Free at Last
Emily shouldered her way through the MPs who’d congregated on the cell block. Each time it went the same way. She pushed hard with her shoulder or elbow, the victim turned to get a look at the offending body part and then, invariably, his jaw dropped at the sight of the slight brunette dressed like a hooker forcing her way through this directionless mob of military men.
At which point she gave each man a look that said get the fuck out of my way and stay there without needing any kind of translation.
Pritchard followed, struggling to keep up.
The lights were still glowing brothel-red, though the alarm had quit screaming. The shooting had also stopped.
When Emily reached the front of the crowd she found the corridor leading to Fulton’s cell littered with mangled corpses. Empty shotgun shells and 5.56 millimeter casings lay strewn around in between them. The riot control bot sat in the center the corridor. Its faceplate was dark, the sensor unit hung low, almost as if the thing were ashamed of itself. Its armored body had been pitted and scratched by gunfire but otherwise it remained intact.
The men at the front of the mob were still holding it at gunpoint, as if it would make any kind of difference if the machine suddenly woke up and started hosing them down with auto-shotgun rounds.
“What are you going to do with it?” Emily asked.
The men ignored her.
She looked around.
A survivor lay propped up against the wall on her left. He appeared to be bleeding out slowly and painfully through his gut. The blood looked like black tar in the harsh red light. But what really caught her eye was a belt of grenades slung over his shoulder. The man watched, wide-eyed with disbelief, as she bent and plucked one free.
Emily turned the grenade over in her hand. You ain’t seen nothin’, pal, she thought.
She strode up to the bot the way another woman might sashay up to a young marine at the bar, a thousand-dollar pair of Manolos in a boutique or a silver platter full of champagne and oysters. She wedged the grenade in the gap between the base of the bot’s sensor unit/head (beneath its “chin”), pulled the pin, spun on her heels and walked the fifty yards back to the mob of MPs. By now they had lowered their rifles and were watching the spectacle with jaws unhinged, as if Emily were a topless martian with purple skin and six tits fresh off a UFO.
You ain’t seen nothin’.
The force of the blast sent the bot’s head flying into the concrete block ceiling.
Emily dropped the grenade pin in her coat pocket. She wrung her hands.
“You think he’s still alive?” Pritchard asked.
They found Fulton hunched over on the lower bunk. He had a hand on his lower back. Slashes of blood leaked through the fabric of his torn shirt, as if a grizzly bear had taken a swipe at him.
“You all right?” Emily asked.
“One of the stupider questions I’ve been asked lately.”
“What the hell happened?”
“My guess is your narco friends are working with a very capable freelancer, probably Russian or Chinese. He’s augmented, and he’s either very good at transmuting, very good with AIs or some combination of the two. Apparently he wants to kill us. Me in particular. Possibly to get a hold of this.” Fulton held up the cartridge containing Reese’s app.
Emily nodded. “He’s not Chinese or Russian. He’s an Arab.”
At that Fulton perked up, though he winced as he straightened his back. “How do you know that?” For once he sounded genuinely surprised.
Emily gestured to Pritchard. “My colleague, Mister Pritchard, convinced the commandante our work was in his country’s best interest. He, in turn, helped convince our friend Jefe of the same.”
“Pleasure to meet you,” Pritchard said.
“How much did you have to pay him for that?” Fulton asked.
“Too much,” Pritchard replied. “You’re free, by the way.”
“I had a feeling.”