I slowly woke up in a hospital ward--again.
I'd lost count how many times I'd been knocked out for tests. I was just glad that I woke up again. Being in the military I could easily see someone making a decision to cut their losses, have the doc make a mistake with the anaesthetic and burn the evidence.
We were nine guys that survived the operation. They stuck us in the deepest, darkest isolation lab that the Navy had to offer. We were all infectious. Umm, not really infectious. Anything within about a thousand yards of us--died. The docs didn't know why, how or whodunit. We, among several others, had been ordered to crew a small cutter that was to observe what the hell came down from space and smacked an island near Tai pan. They would have ignored it but after a couple of days the island had gone from a lush tropical overgrowth to nothing but dead, dry vegetation. The damned fools. When things start mysteriously dying you DON'T go sticking your goddamned nose into it.
What happened? Hell if I know. I never could remember what happened on that island. All I remember was floating in the lagoon on my back before I got picked up.
I got up and stretched. I didn't feel bad, just normal. I dropped my robe and stood in front of the mirror. When I twisted around they were still there--tiny silvery green scales that covered my spine, shoulders and upper back. Whoa! They'd crawled up my neck and over the back of my skull. My hand automatically reached up to gently rub the new covering. It felt like rubbing a black snake I used to have as a kid. I shook my head. Wild. On me it didn't look like much, but on Jim and Benny it looked cool--they were black, and the silvery scales made 'em look like some sort of comic book characters.
As usual, the docs didn't tell me jack about what they found. I pulled on a pair of sweat pants and sandals, then left the recovery room slash airlock to join the guys in the rec room. "Hey, cookie's back!" I'm Tony, the cook for our bunch of rejects. I grinned and waved as I wandered out to the galley. I checked the day's menu and started pulling stock from the walk-in fridge and freezer. I had to admit, they kept us in good rats. The menu for the night was Cobb salad, blackened salmon with piped mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli with a dill and lemon butter sauce and orange frosted carrot sheet cake. After dinner I ran the dishes through the washer, power-washed the galley, squeegeed everything down and pulled a ham from the freezer to defrost for the next day's ham sandwiches. I didn't mind my job at all. All I had to cook for was six guys instead of cooking for shifts of sixty. Now that got tiresome.
The next morning after PT and cleaning we got the word that we were being moved. They'd taken samples of our blood to work with. They chose Plum Island--some sort of infectious disease lab--to analyze it. Whatever had infected us tore through that island like a wildfire, killing everything above the shoreline, including the staff and the sailors on three delivery ships that were tied up in their harbor. Whatever had killed everything on the island was still active--nobody could go in to get the bodies without risking their asses in level 3 containment suits. We all looked at each other and nodded. It beat the hell out of living in an underground bunker, despite the chance of falling over dead when we hit the island and popped our suit seals.
I made a good meal that night--fresh melon salad, lobster tails and shrimp with sweet warmed butter, steak fries and a cherry cobbler with ice cream for dessert. What the hell, it might be out last meal, right? We were awakened at about two in the morning. We all hit the toilets then donned the isolation suits in the air lock. Somebody popped the release remotely. We walked out of that lab for the first time in over four months. Charley, our radio operator, was left a backpack and an arm-mounted two way satellite terminal. It came to life as soon as we hit the open air. A small shipping container equipped with bench seats was waiting for us just outside the door. We were supposed to board, secure the hatch and strap in for a seventy minute flight to just off the New York coast.
Sam, our medic said, "Guys, you know where we're goin', don'tcha? It's called Anthrax Island!" Arnie always had a smart come-back. "Hell, who cares? Whatever we've got is bound to eat the anthrax and look for dessert!" That put us in a good mood. That and the fact that we were going someplace that saw sunlight.
When we landed and un-assed from our luxurious accommodations, Navy style we stood around for a minute looking at each other. Finally, I said "fuck it. Die now, die later. We all die." and unsealed my helmet. When I pulled it off and took a deep breath my lungs got tight for a second, then everything was fine. I smiled and exhaled. A shrill singing just at the limits of my hearing went away. We were no doubt under observation, but I gestured to Charley. "Tell 'em we've broken containment on one of us with no problems. Who's next?" The rest of the guys started popping their seals too. Soon we were all walking bare-assed naked with our suits over our arms for the big two-story building at the end of the parking lot.
A big sign stood outside the building bragging that it was the Plumb Island Infectious Disease Research Center. As we approached the double doors we heard a powerful relay buzz and the doors opened. Jim, our intelligence dude, carefully looked over the inner and outer doors. "Hard core. I'd be hard put to get through this with C4." Once we were inside We tailed Jim. He was following some sort of floor plan in his mind. He came to a heavy steel door with a keypad next to it. "This is it. This is the security control center. Will they let us in? Are we prisoners or sailors?"
Someone was listening to the two-way near the keypad. The door buzzed and clicked. Jim pushed it open. An eight foot hallway led to another heavy door. It buzzed and opened to a push as well. We entered a room filled with three long lines of desks, each one viewing sixteen screens. Rows of paddle switches were mounted to the desks in black and red. A pair of headphones with a mike sat at each one. Plastered across one wall was a huge pair of flat screens that repeated every screen in the room. There were four guys on the floor, dead. One had a captain's tabs on his shoulders. Charley, our medic, examined the bodies. He said, "Notice, there's no swelling, no gasses from decomposition, no smell. The bodies aren't decomposing. Whatever killed these people sterilized the bodies inside and out."
Jim searched his body to find a heavy ring of keys on a heavy flat brass chain. He unthreaded it from the body's belt then walked over to a large cabinet with a security sticker on it. He unlocked the panel to reveal a row of eight big relays. Rather than touch them, Jim put two keys in nearly hidden locks near the door hinges and gave them a quick quarter-turn to the left. We heard the snapping of several big relays and all the green lamps went out on the desks. "That's it. The place is out of lock-down and all the doors are free."
I asked him, "What's with the breaker handles then?"
He grinned. "Bait for the ignorant. Throw those and enough current would go through every door relay in the installation to melt them in place. You'd never get out of here without a cutting torch and a lot of time. Oh, and the system would call home."
I gave that panel the eye. "Would you lock the cabinet, please? No sense leaving a sabotage charge out in the open like that." He nodded, kind of thoughtful, and locked it back up. That was the last time I remember seeing the inside of that room.
We went exploring. There was a wing of labs with a biohazard warning on the outer set of doors. There was a sheet posted on the wall stating that level three containment protocols were enforced. We gave that whole area a wide berth. The apartments were a welcome sight. There were two hallways, one above the other with sixteen apartments hanging off of them, leading to a big two-story entertainment room with a library, tables & chairs, pool tables, televisions and a closet full of movies. Oh, and the obligatory Foosball table. The mess was nearby, and that led to the galley.
Damn, but those civilians were willing to live with more filth than I was. There was crap built up in the corners, the sides of the fryers were filthy and the walls were covered with a heavy layer of polymerized grease built up over time. The kitchen was big enough to feed a battleship but it needed a good steam cleaning with a hard core cleanser like TSP. I could see that my isolation suit would come in handy as I treated the place to boiling hot bleach. I didn't care if all the bugs were dead. It looked nasty and I wasn't going to put up with it. I had my job cut out for me.
I got burgers and fries made up by dinner time in the corner of the galley that I'd managed to get clean enough for my satisfaction. I still had the fume hoods to clean so it didn't smell clean, but I was getting there. Then we really needed to empty out the walk-ins and steam-bleach them. I'd need help for that.
.... There is more of this story ...