"We found him!" The call came from beside a shed behind the house. The rest of the squad jogged over to study the body. Jason pushed through the crowd to get a view. He did a quick inventory.
"So they've got a gun. Maybe some other kit. We need to be on our toes."
"How many of them are there left?" asked the girl crouched by the body. "Only the two of them?"
"Terri and Tiffany, if the roster hasn't changed. And they're as well trained as we are, more experienced, and really, seriously, pissed at us."
The squad had turned away from body, taking up defensive positions as they calculated the risk. "You think they're out there?" the girl asked.
"They could be." The sky lit up yellow and orange on the other side of the house. When they all turned to look they saw a fireball rising into the sky, a pulsing, expanding cloud lit from within. "Or they could have sneaked back to the gas station and nuked our transport." Jason dead-panned.
* * *
They scurried up through the walls and into the roof space. Tiffany stared out through a peep hole and took in the view of the fire down by the road. She grinned. Terri was still alive. A huge fire wasn't her normal style, but this was proving to not be a normal hunt.
Tiffany wanted to explain the fire to the slasher, but he was engrossed in sorting through a collection of edged implements, no doubt deciding which to use next. She realised that she had started to trust him, and that could prove fatal. She shouldn't turn her back on him again.
As she watched it became clear that the slasher wasn't just picking weapons for the next fight. He was separating the collection into two piles, studying each one intently before deciding how to classify it. He was packing up, getting ready to move out. His home was no longer safe or secure, and was becoming more battered by the moment. Tiffany wondered where he could possibly plan to go.
The slasher looked up. They stared at each other, and Tiffany couldn't read his eyes. So, when he suddenly produced a large and highly polished Bowie knife and pointed it at her she couldn't help but flinch. He looked like she had slapped him. He fumbled the knife and dropped it. He scooped it back up and quickly produced a scabbard. With the knife safely sheathed he offered it to her again, hilt first.
Now that she understood the offer Tiffany gave an apologetic smile and accepted the knife. She was attaching the sheath to her belt when there were shouts from directly below them. Their handiwork had been discovered. She looked across at the slasher and he gave a little nod of victory.
Then the bullets started punching through the floor of their den.
* * *
As well as being a travelling armoury, the Fort was kitted out for combat. The newer models were kept shiny and were used for show, no-one ever gave the older models a second look.
Terri lined the Fort up on the track. She roughly remembered the layout of the path, and she had the heads up display projected onto the inside of the wind shield. All sorts of range finders, infra-red lights and cameras had been built into the lamp clusters and fed all their information back through multiple processors to the screen. She could see the trees lining the hard packed track, which headed uphill and curved away.
The driver's seat had a five point racing style harness. Fastening it was always like doing a puzzle, though releasing it was easy. Terri clipped everything into place and pulled the belts tight.
There was a row of non-standard switches on the central console. Terri flicked a few as the Fort started moving. With a quiet whirr armour plates rotated into position in front of the main radiator and engine block, to protect them from gunfire. There were secondary radiators to take some of the strain of cooling, but the engine would still overheat a lot faster this way. Air bags lowered and stiffened the suspension and the engine management system flipped over into high power mode.
Terri gunned the engine and the wheels spun on the loose surface. Then they gained traction and the Fort lurched forwards, crabbing slightly with the torque.
The trees speeding past turned to a blur. Terri made only light adjustments on the wheel, letting momentum keep the the car on a steady path. She crested a rise and the gate was before her. It had been shut again, but she didn't slow.
Hidden behind the plastic bumper, and tied to the strengthened chassis, was a heavy metal bar. The Fort's momentum, and the bar, bent and twisted the gate out of the way, tearing the two halves from their hinges and flinging them aside so violently that one of them ended up hanging from branches.
Terri could almost see the house now. She intended to crash the party the new group of hunters were having up there.
* * *
They stared at the cloud which rose over the forest, watching as the top spread and the light inside faded to dull orange.
"So we lost them?" the girl asked.
"No, they’ll be back, if I know them. We don't have long to set up defences. Come on."
They jogged around to the front of the house, skirting the still hot Fort which rested near the front steps. They were so used to the carnage in the foyer that they almost missed the new additions. "Fuck!" was all Jason could manage when he realised there were three extra bodies.
"They're back already?" one of his squad asked.
"More like one of them never left." Jason was glad he'd brought an augmented squad. He was already down four here, and his backers' representative, and certainly the two- and the tech- back at the gas station. "Okay, there are crawl spaces in the walls. They're in those. We do a killing sweep. Find an entrance and rip through everything until we...."
A trick of the light made the thin line of dust drifting down from the ceiling stand out. The others followed Jason's gaze as he looked up. He signalled the rest of the team to points around the foyer and, when they were in position, raised his gun and fired.
* * *
Bullets cut through the floor all around the roof space. Shafts of light shone through the holes, illuminating the dust which danced in the disturbed air. Damaged shingles clattered down from the roof. Tiffany squashed herself against the sloping wall of the space to keep away from the fusillade.
Across the bullet riddled gap from her she saw the slasher disappear down one of the gaps between walls. Her fluctuating trust in him took another dive.
The firing stopped, and Tiffany took the risk of scuttling across the rafters for the gap. She was less than half way when the floor under her gave way. She fell through the hole, tumbling down to the balcony in a cloud of wood, splinters and plaster.
All the guns which had been pointing at the ceiling switched instantly to the top of the stairs. None of them could get a line of sight on anything but the dust cloud above Tiffany's position. Jason signalled to the three squad members nearest him and led them up the stairs.
Tiffany was at the top of the stairs. Almost buried under wood and dust, she wasn't moving. Jason stood over her and waved the other three back further onto the balcony. He lifted a piece of wood which covered her face and smiled. "Tiffany. So nice to see you again." Tiffany stirred, and an eye opened. Her head turned and she tried to sit up. Jason pointed his gun at her and she froze. "Maybe I won't kill you until Terri gets here. If you behave yourself. Defensive positions down there, we'll have company soon."
"Profit. We've got a whole new business model going on, and we wanted to test it out." Jason stood and took a couple of steps backwards. "And who better to test it on than my old team. Freddy kept me up to date, so I just had to wait for your next job out in the sticks, and then...." He glanced at Crystal's body, then looked again, attracted by some detail. "Joe, toss me the pistol that's stuffed into Crystal's jeans would you."
When he'd caught the shiny pistol, Jason holstered his own gun. "I always coveted this gun. All the time I was fucking Crystal she'd never even let me touch it. This makes it all worthwhile."
Whilst Jason's attention was focussed on his new prize Tiffany stretched her left arm, which was hidden under her, until she could wrap her hand around the hilt of the Bowie knife. She slipped the restraining strap off its button and slid the knife a little way out of the sheath.
"You fucking bastard. You're crazy."
"What did I tell you about behaving. Now I have to kill you before Terri gets here." Jason stood over Tiffany and pointed the gun at her head.
Then the world went white.
* * *
Terri dialled the suspension stiffness back when she hit the rougher section of road. She fought the wheel as the vehicle skipped around on the potholed surface and only just had it lined up properly for the bridge. She hit it hard and took off. The Fort flew nearly twice its length, but the landing was surprisingly gentle.
The mansion was ahead and just off to the left. Terri headed onto the lawn to straighten the line to the front door and reached for another switch.
As well as the normal driving lights, the Fort was outfitted with high power lamps. Before they turned on the windscreen darkened and the heads up display turned off.
When the lights turned on the mansion stood out from the night sky, stark and flat. There were figures in the doorway. Only one of them thought to raise their gun and fire, but they didn't have a clue what they were aiming at. Still, one bullet hit the windscreen only to bounce off leaving nothing more than a little crazing on the first layer of the armoured glass. Terri lifted her hands from the steering wheel just before impact.
The borrowed Fort pushed the burnt out one in front of the mansion aside just before it hit the steps. It ploughed through the planking of the veranda, lifting it and carrying it through the door, collecting the shooter and one of his team mates who didn't get out of the way fast enough.
The straps of her harness bit into Terri's shoulders and sides and her chin hit the top of her chest as the Fort came to a halt in the foyer. The shooter had flown all the way across the foyer and ended up impaled on the other end of the piece of armour in Todd's chest. Other squad members were scattered across the floor, some injured, others where they'd managed to find cover.
Woozy from the impact, Terri struggled with the release on her harness. She knew that outside a bunch of highly trained killers were recovering from an attack and preparing to retaliate. If she wanted to take advantage of the element of surprise she had to get out of the vehicle and start shooting as quickly as possible.
She had to press the buckle in and then turn it. The first time she tried this her fingers slipped and the release spun back into position. She tried again. This time she turned the buckle the whole way around and all of the straps released.
There was a figure visible out of the side window. She was standing and raising a gun. Down the side of Terri's seat was a holster. She pulled a pistol from it and stuck it into a slot in the door. It was a clever arrangement which pushed aside a pair of overlapping armour plates so that the pistol was pressed against the thin steel of the bodywork. Terri moved the pistol, aiming by guesswork and instinct, and fired two shots. The figure with the gun dropped back to the floor.
Terri reached for the door release. She was about to pull it and take a dive out and start shooting when a pair of bodies thrown off the balcony landed on the bonnet.