Chapter Seventeen

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The fluorescent lights flickered as we walked down the hall. Our floor was eerily silent, but every now and then a scream would echo down from levels above and below us.

We followed behind Joel as he led us up the stairs, but he paused when we approached four bodies on the first landing, with several zombies tearing into them.

The dead were all soldiers, and one was still alive as he watched a zombie feast on his intestines. Joel motioned for us to hang back while he moved closer, shooting the creatures in the back of their skulls before getting on one knee beside his fallen comrades.

“What happened?” he asked the dying soldier.
Blood spilled out of his mouth as he tried to reply. “There were too many of ‘em.”
“You’re gonna be okay.”
“No, I’m not,” sputtered the soldier. “Go. A grenade went off downstairs, water’s comin’ in.”

Joel rubbed a hand over his face. “I’m so sorry.” He stood and aimed his gun at his friend’s head, his hands trembling. He took in a deep breath and pulled the trigger. After a moment to compose himself, he turned to us and waved us forward.

“Here,” he said as he picked up his friend’s gun, checked it was loaded, and handed it to me.
“I don’t know how to use this thing,” I said, surprised at the weight of it.
“It’s simple,” he said as he picked up the guns of the other soldiers and gave one to Wyatt, Ben and Jo. “Point and shoot at anything that ain’t me.”

The sound of footsteps coming down the stairs alerted us all. We spun around, holding our guns towards the intruder, waiting for it to come into view. A soldier came running towards us, freezing and holding her hands up when she saw us.

“Wait, it’s okay,” Joel said as he swatted our guns down. He turned to the soldier. “Paige, you clean?”
“As a whistle,” she said, eyeing our little group. “You?”
Joel nodded. “The ship’s going down. Let’s go.”

We started to move, but then I remembered that all of Priya’s research was on board. After everything I’d been through to get it to the ship, I couldn’t let it sink to the bottom of the ocean. “Wait,” I said. “I have to go back.”

Joel turned to me, an eyebrow raised. “Excuse me?”
“There’s important research on this ship. It’s vital information, a treatment for the virus. I have to get it or it will be lost forever.”
“She’s talking about the secured floor,” Paige said to Joel. They glanced at each other, and then at me. “Okay,” she said. “Joel, you go with her. I’ll get these people off the carrier.”
“I’m going with Eva,” Wyatt said, staring at Joel with determination.
“So am I,” said Jo.
“Me too,” added Ben.

“Fine,” Joel sighed. “Paige, make sure there’s a boat waiting for us when we’re ready to leave.” Paige nodded before leading Ash and the other patients to the exit.
“This way,” Joel said as he started walking back down the stairs. “Stay behind me.”

We walked down four flights before we reached the secured level, and the moment we arrived, it was clear the explosion had occurred there.

The lights were blown out, and the two sets of security doors leading into the research wing had shattered to pieces, leaving a carpet of glass over the floor. It crunched under our feet as we stepped through the threshold. Ben scooped Jo up in his arms and carried her over the glass, protecting her bare feet from the shards before placing her down where it was safe.

Joel pulled a flashlight from his vest and switched it on, holding it under his gun so we could see where we were going in the otherwise pitch dark ward. Smoke spilled out of one of the rooms at the end of the hall, sifting through the air like a menacing ghost.

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