I barely recognized Van Desoto. He was covered in grey dust so thick that he didn’t even look human. Carly and I carefully took hold of his jacket and pulled him slowly into the safe-room. Then Sledge mashed the red button and the door swooshed closed. Desoto lay there in the middle of the floor, moaning.
I took a knee down next to Van on the floor, and tried to make an assessment of his condition. After this much time, he was definitely dehydrated, but there was some wet mud patches along his side. If he had internal injuries, it wouldn’t be a great idea to have him guzzling down water just yet.
Van coughed, dust scattering off of him as he did so. “He’s out there,” he rasped.
“Who? Who’s out there, Van?” Jake asked.
Another long coughing fit, then, “Baxter.”
“He lost his shit.” Sledge muttered in my ear.
I wasn’t convinced of that, but I had to stay with the priorities. With Carly’s help, we removed his jacket as carefully as we could so I could get a look at his ribs. I was right to be worried about those mud patches. Desoto had a compound rib fracture sticking out of his right side with the bone exposed. I put my ear down to the bleeding mess, but I couldn’t hear any hissing or gurgling. No puncture of the lung, which seemed like a freaking miracle, until I realized that rib was too low to hit a lung, and the other end was probably stuck in his liver. It was impossible for me to know how much blood Van had lost.
Jake rummaged through the cupboards and came back with the first aid kit. This wasn’t one of those Bactine and Band-Aide kits. This was a serious kit, like a medic would have on the front lines. Like the ones we trained with in special ops, and I was damned glad to see it.
Desoto needed surgery, there was no way to get around it. But we couldn’t go yanking rib splinters out of his liver here. The internal bleeding would eventually kill him from blood loss and low blood pressure. And there was not one thing these big old meathooks could do about it. But I had an idea.
I dug around in the kit, frantically hoping. And there it was, a field transfusion pack. Not only am I a type “O RH D” but I have something even better swimming around in that universal doner blood—latent maintenance nano-cells with a license to heal.
Carlie got Desoto’s arm cleaned up, and I plugged the needles into him and into me. While I gave Van a refill, Jake and Carlie went about plugging the hole in our patient. That rib was in the way, big time, and it had to go. There was a surgical laser in the kit, and they cut that bone back without moving it, then slapped a skin patch over the hole. If we got out of here alive, that would be a problem for real doctors to solve later. For now, we just had to hope those nano-cells would sort out the internal bleeding.
We left the transfusion on until Van’s blood pressure started to come back to normal, then switched him to an IV to deal with the dehydration. About three hours later he started to come around again.
“Baxter, he’s out there.” He said again.
“What happened?” I asked.
“That asshole tortured me,” Baxter said. “He asked me to confess my sins to his god. I told him to fuck off, and he put his hand over my face and suffocated me. He did that over an over.”
“He’s a twisted fuck.” Sledge punched the door button and it whisked open.
“Sledge, you can’t get through that tunnel. You’re too big for it.” I said.
“The screwed up thing was, he never even waited for me to respond. I would have told him whatever the hell he wanted at that point.” Van coughed, and this time something came up, and he spat blood onto the metal floor. It looked coagulated, and I knew why. His dose of nano-cells were working overtime.
Sledge hadn’t listened to me. He was digging out chunks of rock from the little tunnel Van had crawled in through. Then Jake gave him a hand and they started moving pieces of rock around outside the door like a puzzle, making the hole bigger.
“Hey Baxter! You wanna play some games with me? I’ll confess something for ya,” Sledge bellowed out the doorway. I didn’t bother to try and stop him. I could tell that would be useless.
So, we said the hell with protocol, and we teamed up on the tunnel and started working our way out. It’d been two days, and the company hadn’t been down here to save us yet. I had a sneaking suspicion they’d never even tried or would. I think Baxter’s god was making sure of it.
After a few hours work we were able to track back to a mud patch of blood in an open space of the fallen debris. This was likely where Desoto had gotten trapped in the collapse before he tunneled his way to the safe-room. And beside that patch, drawn in the dust of the cavern floor, was a smiley face.