(An Agent fires an assault rifle blindly around a corner providing cover fire.)
“What are you doing!?”
“I’m almost done,” yells another Agent. “Light ’em up!”
[3 Hours Earlier]
After receiving his orders to rendezvous with the other three members of his team, Nick knew that given the time he had to reach his destination – a small, forested park in Lower Manhattan – he needed to cross into the City by way of the Manhattan Bridge.
Sitting 135-feet (41-meters) above the East River and spanning 1,470-feet (448-meters) between Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, the seven lanes of traffic, two subway lines and walkway for pedestrian foot and bicycle traffic was a hike for anyone to do – especially when you are short on time. But ever since it was built back in the early 1900’s, making it the “newest” suspension bridge crossing the East River, it’s been one of the most direct routes into the City from Brooklyn.
He had traveled over it countless times before, usually by mountain bike but occasionally by subway, though he had never seen this kind of “traffic” before. The fidelity of it all was very sobering – like a hangover the morning after or an unexpected punch to the stomach. Regardless of how it hit him, his pace was quickened by the sight of the landscape that he had to traverse.
Dark Winter. When it set in, it showed the world just how much the infrastructures that we take for granted are nothing more than the foundation of a house of cards.
Fueled by the millions of shoppers on Black Friday, the spread of the disease caused panic and in turn caused a widespread shutdown of vital services. When the electrical grid failed and other utilities shut down, one of the initial results was the backup of traffic on the three, iconic bridges that lead in and out of the City: The Brooklyn Bridge, The Williamsburg Bridge and The Manhattan Bridge.
The backup of cars on them was so intense that you couldn’t travel five feet without having to climb over a disabled or abandoned vehicle. Delivery trucks, commuter buses, luxury and hybrid sedans, compact cars – nothing was immune to the collapse of society.
So as Nick was used to traveling over the Manhattan Bridge to attend his tactical simulation training for The Division, he knew that there was always the possibility for a confrontation. Somebody cuts you off as they change lanes without signaling, a bike messenger clips you as they speed by on their latest delivery or somebody stops their car without reason. He had seen it all, but he never expected what else he found.
Division Agent 17, Nick, had already left his apartment behind. With the world around him still in the throes of collapse thanks to the deadly virus that spread to millions on Black Friday, he knew that “Proceed with Caution” was a rule and not a guideline.
Wearing his GO Pack, which held the majority of the specialized equipment that was developed only for Division Agents, he was short three items – his assault rifle and two, “other” items.
As he moved around and occasionally over debris that lined the streets wearing a comfortable pair of hiking boots, his outfit helped him to stay warm, but also enabled him to maintain a free range of motion.
Light-weight winter jacket over a gray hoodie, water-resistant cargo pants, a sock hat to cover his head and ears from the winter chill and a pair black gloves that were lined with rubber grips to help him to maintain a stable grip on almost any weapon or surface, he maintained a low profile as he moved closer to his weapons locker six blocks from his apartment.
Being a tactical agent, a sleeper agent, he had to maintain a lifestyle that was anything but what he had trained for these past fourteen months. Working as a bike messenger that traveled between Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan a few times a week, Nick was conditioned for both distance and speed.
Along with his “daytime” job, he had to maintain a personal life. His girlfriend, a financial advisor that dealt with clients both foreign and domestic, had been with him for nearly two years without knowing his complete story.
To help with his cover, Nick locked away his GO Pack and other gear in a secure location within his apartment. But he never kept any weapons in his apartment – save one, military-grade combat knife which again, his girlfriend was unaware.
Turning the corner two blocks from his apartment, he could no longer see his building over his shoulder. His sights were now set at reaching an abandoned store which had been built atop an old subway maintenance tunnel.
Moving casually so as not to draw attention, he was constantly reminded to move as swiftly as possible as he checked the timer on the Division-issued phone that had originally alerted him as to his activation and initial objective.
Ten minutes passed and he arrived at the storefront. Pushing aside an old, white mannequin which fell to the street outside, he didn’t wait to see if anyone heard the noise. Moving passed another one which leaned against the entrance way, he moved inside and out of the cold. Stepping into the backroom past white, metallic shelves that had been emptied nearly a year earlier, he uncovered the heavy door that was under an old supply shelf. From the dust that had gathered, it appeared to have not been moved since he last visited the store months earlier.
Descending to the maintenance tunnel below, only the echoes of his boots hitting a random puddle on the cement floor could be heard. With what small amounts of light lit the tunnel, he was able to see where he needed to walk – twenty yards east of the base of the latter.
Approaching the heavy, steel door, he pushed aside a piece of metal that covered the keypad which served as the lock on the door. Brushing off the condensation that had accumulated since the last time that he had locked the room six months earlier, he entered the code:
After hearing the lock shift to the unlock position, he opened the door slowly.
The sound resembled that of a subway train braking before a scheduled stop. Even though he was beneath the surface, he looked around to make sure that no one had heard the noise. With the knowledge that the equipment that he was about to open was both classified and very hard to come by, he didn’t want to leave anything to chance.
Silence once again.
Opening the door enough for him to step inside, he tapped a temporary, battery-powered light that he had installed above the makeshift workbench. On it were two, ballistic Strong Boxes – one large enough to hold his rifle and the other about the size of a lunchbox.
Inside the smaller box was his Smart Watch and a case holding a set of contacts for his eyes. He had stored these two items here, along with his rifle and three magazines (mags) of ammunition, so as to avoid the possibility of someone raiding his apartment to gather all of his specialized equipment.
Putting on the contacts and securing his Watch to his right wrist, he blinked his eyes and then tapped the Watch. Within moments, the Shade Watch user interface (UI) was active and started to provide geographic and demographic information as to the world around him.
Unlike the metal doorway which was locked with a ballistic-grade keypad lock, the larger Strong Box was locked with a five-digit fingerprint scanner that was coded to his own. Removing his right glove, he placed his fingers on the sensors and within moments the locks clicked free opening the box.
Looking down at the rifle, his UI automatically scanned the rifle to inform him of the model, ammo capacity and other unique characteristics.
One magazine was already in the rifle and the other three were embedded in the far right-hand side of the box. Picking up each mag and placing them inside of his GO Pack, he holstered the rifle over his shoulder. Closing the weapons case, he shut off the light and exited the room – shutting the large, metal door behind him. Within a minute, he was closing the door at the top of the latter in the back of the abandoned store. And just like that, the store was once again empty and he was fully equipped heading towards his objective.
The view from atop the southern tower of the Manhattan Bridge was almost pleasant. The East River was calm, Battery Park appeared to be untouched and Liberty Island in the distance was as majestic as it had been before the “Winter”. But the moment was gone almost as soon as it arrived.
He finished securing the custom-made, bullet-proof container to the base of one of the four spheres that held the tension cables. Looking down in disgust at all the cars that had been abandoned earlier in the week, he ignored an alert that sounded on his Smart Watch because he could see someone starting to make their way onto the bridge.
Keeping both hands on his assault rifle, Nick shifted his shoulders to adjust his GO Pack. “Unless absolutely necessary,” the instructors used to yell at him, “you WILL keep both hands on your weapon!” It was an order that was burned into his brain.
For the training that he had endured within one of The Division’s training centers, he had received instructions from two, specific groups of people.
The first was of military personnel that had been been pulled out of retirement by unnamed agencies as their techniques were “old school”; they were not “tech-friendly” and knew how to fight and survive with very little supplies.
On the other hand, the second group was made up of a mix of younger military personnel and private contractors that complimented the first group in their survival techniques and combat tactics. But what this group lacked in age, it more than made up for it with technological expertise. Focusing on the new Shade Watch technology that each Division agent was required to use and maintain in all simulations, all agents were trained thoroughly to make this technology a vital part of their arsenal.
Reaching the on-ramp to the Manhattan Bridge from Brooklyn, he looked ahead to see what appeared to be an endless built up of abandoned vehicles. The sight brought back a feeling that he had experienced during his last trail race in Washington State – the Orcas Island 50K. It had been a feeling of proportion: the path ahead was gigantic and he felt as though he were an ant trying to climb Mount Everest.
He remembered how his friend, another bike messenger, had dared him to run the 50k after Nick had just scored another large tip from a high profile Marketing Agency in the City. They had awarded Nick for, they said, his “efficiency and professionalism”, but always did so in a flirtatious manner – a fact that his friend had always been jealous.
After Nick returned home to Brooklyn with a second place medal, his friend took the chance to finally bask in the fact that Nick hadn’t won.
“Second place, huh,” asked his friend. “Was it the distance or was the competition just too much for you?”
Lowering down on one knee behind an abandoned car, he sent out a Pulse to check the path ahead of him on the bridge. Seeing that coast was clear for the next hundred yards, he thought back to the belittling feeling again and how he overcame it.
He had focused more on the run than the race. The landscape, the atmosphere of Orcas Island – he knew that it was an opportunity to do something that he would never forget. And with that, whether it was second or twenty-second place, it really didn’t matter to him. He just loved to run.
Nick had looked at his friend and responded in kind. “Neither. It was just a great day to run.”
His friend looked at him sideways. “What the hell does that mean,” he asked. “You sound like you actually ‘enjoyed’ running 31 miles.”
“31.25 miles, actually,” said Nick. “And yes I did.”
“Well…whatever, dude. No one ‘enjoys’ running such a thing. You do know that, right?”
“Can’t say that I do,” said Nick.
Standing back up, Nick continued on through the junkyard of cars now littering the Manhattan Bridge. “No one ‘enjoys’ running.” He laughed a little to himself and jogged up the ramp.
Periodically pointing his gun downrange, he focused on the road ahead and moved at a steady pace. Keeping his gun at-the-ready and his eyes peeled for any movement, he kept to the northeast side of the bridge so as to maintain an elevated position.
On the two, raised sections of the bridge, he could only see four-door, passenger cars and the occasional commuter bus. But in the lower section his Shade Watch UI, which was displayed only to him thanks to it generating the interface from the technology embedded within the contacts lenses, detected that a partially-opened delivery truck was carrying supplies that could replenish his rations for the hike ahead.
Since he was on the upper level, he knew that he needed to lower himself down to the central section in order to approach the truck. Then without warning:
Taking cover, he looked across to the opposite side of the bridge. An explosion had occurred near a group of cars, but there was something more. He watched and listened as shots were fired. Sending out a Pulse, he detected that three unknowns were attacking…an Agent.
He knew he had to act. Staying on the path ahead would give up his position. But seeing that there was plenty of cover below, a move that wouldn’t be expected by his enemies, he quickly tried to lower himself down to another delivery truck that was near his current position in the central corridor of the bridge. Gripping one of the large pipes that ran the length of the bridge, he used it as a support to lower himself down.
“No,” a man cried out in the distance.
Two explosions happened in quick succession. Caught off guard, Nick lost his grip and fell hard on to his left side landing on the roof of the truck. Still looking towards the site of the explosion, all sounds of gunfire had ceased. Black smoke was starting to roll out of the site, and everyone appeared to be dead or severely injured as his interface was not detecting any movement. But he needed to be sure, and his tech would only allow vital sign scanning at a close range.
Shaking off the ringing in his ears, he grabbed his rifle with “both hands” and positioned himself firmly on one knee. Looking through the scope to try to evaluate what had happened, the black smoke continued to limit his visibility.
“Dammit,” said Nick. “Think. Think.”
Lowering his rifle, he opened his Smart Watch interface in order to check his WORLD MAP (Line 2). Scanning the area ahead, he discovered something that had never come up before in his training – a status of “CLASSIFIED”.
“What the hell,” said Nick as he shook his watch and hit it against the Kevlar base of his GO Pack – a technique frequently performed by the “first” group of instructors. “That’s impossible.”
He brought up the WORLD MAP again only to find that the technology was working correctly.
Gritting his teeth, he checked the area ahead again through his scope. The digital, objective clock on his UI helped him to make a decision:
“05:37:00 REMAINING TO TEAM RENDEZVOUS.”
Gotta move, he thought.
Standing up, he knew that he had to get out of the direct sunlight that now shined down on the roof of the delivery truck. As he surmised before, he would have a better chance to approach the site in the shadows between the cars below.
Turning back and sliding down the front of the truck, he landed firmly on his feet and moved around the truck in a tactical stance so as to keep his head on a swivel and his rifle pointed downrange.
Remembering his time running the 50k, he traversed the cars as if they were obstacles in a race. Pushing doors out of the way, moving around boxes and suitcases that had fallen into the road – he knew that time was precious and discovering what had caused the explosion was his first mission as a Division Agent.
Twenty yards before reaching the truck, an alert was triggered on his Shade Watch UI informing him that someone is still alive near the site of the explosion. The signature displayed two messages:
“DIVISION AGENT 11”
Climbing to the upper level by way of the partially-opened supply truck, he instinctively activated a Health Buffer to start to heal the Agent even before he reached him. Once the health buffer reached the other agent, his UI updated to show him the exact location of the Agent. Finding him unconscious, he quickly moved in to grab him.
Carrying him towards the middle of the bridge away from the fire and black smoke, he finally stopped to catch his breath. Hearing the Health Buffer complete, Nick witnessed Agent 11, Chris, regain consciousness.
Opening his eyes, Chris looked up at his rescuer. Waiting a moment to respond, Nick could tell that Chris was scanning him for information. “Thank you very much, Agent 17,” says Chris.
Nodding to acknowledge him, Nick asked, “So do you have a name or do you want to go by ‘11’?”
“11 would be cool, but my name is Chris.”
Thinking back to his own training, Nick remembered how no one, not even his instructors, provided their last names. Because of this, he didn’t ask Chris for his nor did he give his own. “I’m Nick,” he said. “And no, I don’t go by ‘17’.”
“Fair enough,” says Chris.
Both of the Agents got to their feet and started to leave the area. Heading along the elevated, southwestern section of the bridge – opposite of where Nick had originally entered the bridge – the Agents began to jog past a group of abandoned commuter buses.
“So what were you doing here by yourself,” asks Nick. “I thought I was the only one to come from this area.”
“You probably are,” said Chris. “But as we are tasked to take whatever initiative we think necessary to restore vital infrastructures, I took it upon myself to set up what I call T.E.C.H. Locations, or Tactical ExChange Hub Locations.”
As he explained their purpose to Nick, Chris asked Nick to hold for a moment. Settling down behind a black BMW SUV, Chris grabbed his bag and began to verify that all of his gear was still intact. “Power supplies, tripods, ammo clips. Good. I’ve still got enough for two drones.”
Nick ate half of a granola bar and took a sip of water from the bottle that he pulled from his own GO Pack. “So these Hubs will enable agents to resupply their gear?”
“No. Not their gear, their information. Each station holds enough communication hardware and software that it will boost any agents Intel nearly ten times – providing even more clarity through their Shade Watch UI,” says Chris.
“Listen, we need to move. That black smoke isn’t exactly a ‘stay away’ signal,” says Nick.
“Agreed,” says Chris.
Getting to their feet and jogging out of the area with their assault rifles periodically pointing downrange, Nick asked, “After the explosion, I read an odd status on my UI. Why is the technology you’re installed marked as ‘CLASSIFIED’?”
“I actually have it designated with that classification because I’m still working on establishing the base network of T.E.C.H.’s. Once enough are installed throughout Brooklyn and Manhattan, I will open the network up so that other Agents can use it,” said Chris.
Continuing along the bridge, they finally caught sight of the opposite side. The area around the archway that marked the beginning of the Manhattan Bridge on the Lower Manhattan side was almost identical to the traffic congestion that had built up on the Brooklyn side. The heaviest congestion was in the center of the bridge while the entrance and exit points were sparse.
Nick imagined that this was because people understood the bottleneck that had occurred on the bridge and avoided it. Or maybe, he thought, it was because they weren’t thinking at all; rather, they were reacting on pure instinct. The more he thought about it, the less he wanted to try to understand the actions of the millions that had tried to flee the City on Black Friday.
Nearing the end of their journey across the bridge, Nick asked, “So what’s up with your drone hardware? I didn’t know that we had access to those.”
“I was in the simulation group trained to handle the drones and other support hardware, like mini-turrets. Actually, the drones can be converted to mini-turrets with only a few modifications,” said Chris.
“So when were you activated anyway,” asked Nick.
“About a week ago. I had an apartment on the Upper East Side, so that area is already covered with T.E.C.H.’s. Since I had finished there, I wanted to extend the network into Brooklyn. I figured it wouldn’t hurt given the black market dealers and Dark Zones that keep popping up,” said Chris.
Nick gave a command to hold as he thought he saw activity up ahead. It appeared to be nothing, and he signaled with the proper hand command to proceed. Following and providing cover behind them, Chris continued his earlier thought. “The only way to start to extinguish these threats is through constant communication and coordination.”
Although he was giving off a major nerd vibe to Nick, he understood that Chris was a great person to be around in this crisis.
“So how did they ambush you back there anyway,” said Nick.
Finally stepping off of the Manhattan Bridge, they proceeded cautiously in a tight, tactical formation. “I was placing one of the T.E.C.H.’s on top of the southern tower of the Bridge. Guess I didn’t conceal my movements enough,” said Chris.
He remembered back to when he had ignored the alert that his UI had provided just before he descended back down to the bridge. Feeling rather embarrassed, he kept this oversight to himself.
The two continued on. “Damn I miss coffee,” said Chris as they passed by a cab that had an advertisement on top of it for the latest, holiday drink from Starbucks.