A New Broom


William walked along, Jason at his side, the two following Chris out from their shooting position. He moved carefully, keeping his eyes fixed behind them, watching for infected until the Response Team reported on scene.

They continued walking to a car about fifty meters from the now dying bandits and took cover. “We should be in sight,” Chris spoke into his microphone, raising his hand and waving at the van further down the block, about one hundred meters past the bodies. “Affirmative,” Chris repeated after a pause. “We’ll hold here until perimeter’s secured.” Chris turned back to the others. “Response Unit inbound,” he told them.

The three remained behind the car, scanning the block around them nervously. Several infected wandered into the street around the position they just left; William shot the largest in the chest, bringing it down, the others setting upon it.

Another day, another Pacification Sweep, he thought, peering at the swarm of half-naked infected over the Aimpoint on his AR. It had been their routine for a few weeks; following their strike against the Bandit Gang, leadership proposed that the best strategy would be to move about the area in strength and prevent a new threat from coalescing, so the Club, Nuñez and Island Communities divided the area into thirds, each taking responsibility for a sector and conducting what they called Pacification Sweeps.

The first step in planning a Pacification Sweep was to identify an area as hostile for transit. This was done in the course of their standing Salvage Expeditions and travel between the various Compounds, crews varying their routes and conducting reconnaissance, taking notes and photos along their paths. Vehicles coming under fire or newly fabricated roadblocks were the most commonly observed signs, although many times an area was flagged simply because it was highly trafficked.

The typical form of the Pacification Sweep was some variation of baited ambush. The team consisted of roughly two dozen people divided into three units. The first team was Unit 1, or the Bait Vehicle; this consisted of a four or five man team which would ride through the area in a reinforced van, luring the targets into exposing themselves. The second was Unit 2, or the Infiltration Team; this consisted of eight or ten men split into two or three teams which would move in to the target area the night before and set up their trap. And the third was Unit 3, or the Response Team; this consisted of two four or five man teams in separate vehicles which would hold at the Embarkation Point and reinforce along the projected escape routes once the trap was sprung.

At the beginning they intended to rotate assignments on the various units, figuring that the Bait Vehicle would be the least popular assignment and the Response Team the most popular. This quickly proved not to be the case; with the passage of time, the brigand gangs they ran across were fairly unimpressive, at least compared to the bands they had to contend with in the summer and fall. Riding in the Bait Vehicles ended up being more popular than anticipated; gasoline was extremely scarce so the danger from Molotov cocktails was perceived by many as less than the danger of moving about amid the infected while the Bait Vehicles did do most of the shooting, blazing away with their full auto AKs.

On the other hand, the Response Team assignment was less popular; with the gangs being so small most of the shooting was done by the time they showed up on the scene and they had to content themselves by acting as perimeter guards against the infected, which in itself provided limited opportunities to shoot, ammo being strictly rationed. As it was it all worked to William’s advantage, considering that he actually preferred the Infiltration Unit; moving about on foot wasn’t an unmanageable danger and it did provide some nice shooting challenges, striking down the panicked brigands as they fled the bullet-spewing vans or picking off the stray infected who stumbled upon their path.

William usually worked with Tony, Sherriff Cantey’s deputy, in heading up one of the Infiltration Units, usually running in a team with Chris, Eric and Jason Kowalski. That day however, Eric was called away on a Medical Staff conflict, leaving a three man team, something which didn’t particularly bother William; as much as he preferred an EMT organic to his Unit, he understood the demand and, as it was, the largest threat came from the infected which wasn’t anything an EMT could help with anyway.

If anything, William was more upset by Chris’ presence, still quite irritated with him over his dalliance with Alicia. For a time he even considered seeking assignment to another team but eventually decided against it; as tempting as it was, William felt confident with Chris – as far as shooting at least – so he satisfied himself with being cold and short in their interactions, making pointed comments regarding Alicia’s pregnancy and, naturally, refusing to share any marijuana.

+++

The noise of an engine sounded in the distance and, moments later, a Crew Cab Pickup appeared down the block. “There they are,” William announced, nudging his companions. The truck continued down the block, reaching their vacated firing position and barreling over the cluster of infected in the street, running over one and sending another flying.

William waved, the driver waving back. The truck slowed and crept up next to their position, pulling slightly ahead.

“Lay down your arms and come out with your hands up,” announced a voice over a loudspeaker. “You are violating the territory of the Protective Association of Southeastern Michigan.” There was a pause then a repeat of the message followed by another pause.

“In about ten minutes this whole area is going to be crawling with biters, so make up your minds quick,” the voice added drolly. At that three figures walked down from one of the driveways facing the bait vehicle, hands on top of their heads.

The Response Unit and Bait Unit exited their vehicles and took up positions around the perimeter, covering William and Tony’s teams while they advanced on the failed bandits. They shoved them to the ground and searched them quickly, fastening their hands behind their backs with duct tape. “Where’d you leave the guns?” Tony asked.

“Back behind the house,” the youngest of the three answered, voice quavering.

Tony gestured for three of his men to recover the guns from the hiding place while William and Jason gathered the ones from the dead in the street. They heaped the dead bodies and what they recovered into the bed of the pickup, Tony’s men adding their meager findings as William and Jason hefted the last of the three bodies onto the tailgate and rolled it in.

William watched as Tony sorted through the salvage, frowning. The haul consisted of two shotguns – one a high quality Beretta double sadly cut down – a Savage bolt action in .243 and an SKS along with a 10/22 and several handguns with about two hundred rounds of ammo spread out over six calibers.

“Slim pickings,” Tony commented with a hard laugh.

“Like they say, a new broom sweeps clean,” William agreed, “and we’ve been sweeping pretty hard.” He shrugged. Materially, the sweeps had long since ceased to be profitable and only continued due to the danger posed by the stupidly desperate bandits; a fairly low level of danger, he mused, right up until you’re the one catching a bullet in the head from a rusty Marlin lever action with a half-full magazine, wielded by some former sneak-thief welfare recipient.

“Come on, let’s get the fuck out,” William exhorted, gesturing at the perimeter guards shooting at the infected. “Every round we waste here is just something else these fuck-heads have stolen from us.”