KILL NOLIE KILL
words by Lynn Novella
*protected by copyright*
Nolie braced herself against the cold as wind rushed through the narrow alley and whipped past her face. She gathered her fur collar closer to her neck and picked up the pace.
Click-clack, click-clack, click-clack. Her heels echoed ominously in the quiet of a dark morning.
Despite her better judgment, Nolie often took this dangerous shortcut to her job at the Executive Library. She could mark all the steps with her eyes closed, but she would never be that naive. She had heard of horrible things happening if you were caught too long in this dark alley alone. She knew people had disappeared.
Nolie rounded the corner and exited the alley with a sigh of relief. She took in the familiar rise of glass and steel that housed the Executive Library. The bright, dismal sun made the building’s tall pillars of glass shine like swords darting into the sky. Nolie was more than a little intimidated by this building and its conservative leaders, but the money she made allowed her to pay the notoriously high urban tolls — and twice over, at that. She shuddered at the thought of the dangerous wasteland lurking beyond the walls, waiting to devour those unfortunate enough to live outside the city.
The revolution started when she was 14. Her parents died when unknown guerilla forces bombed their apartment building. Nolie was away at school and survived, but the attack stole all the family she had ever known. With no home and no parents, Nolie slept with other neighborhood kids in the burnt-out ruins of their old building. As chaos and violence erupted, it did not take them long to realize no one would ever come to help. They were all alone.
Nolie and the others stole and hid to survive. Soon, help did arrive in the form of armed paramilitary units who forced the children to be implanted with chips for tracking. The head officer called it “Citizen Control” and said it was for their safety. The children were given strict instructions to visit a local government office to re-register as Adults when their chips began to blink in the future. Then, they left the children to continue stealing and hiding to survive.
Years later, as a hardened and traumatized Nolie enrolled as an Adult with Social Services, she asked her counselor how she could get out of the slums. The woman, her blonde beehive stretching towards the crumbling ceiling, just stared at her with a sardonic smile.
“What do you mean, get out?” The woman peered at her disdainfully while shuffling unruly stacks of paper.
“I need to work and make enough money to leave here. I can’t live like this anymore. I have no family, I have no one.” Nolie mumbled, staring at the floor.
The woman let out an annoyed sigh. “Transitional fees start at 10K. You wanna make it out the slums, you come back here with 10K and we’ll switch out your Adult chip. You’ll be scanned in as a City Dweller and not a Slummer.” She absent-mindedly threw the stack of papers to the floor beside her desk, and began shuffling another new stack of papers. “You got 10K?”
Nolie didn’t answer, and kept her eyes trained on the floor.
“Thought so. After you pay that transitional fee, you gotta come back here again with another 20K to cover the down payment on your City apartment. And if you ain’t got 10K, then I know you ain’t got 20K.” The woman, broad and homely, stood up with a jerk and let out a laugh that sounded like a cough. As she walked around the desk to stand over Nolie, she dug a pen into her beehive and scratched viciously at some impenetrable core near her scalp.
“Congratulations on enrolling as an Adult,” the woman barked. Nolie yelped as she felt a sharp, sudden prick at the base of her neck.
“There, now you got a Slummer chip implant. Get yourself at least 30K, come back here, and we’ll change you to a City Dweller, princess.” The woman didn’t try to hide her sarcasm.
Nolie bit back angry tears as the new Slummer chip burned inside the base of her neck. She left the Social Services office and stood outside the front doors with nowhere to go. Defeated, she kicked up dust and fiddled with the hem of her ripped skirt. She wished she could claw the chip out of her neck.
“Don’t listen to that bitch,” she heard a scratchy little voice shout. It sounded like a child’s voice, but its raspiness gave away years of a hard life. When Nolie looked to her left, a tiny elderly woman with a cigarette and a cane stood there like a statue, smiling up at her with a charming, toothless grin.
Suddenly, the large blonde social counselor charged out of the building. “Candy you get your shit and get the hell off this property!” she yelled. “You want me to call the units on you again? You want that?!” The counselor grabbed a baseball bat near the door and pointed it menacingly at the tiny old lady.
“That bitch don’t know nothin’!” the old lady said and spat out at the counselor. “You just an old bitch!” The old lady seemed to jump and quiver with every word, and her little hands shook as she shot her middle finger at the counselor.
“I’m warning you, Candy!”
“Come with me, child.” She spoke to Nolie, but Candy never took her glare away from the counselor.
Without a word, Nolie followed this little old woman who moved like a young girl. The counselor kept the bat pointed at them until they were out of sight.
About a block later, they reached a dilapidated home. Nolie found the place somehow beautiful — it was painted yellow with black and white shutters, and the porch was overgrown with weeds, flowers, and bushes. Candy shuffled quickly up the stairs, using her cane to propel her forward with ease.
“This my house. It’s in the Slums yeah, but it’s a good house and it’s all mine. Live by myself, don’t need nobody else. I’ll tell you why that bitch don’t know nothin’. Take a seat.” Candy darted here and there around her kitchen, flitting like a hummingbird. She has a lot of energy to be so old, Nolie thought.
“She tell you only one way to be a City Dweller? What a pile of shit! Ha!” Candy took a long drag from her cigarette and slammed a cup of tea in front of Nolie as they sat at her kitchen table.
“Pretty thing like you. Oh, baby – there’s more than one way to be a City Dweller. You ain’t gotta come from money, you just gotta know where it’s at!” Candy took another long drag from her cigarette and then slammed a large, aging photo book next to Nolie’s teacup, spilling a bit of its contents.
The album was filled with photos of Candy as a young girl. There was Candy posing in front of a marquee with her name in big letters, her dancers’ legs and arms gracefully extended and her dress flowing in the sunshine. There was Candy mixed up with a bevy of smiling girls in matching ruffled skirts and headdresses. Candy, in feathers and fur and not much else, posing on the lap of a stout man in a suit, a drink dangling from his hands as he laughed at something happening off-camera.
“That’s a-one of the old politicians. Assassinated when the revolution started. Back before they had to wear the masks and hide to see us underground girls.” She shook her breasts suggestively and winked at Nolie, who felt her face get hot.
“What’s this all about?” Nolie asked, turning the page. “I don’t understand. You were some kind of dancer? What’s that got to do with me?”
Candy sat back in her chair, her eyes twinkling with a playful youth that belied her years. “Is more than one way to get money, girl.” She pulled up the sleeve of her sweater, revealing an iridescent shiny chip in her wrist. “This here is an Underground chip. Only but special people can get down there, make money, come up and be whoever they want. Only invited people. And I invite you because I see me in you, even for a moment, back at that bitch counselor office. You understand?”
Nolie slammed the book shut. “If the money so good, why you a Slummer now?”
Candy didn’t flinch or move in her seat, but kept her playful eyes on Nolie.
“Because that’s my choice, stupid girl. What’s it to you?” She blew out a thick plume of smoke in Nolie’s direction. Her words were harsh, but she gave a lighthearted laugh and snatched away the photo album. She stroked its cover and replaced it carefully on her bookshelf. “I’m just tryna help you out. Take it or leave it, child. Don’t bother me none. My life is lived and yours… well that’s up to you.”
“If you wanna move on up, you go here-,” she began scribbling directions on a piece of paper, “-and you tell that old heifer Madame Bleu that Candy sent you. Is invite only, so best for you consider me your guardian angel, child.” Candy winked and smiled another big, toothless grin. “Go now – Bleu spot fill up fast. You not the only person need money.”
Nolie stared at the woman cluelessly and accepted the piece of paper. She shifted her weight and scratched her head, “What, you mean like now?”
“Go!” the tiny old lady bellowed, pushing Nolie towards the door. “What I say? I say now!”
Nolie left and made sure to take one more backwards glance at Candy, her diminutive toothless guardian angel, as the old woman waved her goodbye from the wooded front porch.
The directions were nonsensical. They led Nolie to the middle of the woods, where she sat on the wet grass snapping twigs until dusk. With nowhere else to go, she wondered how she could be so silly as to believe a strange old woman hanging around smoking outside Social Services. The Slummer chip started to burn in her neck again.
And then, like dark magic, the ground began to tremble. Nolie screamed as the ground next to her opened, and out from the earth burst a clear, glowing elevator. The doors opened with a docile “bing!” and stayed open until Nolie carefully, fearfully stepped inside. She pressed the only button in the elevator, clearly labeled “Underground Access.”
The elevator doors closed quickly – too quickly for Nolie’s comfort – and hurdled down, down, down beneath the forest floor. The elevator still glowed, and all Nolie saw was the blurred brown dirt outside the glass all around her. She could feel her throat close up and claustrophobia set in. She shut her eyes tight.
And then it was over. The elevator opened with another “bing!”.
Nolie was immediately thrust into a red light district unlike anything she’d ever seen. She blinked away the brightness of the marquees and slick luxury headlights, the cackling laughter of throngs of people dressed elegantly.
She looked again at Candy’s directions, and now they seemed to make more sense. She blindly followed them left, right, up, down, and around, bumping into crowds of people, until she came upon the sprawling House of Madame Bleu. The bright sign above the house spelled out “The Dollhouse” in bubbly pink letters, and a couple of nice scantily clad people led Nolie inside.
Madame Bleu was a beautiful older woman who took an immediate liking to Nolie, especially after she heard that Candy had sent her. Bleu hired her on the spot.
Within 6 months of working at the Dollhouse, Nolie had enough to pay the government thousands of dollars in transition fees and down payments. She went back to Social Services with the money, and they switched her chip from Slummer to City Dweller. Her new apartment was on the 31st floor in the heart of the city and had floor-to-ceiling windows.
Within another 6 months, Nolie had enough for registration fees to enroll in post-secondary school and become a Pro working for the government. She was an Underground girl and a student, two things she never thought she would be.
After she graduated she had enough money to pay her urban tolls twice over. She was officially out of the Slums.
The Executive Library placed Nolie in the middle class, but its mystery was never lost on her. She knew there were more nefarious purposes to the building. Upon entering, she never spoke to another soul for longer than five minutes at a time – and she didn’t mind this, lest they discover she was once a Slummer who worked the Underground. She was immediately routed to a private elevator that took her straight to her lonely basement terminal. She knew there were other librarians around, but each terminal was made for one person only – one desk, one computer, one printer, one scanner, and one lamp, and one chair. The terminals were roomy and comfortable, with leather chairs and a mahogany bookshelf.
For enough money to make Nolie comfortably middle-class in a time of civil unrest and economic depression, all she had to do was answer the questions that came into her terminal’s inbox. Respond to the faceless names within minutes with primary sources of information – cases, statutes, regulations. Print copies of the question and answers, file them away.
On this particular day, Nolie had one lone question waiting in her terminal’s inbox whens she arrived for work. As she read the question, her eyes slanted in confusion:
Modern legality of human trophy hunting, please. ASAP
Nolie had never heard of human trophy hunting, but she was trained to quickly curate the best information available on the restricted web to answer all anonymous questions from Executive higher-ups. Within minutes, Nolie was horrified to learn that human trophy hunting had been recently declared legal. She was even more horrified to learn that it was only legal in the Slums and in the Underground.