The Valley of the Kings burns under the heat of the midday sun, so hot and dry Hassan Mubarak nearly has his backside burn and fuse with the seat of his army jeep. The current Egyptian President cannot find much romantic mystery in the desert he governs. The bright light above him seems to disinfect everything to the point of making the land sterile, like it broke through every tomb and burned all the mummies and ancient relics to ash. If the past, with its remains of an old world, are a kind of vampire sucking the life of the living – then the vampire should die? He has the weirdest deja vu right now for some reason.
Hassan sees a merciful large white tend and unsticks himself from the seat with his advisor, Simon Al-Mufti. He sees two familiar woman as he enters the tent, the first garnished in white clothes and large sunglasses, and the second in old blue jeans and a flat cap. Simon scratches his head in visible confusion.
“Why are you dressed like a discount Kim Kardashian?” Hassan addresses the woman in white.
“One: it’s hot. Two: I’m hot.” Maya quips in a facetious manner.
“Fascinating.” Hassan remarks as he takes a seat near the two women. Knowing who they are and having their goals in mind, he can make an educated guess on what they’re after. “I’m assuming you want my help in taking out a high mage, perhaps Anubisius since he rules over the Middle East. I don’t know if I can do it for reasons you should know.”
Maya nods, admitting the fact, and gives her modest proposal. “I’m aware of the messy relationships in the Middle East. It’s like a love dodecahedron. America-sempai loves Israel-chan and Saudi Arabia-chan. The two are frenemies; Israel-kun has a decent friendship with Egypt-kun as of late but Saudia Arabia-kun has soured feelings for Egypt-kun for reasons more tedious than card games. TL;DR Egypt-kun has declined, become dependant on foreign support, and won’t give land Saudia Arabia-kun feels entitled to.”
“You don’t need to explain it to me. If your complexion was lighter than mine I’d accuse you of white-splaining.” Hassan reminds her. “Egypt is so weak already I would rather die than make another humiliating concession.”
“It’s not for you but for the audience. Not everyone knows. And,” Maya adds. “Turn that frown upside down. You can beat Anubisius and level the playing field. – By the way, Kim Kardashian was delicious. Maybe she lives in me to some extent.”
Hassan is incredulous, but a part of him remains hopeful. Subtly reminded that Maya has superhuman powers, he still must test Maya to see if his hope can manifest into something real or if it is merely a cruel trick. “Let me take you and your prodigy on a tour of this ancient land free of charge. I would rather show my argument than tell it.”
He takes his guests beyond the Valley of the Kings, following a large truck heading on its way from Cairo to a nearby village by the Nile, now grown into a refugee camp. It is only one of many along the river bank, each giving asylum to about a thousand people. It is a very different place than what Maya and Sofia remembered from three years earlier: very crowded and dirty, crafted brick houses overshadowed by a large patchwork of makeshift tents, the river cluttered with waste.
The truck stops and the drivers unload crates containing water, toiletries, canned food, used clothes, frozen vegetables, and emergency aid kits, with Hassan directing a team of his army on how to distribute the crates and to whom. The party sees an old woman trying her best to wash her clothes in the Nile. Men on a nearby farm are forced to bury a large pile of human waste in the soil, trying to make the best use by making it fertilizer. Maya, always sensitive to smells, covers her face. Sofia, whose smelling is even more acute, gets watery eyes.
Hassan gestures to the tent city-village. “Our world is like a pyramid now. Anubisius builds new palaces in Saudi Arabia, Momentum giving him all the energy he needs. The surrounding states are not so lucky. I depend on Saudia Arabia to keep my nation’s cities floating while I do what I can to help my unhappy people. How can I muster the strength to help you. Even your strength has limits.”
Sofia tugs at Maya’s sleeve as if her teacher is her mother too. “Promise me that we will see the people in the tent city. We must know the faces of the people we are fighting for. We cannot have a revolution with an abstract mass like ‘the proletariat’.”
Maya nods sagaciously, then says, “You are so much wiser and stronger than me, Sofia. If only you believed it.”
As the women were about to go, Hassan asks Maya, “Why dress as Kim Kardashian in a place like this? You don’t look like a hero of the common man at all. Honestly, you look like a jerk.”
“That’s the point. I am not. Look at me, Hassan.” Maya grabs his shoulders, looking him in the eye. “I am a black magician who sold my soul to the Devil to gain my powers. I can transform into a dragon and do other dark arts. I do all the good I can but only so much can be achieved through evil means. I have so much blood on my hands the Nile would fail to wash it away; it would merely turn my claws from red to green.”
She puts Hassan’s hand on Sofia’s shoulder. “I will help you create a new world but it is not a world where I will be welcome. Having me as a leader would be demeaning to the people of this planet. Worthy people like you two are the ones who must lead the people to make a better world.”
Hassan’s suspicions remain. “Love for ‘the proletariat’ doesn’t drive you. Hatred of the ruling class does. If you truly served the people, you would act differently. A person like you, with your immense power, will always make me wary. Maybe there are things you’re not telling me. Well, Maya?”
“You can squint at me hoping to find a hidden agenda all you want, but you must take me for my word if you want Anubisius’ head on your wall.” Maya says. “I will tell you now that I have no secrets.”
With that finished, the three of them go through the tent city. They watch several children play with a ragged soccer ball nearby. A lone man on a small boat struggles to fish. A husband, wife, girl, and scabby little boy eat small portions of lunch in a tent. The 1 liter water bottle beside them is their only ration for hydration. The family beckons Maya and Sofia to come share in some of the lunch, much to their surprise. The two women refuse to eat, daring not to waste the family’s precious food, until the wife pressures them into taking a bite. Even then, they take only a small nibble.
Husband and wife try to have a conversation with Maya and Sofia – even the little girl joins in – but the two women cannot reply since they don’t know how to speak Masry. That Masry was the maiden name of Maya’s mother; that coincidence does not escape her attention. Hassan, kneeling from outside the tent, explains Maya: “They used to own a shop in Cairo before being forced out here. The daughter once went to a private school and wants nothing more than to go back there. The son has a skin rash because of the poor sanitation.”
Sofia nudged Maya on shoulder. “You don’t know the names of any displaced person but you know the names of the high mages you’re about to kill. Don’t you think that’s funny?”
“A delicious irony in this tragicomedy.” Maya says.
Sofia clarifies it is not what she means by “funny”. Maya replies, “I understand, but you don’t either. This is exactly why I said I was unworthy. I’m not really a fighter for the people. We’re really third party allies who cut off the heads of the monster tormenting them. It is up to them – as it should be – to build fair and just societies. But – and you really must understand this, Sofia – we ultimately serve a different agenda.”
The husband asks Hassan what Maya just said. Hassan, being tactful, simply tells them they are the warriors who defeated one of the high mages. Sofia asks him the names of the family members. Hassan tells her: the husband is Malik, the woman is Turas, the girl is Najima, the boy is Waleed. He orders a soldier to give him a crate. Hassan, Maya, and Sofia take out all the contents and give it to the family, who dearly thanks them for the medicine therein. Turas kisses the three of them and Malik shakes their hands. Najima and Waleed wave goodbye.
The name of the husband gives Maya an idea, so it sets her thinking. The party of three stops at a far less wholesome sigh. A wasted man with a patchy beard injects a drug in his vein with a needle, resting his back against a rock. Maya says, “Not to have a Dora the Explorer moment, Sofia, but do YOU know where the man’s heroin comes from?”
“Plantaciones de amapola en Afganistán. Poppy Plantations in Afghanistan.” Sofia says with no enthusiasm.”
“And do YOU know who owns private plantations in Afghanistan but spends most of his time elsewhere?” Maya prods further.
Sofia does not bother to speak, the answer being so obvious. Hassan speaks for her instead. “If we are going to attack Anubisius, we need more forces. Egypt’s army is not enough.”
And he is right, as Maya admits. They need a cohesive network of fighters. But who? Maya and Sofia part ways with Hassan, setting out to camp near the tent city. Maya creates a fire to warm up some tea while Sofia plays with sticks on the sand, getting promptly hit on the head with a ball from one of the children. Sofia tells the children they should be with their parents, but they do not understand her, so she throws the ball far away at the tents, the children running after it.
“This is a Yugioh fanfic, by the way.” Sofia reminds Maya and the audience. “When are we going to duel? People are getting bored. Political commentary is boring.”
“Be good and I’ll get you a duel. If you’re bad, I’ll publish a socialist manifesto and make everyone read it.” Maya says while looking at the flames as they fly above the campfire into the starry sky.
Sofia closes the tent and goes to sleep, Maya soon following her.