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The cull crew moved in on the Walker house – a picture perfect piece of leafy suburbia if ever there was one – as the clock struck midnight.
Bennett took charge of the operation and put his jack-booted foot through the front door with the bare minimum of hassle – or in his words, ‘Z.F.A.’ (Zero Fucking Around).
The door flew open in a hail of splinters to reveal a house in darkness.
The crews usually watched the houses of their targets for at least a week to learn their habits.
They knew this was the house of a single parent.
Knew they’d be too exhausted from a day of diaper changes and tantrums to put up too much of a fight.
Bennett moved upstairs, hearing nothing to suggest he and his crew were walking into a trap.
Indeed, a look into the main bedroom revealed a blonde woman, late thirties, snoring loud enough to wake the neighbours.
Bennett smiled beneath his visor as he silently crept across to the bed and sunk his knife into her throat.
She woke up, eyes wide, mouth attempting a scream that was strangled by the blood gushing down her throat.
It was a matter of seconds before her eyes flickered shut again.
A gleaming pool of blood began to soak into the white Egyptian cotton sheets beneath her.
Piece of piss.
This is too fucking easy.
He felt no remorse about taking a mother from her children; the taking of a life was routine to him now, nothing worth losing any sleep over.
As he moved out of the room, his arm brushed against a heart-shaped collage of photographs on the wall.
Some of them showed the woman who bled out in the bed.
There were photos of her with a man and a kid, most of them with huge grins on their faces.
‘I miss you Caleb and Josh,’ the legend said, decorated with a kid’s painted handprints in a variety of colours.
‘Well you’re reunited now,’ Bennett muttered, snorting in amusement. ‘You’re welcome.’
A sound from the next room distracted him from his examination of the photographs.
But when he got to the next bedroom, the little blonde girl was peacefully asleep.
She looked perfect, except for her missing eyes.
Even while she was sleeping, it was obvious the sockets were empty.
The eyelids folded in where the eyeballs should have been.
‘That’s sick as fuck,’ he muttered to himself.
He knew this was the main target, Josephine Bull, the most sophisticated of the three digital children that had been taken in by Marsha Walker after the explosion at Laverick’s home.
There was one other kid in the room, he too was snoring soundly.
One of his legs stuck out of the bed, a strange metal calliper wrapped around it.
‘Where’s the other kid?’ Bennett mouthed.
He looked behind and Webb had just reached the top of the stairs.
His helmet gleamed in the dim light of the upstairs hall.
Suddenly there was the creak of a door and Webb went down, a hatchet stuck in the top of his helmet.
‘The fuck was that?’ Bennett said, spinning to survey the scene.
A kid with a horrifically distorted face came from one of the other rooms.
He had another hatchet in his hand.
Webb lifted his shotgun to blow him back to whatever hell he had come from, but the kid knocked the gun from his hands.
He let out a sickly giggle as his jaw clacked up and down.
Before anyone could react, the dummy kid had lifted the shotgun and used it to flip Webb’s visor up.
He found himself staring into the gaping dark twin bores of his own twelve gauge.
The muzzle flash lit the air, the blast deafening at such close proximity.
Webb’s head was turned into confetti and blasted against the back of his helmet.
He lolled forward, blood gushing from the open visor.
Bennett’s shotgun blast hit the kid full in the face, blowing away most of the right side of his face in thick spatters of blood and pulverised bone.
The clacking jaw was shorn in half, but still the laughter came.
He ducked behind the door, seemingly not in any great distress.
Bennett had two more men – Jones and Davies – with him and he knew by now that they’d have woken the rest of the house.
Indeed he heard panicked cries coming from the girl’s room.
Bennett darted in, stunned to see the little girl with no eyes had grabbed two eight-inch butcher’s knives from somewhere.
She was flailing them around with extremely bad intentions.
The knives raked the arms of his suit as he raised them in defence.
They were made of knife-proof material, but still it hurt, even if the blades couldn’t draw blood.
His orders were not to hurt any of the children, as they were to be studied back at the lab.
Grudgingly, he lowered his shotgun.
Instead, he planted the sole of his boot in her chest and shoved.
She flew back, smashing her head into the side of the bed.
Without a flicker of distress, she got up and came for him with renewed vigour.
He realised he wasn’t going to put her off, so he aimed low and took out her knee with a shotgun blast.
Her knee disintegrated in bloody splinters of bone.
Still her attack showed no sign of relenting.
Another shotgun blast went off behind him as the dummy kid let loose again.
‘Fucking hell,’ Bennett muttered.
The eyeless girl was crawling along the floor on her belly, slashing at his legs.
He lashed out with his boot, turning most of her teeth into jagged shards.
Still she came.
‘Give me a hand in here,’ he shouted, feeling slightly ridiculous.
The calliper kid was awake by now, but he was curled in a ball in the corner, sobbing his little heart out.
Davies ran in and he and Bennett set into Josephine with their boots and the butts of their guns.
Still she fought on, almost slashing a hole in Bennett’s throat with her wild attacks.
Davies grabbed her legs – which was much easier said than done – and Bennett managed to prise one of the knives from her hands.
The calliper kid had pulled round now and he too was armed; swinging a wooden baseball bat around recklessly.
It was clear they weren’t going down without a fight.
A shotgun blast hit Bennett in the back and he turned to see the dummy kid standing there, half of his head missing, blood pissing out onto his sharply pressed blue pyjamas.
Despite all of this, he was laughing like a fucking maniac.
The shotgun blast didn’t damage Bennett due to the protective properties of his suit, but it was like being hit with a sledgehammer.
He’d have bruises for weeks afterwards.
He turned, furious, and lashed out with his foot, hitting the dummy kid full in the face and taking him off his feet.
Still the laughter didn’t stop.
In fact it got louder as the calliper kid decked Davies with a wild charge.
The calliper kid was straight in, moving with a speed that belied his decrepit physical state.
His baseball bat met the back of Davies’ skull with a horrific crack.
Davies’ eyes rolled back in his head a little.
The bat came down again, making Davies go limp.
The eyeless girl moved in cautiously, her hands groping around until they found the zip on the back of Davies’ suit.
Bennett’s eyes grew wide.
If they got the zip open they could…
Too late; her blade opened Davies’ throat, spraying her face and lending her an appearance of sheer insanity.
Bennett knew they were on the losing end of this confrontation, and thanked someone up high – he didn’t believe in God per se but figured that something had to call the shots up there – that he had chosen a team of three to accompany him instead of the customary two man team.
The calliper kid swung a wild blow that slammed into the side of Bennett’s right thigh and gave him a dead leg.
He staggered forwards, hitting the calliper kid full in the face with the butt of the shotgun.
His jaw jumped a full three inches to the right with a sickening crunch.
He fell on his ass, not out but subdued for now.
‘Get the girl,’ Bennett shouted over the cacophony of the dummy kid’s laughter and the sound of blood racing from the twitching corpses of two of his colleagues.
‘Orders were to get all three, Sarge,’ Jones said.
‘Fuck that. We won’t survive long enough to get all three,’ Bennett snapped. ‘Now help me get the fucking girl before they recover.’
The dummy kid darted at him, biting at his arm like a rabid dog.
The articulated jaw had some serious power in its bite; he could feel it crushing the bones in his forearm together.
He turned, rammed the back of the kid’s head into the wall hard enough to make clouds of plaster fly out of the wall, then forced his forearm further into the jaws until they sprung open.
He gave the kid a hard elbow to what remained of his head, then ran in and grabbed the girl around the upper body.
Jones grabbed her legs and they started trying to get her out of the room.
It was hard; even for two well-built men.
But they got her downstairs to the car just as the two other kids came racing down the stairs.
Bennett paused a second to fire a shotgun blast in the general direction of the two other kids and bundled the eyeless girl into the boot of the car.
Jones hurled himself into the driver’s seat.
‘Go! Go! GO!’ he bellowed as the dummy kid’s blood-covered face appeared at the window.
His tiny hands left smears of blood down the glass.
His insane laugh echoed round the car until Jones gained the sense to speed away from the scene.
‘Excellent work,’ Nicol congratulated Bennett as he delivered the sleeping child.
‘Do you have what you need?’ Bennett asked.
‘Fuckin’ A! Time to take a peep behind Laverick’s curtain.’
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