Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Take Back the World

This is a long one and I'm not too sure how the footnotes worked out, but I hope you enjoy.

             Tristan Loke put his thin, manicured fingers together and smiled. “Now, what can I do for you, Mr. Reese?”
            A. Reese, a heavyset biker in leathers and shades, cracked his knuckles menacingly. He looked extremely out of place in the nondescript office belonging to his financial representative. “You can tell me where the hell my money is!” he snarled.
            “Ah.” Loke nodded reassuringly. “The fact is, it’s on its way to your account as we speak. There was some difficulty with the bank, as your previous assets were frozen because of a computer gaffe. The modem crashed and some financial records had to be reassessed, so that took quite a while to complete. And then there was the matter of the periphrastic in the checking account…”
            Reese’s expression was blank. Loke sighed.
            “To put it in your terms,” he explained, “a computer went no-worky and our bookkeeper mismana—fouled up, but it’s all sorted now.”
            “It better be,” snarled Reese. He was back in his element now. “Cause if it isn’t, then I’m gonna take you to the cleaner’s, pretty-boy.”
            Loke pressed his fingertips against his eyes. “Threatening your financial agent is not an effective or efficient method of operation, Mr. Reese.”
            “Yeah, well, am I gonna get my money or not? I made a hell of a lot on that last stunt gig and I wanna blow it all in one place.” His eyes glazed over. “I got my eye on a nice little Harley. She’s a beauty. You should see her! Five cylinder engine, red chrome, shiniest gal you ever laid eyes on. Beautiful. She’s got a high-tech speedometer and shiny exhaust pipes and—”
            “I get the picture,” Loke said, rolling his eyes. “Now, is there anything else you wanted help with?”
            “Yeah, there is.” Reese dug a handful of rumpled papers out from the pocket of his motorcycle jacket. “I need ya to look over these before I sign ‘em. It’s my contract for More Rapider and Enrageder 8. I’m playin’ the main dude with the wicked shades an the jacket an the cool bike.”
            Loke took the papers and flattened them. “You know,” he said, exasperated, “you shouldn’t carry important legal documents crumpled in your pockets. It makes for inaccuracy and unreliability later. Also, I’m not actually a legal consultant. I just handle your money.”
            “So handle the money in the contract an tell me if it’s legit!” yelled Reese, snapping from content to irate with alarming speed. Loke could almost hear the gears crunching.
            He raised an eyebrow without looking away from the papers. “You remind me of one of my nephews.” (He neglected to mention that that particular nephew was in jail.)
            Reese, unsure of whether he was being complimented or not (he wasn’t), crossed his arms and looked menacing. It was something he did rather well. “Look, wise guy, you handle the papers and I handle the awesomeness, okay?”
            “Norns help us all,” murmured Loke, shaking his head. He passed the battered papers back across the desk. “Your contract looks fine. Your money should be in your account by tomorrow. Anything else?
            Reese thought about it for a good long minute before shaking his head. “Nope, that’s it.”
            “Excellent. Val will show you out. Val!”
            A blond woman poked her head around the door. Her name was actually Maggie, but Loke tended to call all of his blond, female employees Val. It was a private joke.
            “Show Mr. Reese to the lobby, would you, Val?”
            “Yes, sir. Oh, and there’s a woman to see you. A new client, I think.”
            “Excellent. Send her up at once.” He rose and shook hands with Reese. “Great dealing with you, Al. I hope to see you again soon.”
            “Ya know,” said A. Reese, crushing Loke’s hand in his own, “you Northerners ain’t too bad. I always liked you guys. Thanks fer all yer help.” He left the office and immediately started hitting on Maggie-Val.
            The funny thing was that Tristan Loke looked just as out of place in his own office as A. Reese did, but in a completely different way. Where Reese was heavyset and powerful, Loke was slim and delicate, with a pointed chin, nose and ears. His chin-length red hair caught whatever light was available and glimmered with hints of gold and crimson, and his golden-green eyes sometimes unnerved his clients when he narrowed them in a certain way.
            Loke took out his iPad and tapped the screen, pulling up A. Reese’s financial account. He transferred just enough money to keep Reese happy to the bank account before diverting the substantial remainder into his own account in the Cayman Islands.
            Then he leaned back, studied the device, and wondered if he should drop Reese from his clientele.
            Sure, Reese was easy to rip off, and he provided Loke with lots of money—he’d bought Loke a rather nice villa on a small Caribbean island without knowing it. But where was the fun in swindling an idiot like Reese? The moron was so disorganized in his financial affairs that without his bank manager he wouldn’t have noticed anything wrong until he was evicted from his eight-million-dollar mansion. It was, simply put, much too easy. And it wasn’t like Loke desperately needed the money—he enjoyed having it, but he also enjoyed having to work to get it.
            He pulled up a list of his appointments and smiled. One o’clock: Minerva Thena. Now there was someone Loke could be proud of ripping off. Her keen intelligence and perspicacity made it very hard to trick her, but so far Loke was managing it. A delightful challenge.
            The office door opened and Loke hastily cleared the iPad screen, slipping the device back into his briefcase. He looked up with a smile.
            “Good day. Now what can I…”
            His smile flickered.
            The woman before him had appeared on many billboards and would appear on many more. She was shapely, voluptuous, with pouting lips and blue mascara-lined eyes; she was wearing the latest fashion in the form of a little black dress, but it was her hair that truly attracted attention. It fell in golden waves to her waist, thick and long and shining. Every strand had an ethereal luminescence. It glowed from within. It was what made her such a successful model, that incandescent quality that no amount of conditioner could achieve.
            Loke frowned, offended. “Sif, you cut your hair. It used to be to the floor!”
            Sif tossed her hair over her shoulder. “Hello to you too, Loki. Times change. Was that Ares I saw leaving your office?”
            “Indeed it was. He’s one of my most valued customers. But I made you that hair!”[1]
            “You didn’t make it. You just had it made, and that was only because you cut the original off.”            
            “Still. Cost me an arm and a leg, that hair. Cost me a mouth, too.”
            Sif rolled her eyes. “No, the mouth was because you lost a bet.”
            “Still. It was because of the hair.” Loki crossed to the door, opened it, and stuck his head through. “Val, don’t let anyone in. I am not to be disturbed.”
            He closed the door and motioned for Sif to sit down. She took the chair in front of the desk and pulled a compact mirror out of her glittery purse.
            “So,” said Loki, sitting opposite her, “how’s your husband?”
            Ex-husband, as of nearly twenty years ago.” Sif reached for her lipstick. “As I’m sure you very well know, Loki.”
            “Ah yes, Thor always was rather troublesome, wasn’t he? When does he get out of prison?”
            “I have no idea. Hopefully not for a while.” Sif rolled her eyes. “He never did adapt well to the times.”
            “Of course he didn’t. He’s been depressed since Odin’s Jotun[2] Treaty of 1815. Speaking of which, have you heard from Odin?”
            “Oh, you know him. Still up in Asgard liaising between the Pantheons, silent as ever, enigmatic as hell. Oh yes, how’s your daughter doing?”
            “Hel’s doing great[3],” said Loki, leaning back. “Got engaged a few months ago. It’ll be an…interesting wedding.”
            “Really?” Sif crossed her legs. “Who’s the lucky groom?”
            “One of those Grecian-Roman fellows, Hades. They met through their work.”
            “Oh my. That will be an interesting wedding. Isn’t Hades divorced?”
            “Eh, Persephone was never right for him. They split up the moment divorce became an institution. How are your kids doing?”
            “Ugh, don’t ask.” Sif began to reapply her still potent lipstick. “Thrud just graduated from the police academy, Ull’s still off being a mountain guide, Modi’s still in court-ordered anger-management therapy and Magni’s a stormchaser.[4] You know, flying into hurricanes and such.”
            “Really? Good for him! Hey, I heard Forseti[5] made it onto the Supreme Court.”
            “Well, we always knew he’d go far, despite his father’s untimely death.” Sif fixed Loki with a look which clearly communicated that eight hundred years had in no way been enough time to forgive him for killing Forseti’s father. Everyone had loved Baldur.[6]
            Loki spread his hands. “Hey, I know what you’re thinking, but I’ve changed. Honest! Do you see anything criminal about this office?”
            “Besides the fact that well over half of your clients’ money goes straight into the Cayman Islands?” Sif glanced at Loki from the corner of her eye.
            “Besides that.” He seemed unperturbed.
            “Well, there’s the appalling coffee.”
            “They just don’t make it right anymore.”
            “And the fact that you’ve been hiding from the Aesir since the First World War.”
            “Ah.” Loki nodded. “How long have you known that I was alive?”
            “About two years. I suspected a decade ago. Things started to look…fishy with some of the Grecian-Romans. Those who had taken up careers in acting didn’t seem as wealthy as they should be. When there’s a hint of trickery about, I always look for you.”
            “How touching.”
            Sif uncrossed her legs and leaned across the desk. “More importantly, how are you alive? I know for a fact that you haven’t touched one of Idunn’s apples[7] for nearly a hundred years.”
            Loki shrugged. “I have my means.”
            “Which are…?”
            “Why should I tell you?”
            “An interesting question.” Sif sat back and re-crossed her legs. “Do you want to hear another interesting question?”
            “What is there to stop me from going to Odin and having you thrown back into Niflheim for treachery, murder, genocide and embezzlement?”
            Loki nodded, and then said, “It’s amazing what a little nectar and ambrosia every now and then will do for a body.”
            Sif’s perfectly plucked eyebrows furrowed. “You aren’t that kind of god, Loki.”
            He shrugged. “You have to build up a tolerance, of course, but given time it’s quite effective.”
            Sif threw her head back and laughed. Her hair swished around her head in a motion that had been patented by an expensive shampoo company. “Oh, Loki, you’re always full of surprises!”
            “Unlike Thor, I know how to adapt.” He shifted in his seat, leaning forward with his chin resting atop his laced fingers. “Now that we’ve caught up on the small talk, Sif, what do you want?”
             “Hmm.” Sif sat back and tapped her lips with her compact mirror. “How to phrase this? I want you to help me take back the world.”
            There was a pause.
            Loki blinked. “I…never saw you as the ‘world-domination’ type, Sif.”
            “Have you seen the movies they made about Thor?”
            “You mean the ones in which he’s a superhero? Of course! They were hilarious.”
            “They were blasphemous!” Sif leapt to her feet and paced the office. “Those idiot mortals got just about every single detail wrong!”
            “Well, yes.” Loki smirked. “Thor isn’t nearly that intelligent in real life.”
            “I mean it! How can you take this so calmly?!” She whirled and pointed at him. “You were in them too! You were a dark-haired megalomaniac who was also Thor’s brother!
            Loki winced at the memory. “That was a bit embarrassing, now that I think of it.”
            “You and Thor are not brothers! You and Odin are brothers!” Sif turned again, her hair swishing perfectly. “The whole reason that the Aesir cannot kill you is that you have Odin’s blood in you veins! You’re more like Thor’s adopted uncle than his brother! [8]
            “To be fair, they got the adopted part right,” Loki pointed out. “And I think Thor and I had more of a brotherly relationship back in the old days. We were closer to each other in…well, not age, but maturity.” He snickered. “Besides, he was so much fun to tease. Remember the time he had to wear that wedding dress?” [9]
            Sif couldn’t help smiling at the memory. “That wasn’t one of your pranks, though.”
            “It was still hilarious.” Loki chuckled at the memory, then grew more serious. “But what was that about taking back the world?”
            “My point about the movies was that our stories have been—perverted,” snapped Sif. “No one remembers us, not the way we’re supposed to be. People worshipped us, Loki. They prayed to us. Do you see anyone doing that now? Don’t you miss it? Don’t you miss being loved?”
            “They loved you,” Loki replied. “And Baldur, and Freya, and maybe a few others. But Odin and Thor and me?” He smiled wickedly. “We were feared, not loved.”
            “So you miss being feared, then!”
            Loki stood up and walked to the window of his office. Sif watched him carefully as he folded his hands behind his back and looked out. The morning light outlined the profile of his slim features and set fire to his red hair.
            Sif smiled. “So you’ll help me?” She walked to him, stood close enough that he could smell her perfume. Her hand crept up to his shoulder and her pale fingers slid under his collar.
            Loki carefully kept himself from shivering.
            “We could rule this world together,” Sif whispered into his ear. “We could make the mortals fear us. You could be a king.
            Loki smiled slowly. “Mm-hmm. And you would be queen, then?”
            “Of course.”
            A car’s horn honked far below.
            He nodded. “Thanks. But I’d rather not.”
            Sif smiled triumphantly. Then Loki’s words sank in fully and she jerked away, glaring at him. “What?!
            Loki turned and walked back to the desk. He picked up a framed photo and looked at it.
            “I’m a trickster, Sif. I let other people make the rules, and then I break them.” He looked up, his golden eyes meeting Sif’s blue ones. “I may have wanted to rule once, but not anymore.”
            Sif stared at him, her hands curled into fists at her sides. “Why not?”
            “Honestly?” He shrugged. “I’d get bored.”
            “What?” She blinked. “But…but you’d have power!”
            “Well, ye-es, but that was more fun in the old days when it was a monarchy.” Loki tossed the photo aside and leaned against the desk. “These days it would be all cabinet meetings and bureaucracy and delegating and never getting a break for tea. I get enough of that here. It’s not worth my time.
            “Besides,” he continued, “do you really think this would get very far? Odin loves humans! Most of the Greek-Romans are pretty fond of them too! I don’t want to get their bad side. I mean, have you seen Ares? He’s three times my size and he has a gigantic sword!”
            “You got on Thor’s bad side plenty of times, and you’re still here!” snapped Sif. “I daresay Mjolnir’s[10] worse than any Greek sword!”
            “Ah, but Thor can’t kill me. I’m Odin’s blood brother,” Loki reminded her. “The Greeks wouldn’t have any problem chopping me into itty-bitty pieces. And they’ve always been of the stabby persuasion.”
             “You’re a trickster,” said Sif. “You could talk your way out of it.”
            “Yeah, maybe…” Loki raised an eyebrow. “Tell me, Sif, do you actually have a plan of how you’re doing this?”
            “What?” Sif hesitated. “Of—of course I do!”
            Loki smirked. “Do tell.”            
            She hesitated again, searching for words. Then she looked away. “My plan,” she snarled, “was to get you to make a plan. You’re the bloody trickster.”
            Loki nodded. “Yeah, that’s what I thought.”
            Sif stared at him. She narrowed her eyes. “These are excuses, Loki. What’s your other reason?”
            He smiled.
            “Mortals fascinate me. I mean, look at them, Sif. Yes, they’re changing the stories, but that just shows how amazing they are. The old ways can’t last forever, so they change the stories, make up new ones about us.
            “My point is that we haven’t been forgotten.”
            “Some of us have.” Sif’s voice dripped resentment.
            “Not true.” Loki shook his head. “Anyone who looks can find us quite easily on the internet. But the way that they’ve changed us—it’s a testament to their ingenuity. Making Thor a superhero, me a supervillain—I think it’s quite amusing. The humans underestimate each other. The screenwriters and the people who make comics, they want to keep us alive, but they’re desperately afraid of rejection. They think their readers won’t be able to understand us. They’re so scared of making unsuccessful art that they just use whatever’s popular and insert us into it—in this case, comic books. You can’t take it personally, Sif—it really says much more about their abysmal attention spans than it does about you or me.”
            The clock on the wall ticked. The sound of screeching tires floated up from the pavement.
            “Just to be clear,” Sif said through gritted teeth, “you are saying that you don’t mind being known as a ranting supervillain.”
            “Well, some of the fan art is truly disturbing,” Loki mused, “but yes, that’s what I’m saying.”
            Sif bent her head in a carefully controlled gesture. “Then I have no more to say to you.”
            “Apparently not.”
            Sif turned, her hair whipping behind her, and walked to the door. She opened it and then paused.
            “You realize, of course, that I cannot conceal your whereabouts from the Council of Pantheons. You’re a wanted criminal, after all.”
            Loki smirked. “Of course.”
            She turned and looked at him. Her beautiful face was ugly with hatred.
            “Look at you,” Loki said quietly. “You didn’t used to be this resentful. I feel sorry for you, Sif. Thor’s not the only one who can’t adapt to the times.”
            The door slammed so hard that the framed forged certificates on the walls shook.
            Loki sighed and ran a hand through his hair. Then he walked to one of the walls and ran his fingers across its surface. He pressed down and a rune glowed under his hand. A doorway appeared, revealing a secret closet.
            Loki had been planning his exit from the Tristan Loke Representation Company since the company’s inception. In the closet were stashed a suitcase full of money, well over a million dollars in various currencies and jewelry, as well as a stringed pouch with three sets of passports and drivers’ licenses. Each set had a different name on them, but all of the photos were of Loki.
            Loki slung the pouch around his neck and tucked it under his shirt. Then he hauled the suitcase out into his office, shut the door to the secret closet, and took a piece of chalk out of his desk drawer. He painstakingly drew a rune onto the suitcase.
            He tapped the rune and it glowed. There was a soft pop and then the suitcase was the size of a Barbie’s purse. Loki picked it up and tucked it into his breast pocket.
            He walked out of the office and strolled through the lobby.
            “Are you going for an early lunch, Mr. Loke?” asked Maggie-Val,[11] glancing up from her desk as he passed.           
            “Yep. Then I’m taking a walk. I won’t be back for a few hours.” A few hours would be plenty of time for him to escape.
            He knew there would a massive imbroglio when his embezzlement was discovered. It didn’t bother him. It wasn’t his mess to clean up. That was the way Loki worked these days: He had his fun and left the nasty bits for someone else to take care of. It was quite an agreeable way to live.
            Loki walked out of his office. He immediately noticed the two stern-looking gentlemen across the street. Sif certainly hadn’t wasted any time alerting the Pantheon Police about his whereabouts. He strolled casually down the street, stepping into the first dark alley he came to.
            Once he was alone, Loki smoothly shifted shape, going from man to rat in less than ten seconds.
            It took skill to keep his clothes within the shift, but Loki had mastered it long ago. When he took on human form, his clothes—and the suitcase in his pocket—would be with him, as well as the new identities.
            A common Rattus norvegicus skittered down the street and slipped into the nearest sewer grate, indistinguishable from any other rat.

[1] Sif is (or was) Thor’s wife. She used to have long, beautiful golden hair, but then Loki cut it off as a prank. Thor got extremely angry and to save his own skin Loki went to some dwarves called the Sons of Ivaldi and had them make hair out of real gold for Sif, as well as some other shiny things to apologize to the gods. Loki then made a rather stupid bet with some other dwarves, saying that the Sons of Ivaldi were the best smiths in the world. This eventually resulted in Loki’s mouth being sewn shut (because he lost the bet), but the upside was that the dwarves made Thor’s hammer to prove Loki wrong.
[2] Jotuns=Frost giants. They had a rocky relationship with the Aesir. (Aesir=Norse gods.)
[3] Loki has three children: the Fenris Wolf, the Midgard Serpent, and Hel. Hel runs the underworld.
[4] Thrud is Sif and Thor’s daughter, and Magni and Modi are Thor’s sons and Sif’s stepsons. Ull is Sif’s son and Thor’s stepson.
[5] Forseti is Baldur’s son. In Asgard, he was the one who judged disputes among the gods.
[6] Baldur was the god of light and a very nice guy. Everyone loved him. Except for Loki, apparently, who was responsible for his death. Long story. “The Death of Baldur” is one of the better-known myths; you can Google it if you like.
[7] Idunn was the caretaker of the Golden Apples of Immortality. These were what kept the gods alive, since Norse gods are not immortal and can be killed (like Baldur was).
[8] Odin and Loki met before Odin lost his eye and became wise (‘nother story). Loki was (and still is) a very weird Jotun (or possibly ½ Jotun—there are different versions) in that he’s not huge and ugly. He and Odin got along well enough that they cut their wrists and let their blood flow together, making them blood brothers. That’s why none of the Aesir can kill Loki—he’s their chief’s brother.
[9] True story. For once, it wasn’t Loki’s fault. The story is usually called The Theft of Thor’s Hammer.
[10] Mjolnir=Thor’s hammer. Pronounced mule-neer.
[11] As in Valkyrie. Valkyries=Norse warrior women who accompany Odin into battle.