4: The Rest of the Story
Victor Sierra was always efficient, but their efforts to prepare for insertion into the ship this go round seemed mired in molasses. Between them storming from their ready room to their quarters to get into battle ready gear and gather their weapons, communications from the CDC team was lost.
This was more of a threat than some fast-acting virus. Or… rather the threat was a result of a fast-acting virus, just not one the CDC would ever think of in their careers. One they could never be prepared for. Very few people were even aware of the existence of this virus. It had been a carefully cultivated secret since its first outbreak – one Victor Sierra tried every day since to eradicate.
Jacob and company were piled into a Zodiac, its twin 175's challenging the tempest swirling around them with its roar. They clung to the sides of the craft as the pilot sped them across the five miles between the ring of deployed lifeboats and the death ship formally known as the Tarry. The pilot didn't seem keen on sparing their guts either. The wind sheered across the bow, pushing spray into the boat as it whipped the high, close-together swells into white-capped fury. They topped one wave only to send the bow spearing into the next with a bone-jarring punch. How they weren't being pitched over the side right now was anyone's guess.
Boats looked ready to hurl any minute now – as it was he had pushed up the face plate of his helmet – to get air – to keep from soiling his HUD – Jacob couldn't be sure. He and Taryn both were paling under their dark skin. Lee sat across from him like a stone, her gloved fingers white-knuckled on the handles either side of her. She wasn't even countering the motion of the boat, seeming more like a permanent fixture on the gunwale.
Victor Sierra weren't S.E.A.L.S., this wasn't their forte and it was evident in every face of their small team.
Their news before climbing aboard this barely high-sea worthy vessel didn't help the matter. The weather was worsening – the storm inching closer by the hour, which put double the urgency on what they were about to attempt.
He was sure he wasn't the only one on this ride that didn't want to be trapped on a dead ship in the middle of a now CAT 6 hurricane bearing down on the area.
He spared a hand to pull at the high, tight, Kevlar collar in an effort to ease the choking feeling he always felt when in his battle suit. His entire body nettled as the suit continued to sync his adrenal system for combat, slowly enhancing his reflexes and speed without overloading his systems and sending him into seizures. Even in the low storm cloud obscured light, he could pick out details that normally would escape him. His hearing enhanced in such a way that he could pick out the heartbeats of those around him despite the motion, the wind, and the beating waves against the low hull of the boat.
It had been a while since he'd last put this thing on. His last assignment in Qaanaaq had been all about subterfuge, acting normal, sussing out Enrique's next move and stopping him before he killed anyone else. He didn't don this suit until the day they stormed Enrique's hideout – rescued Becky.
A shiver ran over his skin that had nothing to do with the stiff breeze cutting across the boat or the amping-up of his abilities by the suit. He tried to dump thoughts of Qaanaaq, focus on what they might possibly face when they stepped foot on the Tarry.
At least they were better prepared than the poor CDC team. Radio silent, just like the Tarry's crew. Chances were – if they were dealing with what he thought they were dealing with – the team was dead.
"Damn it," he growled into the cutting wind.
Turning his head, Jacob reminded himself that they were being accompanied by a small contingent of experts from the Navy ship with them. Their job, it seemed, was to get to the bridge and get the tub out of Dodge before their friendly neighborhood storm rolled in and wrecked the boat. The US government wouldn't be happy to lose such a pricey investment as an entire Coast Guard cutter to a rogue storm.
That meant VS would have to send an escort with them to the bridge to be sure they made it there intact – post haste – with all due urgency. No one on their team liked that idea. Splitting up wasn't a VS tenant.
Yet, they couldn't wait until the on board threat was neutralized to get the ship steaming for safer waters. If it was what they all feared, it could take them days to track down the source of the problem, neutralize the threat, and ensure that they weren't dragging along a completely different type of pathogenic vector.
This thought completed itself just as they were pulling alongside the ship. Boats scrambled up first. With the lightest weapons load, he was going to be point man, ensuring they stayed safe as they inserted themselves onto the ship.
Even the heaviest weapons load – Lee – only needed moments to climb to the deck and make ready for their search and destroy mission.
"Okay," Taryn whispered when they were all free of the decontamination area. "You know the drill. Lee, Jacob, Marion, Carlson – You're S&D. Start with the dining hall, trace it to the source. I want to know the rest of the story." Jacob and his half of the team nodded. "Boats, Corsica, Kelsey and I will escort the Boatswain and company up to the anchor room and then the bridge. I'd like to get out of the way of one threat while we track down the other." She glanced around the gathered. "Any questions, now's the time."
"No Ma'am," the group whispered.
She nodded, smiling grimly. "Stay in contact – report anything out of the ordinary and ensure your cameras are recording. The signal's being bounced to the frigate, so should this go south, people will at least know what the hell happened."
Why that hadn't been the case already troubled Jacob for a few moments, but it was gone before he could dwell on it – investigation of the thought scattered as the group started separating.
"We ready for this?" Carlson sighed.
"As ready as we'll ever be," Lee piped in, once again sounding a bit too bloodthirsty for his liking. They were going to have enough to worry about without one of their own desiring bloodshed – he wanted no one to go commando on them.
"The galley is up ten frames on centerline," Marion said waving up the passageway and then peeking down at her holographic schematic.
"Let's do it then," Jacob deadpanned.
They moved swiftly, allowing their aug-suits full control of their speed. They made it to their destination in less than a minute, slipping into the darkened hall and, guns at the ready, swept the interior.
"Marion, find the light switch," Jacob whispered into his mic.
"On it," she answered. Only a few seconds later, she said. "Watch your eyes, everyone, lights coming up."
Jacob subvocalized for his visor to reset to visual just in time for the halogens overhead to flare to life. Still he blinked back tears as the brilliance filled the space. As his eyes finally cooperated, he was already closing the distance on the three dead bodies at one of the tables.
Shivering again, he remembered why his team hit defcon five at the sight of these remains.
He aimed his helmet's camera at the upper torso, casting the deathly pallor in too harsh a light and showing the ghastly wound on one body's throat. The fronts of his outfit – their outfits – and much of the tabletop were stained with blood. Still some of it dripped onto the floor despite the skinning over the top layer had already done.
Despite all indications, that the body before him was in fact dead, he still leaned in and checked for a pulse.
Definitely dead. Not a future potential threat, then. That was a bit of a relief.
He quickly checked for signs of life from the other two decorating the table top before coming back around to the first body again. Leaning closer, he investigated the wounds, trying to determine what caused the injury. That the throat was torn out was obvious, but he was looking for specifically how it was torn out. It would tell him a lot about the nature of the threat.
"Definitely vampire," he muttered, knowing the mic would pick it up and relay it to his group, his team, and home base back on their ship.
"You sure?" Carlson uttered.
Jacob nodded without saying anything, only to remind himself that the others weren't looking at him and non-verbals weren't going to do anyone any good at home base. "Yeah, pretty sure." Turning the cadaver's back and forth, he noted the directionality of the wounding. "This looks to be claws. The strike was from right to left. Our vector seems to be right-handed."
"Could be ambidextrous, y'know," Carlson cautioned needlessly.
"Does it really matter?" Lee grunted. "We've got to kill it anyway."
"Only in superficial ways," Carlson added.
Jacob side-stepped, looking over each body in turn. "None of these were bitten – this third one is missing a limb," he added disjointedly, realizing a moment too late that it had no bearing on what he was trying to discern.
Or maybe it did.
He straightened and pursed his lips.
"Found it," Marion growled, lifting the detached arm in one hand and waving at him with it. "Looks to have been torn off in one stroke. No bruising or other trauma to indicate it took more than that."
Jacob's brow rose high on his forehead, she was over ten feet away. The distance from the body, and the power it took to pull a limb free backed up his first assessment. Automatically, his eyes followed the blood spatter arcing across the linoleum between the two.
"Why would the vector kill potential meals?"
"The violence of the attack?" Jacob's squirrely gut came back. "Suggests our vector wasn't vampire when they came aboard."
"WHAT?" His companions all shouted it together.
Then several of his group revised their response.
"That makes sense," Carlson whispered. "Burning Blood would account for the mess they made here."
Jacob analyzed the area a while longer, something about the scene not sitting right with him. They were missing something. Yet as he analyzed the bloody hand prints and foot prints marring many of the surfaces around them, he was unable to pin down what was causing his unease.
They quietly catalogued all the evidence they could find, making individual recordings and then conferring on what they'd found.
Before they could formulate any kind of theory, Taryn's voice cut through the airwaves. "Guys you need to make your way to the infirmary. We're on the bridge, and have accessed the ship's logs. It describes its last mission as a rescue at sea. Three survivors were picked up from a sinking dinghy following the last CAT 4. It goes on to say that shortly after they brought them aboard they all fell ill, within a day or two of each other. High fevers, body aches, dementia – lack of appetite. Sound familiar?"
A few of them said, "Sure does."
To many, such a description would only sound like a really bad strain of the flu. Combined with the evidence at hand, it told a very different tale about their malady.
"Get down there, now. Expect three, not one – sounds like they were all in one stage of another of their burning blood."
Another shiver moved through Jacob, his unease at the scene before him intensifying yet again. This wasn't ground zero.
He wasn't the only one to pick up on the cue.
"If they were isolated to the infirmary…" Melanie said, she trailed off and her eyes got huge.
Taryn cut her off before she could complete her thought. "No assumptions. Be sure. We don't need to be up against a newly turned brood."
"No, no we don't."
Carlson silently motioned for them to regroup. "Marion, lead the way."
They were just exiting the mess hall when the walls juddered to life around them. There was the distinct feeling of motion under his feet as time moved forward. As the ship oriented itself to its new heading the gathering storm outside could be felt more and more. Caught three quarters to the swells the cutter began to pitch side to side, rolling both forward and aft and side to side. The motion threw him off balance, but his suit allowed him to compensate before it threw him into the nearest bulkhead.
Hopefully they could outrun the storm.
They had to be careful about where they went. They couldn't make landfall and they needed to avoid shipping lanes as much as possible to keep any "rats" from jumping ship for another vessel.
As they delved deeper into the ship, heading down ladder wells and through darker and narrower passages below decks, they slowed down, checking corners, watching overheads.
The last thing they wanted was to be ambushed by one, or possibly more vampires.
Here and there they came across more bodies, older than the ones they found in the galley, already beginning to bloat and stink as decomposition began. They were part of the ship's original crew. Same as the others, the throats were ripped out. The violence visited on them seem to rise exponentially the closer they got to the infirmary. Instead of a single limb, multiple limbs were missing, some visible, while others seem to have been taken or hidden from view. Other bodies showed signs of post mortem mutilations. Their faces or chests slashed multiple times in a row until the area was more hamburger than discernable skin and muscle.
Jacob feared what they would find when they finally got to their destination.
That moment of truth came sooner than expected as Marion uttered, "Second door on the right."
Carlson pulled up short, already parallel with the door. As if an attack was going to launch itself through the heavy metal in front of him, he raised his weapon and widened his stance. He nodded to them, the meaning clear. Open the door so he could clear the room beyond.
Jacob moved forward without hesitation, feeling Lee mirror Carlson's move. He swung the locking arm up until it was perpendicular to the floor. Gripping the handle he looked back at Carlson, nodded and then yanked the heavy metal hatch back.
Their team leader charged into the room, Lee on his heels. Marion and he waited until they called all clear. He heard Lee wretch, and Carlson's loud, "Pee-U! God what a stench!"
Marion slipped into the room and Jacob took up the rear to ensure no one snuck in an attack from behind them.
Despite himself, Jacob lifted a hand as if to plug his nose, realizing it was useless because his faceplate was locked in place. He blinked behind the mirrored surface, glad that no one would see him so deeply affected by the smell of rot.
"This is definitely the place," Carlson stated.
It looked like one of those training videos he'd been shown of suicide bombers, the entire room was painted with blood, body parts, and viscera. Only there was no burn marks from an explosion and no real center to the destruction that had been wrought.
While there were multiple sets of racks in the room only two were currently occupied, or… had been occupied. All that was left of the people who were sleeping there was eviscerated corpses and large blood stains. They were savagely attacked, worse even than the bodies they'd been finding along the way.
Something on the floor near one of the beds drew his attention. He wasn't even sure why it stood out in all the destruction around them. Maybe it was that this bed was less bloodied and soiled than the rest of the beds. Or even the fact that a heavy leather strap lay across the hurricane made of the bedding, torn asunder like a piece of paper. The restraint closest him, well it looked as if it fared better than the left one. The entire cuff of the restraint however was soaked in blood, inside and out.
The cuff dangled over the floor, and it was the item below the cuff that had Jacob's full attention.
Kneeling next to the bed, he leaned over and lifted up a hand from the floor. It was dark skinned, despite the bluing of death. Fingers were long and slim, delicate.
Unlike the maiming of the other two bodies, there was no evidence of tearing as with the other severed limbs. The area just where the wrist should have been looked as if it had been… gnawed on.
He shot to his feet, the dismembered hand still grasped tightly in his grip.
"Carlson?" His voice even shook.
He turned the bloodied stump towards his team leader, whose expression fell. "That's… not good."
"They… chewed their own hand off to escape the bed?" Lee's eyes got huge.
"It certainly looks that way," Jacob sighed, glancing once more around the room. Leave it to him to pull another vampire-gone-loco gig.
"These other two are from the rescued party." Marion interrupted his chasing thoughts. She glanced their direction, looking stricken.
Jacob placed the severed hand onto the mattress and then called up the pertinent details of the person who deemed it worth pulling a coyote ugly on themselves to be free of their bed.
"Hattie Deidou, Haitian native, thirty-five." He peered at his comrades. "One of the rescued."
Carlson turned a slow three-sixty as if seeing the carnage in the room for the first time. "Hazard a guess on what happened?"
"I'd say the three of them contracted vampiresella sometime just before or during the CAT 4. Turnaround time is too vague, there's no idea how long they were out to sea before the Coast Guard picked them up. It could very well have been accidental." Jacob shrugged. "They were early stage in their burning blood when they were brought aboard. Symptoms worsened – and by the restraints, it seems one or more of them got violent as the virus progressed. Hattie, at a guess, was the first to make it through – blooded herself on her fellow rescued."
Marion added, "By the looks of things we've seen so far, she didn't come through her burning blood sane."
"Wait," Lee gulped, "You mean we're stuck on this tub with a rogue?"
"Looks that way."
A/N: Well here we go, the part that actually came from the dream I had. (yeah my brain is super dark). This last section about the chewed off hand was enough to stick with me.
Still mulling where we go from here. Heh... Has anyone survived? Have more been turned? Will more be turned? Even a small vessel like a Coast Guard Frigate has LOTS of places for a person to hide... we'll have to see how this one pans out!