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?”
“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.”
“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?”
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 armor. My 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