The House that Dali Dawson Built

The following is a standalone story but operates as a prequel to characters and events seen in Kill Switch, available on Amazon in eBook and paperback form.

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“We’ve got a heat signature in the master bedroom, upper floor, right corner.” The command truck said, “Could be Dawson.”

“Is it Dawson, or is it just a heat signature?” SWAT captain Charlemagne Lewis asked.

“Sorry, heat signature is all we’ve got. Walls are too thick for a better read than that and the windows are shielded.”

Lewis could see the shielding from where he was standing. The huge Dawson mansion was dark and ominous, and its security system was in full effect. Blast shields covered every visible window. Almost every single doorway was heavily reinforced and impossible to get through unless blown open. Red and blue lights strobed across the dark walls of the manor. Over a dozen police and SWAT vehicles were crushing the manicured grass and gardens in front of the home. Scores and scores of police circled the mansion without going inside. To ensure escape was impossible, three police hovercraft also watched from the air with spotlights draping across the old home and its outbuildings.

Dali Dawson, it had been discovered, was the Artist of Death, a serial killer who had been terrorising the arts and culture scene of the East Coast for months. Part art installations, part grossly disproportionate social vigilantism, divisive figures in the scene had been killed and their corpses posed in bizarre tableaus. A caustic art critic had been found in a locked gallery he’d recently critiqued. His eyes were gouged out and posed, along with a plate, knife and fork, as if he’d been eating them. A ballerina rumoured to have slept her way to a show’s lead role was murdered and found with her feet sewn on backwards while her corpse was being pulled around in a grotesque parody of dance by a series of pulleys and gears. A long winded philosophy professor known for his word salad public lectures disappeared entirely. His skinned hide was eventually discovered in his office fashioned into the facsimile of a hot air balloon, complete with burner and basket. The rest of him was never found.

“Alright, we have one point of egress and that is here, the front door.” Lewis said.

Lewis, a tall, broad man with dark hair, spoke to his team. The men and women were wearing lightly armoured uniforms with blinking, red and blue lights, and the word ‘SWAT’ glowing on their chests. The glowing SWAT didn’t help them blend in but it did tend to draw potential shooters’ aim to their chests, the area with the heaviest plate covering their bodies. All of them were wearing forearm guards with holographic maps. As Lewis explained, the holograms showed the layout of Dali Dawson’s mansion and fixated on the front doors.

“Doesn’t that seem convenient, sir?” Another SWAT officer, Bennings, asked

“Like a trap, yes.” Lewis said, “But the doors and all other entry points are heavily armoured. The window shutters are reinforced as well, the security system is top-of-the-line. Meanwhile, the front door is wide open and waiting. We’re going in and assessing, taking Dawson if we can, otherwise we call in the cavalry.”

There were ten SWAT officers, including Lewis. They strapped on helmets and compact electronic goggles that relayed live feeds to the command post, which would then return tactical information. They also acted as night vision goggles in low light environments. The team carried pistols and recoilless, magnetically propelled submachine guns.

“Alright, on my mark move in.” Lewis said, “Three, two, mark!”

The front doors formed an enormous archway. Lewis and his team were spread across the porch, surrounded by a cadre of uniformed cops. One SWAT officer moved in with a pneumatic battering ram. Hissing, the steel plate on the front of the ram hammered forward and gave it extra power as it was swung. The doors exploded inward. Splinters were blown across the darkened foyer inside.

“Go, go, go!” Lewis said.

The SWAT team, chest plates glowing, fanned out across a massive entryway. Submachine guns were raised. Huge hallways led off to either side of the foyer and across from the doorway was a curving staircase, also massive. The lights were off and their goggles cast a greenish pallor over the entry. The night vision goggles were high-tech but their range was still limited.

“Oh, my God, what the hell is that?” A SWAT officer named Scholte said.

Slumped near the base of the stairs, sitting up with legs splayed in front of it, was what looked like the corpse of a badly dressed homeless man. His chin drooped against his chest. A huge gash was carved like a wide smile into the man’s stomach. Dried blood pooled across his crotch and thighs.

“Welcome-, welcome to Hell.” Lewis read aloud.

The wall behind the homeless man’s corpse was splattered with dried blood as well. Pink intestines had been drawn out of the gash in the dead man’s stomach and strung across the wall, nailed there, to form the words ‘Welcome to Hell’. The words were cursive and wormy but had clearly been arranged with considerable care so as to be legible. Intestines were long but the words had required more gut than one man could hold, Lewis realised. Each letter was almost a foot tall. Looking closer with the night vision goggles he could see there were actually several lengths of intestine stapled together at their ends.

“Oh, God.” Scholte said, “Who would do that? Who-, could, do something like this, and why?”

“Aesthetics.” Lewis said, “Come on, we’re not here to sightsee.”

More dried bloodstains including smeared handprints covered the wall alongside the stairwell. Still in near-blackness, the SWAT team began moving up the steps. Officer Bennings was in the lead. Others followed, guns aimed in all directions.

“Careful!” Lewis said.

Suddenly, as Bennings took another step, part of the stairwell collapsed. Bennings yelled and threw himself backward. He dropped as the stairs crumbled like broken planks both in front of and behind him with a loud clatter. A dark hole gaped below the stairwell. Two other SWAT officers raced forward to grab Bennings by the arms. As he fell out of sight there was a sickening crunch.

“Help! Oh, fuck, help!” Bennings shouted.

Bennings had managed to throw himself back far enough to catch the lower steps that hadn’t collapsed. The other two closest SWAT officers had done the rest, catching his arms. Lewis ran for the stairs. Reaching the edge of the pit, Lewis saw a hole filled with jutting spikes. The spikes looked long and extremely sharp. Half a dozen steps had completely collapsed. It was a punji pit, an old fashioned trap that consisted of a hole camouflaged from the top and with its bottom lined with spikes.

“Bennings, are you alright?” Lewis said.

“No, no, it got me.” Benning said.

Lewis looked down and saw Bennings had landed on two of the spikes. One had impaled his left foot. The other was worse, having cut open his lower leg and then skewered his right thigh dangerously close to his femoral artery. Blood was pouring down both spikes and pooling at the bottom of the pit.

“Christ, pull him back! Get him out of there!” Lewis said.

The other officers pulled Bennings up. He screamed as the spikes slid back out of his foot and leg. Lewis knew dislodging the spikes could increase the bleeding but he couldn’t leave them holding Bennings over the dozens of other lethal points. Blood splattered the stairs as they carried him away from the punji pit.

“Sick son of a bitch, how long was he planning this?” Lewis said, “Take Bennings back and then rejoin us, we need to find another route.”

“It’s like something out of Slayerz.” One officer said.

They carted Bennings back to the front doors where uniformed police and EMTs were waiting. Blood on their uniforms, the SWAT team returned across the lobby.

Back in the command truck was a wall of screens. Many of the feeds showed point-of-views for the SWAT team inside the home. One of the techs, Holroyd, looked over plans of the house. Holroyd was skinny, black, with an unevenly shaven head.

“If you move to your right, south, you can cut through a sitting room and then through the kitchen.” Holroyd said, “You should come to another staircase at the back of the house.”

“Alright, let’s get this bastard.” Lewis said.

The remaining nine SWAT officers headed for the archway. Their night vision lit their surroundings. Holographic displays on their forearms guided their way. After what had happened to Bennings, Lewis and the others were on the lookout for any traps. There were no more pits but they found another grisly tableau.

Two more corpses were waiting on antique sofas in the sitting room. It was a big room, as large as many apartments, dedicated only to tables and couches. An unusually shaped chandelier hung from the ceiling in the middle of the room. The female bodies were posed at the corners of two couches as if mid-conversation, both headless. Hands raised, turned in their seats with legs crossed, they looked as if they had been frozen in a snapshot of life. They had clearly started to decompose and Lewis wasn’t sure how they had been placed there. Both were dressed in cheap and skimpy clothes that meant Lewis, at a glance, assumed they’d been streetwalkers. Their heads were nowhere to be seen.

“This crazy bastard has been using people for practice right in his own home.” Lewis said, “I can’t wait to take him down.”

The nine SWAT were fanned out across the room, guns raised. Several jumped at a noise behind them, a mechanical whirring. A waist-high, cone-shaped object was moving across the lobby. The SWAT officers assessed the threat.

“It’s a cleaning bot.” Lewis said, “But watch out, it could be boobytrapped.”

The droid moved on an inflatable skirt like an old fashioned hovercraft and had two stubby arms from which various cleaning attachments could extend. Hovering from side to side, it seemed to regard them as well. A high-pitched beeping came from the bot. It turned, revealing a large, green brick attached to its back, like a backpack. Wires ran in and out of the brick.

“Bomb! It’s a bomb!” One of the officers yelled.

Holroyd, back in the command truck, shot upright. A plastic cup of soda was sitting to the side of his workstation, forgotten, which he knocked over and spilled. The other technicians around the truck were gesturing wildly and relaying information to the police forces surrounding the house. On the screens in front of him, Holroyd could see nine different angles of the cone-shaped cleaning droid across the sitting room with the bomb on its back. His mind processed the threat quickly.

“Take out its skirt! Aim low to disable it and get back, we’ll send the bomb squad!” Holroyd said.

Someone fired, noise filling the room, but they weren’t paying attention to the voice from the truck in their ear and aimed too high. Rounds blasted off large chunks and splinters of the cleaning droid’s casing. Fortunately it didn’t cause the bomb to go off. The team retreated across the sitting room toward a couple of doors, one that led to a dining room and the other into the mansion’s main kitchen. The cleaning droid whirred toward them unhurriedly.

“Get back! Back!” Lewis said.

The point-of-view cameras whirled around on Holroyd’s screens, names and other information attached to each feed. Some backed up, keeping the cleaning droid in view. Others spun, taking in the room. Captain Lewis’ gaze briefly fell on the chandelier in the middle of the room and something was highlighted on Holroyd’s screen by the goggles’ programming.

“Lewis, Captain Lewis! Can you-, can you turn your view back on that chandelier for a moment? I think I picked up something.” Holroyd said.

Lewis looked up, the view from his goggles relayed back to Holroyd in the command truck. The electronics in his goggles picked up an object inside the chandelier’s structure, tracing it and highlighting it to enhance the view. The chandelier was made up of rings within rings, adorned with hundreds of dangling, glass points. It bulged in the middle and tapered at the top and bottom. What Holroyd had spotted was one of several rectangular objects strung up inside the rings of the chandeliers, partially hidden. With the goggles’ enhancement, both he and Lewis could read the words ‘FRONT TOWARD ENEMY’ printed across the rectangle closest to Lewis.

“The chandelier is a bomb too! Get clear!” Holroyd yelled.

The cleaning droid had herded the SWAT officers toward the chandelier. At Holroyd’s warning, they scattered. Most ran for the two doorways that led into the dining room and kitchen, while a couple threw themselves over the antique couches for cover.

Simultaneously, as if someone was waiting for the opportune moment, the Claymore mines inside the chandelier exploded. Claymores were directable explosives. They were made of concave porcelain plates with hundreds of ball bearings buried in a 680 gram wad of plastic explosive. Dali Dawson had probably bought them on the black market. Standing directly behind the mine, a user would be almost totally safe while anything in front of it would be shredded as if by a fragmentation grenade. Unfortunately for the SWAT team, the chandelier wasn’t hiding just one but half a dozen of the directable mines pointed in all directions around the room. The effective range of the mines was fifty metres, meaning the whole room was about to be turned into a giant blender.

The chandelier disintegrated with an ear-splitting boom. Three of the SWAT officers were caught by the explosion. Hundreds of ball bearings drilled through the two men and one woman, turning them into mincemeat. Lewis and the others had crashed through the doors to the dining room and kitchen. Shrapnel tore apart the door frames and swinging doors. The furniture and two posed corpses were also shredded. With a thunderous blast, thousands and thousands of holes were blown simultaneously through the walls, floor, ceiling, and everything still contained between them.

“Ah, I’m hit! I’m hit!” Someone screamed.

In the dining room were more bodies. Homeless and hookers by the look of them, poised in lifelike poses around a decaying banquet. The officer screaming was bleeding heavily from shrapnel wounds to his legs. Lewis and two of the others had landed in the kitchen, ball bearings having cratered the benches surrounding them. Smoke wafted through the doors.

“He triggered it!” Lewis said, “He’s watching us, we’ve got to get upstairs and end the son of a bitch!”

In the command truck, three of the nine camera feeds had gone black. Heart rate monitors were wailing as flat lines ran across the bottom of the screens. The remaining half a dozen feeds were evenly divided between the dining room and kitchen. Their heart rates were racing as the POVs swept around wildly.

“Captain! Captain, you should get out of there! Regroup, we have backup!” Holroyd said, “Wait, don’t go back the way you came, I’m still picking up movement!”

Even with their ear protection, the SWAT team’s ears were ringing. The sitting room was a smoking ruin, strewn with bodies. Over the ringing though, Lewis could hear an insistent beeping. It was the bomb on the cleaning droid, it hadn’t been destroyed by the Claymores and the bot was moving closer again.

“Shit, get up! Keep moving!” Lewis said, “Get away from the doors!”

The kitchen was enormous and long. It seemed far bigger than it needed to be, big enough to feed hundreds if it were fully staffed. Kitchen islands ran down the middle of the room and huge grills to one side. Although there had been no heat signatures from that part of the house earlier now fires were burning in the grills’ interiors. Gusts of flame erupted from between the grills’ bars, casting a hellish glow across the kitchen. Their night vision goggles were protected from sudden flashes and flares, so Lewis and the others weren’t blinded.

In the dining room, the other three officers had heard the orders and hurried to get away from the doors. With one of them wounded in both legs, the other two had to pick them up and drag them. Twin blood trails were left smeared across the carpet. They moved past the rotten banquet and its equally decaying participants. The ball bearing-riddled doors swung open. The cleaning droid moved after them, beeping. It was still herding them, forcing them deeper into the house. The blood trails disappeared under the bot’s rubber skirt and the carpet emerged fresh and clean behind it.

Stubby arms raised, the battered droid closed in on the SWAT team. Suddenly, the bomb attached to it exploded. A wall of fire ripped through the room, incinerating the bodies and blasting the three SWAT officers. Their last moments were captured by their electronic goggles and relayed back to the command truck.

In the kitchen, the walls shook. Lewis and the other two stumbled to the end of the room. Another stairwell led out of the kitchen and upward to the next level. Behind the night vision goggles, the SWAT captain’s eyes were wild. He shouted into his comms for the others who had split into the dining room but there was no reply.

“We’ve got to kill this guy! We’ve got to stop this madness!” Lewis said.

“Captain Lewis, remember everything you say and do is being recorded!” Holroyd said, “I am finding you an exit route, please return and we’ll regroup!”

Seven of the ten cameras were now switched off. Bennings had been disconnected when they brought him outside but the others were actively registering a lack of life signs and flatlining. Holroyd could see through Lewis’ camera as he and the remaining two officers ignored him and headed into the stairwell instead. They were careful with their footing, probing each step to make sure they were solid.

Moving forward was the only way, Lewis thought. He was ahead of the other two, gun raised. The Dali home was like some kind of funhouse of horrors and there was only one way to make it stop. He watched for signs of another pitfall or tripwires. The stairwell ascended into a lightless black that even the night vision goggles couldn’t penetrate yet. They did pick up on a set of grooves, however, to either side of the stairwell. Lewis stopped to run one gloved finger along one of the tracks. They were very thin, sloping down the walls to either side at about shoulder height.

“I’m not sure what I’m looking at here.” Lewis said, “But-,”

Something zinged down the length of the staircase. Lewis stiffened, as did the two SWAT officers behind him. He immediately stopped speaking, mid-sentence. After a few moments, a line of red appeared around Lewis’ neck and started dribbling into his collar.

Back in the truck, Holroyd saw Lewis’ camera tip backward and fall. He just managed to get a glimpse of the SWAT captain’s decapitated body, still standing, before the head bounced and rolled down the stairs. The point-of-view on the screen was dizzying. Similar shots came from the other two SWAT officers who had been in the stairwell with Lewis. Their bodies crumpled, one neatly decapitated, like Lewis, the other with their face divided just above the mouth. There were a series of loud thumps from all three screens. One of the cameras rolled to a stop at the base of the stairs looking at the ceiling. Picked up by the night vision goggles was a length of nanofilament wire. It quivered in place, having shot down the stairs like a slingshot on the tracks that sloped along the walls to either side. Blood was still clinging to it and dripping to the floor. Holroyd and the other techs in the truck were stunned.

“Oh, my God.” Holroyd said.

Ripping off his headphones, Holroyd staggered out of his seat. He pushed his way out of the command truck and as soon as he was outside started sucking in great lungfuls of air. Meanwhile, following the explosion, another two SWAT teams were getting ready to attack the house. They and some uniformed cops surrounded the front porch.

“Get away, stop!” Holroyd yelled, “There’s no point launching a rescue, they’re all already dead!”

“What? Are you serious?” Another SWAT captain asked.

“We’ll have to send in-, an army of sniffer drones before anyone else goes in.” Holroyd said.

The SWAT officers and cops backed away from the front of the house, retreating across the torn-up lawn. Flashing lights and police vehicles still covered the property. The heat signature they believed to be Dali Dawson remained exactly where it had always been on the upper level, as if mocking them.

Police were still doing their rounds, circling the property. Behind the manor, attached to the house, was an enormous garage. It was sealed just as tight as the front of the house. As the SWAT retreated, however, the garage’s massive main door started to rumble. Two police officers were patrolling nearby and hurried to cover the exit.

“It’s opening up!” One cop yelled.

“It’s him, he’s trying to get away!” The second said.

The Dawson mansion’s garage was filled with incredibly expensive cars, both new and old. The two patrolling officers radioed in what was happening and unholstered their weapons, pointing them at the entryway. The door retracted into the roof. A pair of powerful headlamps and rack of spotlights attached to a hulking vehicle immediately blinded the two cops.

One of the police hovercraft circled in overhead, searchlight sweeping the ground. It captured the mechanical beast as it roared out of the garage. The vehicle was a huge, black Hummer, almost twenty foot in length and towering off the ground. A commercial model, it had been covered in thick plates of homemade armour. The windshield and windows were completely hidden by metal plating, making it impossible to see in and for anyone inside the the car to see out. Run-flat tyres were protected by thick sheets of armour that covered the wheel wells and ran almost all the way to the ground. The headlamps and a rack of spotlights on the roof of the Hummer were brightly illuminated.

“What the fuck is that?” One of the police officers shouted.

The two uniformed police opened fire, shots barking. Bullets bounced off the armour plate covering the Hummer’s windshield. The Hummer kept coming. One of the cops leapt clear but the other was collected by the huge bullbar on the front of the truck with a sickening crunch. It wheeled around and the officer’s broken body was hurled loose.

“Look out! It’s coming! It’s coming!” One of the hovercraft pilots radioed.

Panicked warnings overlapped across the police band. Around the side of the mansion the roaring engine got louder. Holroyd and the surrounding SWAT officers looked about in confusion.

“What is that?” Holroyd said.

The black Hummer howled around the side of the building, tyres bouncing. It collected another uniformed cop with its towering front. The vehicle carried them right into the side of one of the parked police cruisers, its red and blue lights still strobing. The Hummer hit with such incredible force the side of the cruiser imploded. It was lifted up, tipping onto its side and sent rolling onto its roof. The unfortunate cop caught between the two vehicles was obliterated in the crash, turned to paste.

“It’s him, it’s Dali! It’s Dali fucking Dawson!” Someone yelled.

Gunfire erupted. SWAT and uniformed cops took aim and started shooting. Bullets raked across the armoured Hummer as it wheeled backward from the rolled cruiser, bullbar and hood unscratched. A couple of the spotlights on its roof rack and one of the headlamps exploded into glittering shards. The damage the rounds did to the bodywork was cosmetic. The makeshift armour protecting the more vulnerable portions of the Hummer was too thick to penetrate.

The Hummer reversed in a half-circle and then gunned its engine forward again. It raced along the face of the house. Half a dozen SWAT officers were standing in the murderous vehicle’s path, firing on full-auto with submachine guns. Bullets clattered off the front of the onrushing Hummer. It tore through them while still gaining speed. The SWAT officers were sent flying like bowling pins, careening cartoonishly through the air with limbs bent backward, backs broken, necks and bodies twisted.

“What the fuck? What the fuck?” Someone was yelling.

Holroyd was covering his ears instinctually, protecting them from the gunshots, roaring engine, and the sickening noises of the bodies being run over and hammered to pieces. His eyes were open though. He took in everything as the Hummer carried forward and people spiralled through the air. He couldn’t see into the Hummer, the armour plates covering the windshield and windows were complete and unbroken by slits that a driver could see through. However, Holroyd could see about a dozen small cameras studded around the outside of the vehicle. A driver inside the Hummer, or controlling it remotely, would be able to see 360 degrees around the truck and steer it through the camera feeds.

Most of the police had fallen back between the ranks of vehicles for protection. The hovercraft were orbiting overhead. The armoured Hummer circled around, tearing through more uniformed cops and SWAT. It mowed down a SWAT officer, tyres crushing their midsection, and then slammed into another parked cruiser. Slaloming between vehicles, the Hummer crashed through the cars being used as cover. Holroyd ran sideways as the command truck was hit, its back end lifted and thrown around in a half-circle.

One of the cops had gotten their hands on an M23 grenade launcher. It was a hefty, drum-loaded weapon with a folding stock and stubby barrel. Instead of tear gas, the M23 had been loaded with high explosive rounds. The uniformed cop fired and a grenade exploded across the front of the Hummer. The drum cycled onto another round. The second grenade splashed in a ball of flame and shrapnel across the armour plate covering the Hummer’s windshield. A third exploded against the driver’s door. Pieces of armour toppled off the door and the section over the window flapped, glass spilling from underneath. If there was a driver inside they should have been jellied by the shockwaves alone. The Hummer, however, kept coming in a straight line. Before the cop could fire a fourth explosive round the Hummer hit and ran straight over the top of them.

“Oh, my God, oh, my God.” Holroyd was panting.

Holroyd was a technician. His job was to analyse information, sometimes from multiple sources at once. Even amidst all the chaos, and his own terror, that analytical part of his mind was running in the background and taking it all in. The Hummer, now smoking, lumbered around like an angry beast. It crashed into a couple of cars but not hard enough to tip them over. It managed to trap another cop between its side and another cruiser, crushing their legs. The metal plate over the driver’s side was hanging open. Holroyd still couldn’t see inside but it was a chink in the truck’s armour. Looking around, he saw the crumpled bodies of several SWAT officer who’d been armed and ready to raid the house before the Hummer mowed them down. Without even meaning to, Holroyd linked the information together and came up with a solution.

“Oh, no.” Holroyd said, “No, no no.”

As if disobeying his brain, Holroyd’s body started moving toward the mangled bodies in dark SWAT armour, out in the open. Blue and red lights blinked on and off on the chests of several officers. Holroyd squatted by one of the bodies, still mouthing negatives to himself. The man was dead. More crashes and screams came from behind him.

A submachine gun was tangled in the SWAT officer’s gloved hands. Holroyd ignored it, reaching for the man’s belt instead. Several small cylinders were on the SWAT officer’s belt, flashbang grenades. This non-lethal grenades were magnesium-based pyrotechnics designed to produce a blinding flash and deafening bang to disorientate targets without permanently injuring or killing them. Holroyd removed the three grenades from the SWAT officer’s body.

Holroyd was convinced the truck was being remotely controlled, and there was no driver inside the armoured shell. Therefore they couldn’t be blinded or deafened by the flashbangs. In an enclosed space though, the stun grenades could be dangerous enough. That was what Holroyd was hoping since he didn’t have anything better. Gathering the grenades awkwardly in his hands, Holroyd turned back and started running.

The Hummer crashed between more vehicles like a pinball, picking up speed. People were screaming and a hovercraft rocketed by overhead, spotlights sweeping back and forth. Some of the other police were trying to shoot out the vehicle’s tyres but they were protected by the armour plates that almost reached the ground. Holroyd ran toward the truck. Unfortunately, the Hummer crashed clear of the gathered vehicles and got into open space again. It wheeled around and tore more ruts in the dirt. Some police and civilian techs were running down the drive toward the front gates.

“What am I doing? This is insane!” Holroyd said.

As he ran, Holroyd looked around for someone fitter and stronger. Someone who got paid to put their life on the line, which was not his job. Then he could give them the flashbangs and tell them his plan, so they could do it instead. There was too much chaos, however, for him to find anyone and explain his idea to them. Every second he would waste trying to find someone instead of doing it himself meant more lives lost so Holroyd, in spite of everything in him screaming at him to stop, tucked the stun grenades under his right arm and kept running.

The Hummer turned sideways, off the drive and back onto the manicured lawn, chasing after another fleeing police officer. The cop bounced off the front of the Hummer, hips crunching. The makeshift tank circled around, back toward the vehicles where most of the people were still gathered. Holroyd couldn’t have caught it if it had continued forward but the Hummer circling around allowed him to loop behind and gain on it.

Half of the cameras covering the outside of the Hummer had been destroyed. Holroyd was counting on the blind spots that damage created as he sprinted to catch up. The Hummer had slowed down again. He closed in on the driver’s side. His heart was hammering in his throat and it wasn’t because of the running, he’d been a sprinter in high school and still ran five kilometres on his treadmill every morning before work. Blood and blast damage covered the front and sides of the truck. At any moment it could swerve sideways and knock him to the ground before crushing him beneath its wheels.

All of the headlights and the powerful lamps on the top of the Hummer had been extinguished, and it was dark inside the vehicle. Holroyd felt like he was running alongside some huge, huffing predator. He could see though that the gap over the top of the driver’s side door was yawning open.

With a shout of effort, Holroyd jumped and grabbed the roof rack on the top of the truck. Fortunately, there was a step below the door. Holroyd stood with both feet on the step and left hand clinging to the rack. The Hummer didn’t change direction. The cameras around the door had been destroyed and whoever was driving the truck, however they were doing it, didn’t realise Holroyd was there. Still, the truck was picking up speed again toward the gathered police vehicles. The momentum nearly hurled Holroyd off without the driver even trying.

Juggling the three stun grenades with one arm, Holroyd almost lost them. The flashbangs worked much like any other grenade. The black cylinders had rings on their tops that needed to be pulled to release a spoon-shaped bit of metal that ran down the sides of each grenade in order to trigger them. Then, there was a delay of mere seconds before the flashbang would explode. Unfortunately, Holroyd only had one hand to work with as he clung tight to the roof rack with the other. Wind buffeted him. Rolling the cylinders across his chest, Holroyd got them close to his mouth. He clamped down on the ring of the first flashbang with his teeth and then yanked it out. The effort sent a shooting pain through his jaw but he managed to get the ring and pin loose. Holroyd spat out the first ring and ripped out the second flashbang’s ring with his teeth as well.

Holroyd turned and shoved the first two flashbangs through the driver’s window where the armour had slipped. To give his plan the best chance of working, Holroyd didn’t want to waste the last grenade. Letting go of the roof rack, Holroyd pressed his body against the truck. He grabbed the third grenade with both hands. Before falling, he ripped the pin free and tossed the last stun grenade through the chink in the Hummer’s armour. Milliseconds later he was thrown off the side of the Hummer. He sailed through the air and hit the grass and dirt with a thumping blow. Pain lanced through his joints and his chest. Holroyd rolled and rolled, not knowing which way was up, before coming to a stop.

As Holroyd was thrown loose, the Hummer swerved. It continued forward for several tens of metres before there were several loud, bright explosions from inside its cabin. One came after another, followed by a third, falling like hammer blows. Given the armour covering the windows of the vehicle not much could be seen of the flashbangs. Blinding flashbulb bursts shot out of the gap in the armour plating where Holroyd had tossed the grenades. Thick, whitish smoke poured out of the gap moments later.

The end for the Hummer was anticlimactic. Slowing, the truck swerved but kept going mostly straight. It was obvious there was no one inside the vehicle or they would have been blind and deaf, at best, and unable to control the vehicle any longer. The remaining police and SWAT still had to scatter to get out of its way. Flames started to gutter inside the vehicle as Holroyd had hoped, however. Although non-lethal, in an enclosed space flashbangs could set fire to flammable things like the Hummer’s seats and interior. In some case, when they landed too close to a suspect they could see clothes or hair on fire. Darkening smoke and a noxious burning plastic smell poured out of the gap in the armour. Gradually, the Hummer slowed down for the final time. Engine still grumbling, it rolled to a stop in front of the mansion and stalled.

Recovering, SWAT and police officers surrounded the Hummer. Fires from the flashbangs were still burning inside. Someone recovered a set of Jaws of Life and the enormous hydraulic pincer was jammed inside the jamb between the driver door and its frame. It gouged the homemade armour, prying the door open. Heat and more choking, toxic smoke washed out. Guns surrounded the open doorway even though, as suspected, the interior of the Hummer was empty. The Hummer had been controlled by a remote system attached to the dash, now destroyed by the fire.

After some of the chaos had cooled down, Holroyd sat on the back step of an ambulance with a blanket around his shoulders. Someone had shoved a cup of steaming synth-coffee into his hands. More ambulances were pouring in. He’d been looked over briefly but the EMTs on the scene had plenty of other cases to deal with and he seemed physically fine, however shaken, just some cuts and bruises after being thrown from the Hummer.

“You did one hell of a job, kid, you’re a goddamn hero.” A police captain now overseeing things said.

“It’s-, it’s-, it’s what anyone would have done, sir.” Holroyd said.

“Anyone didn’t do it, you did.” The captain said.

“How-, how many?” Holroyd asked.

“Dead? We don’t know yet, too many, and a lot in critical condition.” The captain replied, “We’re going to get that son of a bitch.”

The remote signal controlling the Hummer couldn’t be traced to its origin, not right away. An army of police sniffer drones were sent through the house. The remaining traps and bots they could find were deactivated. Another SWAT team was sent in. Bodies of the first team and of Dali Dawson’s other victims were found scattered throughout the house.

Other obstacles were placed in their way but the SWAT team, led by a woman named Coleen Shrivers, eventually forced their way through them. They reached the bedroom and bashed down its reinforced door. The heat signature was still in the same place on the house’s layout. It hadn’t moved since the whole incident had started.

Shrivers moved into the bedroom, past the shattered door, and the rest of her team fanned out behind her. They trained their weapons on the bed. The room, like the rest of the house, was dark but lit by their night vision goggles. The views from the team’s cameras were relayed to the forces waiting outside. The person in the bed didn’t give any indication they could see or hear the SWAT team as they swarmed across the room, shouting warnings to get down.

The team surrounded the huge bed. The figure in the bed was sitting against the headboard and hadn’t moved the entire time. Shrivers prodded the barrel of her gun into the side of their head. They slumped sideways onto the mattress. It was yet another corpse, stiff and discoloured from rigor mortis. Another vagrant, the body was roughly the same size and shape as Dali Dawson, tall and skinny, but clearly not him. An electric blanket with a cord running down the side of the bed was wrapped around the corpse. It had provided the false heat signature that had led them all to the bedroom.

“It’s not him, repeat, it’s not him.” Shrivers radioed, “Package not received, Dali Dawson is still in the wind.”

Sean E. Britten — 2018

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