. Swallowing hard against the nausea rising in her gut, she said, “I’ll try to be gentle but this is going to hurt.”
He laughed. “Can’t be worse than the bite and the burn.”
She poured water over the wounds and then daubed at them with a piece of the T shirt soaked in antiseptic from the medkit. “Is there antivenom in this kit?”
Johnny shook his head. “Only a generic. Keep the dose for you, just in case. I’ve had the injects for this planet and a buncha others. I’ll be ok.”
“You’re not acting okay. Let me give you the inject anyway.” She dug in the medkit, searching for anything labelled antivenom.
He pushed her hand away. “No. It’ll take time but I’ll sweat the poison out. Gotta extract the stingers though.”
“What?” Sinking back on her heels, she made herself scrutinize the puncture highest on his leg, right below the kneecap. A red needlelike spike in the center drew her attention. “What do I get this out with?”
“I’ll do it.” He tried to sit. His hands were shaking.
“Yeah, tough guy, I think this is my job.” Clearly he wasn’t going to be able to do anything as delicate as pulling out the stingers.
He fumbled at his belt. “Knife.”
She reached past him to pull the knife from its sheath. “What do I do?”
“Get the tip under the stinger, flip it out. Don’t touch it, still has venom.” He shut his eyes and put one shaking hand over them. “Can’t see straight right now.”
Sara did her best not to hurt him but she cringed at the way her clumsy efforts with the knife had to be causing him pain. He didn’t make a sound and finally she had the first stinger out. She looked at it on the knife tip for a moment, seeing how it had tiny prongs to help it stay in the wound once the creature had attacked its prey. Shuddering, she rose and stepped to the cave entrance, flinging the stinger into the brush. Going to kneel beside Johnny, she said, “I’ve got the hang of this now. Hopefully I can do the other one more easily.”
“Doing fine,” he whispered, so softly she could hardly hear him. “Burn salve next. Red tube.” He undid the fastenings of his combat boots and toed them off with a lot of false starts.
“I saw it in the kit, don’t worry.” Knowing what she was dealing with, she made quick work of extracting the second stinger, with less incidental damage to Johnny’s leg. Then she washed the wounds again, applied antiseptic, the burn salve and a bandage from the medkit. He was barely conscious. Sara staggered outside the cave and threw up, falling to her knees for a moment in sheer terror. Then because she feared he’d try to come find her, possibly hurting himself in the process, she made herself stand and walk into the cave with more confidence than she actually possessed.
She got the bedroll out of his pack, pushing the tab to make it expand and tried to arrange it smoothly, close to where he lolled drunkenly against the cave wall because she didn’t think she could move him very far, but at least not lying close to the cave’s entrance. “All right, my friend, time to lie down.” She got her shoulder under his arm and tugged to get him to rise. She was exhausted by the time he’d limped to the sleeping mat and lowered himself to the ground with her help.
“Drink some water,” she said, holding the canteen to his lips. “You’re going to get dehydrated.”
“Lemme rest a minute and then I’ll go patrol.” His voice was slurred and faint. A tremor rocked his frame.
Sara patted his shoulder. “Don’t worry about patrolling right now. Rest sounds like a good idea.” Gently she covered him with the thin blanket and then retreated to a nearby boulder to sit. Dropping her head into her hands for a moment, she gave in to the tears that had been threatening for the last hour while she tended to Johnny. Sara rocked back and forth, struggling to breathe past the tightness in her chest and lightheadedness. Never in a million years would it have occurred to her something would happen to Johnny. He’d seemed so tough and indestructible.