Authors: Morgan Bell
“That ‘new’ you. They don’t do that for everyone.”
Jamie looked at his hands, which were thick and muscled. “They don’t?”
“Nope. The rest of us have to get that old school. Boot camp, quarter-decking and all of the other fun, fun times that make Cyber Ops what it is today,” Rosen grumbled.
“You don’t sound…happy.”
“Me? I’m happy as a clam…who is expecting a future involving drawn butter,” Abe Rosen said. “When all of this was systems hacks, behind the line operations and hanging upside down in hangers for hours on end, I was having a great time. Now, I’ve got to take you out into a hotspot and clear it and bring you back alive.”
“Not fun?” Jamie ventured.
“Look, I don’t know you from Adam and you may be a really great guy. But I’ve got make sure you know rule number one.”
“Don’t get Sergeant Rosen killed,” Jamie said.
Rosen smiled. “There might be hope for you yet.”
KV CONTAINMENT DATE CLASSIFED
om hasn’t come out since you left this morning,” Jane Kroger said to her father when he got home that afternoon.
Mitch Kroger set down his case and closed his eyes. “Do you know if she’s showered yet?” he asked.
“I told you, she hasn’t come out all morning. I think she decided to sleep the day away again,” his teenage daughter retorted.
“I’m going to get her ready for her appointment. Please have yourself ready in ten minutes so that we can go,” Mitch ordered, and went to his bedroom door.
The room was dark, as dark as it had been when he left it. In the darkness he saw the faint green glow of a panel that his wife Luisa was using. Her eyes were staring at it intently and her fingers danced over its surface quickly.
“You have an appointment at the healthcare campus. Do you remember?” he asked, sitting at the edge of the bed.
“Of course I remember,” she said, still working on the panel.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m letting several people know just how stupid and insignificant they are.”
“Do they work for a living?” he asked.
His wife didn’t look up. “They are idiots and someone needs to make them aware of that.”
Mitch tried to reach out for the panel but his wife drew it away. “If you don’t go to your appointment they will send over a social data tech to do an in house evaluation. Which could result in –“ He didn’t get to finish the sentence as she was out of bed and off to the bathroom.
Why the threat of a social interview bothered her he couldn’t understand. Appeal to her vanity, her pride, her malice or her greed and you couldn’t get a response from her anymore. Mention a home visit and you would think you had set her on fire. Mitch picked up her panel and was about to turn it off when he noticed a message. He read it. At first it appeared to be a nonsense message from someone named Chris. As he continued to read it he found his neck becoming tight, his temples were throbbing and his heart was racing. He tried to close his eyes and drop the panel. He couldn’t. His eyes were burning, his fingers clenched tightly, and his teeth locked. He could feel his whole head shake as his teeth threatened to break. Then there was the red, the red behind the eyes, the red veil that covered his brain. Finally there was silence and Mitch Kroger died in his bedroom waiting for his wife to get changed for her psychiatric appointment for rage issues. Fifteen minutes later his daughter Jane knocked on the bedroom door. “I’ve been waiting forever,” she complained.
“We will be out in a few minutes,” Mitch assured her, adjusting his shirt collar and sending out a message to his co-workers.
“We will be late,” Jane moaned.
“Coming out now,” he said, not moving from the bed.
Luisa came out of the bathroom to find Mitch on the panel. “What are you doing?” she demanded.
“Telling Sam and Roger that they are assholes,” Mitch replied, not looking up.
“Oh,” Louisa said, and put on her shoes.
“Mom, Dad, don’t make me start counting,” Jane warned.
“You can drive,” Mitch told her.
“But I don’t get my permit until next -“
“You can drive,” Mitch snapped, and got up from the bed.
The transport vehicle took them out from the base to a healthcare campus outside Silver Springs, Maryland. They arrived at what looked like a typical day in corporate healthcare. Transports parked, people queued up in lines awaiting a chit to enter the wing of the campus their care was scheduled in for that afternoon. Disagreeable clerks were reviewing files and complaining to union stewards about working conditions and medics were looking suicidal as they returned to the scene of the previous day’s healthcare crimes.
“We’ve got KV activity in the psych ward. We are here on a containment basis,” Rosen explained as the team suited up outside the transport.
The other nine members of the team had already put on their goggles, set personal tech in the transport safe and were prepared for deployment. The tenth member, Jamie, was struggling to get his goggles on.
“Baxter, are you having a problem?” Rosen asked him.
“Yes, sergeant,” Jamie admitted, as the strap to his goggles threatened to split his face in half.
“It’s like this,” Rosen said, removing the glasses from Baxter.
He positioned them on the bridge of Baxter’s nose then pulled the strap back across Jamie’s head.
A few of the other members of the team snickered.
“What is rule number one?” Rosen asked.
“Don’t get Sergeant Rosen killed,” the team chanted in unison.
“We will enter together, proceed through the processing center and down to the psych ward. There we split into two teams. Team red will be taking identification and extraction with Baxter bird dogging for us. Team blue will do mop up. Psych ward is second floor, two exit points, one stairwell and one elevator. Remember the rules for KVs,” Rosen said.
“No Tech, No Talk and No One Gets Out Alive,” the nine members of the team responded.
“All right, let’s move out.”
“Sergeant, I don’t know how to bird dog,” Jamie complained.
“You’ve got your goggles. Check the thermals. If they are lower than they should be they are either really sick or really dead. If they are either, and they are still talking, they’ve got the virus.”
Jane sat in the car shaking. Fourteen years and seven months on the planet had not prepared her for this. This was the day her parents had truly lost it. Her father hadn’t said a thing to her the entire drive over. He hadn’t checked the settings, the guidance systems, nothing. He’d sat quietly in the passenger seat as she had sweated her ass off driving in the late afternoon traffic north of Baltimore. All he did was send messages on the panel. He didn’t see the near misses, the over corrections she made when a federal transport came alongside them. Not a word. Then they got out of the car and left her there.
Once she managed to prize her fingers from the steering wheel she promised herself that she would go into the building and tell both of her parents to go to hell. That was when she saw the eleven uniformed men get out of the federal transport vehicle on the other side of the parking lot.
Jamie looked at the members of the team around him. Where they showed heat signatures they were a bright red. As they made their way into the health campus he saw the people queued up; they were red to bright red. The clerks and the union steward were also red. Rose pulled off his goggles and flashed a badge at a security officer, who scanned it. Then he gave Rosen an all clear and the team moved into the corridor.
The eleven of them took the elevator to the second floor and Rosen signaled for them to split into their respective teams. Blue team stationed members at the stairwell and the elevators and put four others forward near the entrance of the psych ward. Rosen walked up to the receptionist and flashed his badge. She reached down for a scanner.
“It will be easy once you’ve gotten the first one under your -” Rosen was saying to Jamie.
Jamie had buried his machete in the receptionist’s face and knocked the phone away before Rosen realized what was happening. Jamie crushed the phone beneath his boot.
“What was that?” Rosen asked.
“Rule number one, don’t get Sergeant Rosen killed,” Jamie said.
“How did you…”
“You had your goggles off. She was blue and getting colder. She was reaching for her panel.”
Rosen pulled his goggles back on and saw the still moving receptionist was blue and cooling. Jamie removed the head and hands, and the form stopped moving.
“Alright,” Rosen said. “Definitely a hotspot. Assume the worst; proceed with extreme prejudice.”
The team moved into the psych ward where over forty people were complaining loudly, texting, messaging and posting on their social media. Not a single one of them had a heat signature anywhere near normal. By the time the team had cleared reception Rosen’s shoulder was sore from hacking. Jamie on the other hand was just warming up. He entered the exam rooms without backup – a break with protocol – and cleared them himself.
“All three doctors were dead,” Jamie informed team red.
“We’ve got forty three KV out here.” Rosen informed him.
“Only had two try to get out to the stairwell,” team blue leader reported.
“Baxter! What are you doing?” Rosen asked, seeing Jamie duck down behind a counter.
“Bird dogging, sarge!’ Jamie replied.
Jamie crawled along the floor of the workstation until he came to where the med tech’s chair was pushed out. Huddled up in a cubby he found the med tech, on his phone.
“Hello,” Jamie said.
The med tech didn’t look up and instead growled, “Fuck off, I’m on break.”
“No one appreciates how hard you work,” Jamie commiserated.
“No fucking gratitude. Fucking doctors and nurses acting all high and mighty. But we showed them. Got ourselves a union, no more step and fetch for that lot,” the med tech grumbled.
Jamie looked at the heat signature; it was red, fading to blue. “Close enough,” he muttered, and dispatched the med tech.
“Found one under the station counter,” Jamie called out, standing up.
“Sarge, we’ve got trouble,” blue team leader responded. “Admin incoming.”
A man in a silver suit, blue shirt and red tie marched across the lobby of the psych ward officiously. “You, over there,” he pointed to Rosen. “What is going on here?”
“We are here on -” Rosen began, taking off his goggles.
“This is my healthcare campus and my responsibility!” the man cut him off.
“Yes and -”
“Do you know who I am?” the man squealed. “Do you know how many facilities I’ve run to get to where I am today? You and your goons come into my healthcare campus and take it over! Well I’m Mr. Tracy and this is going to -”
The machete flew across the room and buried itself in Mr. Tracy’s head. Mr. Tracy fell to the floor, still twitching and complaining loudly about who he was and how hard he’d worked to get there.
“Baxter, how did you pick that up? His heat signature?” Rosen asked in awe.
Jamie moved his goggles into place and saw that Mr. Tracy was a dark blue fading to black on the heat signature spectrum. “There’s that too,” Jamie said, and shrugged.
KV OUTBREAK 3
WORLD: PARAMUS, NJ
aramus, New Jersey, even on the nicest day, is not a place a soldier wants to be deployed. This wasn’t a nice day; snow had blanketed the east coast in the worst weather in forty years. Businesses, schools and roads were closed. But a handful of hardcore shoppers were at the mall when the KV strike team arrived.
“Hey, little man,” the creepy guy who was standing in the living room in his boxers addressed Sam.
Sam ignored him. He’d gotten sick of trying to keep up with his mother’s boyfriends and this moron was just the latest clueless idiot to come home with his mom. Sam, at age eight, knew that there would be a fight, sooner rather than later, and his mother would be telling him what a horrible asshole the latest boyfriend was and how she’d never let this happen again. Sam had decided it was easier to tune out everything and just play his games.
“You know where your mom’s purse is?” the creepy guy asked.
Sam could have lied, could have ignored the idiot, but he’d learned it was better to be neutral and slightly helpful, even if it meant they got robbed. People didn’t hit you if you made it easy for them to rob you, well, they didn’t hit as hard. “On the corner table next to the front door.”
“Thanks, little man,” the creepy guy smirked and went to the front of the apartment.
He didn’t make much in the way of pretense about what he was doing. He went through the purse and took out all of Sam’s mother’s state and federal benefit cards. He also took her panel that all her payment services were linked to. While he was looking at the panel a message flashed on it. The creepy guy stopped and read it. His eyes narrowed and he felt his brain begin to burn with rage and then pain. He could hear the sound of his own blood swirling in his ears. He felt himself wanting to scream and gnash his teeth. But he said nothing. He just walked, read and went back into the bedroom where he had left Sam’s mom.
Sam heard the door close. The fight was coming soon. He could tell. The dirt bag had cleaned out his mother’s purse and she was going to lay into him. He turned up the volume on his game. There were another three levels to go before he would reach anything that would require his attention. Sam played and waited.
He felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked up to see the creepy guy dressed and his mom also dressed. Neither of them looked happy, but neither of them looked like they’d been in a fight either.
“Hey, little man,” the creepy guy said, “we’re going to the mall.”
“We have thirty KVs in the mall, transmitting the virus,” Sergeant Abe Rosen addressed his team. “This is a dense population urban setting. No automatic weapons, knives not guns. Discreet is the watch word. Let Dr. Baxter lead and make sure you have his back. We go in two at a time. Spread out. Com contact with Dr. B, if you think you have one. Do not move until we confirm. Is that clear?”
The ten soldiers in the transport answered as one, “Yes, sarge.”
“Dr. Baxter, time for you and me to take a stroll,” Sergeant Rosen said, and threw open the back door to the transport vehicle.
Jamie caught his breath when he felt the cold blast against his face. He’d been some cold places, but he was caught by surprise by the dry air.
“Cold as a brass witch’s tits,” Sergeant Rosen laughed. “You’ll get used to it. I grew up not five miles from here.”
“Just getting acclimated,” Jamie shivered, his teeth chattering.
“We’ll be inside in a minute. But be ready for ugly, this is Paramus,” Sergeant Rosen said, releasing the clip that secured his service knife.
Jamie had been on fifteen missions in the last three weeks. All of them had been straight forward. They’d gone to the healthcare campuses in seven different states. They’d gone to the rage bays and there they found the KVs, dead and texting, messaging, posting like maniacs. The virus churning through dead people back and forth from the internet and the phone service, killing, transforming and transmitting. They were efficient, they cleared the bays, destroyed the phone, tablets, and all the other tech the KVs were using. Then they burned the body. Those clean sweep operations were simple and fast. Jamie was nervous about this one because it was an “in population” strike. The KVs weren’t self-segregating here. Here he had to know the living from the dead. The infected from the simply irritable. This entire mission was on him.
Sam scanned the crowd for anyone he might know. His mother hadn’t committed to buying anything, but she hadn’t said, “No,” either. The trick was to get her into the store, get her to buy the game and get out. This was because he didn’t want to be seen with his mom buying a game at the mall.
Most of the kids in his school didn’t go to the mall. Their parents had credit and could get everything direct over the networks and the web. Right now Sam was having trouble getting his mom and her creepy boyfriend to do anything. They were just standing in front of the store sending messages on their panels. Sam was going to elbow his mom in the ribs when something caught his attention. He looked over to see two men dressed like characters from one of his games walking through the mall. Sam had seen the HDMP officers at the mall; these guys weren’t HDMP. Sam could tell, because they looked like they knew what they were doing and they weren’t swaggering around with a shock wand on their hip and a machine gun slung over their shoulder. These guys were serious; you could tell by how they were dressed, how they were walking and their weapons.
“Mom,” Sam whispered.
His mom ignored him.
“Mom,” he spoke more urgently, and pulled at her elbow.
“Hey, little man, let the grownups do what they need to do,” the creepy guy spat out, pulling Sam away from his mother.
Sam glared up at him and thought a hundred hateful thoughts. It would have comforted Sam tremendously to know that many, if not all, of his hateful thoughts about this creepy guy would come to pass and soon. But, even if Sam had known what was to happen to the creepy guy and his mom, he wouldn’t get to enjoy it for very long.
Jamie motioned to Rosen; they had entered the mall near the F.Y.E and Game Stop. This was prime hunting ground. There were at least fourteen people on phones messaging and texting in the shops and walking along the concourse. “Next two in,” Rosen said into his com. “Be advised this area is definitely hot.”
Jamie put on his glasses. The heat signatures for the first four people he looked at were normal. Then he saw a figure who was just slightly less bright in their heat signature.
Jamie walked up to the woman in her late forties who was texting furiously on her phone.
“Children are unappreciative,” Jamie observed.
“You have no idea, my children never appreciate what a bastard their father is,” she agreed, not looking up from the text messages she was sending.
“No matter how much you apologize they won’t listen,” Jamie commiserated.
“I said I was sorry if I did anything wrong, but it was all their father’s fault. If he hadn’t been such a bastard I never would have had to do any of this.” She continued to text.
Jamie patted her on the back, placing a tracking chip on her coat. Then he walked back to Rosen.
“She’s been dead about twelve hours and has turned,” Jamie said.
“You sure?” Rosen asked.
“Dead sure. She failed the field screen. I’ve tagged her. Have them take her out in the parking lot,” Jamie replied, and then resumed the hunt for KVs.
Twenty minutes later Jamie was up on the second level.
“Are we clear?” he called in on the com.
“Everyone you tagged has been acquired and processed,” a soldier responded.
“What’s the count?” Jamie asked.
“I believe thirty.”
“You believe or you know?” Jamie demanded.
“I’ll get you a confirmation count.”
“You do that.”
Jamie went over to the far side of the food court where he saw Sergeant Rosen talking to a woman in her late fifties. Jamie put on his glasses. The heat signature was off. He saw Rosen reach for the panel in his pocket. Jamie ran, yelling, “Don’t answer that!”
“Sir, the count is 29. I repeat the count is 29,” the soldier at the other end of the com said.
“This is my Aunt Anat,” Sergeant Rosen argued.
“Don’t answer your phone,” Jamie repeated.
“Why didn’t you become a doctor like your father?” Aunt Anat asked Rosen. She was also texting.
“Aunt Anat, we’ve talked about this before,” Rosen soothed, taking out his panel.
“Don’t answer your phone,” Jamie commanded, drawing his knife.
Rosen looked from his aunt to Jamie. He hurled his phone across the room where it shattered and he stabbed his aunt in the skull. Rosen was shaking.
“I could have sworn she was alive. She was complaining about my uncle, my cousins and my dad. The entire time I’ve ever known her that’s all she’s done.”
“I know,” Jamie said, patting the sergeant on the back. “I couldn’t tell when my ex or my sister turned. That’s the thing about the virus. It’s hard to tell if they’re dead or just abusive, kvetching, gossips who have nothing better to do with their lives.”
“She was the same. I gave her my number when she asked me why I was too good to give my only aunt my phone number.” Rosen shook his head.
“Everyone,” Jamie said into his com, “our frequency has been compromised and our private phones as well. Take no calls until tech updates the numbers.”
Jamie heard ten confirmations from the soldiers and the com went silent.
“At least we’ve cleared this one,” Jamie said, looking around the food court.
Then he saw a monitor menu screen flicker out to black and light back up. A text message was scrolling. “Close your eyes!” he yelled to sergeant Rosen.
Jamie drew his service pistol and sent two shots into the monitor, shattering it. Another monitor menu display lit up with the message. Jamie hit it once and then realized Anat was still texting.
“Screw me,” Jamie shouted, and kicked the phone from the dead woman’s hands.
“Is it safe to look?” Rosen asked.
“Give me a second,” Jamie said, swinging his pistol around to check the next monitor.
The monitor changed and he shot it. Then he proceeded to shoot out all of the menu monitor displays in the food court.
“Was that necessary?” Rosen asked, opening his eyes.
“Yes,” Jamie retorted, loading a new clip in his gun.
“This isn’t just a virus. Something or someone is now moving the messages onto public monitor displays. Either the virus can redirect itself or someone is helping it.”
“Com frequency updated,” they both heard.
“Check in,” Rosen said.
The count off went quickly but they were short two.
“Jackson, Sanchez, can you read me?” Sergeant Rosen asked.
No one answered.
“Where were Jackson and Sanchez before the coms reset?” Rosen demanded.
“They were holding position at the point of entry,” a soldier replied.
“Is everyone else out of the building?” Jamie asked.
“Yes. After the sweep we returned to the parking lot to process.”
“Good. Do not, I repeat do not, re-enter,” Jamie ordered.
“What the hell are you doing?” Rosen demanded.
“Whatever was going on in here with the food monitors, we have to assume was occurring everywhere in the complex. It was just dumb luck that only Sanchez and Jackson were in the mall when it happened,” Jamie said.
“Get back in the truck,” Rosen barked into the com. “Get back in the truck. Secure the vehicle and do not, I repeat, do not, look at any monitor screens, displays or tech until we provide orders in person.”
“Confirmed,” a soldier said. “Oh damn. Musky! Musky you stupid…”
There was an interference sound that may have been doors shutting or shots being fired.
The com line was quiet.
“What happened?” Rosen asked.
The com remained silent.
Jamie signaled Rosen to turn off the com. Sergeant Rosen nodded and disengaged his com unit. “We need to go quickly and quietly down if we are going to get out of here alive,” Jamie urged.
“You’re immune,” Rosen said.
“Not to getting shot I’m not.”
“What do you mean?” Rosen asked.
“Well there are two possibilities, either one, our soldiers shot an infected member, or two, an infected member shot our soldiers.”
“Forget what we think we know,” Jamie said. “Something different is going on here.”
“How do you want to proceed?”
“We need to get you a blindfold.”
“Not happening,” Rosen said.
“Then I will have to go ahead of you and take out all the monitors between here and the exit.”
“That sounds fine by me.”
Jamie checked his ammunition and his knife, and then went down the escalator to the first floor. People were still shopping, which was not a good sign. Gunfire in the food court and possibly shots outside should have sent people racing for exits. But instead they were standing in front of store displays, some texting, some on tablets and others just staring.
“Is it clear?” Rosen called down.
“It most definitely is not clear. If it is anything, it is as far opposite of clear as you can get,” Jamie called up to Rosen.
Jamie put on his glasses; the heat signatures at the far end of the mall were nearly normal, but they were dropping. He walked forward down the main concourse. There were at least fifteen monitor displays in store fronts and three directory kiosk displays that were scrolling the message.
“Damn,” Jamie groaned; he knew he didn’t have enough ammo to take out all of the monitors. Especially not if the KVs turned on him. He doubled back to the escalator. “Rosen,” he called up.
“There are too many monitors for me to take out and the whole first floor is infected. Anyone who was down here when the monitors started sending the message is toast.”
“One, I spend the next hour cutting through power and data feed lines to clear a path to the door. While the KVs get restless and come to text at me or kill me. Two, I find the breakers and shut down power to the complex and we are in here with them in the dark with only the emergency lighting. Or three, we get you in a blindfold and I lead you out of here,” Jamie said.