The outbreaks in New York and DC provide great examples of what can happen when societal norms break down and citizens take an “everyone for themselves” mentality. Civilization, I think, serves to save everyone from the “might makes right” logical fallacy that takes over in absence of external structure. I hate to admit it but SHD agents aren’t immune to the opportunities for self-centered, short-sighted thinking that disasters can provide, no matter what our training and experience have prepared us for.

It’s not discussed in any of our training manuals but there’s a statistical pattern that, in the worst situations, some agents will go rogue, abusing their power and technology for illicit ends. Israel and I came across one of these rogues in a so-called “dark zone” recently. Dark Zones are areas where the contamination is bad enough that the area has been quarrantined from general access, and the only people to be found inside are suicidal gassers or research scientists trying to fight the toxin. We had gotten word that some much-needed supplies had been mis-dropped and landed far off-course, and we were instructed to retrieve as much as possible that could be salvaged.

Though our biometrics were required to open any of the “safe” entrances to the DZ, we knew there were plenty of other ways people could slip in unnoticed, if they were willing to take the risk. That’s how the gassers got in, after all. What we didn’t expect to find was that one of our own had crept in so they could pilfer the supply crates for their own benefit. As I worked the lock on one of the large survival containers, my six covered by Izzy’s comically-oversized machine gun, we started taking sniper fire. Diving for cover we assumed we faced a small gang of drugged-up gangers alerted by the orange boxes falling from the sky. Instead another shot rang out, followed by the unmistakable whir of an assault drone spinning up—the same kind of armed flyer that was strapped to my back too. Either someone had captured an agent and reverse-engineered the device’s control scheme—unlikely—or one of our own was trying to seize the moment.

The agile drone, reading us as hostiles, swept over the concrete planters and structures that made up the small plaza in which we found ourselves. It was good at driving us out of cover, right into the agent’s line of fire. Though it only had a single gun on it, its small size and quick speed meant landing a damaging blow would be difficult. It would be pointless for me to add my own drone to the mix; they were designed to track and subdue humans, not small mechanical flyers. With no eyes on the hidden rogue agent, it would have just sat in the air, idle and useless.

Sprinting from one concealment to another, I drew fire from both the drone and our assailant, giving Izzy enough time to spin up his gun and lay an arcing spray across the hedges on the other side of the courtyard, where presumably the rogue agent was hiding. “Tagged him!” my partner yelled out as he heard a grunt of pain from within the thicket. Over the thin rotors of the incessant drone we heard pounding feet as the agent decided we weren’t worth the trouble.

Without having to dodge sniper rounds it was much easier to evade the drone’s sporatic fire, and we waited out its small battery. As the lifeless thing fell to the ground, Israel and I checked ourselves for any hits—no bullet strikes but small gashes and abrasions from flying concrete debris. We shook our heads; what was the agent hoping to gain? Most gassers didn’t have the means to buy equipment or supplies, and SHD gave us most everything we needed to survive the outbreak. Was it just the rush of going lone wolf? The daring and thrill of swimming against the stream? Boredom?

We didn’t talk much on our trek back to the main DC metro, both from an abundance of caution for our surroundings and the sour taste of betrayal in our throats.

As we sat in the UV-bathed decontamination room that separated the DZ from the outside world, we started prepping our report for headquarters. Obviously a single agent going rogue here or there was a smaller issue than that of the cleanup and stabilization of the nation’s capital, but it absolutely bore mentioning. If nothing else as a reminder to other agents that it’s not just the external threats we need to be watchful for. 

Header picture of the ruined nuclear city of Pripyat, Ukraine. Photographer unknown