The decon station had been deployed and was slowly erecting itself just off of the border that separated Area One from the rest of the city. We all sat in silence, and in lieu of any meaningful conversation, we just watched. Not even Ed had any quips or comments to make.
The lieutenant hadn't come back from wherever it was he had got off to while we were down south, and there were still a number of scientists still unaccounted for. At least we could still say we made it back here on time, right?
“If this works,” the voice on the recorder had said after a few seconds of crackly static at the start of the loop. “We’ll never have to work again.”
“Unlike this poor guy,” the second voice replied.
“Heh. Yes, well,” first again. “Let’s do this properly, yeah?”
“I suppose we should. This is Doctor Kim Jo-Hung. Primary coroner at Central Hospital #1.”
“And I am Doctor Janice McCray. Assistant coroner at the same. We are performing an autopsy today on a John Doe, admitted to the hospital a week ago presenting with chest pains and extreme exhaustion.”
“Patient lasted thirteen hours before expiring. Tox report showed some strange abnormalities in patients lungs and kidneys.”
Lieutenant Mike arrived back at base camp, alone, about an hour after the decon station powered up. Of course we were still sitting there, silent, staring at the ground. “Guys?” he asked when he realised something was up.
“The hospital,” someone said. “Someone needs to come to the hospital.”
“The hospital is secure,” Mike replied, motioning to the barricade and Area One beyond. “It’s now Area Zero, within the confines of One. Ground zero is there.”
“No, Sir,” Ed said, his face not so pale anymore, but his voice was still flat and strangely emotionless. “Ground zero was down south.”
“This town only has one hospital, the records show it was -”
“Sir, Mike, the records are wrong. All this is wrong. We need to leave. This isn't a job for us. We’re not ...” he trailed off.
The body of the coroner had been left where it fell, as if no one had been here since. Its clothing, or what was left of it, was loosely draped over the dull grey skeleton. In the 100 years since whatever it was that happened, that was all that remained.
The patient was in much the same state, except it had a degraded plastic sheet instead of clothing. One of the historians, I think is what she is, anyway, came in behind us, took one look at the scene before us and instantly threw up in her suit. Ed and I had to hold her down so she didn't rip the helmet off. Ed was screaming stuff at her and I was just trying to keep it together myself. These bodies were just left here. No one cleared them away like they did the rest of the city.
Ed had managed to get the girl out of the morgue, which seemed to calm her a little bit, although I got the feeling she was more upset about the vomit in her helmet than the skeletons.
Ed came back in shortly after laughing at something he didn't share with me. He grabbed the recording device from the small office in the corner of the room and we left the skeletons to rest.
“Hey,” he said.
“More ok than you.”
“This isn't what we signed up for, you know.”
“Oh, I hadn't noticed. Please tell me exactly how this is nothing to do with geology.”
“You know mum would slap you for that.”
“Yeah well she’s not here and you know I can slap harder than you.”
“Yeah, well, if you need to just go...”
“I know, dude. And you’re right.”
The recording Ed grabbed from the morgue made him even more serious than he had been with me earlier. The doctors were talking about how the patient, who wasn't identified beyond the generic 'John Doe' name, was admitted ahead of schedule. They talked like the symptoms were expected and that some sort of experiment could be considered a success.
After a back and forth between the doctors over what the results of this tox report showed, Ed shut the tape off and paced across the office we had sat down in. Vomit girl was sitting in the corner, sobbing quietly. We couldn't hear the others, but they had mostly gone upstairs.
“What is it?” I asked when Ed didn't say anything.
“This is the hospital, right?”
“Sure. Big sign out front, very hospital-y on the inside.”
“Why isn't this whole area, like, secured?”
“Because everyone died?”
“Others have been here, sis. After that, before us. You'd think a hospital with a suspicious corpse in the morgue with an attending coroner and a recording...” he trailed off. “Shit, how did we, how did you miss it?” he ran off back to the morgue.
“What?” I yelled after him.
“Where’s the other coroner?”
The sign said ICU. One of the others said this would be the best place to search for clues. I checked the time. Six hours left. This was such a waste. We should have gone back with the others when they found that recording device. But nope, "Go check the ICU," they said.
The curtains had, at one time, been pulled closed, but the fabric had been worn to shreds by the sunlight, and I guess by time too. We walked through ICU and peered into every room. Each had between two and six beds with two rooms with only one. Each had what remained of a body in it. Ahead, at the end of the hall was a large sliding panel with a red and black striped border.
“It’s a door,” our resident hospital expert said, pushing a red button at the door frame.
“And it’s opened from inside,” I replied pointing to a sign that said just that.
“I’d say this is where the most intensive of the patients were kept. Should we break it down?”
Before anyone could answer, the door just slid open in a cloud of dust.