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.
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 sloppy. She 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.”
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.
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?”
“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 day. Tomorrow 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.