The helicopter flies above the ocean, waves gently bouncing up and down below. The cruise ship sits on the horizon along with the sun. “What do we know about the mission?” I ask the commanding officer flying the chopper. There’s four of us in the squad, thee mercenary types and me, a bioengineering student. I was told a few days ago that I’d be sent with this small group to investigate this ship that’s been seemingly abandoned.
The CO takes a moment before answering my question, “All you have to do here is make sure the medicine in the infirmary is clean.” I look down at the bag at my feet, packed with, what I’m assuming to be field kits for testing. It’s generally used for identifying opioids or organic material used to make explosives. My guess is this is for the former, a drug smuggling operation shut down early.
My eyes trace the ship as it slowly gets larger, the drone of the engine starting to make my stomach upset. “First time in the air?” I nod my head, trying not to open my mouth. The man next to me hands me a box from his pocket. “Take some Dramamine, it’ll help.” I know it will. I grab the box and check the packaging, finally grabbing a chewable. I give the man the box back along with a thumbs up. I close my eyes until we get to the ship.
I finally hear the engine turn off, “How long have you been in the force?” I’m asked by the man that gave me the Dramamine.
“Only 2 years, I just started school a few months back after getting sent to Hawaii. I would normally take something before I get on a plane or even a boat.” The others look at me as we start to disembark.
“Why would you choose the Air Force if you have motion sickness?” The CO inquires.
“Better everything, what’s a little motion sickness, I was stationed in Hawaii for over a year. I don’t even think Navy can say that,” I scored well enough on the ASVAB that I was able to decide where I wanted to get stationed.
“Can’t argue with that. Now, we have less than an hour before the sun goes down completely.” His face turns serious as we gather next to the chopper. “The Navy is going to be here after dark, I want to be in and out before they get here. Understand?” The three of us nod. “You two know what you have to do,” they nod and start off toward the captains quarters. As they walk away I see large pistols on their belts, I turn to the CO and point, mouth open about to say something, “I’m going with you to the infirmary, after we get done there you will head back up and wait at the chopper.” I nod my head and pick up the bag, “No, that’s only going to weigh you down. You don’t have to separate the stuff, just group test it when you get back.” He hands me a large ziplock bag, “This should be enough.” I nod my head and he smacks me in the back as he walks toward the entrance to the main hall. He has the same gun on his belt as the other two.
The cruise ship is large, out here on the Pacific it probably came from Mexico and got stopped by the coast guard as it came close to America, then was emptied of its patrons and left to float at sea for a week or two. That’s only my guess, as I received no intel on the ship or what's happened here. The top deck has been cleared of everything, when we walk through the doors to the main hall we’re met with a strong smell, it makes me wince and almost lose my stomach again. The CO hands me a respirator and I put it on, which helps immensely. We walk toward the stairwell that will lead to the bottom floors. The sunlight shines through toward the door but as soon as I get close to the door I’m held back by the CO, “Go wait by the entrance,” a look of confusion crosses my face, “Now.” I immediately do as I’m told, as I’m walking back I hear the door creak, and it slam instantly. The CO walks up next to me, “We’re going to have to find another way down.” I turn my head and look at the door.
The sunlight becomes redder as we search for our way down, we eventually come upon a zip-line that leads to the bottom deck, a look of relief shoots onto the CO’s face. He jumps up and starts pulling himself down the line, I jump and follow suit, not as quick as zipping but there’s nothing close by to do so. We jump down at the bottom, not much left of the sunlight. The CO grabs my shirt and hurries me toward the door. “We have to hurry.” Light flows down the hall, we walk down, passing doors that are thrown wide open. I try to look into one but am pulled away as soon as I get off track.
The CO’s face drips sweat, the respirator hums as he breaths heavy. The infirmary is marked with large red lettering, and the entrance is blocked by a large door that’s locked from the inside. “Of course it’s going to be in lock down.” He searches the wall and shakes his head, “You go wait outside, there should be a window that leads to the infirmary. I’ll try to find an axe or something to bust it and meet you outside.” I give him a thumbs up and make my way toward the exit. “And don’t stop to sightsee!” I wave him off and run at the door.
I take my mask off this time when I reach the outside, I breathe in deep. The smell is reminiscent of the air in Hawaii, humid and salty. There’s no birds flying in the area, the only sounds I hear are my own breathing and the waves. I close my eyes for a moment, but open then immediately when I realize what I’m hearing isn’t the waves. I can’t make out what it is, but I don’t linger on the thought too long. I make my way around the side of the ship where the infirmary is located, on the wall I see a red box and glass shattered in front of it. As I walk passed I see dry blood on the shards at the bottom. It’s dark, almost black. This ship has been out here for at least a week. The axe is nowhere to be found unsurprisingly, I look into the windows to see if I can see the infirmary. The window to the infirmary is larger than the ones for the average rooms, not by much though. Those rooms were all spotless, not even a suitcase on the ground, a few of the rooms had the blinds drawn though I don’t think they’d be any different.
I peek into the window, a large waiting area and the locked doors on the other side. This room is different, the chairs that would normally line the wall are broken and thrown against the door. The room is somewhat dark, so it’s hard to see very much, if we had been able to come sooner in the day we’d have no issues here. I push on the window, this one swings open easily, I look around for my CO and don’t see him anywhere so I go in to grab what I need to grab, putting the respiratory on once more.
I lift my leg up over the small ledge, fabric strewn across the floor from the chairs. There’s two door on the right and a nurses station at the front, a small door on the left in the middle of the room with a bathroom sign. The two doors on the right are ever so slightly open, I don’t give them any attention, what I’m after isn’t in those rooms. I quickly make my way to the nurses station, lines of questions running through my head, the most prevalent is the one wondering what happened in this waiting area. In the nurses station there’s a large cabinet obviously used to store the medications, I search the counter for a key, there’s none to be found. On the counter though is stacks of papers, I glance at them and notice they’re patient reports, hundreds of them, each one a different patient. “Fever, nausea, paling skin color… Fever, nausea….” Each piece of paper I grab says those same three symptoms, a nasty flu must have swept over the ship. That’s exactly what the staff concluded here too, bottles of Tylenol and nyquill fill the trash bin under the desk. I walk back out to the waiting room and try to open the door, it won’t budge. I grab a pice of metal off the ground that was once part of a chair and walk over to the cabinet. I pound the metal against the lock and it plops to the floor, I open the cabinet. Inside is a mess, empty bottles adjourn every shelf. I pull out the ziplock bag and start putting everything left in. I close the cabinet, it creaks slightly, and I turn to leave the nurses station. My eyes are drawn to a black reflection next to one of the computers, I grab the cell phone. At first I think the battery is dead but as I hold down the power button it starts to flash to life. I consider sitting in the chair, but the urge to relieve myself beat it. I get to the window, and realize it’s not going to be that easy as my stomach lurches for a moment. The last rays of sunlight etch the sky and I turn to open the bathroom door.
The small room is empty, for the briefest moment I could have sworn I heard feet shuffle then realized they were my own. The light from outside shines into the room just enough to illuminate most of it, I grab one of the chairs and prop it against the door and make sure it won’t move. Satisfied I head to the lone toilet in the room and try to figure out the passcode on the cell phone. I breathe deep, praying for good luck, I press the number 1 four times… nothing, then 1,2,3,4… nothing, but when I did four 0’s the phone opened up for me. I release the breath and start going through the phone. Old texts talking about some crazy flu outbreak, pictures of a young nursing crew, nothing out of the ordinary. I quickly finish and go to wash my hands, the water is cold.
Behind me the door slowly closes on itself, and I reach out to try to grab the door, too late. The second it shuts the dark shoots through my heart, I reach for the phone, my mind is trying to remind myself the room is empty and to stay calm. My ears tell me a different story, I grab the phone and hold it where the door should be and press the power button. I reach for the handle and pull, at the same moment a hand grabs my jacket from behind and pulls me away from the safety of the sunlight. My head hits the ground, and I can hear a scratching sound.
The door shoots open and the CO is pointing is gun and firing, two men behind him grab me and pull me out. I never saw what had grabbed me or how I couldn’t see it when I was on the toilet.
Next thing I know I’m back in the air, bandage wrapped around my head.