1974, on an uncharted island somewhere in the Caribbean. The day was not going so well for Col. Farleigh. Assigned to this top-secret research facility by USAMRIID, he had only been on the island for 3 weeks when word reached him of a fairly relaxed attitude toward biosecurity among the 5 scientists on staff in the island's bio-safety lab complex. As an alarm shrilled in the early morning air, he and a contingent of soldiers fanned out across the well-hidden base, searching for the source of the alarm. No intruders were located, and there had been no radar contact with any plane or boat anywhere near the island. This left only the possibility of some catastrophic failure in the bio-containment complex as a potential cause of the alarm. Sure enough, two of the research techs, Paul and Jeff, came racing out of the underground complex after clambering through a hidden hatch. Before they could reach Col. Farleigh, though, Paul collapsed, bleeding from mouth and nose. Jeff staggered toward the soldiers and managed to indicate only that an explosion had occurred in the main pathogen lab before falling unconscious. With dawning dread, the colonel and his soldiers donned their emergency respirators, always carried on their person on this island, and climbed below to investigate the lab accident. Smoke and the flashing lights of the alarm system met them in the corridor below ground; "I have to get the biological agents contained", thought Col. Farleigh desperately. As he entered the main lab he realized that he was too late - the explosion had destroyed an entire cabinet of cryo-preserved pathogen specimens, breaking open many of the stored vials and releasing some of the most potent pathological agents the world has ever known into the air. nanogram quantities of botulinum toxin in the air were quickly inhaled and lethal within minutes. His last thoughts were of the warning that, should anything happen on this island, the government would quarantine the area and disavow all knowledge of this facility; there was to be no rescue.
The sun burned hotly in the early summer sky, barely tempered by a soft breeze blowing in from the ocean as the classmates prepared to set out on their cruise to the Caribbean. Stacks of luggage were neatly piled up on the weathered pier, awaiting stowage into the hold of the chartered yacht Enfermedad. The cruise was to take them southeast from Miami for a while, with possible stops at Cat Island and Mayaguana before heading due south, skirting Haiti and then coasting, relaxing, vacationing. What a grand idea - all the more so since the wealthiest member of the group was picking up the tab. Call it Nostalgia, she claimed, but really, it was a wonderful gesture, and she did credit her classmates for some of her success in the biotech startup company she now headed up. Just then, the boat captain and his two crew members came down the pier, walking leisurely and evidently enjoying the day, or maybe just the prospect of having paying customers, but chatting amiably with anyone they encountered and appearing in a good mood. The captain had sun-tanned, leathery skin, craggy features punctuated by a large hook-shaped nose, but also eyes that seemed to be twinkling and a ready smile framed by a rich white beard. He wore a sailor's cap, blue jeans and a T-shirt - nothing fancy, but neat and clean. He appeared to be the sort of person one could trust - a fatherly figure with a deep baritone voice, the remnants of a New England accent ad a firm yet warm handshake. His two mates likewise were dressed in simple but clean clothes, and, while more quiet than their captain, at least made eye contact with those around them. Businesslike, they got to work immediately loading the piles of luggage onto the boat while the captain introduced himself to the waiting guests. "Mack's the name. This here's Enfermedad - you probably know that - she's a beaut, isn't she?" His introduction was brief, not revealing much about himself, but then he proceeded to explain boarding procedures, bunk assignments, general rules of the sea as far as was necessary to elaborate. He took his time detailing the safety protocols, though - lifeboat, inflatable of course, life vests, distress beacon, flare gun - all important details were meticulously explained. All in all, he gave the impression that there was little time wasted on trivia.
Once everyone was settled in and comfortably relaxing on deck, with various classmates leaning on the railing, lounging in deck chairs or exploring the cabins, mess hall and other below-decks berths, the captain hollered instructions to his crew, who promptly and deftly cast off, securing the docking lines, stowing the bumpers, and preparing the ship for leaving port. Again. communications were crisp, to the point and efficient - not exactly the idle chatter some of the students had expected. Well, that was just as well - there was just too much to see, too much to enjoy on this once-in-a-lifetime adventure. With nary a cloud visible, a light and steady southwest breeze, and temperatures climbing into the mid-80s, it really was beginning to feel like a vacation. Although stormy weather was predicted for later in the day, the Enfermedad's itinerary should be taking them away from the worst of it, and by tomorrow morning everything looked to be smooth and calm again. The rest of the day passed uneventfully, the classmates entertaining each other with stories, music, and games. As clouds rolled in from the south, and the breeze picked up some, sunbathers finally gave up in the afternoon and headed below for a change of clothing. Dinner on board was then a simple affair, sandwiches and drinks - after all, the adventure was in the destination! - but satisfied nearly everyone on board. The evening gave way to night amidst laughter, reminiscing, card games and snacks as classmates bunked down in the four cabins assigned to them. Although space was tight the mere novelty of sleeping on board a ship, as well as the exhaustion settling in after a long day of travel, finally had even the hardiest of them dropping off to sleep.
What exactly happened next, no one could remember. Waking up while being tossed violently from side to side and realizing that water was pouring in through large gashes in the hull, everyone was focused on just one thing - survival. Getting out of the ship that was already breaking into large pieces, the classmates now found themselves fighting wind, waves, the chilling cold of the ocean, and their fears. The crew was nowhere in sight, but two inflatable rafts drifted into view, and one by one the students clambered aboard, pulling those too weak or injured in as quickly as possible. The scene was surreal, eerie and yet miraculous - every student was accounted for. With nothing else in sight but debris from the wreckage, the classmates concentrated on keeping the rafts free of water and tending to their various injuries. How long they drifted like this, no one seemed to remember - hours, certainly, but it was still dark when the even darker silhouette of an uncharted island loomed nearby.
Daybreak gave everyone an opportunity to look around for the first time at what appeared to be an atoll, now with lush vegetation along the beach the lifeboats had landed on. Numerous small mammals, birds, and insects of many varieties enlivened the island even more, and for the first time in many hours a bit of hope and relief crept into the faces of the friends, now stranded on a strange, mysterious, and possibly uncharted island. Rescue would be sure to follow in hours, maybe days, but first some basic needs would have to be attended. Injuries, while none appeared serious, still had to be dealt with, and basic provisions must be found. The classmates organized themselves into teams and set out to find shelter, food, fresh water, and a way to communicate with the outside world.