“Hop up here, Corporal, and let’s have a look at that leg,” said Kenzi, patting the examining table as Brackett helped Hodges through the front door of the mobile sick bay.
Hunnicutt removed Hodges’ boot and rolled up his pant leg. “Hodges, ol’ buddy, you’re gonna have to stop playin’ with the wildlife around here.”
Kenzi examined the wound then washed it with an antiseptic solution. “Was that the object of your affections?” she said and pointed toward the window where they could see Charlie put the snake over his shoulder and drag it from the bed of the battle car.
“Yeah, if it wasn’t for Charlie I would have been breakfast,” said Hodges.
Kenzi bandaged Hodges’ calf and patted him on the thigh. “Your gonna have to take it easy for a few days until the stitches fall out, but then you should be as good as new.”
“You’re gonna have to talk to Sarge about the take it easy part,” said Hodges, jerking his thumb back at Brackett.
“I’ll have him take over Cortez’s nanny duties until he feels better,” said Brackett.
Hodges put on his boot and hopped off the examining table. “Thanks, Doc,” he said and waved at Kenzie as he limped out the door.
Gordon Miles hailed Mike Brackett when he stepped from the mobile sick bay. The Freelancer leader took leave of Corporal Hodges and waited for the expedition leader.
“Where do we stand, Sergeant? asked Miles.
“Pretty simple. We have one road to follow once we cross the river. We’ll cross in the morning.”
“In the morning?”
“Mister Miles, I almost lost a man today. But, somehow we managed to escape with just a few stitches. Yes sir, we’ll cross in the morning.”
Brackett turned and followed Hodges.
The morning was just starting to clear out the darkness when Hodges sat down next to Brackett at the fire and poured himself a cup of coffee.
“How’s the leg?” asked Brackett.
“It’s a little sore, but I’ve felt worse,” said Hodges, flexing his ankle.
“Cortez is riding the battle car today. Doctor said she wanted you to take it easy ‘til the stitches came out,” said Brackett.
“Come on, Sarge, as much as I like Maia and all, I ain’t no nanny.” Hodges looked over at Maia sitting across the fire from them next to Cortez. “Honest, kid, it ain’t nothing against you.”
Brackett looked at Cortez who shrugged her shoulders at him. “Kenzi will skin me alive if somethin’ happens to you, Hodges.”
“It ain’t like I’m gonna be walkin’, Sarge. I’ll be ridin’ with you. And if somethin’ happens, I’ll take the heat,” said Hodges.
Brackett jerked his head in the direction of the team’s transport vehicle. “You and Cortez are swappin’.”
Hodges looked back at Maia. “Looks like it’s me and you kid.”
Mike Brackett started the battle car’s fan engines as Renita Cortez climbed up into the back of the battle wagon and hooked herself into the harness behind the pulse cannon.
“Ready when you are, Sarge,” said Cortez and tapped Brackett on the shoulder.
Brackett alerted the rest of the vehicles and then throttled the battle car forward, down the bank and across the river. He stopped at the treeline and stood up on the battle car’s seat to make sure all the vehicles navigated the river safely. Billy Gilroy waved his arm over his head when he powered his trail vehicle safely on the bank. Brackett acknowledged Billy’s wave and returned to his seat. He looked over at Charlie.
“Let’s do this,” he said and throttled the battle car onto the road and through the vined tree line.