For the second time since Fulton snapped out of The Zone he was stunned to the point of paralysis, as if his augmented brain had entered a power saving hibernation mode. Some high level function had given the organic processing unit trouble, leaving the system no choice but to flip a kill switch. Otherwise it risked burning out. Here that function was Fulton’s ability to comprehend the magnitude (read: permanence) of the event playing out in front of him.
Emily had killed someone in front of him. A woman at that.
He’d never seen anyone die before. Not even in a hospital room. So instead of the metaphysical implications Fulton’s brain attacked the situation same as it had the scene in the hotel room. It broke everything down into individual sensory inputs, processing them one at a time so as not to overload his mental circuitry.
Subdued muzzle flash.
Lela’s left foot spasming on the floor.
A spent brass casing tumbling through the air, spinning wildly end over end arcing up and away from the weapon at a forty-five degree angle and then, upon reaching the apex of its climb, falling back toward the tile floor on a slightly steeper trajectory.
Then Emily had him by the arm. She pulled him back away from the body, from the slots, from the lobby and shoved him out into a narrow alley that stank of rotten eggs and urine.
The gun disappeared back into her coat and once again she was just another hooker working the casinos.
“You said you wouldn’t kill her.”
“For her own good. Police would have tortured her. Raped her. Ninos too, probably, before they killed her. Now shut up and walk.”
They picked their way through a mess of trash cans and overflowing dumpsters till they emerged on an unpaved side street. From the right came the sound of sirens, the glow of police flashers pulsing in staccato rhythm.
“You have a green card, don’t you?” Fulton asked. “Aren’t you licensed?”
“Cartels own these cops,” Emily said, without looking back. “They pay better.”
This time she turned.
“A variation on symbiosis,” Fulton explained. “Instead of two organisms needing each other for survival the relationship harms them both, eventually causing death. We don’t see it in nature because nature selects against it. That’s you and the cops and the cartels. Everyone in this country, it seems.”
The comment struck a nerve.
Fulton saw it in her expression. Not unlike the expression that crossed Robin’s if he expressed an uncomfortable truth during a social function. Not an expression of sadness or anger so much as mortification that someone had gone and dragged a skeleton out of the closet, scattering the social equivalent of bone fragments and mummified flesh all over the place, making a grisly mess of the small talk.
Emily took his observation personally.
The relationship between a contractor and her employer couldn’t be all that healthy. The company used you up. No real hope of promotion, beyond a certain point. They were hardly going to put a grunt in charge of capital budgeting. Emily would work like this until her job killed her. It wasn’t so much a matter of survival as one of a good death versus a bad death (e.g. better to suffer a sniper’s bullet between the eyes than an angry mob dragging your mutilated corpse through some Iraqi slum).
What had Douglas MacArthur said about old soldiers never dying? It was a lie, whatever it was. Old soldiers died every day. Miserably at that. They had lousy benefits. No one wanted to sell them insurance. Again with the problem of adverse selection…
Suddenly Fulton pitied Emily, despite her being a psychopath.
Heavy armored vehicles approached. The growl of their engines drowned out the police sirens. Fulton looked back in time to catch an olive-drab armored personnel carrier rumble past the alley. Tiny rocks and bits of concrete skittered along the ground.
Another APC followed right behind.
“They’ll seal off the area,” Emily said. “We need to move.”
She resumed walking, and Fulton had no choice but to follow her into the murky gloom of the slum.