Liam Terrance was very mature for a boy of six years old, so he had been told. His parents brought him up well, despite their less than usual professions. Clive and Evelyn Terrance were widely known in many circles as some of, if not the best people to talk to when it came to high-tech weapons and security systems. The couple’s ground-breaking work had kept their family in the black for close to twenty years now, as well as providing thousands of jobs around the world and ensuring their employees and their families lived their lives in safety and security.
The Terrance family home was a regal, eye-catching three storey building which rested upon the crest of a large mountainous estate. A twisting brick driveway led up to the property through the rough terrain, where it ended at an undercover parking area where no less than three cars sat parked at any given time. Two for work, one for everyday use. Top of the line was an understatement. You couldn’t just walk into any old dealership and buy these specific cars. They had been specially made to Clive and Evelyn’s stringent specifications, with all three containing dozens of features and mechanisms which wouldn’t make their way to general consumer vehicles for many years.
Despite his parents’ unprecedented fame and success in military and security cliques, young Liam remained more or less oblivious to the exact details of their jobs. All he knew was they had a lot of money and were respected by a lot of people for the work they did. He also knew what they did kept bad people from doing bad things to good people. For that, he loved them unconditionally. He didn’t like bad people very much, or bad things. Neither did Clive or Evelyn.
They had talked with Liam about their work once, and only once. He remembered it well. It would stick with the boy for the rest of his life.
“Daddy, do you and Mommy hurt people?” he had asked them at the dinner table one night. Evelyn and Clive had exchanged nervous glances between one another in silence before Clive sighed and pulled his chair up closer to his son’s.
“That’s a difficult question to answer, son,” Clive had said. “But I think you’re old enough to know what exactly we do. Your mother and I build weapons and security devices which help keep others safe and help them catch bad guys. We’ve never hurt anyone who hasn’t…well, who hasn’t deserved it, if you’ll forgive my frankness.”
“But isn’t hurting people bad?”
Evelyn joined the conversation from where she sat opposite Liam. “Of course it is, honey. But sometimes, you need to do bad things to keep good people safe. What your father and I do keeps people, their families and homes safe from bad people. If we didn’t do our jobs, they wouldn’t stop doing bad things. You understand?”
Liam thought for a moment, and nodded. “But…what if the bad guys knew you were the ones hurting them? Wouldn’t they want to hurt you too then?”
“You’re right,” Clive said, placing a hand on Liam’s shoulder. “But I promise you, we are all safe here, in this house. You don’t do what we do without being prepared for anything and everything. And that’s why I’m gonna let you in on a little secret, which you can’t tell anyone, ever. Okay pal?”
Evelyn shot a wide-eyed look at her husband. “Clive, I don’t think we should tell him about that just yet. He’s too young, what if he—?”
“I trust him. And hey, it can’t hurt to be safe, right?” Clive said. He lifted Liam up onto his knee. Evelyn didn’t look comfortable with the decision whatsoever, but after a moment, she nodded.
“Okay,” she said.
“Liam, a long time ago, before you were born and this house was still being built, we told the builders to take a week off while we…went on vacation. While they were gone, we brought in some friends from work to plan and build a secret place underground, just in case something bad happened in the future. The builders came back when we were done and continued their work, so even they didn’t know about it. Just us, and a few people at work. So far, we haven’t had to use it, but I want to tell you about it, just in case we, or you, still need to use it in the future.”
Liam listened to Clive with a big smile on his face. It almost sounded like a spy movie. He liked spy movies. Maybe his parents were spies. That would be awesome.
“It’s a safe room, in case any bad guys manage to get into our house,” Clive continued. “If anyone you don’t know ever comes into the house, I want you to run to the stairs and go behind them. There is a secret door in the wooden panel on the back of the stairs. Just push on it and it should click and open. Go inside, go down the stairs, follow the hall to the door at the end and close it once you’re inside. Press the big button on the wall next to where you came in, and you’ll be safe from the bad guys until help arrives. Got all of that pal?”
Liam nodded enthusiastically and hugged his father. Evelyn smiled. The boy was taking this all very well.
“Remember, only use it in an emergency,” Clive added, his earlier friendly tone replaced with the voice he used when he expected to be obeyed. “Do not play down in the hall near the door. In fact, don’t play near those stairs at all. Promise me?”
“Okay Daddy. I promise.”
“Good man.” Clive rustled Liam’s hair and let him up. “Go get ready for bed now pal, it’s getting late.”
For two years, Liam Terrance kept his promise. There were a few moments where he almost broke it and gone into the hidden door behind the stairs out of curiosity, just for a peek, but he resisted the urge, every time. The door behind the stairs remained unopened and untouched for months.
Until the day the bad men came.
A loud knock on the front door caught Clive Terrance’s attention one cold November night. He was sitting in their living room watching TV with Evelyn and Liam when he heard.
“Must be Burt, I’ll be right back,” he said. Clive stood and trudged over to the door, half asleep after a long day at work. Evelyn had stayed at home with Liam to help him with his homework over the weekend.
Burt Fitzroy, one of their several perimeter guards, usually performed one final sweep before the shift change and came in for coffee before heading home for the night. Clive knew him well; the man was a close family friend who had worked with Terrance Systems since the beginning.
With tired eyes, Clive glanced at the CCTV monitor next to the door, which currently displayed a high definition image of their front porch. A man wearing a dark green guard uniform and matching Terrance Systems cap stood close to the door, patiently waiting for Clive.
His face was obscured by the cap. At first glance, Clive guessed it was Burt, but upon closer inspection of the image on the screen, this man looked taller and broader in build than Burt.
Clive keyed the intercom. “Please remove your cap. I need to confirm your identity.”
The guard remained motionless. For a moment, Clive thought he hadn’t keyed the intercom correctly, but he definitely felt the button click underneath his finger. Unperturbed, Clive repeated the order into the intercom.
Was it malfunctioning? Possibly. He and Evelyn had had problems with this particular system before. It was constructed and installed by an outside contractor unrelated to Terrance Systems, so of course it had reliability issues.
Clive sighed and turned away from the CCTV monitor back towards their living room.
“Honey! The intercom’s on the fritz again! I’m gonna call Brenda in the morning, get a quote on a whole new system. Last time I outsource equipment, swear to God.”
“Again?” Evelyn’s distant reply came over the tinny sound of the TV. “I told you not to go with Letorneau, they don’t know what the hell they’re doing.”
Clive shook his head and returned to the monitor to try the intercom again, when he noticed the guard was gone.
No. He was just now leaving. Clive could just make out the guard disappearing out of frame, arms and legs pumping as he made a mad dash away from the front door.
Clive frowned, confused. “Where’s he—?”
The explosion removed the door from its reinforced hinges as if it were no heavier than a newspaper. The shockwave blew Clive off his feet, throwing him into the wall behind him in a crumpled, broken heap. Dust and smoke filled the air, thick as snow, and had barely started to settle when five men stormed the house, armed to the teeth with armour and weapons which looked like they had been pulled straight from a science fiction movie.
If Clive had still been conscious, he would have recognized every piece of their gear. All of it was developed by Terrance Systems.
In the living room, Evelyn and Liam jumped to their feet at the sound of the explosion, eyes wide with fear. They could hear heavy footsteps from multiple pairs of boots as they spread out through the house.
Evelyn had no doubt who they were looking for. A gunshot rang out. From the sounds of it, a single, high velocity round. Her heart sank.
“Liam, run!” she told her son in a hushed, desperate whisper. “Go to the safe room, go there right now!”
“You’re coming too, right?” Liam asked, terrified beyond belief.
Evelyn knelt down and reached under the sofa in one quick movement and pulled out a small, sturdy lock box. She removed her small necklace with a quick tug and pressed it against the front of the box, which beeped once and clicked open. Evelyn reached in and pulled out a small pistol, roughly the size of a smart phone, tar black in colour with a bright red trigger guard, bearing the Terrance Systems logo on its short, spotless barrel. Engraved next to the logo was a single word in bold, clear lettering: GOSHAWK.
“I need to go help your father, you go on ahead. We’ll be right behind you, okay honey?”
Liam looked at Evelyn and nodded. It seemed to calm her a bit.
“We love you Liam. Now run!” Evelyn hugged her son and, with the Goshawk in hand, marched across the living room towards the front door, eyes deadly with her long black hair tangled down over her furious scowl.
Liam ran in the opposite direction to the other side of the house towards the staircase which hid the long-concealed doorway to the safe room. His heart thudded hard in his chest, almost painfully as he ran.
Evelyn rounded the corner out of the living room just in time to see one of the armed men, his rifle still smoking, standing over the bloodied corpse of Clive Terrance. He lay slumped against the rear wall, already in bad shape from the explosion, now with added insult to injury in the form of a single fleshy bullet hole the size of a tennis ball where his eyes used to be. Dust continued to settle over the entire scene as Clive’s killer turned around just in time to see Evelyn appear from the living room.
Without a second thought, Evelyn raised the Goshawk and pointed it directly at the intruder’s chest, the pistol tiny in comparison to his imposing compact assault rifle. She recognized it as a Terrance Systems Irukandji, a powerful weapon utilizing electronically fired, high velocity caseless rounds, capable of cutting a man in half with sustained fire.
Intimidating, sure. But it was nothing compared to her Goshawk. Evelyn pulled the trigger.
Despite wearing an almost impenetrable protective helmet and heavy Kevlar vest, the man’s upper torso exploded. A shower of blood, scraps of metal and bone blew all over the wall behind where he had stood, the force so great some of the fragments embedded themselves into the wall like darts. The remaining, still-standing half of the intruder remained upright for a moment, before it collapsed comically onto the ground with a fleshy smack.
She readied the Goshawk for another shot, venting the significant heat build-up in the weapon by pulling back on the slide, ejecting a stream of steam into the air, almost like a pressure cooker. A high-pitched whine signalled the weapon was ready to fire. She continued ahead, filled with fresh determination to end the lives of the intruders, to pay them back for executing her husband and traumatizing her son.
At the sound of Evelyn’s first shot, the other four men in the house doubled back to the front door, the location of their second target revealed.
Their mission was already a success. Taking out Evelyn Terrance would merely net them a bonus. The boy’s death was secondary, but would add insult to injury once the home invasion became front page news across the country in a few hours.
The first man rounded the corner, appearing out of nowhere, but Evelyn was ready for him and pulled the trigger again. The man blew apart, as if a bomb in his stomach had detonated. Before she could prime the Goshawk for a third shot, another man rounded the corner, his Irukandji buzzing as he swept it across Evelyn. She screamed as she was hit by about forty rounds and collapsed. Her Goshawk fell too, bouncing once on the wooden floorboards before it burst into a ball of ashes. A security measure to prevent enemy acquisition of the weapon.
Liam had reached the staircase door when he heard the screams. He tried as hard as he could to ignore them. Getting to the safe room was all that mattered to him. It was what his parents wanted.
The three remaining men stood over the lifeless Evelyn. One of them, the one who took the kill-shot, unleashed a furious kick into the dead woman’s stomach.
“What the mother fuck was that shit?” he exclaimed, his voice dripping with white-hot fury. They stared in shock at the mess of dismembered body parts and gore around them, moonlight from outside shining in through the massive hole where the front door used to be. The two men Evelyn had killed were unrecognizable.
Despite losing two of his men, the leader of the hit squad, a stern man known as Ryder, remained calm, his face void of emotion.
“We knew going in what kind of toys these pricks had when we took this job. Kenneth and Rodrigo were careless and got unlucky. They knew what they signed up for.
“But look at them, man! They’ve been torn apart! This whole thing is fucked!”
Ryder whipped around and seized his comrade by the collar. “The kid is still around here somewhere. Nobody leaves until I have his fucking head.”
The third man, who had said nothing so far, broke his stunned silence. “What are you talking about? Are you fucking nuts? They’re dead. The mission is done. We need to get out of here before first responders arrive, I’m sure the owners of a security company have some kind of silent alarm for when somebody blows up their fucking house.”
Ryder turned on the third man and yanked him down to his level. He may have been shorter, but Ryder had a temper to be reckoned with.
“The kid dies. We were paid to send a message, not half a message, yeah? Grow some balls, he’s scared and probably hiding nearby. We’ll find him and be out of here before the cops arrive.”
They agreed soon enough. The kid was a loose end they couldn’t afford to leave behind, especially in the wake of a brazen attack like this. It would make them look weak if they let him live.
“Spread out,” Ryder said without emotion. “Find him. Make it quick and clean. Two to the chest, one to the head.”
As their search began, Liam closed the hidden door behind him and looked ahead. Just like his father had said, a short passage lay before him. Several dozen small steps descended down into the earth before opening up into a larger corridor, which ended with a bulky steel blast door that stretched all the way to the ceiling. The hall was completely empty and unassuming. Why hadn’t his parents wanted him to play down here? It didn’t look dangerous at all.
Liam hurried down the hall and using all of his strength, pulled the door wide open and disappeared inside.
The safe room wasn’t large, although it was packed to the brim with all the essentials. Its walls were lined with long life rations, water, medical supplies, flashlights, spare batteries and everything else that one would expect to be in a safe room—or a bomb shelter. And, Liam noticed, on the wall next to the door: a large blue button with the Terrance Systems logo etched into the plastic.
Not wasting any time, Liam pushed the metal blast door closed. He took a deep breath and slammed down on the button with his fist.
The moment it depressed, an unseen mechanism on the inside of the door whirred to life, sliding heavy bolts both in the door and the equally sturdy frame. Nearly twenty solid steel bolts locked together like the prongs of two forks coming together.
Nothing would be opening this door any time soon.
Through a small bulletproof Plexiglass window set low into the door, Liam could see the hallway was now bathed in an iridescent blue glow. It seemed to darken in colour the closer to the door it reached, in several distinctive blocks. He had no idea what any of it meant. But he trusted his parents, so he didn’t question it further.
“Blue Friction security measures armed.”
A synthesized voice played through a speaker system both inside and outside the safe room, making Liam jump in surprise. He calmed back down once he realized its meaning.
He was safe now.
Back up in the house, Ryder stopped mid-stride when he heard the unusual robotic voice from somewhere nearby. It was close, very close.
With his gun raised, he peered up the flight of stairs he stood before, up to the second floor. The voice he had heard didn’t sound like it had come from up there though. It sounded muffled, distant, but still close. The source had to be on this floor.
Ryder had a thought. Had it come from the staircase itself? He keyed his radio, another Terrance Systems product, impossible to listen in on unless you were the intended recipient of the call.
“I got something near the stairs, get over here. Might be him.”
The other two men arrived within moments, weapons at the ready, eager to get this over with. Without making a sound, Ryder began stepping around the stairs, patting the sides, searching for hidden doors or passages. It seemed likely that rich assholes like the Terrances would have something like that. After all, the Terrance bitch had some kind of death ray that could blow a man apart. Secret tunnels didn’t seem like that much of a stretch.
He found the door soon enough. A thin outline visible on the rest of the wooden underside of the staircase, not quite flush with the rest of the boards. It would have been invisible if it was fully closed, but the kid must have been in a hurry and not closed it properly.
Ryder nudged the door open with the long barrel of his rifle and peered inside. A warm blue light greeted him, faint from where he stood, its source somewhere deeper into the doorway. He ignored it and made a motion with one hand, ordering his men inside. The instant one of their feet touched the blue light on the first step, the same computerized voice Ryder had heard before greeted them.
“Attention potential intruders. This property is secured by prototype Terrance Systems Blue Friction security measures. Serious injury and death will occur if you do not vacate the area. Turn back now.”
The frankness of the message amused Ryder. He gave a single bark of laughter. “You kidding me with this?” he chuckled. “Come on out kid, we just wanna talk to you for a moment. Promise.”
After a moment with no response, the three men sauntered down the small stairway and into the corridor leading down to the safe room. Ryder stepped over the second blue light threshold, about three paces away from the bottom of the stairs, and another pre-recorded message played over the loudspeakers.
“This is your only warning. Turn back now and surrender to local authorities. Security measures will be activated momentarily.”
If he were a humorous man, Ryder would have laughed aloud at that one. He aimed his weapon at the massive blast door, where he could see the Terrance brat’s face staring at him through a little glass viewing port. He was right there, within reach. So close.
The three men, led by Ryder stepped over the third blue threshold, only a few feet away from the door.
Less than a second after he passed the third bar of light, the security system suddenly and spectacularly came to life before Liam’s eyes.
The already luminous blue light in the corridor brightened to the point of being almost blinding. Ryder and his two comrades yelled out and shielded their eyes.
Liam ducked down away from the viewing window and retreated to the opposite end of the safe room. Light poured in through the glass, as bright as the sun.
“What the fuck is this?” Ryder cried. He turned around with one arm held in front of his eyes and began a mad, desperate sprint to get the hell out of there, but a loud thump stopped him in his tracks. A thick slab of solid steel dropped down in front of the stairway, sealing the three of them in the little corridor.
They were trapped.
The humming started immediately after. Low and dull at first, but it soon escalated into a deafening electronic roar. The air around them vibrated like an earthquake, in tune with the awful sound, which only continued to grow in volume, to the point of becoming painful to hear.
Liam couldn’t see what was happening outside the blast door from where he sat. He didn’t want to. He sat in the corner of the calm and silent safe room and wait for help, as his parents had told him two years ago.
In the corridor outside the door, the intruders were in a very different situation.
Ryder opened his eyes and stole a glimpse of his men through the blinding blue light. His eyes boggled. They were both on the ground, weapons lying by their side as they writhed in pain and groaned, confused and terrified. Their arms and legs trembled as if they were experiencing seizures.
Before he realized what was happening, Ryder joined them on the ground, groaning and whining, his limbs beginning to shake in almost mirror image to his men. He had no idea what was happening.
In a single, surreal instant, all three men fell silent and went still. Every inch of skin on their bodies turned to liquid. They were all beyond dead before the process began, brains boiling in their skulls, blood bubbling out of every pore in their skin underneath the killing blue light. It all pooled beneath them in a nightmarish mess of sticky fat, bile and other bodily fluids.
The process was only just beginning.
Layer by layer, the rest of their bodies melted onto the floor, forming a hideous mess across the width of the corridor. It was excessive, horrific and above all, effective. Within five minutes, all that remained of Ryder and his two squad mates were their bleached white skeletons, lying in drying pools of liquified organs and flesh.
As all of this happened, Liam pulled a granola bar off one of the shelves in the safe room and unwrapped it, totally unaware of what was happing not even a few feet away from him.
Local law enforcement took a significant amount of time to respond to the priority silent alarm emitting from the Terrance family estate. There was nothing they could have done even if they had arrived sooner. What the assassins had set out to do was done, albeit in one of the most brazen, unprofessional ways they had seen in years.
The first responders, five officers riding in a few squad cars entered the house through what remained of the front door and took in the scene before them.
Four bodies, lying among the rubble in varying states of dismemberment. The first two they saw: Clive and Evelyn Terrance.
Their attention was quickly stolen by the bodies of the intruders…or what was left of them.
One of the younger officers ran outside and vomited all over the front lawn after seeing the state they were in. They had literally been blown apart, as if they were made of putty. None of the officers had ever seen anything like it. Clive and Evelyn got off lightly compared to these two.
The four officers kept moving deeper into the house.
“Law enforcement response detected: Officers Page, Lambert, Wright and Douglas, OPD. Security measures powering down.”
The clear, electronic voice bounced around the silent house through a dozen different speakers. Officer James Lambert went for his weapon, but stopped when he realized it had addressed him and the other officers by name.
A loud metallic screech made them jump again, a sound that felt close.
It had come from the nearby staircase.
Led by Officer Page, they headed behind the staircase, where a door sat wide open, leading down into some sort of basement area. They headed down.
A massive steel slab rose back up into the roof, revealing a small hallway with a solid door at the far end. The metallic stench of blood hit them before the sight of the bodies did.
Calling them bodies was something of an understatement. There were three skeletons laying in puddles of what looked like…molten flesh?
Page, Wright and Douglas all ran back outside, heaving and gagging the entire time. Lambert alone held his nerve, put his sleeve over his nose and mouth and stepped into the corridor. He gingerly went around the skeletons and puddles of biological ooze which remained.
He took hold of the heavy door frame with both hands and pulled it open.
The last surviving Terrance lay at the opposite side of the room, surrounded by a few empty food wrappers, unharmed and seemingly unaware of the carnage just outside his door. Unaware of what had become of the men who murdered his mother and father. He didn’t seem to be too aware of anything at the moment.
He was fast asleep.