Chapter 1 – Rogue 1
Just in time ordering. That’s what really finished things off. It’s the way that shops manage stock. Makes total financial sense as you only have enough stock on premise to run your business. You’d have seen empty shelves on the last day of whatever week they used, and then the next day they would be fully stocked again.
But when people are getting sick. Or are afraid of getting sick and so not reporting to work, then the system falls down. As it’s not just shops that use it. Gas stations. Hospitals – for the more perishable supplies. Everywhere.
Lorries don’t have fuel, or if they do they don’t have drivers, or warehouse staff to load the lorries. And so the stock doesn’t make it to the shops. The gas stations run out. Civilisation dies. People die.
We helped with that. The dying. Seems that when the apocalypse is happening, people think the rules of common decency no longer apply. That they can take what, or who, they want at will.
They couldn’t. We’re Division agents, Team Vector. Our role was to try and stop civilisation falling. When the Bug hit Manhattan, we were sent to try and make things better.
I guess we did. We certainly made sure that a lot of very sick minded and bad people stopped being that way.
We even stopped a few rogue agents. Men and women who forgot their role, took advantage of the situation.
After that awful winter, things were finally starting to look good. The rioters were suppressed, the Rikers wiped out, and the LMB making a ‘tactical withdrawal’. We were winning.
But then? Then we received orders to head to Washington D.C. Seems that the swamp needs draining. Again.
Remember what I said about just in time ordering? Well, we weren’t going to be driving there. Lucky we all managed to get at least one extra pair of boots each, as we’re going to have to walk there.
‘Jesus, are we fucking there yet?,’ groaned Zendar as he massaged his feet, toes poking out of his socks. ‘Feels like every sign we pass has been saying twenty miles.’
We’d been walking for a couple days now. Not that we weren’t used to walking in Manhattan. Just that the lay of the land was different and we weren’t using the main routes. Too dangerous. Back roads tend to be less well-maintained, less direct and seem to just love hills.
‘Dude, just give it a rest. We’ll be there when we get there,’ said Cloudy, our team sharpshooter. I’d thought she was good before things started to hit the fan. Since then she’d gained a lot of practical experience. We’re talking more kills than Simo Hayha. And she still had her face.
Me, and the other member of the team, Driffel, said nothing. There was nothing to add. We were all tired. Not just from the hike. For some of the coldest months I’ve ever seen, we fought to keep people alive for every single day. We’re talking Stalingrad levels of depredation. And even though we were killing people who deserved it, every kill left its mark. Some were harder than others.
Shooting people is “easy” compared to staving their skull in with a spade, or stabbing them, or biting their throat open. That kind of shit really doesn’t go away. We all have nightmares. Zendar cries in his sleep every night. Cloudy sits bolt upright, teeth bared. Driffel twitches and whimpers. And me? I wake drenched in sweat.
Not what the American public thinks of as heroic are we. Well fuck them. Our job makes us face the worst of humanity. Makes us bring out the worst in ourselves, and then bottle it down. No-one can do that for long without it taking a toll.
Job. That’s a joke. We haven’t been paid for months. And with the power out, I doubt we’ll ever be paid again. Or if we are, some schmuck will stiff us. Claim there’s no record of us performing our duties.
That doesn’t bother me to be honest. Not since it means I’m finally getting closer to Karen and our daughter. I left them. Left my wife and new-born daughter to head into Manhattan. Told her it would be fine. Abandoned the people I loved to go and rescue strangers.
The last message I got from Karen was that she was heading down to Washington to be with her folks. After all, you’d think that the capital city would be safe. Ha, fucking, ha.
‘Heads up,’ warned Cloudy, snapping her SMG, a Kris Vector into her shoulder. ‘Incoming, fifty metres that way.’
That way was towards the road we’d been on. We’d made camp roughly 75 metres away from it in a small copse.
How the hell anyone had realised we were here was beyond me.
Dumb fucking luck. Probably foragers, I thought as I snatched up my L85/A2, Driffel and Zendar muttering curses as they mirrored us.
We didn’t need signals or orders. This shit was second nature. Cloudy dropped back, positioning herself behind a shattered trunk. I pushed forward, as did Driffel, whilst Zendar moved left. In seconds we were ready for whatever came our way.
They were trying to be stealthy. Badly. Not as bad as most but if they were hunting, they’d have scared off any game. They were approaching us from up wind for a start, and it was clear they hadn’t been anywhere near clean water for a long time. And they kept breaking twigs. They were whispering too.
And, most importantly, they were backlit, the moon’s light highlighting them as they moved from cover to cover.
‘They’re hunting us boss,’ said Cloudy over our team comms.
‘Agreed, couple of long rifles. Civilians,’ confirmed Driffel. He was our support man. A surgeon with the M60.
‘Three to our left,’ said Zendar, sounding smug. He’d opted for his shotgun, as things were going to be close up and personal in this wood. He pulsed his ISAC and our enemies were painted.
Three to the left, four to my front and one trying to circle to the right.
‘Weapons hot, fire only when I do,’ I ordered. This close to the capital there was still a chance that they were Good people. ‘Agents of the Division! Identify yourselves!’
They did. With a hail of poorly aimed gunfire. It was clear they thought they’d had the drop on us. Driffel killed two straight off, 7.62mm rounds blasting through them.
I popped round the tree I was using for cover and sent a three round burst straight into the chest of another. His friend rose, hand stretched out. One shot to the head and they were down as well. Cloudy’s Vector ripped for second as she engaged the enemy to our right
‘Help needed!’ Zendar said, his shotgun booming. The enemy returning fire.
‘Driffel, push up and sweep round,’ I ordered as I took stock of the situation. Whether by design or good luck, the last three of our attackers had managed to get themselves into the cover of a trio of fallen trees. Driffel was the only one who could flank them.
I fired a couple of bursts, more to suppress them and take the heat of Zendar than anything else. It worked. They shifted their fire towards me. A hunting rifle, shotgun, and what sounded like an M4, blowing bark and pulped tree in all directions.
‘Moving,’ commed Zendar, taking advantage of my distraction.
The M-60 opened up again, a long burst, easily three seconds. Then silence, aside from the snores of someone who had been headshot, and the continuous moaning of another who’d been wounded.
‘Clear!’ said Driffel.
‘Move up people,’ I ordered. We didn’t have much time. Gunfire drew people like flies to shit. Where there were guns, there was something worth fighting for.
‘What the actual fuck?’ said Cloudy. ‘They’re wearing gas masks.’
‘Reckon they’re infected, or infecting?’ asked Zendar as he knelt down next to the wounded opponent. ‘Hey, you hear me? You’re gut shot. We can’t heal you, but I can take the pain away.’
‘Fucking pussy,’ gasped the women through her gas mask. ‘No-one fucks with the Hyenas. We’re going to …’ she broke off with a scream as he leaned on her.
‘Sorry, so sorry. Just needed to shut you up,’ he said, running his hands through her pockets, keeping anything of interest, tossing everything else.
‘Humint,’ I said. ‘Take note, people. Hyenas sound like rioters. Can’t fight for shit, like to think they can.’
We all laughed, ignoring her pain. It was going to pass, and we’d seen too many innocent people suffer to care what happened to the woman dying before us.
‘Triage?’ asked Zendar, tapping the hilt of his knife.
‘Why?’ bitch tried to kill us,’ snapped Cloudy. ‘Probably killed a load of people.’
Out of all of us, Cloudy had been the most affected by events. Her girlfriend hadn’t made it, we’d found her body in their apartment. She hadn’t died easily. The four dead rioters were testament to her will to live. Add to that the closeness offered to her by the twelve times magnification scope on her rifle. She got to see the people she killed up close every time, got to see what they were doing to their victims. I was intimidated by her before. Now, if I was honest. I was scared. There was such a rage in her that she practically radiated it. And one day it was going to boil over; and when they happened I would be making every effort to ensure that I wasn’t on the receiving end.
‘She’s dead. Too quick dammit,’ muttered Cloudy, nudging the body with the tip of her boot.
‘Forget her. We need to relocate. Now.’ Shouldering my pack, I led my team away from the bodies of our attackers.
+++++ Rogue agent reported in your vicinity. Arnold “Stearns” Stearns. Last seen 1 mile to your south. Terminate. +++++
‘Fuck,’ sighed Driffel as the message popped onto our contact lenses at the same time. ‘I was at police academy with him. Life and soul of our class. Always there when someone needed picking up.’
‘I’ll kill him then,’ said Cloudy before spooning lukewarm MRE into her mouth.
‘Um. Thanks?’ Said Driffel, widening his eyes at me, raising both hands up in a very clear “What the fuck can we do?” gesture.
‘Whoever’s got the shot, takes the shot,’ said Zendar, passing me a coffee. We’d used a fuel tab to get some water boiled, not wanting to risk the smell of cooking food bringing more unwanted attention our way, but the call of caffeine hard been too hard to resist. Besides, little perks like this were good for morale.
‘Okay,’ she said, tossing the empty MRE to the ground.
‘Cloudy, we bury the bags. Make it hard any trackers. SOP. You know that.’
She glared at me for the longest second in my life, then shrugged and picked the packet up. ‘Need a shit anyway. I’ll bury them together.’
We watched her walk off in silence, sharing the odd glance.
‘Man, she’s starting the scare the shit out of me,’ murmured Zendar.
‘Me too. Muy loco jese’, said Driffel just as quietly.
‘She’ll be fine. We’ve all got shit to sort through, and it’ll be her turn to support us when it gets too much. She’ll be fine,’ I repeated. More to reassure myself than them.
Moving through potentially hostile territory takes far longer than just hiking. You can’t walk across a field, you follow the hedges, or fences. In a combat situation you don’t just stroll across a road; you sit and observe then send a member across to secure the other side and repeat. Everything is done slowly and carefully.
When you know there’s a rogue agent, someone with the same level of training and equipment as you, then it takes even longer.
‘Coming up on his last known location,’ whispered Zendar.
‘Look sharp people. Safeties off, free fire in effect. Cloudy, get ready to pop a drone up. Zendar, Firefly. Driff, turrets.’ It might have been over the top, but I’d rather err on the side of overkill than lose one of my team.
The drone was a mobile weapons platform. The Firefly was to counter anything that the agent might deploy. The turret would keep his head down, and I was going to deploy a hive, sending nanobots to fix anyone taking damage.
‘Buildings up ahead. Looks like a diner and gas station. Maybe a mechanic. Few wrecked cars too,’ said Cloudy.
A quick check of the area told me everything I needed.
‘Get to the water tower to our right. You’ll be able to engage anyone trying to exit from the front and as soon as they clear the rear, you’ll be able to get your drone in.’ She acknowledged with a double click, running silently towards her position.
‘We’ll take that row of cars, make sure there’s no surprises in them. Then I’ll call him out.’
‘If he’s still there,’ said Driffel as we moved into position.
‘He’s here,’ said Zendar. ‘Just the sort of place I’d hole up in.’
I had to agree. It was perfect. Plenty of good spots for cover. A large parking lot at the front and sides, and an open yard to the back.
‘Pulsing,’ I said as I did so.
‘Shit,’ ISAC lit up with contacts. No surprises by the cars, but I counted at least five hostiles inside the diner, and another three in the concession part of the gas station.
‘One down up here by the way,’ said Cloudy. ‘Just finishing up.’
There was a muffled thud behind us. A mortal finality to it.
‘Kit out people,’ I ordered, deploying my hive. ‘Stearns! We know you’re in there! Come out, hands up, and we’ll let your friends go!’
The contacts scattered, running to various positions, shouting to each other.
‘Fuck you!’ screamed a women, backing it up with a wild burst of SMG fire.
‘Directive 51. Engage,’ I ordered as I opened fire on the two nearest contacts.
The night sky lit up as we opened fire on our targets. Tracers raced between both us and the enemy, whilst muzzle flares strobed from the barrels of our weapons and threw flame light in cones before us.
Concrete dust, chips, and shattered glass flew in all directions as our bullets hammered into the walls and windows, punching through into the diner and gas station beyond.
The woman with the SMG sprinted out of the diner, cutting towards a car where she would be able to give covering fire to anyone else wishing to exit the gas station. I drew a bead on her, laid my sights a couple of feet in front of her in order to lead, and then squeezed the trigger. All three rounds of my burst hit, the first blowing her knee out then, as she fell to the ground, the next two slamming into the side of her ribs. She fell without a sound, her body sliding a few feet due to momentum, heels flicking up and over as her face stopped her slide.
The return fire was just as intense. Bullets punched their way through the cars we were sheltering behind, showering us with glass as the still intact windows blew themselves out, forcing us to tuck in behind the wheels and engine blocks.
People watching too many movies will think that cars can miraculously save people hiding behind them from bullets. They’re wrong. 9 mm rounds will go through a car door just as easily as 5.56mm or 7.62mm. Whilst the 9 mm rounds might well just stop inside the car, heavier rounds such as those fired by the AK’s blasting away at us from inside the diner, could easily punch their way through not only a car door but the people sat within the car and then through the other side, all the time filling the car’s interior with shrapnel.
We could hear the enemy’s fire being directed by someone with a deep voice. It was clear that Stearns had pulsed us in return. Whilst he knew exactly where we were, those with him didn’t, and so were relying on looking out for our muzzle flashes. It probably didn’t help them that our turrets were hosing the area, firing at targets they selected themselves.
Another two of the enemy clustered against the window so I manually targeted my turret, grinning as it opened fire on them sending a stream of hypervelocity small-calibre bullets towards them. There was a scream and one of them dropped from sight whilst the other blazed away with their weapon firing at my turret, sparks flashing off it as the odd round hit. Whether by design or accident didn’t matter. Too many hits like that and my turret would be fucked.
‘Another one down,’ said Cloudy in my earpiece, and the weight of incoming fire lessoned slightly for a second.
I pulsed again, then deployed an explosive seeker mine, and sent it chirping away into the distance towards the two targets my turret had just engaged. There was a slight pause, screams of fear and then the mine detonated, showering our opponents with flames.
‘Goddam, I love it when you get your balls of death out,’ chucked Zendar.
Turned into human torches, the two enemies staggered around desperately, screaming out their pain and fear whilst calling to their comrades to help them.
‘Two down,’ said Cloudy as she rapidly put a bullet into each of the burning enemies. We didn’t even know who these people were. Back in Manhattan they’d have been Rikers, Cleaners, Rioters, or LMB. But right here, right now, they were just a bunch of people determined to kill us for reasons unknown.
‘Push forward!’ I ordered, using the distraction of my mines. We couldn’t remain in the positions we were for too long, or the enemy would be able to work out a strategy. It’s best, when you are part of a well-trained unit, facing a not so well-trained unit, to push, and to push hard.
Whilst amateurs might be able to lay down fire, keeping you suppressed and in one position, they can’t deal with rapidly changing situations as well as a trained unit can. We were professionals. We’ve been training to do this for years; some of us had been training to do this for decades if you included past records. With the turrets covering us and with Cloudy providing overwatch, Driffel, Zendar and I ran forwards to another position. It was a dilapidated semi, providing just enough cover for us take up positions.
Driffel lay on his gut, firing his M-60 underneath the semi’s cargo bed, raking the diner with tracer and armour piercing rounds.
‘We can’t wait here too long,’ said Zendar as he drew a bead on another enemy, fired, grunted in satisfaction then fired again. Another one down. I counted that as four.
‘Four down,’ I said over our communications net, ‘So at least another three and Stearns. Moving.’ I rounded the corner of the semi, L85/A2 tucked tightly into my shoulder, and ran towards the brick wall of the gas station. Enemy fire kicked up dust around my ankles as they tried to cut me down. Zendar and Driffel forced them back into cover, blazing away at their positions. I barely had time to check my headlong sprint before I crashed into the wall, driving the breath from my body, but making sure that I was finally out of the enemy’s line of sight.
Pulling a grenade from my vest I yanked out the pin and watched the spoon fly off into the distance as I counted up to three before chucking the grenade through the window. Turning away I mentally counted off the remaining seconds of the grenade’s fuse as the enemy within screamed out warnings to each other.
There was a sharp explosion, the force contained mostly by the walls of the building and the screams stopped. I spun round, thrust my rifle through the window, and sprayed the interior suppressing any enemy left standing. Emptying the magazine I drew my pistol and entered through the window. My boots stepped on something soft and yielding, twisting my ankle, throwing me to the floor.
It was lucky I was so clumsy, as a shotgun boomed; filling the air with scattershot where my head had just previously been. As the shotgunner racked another shell, I lined my sights up on the enemy barely pausing to aim as my laser dot appeared on their chest. Their mouth opened, whether they were going to say something or to scream I don’t know. I squeezed the trigger twice, putting both shots dead centre of the chest of the woman’s chest, switched aim and fired one more round, the bullet blowing the back of her head off. Staying in position I swept the room with my pistol trying to see if there were any more enemies.
‘Three down in this room,’ I said as I released a breath I didn’t know I was holding.
‘That’s the last of them, barring our fellow agent of course,’ said Cloudy.
Zendar and Driffel bundled through the window tripping over the body as I had before taking up positions that enabled them to cover the entrance to the room.
‘Room’s clear,’ said Zendar. ‘Let’s move.’
I pushed myself to my knees, then gathered my feet underneath me and stood on my good foot. Despite being careful not to knock it, pain from my bad ankle lanced through my body, making me hiss.
Driffel looked over his shoulder at me, ‘Got a boo-boo?’ He asked with a smirk.
‘Fuck you.’ It wasn’t the most loquacious or witty thing I could say, but under the situation it sufficed. Zendar and Driffel stacked up against the wall by the door exiting the room. I holstered my pistol, switched to my rifle and quickly reloaded.
Pulling out another seeker mine I primed it, then nodded to Zendar and Driffle. As soon as they opened the door I lobbed the seeker through the gap, waiting for it to chirrup whilst they started to pile through the door into the room beyond, Driffel taking the right, Zendar sweeping to the left. Each of them was firing as they entered, trying to suppress anyone who might be there. I hobbled after them as quickly as I could. The sweep chirruped disappointedly as it failed to find a target. There was no one else in the room.
‘What the fuck? asked Driffle.
‘Cloudy,’ I said, ‘any sight of Stearns?’
‘Negative,’ she replied. ‘Reckon he bugged out when you torched those two morons. The flare blinded me for just long enough for him to get out the back.’ She sounded royally pissed off so I didn’t say anything.
I pulsed but this time I could find nothing. Stearns was definitely gone.
‘Cloudy, come and join us. We’ll sweep through the rest of the building, gather any supplies we can, and I’ll see about getting my boo-boo as Driffel called it fixed,’ I ordered, pulling out one of my last med kits.
‘Roger that, on my way,’ she replied.
Sighing, I led Zendar and Driffel in consolidating our position. There was no knowing who or what might have been attracted by the gunfire and I wanted to make sure that they couldn’t just stroll right in.
‘Ah, cool,’ said Zender. ‘There’s a soda machine.’
Walking up to it he slammed his forearm onto the front of machine. A can plonked out into the bottom drawer. ‘You never do know what you’re going to get when you do it this way.’
He reached into the open drawer and pulled out a Dr Pepper.
‘Now, this is what I was hoping for.’ He tapped the top of the can, then cracked it open with a long hiss of escaping gasses, took a long pull, and gave an even longer burp.
‘Man do I miss civilisation.’
To be continued.