Authors: Morgan Bell
In the command center the general was barking out orders as men and women ran talked into headset.
“Marshall! Baxter!” the general yelled, seeing them arrive. “We are deploying you to the Midwest. Get your kits and be back here in ten minutes.”
Marshall saluted with a, “ Yes, sir,” and trotted off to his quarters.
Baxter, still not used to his recent title of “officer,” stood still and asked a question instead. “Why, general?”
The general’s face reddened but he contained himself and said, “The situation has changed. I will be briefing you when you are back here in nine minutes and fifty seconds with your kit ready to go.”
“Yes, sorry. Ah, sir,” Baxter tried to do a salute but it became more of a fluttering wave with his hand missing his forehead and drifting off. Then Baxter turned and trotted back to his quarters to pack.
As he went down the hall he saw Sergeant Rosen coming out of his quarters with his backpack, weapon, bedroll and a case of ammunition.
“Looks like we’re going back into the shit,” Rosen smiled.
“Any idea where?” Jamie asked.
“Midwest is all I know. I expect they’ll tell us when they need to,” Rosen said, and walked down the hall back to the command center.
Jamie got to his quarters and packed. He had his kit and his machete ready and was back at the command center with two minutes to spare. The general glanced at his watch. He saw that his troop were assembled, and nodded to a sergeant who yelled, “Attention!”
The troops snapped to attention.
“Thirty minutes ago we received reports that indicate a new threat. The KV virus has either changed or a new variant has been released,” the general said solemnly.
A panel in the wall lit up and there was an image of a man obsessively sending messages on his phone. “This man was recorded ten hours ago. Based on his thermal profile he was ten minutes dead and this happened.”
The man dropped his panel and ran up to a HDMP officer, disarmed him, killed him and then started shooting other people. The man made it down a hall, went into a side room, was out of sight for fifteen seconds and then there was an explosion.
“We missed three earlier cases of this because two were postal workers and one was a civil servant with the IRS. Those were mistaken for normal workplace incidents. Now we have two hundred fifty seven episodes recorded in the last twelve hours. This isn’t appreciably higher than our normal number of homicides in this country. But one hundred of those happened in the European Union, fifty in Russia, seven in England, five in China and one hundred and forty in the US,” the general explained as a hot spot globe appeared on the display.
“The distribution of these were in major metropolitan areas. Again, the numbers are lost in our normal homicide patterns. Except that seventy percent of these occurred in Detroit and the incidents appear to be accelerating. Based on our best projections, if we do not shut down the Detroit outbreak, we will see Detroit fall in four days.”
There was an isolated murmur audible to everyone present among the assembled troops.
“Who was that?” the general demanded.
A hand went up. “Me, sir.”
The general narrowed his gaze and the corner of his mouth twitched up perceptibly before resuming its reproachful scowl. “Captain Blaise, why am I not surprised? Please share with us your insight into the present situation.”
Captain Blaise, a man in his early forties, with a lean, long build and scar extending from his left cheek to the tip of his jaw, said, “Sir, I was observing the fact that Detroit fell in 2014.”
“That is correct, Captain. Then later, the state of Michigan fell, which is why Detroit is a special case for us. The 2024 Michigan Reorganization Act made Detroit the first city to be fully federally wired with the new tech grid. We suspect this is why it is being targeted; to test the new grid. We believe if the grid can be compromised we will see a ramp up in attacks against the E.U. grid cities and the partially wired Metroplexes of North America. Which is why you, Captain Blaise, and your colleague, Captain Bocholt, will be inserting our response teams into the Detroit red zone.”
An expanded map of street level Detroit appeared on the panel. “You will be operating under Federal Homeland Domestic Military Police cover. The vehicles, the uniforms and the operations will all appear to be HDMP operations. The civil authority in Detroit is unaware of the situation and is not, I repeat, not, to be informed or otherwise communicated with.”
“Sir,” Captain Blaise asked, “what are our urban engagement parameters for achieving our objective?”
“Essentially unlimited, captain. You will be issued general Homeland warrants which will give you access to all facilities, domiciles and buildings under a domestic terrorism event. Obviously we want to limit collateral damage. But we are to aggressively pursue immediate containment. If you fail to do so the kill switch option has been authorized. So, for you, there is no fall back option.”
Everyone was silent. “Specialists, acquisition of samples is a secondary objective. Tech, live subjects and data are to be captured and preserved when possible. But time is limited and we cannot provide ongoing support for transport for samples until the primary objective is fully achieved. So make your collections with that in mind. Lieutenant Marshall, you and Lieutenant Baxter are being sent with other members of your team to assist and, if the opportunity presents itself, pursue your investigations. Again, let me stress, the containment is primary. Your transports are waiting. Good luck and good hunting,” the general said, and then saluted.
The body of assembled troops saluted and even Jamie managed to approximate a decent salute. “Dismissed,” the general ordered, and the troops rushed off at a trot to the transport bay.
A sergeant ran out behind them and caught up with the captains, handing them tablets.
DETROIT BRESERKER RESPONSE TEAMS
y the time Jamie was out at his designated transport deployment assembly point, Captain Blaise was yelling at the sergeant who had given him the tablet. “You’ve got to be shitting me,” he roared.
“Sir, it’s all right there,” the sergeant said.
“And you want me to believe this was a random name assignment?” Captain Blaise asked.
“Sir, it’s what the system generated,” the sergeant explained.
“Bullshit,” Captain Blaise spluttered.
“I’m sorry but -”
“Never mind. Thank you, sergeant, that will be all,” Captain Blaise said.
“All right everyone, listen up. Some smart ass has given us our official operation name. It is ‘Escape From Detroit.’ If that one doesn’t cause you to bust a gut laughing, we are officially known as ‘Team Lemming.’” Captain Blaise addressed the group. No one laughed.
“The only good news in all of this is we will be traveling by black helicopter. Which, frankly, is my preference. We will have three hours and thirty minutes travel time. We will arrive at HDMP air base near Dearborn, refuel and immediately deploy in Detroit. Our operation parameters include the eastern and southern suburbs. I will transmit your team data files after we board.”
“I see several of you whom I’ve worked with before. Lieutenant Fenwick, Sergeant Rosen, Agent Ganos, Agent Drake, good to see you all again. Those of you whom I haven’t worked with, Dr. Baxter, Lieutenant Marshall, glad to meet you. Don’t get yourselves killed. Remember, success requires no explanations, just take the damn bow. Catastrophic cluster fox trots end up in boxes. Everything else involves interviews where the less said the better. Team Lemming, head on out.”
Captain Blaise led them out to the tarmac where the helicopter was sitting idle.
“Who’s flying this?” Jamie asked Rosen.
“Blaise,” Rosen said, nodding toward the captain who was starting his preflight check with Lieutenant Fenwick.
“He’s the leader and the pilot?” Jamie asked as they got into the helicopter and moved to their seats along the cabin wall.
“Blaise and Bocholt have been running insertion teams since just after the virus broke out, B & B. Bocholt is by the book, Blaise, not so much,” Rosen said, strapping in.
“How do you mean?” Jamie asked, securing his own five point harness.
“Jericho was the first one to develop the head, hands, tech approach.” Agent Ganos said, climbing in next to Jamie.
“Yeah, he called it lateral thinking,” Rosen sneered.
“Some lateral thinking,” Drake observed, harnessing in opposite them. “He was cornered with a group of KV’s and said, ‘Fuck this,’ tossed a grenade and went back to see what was still moving.”
“Well,” Angie pointed out, “it worked. He saw that if you didn’t take out head, hands and tech they kept going.”
“What’s so funny?” Angie asked.
“Did you look at your assignment tablet?” Drake asked.
Angie and Jamie both opened their assignment tablet cases and checked the download. A detailed report on the new version of the virus was there with information not part of the briefing.
“Do you see what they are saying?”
According to the report the new strain caused the victim to repeat, “Industrial Meat Puppet. Industrial Meat Puppet.”
“It looks like we are starting to get the designer’s political message,” Jamie said.
“Yes, I saw that. But do you see what they are calling these?” Drake laughed.
“KVB?” Jamie asked.
“Kensington Virus Berserker” Drake said.
“Berserker?” Jamie shook his head.
“Berserker. The ancient Norse warrior, Odin’s chosen, Úlfhéðnar. Insane, invincible warriors who worked themselves up into a frenzy and ran into battle without armor and were supposedly unstoppable by fire or steel,” Drake explained. “Someone over in central command is definitely getting whimsical.”
“Go Team Lemming!” they heard Captain Blaise announce over the intercom. “We will be lifting off. We have Lieutenant Fleming in the left seat. In the event everything goes all brown trousers the lieutenant will be in charge, and what will you do for me lieutenant?”
“Pack you a bag,” Fenwick said over the communications channel.
“And?” Captain Blaise asked.
“Give you a ride.”
“That’s right, pack me a bag and give me a ride,” Captain Blaise said to Fenwick. Then he turned to everyone else in the helicopter, “Please enjoy your next three and a half hours of flight. I will point out sites of interest as we travel across America’s heartland. There will be no in flight service and there will be no seatbelt sign. If you need to use the bathroom you will find we are equipped with one, please try and time your visit when we don’t have any turbulence.
The helicopter propellers began to spin. “We appreciate you have no choice in your travel arrangements. Which is why we are proud that you’ve been forced to fly Black Helicopter Express, where we’ve been keeping the public guessing since 1996.”
The helicopter lifted off, rose to 19,000 feet while drifting forward, then suddenly accelerated, and Jamie had the sick feeling of being thrown into a express train three and a half miles in the air.
“Just like the roller-coasters at Cedar Point!” Rosen hooted.
“Do they last three and a half hours?” Jamie asked, as another wave of nausea hit him.
“No, and neither does this. The acceleration kick evens out in a few seconds. Just wait for your ears to sort it out. But don’t close your eyes.”
“You’ll throw up because your ears won’t have a horizon reference,” Rosen said.
Sharon Quaid was sitting in the food court in Canton, Michigan, with her three children. She had them once a month as part of the joint parenting agreement. Philip, Rick and Randy were all demanding that she take them down to the entertainment center on the third floor.
“You have a system at home,” Sharon said, knowing that this was the standard, “How much do you love me” demand that came with her infrequent contact with her kids.
“It’s not the same,” Randy, the youngest, argued.
Sharon looked at Randy; he was the test. Every time the older two would put him up to doing the begging to see if Mom could hold up.
“Randy, you are getting older,” she pointed out, by way of an opening on the subject of the fact that this wasn’t cute anymore.
“So are you, Mom,” he countered, taking care to keep his face a picture of innocence.
“You remind me a lot of your father,” she grumbled, getting a credit transfer stick that she’d brought with her in anticipation of exactly this sort of demand.
She set the stick on the table and used her panel to load it. “There is enough on there for the three of you to play two games,” she told Randy, and handed it to him.
“I can take it,” Philip asserted, trying to snatch it from his little brother.
“No, you can’t,” Sharon said, stopping him, “You didn’t have the nerve to ask me yourself.”
Philip gave her a contemptuous teenage glower and then the three boys were off to the escalator. Sharon loved seeing her boys, but she valued these breaks from them during the visits almost as much as she did the time with them. Her panel signaled that she had a message. Sharon began to wonder if it was their father checking up on her. She felt her neck tighten. Then she saw the message was from someone else.
Two minutes later the HDMP officer for the food court and fourteen customers were dead. Sharon Quaid died seven minutes later, blowing up herself and a data hub on the food court level.
For the next few minutes Jamie wouldn’t let himself blink. Then finally he felt the nausea pass and everything seemed quiet and normal.
Drake popped his harness open and walked over to one of the windows. “He’s taking it easy on us. He’s going about 150-175,” he shouted over the sound of the engines. “This is one of the newest ones. It can go 475 miles per hour.”
“Operational limitations,” Blaise said over the intercom. “Not allowed to open this up to its full speed over populated areas. Not allowed to sustain top speeds for durations longer than necessary for engagements or evasions. It sucks! She is cherry and I would love to ride her out hard. But the only time they let me do that is out over the desert.”
Drake gave Blaise thumbs up and continued to look out the window.
Jamie noticed that his tablet was flashing at him. He opened it. There was a message. It read:
“Greetings Meat Puppets! Glad you’ve decided to come out and play. See you in Detroit. But don’t expect to escape it alive, my little lemmings. Regards, Cronus.”
Jamie reached the release catch on his harness and yelled. “Your tablets!”
The other team members’ tablets were flashing the message and heating up.
“Drake! Tie off and pop the door!” Blaise yelled.
Jamie gathered the tablets and tossed them to Drake. Drake clipped himself to a latch, hit the door release and threw the tablets out the open door as pressure pulled at him. Three seconds later there was an explosion behind them and a slight concussion from the force.
“Contact Command Center,” Drake yelled up to Blaise as he secured the door.
“That is a negative.” Blaise said. “Have to assume all channels compromised and that all tech communications ingoing or outgoing are affected. If we transmit, we may open up a channel for them to override us or base. What we are going to do is hope that we get to HDMP air support without further incident and then we are going to change our insertion plans. So lock in and grab your socks. We are going to mach 1.”
If the initial burst of speed that they felt following lift off had made Jamie nauseous, what he was felt now was like having the side of his head forced out his other ear. He was clenching his teeth.
“Tighten your stomach muscles and squeeze the cheeks of your ass together,” Rosen said to him.
“Why? So I won’t black out?” Jamie asked.
“Nah, Kegel exercises,” Rosen laughed.
“You are twisted Rosen!”
“It will pass in a second. Once we hit cruising speed, we will stop feeling this.”
Then there was a silent droning calm. “We have hit our cruising speed. Feel free to remain belted in. Our new ETA is an hour,” Blaise announced.
Jamie looked around the cabin. Marshall had been uncharacteristically quiet. Agents Ganos and Drake, who had been light and laughing before the tablets blew were now looking very tense. Rosen was Rosen; he was relaxing. Lieutenant Fenwick, who was second seat, was talking to Captain Blaise off the com. It was then that Jamie realized that he, Ganos, Drake and Rosen may have been exposed to the KVB virus.
Chelsea Maccabee was running late for work. The morning had been a series of problems. Her home systems panel had shorted out, ordering food from three different vendors she never used and thawing the contents of her freezer. The calendar that preloaded her day and organized her files issued an error notice at three in the morning and informed her that the day was Sunday, October 7th 1917 and that she had an appointment in Petrograd. She ignored this information and doggedly continued her morning only to find - having completed one eye - that her makeup stylus had shorted out. The one eye made up and the other not was a problem she couldn’t just cope with. She couldn’t remove the makeup without the stylus. She added a detour to the pharmacy on her drive from Canton, Michigan into Detroit.
“Welcome to wellness Chelsea Maccabee,” the voice announced when she walked into the pharmacy.
Chelsea ignored the announcement and went down the aisle until she came to the section where they had her brand of stylus. She grabbed the package and went to the checkout to find, to her horror, that it was being managed by a person. The person, a twenty something female in the pharmacy’s scrubs was hand scanning and bagging purchases.
“What’s going on?” Chelsea asked a woman who was ahead of her in the line.
“System crashed and they had to use an older operating system. Something to do with a hub blowout,” the woman said.
Chelsea looked at the time and saw precious minutes go sailing by. If she called now she could register an exception for her work attendance. But it would require explaining about the tech failure at her home and the delay at the pharmacy. Which would then be recorded in her profile and have negative assessment qualities as it related to her conduct of her life outside of her work duties. Chelsea really envied people who could have breakdowns or just go insane; toss away all of their responsibilities and live their lives medicated and supervised by the federal government. She really wished she had that option. She was returning to the question of which action to take – to call in or take the attendance notation – when she felt her panel vibrate. She took it from her purse, terrified that it was her supervisor. She needn’t have worried. She accepted the communication. There was never an attendance or adverse performance entry made in her record.
Thirty seconds later Chelsea Maccabee, muttering, “Meat Puppet,” left the building, being told by the auto-greeter to, “Enjoy your wellness,” after disarming an HDMP officer and killing all of the customers and one employee in the store. From there she walked half a block and blew up the data hub that covered a seven block section of Canton, Michigan.
Forty minutes later, the helicopter began decelerating, and Jamie felt a light floating feeling as they moved lower across Ohio, Lake Erie and finally the bottom corner of Lake Huron.
“We are going to be doing this old school,” Captain Blaise announced, before opening up a radio frequency.
He identified his flight and clearance to the control tower and Jamie could only hear half of the conversation. What he could make out was Blaise explaining patiently that he would be arriving. They would have a landing pad cleared for him and that they were to give him the approach path verbally. Blaise started to yell at one point, “That is a negative, you cannot up load vectors to us, tech is down. Repeat, auto navigational tech is down.”
“Then get your supervisor on or someone who passed their basic exam because this is basic stuff we are talking about here.”