The Dictator of Fire
An Alexandria Virgil Story — Part 1
Ausmerica — 116 years years after being founded, which is in itself sometime set in the future of a distant universe.
“That woman is so hot!” A bunch of boys jeered.
I pulled my hoodie up over my head and wondered what they were talking about.
“What I would spend for one glorious night with Veronica Morston.” One of the boys started.
“Veronica Morston is waaaay outta your league man!” The other boy laughed.
“Dude. She’s like 65 years old man!”
“She must take rejuvenate shots often. Holy hell, she doesn’t look older than 25. She’s the hottest woman in the city. Did you see her in that movie? Valley of the Giants? I heard she’s single now.”
I pushed my earphones as far as they could go into my ears and gritted my teeth. They. Were. Talking. About. My. Mom! I checked my phone. The next pod at the Underground Station would be here in two minutes. Finally. Those boys were obnoxious.
“I heard she has a daughter.”
“No way! Her wiki page says she doesn’t have any children. She never said anything a daughter in any of her interviews…”
“I dunno man. Just some rumours. I wonder if she’s hot. She might be our age.”
I raised my head at them and stared. I don’t know why but I felt terribly courageous today. It didn’t take long before one of them noticed me.
“Hey, that crazy girl is just staring at you man.” One of the boys nudged the other.
“Hey, sod off ya loner!” He raised his middle finger at me.
“Yeah! Sod off!”
I pulled my hoodie up and got into my pod before they got to me.
Travelling was maybe my favourite part of the day. Some extroverted people would call pods with their friends and they would talk. At least that’s what I imagined what they would do. I read that people would even call pods to hook up with random strangers! But I would never do that. Ausmerica is too dangerous. I always travelled alone and I would just curl up into the seat and watch my favourite TV shows.
Today, I just stared at the progress bar on my favourite TV show and didn’t press the play button. I didn’t feel like anything. My stomach felt numb. So I sat listening to the quiet hum of the hoverpod. I watched all the other pods zip by me in the wide open cavern and wondered whether all these other people were living lives better than my life. I looked at my watch. It was half past three. I really hope that I can get to my father’s place by four. My breathing became short and rapid.
“Take it easy Alex.” I said to myself. “Just tell him that your station was packed and that there was a two minute delay.”
I imagined my father standing over me.
“If you knew you were going to be late, then you shouldn’t have even come!” His voice thundering in my ear.
I imagined arriving back to my mom’s home early. Her look of disapproval. Her sarcastic tone of voice when she told me that I was the worst child to ever have been born.
My head become dizzy with panic. I spied my notebook dangling out from inside my backpack and pulled it out. Instinctively, I pulled out my pencil and started to draw. The pencil dashed across the paper, shading between lines and creating a sunny grassy field with galloping majestic horses.
I was lost in thought when the pod left the underground caverns and drove into the tunnel that went directly to his archipelago. Elysium Islands. His grandparents bought him a private island for his 100th birthday when he was still with my mom. The tunnel from the city passed underneath the ocean floor, so it always felt cold whenever I saw my dad. I shivered and continued drawing.
In the corner of my eye, I saw one of my horses turn its head to look at me.
“Boo!” It yelled.
I shook my head. I better not also be going crazy.
My father always complained about his house. It was a sprawling two story wooden building with wide sliding doors that led to many small courtyards. It was set atop of a rocky hill designed by a famous architect whose name I’d forgotten. He always said that the house was too low and designed with too many places for thinking. He was a man of action! He hated the quiet and unassuming.
There was one woman dressed in a maid waiting for me at the foot of the hill. I didn’t recognise her, but I haven’t been to my dad’s place for 6 months.
“You’re late.” She tapped her watch.
“I’m sorry. Can you help me with my bags please?”
“Do it yourself. This isn’t a holiday.”
I pulled my two bags out and fumbled my way up the stone steps to the building.
“Couldn’t we at least take the elevator?” I huffed.
“You need to develop some strength if you want to survive here.” She curtly replied.
My lungs felt like exploding when I got to the top of the hill. I felt a warm ocean breeze flow across my face as I admired my father’s view. Squawking seagulls soared above the island.
“Get moving girl!” The woman hissed at me.
“We’re here aren’t we?” I dropped my bags and pointed to the main building.
“The servants live in the servant’s quarters. Are you an idiot? Did we employ an idiot here?” She shoved her index finger into my forehead.
I blushed and stuttered my words.
“I’m sorry, I haven’t been here for a long time… I think you’re mistaken.”
She narrowed her eyes at me, her head red with frustration. I felt like such a miserable failure.
“What do you mean you haven’t been here for a long time? How am I mistaken? You’re the new girl aren’t you?”
I looked for an exit, and starting running into the main building.
“Hey! Come back here you insolent brat!” She quickly caught up to me and clawed her hand into the bare flesh of my forearm. My warm blood trickled into her finger nails.
“I can’t believe we hired you! You are rude! You are lazy, and you complain!” She raised her hand in front of my face.
“Hey cut that out real quick!” A loud thunderous voice rang throughout the room.
“Mrs Jenkins! We have a problem on our hands!” The woman cried out.
“We will have a problem if you don’t release the boss’ daughter!” The housekeeper shouted back.
“The boss’ daughter?” She whimpered. Her hands leaping to her chittering mouth. She prostrated herself in front of me and cried.
“I am so sorry. Please accept my humble apologies. Please I beg you!” Her tears gushed from her cruel eyes.
I looked her pathetic grovelling self but didn’t say anything. Part of me wanted to reprimand her, to tell the housekeeper to dish out the worst possible punishment but part of me felt like it wasn’t in my place. I hadn’t earned anything. I just wanted to be a normal kid. I didn’t want to live in this world. So I told her to get up from the ground and that mistakes happen. She scampered off with a stern look from Mrs Jenkins.
“Let me help you with that.” Mrs Jenkins gave a small bow to me before picking up my bags.
“I suppose you wish to for these to be taken to your room Ma’am.”
“Thank you.” I whispered to her.
“Ma’am, if I can give you one piece of advice. You need to act more confident. This estate is your father’s. You have a right to tell people what to do.”
“I’m sorry Mrs Jenkins.” I quietly said to her. “I just don’t feel that way.”
She shook her head. “Don’t apologise to me. You should not ever need to apologise. Especially to your servants. Now I will take these to your room. Your father is expecting you at the hangar right now.”
I looked at my watch. It was almost 4 o’clock! I ran all the way down the hill to the back of the island. All the plants by the path had been cleared away. My mom had spent a lot of time planting small shrubs by that path when I was young.
I got to the hangar on the dot. In a way I felt a little proud of myself. My father wouldn’t need to be upset with me today. He was talking to a tall slender woman with long black hair while his robots towed his fighter jet back into the hangar. His arms were making large circles in the air. Possibly describing his life in as a pilot in the Ausmerican Air Force.
I squinted at the woman. She looked a lot like mom.
Maybe she was her? What was mom doing here? But as she turned and faced me approaching them, I knew she wasn’t her. She was close, but she wasn’t her.
“So there I was with my squadron. At 05:00 about 250 klicks east of the United Nations Allied Base just north of the island of Kauai. Flying in formation in my Dragon Inventions FX-39. It was exactly like this one here. After the war, I wanted to buy that plane. But some idiot had crashed it in handling.” He gripped onto an imaginary control stick and closed his eyes.
“Ooooh what happened next?” The dark haired woman clapped her hands in glee. I rolled my eyes, I must have heard this story a thousand times before.
“The United Nations Allied Base was the closest base to Ausmerica. We knew if they completed building the island; Ausmerica would be doomed. We had air and sea superiority but we didn’t have enough muscle power to field off infantry attacks if the United Nations ever landed on our shores. At that time, it was protected by joint Russian, US and Chinese Naval fleets. So my squadron flew in with the sun behind our backs to provide support for our bombers while they hit the critical assets. I was actually at the vanguard of that attack.”
The woman listened intently. My father motioned for his robot to tow out his yellow biplane out.
“We had our stealth systems on. You wouldn’t have been able to see any of the jets from more than thirty metres away. That night we were hoping to go in for a stealth attack but they were expecting us. The sky was thick with anti-aircraft bullets and surface-to-air missiles. One by one they shot us out of the air. Thirty minutes in, I realised that all of our bombers had been shot down. The wing commander ordered everyone to retreat but I knew that it was a now or never moment. All of the FX-39s that day were equipped with nukes. So I flew down to 700m altitude, weaved through all the mayhem until I was directly over the base and dropped my nuke. The explosion temporarily blinded me, you could feel the shockwave rattling every joint and rivet of the plane. The heat was exceptional but I’m a bit of a fire magician so I was able to stand the burning. It nearly took my jet out of the air though, but I fought hard, and the FX-39 hobbled its way back to the Ausmerican base.”
The woman gasped. “I never learnt that in history class! I thought that the Prime Minister ordered the nuke.”
“One million dead to save 300 hundred million. The very next day the Prime Minister Hatticus Seal signed a peace treaty with the United Nations. He got all the credit for stopping the war. Was it excessive? Yes. Would I do it again? Without hesitation.”
“Please I must be boring you with my old war tales. Have you met my daughter Alex?”
“Hi I’m Suzy. I know your charming dad from the ski club.”
I shook her outstretched hand.
“Hi…I’m Alex” I stammered. She already knows my name. I’m an idiot. “Nice to meet you.”
“Who did this to you?” My father hissed as he grabbed my forearm.
“One of the servants.” I said. “It was just an accident.”
“I’ll look into this when we get back.” He looked up at the house and then back towards us.
“Let’s fly over Ausmerica Main Island today! I’ll show you the sights from the air. Alex, would you like to come with us?” His eyes burnt into mine.
“Sure…” I croaked.
We all got into his yellow biplane. He calls it The Heart Breaker because he takes women in it and it breaks their hearts. My father and the woman sat in the front while I sat in the back seat of the plane.
“So Alex, are you still in school?” The woman tried to make polite conversation.
“I’m in year 10.”
“I graduated from college a few years ago. I’m an editor at the Polar Bear Publishing House. I’m helping your father write his first book about his time in the war.” She laughed. I noticed that this woman did a lot of laughing.
“So what do you want to do after school?” She asked me.
“I don’t know.” I replied. Why did she have to ask so many questions?
“I’m trying to get Alex into the police academy or enlisted in the Defence Force. Or even in the Department of Magic. She’ll do well. She’s a Virgil. We’re naturally powerful magic users. But she’s too soft. Takes after her mother.” My father pulled the biplane into the air.
“I’m kind of interested in art…” I said. Why did I say that out loud?
“Art?!” My father chortled. “What use is art? Your mother was an artist, actually damned good at it, but realised it didn’t make a difference in the world. That’s why she became an actress!”
“I think I might be good at it…” I said.
“Even I know your sketches are amateurish.” He roared with laughter.
“Your mother was an actress?” The woman tried to change the subject.
“Yeah, her mother is Veronica Morsten.” My father answered.
“No wonder your daughter looks so familiar! I love all of her movies. You’re really pretty. I’m sure you are really talented.” She said to me.
“Thanks.” I said to her. I tried so hard to convince my dad that I could be an artist but he didn’t listen. He never does. In that moment, I imagined myself comically awkwardly running around in the police academy. Following orders from a drill instructor. The cabin of the aircraft suddenly felt really claustrophobic.
“We’re coming up to the main island. You can see West Side down there and the Ausmerican Business Tower Blue right in front of us.”
We flew past the blue coloured ultra-tall building. He bought us as low as we can go. I could even see individual people walking on the streets. We climbed up and flew into Central District. He pointed out a large platform filled with suburban houses.
“That’s Sky City! Veronica and I used to live there.” Even from this high up, I could see banners with the pictures of my mom’s newest movie covering the streets.
“Everywhere I go, I still see her face.” My father murmured.
“I loved everything about that woman. Her face, her hair, her body. I just didn’t love her.”
I suddenly felt sick. My stomach shot with excruciating pain and my body writhed in cold sweat.
“Dad, could we land please? I need to get out.”
Suzy turned around and saw me dripping beads. “Thomas, I think your daughter is sick. We got to land somewhere. Maybe there is an airstrip in SouthSide City that we can do an emergency landing?”
My father looked at me in the rearview mirror. I couldn’t see his eyes behind his cool reflective aviator glasses.
“She’s not sick. She’s just weak. Here I’ll show you something. You’ll love it.” He pushed the stick to the left and the plane did a full 360 roll in the air.
“That was fun!” My dad said to himself. “Let’s do another one.”
I felt like vomiting. My face became pale and I couldn’t breath.
“Stop it!” Suzy shouted. “We need to go down.”
“I’m not landing my plane in the damned city!” He shouted back. “We’re going back to the island.”
We flew back to his island in stoned cold silence. I still felt sick, but it wasn’t as bad anymore.
Suzy kept giving me worried glances through the review mirror every so often.
“She needs to see a doctor.”
“I’ll get the servants to take care of it.” He grumbled.
When we finally landed, Suzy grabbed her coat from the hangar and pulled me aside. “You make sure you see a doctor. I live in the Bear Islands but I’ll call you a cab back to Main Island. I’ll ring you tonight to make sure you’re okay.”
She talked to my father but he shook his head. “She’ll leave tomorrow at the earliest. We still have to deal with the issue of the servants tonight.”
I waved her off. She gave me a sad smile. My dad cancelled the cab that she booked for me.
“I was going to get laid tonight if it weren’t for those servants.” He seethed. His anger causing flames to burst from his hands as he stormed back up the island.
Most of the servants were finishing up with the day when my father stormed into their quarters. He pulled them out of their rooms and forced them to go to the main courtyard. Many of them sobbed in their charred night clothes while my father shook his head in disgust.
“Weak! A general in charge of a weak army is a weak general! I command you to stop crying!” He raised a fiery hand and they all stopped.
“In The Art of War, there was a king with disobedient concubines who laughed whenever he instructed them to do anything. Are you disobedient?” He shouted.
They gulped and all shook their heads.
“The king asked a general to discipline his concubines, and when they didn’t listen to him the first time. He executed one of them! Are you laughing now? I’m going to ask you once. Who did this to my daughter?” He forcefully thrust my wounded forearm in the air. I grimaced with pain. He pointed at a chef who shook his head.
“Sir I don’t know!” He wailed.
“Alex, help me god! Tell me who did this to you otherwise they’ll burn!” He threw fiery lassoes across the entire courtyard.
I shook my head. I didn’t want any part of this. He dragged the chef over to me, and then pushed his burning hand into the chef’s forearm. The chef screamed in agony. I watched in shock as the chef screamed and screamed. His voice burning in my mind.
“STOP IT!” I yelled. “It wasn’t him!”
“Then who was it?” My father roared.
“It was nobody!” I yelled back.
“Okay, if you want to play games.” He pushed the chef over and grabbed another servant.
“What about you? Did you do it?” He screamed into the poor woman’s face. His right hand glowed with fire again.
“It wasn’t her either!” I yelled.
“Well who was it?” He growled. “If by the time we’ve gone through the rest, and we haven’t found the person who did this to you, I’m going to BURN ALL OF THEM!”
“Okay, okay! OKAY! It was her!” I tearfully pointed at my former abuser.
The woman became as pale as a ghost. It looked like she had died. I couldn’t make eye contact with her.
“Alright! YOU DARE LAY HANDS ON A VIRGIL!” He shot fire at her as she hid behind her burning cloak. The fiery lassoes whipped into the air ready to strike down.
“That’s enough Mr Virgil!” Mrs Jenkins arrived with four other men. They all pulled out their mwands and shot him with a foamy water to extinguish his fires. He shot fire at the group, but they blocked it far too well.
“Alex, you have your mwand? Do something!” He shouted at me with exasperation.
I shook my head.
“Aren’t you a mage as well? Fight them off! You useless daughter!” He yelled as he ran panicking into the main house to pick up his mwand.
I stared at him. I don’t want anything more to do with fire. I don’t want anything more to do with flying. I don’t want anything more to do with him!
“We’re from the Department of Magic! Give it up Mr Virgil! You are under arrest for the misuse of mage magics!” The men created a portal with his mwand and appeared beside my father. I felt Mrs Jenkins hug me before I fainted. I heard a binding spell and it was all over.
I woke up to paramedics putting servants into medic helipods. The police was in the courtyard asking questions. They asked Mrs Jenkins whether my mother would be able to pick me up, but she told them that my mother was busy. Too busy to pick her daughter up from a major crime scene? They raised an eyebrow. Mrs Jenkins offered to come back with me to my mothers place but I shook my head.
“I can do this all alone.”
“Are you sure?” She asked me with a worried face. “After all this?”
“100%” I tried to smile but it looked like I had bitten something extremely bitter. “There’s something I have to do.”
I ran over to the servant who had abused me. And whom I had responded with one thousand times the punishment. I was complicit in her pain. She turned her burnt face away from me.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” I can’t remember how many times I said this to her before the paramedics closed the back doors to her helipod and took off.
All this trouble because of me, and I never found out what her name was.