Fighting Fire


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Part 1: A Building in Question

An influenza pandemic can occur when a non-human influenza virus gains the ability for efficient and sustained human-to-human transmission.  These viruses are referred to as ‘Influenza Viruses with Pandemic Potential.’

Human infections with these viruses have occurred rarely, but if either of these viruses was to change in such a way that it was able to spread from person-to-person, an influenza pandemic could result.” -Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

“Would you two knock it off,” said Megan.

“I told you that we were limited on supplies and shooting down the drone didn’t exactly help matters,” said Chris.  “We needed to question him on why they boarded up those apartments.”

“Listen, I made a judgement call.  It was either destroy the drone or let the target escape.  I thought that the explosion would stun him, not kill him,” said Nick.

“Regardless of what you thought, you were wrong,” said Chris.

[Twelve hours earlier]

It had been over a month since New York City had been consumed by the pandemic that had come to be known as Dark Winter.  Originally an exercise to test the emergency response system against a bio-terrorist attack on the continental United States, it had escalated out of control due to the human-to-human transmission of a lethal strain of the influenza virus on the busiest shopping day of the year: Black Friday.

In the weeks that followed the onset of the pandemic, Black Markets became the primary source of food, water and other useful supplies for those that were fighting to survive.  Sections of the City that had been hit the worst by the disease, and by people taking matters into their own hands, resulted in the establishment of Dark Zones.

It was not humanity’s finest hour.

Despite the efforts of Police, Fire and Rescue, not to mention the United States Military and other governing agencies, nothing was getting any better.  With every passing day, what remained of the time before the Winter was fading away into ruin.

But there was something else.  Something that was slowly giving people hope – even if they only heard about it from others who claimed that it was true.

The Division.

Trained in secure facilities throughout the City and beyond, the Strategic Homeland Division (SHD) had prepared Sleeper Agents to work in small groups independently of all other governing agencies and emergency response services in order to save what remains.

One of these teams, made up of a diverse group of four Agents that had never met prior to joining up at Madison Square Park in Manhattan a few weeks earlier, represented the SHD in their mission to gather intel and use that information to provide assistance to anyone working to restore vital services.

Their latest mission, thanks to intel received only an hour earlier when they had broken down their campsite and started to patrol the streets as usual, had them heading into a section of the City that was full of old, brick apartment buildings:

Go, go, go,” said Bronson.

Leading the team down an alley two blocks away from the building in question, they moved in a tactical, two-by-two formation until they were in view of the building.

As soon as it was visible, Chris, previously a Network Analyst before being activated by the SHD, received an alert from various secure data feeds to his Division-issued receiver.  Thanks to being able to securely view the data instantly in front of him by way of his augmented reality (AR) interface – known as Shade Watch – he quickly sent on the intel to the rest of the team.

“Looks like we’ve got civilians trapped on the third and fifth floors,” said Chris.

“I’m also reading activity on the roof of the building to the northwest,” said Nick.

“I got that as well.  We need to get them out of there ASAP,” said Megan.

“So what’s the plan, boss,” said Bronson as he knelt down besides her.

Shortly before starting her training in New York City to become an SHD Agent, Megan completed her tour of duty with the Marines.  As per her “undocumented” agreement between the United States Marines Corps (USMC) and the SHD, she had taken a position on a security detail for one of the New York State Senators while she trained to become an Agent.

Her last assignment, prior to being activated by The Division, was to assist in evacuating one of the Senators from the City by way of a helicopter at the East 34th Street Helipad.  Although separated from her team, she was able to drive a damaged, bomb-proof, black SUV with the Senator and his top aide along FDR Drive to the Helipad during the initial stage of Dark Winter.

The ride to the Helipad had almost been cut short…twice.  Traffic going from the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) in Brooklyn – the Senator’s final agency-tour visit of the day – to the Helipad routed the three-car caravan over the Manhattan Bridge into lower Manhattan.  From there, each SUV broke off to avoid all three being overrun by people trying to secure a vehicle to exit the City:

The first route took one of the SUVs, a decoy, along Bowery / 3rd Avenue towards the Helipad.  Once they finally crossed the bridge – which was already congested due to bumper-to-bumper, rush-hour traffic that included people trying to head to hospitals for care – they had to abandon their vehicle in order to head further into the City where the Senator’s Office was located.  This location was the security detail’s rendezvous point after the Senator and his aide were safely out of the City.  It was secure, had rations and was well-equipped with weapons, ammunition and solar-powered generators.

The second route took another SUV along 1st Avenue past Beth Israel Medical Center.  Residents of New York City and tourists to the area were already over-crowding the hospital to the point where every entrance was filled with Police, Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) and people from all walks of life trying to get in for medical treatment.  As this was the next closest medical facility to the Helipad, the team driving along this route was advised to make their way to this site in order to establish a back-up unit to Team One and to secure any, additional medical supplies that may be needed in the time ahead.

Finally after Megan activated her Shade Watch interface – which was only provided to Division Agents – she drove the black SUV along FDR Drive which ran parallel to the East River.  As the route was just as much of a risk as the other two due to having the NYU Medical Center situated directly behind the East 34th Street Helipad, she understood that this option would present the least amount of resistance as it was on the outskirts of the City.

Having succeeded in what would be her last assignment on the security detail, she tapped her earpiece as she watched the Senator and his aide fly off in the helicopter over the Williamsburg Bridge.

Birdwatch-Three, this is Birdwatch-One.  Bluebird has left the nest, over,” said Megan.

Exchanging information while she surveyed the damaged vehicle that had carried them to the Helipad, she received two messages to her Shade Watch interface:



As her training at the SHD had prepared her for what to do next, she sent her final status update to the other security detail teams.  She then began her 6-hour trek through the chaotic streets of New York City in order to meet up with Bronson, Chris and Nick.

Throughout the past three weeks, she had proven herself many times over to not only be resourceful, but to also be a natural leader to the group.

Thanks to her core abilities from being a Marine to make tough decisions under fire, as well as, due to her talents with the long rifle, the other members of the group never thought of her as a woman.  She was an Agent, and she was their leader.  So they listened for their next move.

“Simple plan.  Two in the building, two on the roof providing cover.  Any questions,” said Megan.

The other three members of the team nodded in affirmation.  As in previous cases, Megan understood that nothing else needed to be said.

“Bronson, you’re with me,” said Megan.  “Chris, Nick, provide cover for us on the roof of the building without the billboard on top of it – you’ll have a better vantage point that way.  When you can, get a drone in the air to provide whatever intel you can about the people that were detected up there.  There’s always a possibility that they aren’t friendly.  Are we clear,” said Megan as she looked at the team who were ready to execute her orders.

Let’s move,” said Megan.

Splitting off, Megan and Bronson stayed in a tight formation in order to cover each other while heading towards a side entrance of the building.  Nick and Chris did the same while heading down an alley that was in between the burning building and an adjacent one that would provide a vantage point from which they could provide cover.


Megan pointed at a doorway that had some boards nailed across it and gestured to Chris with the hand that wasn’t holding her weapon to pull them off while she provided cover.


Nick arrived at a position just next to a metal ladder that led up to one of the six balconies that cascaded up the side of the brick building.  Looking over at Chris who had stopped to look at a broken-down white delivery truck for parts, Nick motioned to him silently to move back to his position.

Recovering from his need to rummage for tech-based supplies, Chris returned to shadow Nick and waved to him that he was ready to move.

Shaking his head at Chris’ momentary lapse in judgement, Nick shouldered his rifle and began to climb the fire escape.  Chris provided cover and then quickly followed him up to the roof.


Team Two, this is Team One.  We are entering the building.  What’s your status, over,” said Bronson.

Megan, with her semi-automatic M9 Beretta 9mm pistol pointed directly ahead, moved inside the first floor of the building with Bronson following closely behind – his combat shotgun at-the-ready.


Team One, this is Team Two.  We are moving to the roof by way of the fire escape.  Will arrive in One Mike (one minute).  Will provide update once topside, over,” said Nick.

Although clumsy at times due to his overwhelming need to create new, but useful technology for the team in the field, Chris shadowed Nick as they moved up the balconies swiftly and with as little sound as possible.


Team One moved down the first floor hallway scanning each room as they stepped over the debris that made certain areas of the hallway nearly impassable.  Their Shade Watch interface provided them with a live schematic of the interior and directed them to a staircase at the end of the hallway.

Reaching it they covered their sectors, moved through the doorway and headed up the first flight of stairs.  Once at the second floor doorway within the stairwell, Megan grabbed the door handle, motioned to Bronson that she was ready and in…


…they entered the second floor hallway.


Nearing the sixth and final fire escape on the side of the adjacent brick building, Chris let out a low whistle and they both stopped.  Nick looked back at Chris who tapped his ear and motioned that he could hear voices up ahead.

Nick acknowledged the gesture and sent out a Pulse from his Division antenna.  Through the brick building, their AR display provided them both with information about the four, armed individuals that were on the adjacent roof behind the billboard.

“Four uninfected individuals.  Three male, one female.  Each with automatic rifles and one M32 Grenade Launcher,” whispered Nick.

With a thumbs-up, they each carefully moved against the wall at the edge of the roof that was only 3 feet or approximately 1 meter tall.

“I’ll get the drone ready, you check-in with One, copy,” said Chris.

“Copy that,” said Nick.

But he didn’t have to.  Megan had already sent an update to his live feed which told them that they were trying to open an apartment which had been boarded up “recently”.

Nick stared at this information for a moment, and then contacted Megan.

One, this is Two.  Confirm last update.  Are you saying that people were trapped inside deliberately, over,” said Nick.


As Bronson pulled off the final 2×4 piece of wood that had been secured over the door with a nailgun, Megan entered the apartment with her 9mm pointed directly ahead.  Lowering it slowly, she took in the sight that was before her.

In the living room of what looked like a newly renovated apartment sat a woman and two boys on a designer sofa.  Their hands were bound with duct tape and their mouths covered with dirty rags.  A man lay unconscious on the floor with his ankles and wrists bound in the same manner.  They looked at Megan as if she was the grim reaper.

Looking at them, her Shade Watch interface automatically scanned them and provided the same status for the entire group:


Quickly holstering her weapon, she motioned to Bronson to his lower his and shortly thereafter began talking to them in a very calm and constant voice.

“Hello.  My name is Agent Megan of the Strategic Homeland Division.  We are here to escort you to safety.”

The children squirmed in fear and the woman tried to move in between them and Bronson who was moving slowly into the living room.

“My name is Agent Bronson of The Division.  We are here to help.  We’ve brought medicine to treat your illness, but we need to evacuate you first.  May we untie you,” said Bronson.

After a few moments, the woman shook her head and nodded towards her children.

As Bronson took care of the children, Megan quickly moved in and took care of the woman.

“Thank you…,” said the woman as she gasped for air.

“No time for that now,” interrupted Megan.

Shifting to the man on the floor, she unbound his ankles and wrists only to roll him over onto his side.  Her Shade Watch interface immediately scanned him and showed that he had sustained some minor trauma to the head which had caused him to be unconscious.

Grabbing a small device out of her pack, she held his head still and waved it by his nose.  The intense smell woke him up immediately and he tried to attack Megan.

Although her stature was only 5-feet 7-inches tall, her strength was that of seasoned Marine – a fact that Nick had teased her about once when Bronson had lost an arm-wrestling match to her one evening after they had set up camp for the night.

The man was thrown off by her strength and was immobile until she allowed him to move.

“Sir, we are here to help you and your family.  But I need you to escort them quietly to the alley outside and wait for us there for treatment.  Can you do that for me, sir,” said Megan while maintaining a firm grip on the man.

With a look that let the man know that this was an order and not a request, she waited for him to answer.

“Ye…yes.  I’ll take them down,” said the man as Megan slowly let him go.

“Good, now move and keep your heads down.  We won’t be long,” said Megan.

Trailing the family out of the apartment, Megan watched them as they headed towards the stairwell.  Although the man was struggling to keep from falling over, he was doing everything he could to maintain his composure to escort his family out of the building.

Just before the doorway leading the family into the stairwell closed, Megan contacted Nick.

Two, this is One.  We have freed the first group of people.  Moving to next room with confirmed survivors,” said Megan.

Bronson took point while the two of them headed towards the staircase leading to the next floor.

“It’s looking like we have a situation on our hands,” said Megan.


Situation,” asked Nick.


We have confirmed that each survivor was tied up and trapped inside the apartment deliberately,” said Megan.  “They were all contagious.”


Chris looked at Nick, who was listening to the communication regarding Team One’s findings and status.  Clicking the last section of the drone in place, Chris said to Nick, “These are not your ordinary idiots with guns then.  They were trying to kill off these people because they were contagious.”

“But why,” said Nick.  “This information shows that their disease is treatable.  Why would they want to kill them if they could be cured?”

“That’s a question for later.  You ready,” said Chris.

“Send it,” said Nick.


Reaching the second apartment, they discovered that the doorway was once again sealed with wood planks and secured by a nail gun.  With the fire quickly making it’s way down the hall towards them, their time to pry open the door was cut short.

Megan began to strike the boards with the butt of her rifle while Bronson switched ammunition to his frangible breaching slugs – which he used to shoot through doors to knock out the hinges.

Pulling the slide on the shotgun back and forth, he looked at Megan and yelled out, “CLEAR!”


The wood around the right side of the door shattered into splinters on the floor.  He chambered another round – the empty shell ejecting out of the side of the weapon.


More pieces of shattered wood littered the floor.  The shots had weakened the boards just enough to enable them to kick through the door to open it.

Instantly their Shade Watch interface displayed information on the two, unconscious men that were bound the same way that the man on the previous floor had been restrained.

“We’ve got to move,” yelled Megan as the fire rolled across the ceiling.

They each quickly put on their air filtration masks.


Hearing the shotgun fire, Nick said to Chris, “That’s our cue,” and started to fire at the group of armed individuals that were about to open fire on the floor where Megan and Bronson were now trying to free the last two people.

The first couple shots took the group by surprise.  Nick was able to get a clean headshot on one of the men, while the woman and the other two men continued to fight back as if the man had never been killed.

Chris maneuvered the drone up above the action and initially provided intel on the situation.  But when Nick had to reload, Chris was able to take down the woman who had shouldered her rifle and was preparing to fire her military-grade, 6-shot, M32 Grenade Launcher at them.

As with the headshot before, the second kill, along with all other details concerning the weapons used by the group, registered with the four Division Agents’ Shade Watch intel.

“Nice shot,” said Nick who once again began to fire at the remaining two men.


Having freed the two men, only one of them was able to walk.  So as Bronson and the one who could walk helped the one who couldn’t out of the apartment, Megan led them back down the staircase and towards the exit on the first floor.

Grunting in pain from having to move, with help, on a broken leg, Bronson let the men know that they were nearly clear of the building.

Seeing the doorway open up at the end of the main floor hallway, Megan pointed her pistol directly ahead – the safety off and ready to take down anyone that stood in their way.

“Come on,” yelled the husband who had left his family safely behind on the opposite side of the street to help Megan and Bronson.  “This way!”

Her Shade Watch interface scanned the area ahead of them before she got out of the way of the three men that she was escorting to the exit.  Seeing that the path was clear, she let them go ahead in order to cover their escape.

Once through the door, the group headed to where the wife and two boys were resting across the street.

Team Two, Team One.  We are clear.  Pack it up and get out of there,” said Megan.


Copy that, One,” said Chris.

As he was still piloting the drone, he continued to assist Nick with trying to neutralize the man who was dressed, like the others, in faded camouflage jumpsuits.

Nick continued to fire at his target and eventually struck him on his right shoulder.  Seeing that his comrade was injured, the other man immediately turned and fired at him – killing him as if he were an enemy.

As the drone was out of ammunition, all gunfire had ceased.  Nick and Chris were momentarily caught off guard due to the man’s actions against the other member of his group.  But Nick quickly focused again back on the man as he started to flee the scene.

“Fire a flashbang at him!  We need to throw him off guard so that we can get over there to question him,” said Nick.

“Roger that,” said Chris who maneuvered the drone into position to fire.

But when Chris sent the command to fire the flashbang grenade, it jammed.

“Something’s wr…,” said Chris.

Seeing the status of the drone on his display, Nick reacted instinctively to the issue.  Firing a shot at the grenade while it was still attached to the drone, it ignited both as if they were a standard grenade.  Along with an intensely-bright light, pieces of metal from the drone radiated outwards striking the man and killing him a moment later.

The last person on the rooftop with the billboard on it was dead.  As if it all had happened in slow motion, Nick heard the bullet casing hit the ground from his own weapon and shut his eyes in disappointment.

“What the hell was that,” yelled Chris.  “I could have fixed the problem from here.  You didn’t have to shoot down the drone.”

Although Nick had been thoroughly trained by The Division in CQC, as well as, in the use of various pistols and rifles, he had not been trained in the use and maintenance of the agency’s drones.

“I’m sorry, but we had to neutralize the target for questioning,” said Nick.

“Well that didn’t mean killing him,” said Chris.


Team Two, this is Team One.  I’m ordering you two to evacuate and return to our position ASAP, copy,” said Megan.  “We need additional health packs to care for the injured.”


“This isn’t over,” said Chris as he headed for the balcony.

Regardless of the fact that he had done what he thought was right, Nick knew that Chris wasn’t going to let this go anytime soon.  With what they had endured when they met weeks earlier on the Manhattan Bridge, as well as, over the past few weeks in numerous skirmishes, Chris had always cared a little too much about the technology that he had either invented in the field or been issued by The Division.

Returning to the group, they all kept their emotions in check until the survivors were prepped for escort and taken to the nearest medical facility.  While en route, Megan and Bronson interviewed them in order to gather more intel on the situation.

On the other hand, Nick and Chris took up opposite escort positions around the group and said nothing to one another.

Although no words were exchanged on the matter, they all knew that it was going to be a long night.

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Part 2: To Cover More Ground

After escorting the survivors of the apartment building to the Zone B Hospital – an apartment building that had been converted into one of only a few operational medical facilities left in New York City – the team resupplied themselves and left before too many questions could be asked by hospital staff and Police.

Although each member of the four-person team had never discussed where they would make camp for the night, the automatic, situational information provided to each agent directed them to an old warehouse six blocks away.  Based on the information displayed to each team member, they all understood that it would be an ideal campsite for another night in Dark Winter.

Moving as a team, and with saying as little as possible, they managed to arrive at the location within a half-hour’s time.

Upon arrival, each knew their task.  So once again, talking was kept to a minimum.

Megan and Bronson divided the responsibility of starting a fire in order to cook dinner, as well as, to take inventory of all supplies used and remaining – including ammunition and food.

Nick and Chris, on the other hand, setup a security perimeter that entailed placing highly sensitive motion sensors and mini-turrets within a 60-meter radius around the camp.

On any other night, these two sets of tasks would have run smoothly without any issues, but thanks to the earlier confrontation at the apartment and Nick’s “misuse” of the drone, setting up the security perimeter took on a new level of frustration.

“Don’t start with me, Chris,” said Nick as he watched him put up his hands on establishing the final mini-turret.  Thanks to the loss of the drone earlier – which Chris could have converted into a mini-turret – they were now one turret short.

“Oh I don’t have to start anything.  You would just blow it up,” said Chris as he walked ahead of Nick and back to the fire.

With what supplies they had available, the limited security perimeter was established and dinner was on it’s way to being prepared.  Unlike the other three members of the team who had either served in a security detail, been a Bike Messenger or operated as a Network Analyst at a Fortune 500 company, Bronson was the only one who had been a formal artist – serving as a gourmet chef who circulated his talents between wealthy families and high-profile companies.  His speciality was making mouth-watering food that originated from various parts of the globe for parties, meetings and special occasions – all of which never made the Times because of their exclusivity.

His talents were well-known in groups of people that were made up of industry leaders, government officials and technology moguls that always expected beyond-the-best in the meals that they consumed.  Bronson welcomed this cover because it got him into areas and within an earshot of conversations that not only closed some of the biggest deals in New York City, but that also made decisions that shaped the modern, technological world.

But just like the rest of his team, when he was activated by The Division he left it all behind in a moment’s notice in order to save what remains.

His talents as a chef, to say the least, were a welcomed portion of the small Division team.  It wasn’t ordinary for such a group to have a chef available that could rival Emeril Lagasse or Bobby Flay one minute and provide tactical cover fire with his combat shotgun the next.  But regardless of his talents, tonight’s meal was met with conversation that was not common to their nightly meals.

“Would you two knock it off,” yelled Megan.

“I told you that we were limited on supplies and shooting down the drone didn’t exactly help matters,” said Chris.  “We needed to question him on why they boarded up those apartments.”

“Listen, I made a judgement call.  It was either destroy the drone or let the target escape.  I thought that the explosion would stun him, not kill him,” said Nick.

“Regardless of what you thought, you were wrong and now I have to get more parts to build another drone.  This threat has the potential to grow as people continue to lose faith in our efforts, and we need as much intel to understand how to beat it.  The drone can gather more intel faster then we can on the ground,” said Chris.

Bronson continued to prepare their dinner as he sat near the makeshift fire pit that the team of four Division agents was currently using to keep themselves warm.  After three weeks of moving around the City in order to save what remains, they were all starting to get a little edgy living like nomads.

“You know,” said Bronson interrupting Megan before she could yell at them again, “If covering more ground is the trick, we could split up for a week or two in order to gather more intel faster.”

“Now why in the world would we…,” said Megan.

“Sounds good to me,” interrupted Chris.

“But with all that we’ve gone through so far, now you want to split up,” said Megan.

“He’s right,” said Nick in a much calmer voice.  “We should split into groups of two and patrol opposite sides of our District.  We can acquire intel faster that way and hopefully we will find out who is behind these new attacks.”

“So it’s settled then,” said Bronson.

“I don’t know,” said Megan.

“We should start in the morning.  Nick, you want the first watch,” said Chris as he continued to tinker with what supplies he had available.

Incredible,” said Nick shaking his head in disgust.  “Blow up one of your toys and you act like a child.”

Before Chris could say anything, Nick had grabbed his gear and headed to an elevated position in order to take the first watch.  Megan and Bronson gave Chris a disappointing look, but settled in to their own portions of the camp.  Within ten minutes, Megan and Chris were eating dinner, Bronson had set aside Nick’s meal for his return and Nick watched over them all – still frustrated from everything that had occurred that day.

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Part 3: The Morning After

When the sun began to rise over the City, it sent warmth into the cold warehouse where the team had slept.  Although it wasn’t necessary to wake them thanks to the alerts that they received through their gear, it was a welcomed feeling given the chill that had run through the group the night before.

As with any other morning, they each performed their tasks to the letter.  When available and when time permitted, prepare breakfast, pack-up the camp and review whatever intel had been received throughout the night in order to decide on that day’s operations.

Megan, who had taken second watch after Nick, woke-up first and reviewed the intel in preparations for the morning’s briefing.

“Based on where we encountered the group yesterday, it would make sense to continue to investigate similar areas so as to gather intel and, hopefully, capture and question anyone who is involved,” said Megan.

“I agree,” said Nick.

He opened up his map and positioned himself so that the rest of the team was surrounded by it.

“Judging by the activity here,” said Nick pointing at one side of their patrol District, “and here,” pointing to another, “these locations would be ideal to start our search.”

“What about taking time to search for supplies,” asked Chris.

With a stern look, Megan quickly replied, “That will be done en route.  You got me, Agent?”

Chris looked at Megan and saw that this was an order and not a request.

Copy that,” said Chris.

“Ok then.  Nick and I will cover the western side of the District, while you and Bronson cover the east,” said Megan.

“All other issues aside, stay safe, provide status updates at 12-hour intervals, and let’s neutralize this threat, copy,” said Megan.

They all acknowledged their leader’s orders and, breaking off into teams of two, headed towards the two areas of the City where they were set to begin their investigation.

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Part 4: Propaganda

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Part 5: Sleepless Night

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Part 6: A Whole Lot Worst

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