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…”

“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.”

“Spade.”

“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

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