The Dictator’s Daughter by Tony Quick

Ursula stands at the window and her fingers brush the twisted knot of barely healed flesh at her throat. She watches the protestors outside the Presidential mansion. Men and women, even children, clamor behind a spray painted yellow line. Two golems stand on the opposite side, each twelve feet high, clockwork arms forward, ready to fire should anyone cross the line.

“Sweetie, stay away from the windows.”

Ursula reluctantly obeys. Her mother, Uma, has been all nerves  since the rebels claimed her hometown. Ursula glances at the ceiling. Her pet golem, a radiant gold-plated raven, flaps its mechanical wings above before coming to perch on Ursula’s shoulder, talons so precise in their pressure she barely feels their grip. Her father enters in military dress with his advisor, Doctor Anderson, behind him.

“Golems are in place at every major chokepoint. We’re prepared for the next assault.”

Ursula tries to summon a memory of her father’s grin but fails to recall any expression except the hard grimace he’s worn these past several months. His gaze meets hers for a second before it settles on the scar running across her trachea where her handmaiden, Susanna, held the butcher knife as the guards surrounded them, rifles drawn but otherwise paralyzed. Ursula remembers the sharp blade, cold against her skin, and the golem that lurched forward. Ursula recalls the golem’s unblinking laser-red iris and the single shot no soldier would risk. Susanna collapsed but took Ursula’s larynx with her.

In the aftermath, her father awarded Doctor Anderson the Presidential Medal of Valor and a government contract to mass produce his prototype golems. The ceremony was televised during an international press conference. “Hansel Anderson stands as a sterling definition of patriotism in treacherous times. The assassination attempt may have left my daughter mute but she lives because of this man’s ingenuity. Our nation is in his debt.”

Ursula reclaims her spot at the window when her mother falls asleep. It is hard not to recall the not-so-long-ago when these same protestors cheered their family motorcade. Hard to forget the soft blue of her inauguration dress and her father’s champagne-laced kiss on her nose. Her fingers once again find the jagged line of flesh at her neck and the memory is gone. She sees the sphere’s arc outside the window—a stone—and the glass shatters.

The stone knocks the clockwork raven clean off her shoulder. Her father rushes towards her, closes his fist over Ursula’s wrist and pulls her into his crouched embrace. Her broken bird lies on the floor, a mess of cogs and wires. Blue fluid pools around its fragmented form. Her father screams, roars of smoke and mortar as he orders Anderson to mobilize the golems, to wipe out the swine. Ursula hears the heavy tread of the mechanical monsters’ march, the burst of gunfire and shrieks. Ursula wants to stop him, to plead for their people, but her voice is beyond reach, a snared animal, trapped inside her.

Tony Quick is an east coast fiction writer and poet. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English from St. Mary’s College of Maryland and served as fiction editor for Iowa State’s literary magazine, Flyway: Journal of Writing and Environment in 2013. His poem “Midwestern Monsoon” is upcoming in Prairie Gold: An Anthology of the American Heartland.

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