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Black Tears

Her name was Natalie Narcissus, or so she said.

Nothing on her had turned up in the national database, and the international search was still ongoing at ten after eleven.  Only an upper-level suit in the capital, or a very rich girl, could have had their child’s profile wiped clean.  Frustratingly, Nancy had to admit that she knew nothing about the black-teared girl at the moment, but the girl, herself, sure knew about Nancy.  The young girl had already asked if it was true that Nancy “only missed once in a full moon.”  That specific phrase came from an article written by an Idaho reporter about Nancy’s takedown of the Maple twin bandits, years ago.  The news girls tended to get fanciful when reporting about social agents in the field, sometimes bad, sometimes good.  So, little Miss Narcissus there had been doing some homework obviously, and deliberately, for some reason about Nancy.  The social agent smelled a setup of some kind coming.

Nancy had taken the girl to a café, away from the prying eyes and ears at the Social Agent Building, in order to interview her more properly.  The black-teared girl’s small body, no more than one hundred pounds, sank low into her chair across the table.  She twiddled her finely manicured fingers, chewed gum with her noticeably white straight teeth, and rambled on about many petty issues, but mostly about her so-called “mom.”

Whenever Nancy tried to ask a direct question about her mom, or anything else really, the young girl would just step over Nancy’s words to talk more.  That was typical behavior for girls her age, especially rich ones, as the girl seemed to be.  Nancy learned from work that the rich girls had little respect for the police, or for social agents.  They tended to treat them as nuisances at best.  The girl’s family must have some money, for sure, figured Nancy.  At least that was one thing she could tell about the unknown girl.

“Natalie,” Nancy slipped a word in when the girl took a breath.  “Why don’t you have a federal profile?”

“I’m adopted.”

“Nope, that doesn’t matter.  Adopted girls still have a–”

“My mom found me alive,” Natalie interrupted and said, “When I was a baby in the condemned sector.  My real mom got killed when it was blown up.”  Natalie chewed her gum.

“Sorry to hear that, sweetie.  Now, who’s your adoptive mother?”

“I’m afraid of her.  She’s so controlling.  So bossy…”

“Hi,” a waitress eased up to the table with a polite smile.   “Sorry to interrupt, can I get you girls something to drink?”  Natalie had lost her train of thought and had gone quiet.

“Just coffee,” said Nancy, and looked to the girl.

“That’s really boring. I want a beer,” said Natalie, smugly, watching for Nancy’s reaction.

“No.” Nancy’s voice became sterner. “Order correctly.”

“Oh, sorry, a beer please, ma’am.”

“No beer, no alcohol of any kind,” said Nancy.  “How about some tea?”

“I want a damn beer, safety maid. A beer.”

Hmmm, thought Nancy, she’s trying me on purpose.  “A root beer,” Nancy told the waitress.  The waitress nodded and walked away.  Natalie huffed and looked away, and then caught a glimpse of herself in the window glass.  She immediately began fixing her hair.

Nancy continued, “Tell me about your mom.  I need to know more about her if I’m going to help you.”

“You know why I got my teardrops?”  Natalie asked still gazing at herself in the window.

“No, tell me.”

“Each one is a lost baby.”

“You’ve been pregnant before?”

“Twice.  They’re both gone to heaven now.  My mom wanted it that way.”

“She killed them?”

“Both boys.”  The girl began examining her blue coated fingernails, keeping her face turned away from Nancy.  “They were no good she said.  She had me take them out.  I got the tattoos to remember them forever.”

Nancy peeked at the girl’s reflection in the window, and saw no emotions on her face whatsoever.  It was easy to guess that the girl was lying about her story, or at least, was being dishonest about part of it.  Killing boys in the womb was illegal, everyone knew that, so it would be very difficult to just admit that openly.  The punishment for male abortion was worse than other felonies; it was the only crime a girl could be executed for.  If her story was true, and Nancy had a hunch it wasn’t, then she would have to arrest her mom, the sister-doctor (if there had even been a sister-doctor involved), and the girl herself.  They’d all go to prison for the rest of their lives, and that would be the best possible outcome for them.  More likely though, the sister-doctor would be executed, plus the mom too.  The girl would be spared, of course, due to her age and because of criminal coercion laws.  However, she’d end up in prison for a while.  Man-killers tended to not be tolerated much.

“Do you understand what you’re saying?”  Nancy asked, severe in tone.  “That’s a serious crime you’re talking about.”

“Sure do, safety maid.”  She chewed her gum.

“Okay, what sex is the child in you now?”

“I don’t know yet.  I hope it’s not a boy again.  I’m afraid for the baby.”

“You don’t look pregnant to me.”

“Well, I definitely am.  I know it.  And the baby really needs your help.”

“The baby will get help, and so will you.”  The help you deserve.  “How did you get pregnant by the way?”

“The early birth program.”

“The early birth program?  That’s for poor girls. Your synthetic leather jacket, manicured blue fingernails, straight teeth, and that stinking cologne, that’s for rich girls.”

She squirmed in her chair, making her deceit even more apparent.

“All right,” the black-teared girl spoke again, “I had a boy lover.  It was all a secret.  I kept him hidden away in an apartment downtown.  I only saw him when it was fun.  When I wanted to do it, you know right?”  The black-teared girl searched Nancy’s face for a reaction.

She’s trying me again, thought Nancy.  “Right, so that’s how you got pregnant?”

“Good ol’ fashioned, mom and pop, sexy time.”

“And those black tears were really pregnancies?”

“Actually, they’re really boyfriends that my mother found and killed.  But she never found them all though.  I’ve been really popular….”

“And, a pickpocket and a liar.” And a little slut apparently too, but Nancy didn’t say that out loud.

The waitress slipped in and set down the drinks.  “Anything else I can get for you, girls?”

Nancy shook her head.  The waitress nodded and left.

“Natalie, you need to tell me the truth now.  I’m tired of playing games.  So, who’s your–”

“My mom is the Queen of Spades.”  The young girl eyed Nancy intently across the table.

Nancy glared back at the girl, looking into her bright blue eyes over those dark teardrops.  Ever since the encounter in the stairwell, Nancy had suspected that the black-teared girl had a connection to the Sicarii somehow.   So maybe there was a small part of the girl trying to let the truth out.  Maybe she really did want help.  Yet, could the girl’s mother really be the Queen of Spades?  The girl could still be trying to sucker Nancy into something.


Pushing her black hair back behind her ears, Natalie leaned forward and whispered, “I know where she is today.  I can take you to her, safety maid.”  Natalie then winked.

“Okay, where is that?”

“In the condemned sector.  I’ll show you.”

“And, you want me to go there and arrest her?”

“I want you to stop her.  She makes me do really bad things.  She makes me a liar.   I don’t want to be that girl anymore.”


Officially, the condemned sector was closed to everyone.  A social agent needed permission from the director in order to go in there, an easy request usually.  However, that’s where Jasmine’s body had been found.  And Lilac didn’t seem so eager for Nancy to chase queens this morning.  There’s a reason we never find them.  Nancy figured she would need to go in alone, and without permission, if at all.  The whole thing’s got to be a setup, thought Nancy, the girl wants me to go for some reason.

“Are you lying to me?” Nancy asked.

“I’ll take you to the queen, I promise.”  The girl popped a fresh piece of gum in her mouth, chewed on it, and then said, “I swear by God and Holy Mary.”  She blew a bubble.

The little lying thing with the blue fingernails must assume that social agents were all just clowns, and that they didn’t know what they were doing.  Probably, she got that idea from dealing with regular cops her whole life, or maybe, she had always been just an arrogant twit.  The girl had been lying so much and so recklessly to Nancy, that she must be still underestimating social agents.  That’s her mistake.  A social agent wasn’t just a cop with a nicer uniform, they were much more than that.  If the girl tries something stupid, thought Nancy, she’ll find that out the hard way.

Nancy stood up and pulled out her tech-phone.  She pressed on it with her thumb until a chime rang out, shutting it off.  Then after the battery was removed, she secured the device under her uniform coat.  The black-teared girl’s eyes tracked the phone’s movements the whole time.  “Okay Miss Narcissus,” said Nancy, “take me to your mom.”

The black-teared girl took a gulp of her root beer, and then said lightly, “Thank you, safety maid.”  Her throat was a bit dry, all of a sudden.

Nancy assumed the girl was lying of course.  There was no way the girl was being completely honest, not after all the lies she had been telling the social agent.  But, if the girl could lead to more Sicarii, or even to a queen, Nancy had to take the bait.  She believed that anyway.  The Sicarii were not normal criminals, they were man-killers, and they needed to be dealt with as fast as possible, if they were in the city.  And if it turned out the girl’s story was just nonsense, Nancy could just arrest the girl, and then let the police deal with her.

For sure, Lilac would be pissed at Nancy for going with the girl to the condemned sector, if the old girl found out.  Nancy had been warned directly by the director about chasing queens, but Lilac would get over it soon enough believed Nancy.  The worst that could happen to Nancy was for her to lose her badge and gun for a week or two, not a big deal.  But if she managed to take down a queen; well, she would be on the news tonight receiving a medal from the Lady General of the Department of Safety.  It would be nice to see Foxglove biting down on her own fist too, thought Nancy.

Ten years ago, the condemned sector was a low-income area, funded completely by the feds for the poor girls.  Then one day, the Department of Safety decided to ban alcohol in the sector.  It was all for good reasons they had said, everyone would be safer and happier, but the girls of the poor sector rioted.  The social agents were sent in after the police had failed to contain the situation, but eventually the social agents, themselves, got overwhelmed as well.  Soon, the government sent in the military, which was like using a sledgehammer to fix a leaky faucet.  The bars and stripes wrecked a fifth of the city, killing thousands, all poor.  The suits in the capital panicked and changed the law quickly, making it legal to drink in the sector again.  But it was too late, the damage had been done.  The sector got condemned and the survivors were all relocated.   The military was blamed for their tactics, and they got banned from the city forever, never allowed to enter again.  Sadly to this day, the old poor sector in the city still hadn’t been rebuilt yet.

At the condemned sector, the black-teared girl led the way by foot, down into the tunnels of the old subway.  The tracks had been sealed off from the rest of the metro system.  The usual way into the sector was from above on the streets, by crossing through a barrier, but the underground worked just as well.  A few steps into the tunnel, Nancy pulled out her slender flashlight from her uniform coat, and flicked it on.  There was no electric power in the old tunnels.  A girl only had what she brought with her.

“You’re prepared,” commented the black-teared girl.

“Like a girl scout.”

The young girl shifted around under some rocks with her hands, and eventually she came up with a plastic flashlight, and popped a light on.  “Me too.”  Down the main tracks the girl skipped, keeping in front of Nancy, pointing the light forward into the darkness.

“Watch your step,” said Nancy, walking cautiously behind the girl.

The girl turned around at that remark, and then began dancing backward on purpose, stepping over the tracks with little effort.  She did it all with a bratty little look on her face too.

She loves to try me, thought Nancy.  But Nancy overlooked the girl’s obvious taunt, and began to question her again.  “What does the Queen of Spades look like?”

The girl thought for a second, then answered, “Well, she’s tall, dark, definitely in shape.”

“Dark hair?  Like yours?”

“Yeah, but shorter.  She doesn’t like long hair on a girl.  She thinks it looks too girly.”

“Former military?”

“Yeah, she enlisted when she was young, I guess.”

“Okay, what else?”

“I know she’s like you, though.  But she’s different.  You really love boys, don’t you safety maid?”

Nancy continued walking, ignoring the question.  “Does your mom really hate men, or just fear them?”

“I guess it’s a little of both.  I think she really loves them as much as she hates them, or respects them as much as she fears them.  I don’t know really.  You can’t live with them, can’t stay away from them, that sort of thing, safety maid.”

“What’s her name?”

“Coyote.  It’s what her girls call her sometimes.”

“What do you call her?”

“Just mom.”

The tunnel tightened up ahead.  There had been a cave-in, and half the path had been blocked by debris.  Nancy and the girl pushed through in their boots, easily enough, until halfway when Nancy stepped on something that made a crunch.  Shining her light down, Nancy saw pieces of bone poking out of the rubble.  She was stunned.  They looked human, she thought, for sure.

“Safety maid,” said Natalie, “you’ve never been down here before, huh.  Yeah, some girls got buried alive when the Samson Building fell.  And no one ever bothered to dig out their bodies.  So there they are, still.  Sad, it’s what happens when the government makes bad rules.”

“No, it’s what happens when girls break the rules.”  Nancy pressed on.

The black-teared girl gave Nancy a curious look.  The girl seemed honestly confused about the social agent’s attitude.  In truth, Nancy cared about the lost girls (a social agent who didn’t care wouldn’t be a good one), but she knew there was never an excuse for breaking the rules.  That’s how girls got hurt, that’s how they died.  Natalie eventually turned around and continued walking, now more subdued and quiet.

A half-mile or so into the subway, Nancy began hearing the echo of a generator’s hum.  Up ahead, she spotted lamps hanging down and lighting up more of the crumbling tunnel of the abandoned subway system.  Many old train cars sat idle covered in years of dust.  Approaching the first train, Natalie flipped off her flashlight and let it drop to the ground.  She then hurried up the side of a boxcar, climbing all the way to the top.   Up there, she stood up straight, put her arms out, and then sang out the words, “We’re here.”

“Shut up and get down from there now.”  Nancy tucked her flashlight away, and pulled out her nine-point-nine handgun.  “Hurry, or I’ll…”  Nancy held a straight face.  “…shoot you down.”  The social agent didn’t really feel like arguing with the girl.

“Okay, safety maid.”  The girl tiptoed to the edge of the roof, looked down at Nancy smugly, and then launched herself off the car’s top, landing on a mound of soft dirt.  She toppled over onto her hands.  Oh lovely, thought Nancy.

Giggling, the girl picked herself up, and then began shaking her dirty hands clean.  Nancy pointed ahead with her gun barrel, and commanded the girl to move, “Let’s go, sweetie.  Make sure you keep five steps ahead of me too.”

The girl strutted backward, eyeing Nancy sharply, and chewed on her gum deliberately loud, like a child might do.  There was a little mischief in her eyes now too, more noticeable than before, at least.  “You know,” said the black-teared girl, snapping the gum in her mouth.  “We’re all bad girls.  We all break the rules sometimes.  Even safety maids.  The more rules, the more you’ll end up breaking some, right?”

“No,” Nancy answered flatly.  “We have rules for a reason.”

She blew a bubble until it popped, and then she started chewing aggressively again.  “I guess you would have to say that.”  The girl kept stepping backward, darting her eyes around the area.

When they closed in on a tight cluster of barren train cars, Nancy spotted a makeshift shelter that had been constructed from blankets, sheets, and rugs in-between them.  Without any prompting, the black-teared girl moved over to the ragged place, and with her hand, motioned towards what looked like a curtained entryway.  The girl wouldn’t give a word of explanation, just stood there silently, acting disinterested in the whole thing, chewing on her gum, while holding her arm out.  Nancy asked in a whisper, “Is this it?”  The girl nodded.

Nancy went no closer, and watched for a second, before she saw something move.  A shadowy figure, with skinny limbs and ghost-white hair, shuddered and suddenly recoiled back behind the rotten flaps the girl had motioned toward.  Somebody is here, thought Nancy, that’s for sure.  Nancy raised her handgun, pointed at the entryway, and began to slowly approach.  Faint music was coming from inside.

“Well,” said the black-teared girl, still holding her arm out, “old ladies first, safety maid.”

Nancy gave the girl a look, then stepped through the entryway, gun first.  Inside, the place looked hut-like, with cracked plastic chairs and crates, piles of filth in the corners, and a lone gas lantern shining in the middle.  A cheap battery radio played low in the corner.


A long way, a-way.  For to-night


Nancy knew that song.  She used to sing the lyrics, wrongly, when she was younger.  A long a-way, a-way for a knight.  Whenever she heard the song, she had always pictured castles and men in shiny armor, like from a storybook or a fairy tale.  But the actual lyrics were about looking for a lover, and not about a girl waiting for a knight to save her.  Her mother once had rolled her eyes at young Nancy, when the old girl had heard Nancy singing the lyrics wrong.  “That’s too queer Nance,” her mother had told Nancy, “Don’t sing it that way.  The girls will make fun of you if they hear you.”

“Sorry, mother.”  Nancy had said.

Sitting beside the lantern in the shelter, a white-haired figure was hunched over.  Her face had an elderly and worn look to it, her eyes were nearly colorless, and her messy locks hung below her shoulders.  Her thin frame was wrapped up tight in a blanket, shaking, as if the old girl was cold.  This can’t be the Queen of Spades, thought Nancy, it just can’t be.


She was a simple girl, just traveling a-lone.  When she fell down


Irritated at what she saw, Nancy marched up to the old girl, and demanded sternly, “Who are you?”  The old girl’s eyes looked up gradually from underneath her white hair.  She grumbled something to herself first, and then spoke clearly, “Hello, my baby.”  Her slim arms shook as they rose up for an embrace.  “What?”  Nancy said, staring down at the old girl, troubled.

Yet before the white-haired girl could say another word, the black-teared girl ran up from behind Nancy, and called out warmly, “Hello, mama.”  The girl seized the elderly old girl in her arms, before kissing her on her mangy head.

“Have you been good, mama?”  Natalie stroked the old girl’s hair gently, pushing her fingers through the tangles.

You girl,” said the old girl, coughing up, “I should ask you, girl.”  The old girl crackled softly.

Nancy huffed.  Not the Queen of Spades.  Not a Sicarii.  Just some old vagrant.  A nobody.

Nancy got frustrated, and wondered what the little liar meant by bringing them all the way to the condemned sector, and into a vagrant’s hole.  It’s just a joke for her, that’s all.  For sure, the rich girl was bored, and needed attention badly, so she decided to play a little game with a social agent.  No doubt, the girl got those tattoos just so she could tell stories about them.  That may be right, but so what, Nancy was done playing along, and having her time wasted.  Some jail time should suit her, thought Nancy.


No way out, so she dove right in.  To scratch that itch


The social agent holstered her handgun and then snatched the small girl by the arm.  “Time to go, Miss Narcissus.”

Nancy pushed through the curtained entryway, hauling the black-teared girl behind her.  “WAIT,” yelled Natalie.  But the social agent ignored the girl and pushed on, dragging the young girl back towards the way they had come before.

“What about the Queen of Spades?” Natalie asked, in a desperate tone.

“That wasn’t the Queen of Spades,” said Nancy.  “You lied.”  There probably wasn’t a real Queen of Spades, Nancy had to consider that possibility.  It was all just a joke made up to spook us.  Lilac had said that might be the case.

“C’ mon,” pleaded the black-teared girl, “You have to arrest her, really, really, you do.  She is going to do something very bad.”

“Oh yeah, what’s that old girl going to do?  Fall asleep in her chair at dinner?”

“No, I was just kidding you, sorry.”  Natalie dug her boot heels into the ground, as she struggled to pry Nancy’s grip off her arm.  “C’mon, you have to listen to me.  She’ll be here, I swear to God and Holy Mary.”

Nancy heaved the girl forward with no effort whatsoever.  The little thing had no strength compared to a social agent on advantage formula.  The girl tripped clumsily on her feet behind Nancy, trying to avoid falling.

Nancy was finished with Miss Narcissus’s lies for good.  Once they got back downtown, the police would take the girl and process her, and then the girl wouldn’t be Nancy’s problem anymore.  A social agent had better things to do than babysitting.

The black-teared girl wouldn’t stop mouthing off though.   She pleaded and pleaded about waiting for her so-called mom, again and again, and about something “real bad” going to happen soon.  Eventually, the girl’s voice grated on Nancy’s nerves enough to force the social agent to stop, and slap a hand over the girl’s mouth.  “Listen, Natalie.”  Nancy looked the girl down coldly.  “If you shut up on the way back, I won’t press all the charges I could against you.  Deal?”

The girl wouldn’t nod, as Nancy had wanted; instead she just kept talking, mumbling really, under Nancy’s palm.  Nancy sighed, “I can still shoot you, you know.”

It was at that moment, while Nancy held the girl’s mouth, that a heavy whooping sound began to rise throughout the tunnel.  The noise, slight at first, soon grew until it was the only sound echoing throughout the entire subway.  A helicopter must be above us, guessed Nancy.  The black-teared girl had finally stopped trying to talk and was standing there passively under Nancy’s grip.  Nancy removed her hand from the girl’s face, and then looked at the girl with a curious expression.   The girl mouthed a single word at Nancy, “Mom.”

On the subway ceiling, a lid opened up, and a pillar of sunlight shot down to the ground.  Soon after, a figure fell through the light, and crashed hard into the debris below, causing dust to explode around it.  A second or two passed in the dusty smoke, before the figure recovered, and straightened itself up and stood tall.  With the dust settling, the figure’s metallic frame could be seen gleaming from the sunlight.  Well, that isn’t good, Nancy said to herself, as she pulled out her handgun.

Nancy counted her bullets in her head.  She had one partially shot magazine in her gun, plus an extra full one in her coat, that should be seventy-two bullets in total figured Nancy.  A bullet jacket would have been nice right now, but she would have to make-do with what she had, just her and her gun.  When Nancy turned around, she noticed the black-teared girl had taken off.  Damn it, thought Nancy, she ran.

As soon as Nancy pointed her weapon at the metal figure, it began charging at her.  “STOP NOW,” yelled Nancy, but it kept coming.  “I SAID STOP!”  But the charger still continued to rush at her, forcing Nancy to fire a shot.  Her bullet nailed the metal figure right in the chest, but sadly, it bounced right off, without even slowing the figure down.  Oh lovely, it’s god-damn armorMy bullets are worthless.  Nancy went for cover.  She couldn’t fight a girl in armor, not with the bullets she had with her.

But before she could run too far, another armored figure came crashing down right beside her.  Nancy wiped the dust from her eyes, and saw the white and crimson paint over its steel body, and the US insignia emblazoned on the shoulder.  They’re achilles suits, military grade too.  God and Holy Mary.  She retreated backward from the two armored suits, holding her gun raised, and slowly moving to a boxcar.  “Stay back,” she barked.  “That’s an order.”

Nancy only caught a glimpse of the metal gauntlet swinging at her, before the heavy fist struck her face, right on the nose.  Nancy staggered from the hit and began firing wildly.  She emptied most of her magazine into the air, off armor, and into whatever else was surrounding her.  Bits of the tunnel, dirt and concrete, dropped to the ground from her random shots.  Nancy’s eyes began watering up.  She tasted blood in her mouth.  Nancy gurgled it, and then spit in the direction of anything that seemed shiny.  “Okay,” said Nancy, stepping back more, “let’s try this again.  Stop, or I will shoot you.”  The two achilles suits ignored that, and closed in.

Nancy raised her gun up again, and fired repeatedly until the magazine emptied.  Yet once again, the bullets couldn’t make a dent and the armored figures stood unfazed.  She swore she heard laughter coming from a girl in one of the suits.  Nancy gritted her teeth and then went for her other magazine.  More standard issue bullets weren’t going to make a difference, she knew that, but it was all she had to fight with, and she wasn’t going to just lie down.

Both achilles suits maneuvered around Nancy, flanking the social agent, as her condition worsened.  Light flares started hindering her eyesight.  And, her sense of smell had disappeared too, along with all feeling in her nose.  So this was the setup, realized Nancy, as more blood leaked from her nose, and over her lips.  The little liar brought me here to die.  Nancy was dumbfounded.  She couldn’t believe that the young girl with the black teardrop tattoos had this in her, and, she couldn’t imagine how she had these kinds of connections, girls in military-grade achilles suits.  Who in the hell was she?  Nancy slapped the last magazine into her gun.

Another steel fist came at her from the right, and connected harder than the first punch, striking her on the side of the head.  Her knees buckled underneath her and the gun slipped from her hand, tumbling away across the ground.  She kept on her feet though, but just barely.

“STOP IT,” screamed Nancy, in a much weaker voice.  “I order you to stop…  I’m a US social agent and I–”

More punches came, one to her side and one in her chest.  She coughed out, pathetically, “You’re… both… under… arrest…”

Again, Nancy got the same response from the girls in the suits.   They pounded on her, but this time, she couldn’t feel it.  She couldn’t feel anything anymore, as matter of fact.    The world began to spin, and spin, and spin.  Nancy tried reaching out desperately for anything to hold on to, but there was nothing to grab.  Her body sank down, just as if it were sinking into the water, like she was drowning.  As her body dropped, Nancy pictured her mother’s face, with her blue-green eyes.  Mother…

On her back, Nancy noticed another suit above her, a third one, coated in purple and gold, the colors of a senior military officer.  She also saw the eyes, fiery with dark features, glaring down from behind the suit’s visor.  As Nancy faded out finally, she heard a smooth voice say, “You can’t win ‘em all, safety maid.”

Safety Maid: Nancy Rose is available at

Captain’s Desk

She woke up to a song.


Hey, don’t you cry.  It’s love… and it’s true

Hey, don’t you deny.  It’s love… not déjà vu


Opening her eyes, Nancy grumbled.  The music must have been turned on purposely in her hospital room to wake her, for sure.  The light had been switched on as well noticed Nancy.  She yawned, taking in the first big first breath of the day.  There was a scent of coffee, some blood, and of ammonia in the air.  Yup, reckoned Nancy, it definitely smells like morning at a hospital.

She dropped off the evaluation chair onto the cold floor with her bare feet, clinging to the blanket that she had slept in.  It was still chilly in the evaluation room.   She skipped on her bare toes to the door, opened it slightly, and peeked out through a crack.  Outside the door, her uniform had been hung, looking dry brushed and ironed too.  What a sweetheart.  Sister-doctor Meadows must’ve had it cleaned for Nancy while she slept, and Nancy hadn’t even asked the sister to do that.  Nancy grabbed her clothes and pulled them into the room.

The song playing overhead was one that Nancy knew fairly well.  Her mother had liked to hum the chorus, whenever the old girl had cleaned the dishes, or had to do any kind of boring housework like that.  It’s love… not déjà vu…  The Prairie Sisters, who had written and sang the song, were really popular when Nancy was a little girl, and she, as a little girl, used to love that song.  Now though, it just made her sad to hear it, because it reminded her of her mother.

The music suddenly ended when a staticky voice interrupted the sound system.  “Good morning, sisters, sister-doctors, and guests.  This is just a friendly reminder that Mother Most Superior will be here on Sunday in the city at the Magnolia Plaza.  All the faithful are invited to attend, of course.  The sisters from St. Mary’s will be treated as honored guests of her magnificence…”

Nancy hurried to take a shower and put on her uniform.  Lately, she had been hearing a lot about Mother Most Superior’s visit to the city.  The talking heads on the tele-screen had been pushing the story non-stop, as if it was a good thing.  The last time Mother Most Superior came, riots had almost erupted throughout the city.  The good Mother, in her own wisdom, had told the poor girls during her speech, that certain girls had more money than other girls, and, that perhaps, those rich girls should share more with the poorer ones.  The poor girls, of course, had taken this as an invitation to protest, and so they did.  Downtown got locked up for most of the night, and the social agents and the police had their hands full the whole time.

At the last moment, just when things were getting their most tense, right before the doors to the city might have come crashing down, Mother Most Superior decided to soothe the poor girls over.  With just a few words, the old mother had stopped the protests, and then everything went back to normal again.  Nancy recalled what Director Lilac had said back then, “The old church girl was just testing us, for some reason.”  Apparently the mother hadn’t felt welcomed enough by the politicians and the richer girls of the city.  So the old girl decided to give them a little bit of hell because of it.  Now, for the upcoming visit, the old sister would be treated first-class all the way, full media coverage, the works, including a stay at the ritziest place in the city (Magnolia Tower), plus anything else the old sister wanted.  Nancy doubted there would be any protests this time.

Nancy grabbed the last of her gear (her tech-watch, standard-issue flashlight, and nine-point-nine handgun), and then began securing them onto her uniform.  She got reminded again while dressing that her tech-phone had been lost last night, most certainly stolen by the girl with those black teardrop tattoos.  Lovely.  Lilac would have something to say about that later, for sure.  Nancy would regret having lost it.  She holstered her gun on her right hip, pulled the flap of her uniform jacket over it, and then marched out of the room.

Through the hospital lobby, Nancy made sure to thank each sister she happened to pass by.  The social agent had learned from experience that being polite went a long way with them.  Most of the sisters only replied, pleasantly enough, “Bless you daughter,” or simply nodded courteously.  It was always important to maintain a friendly relationship with the sisters and the sister-doctors, since social agents had to count on them for support, and most importantly, for their advantage formula.

Nancy walked out the hospital’s main auto-doors, and into the morning air.  She yawned again, breathing in the city’s scent, and held it in for a second.  Her face soon soured.  She had already gotten used to the regular filth and the decay of the city (the garbage, the sewage, the gasoline, and all the human flesh), but today there was something new, off-putting.  A hint of an unusual odor, something abrasive and weird, was in the air today.  Interesting, she thought.

Nancy couldn’t place the smell yet, it was so faint, but she suspected that it meant a big weather change was coming, perhaps a bad lightning storm, or something even worse.  She couldn’t be sure though, and it could be nothing at all, she admitted to herself.  Director Lilac had told her girls they were more superstitious than they ought to be.  In fact, Lilac had told Nancy directly once, that advantage formula definitely could not give a girl the ability to smell weather changes, much less predict them.  “It’s all in your head,” Lilac had said to Nancy.  “You’re imagining things.”  Yet Nancy wasn’t so sure about that.  The smells seemed all too real to her.  Something is strange in the air, believed Nancy, she just wasn’t sure exactly what yet.

The early morning sky was scattered clouds over a muted red color.  The sun rose slowly, as Nancy drove through the city towards the US Social Agent Building, a few minutes before eight o’ clock.  Magnolia Tower, the city’s tallest skyscraper (being one hundred, thirty-seven stories tall) loomed over the entire city.  It had been sixteen years ago, that Miss Lucy M. Magnolia, had built a tower of mirrored glass from her own personal wealth, and then added her own name on it.  Magnolia had said that she was the richest, the most successful, and the smartest girl in America, and with her tower, she wanted everyone else to believe that too.  Magnolia Tower was her symbol of triumph, and frankly, no girl ever contested that either.  She owned about everything, from jewelry companies to television stations, and she had for more than two decades now.  It was not a secret either that she owned some of the politicians in the capital too.  It must be boring being that rich, thought Nancy, and bored rich girls tend to get in a lot of trouble, more than they should.  Nancy thought about the black-teared girl with her expensive cologne and slick black jacket.

Right across the street from Magnolia Tower was the US Social Agent Building, sitting right under the tower’s imposing shadow.  In the morning, when the time was right, the rising sun would set the tower’s mirrored windows on fire, and then, off the reflection, the Social Agent Building got bathed in a blood-red hue.  At eight minutes past eight, when Nancy arrived at the Social Agent Building, the entirety of the building’s facade still had a nice red shade covering it.

Leaving her car, Nancy checked her uniform one last time, making sure to smooth over any noticeable wrinkles, and to get her cap perfectly straight.  Director Lilac would be expecting her this morning, and Nancy didn’t want to look anything but her best for the old girl.  The director demanded nothing less from her girls.

The large glass doors of the Social Agent Building pulled apart when Nancy came near them.  A doorboy stood beside the doors, doing nothing of course, because the doors were automatic.  His job was basically pointless.  Yet somehow, the boy got a job working at a federal building.  Nancy guessed that an important girl in the capital must have liked the boy for some reason, and had gotten him a job working for the government, probably his mother.

As Nancy walked by the boy, she winked at him.  The boy blushed a bit, like he always did around the girls, but he stood there rigidly and greeted Nancy, like he did every time a social agent passed by him, “Good morning, Social Agent.”

The girls there thought it was amusing to tease the boy.  He was the only boy around, so he got some attention.  They would mess relentlessly with him, as much as they could get away with, in order to make him feel uncomfortable.  It was just a bit of fun, and for sure, no real harm was ever done believed Nancy.  Some girls pinched him, others tickled him, and some even shared their dirty thoughts with him.  The poor boy had to endure it all every day.  To the boy’s credit though, he showed up, dressed up with a fresh flower on his lapel, and on time.  He always had a polite attitude for the girls too.  Social Agent Caroline Lily had become his ride to and from work, since he couldn’t drive himself legally.  That arrangement however, unfortunately had the girls whispering about them, as girls liked to do, but Nancy knew there was nothing to it.  Lily was just being nice.  Lily was always nice.

Inside the lobby, Athena stood over the cowering serpent, as she did every day with her spear back and ready to strike, atop her fountain.  Though her statue was made of concrete, just like the giant snake and the rest of the structure, Athena held a spear made of real steel.  The spear’s head was “always sharp.”  That’s what all the social agents heard on orientation day.  Always be readyAlways be sharp.  Just like Athena’s spear was.

Nancy remembered her first day in front of Athena’s Fountain, when she and the other new social agents had stood in their fresh uniforms wearing their cap badges for the first time.  The previous Director, Karen Thistle, had been there too, and she had, after peering over the girls standing at attention for a moment, pointed up to Athena’s spear and asked them, “What must we be?”  The girls had all chanted back, “always sharp, director,” as perky as the girls could’ve mustered.  Then, Nancy remembered, the director had gestured to the fountain water with a sober look on her face.

A social agent’s cap badge was a half circle made of re-enforced brass.  A spear, resembling Athena’s, thrust upwards through the center of it.  The only words inscribed, besides the social agent’s own name, were “safety” on the left of the spear, and “truth” on the right.

Nancy stirred the fountain water with a finger as she strolled by, and eyed the many badges sunk within.  As Thistle had explained, pointing down into the water, when a social agent died her badge went into the fountain.  “This is where we rest,” the director had told the new agents, “when we are done.”  Not all agents had been that lucky though, some had died without their badge getting recovered.  One hundred and seventy-two badges had been confirmed permanently lost to this day.  Losing their badge was one of the many worries for a social agent.

Most badges in the fountain had become a shade of green from resting in the water for so long.  The oldest ones had turned to black.  Thistle had said there were seven hundred, eighty-three in there.  Nancy had never counted to make sure, but she took the old director’s word for it.  A month after Nancy’s orientation, Director Thistle was found dead in her bathtub with a bullet through her head.  Nancy was there when the newly appointed Director Lilac had placed Thistle’s cap badge in the fountain.

One day, Nancy imagined, her own badge would be thrown in there too, sunk down into the cold water, and then turn green, then to black, just as a corpse did when it decomposed.  It happens to every girl, thought Nancy, just like Karen Thistle, and just like my mother.  Nancy walked past solemnly, leaving Athena’s fountain behind her.

Across the lobby, she spotted a familiar face, one that she didn’t want to see.  Oh no, not her today.  A black-haired social agent named Jean Paris Foxglove was leaning against a wall, with her left hip up and cocky, looking like she owned the whole place, or, would one day.  The girl’s copper-brown eyes rolled around lazily, as she talked to other social agents in front of her.  When Foxglove glimpsed Nancy in the lobby, the black-haired girl’s eyes came suddenly to a stop, and the girl, herself, smugly smirked at Nancy in acknowledgment.  Lovely, Nancy thought, I’m back in the schoolyard again today.

A fan club of junior social agents surrounded the black-haired girl, taking in each word from her, and erupting into giggles on cue.  Not that Foxglove was actually funny, or that anyone actually liked her for that matter.  Nope, the girls were only hangers-on waiting to see if Foxglove would become the director one day, which was exactly what the black-haired social agent had been telling them would happen eventually.

Among them, Nancy recognized Social Agent Clover, a decent social agent for sure.  She dressed in her regular forest-green gloves and boots.  Next to Clover, was the petite Jasper (a virgin still) wearing her muddy-red synthetic-leather.  The other two there, Nancy hadn’t met before, but by their apparent age, she guessed they must be fresh recruits right out of Social Agent Academy.

Foxglove’s big claim to fame had been taking down Heather Camellia, nicknamed Heather the Heart-Eater by the press, a serial killer from Maine.  Old Heather, once, had been a popular weather girl for many years, working for a local news channel owned by Magnolia Incorporated.  Heather’s tagline had famously been ‘Heather knows the weather.’  Then one day, the girl got replaced by another girl, much younger than herself, and she was forced into retirement.  The old girl had taken it badly too, and lost all her marbles for good.

Years later, up in Maine, Heather had started luring young girls into the woods to her cabin.  There, she would kill them, then eat them, and drink their blood.  For some crazy reason, the girl had gotten the idea it would make her younger.

By the time Foxglove had finally tracked the killer down, Heather had already killed twenty-three girls and eaten supposedly twenty-three hearts.  Unfortunately for the old girl, the black-haired social agent wasn’t simply going to just arrest her and turn her in.  No, Foxglove had decided to turn a confession from Heather right then and there, and, Foxglove had wanted to do it in the hardest way possible.  That was Foxglove’s style, if a girl could call it a style, unchecked stupid brutality.  Now, the former-weather girl rolled around in the state penitentiary in a wheelchair, and could only eat through a straw, permanently.  Foxglove, naturally, believed herself to be some kind of hero.

Nancy wanted to just walk by Foxglove, totally ignore her and her fan club, and go straight to the director’s office.  But, the black-haired girl stepped right in Nancy’s way, and on purpose too.  Her footsteps were so gentle, her black boots made no sound.  “Nancy Rose,” announced Foxglove loudly, looking Nancy up and down.  Nancy responded sharply back with only, “Foxglove.”

“How’s your poison pushing buddy doing these days?”

“She’s not my buddy.”

“Really?  You haven’t arrested her yet.  So, I just figured you were.”

Nancy glared back, “You know she’s my informant.”

Oh, let me guess, you’re gonna catch a bigger fish with the little fish.  Yeah sure, the director buys that shit, but let me tell you what I think.  What we all think.  You fell in love with that sweet tasting sushi of hers…”  The fan club all giggled, of course.  “–and believe me, the girl’s been playing you the whole damn time.  That slant-eyed rat isn’t trustworthy.  She’s a criminal, always has been a criminal, and always will be.  It’s her natural state in the world.  She’s gonna screw you over, trust me.”

“Thanks.  Done?”

“No, let me tell you what I would do to her if I caught her.  I’d break a finger for every life she’s hurt, and when I ran out of fingers, I’d go to toes.  And when I ran out of toes, well, I’d start breaking everything until there was nothing left to break.”

“Right,” said Nancy, not amused.  “Everybody knows you’re a psychopath, including old Heather.  So, you don’t have to remind me.”

“Huh,” Foxglove responded back, “that’s funny, coming from our own lil’ Calamity Jane.  How many girls have you killed this month?  A dozen?  Twenty?  A hundred?  Who knows right?  I bet you lost count too.  But, all in the line of duty, sure.  You’re such a sweetheart too, when you put a bullet into them.”

Nancy groaned, and then responded coolly, “Don’t worry about me, Foxglove.  Worry about yourself.  Okay?”

The black-haired girl stepped in closer, getting within a breath from Nancy.  “I know you think you’re better than me, Rose.  Your mother was a famous hero, kinda.  And I bet, you think you deserve all the good press you get in the news.”  The girl’s black-gloved fingers tip-toed up Nancy’s uniform.  “But I heard an interesting rumor about you.  One I bet, you won’t want the director finding out about.  You have a lover holed up somewhere, a man.”  Then she whispered into Nancy’s ear, “that’s illegal, sister.”

Nancy snatched Foxglove’s hand, squeezing it hard.  A flop of dark hair fell between Foxglove’s copper-brown eyes, as the girl smirked again, and said, “A little sensitive, aren’t we?”

The girls have been telling stories again, figured Nancy.  She stared back furiously at Foxglove, holding tight onto the girl’s black-gloved hand.  I really didn’t want this todayBut if she wants to fight I…

“God and Holy Mary,” a booming voice interrupted, “you two going to kiss?”

Nancy released Foxglove’s hand and looked up at the upper level of the lobby.  There, Director Sam Lilac stood, holding onto the railing, and glared down at both of them.

“Knock it off,” said Lilac in a harsh tone.  “The taxpayers aren’t paying you two to play with each other.  Foxglove, get busy doing something.  Rose, in my office, now.”

“Yes ma’am,” said both.

Foxglove strutted away, defiantly, in her black synthetic-leather boots.  “Have fun in there, honey,” said the black-haired girl, deliberately in a mischievous manner, before turning a corner and slipping out of sight.  Her fan club dispersed immediately too, leaving the lobby area just as Foxglove left.

In the director’s office, the great old oak desk was still there, with its signature, but much unintended, decoration of bullet holes.  Captain Rebecca Marigold, the first director of the U.S. Social Agents, and the first to die as one as well, had owned that very desk and chair.  Old Marigold had been a real stubborn girl, so girls had said.  She wouldn’t retire, not even when the Lady General of the Department of Safety had ordered her to.  But unfortunately for Marigold, a scorned ex-lover had shown up at the office one day, armed with a gun that she had gotten from Marigold herself, as a gift for personal protection.  Supposedly, the x-lover had been filled with rage about her long past rejection.

The angry girl opened fire without warning, not even letting the director speak a word.  The entire magazine had been pumped into the old director and into her oak desk.  They said it took at least eleven bullets to the body before Marigold fell over and finally died.  Marigold had been that tough according to the storytellers.  Maybe that was right, thought Nancy, or maybe, the shooter had been just a really bad shot.  Allegedly, the bullet that finally got the old girl had been the one to the heart.  Ever since that day, the old oak desk of Marigold’s had been passed on to every new director.  Now Samantha Lilac sat behind it.

“Sit,” said the director.  Nancy sat.

Lilac had a very mannish look for a girl, board shouldered and stocky, and squared chin.  She talked low on purpose it seemed too, and her face had a real weathered look to it, like a war veteran might look.  She lit up a fresh cigarette and began smoking it casually in front of Nancy.  Soon, the air in the room filled with the overbearing stink of smoke and mint.  Nancy shifted uncomfortably in her chair, and turned away futilely to avoid the smell in her chair.

“Oh, that’s right,” spoke the director, “I forgot, you don’t like cigarette smoke.  Well, too bad.  Every time I try to quit, something fucked up happens, and then I have to start up again.  If I quit smoking, shit, I’d end up throwing myself down the stairs, or worse, retiring.  Ha.  You, Foxglove, Dandelion, and everyone else waiting, can just keep dreaming that dream.”  Lilac took a deep penetrating drag, curled her lips, and exhaled.  She sighed enjoyably after that.  The mint smoke wasn’t too bad, decided Nancy, at least, it wasn’t a cigar.

“It’s fine, director.”

“One scared boy, three dead girls, and one arrested last night.  What happened?”

“I went after man-killers, director.  Things got hot.”

“Right.  Well, the boy’s mother was happy at least.”

“Yes, director.”

“We checked the gun we found in the hotel room.  It was pre-registration.  Tracking it went nowhere as we expected.  The police are holding the only suspect, but she isn’t talking, so far.  But, and this is what really got to me, you let a lowlife negligent steal your tech-phone.  The Department of Safety tracked its history, once we found out.  Unfortunately, someone with a brain finally got to the girl, and must’ve explained to her that all fed phones were tracked constantly.”  Lilac sniffed, and tapped her cigarette on an ashtray.


“And, then the signal went dead somewhere in the condemned sector.  The phone probably destroyed.  We’ll have another one issued to you by the end of the day.  Your second one this year, I might add.”

“Yes, director.”

“Normally, after a shooting like this, I would have to take your gun for a day or two.  But, since it was man-killers that were killed, none of the usual suits in the capital are giving a crap.  So you’re fine, for now.”

Nancy felt mildly relieved.

Then unexpectedly, the office door swung open, and in barged a short-skirted, curly-headed redhead, carrying a mug of coffee.  The redhead had a face like a doll, soft-looking, heart-shaped, and an easy smile to go with it.  Lilac halfway grinned at the red-headed girl.  “Lily, did you have to grind all the beans yourself?”

The girl pouted with her red lips, glossy and wet, and said, “Hey, I had to make a fresh…”

Lilac chuckled, “I’m kidding, Lily.  It’s fine.  Just give me the coffee.”

“Oh, okay.”  Caroline Lily went to the desk, and carefully placed the mug of coffee down within Lilac’s reach.  As the redhead bent over, her low-cut top squeezed her cleavage together more, and her skirt revealed more of her milky-white thighs, but not too much, the outfit seemed to be perfectly fitted for the girl’s full-figured body.  The redheaded girl smiled innocently and played unaware of what she and her skirt were doing.  When the girl walked away, Lilac slapped the girl on her ass.

“Hey there, buster,” the redhead yipped out, “watch yourself please.”

“Oh c’mon,” said Lilac, “I was just playing.”  She took a drag off her cigarette.

The redhead huffed, and put her hands on her hips, acting upset.  At a first glance, a girl wouldn’t think that Caroline Lily was a social agent.  Nancy still had a hard time believing it.  Lily dressed and behaved more like a hostess for a restaurant, or something like that, and not like a federal police officer.  The last time Nancy had seen Lily wearing her uniform was on their orientation day, years ago.  The girl hadn’t worn it since as far as Nancy knew.

Lily told Lilac, “Be nice, director.”

“Alright, I’ll try.  Now, get out of here, we’re talking.”

Lily shuffled off in her high heels and her nearly-too-tight skirt.  At the doorway, she threw back a cute look with her innocent smile, before shutting the door.

“Not quite regulation dress,” said Nancy.

“No, but there’s no real need for her to dress in uniform while at the office.  Ha.  I think she looks better that way, anyway.  The girl’s a terrible field agent, besides.  It’s safer to keep her here with me.”

“Making coffee?”

“Making shit coffee.”  Lilac sipped from the mug, grimacing.  “It’s getting a little better every day.  Anyway, it’s what the girl’s good for.”

Oh, that’s what she’s good for?  Nancy just smiled at that.

“Tattooed man-killers have been popping up more in the city lately.  One was found dead from a drug overdose a week ago.  Another one was arrested for vandalism a day later.  And just last weekend, a cop nailed one in a shootout.  You bagged four last night.  But yours were the only ones with spades though.  The rest were diamonds and hearts.”

“The queens are here in the city.”

“No clubs have been found yet.”

“There’s never been clubs.  It’s not the Queen of Clubs’ style.”

“Maybe, or maybe there’s only three queens, or two, or one.  Or maybe, there are none at all, and it’s all just a joke made up by the Sicarii to spook the police and us.  The whole thing’s a dead end in my opinion anyway.  So forget about it.”

“Social Agent Jasmine met the Queen of Spades.”

Lilac took a second, and then started to talk slower and more carefully.  “Jasmine saw something, heard something, or just walked into something she shouldn’t have.  We don’t know what happened.  But she is definitely dead now.  Or have you forgotten that?”

Nancy remembered the morning Jasmine was found.  Her skin had become doughy and wet after a night lying naked in an alleyway.  An ace of spades had been glued to her forehead, with a bullet hole through it that went through her skull.  Thinking of the girl’s dead grey-blue eyes, still open, and in shock, had always haunted Nancy.   Jasmine wasn’t expecting to die, thought Nancy.

Jasmine’s mother, a devout church girl, had barely made it through the girl’s funeral.  She had fallen to the floor, repeatedly, wailing as upset mothers could sometimes.  Lilac had lifted the old girl off the floor, kissed her on the head, and promised by God and Holy Mary that the social agents would find her daughter’s killer.  That had been a lie of course, because no one ever arrested a queen, ever.  Only the pawns were ever caught.

“Every girl remembers,” answered Nancy.

“Good, because I don’t want you worried about the so-called queens.  Taking down man-killers is one thing, but chasing queens leads to an alley, naked and dead.”

“We shouldn’t go after them?”

“Listen, I had this same talk with Jasmine a year ago.  She didn’t listen.”

Lilac’s cigarette had burnt half way down already.  The old girl had been building on a small gray hill beside her by flicking into an ashtray for who knows how long.  There were at least a couple dozen bent filters buried in the ash too.  Lilac’s stressed about something, Nancy could tell.

“I had sub-director Dandelion personally investigate a connection with the Sicarii and Jasmine’s death.  She came up with nothing.  She’s one of our best.”  Lilac’s face looked bothered for a brief second, before she continued, “Anyway, I’d like you to work on anti-narcotics in the city still.  And focus on that.  Let me worry about the queens.  It’s what I’m here to do.  And that’s an order too.”

“So no follow up at all?  If the queens are really in the city, this could be our chance to arrest them.”

Lilac stubbed her cigarette into her ash mound.  “Darling, there’s a reason we never find them.  Have you ever thought hard about that?”

Nancy looked at Lilac.  She was a much older girl, approaching fifty now, and she had always been serious about the safety of her girls.  Nancy saw something in Lilac’s eyes, muted and aged as they were, that convinced her to drop it.  “Yes ma’am,” said Nancy, “I understand.”

Later, Nancy walked to her personal office in the Social Agent Building.  The stink from the mint smoke still clung to her uniform, bothering her.  She had tried to wipe it off after leaving the director’s office, but of course, that hadn’t worked.  For sure, odors couldn’t be removed that way, but she had to try, the smell irritated her sensitive nose, badly.

Lilac’s words ran through Nancy’s head as she walked.  There’s a reason we never find them.  Yes, that was true, it had been many years and no one had ever found one.  But Jasmine found something, or she wouldn’t have been killed, for sure.  Someone put that ace of spades on her forehead, and put a bullet through her brain, for a reason.  Nancy believed that Jasmine’s murder had been a deliberate warning to all the social agents.  Stay away or die.  That had to be why Lilac didn’t want Nancy going after the queens, the old director just wanted to keep her girls safe from harm.  But we’re social agents, not schoolgirls, thought Nancy, we’re supposed to keep others safe, not ourselves.  It’s our duty.

She opened the door at number thirty-two, thirty-two out of two-hundred seventy-five doors.  She’d heard there were sixty-four agent offices in the west coast building, which was the second biggest social agent site in America.  Inside, Nancy’s office was small, clean, and workable, but not much use to her.  Every social agent in the field had one, federal policy.   But she rarely used hers.

On the wall, the standard issue framed picture still hung; the western landscape one, with the cowgirl riding at dusk.  Lovely, but boring.  The girls usually took that picture down and put up one of their own.  Nancy had never been in her office enough to care though.  On her desk was the only personal decoration she had ever brought, a framed picture of an astronaut spacewalking in front of the big blue earth.  She liked to think of her mother whenever she stared at it and pretend the girl in the space suit was her mother.  Mother loved rockets, thought Nancy.

A stack of papers sat on the edge of her desk, and they had always been there it seemed, growing taller and taller every month.  She was supposed to read some, and sign some, or just ignore some.  She didn’t know for sure which, and she really hated dealing with it, so she just ignored them all.  A shiny new tech-phone had already been placed on her desk, with a little note saying, “Be careful,” signed by Lily, with a little annoying heart above the ‘i’ in her name.  Of course, that girl signed her name that way.  For sure, Lily was a nice girl, better company than most girls there matter of fact, but she was just a little too girly for her own good.  Nancy picked up the phone and switched it on.

A robotic male voice soon came through.  “New password required, ma’am.”

She answered, “Jane,” her mother’s name.

“Word compromised, please choose another one, ma’ am.”


“Thank you.”  The screen turned black, then to blue, then to the main interface.

“Welcome Distinguished US Social Agent Nancy Rose.”

“Thank you, sir.”

She checked her contacts, one by one.  They had all been pre-installed.  That was a relief to her because she always hated dealing with the tedious matters like that.  Such a waste of time.  Done with the phone, she pushed all the paperwork into the trash, pulled out her keyboard, and turned on her computer.  Nancy wanted to see what Jasmine had been looking at before the girl went missing.  She pulled up the girl’s logs.

For a whole month or so, the girl had been viewing a list of old city construction contracts, mostly for the condemned sector.  No descriptions were given for what the jobs might have entailed, or who had ordered them, but every single one of them had been canceled before completion.   The contracts had all been awarded to the same contractor named Eleanor M. Lace.  A quick search of that name brought up nothing in the national database, meaning it was most likely a fictitious name.

As Jasmine approached the day that she would die, her research got a little more interesting.  There was a strange, but curious, single federal subcontracting bid by Diamond Sisters Upholstery (a real company) for a classified and unnamed military site in the Rocky Mountains, but there was no more detailed information about it except for a single name, Annie Crown.  That girl appeared to have been the accounting clerk for the upholstery company at the same time and made the bid under her own name.  The girl’s profile showed up in the database too, but it was a limited one, since she had no criminal record.  Today, Miss Crown worked in Louisiana as a financial consultant according to her federal profile.  Not a lot to go on, thought Nancy, but it could lead to something eventually.

Looking even deeper, Nancy found that Jasmine had even peeked into a surveillance dossier on Mary Sapphire, the famous pop singer.  There wasn’t really anything of interest in there, so maybe Jasmine was just a fan.  However, the social agent had left a note in Sapphire’s federal profile, “This profile is still incomplete, needs to be updated immediately– US Social Agent Renee Jasmine.”  Interesting, maybe, thought Nancy.

The other things that Jasmine had been interested in were various newspaper and magazine articles that were all written before the Great Calamity.  There wasn’t really enough for Nancy to make any connections about what she saw, but Jasmine must have been researching them for some reason, believed Nancy.

The very last record that the girl had accessed before her death was an obscure street rag called ‘Snake in the Tree.’  The main article had been prophetically titled, “A Future Without Men.”  Funny stuff that girls had written back then before they knew better.  The girl writer had even thought the world would be a utopia; a place without war, all diseases cured, and every girl would be equal, happy, singing and dancing every day in the sunshine.  Yeah right, thought Nancy, we live in a god damn paradise for sure.

The future actually turned out to be just as bad, if not worse, without men, depending on which girl you asked.  The truth, the real truth, was that when the men died, half the world got emptied out, and got replaced with broken hearts.  The world had never been right since then, for sure.

Knock.  Knock.  Knock.

Someone was at Nancy’s office door.  Lily.  It had to be her.  The redhead always brought more paper forms whenever Nancy was in her office, every single time.  So Nancy decided to ignore the knock.  There was no sense in adding more trash to the heap right now.  The door knock came again, and much louder.  Nancy ignored that one too and continued on reading.  A second later, the door knocker tried again, getting even louder.  She’s just gonna keep knocking, realized Nancy.  So reluctantly, Nancy finally responded, in a droning and annoyed tone, “Yes, Lily.”

A tiny voice, barely audible through the door, answered, “Oh, Nancy, you’re here.  Sorry, I needed to tell you something.  There’s a girl here to see you in the lobby.”

Surprised at that, Nancy asked back, a little more eagerly, “What?”

“The girl said that she knew you, and, she needed to talk to you about something serious.”

“If she has a complaint just have her write it up and give it to the front desk.”

“Yes, well, Nancy, she doesn’t have a complaint really.  She just really wanted to talk to you.  She said you knew her, and that you were like friends.”

“Does she have a name?”

“Sorry, I forgot to ask.  But she has these black teardrop tattoos under her eyes.”

Without needing to hear another word, Nancy got up and swung open the door.  Redheaded Lily stood there in the hallway, of course, with an armful of papers cradled underneath her arm.  The girl gave Nancy a big welcoming smile.  “Oh, hi Nancy.  I also have some forms here that–”

“Thank you, Lily, very much.”  Nancy interrupted the girl on purpose, and then marched right past her.  The redhead nearly lost all her papers, when she was forced to step suddenly aside to let Nancy pass.  “Oh, okay,” she said sweetly, “I’ll just put them on your desk for you.  Well, bye bye, I guess.”  Nancy walked away, not bothering to say a goodbye back.

A moment later, at the railing above the lobby, Nancy looked down.  Sitting on the edge of Athena’s fountain, and right under the head of the monstrous snake, a young brunette girl wore a black jacket and black boots.  The girl dipped her fingers into the water, testing it for a second, before plunging her hand down.  When she came up, her arm dripping wet, she had one of the cap badges from the fountain, a newer one, not yet turned green.  She studied over it curiously, turning it over in her hand.  The brunette girl seemed oddly fascinated by it.

Nancy decided that was enough, and whistled hard, the sound echoing throughout the entire lobby.  The brunette girl immediately looked up, and revealed with certainty, those black teardrop tattoos under her eyes.  A subtle smirk crept on the girl’s face, when she spotted Nancy up at the rails.  The black-teared girl then, now suddenly indifferent to it, dropped the social agent badge back into the water.

Safety Maid: Nancy Rose

Next Chapter

Blood Party

Talky said she had a hot tip, a tip that couldn’t wait.

The day had just turned into a warm night, and the sky above had been sweating down over the streets of the china sector, giving it a much-needed wash.  The regular worn out faces, always seen day and night here (the loiterers, the con artists, the dealers, and worse), had all retreated, disappearing down alleyways and through paint-chipped doors.  The rain had cleared out the filth, and for now, had helped with the awful smell there too.  For that little gift, Social Agent Nancy Rose welcomed the unexpected rain, coming this late in fall.

Sitting in her federal vehicle, Nancy massaged her trigger finger, as she watched the water droplets smack and slide down the windshield.  Her finger still felt stiff.  Yesterday, she had gone through at least twenty magazines at the target range, shooting as much as she could.  She had definitely been due for some practice, at least.  She hadn’t fired her nine-point-nine millimeter in over two months.

Nancy knew a social agent should never get rusty.  She couldn’t afford to, or, she’d end up zipped up in a body bag or somewhere worse, like in an alleyway, naked and dead.  A social agent had many enemies, and she, in her standard issue uniform and with a shiny badge on her cap, was a glaring target.

Many of Nancy’s former sisters had never made it to retirement alive.  That was a sad fact of life that every social agent that took the badge knew.  She had to always be alert, and always be tougher than the other girls, or get killed, it was that simple.  The job wasn’t easy for sure.  Nancy also knew that being a social agent meant being resented, even from the girls she tried to help.  The lower-class girls hated all the rules, Nancy had come to realize, but the rules were there for their own good, they kept them safe.  She didn’t always enforce them too strictly, no, but she would if necessary, because Nancy knew the rules worked, and that without them, society would collapse again.  Everyone would die, thought Nancy, all the girls and the boys too.

The streets of the china sector had been hit relentlessly by rain for over twenty minutes by now, and had become enveloped by a rising steam.  Only the hazy forms of neon signs and colored lights could be seen easily through the fumes.  The whole place seemed dream-like, thought Nancy, as she waited patiently for her contact to show.

Soon the rain slowed enough, and a slender figure in white emerged in the mist.  Nancy had lowered her driver’s side window, just a crack, when she recognized the China girl nick-named Talky.  The girl had a sly look on her face today, as she walked, swaying her hips and sashaying her legs, toward the car.  The girl moved like that purposely, knowing that Nancy was watching.  Talky was dressed nicely in a flowery skirt and top, with a white fur over her bare shoulders, and a pair of pure-white high heels on her feet.  She looked almost ghostly moving through the steam in that outfit.  Above her head, she held a colorless parasol to fight off the rain.    A smile appeared on the girl’s face when her eyes met Nancy’s eyes.

When at the car, Talky slinked down beside the driver’s door, before winking softly through the window with her cat-like eyes.  Nancy lowered her window more, just a bit more.   The girl smiled big, before blowing a kiss with her purple, always purple, lips through the window.  “Hello, blondie,” said the China girl, playfully.

Nancy groaned, and asked, “You got something?”

“Oh, sure I do.  What’s your ride tonight?  Need some vertigo?  How ‘bout a dragon dream?  Do you want to chase that rabbit?  I know.  Sure I do.  Your type likes to forget.  I can tell these things.  And Talky might just have some sleeping beauty–”

“Knock it off Talky.  I’m here for the tip.  Give it to me, or stop wasting my time.”

“Sure, I got one.  It’s a good one too.  I mean… it’s bad, it’s very bad.  Nothing worse.”

Nancy lifted her eyebrows.

The China girl wavered, right before spitting it all out to Nancy.  The only sounds heard were from the rain falling and a faint crackling thunder in the distance.  Eventually, the girl found a way to talk; she curled her purple lips, and whispered two words through the window crack.  “Blood party.”  Talky hadn’t wanted to say those words to Nancy.  And Nancy knew why.

Years ago, Talky had won the federal lottery, when she was just twenty-one.  Most marriage celebrations were no more than three days, the standard practice now, but Talky had demanded seven for herself.  She had to, she had said, because seven was her lucky number.  On the morning of the seventh day, the wedding day, her husband had gone missing.  Eventually his body was found later that week tied to a motel bed, ripped to pieces, with his guts leaking out onto the carpet.  He was a victim of what the Sicarii call a blood party.  The China girl went into mourning that afternoon and stayed mute for seven more days after that.  Poor Talky could never try again.  The lottery had strict rules, ones written by the Department of Safety, and were enforced by the social agents, like Nancy.  Girls were given one chance, and only one, at the marriage lottery.  If a girl won once, then she could never try again, even if her husband had been murdered or died some other way.  I understand how she feels, thought Nancy, it really doesn’t seem fair.

Talky made it safely through her mourning phase, the girl was much tougher than she looked.  Other girls wouldn’t have made it through; some would’ve lost their marbles.  A terrible thing like that could really hurt a girl for good.  Nancy had seen girls go out hard and some soft in her line of work.  A lot did it with pills, quietlike and respectful, while others put a gun in their mouth, and left a mess for others to clean up.  In Nancy’s department they didn’t call it that other word, the bad word, no, they called it, “missing the stairs.”  Laney Poppy, an old novel writer, did herself in at forty-nine by famously missing her own stairs.  Since then, the girls had always called it that.  Nancy had been luckier than most girls, she had to admit that, so she never let herself look down the stairs too long.  Whenever she had to clean up after a girl, she tried never to judge too harshly, even if the girl had no good reason to.  When a girl was done, she was done, and that was the way it was.

Rubbing her tanned gloved hands, Nancy asked the China girl, “When and where?”

“Soon.  Tonight…” answered the cat-eyed girl, before pausing, and then biting on her own bottom lip.  The girl thought for a good few seconds before continuing, “I’m not sure, about the exact time.  The source got a little fuzzy about the details, but she did say it was definitely room seven-one-seven at the Noir Belle Hotel, near the condemned sector.  That’s all Talky knows.”

“Seven-one-seven, Noir Belle Hotel?”

“That’s right, blondie.  And, you should hurry,” said Talky, letting another smile slip out.  “You don’t wanna be late… for the party.  Better bring a dress too, a sexy one.  It’s so rude to show up, not dressed right.  I know.  Sure I do.”

Annoyed, Nancy looked away from Talky, and then turned on the car engine.  “Anything else I should know?”  Nancy looked back.

“No, but how ‘bout a goodbye kiss?”  The China girl’s eyes fluttered.

“How ‘bout, I don’t arrest you instead.  How ‘bout that?”

Talky stood up, puffed out her chest, and said with pouty lips, “You’re no fun, safety maid.”  (Social agents hated being called safety maids, and for sure, that’s exactly why the lower-class girls said it, to bother them.)    After being refused, the China girl twirled around with her parasol in a little-overacted huff, and then, at a deliberately slow pace, marched away in her white heels.  She made a point to rock her hips and stomp her feet, singing out lyrics to a very old song.


My only love, is the barrel of a gun.

My only love, is the barrel of a gun.


Nancy despised that song, and for sure, Talky knew that.  It was popular once long ago, before a suit in the capital realized what the lyrics were really about, and then had the Department of Safety ban it like it was street pills.  Only in underground places and in un-monitored alleyways, could the song still be heard occasionally.  Most girls only knew the chorus, because the song had been off the airways for such a long time.  Being caught with a copy could get a girl a week in jail, or get a one a thousand dollar fine, or, it could just get the violator a punch in the face from a social agent, depending on the social agent.  Most regular girls didn’t challenge social agents over banned music too often though.

Only an over-cocky criminal like Talky would dare peddle illegal songs with a social agent aware of it, and, only someone like her would be arrogant enough, or dumb enough, to rub it in the social agent’s face for the fun of it.  Nancy tended to turn a blind eye to most of the China girl’s criminal pettiness.  Most of it was tolerable to Nancy, as long as the girl continued to prove herself useful as an informant.  So for now, Nancy would keep playing with the girl and tolerate her little jabs.  Besides, Nancy knew that illegal music wasn’t the worst thing the girl sold, not by a long shot, but that was all part of the deal too, for now at least.  Nancy kept things under containment though; Talky had agreed to not deal in guns, no matter what.  One day, when Talky was no longer useful, the China girl’s career would be over for good, and Nancy would make sure of it personally.

As soon as the China girl had strutted out of sight, the rain suddenly stopped, and the heavy steam began to fade from the streets.  Perfect timing, guessed Nancy.  The social agent kissed the diamond ring that hung from a silver necklace around her neck, and then slid the ring down her collar.  Sniffing the air, she caught a whiff of the china sector returning.  Oh gross.  The horrible, and usual, smell from the place had already started to return.  Yeah, time to leave this shithole, decided the social agent.

She sped off aggressively in her federal sedan, plowing through watery ditches, and riding over curbs, until she made the ramp onto the highway, and then merged into traffic.  Without knowing how much time she actually had before the blood party, Nancy would assume there wasn’t any time to spare.  She knew she could beat the traffic flow of the civilian vehicles by at least thirty miles an hour, because no girl ever dared to speed around a social agent.  It’s only ten minutes away from the exit normally, thought Nancy, so I should get there in six.

She switched on her tech-phone, and spoke into it.  “This is US Social Agent Nancy Rose.  Can I get a police dispatcher, please?”  No response came for a few seconds.  Then suddenly, muffled laughter, followed by rough coughing came through the phone, and then finally a girl’s voice said, “Good evening, safety maid.  What can we do for you, tonight?”

“I have the whereabouts of a possible blood party.  I need assistance from-”

More laughter erupted from the phone.  “Shut up,” yelled the girl on the phone.  “I’m working here.  “Sorry, sorry, safety maid, what were you saying?”

“I need help at the Noir Belle Hotel at room seven-one-seven.  I got good info that a blood party is underway, or maybe soon.”

“Huh?”  The girl adjusted her microphone.  “I mean sorry.  Sorry, again.  Someone else here was talking.  What about a party now?”

“Just send officers to the Noir Belle Hotel at room seven-one-seven, immediately.”

“Oh, okay, we’ll get the girls on it, right away, safety maid.  Thank you for calling.  I told you girls not to–” The signal shut off with a fizz.

Nancy wondered why she even bothered with them.

Minutes later, Nancy took the exit off the highway and drove to the edge of the condemned sector.  The streets were mostly dead around there, so she was able to keep a fast, but safe, pace.  At the last alleyway before a barricade, she swerved hard, just before missing her turn.  Her federal vehicle rolled to a stop, right next to an Employee Only door at the old hotel named the Noir Belle.  The wooden door looked so old that a good strong yank might pull it right off its hinges.  A fat old girl sat outside on the ground nearby, with her head sunk down between her dirty knees, and a liquor bottle tipped over near her soiled bare feet.  Disgusting, thought Nancy, How can a girl let herself go like that?

After stepping out of her car, the social agent immediately turned and faced the driver-side window.  She inspected herself in the glass.  Her uniform looked correct and proper, so she stroked back her blonde hair once, and placed the uniform cap back on her head again, lining it up straight.  There was never an excuse for a girl to look sloppy believed Nancy.  “Girls respect a girl more when she looks tight,” her mother had often told her.  And, every time Nancy looked at her reflection, she saw her late mother staring back at her to remind her of that.  Nancy and her  mother had the same face, identical in fact, even the same intense blue-green eyes.  Nancy had been conceived by the mono-fertilization process, making Nancy, effectively, a clone of her mother.  Perfect, she thought, taking one last look at herself in the window, Mother would be proud.  She turned and approached the hotel door.

The old girl with dirty knees didn’t seem like a threat to the social agent, so Nancy didn’t bother pulling her handgun.  Frankly, the old girl looked barely functional.  As Nancy stepped in front of the door, the old girl lifted her head up to see, and revealed her fat ugly face.  The girl’s eyes had become darkened and hollow, as if the girl had been awake for many days without any sleep.  Her nose too, was messed up looking, and had become crooked, probably from some old fight that had never healed right.  The old girl had put thick makeup on her face, much like a girl would have done going out to a nightclub, or to a party.  The makeup, itself, seemed layered and smeared, as if the girl had been wearing it for a long time.  A tiny drop of vomit slipped out of the old girl’s mouth, as she tried to say something, but couldn’t get it out.  She only managed to make a weak grunt noise toward Nancy.

Nancy gave the ugly girl a disgusted look in return.  The girl let her head fall back down between her knees, and loudly belched.  It’s a real shame.  Nancy turned away and tried the doorknob on the Employee Only door.  Conveniently, it wasn’t locked, so the social agent just walked right into the hotel.

Inside the Noir Belle Hotel, Nancy saw that the lobby had been drowned in trash, piled up high against the walls, and even blocking the elevator doors.  There was a lone handwritten sign above the lobby elevator that read “Out of Order,” as if someone might believe the elevators were working and try to use them.  Not in this dump, thought Nancy, no way.

Where the walls were clear of garbage, graffiti had spoiled them.  Mostly the pictures were of cartoonish horses, boobs, cats, and, of course, obscene images of girls’ bodies being penetrated with various disturbing things.  None of which were interesting to Nancy, much less appropriate for any girls to see, but there was one detailed drawing that stuck out, and Nancy noticed it quickly.  Guarding the way to the stairwell, a sinister-eyed girl, sprouting batwings from her back and fangs out her lips, pointed up the stairs with a single finger from her black clawed hand.  Nancy had a hunch that drawing wasn’t just more random graffiti.  The bat-winged girl seemed like an invitation, or a warning, or maybe both.  Nancy wasn’t sure which yet.  Regardless, she had to take the girl’s pointed direction anyway, in order to get to the seventh floor.

At the bottom of the stairs, Nancy looked up the tall stairwell, and fully took in the scale of the hotel’s many stories.  She sighed to herself.  Oh well, at least I only need to go up seven floors.  She began her climb.

Going up the stairs, she found it difficult to breathe in as she went.  The stairwell, though strangely cleaner than the lobby area, had a lingering stench that only got worse the higher she went.  On the third floor, she finally discovered the cause; a dead cat’s body, slowly rotting away.  A tiny jingle bell on a collar hung around its flattened neck.  Some girl once loved the poor thing, thought Nancy, but now that it’s dead, no one could be bothered enough to clean it up.  She marched past it quickly, ignoring the nasty smell as best she could.

Past the fourth floor, Nancy began hearing laughter and talking echoing from above.  The voices sounded like young girls, guessed Nancy, and there shouldn’t be any more than two or three of them.  Nancy stepped lighter in her synthetic-leather boots, as she continued up.

At the sixth level, she came upon a pair of girls huddled together in the stairwell.  Lying between them were playing cards and some cash.  One of them smelled badly from a strong cologne.  Nancy’s nostrils burned a little from it.  The smaller of the two had a pair of black teardrop tattoos under her eyes, the same color as her dark hair.  She wore a slick black jacket and matching boots too, and the girl seemed surprisingly clean and groomed for a place like the Noir Belle.  Her chubby companion, with her back to Nancy, looked like regular trash though.  Nancy crept closer, keeping her right hand beside her holster.

Being first to notice the social agent, the black-teared girl narrowed her eyes to study Nancy, looking up and down her uniform.  The girl’s only movement was to signal to the other one with a quick look.  The bigger girl cocked her fat head around to take a look.  The thin mustache over her lips stretched drastically, as her mouth opened wide.  “Oh shit,” said the fat girl, “Oh shit, oh shit.”  She’s met a social agent before, reckoned Nancy.

Desperately, the big girl grabbed the cash into her meaty hands, cursing the whole time as she did it.  Once on her feet, the girl moved in a hurry, waddling down the stairs past Nancy, never slowing down, not even to collect any of the money she dropped.  Nancy let that one go, she wasn’t important.  No, it was the clean girl, with the teardrop tattoos, that the social agent really wanted to talk to.  She doesn’t belong here, thought Nancy, she must know something.

“Sorry, sweetie,” Nancy told the smaller one, giving the girl a professional smile.  “Who was winning?”

The black-teared girl threw down her cards, and then jumped up.  She stared down the social agent, before answering coldly, “I was, safety maid.”

Nancy and the black-teared girl locked eyes for a moment.  The social agent figured, due to the girl’s small frame and young looks, she couldn’t be older than fourteen, if even that.  However, Nancy suspected the girl was one of the sicarii, or at least knew about them.  She’s too clean looking to be here, and it was really odd that the black-teared girl didn’t run away, or even attempt to, when she first spotted Nancy.  Regular girls don’t usually standoff with a social agent, no way, they all know better.  No, there was something different about this girl, Nancy was certain about that.

While staring each other down, the black-teared girl began sneaking her small fingers under her jacket, little by little.  Lovely, thought Nancy, she’s carrying a weapon.

Nancy dropped the professional smile now and shook her head at the girl.  “No, no,” said Nancy, “don’t do that.”  But the girl kept moving anyway.

Therefore, Nancy was forced to lunge, and she snatched the small thing by the throat and by the sneaky hand.  The force of the rush shoved the young girl’s back up against the wall, hard. The girl squealed and her eyes popped wide open.  Nancy lifted the girl up off the floor to eye level.  The social agent almost felt sorry for the girl, watching the panic grow on her face.  The poor thing’s never dealt with a social agent before, realized Nancy, She doesn’t know what we are.

Advantage formula made a girl stronger and faster.  Social agents were required to take it, so were the military girls on active duty.  The formula also caused the senses to become sharper, and more sensitive than normal, especially smell, but that was more like a side-effect than as a planned feature of the formula.  Some girls couldn’t handle advantage formula, though.  Some even died trying.  But others, like Nancy Rose, could use it without a problem.  Nancy had a knack for it; she was good on the formula.  Even so, she still had to admit that the heightened sense of smell that came with it did take some getting used to.  Being able to tell a dead girl’s time of death within an hour, just by the scent, or telling which girls were menstruating in a room, only by a whiff in the air, was definitely weird at first.  Some girls never got used to it, and had to quit before losing their marbles.

“I heard a rumor,” Nancy told the black-teared girl, holding her against the wall.  “There’s a blood party tonight.”

The black-teared girl struggled, trying to speak under Nancy’s grip.  The social agent allowed enough air for the girl to talk.  “That’s crazy,” the girl wheezed out.

“Oh really?”  Nancy gave the girl’s head a tap against the wall.

“You dumb bitch.  That hurt.”

Nancy knocked her head harder.

“Fucking cunt.”

Nancy knocked the girl again, much harder, but the girl just yelled back, even more defiantly, “DAUGHTER.  OF.  A.  WHORE!”

Nancy squeezed down harder on the girl’s hand, making her clench down on the hidden weapon under the black jacket.  Nancy then forced the short-bladed knife out from underneath, before slowly moving the blade upward and towards the girl’s left eyeball.  The girl’s whole body began to shake.

Nancy told the girl, “We’re not seeing eye to eye.”  The knife’s tip edged closer and closer, as the young girl’s pupil started to vibrate.  “Now,” continued Nancy, “don’t let this go bad for you.  Tell me everything you know, right now.”

“Okay, okay, safety maid,” said the girl, her expression more subdued, “There’s a something, a happening, a party, whatever.  I don’t know.  So what?  Who cares?”  Nancy moved the knife’s tip even closer, getting within a millimeter of the eye, just as the girl’s body began to shudder hard.  The girl shrieked, “SEVENTH FLOOR!  ALRIGHT?  That’s all I know!  I swear to God and Holy Mary.”

“You know it’s a Sicarii party.”

“Who’s sick-car-ree?  Never heard of her.  I swear …”

Nancy coolly stared the girl down, holding the blade dangerously close still, letting the girl think the worse for a few seconds, and then, right as the girl looked like she might have a seizure, the social agent moved the blade away.  Instantly, the tension in the girl’s body drained out, her eyes relaxed back to normal, and she began breathing easier.

“Please, let me go,” pleaded the girl.  “I’m pregnant.”

Nancy sniffed at her.  The girl didn’t smell as if she was menstruating right now, but that wasn’t really proof.  And the girl looked way too thin honestly.  If she was pregnant, and that was a big if, then it must be an early pregnancy.  But Nancy wasn’t buying it.  “You’re a liar,” Nancy told the girl.

“No, for real, safety maid,” said the girl, with the sincerest face she could muster.  “I am.  Please don’t hurt me and the baby.”

Nancy groaning, snapped the blade’s tip off in the wall by the girl’s head, and then told the black-teared girl, “I don’t have time for this right now.”  Nancy’s voice then became more intense.  “But listen to me very carefully, and you better too.  If you don’t straighten up, sweetheart, you’re going to end up in a bad place, maybe even a body bag.  And, remember this…”  Nancy pulled the girl face-to-face.  “We’re always watching.”

The girl nodded back, her expression shaken.  Nancy dropped the girl to the floor.  The young girl raced away, keeping her hands in her jacket pockets, and not saying another word, she disappeared down the stairs.

In Nancy’s experience, a little scare talk went a long way with most young girls; it helped them become better girls and citizens.  But with that one with the teardrop tattoos, Nancy couldn’t be so sure.  Her gut feeling told her that the girl was headed for more trouble.  A shame, thought Nancy, she’s so young too.

Approaching the seventh floor, Nancy slowed herself enough to unholster her handgun.  Always be sharp, she reminded herself.  The armed social agent then took the stairwell door out onto the floor.  Once inside, she crept down the hallway, squinting her eyes in the dim light, looking at the door numbers.  She soon realized that all the numbers were a mess; some were turned upside down, others were switched, and some were just missing completely.  You’re not supposed to find them so easily, she guessed.

From the stairwell, she had counted carefully until she came to an unmarked door.  Seven one seven.  This must be it.  She inhaled deeply, pressing her ear against the door.  She could smell multiple girls, and maybe a boy too, but she wasn’t sure.  Coming from inside the suite, she could hear a low feminine hum, very medieval-like, as if a chorus of sisters were in there.  Well, that’s creepy, thought Nancy, this has got to be them.

Nancy knew that ritual singing was the last act of a blood party, right before a boy would meet his end by a Sicarii initiate’s blade.  The boy’s body would be torn apart, if Nancy didn’t stop them.  It’s time to let the girls know I’m here.  The social agent rapped twice on the door, and then called out, in a playful melodic manner, “Knock, knock.”

The humming sound suddenly stopped.  Now, only the shifting of footsteps and of faint whispers was heard from inside the hotel suite.  Nancy got her legs into position, straightened her arms, and pointed her handgun down.  Okay.  She took a breath, and then counted down.  Three.  Two.  One.  Nancy then bounded at the door, shoulder first, busting all the way through.  The door, itself, got ripped completely off the hinges.  A girl, who must’ve been too close, probably to look through the peephole, got knocked onto her back, with the busted door over her legs.  She seemed unconscious, and her face looked bloodied with her eyes closed shut.  Nancy kept her handgun on her anyway, watching for any movement from the girl.  The unconscious girl wore a sleek black dress with a thin halter top, and had a single white flower in her hair.  Oh dear, thought Nancy, I bet I messed up her outfit.

“So sorry sweetie,” said Nancy, stepping over the girl, gun downward.  “I hope I didn’t ruin your little party dress.”  The girl remained still.  She was out cold for sure.

A second later, Nancy heard movement from behind her and turned to look.  Another girl, in a pink dress, had stood up from behind a sofa chair.  The girl mumbled a curse word, and then charged.  Nancy swung her handgun around and fired once, hitting the girl in the lower right leg.  The bullet blew a hole out the back of the girl’s calf.  The pink-dressed girl stumbled forward onto her face, and moaned as her brown curls spilled out onto the carpet.

“That was a warning shot,” Nancy told the girl, “stay down, or else.”  Nancy didn’t want to kill, unless she had to.  She always tried her best not to.  After all, it was her duty to protect all girls, even the man-killers.

She watched the pink-dressed girl on the floor for a second, before another one, with half-black and half-red hair, came at Nancy from an angle with a knife.  She surprised the social agent and got close enough, to be within striking distance.  The attacker jabbed away in a flurry, but could never quite strike the social agent, who danced easily out of the girl’s reach.  She’s too sloppyShe must be drunk.  The knife attack had been enough though, and Nancy had enough justification for lethal force now.  She pulled back, aimed, and shot the knife-wielding girl in the forehead, blowing her brains out the back of her head.  The body went limp before dropping.  Screams then rose throughout the hotel suite.  Lovely, thought Nancy, there’s more.

Nancy watched for an attack from every direction, as best she could.  The poorly lit hotel suite had plenty of shadows to hide in, so she needed to be on guard.  On the carpet, the girl in the pink dress stirred.  Nancy fixed her gun on the girl.  “Stay down,” demanded Nancy, “don’t move an inch.”  But the girl didn’t listen, she came up mean faced, with a revolver shaking in her hand.  That weapon must have been hidden under her dress, or under the furniture, or somewhere else.  Oh well, thought Nancy, too bad for her.  Nancy fired just once, perfectly, and hit the curly-headed girl in the right eye, blowing it out.  Her head dropped face down again, and the revolver plunked to the floor beside her.

The next party girl came immediately after Nancy’s last shot.  She screamed like a maniac, charging at Nancy, with a knife in her hand.  The blade looked red from blood already.  The girl sliced at the social agent, and managed to get lucky.  Nancy suffered a cut to her uniform jacket’s elbow, but the blade didn’t get through to the skin.  Damn it.  Nancy quickly retaliated, slamming her pistol’s grip into the attacker’s face, stunning the girl.  The party girl wobbled back, moving drunkenly.  She swung her knife desperately one last time into the air, before Nancy fired into her twice.  The girl’s body fell to the carpet with a thud.  After that, there was silence throughout the hotel suite.

Nancy breathed, and then started to search around.  On one dead body, the one with black and red hair, Nancy noticed a curious tattoo.  A black snake coiled down the girl’s left arm to bite her on the wrist.  Nancy crouched down closer and lifted the girl’s shirt to check underneath for more.  And for sure enough, inked on the girl’s chest, standing in-between her tits, was the naked whore, wearing her halo of stars.  The whore was an icon of the Sicarii, and their most popular tattoo.  To the right of the whore and right under the tit, was an upside-down black spade.  Like the crowned whore, Nancy had seen that kind of tattoo before too, but of diamonds and hearts.  Those were the personal symbols of the queens of the Sicarii.  The Queen of Spades, herself, must have marked the dead girl as hers.  Nancy flipped the body over, and checked the upper right shoulder.  Yup, thought Nancy.  There were three jolly rogers tattooed.  That meant the Sicarii trash had gotten three man-kills so far.  The girl must have been a rising star for the Queen of Spades, before Nancy put a bullet through her head, and ended her career.  Nancy only hoped the girl had been stopped before getting her fourth.  I need to find the boy, Nancy reminded herself.

She moved on, taking the suite’s only hallway, cautiously.   At the end there was a single shut door.  Though the suite was still completely silent, she walked up, handgun ready and alert, just in case.  She noticed the door had been left slightly ajar, so she nudged it with her boot, letting it creak slowly open.

Inside the room, shadows danced and flickered on the walls of the bedroom.  Small candles had been placed on the shelves and across the carpet floor.  The whole room seemed bigger than it should be for a suite bedroom, but that was probably because it was nearly empty.  Only a single mattress was in the center of the room, and on top of that, a naked boy had been laid and tied down.  He looked no older than sixteen guessed the social agent.  His body was motionless like a corpse, but only had superficial cuts, and, appeared to have very little blood loss.  The blood smelled fresh too, she could tell.  Nancy slipped off one of her synthetic-leather gloves, and kneeled down to take the boy’s pulse.  As soon as her fingers touched his neck, the boy’s eyes popped open and he gasped, “PLEASE DON’T!”  Nancy let out a sigh of relief.  Thank God and Holy Mary, she thought, he’s alive.

“Relax sweetie,” Nancy told the boy, “I’m here to help.  I’m US Social Agent Nancy Rose.”

“A safety maid?”

“Sure,” said Nancy.  The social agent started loosening the ropes on the boy.  “You know,” Nancy told him, “we don’t like being called safety maid.”

“Oh, sorry, I–”

“It’s okay,” she said in a calm voice, “You can call me a banana if you like, just hang on.”

With the bindings free, the boy sat up and started to check out his minor cuts.  “They were nuts.  One of them joked about eating me for dinner.  They told me they liked me.  They wanted me to party with them, they said.”

“Sweetie,” Nancy said, “you should know better than that.  It’s not safe to go anywhere with strange girls.”

“Yes, miss.”

Before long, the sound of boots came pounding into the suite.  “Hold on,” said Nancy.  She handed the boy a sheet to cover himself.  Through the window, Nancy saw the familiar swirl of red and blue lights.  The police were here finally and late as usual.  She wondered if the regular police were any better before the Great Calamity, or if it had always been that way.  She lovingly stroked the boy’s hair, as she told him flatly, “Hurray, it’s the police.”  She checked over his neck and shoulders again for any wounds.  “Well, the paramedics should be here too.”

“Thank God and Holy Mary,” he replied.

Nancy said nothing back, she only wondered to herself if the boy should be so thankful.  Many church girls liked to believe that the Great Calamity was a punishment for boys, and that God had sent the super-virus for a reason.  However, no girls had ever agreed on what that particular reason was.  Nancy’s mother had said, in fact, “It wasn’t the men who were punished.”  When Nancy thought about the world, she tended to agree with her mother.  Maybe the girls were the punished ones, and maybe the boys were the ones that got off easy.  Sure, thought Nancy, that’s probably right.  Nevertheless, now the boys were all back (after smart girls figured out a way to cure the super-virus), and they needed help to stay alive and safe.

A wide-hipped police officer barged into the room.  She stomped around clumsily, waving her pistol around.  “Whoa, safety maid,” the girl exclaimed, “save some for us.”  Then she gave out a big fat laugh.  Nancy could smell the alcohol on her breath.

“Next time, officer,” said Nancy with a forced smile.  Nancy left the boy with police.

After the night sky cleared up, and the air felt much cooler, the city smelled normal again, decaying again.  The moon could be seen too, waxing above the city skyline.  A full moon should be here in a few days dreaded the social agent.  Always bad luck, she believed, always.

Nancy had wanted to go straight home and go to sleep, but she knew she couldn’t yet, the Department of Safety mandated a violence evaluation for social agents after every altercation involving violence.  She’d had at least a dozen of those so far this year.  The sister-doctors hadn’t found a scratch yet.  Director Lilac, for sure, was strict about them.  A social agent that missed one got suspended, usually just for a few days.  But if the director believed the girl had missed it on purpose, Lilac would take that girl’s gun and badge away for a long while, maybe even a year, or worse.  There were no good excuses for missing an evaluation with Director Lilac, the rules always came first with the old girl.

Sister-doctor Meadows was already waiting for Nancy, when the social agent arrived at St. Mary’s Federal Hospital later that night.  Meadows dealt exclusively with social agents and military girls.  She, plus three other sister-doctors, in the city were the only ones legally allowed to administer advantage formula.  Meadows tended to work the night shift a lot, so Nancy knew the old sister fairly well.

Nancy had already stripped down to her underwear, and had planted herself in the evaluation chair, when the sister-doctor came in.  Nancy’s bare toes hovered inches above the uncomfortably cold hard tiles.  To tell the truth, thought Nancy, the room, including the entire hospital, had a serious chill to it.  The sisters could turn the temperature up some, for sure.  But they seemed to be determined to treat the hospital like a damn morgue.  I suppose it is a morgue too, thought Nancy.  Meadows turned her attention to Nancy.

“Any injuries to declare, Social Agent Rose?”  The white-haired sister-doctor asked.

“No, sister.”

Snapping on tight latex gloves, Sister-doctor Meadows approached the evaluation chair.  “Lie back please,” requested the sister.  The chair shifted back automatically when Nancy leaned back.  “Thank you, dear.”

The sister-doctor, then, began lifting and bending, all the fingers and toes, the arms and the legs, and any part of Nancy that the sister could move.  “Good, now turn over.  Thank you dear.”  Meadows was taking it easy on Nancy tonight, the social agent could tell.  The sister might have insisted on a more invasive evaluation, as was her right as a sister-doctor, but the old girl wasn’t.  Truly, just the thought of those cool metal probes, the ones the sisters liked to use, made the social agent shiver a little bit.  Nancy had heard rumors that the daytime sister-doctors kept their probes in an ice bucket, just to be cruel.  But girls tell stories too, knew Nancy.

“Very good,” said Meadows, as she made the chair shift back up.  Then the sister-doctor picked up her screen-portable, and began writing.  “Now,” said Meadows, “I went ahead and had your weapon scanned.  Exactly four shots fired, and no magazine reloads since yesterday.  Is that correct?”

“Yes, sister.”

“Do you have your tech-phone with you?  We’ll need to scan the memory.”

“The phone was in my coat pocket.”

“Oh, we didn’t find a phone, social agent.”

Stunned, Nancy took a second to think.  Oh, no.  Nancy realized what had happened.  Black tears.  The little sneaky one with the black tear tattoos must have nipped her tech-phone when Nancy had the girl pushed against the wall.  She was the only one that could’ve done it, and Nancy let her run right out with it.  All her contacts, personal information, everything, was on the phone.  Damn it.  This was the second one she had lost this year too.  The director would not be happy, and Nancy had to go to a debriefing with the old girl in the morning too.

“I must have misplaced it,” explained Nancy.

“I see.  You’re clearly tired dear.  You should get some rest.  If you would like social agent, you can rest here, and someone can wake you in the morning, so you don’t need to drive all the way home.”

“Sure, sister.  That sounds lovely.”

A minute later, Meadows returned to the room with a thick blanket and pillow.  The old girl spread the blanket over Nancy’s body, tucking her in motherly like, and then cushioned Nancy’s head gently with the pillow.  The sisters had always liked to treat their patients as if they were children.  Nancy had gotten used to it, and didn’t bother to complain anymore.  It was just in a sister’s nature to do that after all, the nice ones anyway.  Before the old sister left, Meadows paused and held the door open, and then said, “Today was a good day.”

Nancy answered back, “Tomorrow will be better.”

The sister-doctor then clicked the lights off and let the door close softly.  Today was a good dayTomorrow will be better.  Those were the words that every social agent said before she went to sleep.  It’s what we tell ourselves anyway.  It’s our motto.  Nancy closed her eyes.

Safety Maid: Nancy Rose

Next Chapter

Chapter 1

These days, it was hard not to drink.

Jean Paris Foxglove toyed with the shot of whiskey that sat on the bar in front of her.  She had certainly drunk before, for sure, when her Aunt Donna had let Paris taste her rose flavored red wine once.  And then she drank an entire bottle of that same wine when she had celebrated becoming a Social Agent a long time ago.  She had shared that bottle with Linda Dove, who also had just become a Social Agent.  She had been Paris’s only friend, or close enough to one, at the academy.

Paris pictured Linda, with her plain looking face, her thin nose, and her grey-blue eyes, plus the girl’s stringy dirty-blonde hair that never looked right, even when the girl combed well.  Not a pretty girl easily, but Linda could be attractive when she laughed, and she liked to laugh, especially when drinking.  Paris had trouble remembering the story Linda had told that night; maybe about a dog or Linda’s little sister.  Paris wasn’t sure.  Linda had snorted out some wine laughing, as she always did whenever the girl had tried to tell a joke or a funny story while drinking.  Linda was terrible at keeping a straight face.

Paris couldn’t think of what was so funny now, so many years later.  All that was left of that old memory was Linda’s snorty giggle.  Now, Linda Dove was dead, just like most of the Social Agents who had refused to hand in their gun and badge.  Linda got nailed in north Virginia, hiding out in a cabin.  Three bounty hunters had moved in at night and shot her full of holes.  The poor girl had no chance, her advantage levels had collapsed, and she was already suffering the effects of post-advantage atrophy by then.  The news showed her dead face on TV; it was thin, pale, and her eyes had darkened from what looked like crying.  Bounty hunters after former-social agents don’t take chances, so they don’t take prisoners often.  The reward was the same either way, dead or alive.

Paris picked up her shot, and whispered, “Here’s to Linda, and her dumb laugh,” then downed it.  The whiskey burned its way down Paris’s throat, causing her to cringe and fidget on the barstool.  Awful, thought Paris.  She nearly coughed it up.

“Mm, hmm, good stuff ain’t it?”  The dark-skinned bartender said from behind the bar.  “Ready to go again, Snow White?”  The bartender’s name was Dorothy, and she was as big and as wide as girls could be, before getting up off their ass became too much of a problem.  Her arm fat sagged down and touched the bar top as she wiped it.  Dorothy’s grin at Paris was unapologetic.  Dorothy had been teetering the whole time, waiting and watching for Paris to finally take that shot.  The big girl had insisted, after Paris mentioned she’d never drunk whiskey before, or any hard liqueur for that matter ever.  Paris was the only customer sitting at the bar at noon on a Tuesday, and Dorothy was giving her complete attention to Paris.  The only other customer was an older girl with glasses, sitting in a booth reading a paper and sipping on coffee.

“Snow White?”  Paris questioned the bartender after exhaling.  “Why’d you call me that?”

“You look like ol’ Snow White.  She had skin as light as yours, and hair just as black.  You ain’t never seen that ol’ cartoon before?”

“No.  I never watch cartoons.”

“It’s about a princess gett’n chased by an ol’ nasty witch, who wanted poor ol’ Snow White dead.”


“The ol’ witch was jealous.”

“Let me guess, the princess won, and put her sword through the witch, and it was a happy time for everyone. The end.”

“Nah, Snow White got saved by the handsome prince.”

“Hmmm, that seems dumb.  Who would like a story like that?”

“Hey, it’s the way they made those cartoons back then, before the great calamity.”

“Oh.  I see.  It’s ancient nonsense.”

“So, how ’bout another one, Snow White?”

“I don’t see how girls could drink this stuff.”

“It ain’t ‘bout the taste, honey.”

Dorothy had a brown bottle already in hand before Paris even agreed.  The bartender hummed while she poured, then capped the bottle and put it to the side.  “This one’s smoother,” Dorothy commented, “I promise.”  The bartender then left Paris alone with the whiskey shot this time, going into the back kitchen.  Her heavy body rocked left to right as she passed through the service door.  “Just holler, if ya need more, Snow White.  I’ll be in the back for a second.”

Paris stared her whiskey down, once again.  She reminded herself that she shouldn’t get too intoxicated, she needed to stay sharp, and for sure, she really couldn’t know how the whiskey would affect her.  She was still on advantage formula.  But, the former-social agent wondered to herself if that mattered anymore.  Normally, it would be foolish for her to be out at a public place, especially at a bar, and especially in the middle of the day.  But she had to.  She needed to keep her advantage levels up somehow.

Paris predicted that sometime around noon, a girl would wander in with a bundle of flowers, claiming to want to sell them.  The girl would do that all through the French Quarter, dropping in on every business that would let her in.  She’d sell someone a flower for a couple of bucks, if asked to, but that was not what the girl was really selling.  When someone asked for a white flower for example, and handed the girl a twenty instead of two dollars, the girl would hand over the flower like normal, but with an extra note rolled around the stem.  The note was a receipt, and also instructions for the buyer to know where to go and pick up their coke.  Other colors represented other drugs, and if the seller didn’t have that kind today, then the flower girl didn’t bring that color with her.

Paris wasn’t after poison garbage though; she was interested in something else.  Something that would help keep her alive.  Two weeks ago, her supply of advantage formula, that she had nabbed from an Alabama hospital had run out, and her levels had been dropping dangerously low, getting close to zero.  Once atrophy started, a girl was pretty much dead without medical assistance.  Paris hoped that the local dealer would have a black market version of advantage formula.  Those were unsafe to use but Paris had little choice.

Betty Breeze ran the flower girl operation here in the French Quarter.  Betty started out as a flower girl herself many years ago.  Paris had known the girl from church school and they had grown up together in New Orleans.  Paris even thought of her as a friend, once. When a Social Agent finally arrested Betty, years after Paris had left New Orleans behind, Betty asked for Paris to come and testify on her behalf at the trial.  Paris refused to go, but did send a video-message to the court that said only, “Miss Breeze needs to be in prison for her crimes.”  No exceptions, Paris believed, the girl was a poison dealer.

Yet truthfully, if Paris had actually gone to trial and had seen Betty’s desperate face, a face pleading with the judge and with the arresting social agent for leniency, Paris couldn’t be sure what she would have said.  She remembered riding bicycles with Betty on the streets of New Orleans, and her being fun, and also very poor.  Selling flowers was her family’s only income at the time, and that was how Betty paid for her own bicycle.  But lots of girls were poor, Paris reminded herself, and they didn’t have to sell poison.

After the purge of the US Social Agents, prisons had been opened up, and the low-level criminals had been released early.  Some were even given official apologies from the government, as if the Social Agents had arrested them wrongfully.  The government did that on purpose; they wanted the public to see the apologies and teary-eyed girls being freed, so that public got the idea that the Social Agents had been putting innocent girls in prison, and therefore America was better off without the Social Agents and the purge had been somehow justified.  Betty Breeze was one of the girls released, and she got an apology too, then she went right back to work selling her flowers.

“Here’s to the god damn government,” Paris said to herself, and then downed her whiskey shot.

Paris was wearing civilian clothes now.  On her head was a black hood from a hoodie she wore when outside, underneath was a plain white t-shirt, and for pants she wore a pair of stained navy blue slacks she had found in a lost and found.  She also wore a pair of cheap sunglasses continuously.  No more black synthetic-leather gloves and boots, like when she was in uniform.  She wore dark gloves she bought at a gas station for two dollars and eighty-nine cents and had a pair of worn hiking boots she found in a garbage bin on her feet.  Hidden and slid tightly into her left boot was a military knife.  The only part of her old uniform she kept was her cap badge, which was in the inside pocket of the jacket.  And of course she kept her nine-point-nine handgun that was tucked into her pants in the front.  She only had one magazine with seven bullets left, but it could, if necessary, keep her alive a little bit longer.  A few days ago, she had to fire her gun once as a warning shot, when Paris thought a girl had recognized her.  The girl ran away with no further incident afterward.  That was the only time she had used her gun since Magnolia Tower.

The tele-screen hanging above the bar started its regular report on bounties.  The standard rate was still twenty thousand for an outlaw former-social agent, of no real distinction, which was the majority of outlaws left.  But for the stars like Paris, and Nancy Rose, the bounty price was approaching four hundred thousand.  When Paris’s picture popped on the screen, Paris lowered her sunglasses to see better.  She had let her hair grow well past her shoulders, which helped her look different from the picture they kept using, the one from back in her academy days, when she had tighter shorter hair.

The current numbers for Paris were three hundred thousand.  Not too bad.  Rose’s face popped up next, with three hundred and fifty thousand for her.  Paris grinded her teeth.  Rose still had the higher price, and she was still alive somehow.  Rose fighting on did not bother Paris, really, she admired Rose for that actually, but Paris couldn’t understand how Rose always had the higher bounty.  Paris wondered what Nancy had been doing to earn it.

Originally, there were over eighty social agents that refused to turn their badge and gun in.  But within a month, only half or so was left, most had just given up peacefully.  The government immediately took them off advantage formula and put them into medical care for a proper de-escalation, which was needed to prevent atrophy during the post advantage formula stage in a user’s life.  The rest of the outlaws, being stubborn or dumb, kept going and went into hiding.  The government responded by offering bounties for their heads.  The current bounty report said there were only eleven former-social agents left now.  From this point, there was no turning yourself in anymore, not for most of the outlaws.  The unlucky ones would have had to kill other girls to stay alive, which meant prison time or possible execution if they happened to be taken alive.

For Paris, she could have never turned herself in, not from the start.  She had sealed her deal forever when she snuck up on stage that night at the Magnolia Tower, with her handgun out and aimed right at the Queen of Hearts, Mother Most Superior herself, and fired twice, hitting the old girl in the chest and dropping her.  The crowd screamed and went into a fury seeing the old sister fall.  During the following chaos, Paris made her escape through the subways.

With Lilac dead in the basement, and everyone else dead, or would be soon, Paris had left in a rage to kill a queen.  Paris just couldn’t let the sicarii win without making them pay for it.  It was sloppy thinking, she admitted now, the purge may not have happened, if not for her.  But when America saw the Mother Most Superior shot down by a social agent on live tele-screen, that was the final nail.  And it wasn’t even worth it, Paris lamented, Mother Most Superior got rushed to a hospital, where she was revived.  Paris had hit her in the heart, a good clean shot from thirty yards, and that’s fatal for most girls, but somehow they brought her back after twenty-two minutes dead, with a new machine heart in her chest.  Mother Most Superior had told the faithful that it was God’s Will that she had lived, it had been a miracle.  Yeah sure, thought Paris, and maybe next time I’ll make sure to aim for the head.

Dorothy was still busy in the kitchen.  Paris could hear the sound of the big girl’s faint chuckles coming from back there.  Not wanting to wait, Paris snatched the whiskey bottle sitting just within arm’s reach, and refilled her shot glass.  Why not?  With each day, and every thought after the next, even more depressing than the last, she had a hard time arguing against the why not?  After all, her sisters were either forced into retirement, making them semi-dead, or had been hunted down, making them actually dead, by now.  Well, most of her sisters anyway, some were still out there fighting.  Maybe, thought Paris, I’ll be the last one, the last social agent on the run.  She tossed back her filled glass, and let the hard liquor go down.  She shivered a bit in reaction.  Oh that’s horrible too.  But that must be why people drink it, she realized, because they felt horrible already.

As Paris wiped her sunglasses with her sleeve, the old girl from the booth walked up to the bar near Paris with payment ready in hand.  When the old girl glanced towards Paris, she froze, staring right at her.  “You’re her,” the girl blurted out.  Paris hated hearing that.  Her sunglasses were off only for a second.  Damn it.  But it must have been enough time to catch a glimpse.

“I’m not her,” Paris answered, sliding her sunglasses back on.

“You look like her. The Foxglove girl.  The safety maid.”

Paris stood up suddenly, causing the old girl to shiver.

“Are you sure?” Paris asked, “Because if I saw her, I’d be real worried.  She’s a maniac, I’ve heard.  A killer.”

Paris wanted to shoot the old girl, right then and there.  A smart move, really, since there was no turning Jean Paris Foxglove in, so adding one more body under her name wouldn’t make it worse.  Paris knew she’d be brought in, at the very end, in a body bag.  No bounty hunter was going to risk themselves to bring her in alive.  But the old girl wasn’t a criminal; she was just at the wrong place at the wrong time.  I’m still a Social Agent, aren’t I?  I’m not just telling myself that to keep going.  I can’t just kill her.  But if she tells anyone…

Paris moved a fold of her jacket back, deliberately revealing the handgun resting in her waistline to the old girl.  Paris needed to handle this situation bluntly and quickly, if she didn’t want to be on the headline news tonight.  Just shoot her, Paris told herself, then shoot everyone else in the bar too, even fat Dorothy.

“I bet,” said Paris, tapping her finger on the gun’s grip, “you didn’t see her.”

The old girl shuddered and stepped back.  The look of fear on the old girl’s face amused Paris some.  The media had made Paris into a monster.  And yes, there was a part of Paris that enjoyed that, she liked being the bad girl and being feared by the public.  She had to admit some of the accusations against her had been true too, like how she had treated certain criminals.  But those girls had all deserved it, they needed a hard correction, but right now, Paris was just terrifying an unlucky old girl, someone she would have been helping normally.  Was this right?  I’m a social agent.  No, she re-thought, I was one.

Paris moved suddenly, taking an abrupt step towards the girl.  That bad reputation was what she had, and, she was going to use it.  The old girl fell backward, knocking over a bar stool with her legs.  The girl’s eyes widened, her hands shook, as she began picking herself off the floor.

“Please, miss,” begged the old girl, “I didn’t see her.  I didn’t anything.  I swear.  Sorry.  Sorry.”

Paris stood silent and continued to tap on her handgun.

The old girl said one last soft, “sorry,” as she got to her feet, and then went running for the front door.  The girl looked back once over her shoulder before hustling outside, letting the door close.

The smart voice in Paris’s head said, you should’ve shot her.  If the old girl tells the police, more might die.  I’ll be dead too.

On the bar, the old girl had left her coffee check unpaid.  Paris tossed a hundred dollar bill down beside it.  At least, she’d pay for the coffee.  Paris also swiped the last bottle of whiskey off the bar she had been drinking.  Might as well, she told herself.  The whiskey might dull the pain from bullet wounds.  And if she was lucky enough, she’d get so drunk she wouldn’t feel a thing when she died.

Paris exited out the back emergency door with a bottle in hand.  She moved through the clustered alleyways in the French Quarter until she picked up the dank musky scent of the bayou again.  The smell was much weaker than this morning.  Paris realized that was a sign that her advantage levels were burning out.  There wouldn’t be much time left now.

She could leave the city immediately, but she couldn’t know where’d she find another possible hook up for advantage formula again.  And she couldn’t continue to rob hospitals either.  She’d be putting all those sisters at risk.  The idea of the news reporting Jean Paris Foxglove was killing sisters at hospitals would be too much, even for Paris.  There wasn’t enough time anyway.  Betty Breeze was her only hope now.  I need to find a flower girl.

Paris settled on a shadowed corner in the French Quarter to sit and watch the streets.  During the day, the streets were busy but much quieter than the nights. When she had lived in New Orleans, she used to ride her bicycle up and down the streets during the day.  She and Betty would dodge and weave around tourists and the daytime drunks.  Betty had been born there.  The girl knew the place much better than Paris ever had.  Betty would probably die there too.  So could I.  She almost laughed.  Paris uncapped her bottle of whiskey and took a swig.  Awful stuff.  Her throat convulsed from the burning taste.  Then she took another drink, and another.

Today felt like a last day to Paris.  She was America’s most wanted, well, second most wanted, having a famous mom seemed to help a girl even when she was an outlaw too.  Paris never knew her own mother.  For Paris, her mother was just a ghost story; a story that was mostly fictional; hopefully fictional, as far as Paris was concerned.  All there was left of her mother, were a few random pictures from before Paris was born.  Paris was the same age now as when her mother had died–when she was murdered–and much worse than murdered, as her Aunt Donna had told Paris.  Paris had never found the girls that killed her mother, and she had tried.  That was the reason, why she’d joined the Social Agents.  The Social Agents helped girls.  They got the criminals.  They got the murderers.  That’s what Paris was before, with her sisters; social agents that got the criminals, and got the murderers.  She drank down another gulp from the bottle.  This shit gets no better.

Twenty minutes had passed, as her tech-watch showed, and the bottle in her left hand was halfway gone, when she heard police sirens.  Had the old girl talked?  Thinking again, she knew it was normal for the sound of sirens to be off in the distance in New Orleans.  It never was a clean city.  But she couldn’t shake the feeling that it could be about her.  They’d send everyone, the armed best they could muster, for Paris.  Some bounty hunters would be here too, she was sure, they would have been listening in on police chatter.

Paris fantasized about the possibility of killing them all with what was left in her handgun.  Doubtful, but at least she could take some with her, and maybe, just maybe, her last stand would be a truly famous one.  The siren faded away though, and the streets of the French Quarter remained seemingly normal.  Maybe, she thought, that old girl had been scared bad enough to shut up.  Paris could hope.

She finally felt a strong head rush, when the whiskey buzz finally hit her.  She set the bottle down near her feet.  There was close to a quarter left still, of whatever shit was in the bottle.  Her heart now stung.  Was it anxiety?  Stress?  Or was it the advantage levels dropping?  She hadn’t drunk this much in a long time, so she couldn’t be sure.  But as her heart cooled off, she began to slow down.  Even her thoughts were getting slow.  Paris thought, I’m not really dying, not really.  But as a Social Agent, as she knew, when advantage levels went down low enough, it felt like dying.  She wanted to just lie down, sleep, and then wake up fresh.  Please wake up.

She sank down low to the concrete.  Positioning herself so she saw clearly down the alleyway towards a good section of the street.  None of the passers noticed her, or they pretended they hadn’t noticed.  Girls liked to dart their eyes away from the homeless in New Orleans, like avoiding staring at a scar on someone’s face.  Paris in her ragged hooded jacket and lost and found boots, cheap sunglasses, with a whiskey bottle in arm’s reach, must look homeless and worthless.  She would think that too of herself.  In a sense, she thought, that was what she had actually become.  She was a drifter, stealing and doing whatever to survive another day.  I’m a scar.  But when you don’t want to be noticed, being a scar was an advantage, she supposed.

Nearly an hour had passed, before there was only a swish of whiskey left in her bottle, and Paris saw what she was hoping for.  A girl, just over four feet tall with cropped short hair, and wearing jeans and an awful patterned Hawaiian style shirt, was carrying a bundle of multi-colored flowers.  The flower girl was no older than ten, she guessed.  Paris pulled herself up, a lot more tipsy than she’d expected to be, (then what did she expect?) and edged closer to the street.

“Sure, I’ll buy a flower,” a tall slinky teen with blonde hair said, “but I want to pay with a kiss.”  The flower girl had been sidelined by a pair of teenagers on the sidewalk. The blonde sniggered, and the flower girl’s face turned stiff and red.  The other one, shorter and much heavier, seized the flower bundle.

“No,” yelled the flower girl, grasping away at the flowers that were held out of reach.

“Oh no,” the shorter girl said back, “how will you get your flowers back?”

“Cutie here, is going to have to give out two kisses.”  The blonde leaned down and puckered her lips.  The flower girl froze up.

“Fun time’s done.”  Paris marched across the street, her voice harsh and loud.  “Give back the flowers, now.”

The heavier one answered, “Lady, do you think you’re a fucking cop or something?”

Paris took a second to think, as she reached the sidewalk, before responding, “I’m worse than a cop.  Give her the flowers, fatty.  Right now.”  For a second, Paris considered slinging back her jacket to reveal her gun, but that wasn’t a good idea out in public on the streets.  A hard attitude should work with these teens, well good enough, she believed.  When Paris used to wear her social agent uniform, the teens rarely talked back to her after an order.  They knew better.

The heavy girl paused, as she thought about making another comment, but instead the girl tossed back the flower bundle, causing the flowers to fall to the concrete.  The flower girl scooped them up, anxiously.  The teenagers turned and walked away, and didn’t bother to say another word.  Maybe the teens knew somehow, what the scar really was, but probably they just didn’t want any trouble.  I looked like a scar to them, but I could be a dangerous one too.

Fixing her flowers, the flower girl mumbled, “I hate girls.”

“Me too sometimes,” said Paris, as she helped pick up flowers.

As the flower girl placed the last flower back in the bundle, Paris asked, “Can I buy a flower, sweetheart?”

The girl, a little flustered still, lifted her head toward Paris, and answered back, “Yes miss, which color please?”

Now face to face, Paris saw that the flower girl wasn’t a girl.  A boyHuh.  “All of them,” Paris told the boy, “but you’re gonna take me to your boss.”


“It’s okay.  I’m good friends with Betty Breeze.”


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