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"Will that be wine or champagne, Ms. Rhodes?"
At the sound of waiter's gravelly voice, Vivian was torn from her reverie with a start, jolting her knee straight into the table. She let out a low hiss of pain, grabbing her now throbbing leg in an attempt to soothe the ache.
Bedazzling her with a gentle smile, the waiter dipped his head, twists of Jamaican dreadlocks dancing in front of his eyes, before he maneuvered away with a silver platter in his hand. Vivian watched in slight amusement as he wiggled his hips to the beat of the band currently belting out reggae, before the tall hombre disappeared behind kitchen doors and she was left to herself once again.
That hadn't been the first time she'd been caught in a dazed state. Fortunately, the people of this cruise were a rather humbled crowd and no one really seemed to mind. Then again, they had the luxury of using this cruise as a vacation in the first place and probably hadn’t even noticed her.
Vivian was stuck on this joint as a business trip. An all-inclusive, music ridden, marine adventure.
Normally, she wouldn't have complained. A trip to the Caribbean free of charge, even on business — who had the self restraint to say no to that? The insane, that's who.
Vivian was just short of pleading insanity.
It was exactly because she was on a cruise, venturing out into the midst of the ocean, that her head was slowly unscrewing from her body. She loved the water, with every breath in her frail chest, and being stuck inside with mountains of paperwork was slowly driving her mad. She wanted to be out, sight seeing, recording data, treating fish, searching for marine life. It was a calling to her soul, one she was struggling immensely to ignore.
With a low groan, she slumped down and smacked her head off the table, ruffling the tablecloth. Her timing was impeccable, for that was the same moment the waiter returned with her bubbly drink.
He chuckled lowly, placing the glass down in front of her before flipping his tray up with a grin. "Why the long face? Ain't you havin' a fine vacation time? Try workin' it with a smile, you may find you actually enjoy being able to relax." Teasingly, he dipped his finger into the crevice of her lips, pulling one side up into a cheeky half smile. When Vivian flushed the colour of a vibrant tomato, he laughed boisterously, "Atta girl, keep those smiles coming, okay? Any man would be lucky to have a smile like that brighten his world; do some honours and keep this ship shining for as long as you sail."
Vivian had a hard time keeping the grin off her face, "Thank you, er ... ?"
"They call me Agwe. Now, I best be getting back to the kitchen. You do not want to see Clarence when he's angry." He joked, and leaned down towards her ear. "He's like that Gordon Ramsey. Don't worry though, he prefers spitting in food over drink. You're safe."
"He sounds charming," Vivian said with a wide smile in laughter. "Be sure to give him my best regards. I have to eat sometime, better to be on his good side right?"
The Jamaican man twirled his tray, and laughed, "I will be sure to. Remember to keep that smile on your face in the meantime. Just shout if you find yourself in need of anything else."
With that, he sauntered away, and Vivian let out a sigh as she was one again left to herself. Her eyes landed on the drink she had ordered, and a slight tug pulled at the corners of her lips. What would her boss say if she'd known Vivian would be drinking on the job? It was an exhilarating thought, getting under Janet's skin, one that chased away the remnants of her grumpy mood.
She was on a cruise, for Pete's sake. She didn't need to wallow over the papers currently scattered around on her table.
Delicately, her fingers curved along the handle of the glass, pulling the honey coloured liquor towards her lips. The bubbles burned the back of her throat as she inhaled half of the drink, feeling slightly on edge. Maybe a good drink was what she needed to focus. A gentle clank resounded in her ears as she placed the glass back down, wondering how quickly she'd be able to fill out the reports from last week's Aquaria rescues.
It truly paid to work for the most well known aquarium rescue in the world. Being part of an elite research team was the cherry on top of the cake. Her eyes drifted back down to the paperwork, and Vivian wondered aimlessly. Her head was telling her to suck it up and get the work done, but her heart was in a different world, and was more drawn to the hot-tubs they had on deck overlooking a gorgeous cascade of blue.
With a groan, Vivian pinched the bridge of her nose. This would be the last time they sent her on a cruise, that much was for certain.
• • •
There was a multitude of reasons why Vivian developed a sinking feeling in her stomach that evening.
The first alarm bell had come from a local passenger. A guy, whose obvious love for the ocean had grated on her nerves to the point of hatred. She was an expert, someone they called upon in tight situations. Janet chose her for this cruise under full intentions that she'd reach her destination, provide the necessary and meticulously detailed reports to her reps, and return home with ease. She was professional, a real go-looker.
This man had a burnt nose, and two white streaks of sunscreen across his face. Surely, his overall weight mandated most of her opinion within the first few minutes of conversation. He'd had the audacity to question her about her work, stating that he'd taken courses in school and was an educated man on all matters marine.
It wasn't until halfway through the conversation she realized he meant a secondary Marine Biology course he'd took in high school for extra credits.
The conversation soon ended after that revelation, though Vivian was still simmering. Her overwhelming desire to go to the water had tampered with her brainwaves. All she could think, breathe, and feel was the ocean.
And unfortunately, that was what drove her gut-wrenching feeling that evening at dinner.
The waiter from earlier had gone off his shift, and left a friendly faced girl in his place, but it wasn't the same. And with a storm brewing, the waters of the sea consumed by a tumultuous rage, she could have used a little reassurance.
That insecurity carried her all the way to her room, where papers scattered the carpeted floor and a large king size bed resided in the middle of azure walls. Vivian had given a sigh, bending over to retrieve some of the scattered contents of her report, when an abrupt lurch had her sailing into the desk.
Where she made contact with the wood, a sharp pain in her head had her reeling, her fingers reaching up to gingerly touch the wound only to come away covered in a sticky substance. Blood.
That was when the sound came.
A defeaning creak echoed loudly from against the hull of the ship, and then a definitive boom reverberated through the walls. It was loud, and the entire cruise ship rocked with the noise, lurching forward once again.
Cheap paintings hung for decor on the walls collapsed, falling to the floor where the frames busted and broke apart. Vivian went sailing in the other direction, landing against the corner of her bed.
Her widened eyes flickered to the doorway just as an on-flood of water came rushing in, lapping at her feet instantly. It was that moment that her heart rammed into her ribcage, and her hands grabbed the first thing they could — the briefcase containing her work.
Between the crunch and the now current stream of water seeping into her room from under the door, Vivian came to one conclusion.
The cruise ship was sinking.
And if she didn't get out, she would be going down with it.
Her instincts came alight, that fight-or-flight mechanism consuming her as she immediately made her way through the water to where her leather bag sat. She obtained the contents of it and slung it over her shoulder, still clenching the briefcase, before carefully making her way back to the door. Her heart beat frantically, causing a loud thunder to roar in her ears, but she kept her head calm as she wrenched it open.
At once her legs were dampened by a flood of wetness, the salty residue rising steadily. This ship is sinking fast; they must've hit something big. The more logistical part of her mind dared to contemplate the size it had to have been for there to be so much water rising so terribly quickly. Grimacing and plagued by her imminent doom, Vivian inhaled slowly and carried on. She slugged her way through the knee deep water, wading her way through the corridor as quickly as she could.
People were frantically following pursuit, shoving their way by each other to escape the flood.
She kept to herself best as she could, determined to calm the frantic race of her heart and retain rationality about the situation. It was hard though, especially given that she hadn't a clue which direction it was that would lead her to safety, and the lurching back and forth motions were potent enough she was sure a hardy sailor would’ve been reeling.
In the end, she wound up a stride behind a group of people, following them where she presumed help would appear.
When Vivian finally managed to trek her way to the main deck, the people ahead of her parting like a frightened herd of animals, she was horrified at the sight before her. Bodies of people were everywhere, panicking and running to the boats currently being set up by groups of workers. Some were bleeding, most were screaming.
But that wasn't what clogged her heart in the back of her throat, or momentarily seized all of her limbs from moving.
It was the water twisters, the rampant wind, the cyclone of nasty weather that had come out of nowhere that struck her still. Waves big as the hull of the ship clashed with steel, surfacing up over and onto the deck. Her eyes widened as the wind tugged her forward, attempting to blow her over where she stood, shaking violently before a crowd of frantic people.
Now she gesticulated their hysteria.
Over the roar of waves crashing against the ship hull, she couldn't hear a single thing. People were being directed and redirected by men in blue and grey, a few familiar faces of waiters and other members aboard ship assisting where they could.
Fortunately, it seemed they were prepared in the event that something like this ever happened. There were dozens of boats, lifeboats, and floating devices scattered about every nook and cranny of the deck. But as Vivian stood, observing the mayhem, she couldn't help but think there was no way it would work.
Slowly, she moved slightly closer to the ship's edge. Her eyes widened as she observed the true devastating force of Mother Nature, her clothing drenched and flapping violently against her skin in the wind. Her hair plastered itself to her face, a bitter chill seeping into her bones until shivering was all she could do to remain somewhat rational. The large water twisters grew larger and larger, closer and closer.
Even if they got the lifeboats out ...
Someone screamed, parried by the loud sobs of others, adorned with horror and wrought with pain.
... Nobody was going to survive the ocean's wrath.
Vivian moved to get in line for a raft, ignoring the prominent shake in her legs that had developed. She felt a bitter tang coat her tongue as she watched the volatile individual from earlier shove his way through the crowd, boarding onto a boat quicker than anyone could complain about the budge in lineup. The sunscreen had washed from his cheeks, leaving behind only red skin and wide eyes. Had she peered a little closer she might've been able to discern the tears from water.
She maneuvered her way against the wind, and had just dawned about the group when the startling feeling of someone's hand on her shoulder had her freezing.
Whirling back around so quickly whiplash graced the kinks in her neck, she found herself startled by the sight of a woman. There was something off about her, that much Vivian could perceive just with one glance. Namely because it was dark, violently storming, and she had a pair of dark sunglasses placed over her eyes.
"Vivian Rhodes?" she barked in a tone that sounded from military descent, her stance rigid, mouth only slightly curved wryly in the corners.
As wind and rain pelted them both, Vivian chose only to nod hesitantly as a response.
At the confirmation of her identity, the woman took a step forward. The hairs on Vivian's arms shot straight up, and cautiously she danced a step back, uncertain of this woman's unwarranted ascent towards her. Another step forward. Another step back. Vivian's heart thundered loudly, and despite the hysteria bubbling in her veins screaming at her to run, she faltered a step.
"A - Are you here to take me to safety?" she queried in a questionable tone, sounding rather unsure of the words herself.
The woman shot her a crude smile. It was then Vivian noticed the clothing adorning her flesh. A pair of black slacks, white blouse covered up by a partial suit jacket, and squeaky leather shoes. She looked like something straight out of an Armani catalogue, and paired with the white cropped hair on her head, Vivian's mind conjured up images of the CIA. Or some other secretive government organization.
"I'm afraid that's quite impossible, Vivian. You see, I've been waiting for this moment since you set foot on this cruise. Rather devastating turn of events, isn't it?" Vivian's wariness increased to the point her heart threatened to violently burst from her ribcage. The woman went on crudely, "You should've read the fine print, I guess. Maybe then you would've realized what your job truly entailed."
Vivian didn't get a chance to murmur a syllable, to formulate a single sentence in her mind, for that was the moment her back hit the railings of the deck. She was aware of the woman pulling something from the slip of her jacket, unveiling a silvery glint under what light still shone from the ship. A weapon. Vivian's instincts roared. Numbness catered to her nerves as the world slowed, her panic ebbing.
Then, just as the woman raised the weapon towards her, Vivian made a split-second decision.
Before the cool caress of her finger could stroke the trigger, Vivian threw herself over the side of the ship, falling way down into the raging depths of the ocean below.
A dangerous smile on the woman's face haunting her the entire way down, informing her this had been the outcome she'd desired all along.
The roar of wind was all Vivian could experience, the sensations of falling tickling the inner depths of her stomach, rising bile to the back of her throat. Her very breath was stripped from her lungs. Everything in her world fell with her, the daunting depths of the ocean below assuring a death as swift as the gun. For a brief moment as she watched her fate climb closer and closer, Vivian noticed a strange sight. A vibrant streak of glowing light bubbled under the surface, shooting through the darkened ocean like a beacon of hope.
She prayed that light would carry her into the darkness, and slowly fluttered her eyes shut.
There was a deafening clap as her body broke through the surface of the water. Followed by blackness, as a rogue wave roared swiftly over her head not a moment after and consumed her whole.