When Death Wore Lipstick

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She watched the streetlights go by. One by one, they flashed by the bus’s window. At the next stop, after shooting the other passenger and the bus driver, she got out. It late at night. No one was around. The bus just sat there idling as the bus driver and the other guy bled out. No one came running. Sirens did not go off.

“We all die…” she muttered to herself, though it felt like she was forgetting something.

After tucking the gun back into her handbag, she turned around. The night was a little chilly, but she did not seem to feel it. There was an all-night diner nearby. Its red and white neon sign cast light across the street. The light bounced off the street, forming an inverted halo. She felt drawn to.

She blinked her eyes and she was standing inside the diner. Briefly, she wondered how she had got there? She did not remember walking from the bus to the diner, yet here she was standing.

And then she saw all the bodies around her. An old man, twisted at a strange angle over the counter top. A young waitress slumped backwards behind the counter with blood running down her apron. A middle-aged black man, sprawled on the floor. His half-eaten food was on a table a bit behind him. It looked like he had got up to move? Perhaps to run?

Run from what? Where was the blood, she wondered?

She looked down and saw her hands. She was holding a gun in her right hand, soft smoke wafting from its chamber. There were splatters of blood on her, but most of it covered the diner; dripping on the pies, the counter and spreading out over the floor to cover it and, eventually, the world.

“We all die, but how many of us can kill?” she whispered, suddenly remembering the full phrase from somewhere. Her voice sounded strange, like someone else’s.

Suddenly, she remembered and smiled. She walked outside and looked up, still smiling. She lifted her middle finger to the sky and then the gun in her hand to head.

***

“…vitals are stable. Stop easing him off. You can cut the drugs now, ease in the stimulants,” the voice that began to penetrate his consciousness droned on and on with medical terms, “He’s awake. His scans indicate normality. Sergeant, welcome back, how do you feel?”

He blinked his eyes. He was Sergeant Malcolm. He had just undergone VR field training, with a little help from military-grade drugs.

“I-I was a girl,” the Sergeant stammered, “I thought this was military training, but I just shot people?”

“No, Sergeant,” another voice began speaking, it was gruff and commanding, “You did not shoot people. You killed people. We all die, but how many of us can kill? You, Sergeant, are a killer and that is exactly what we need.”

Sergeant nodded. He did not turn around and look at his General. He knew. He remembered signing up for the programme now. The medical staff were still fluttering around him, pulling out needles, taking off electrodes, putting in other drugs and checking vitals.

But he was fine.

“One last thing, Sergeant,” the General began as he turned to leave, “You must be respectful when you meet her. You have just walked through some of her memories.”

***

“Sergeant Malcolm, why did you agree to join this programme?”

The speaker was a dark-haired lady. She had bright, blood-red lipstick on her pale skin. She was sitting calmly in the interrogation room looking intently at the Sergeant.

“I wanted to–” Sergeant Malcolm started and then changed his course, “Ma’am, I needed to know. I needed to know if I was one after-after Mexico? Am I? The General thinks I am?”

She smiled. It was deathly cold without a hint of humanity in it. He wanted to shiver, but she would see him move and so he sat frozen in front of her. He felt like a fly stuck in a spider’s web.

“Psychopaths do not worry that they are psychopaths, Sergeant Malcolm,” she kept using his name, “Of the millions enrolled into the army, most are normal. They are here for their paycheck and their country, and they try to avoid killing other humans. That is fine for normal people, but ineffective for military purposes. But, of the millions in our army, there is a handful that is actually just here to kill. My job is identifying these few killers, round them up and put them to work in the most effective way possible: killing people, preferably the ones that we want.”

She fell silent looking at Sergeant Malcolm. Her cold eyes bored into him. He shifted his weight uncomfortably. He found himself holding his breath and had to remind himself to breathe. He once heard that her kill count was triple digits. He found himself believing that, but he also wondering if that included the civilians or not?

“Ar-are you saying that I have failed the test?” he asked, timidly breaking the silence.

She smiled and leant forward, her body language matching his. He wondered if she was doing this consciously or it was instinctual like a lion hunting a buck mimics its movement. He quickly dismissed the thought; nothing this lady did was by chance.

“Sergeant Malcolm,” she started talking, “You passed the test. You killed who you had to and you are a good soldier. But, you are no psychopath. I have no use for you in the Squad.”

The Sergeant was not sure if he was relieved or not. He deflated in his chair and then rose as she cooly dismissed him. She was instantly uninterested in him. He now had no worth to her. But, after he saluted and as he turned to go, he asked one last question.

“Why–how do you know that I am not a psychopath, Ma’am?”

She turned to look at him. Her blood red lipstick punctuated the pale skin and dark hair on the expressionless face of a highly decorated killer.

“Sergeant Malcolm, you followed orders and killed those people in the VR sim, yes?” she waited for him to nod before going on, “You followed orders, which makes you a good soldier. Better than most, in fact. But, you were just following orders, and you did not enjoy killing. Your endorphin levels were flat and your limbic system’s responses were median. You are not a psychopath, just a good soldier.”

He was taken aback. He opened his mouth, but she cut in before waving him out of the room like a bug being ignored by a spider.

“Sergeant Malcolm, we can’t all be at the top of the food chain.”

Walking away, Sergeant Malcolm could not decide if he was relieved at the news, or not.

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