Paratus

Summary: Going out is mandatory. Coming back is not.

Juan Alvarez knew going out was mandatory, but coming back was not. He'd jumped from the Coast Guard helicopter towards the sinking vessel, a yacht modified into a human trafficking craft. At first, the fisherman that saw the vessel sinking thought it was a fool who went out boating in the hurricane. His commanding officer thought it was scuttled so its crew could make an expedient getaway instead.

Alvarez was unconcerned with that as he vanished into the half-submerged cabin. A boy screamed as the water rose up to his neck. His parents shouted over the crashing surf and rotor wash, but he saw the situation was worse than he anticipated. The family of three, starving refugees undoubtedly duped and abandoned by human traffickers, were shackled in the vessel's closet. In a few moments, the entire cabin would be underwater.

Alvarez scanned with a celerity born in frigid waters off Antarctica, where he did live man overboard drills. He'd been to the South Pole on the icebreaker, but he'd die here with the forsaken refugees if he did not act fast. He wrapped one end of the chain through his line, and he tugged on it. The chopper crew would try winch him back, but they would be unable to.

Metal groaned as the boy's nose vanished beneath the waves. The helicopter's winch pulled the padlock out of the wall, thanks to the line he'll run through it. The family were not free, but not out of the sinking craft. He grabbed the boy first, tugging on the parents to follow. He fumbled blindly through the submarine murk, flailing for an opening. With an alacrity born of familiarity, he found it.

Alvarez pulled the boy through, his parents in tow. He pulled the tab on the inflatable belt, allowing the others to grab onto him. They'd need to leave the sinking vessel behind them so the chopper could safely retrieve them. As they carefully sent the kid aboard, he felt a warmth inside. This time, everyone was going home. He hoped it would always be that way. He was always ready to go out.

Semper paratus.