Chapter

29

The elevator to jane’s office opens, and she stumbles inside. the last traces of trickster mode are bleeding off her aura. the great gift of this sacred boon has run its course for the evening, and though she is not as grateful as she should be, she nevertheless acknowledges the extraordinary benefit it has afforded her with a slight nod to the mirror. she pulls a hand through her hair, watching in the reflection as the last of the pink coloration fades to black.

she has been campaigning this way for some time now. in fact, it’s been over a week since she was last seen in public without the aura bestowed to her by the divine lollipop juju. there are many benefits to trickster mode, in that it imbues one with an endless supply of enthusiasm and supernatural positivity. additionally, it prevents one from dwelling on any given personal problems, or the greater implications of any political statements one might make.

however, while a great portion of the electorate adores jane’s elevated sense of charisma and presence when she is in trickster mode, as they should, there are just as many detractors who claim that the whole thing is “extremely problematic.” i doubt this is true but must also acknowledge it exceeds the scope of my expertise to comment on the subject.

JANE: Oh my goodness.

JANE: It’s NOT problematic!

jane erupts, alone in the elevator, seemingly talking to herself. she appears to be responding to her own inner monologue, which i, admittedly, am presently conducting. she appears to agree with me on this matter. the juju has truly blessed her with great wisdom.

JANE: I have endured this argument for years, and I honestly cannot see a single thing about it that could be even thinly construed as problematic.

JANE: Furthermore, despite the fact that I emphatically do not find it to be problematic, I have in the past politely refrained from indulging in the profane pleasures of the Trickster Lollipop out of respect for those who do find offense with it.

JANE: However, citizens of the Human Kingdom delight in my Tricksy antics, and what kind of politician would I be if I were to deny my core voting demographic that sort of red meat?

JANE: Or... candy, I suppose.

JANE: To imply that I am superciliously and recklessly stoking potentially dangerous cultural fires is honestly an insult.

JANE: I am guilty of only one crime: energizing my base!

she is saying it better than i could possibly say it myself. it is unusually gratifying to witness a human with such high regard for hallowed cultural artifacts and the unparalleled blessings they bestow upon lesser beings.

JANE: Wait, who am I talking to?

jane rubs her eyes under her glasses and groans. trickster mode is also quite exhausting. what a strange quirk of human biology that excess euphoria must necessarily be followed by crippling despair. she carelessly tosses the lollipop on the floor, lurches toward her desk...

no.

she turns around promptly, her body jolted by the surprise of her sudden reversal. she bends over, cradles the lollipop reverentially, and situates it carefully in a place signifying respect: atop the mantle, after clearing space for it by shoving several brittle, worthless objects to the floor.

only then does she drag herself to her desk, her legs shaking as if she has just run a great distance.

the moment she sits down, her phone begins to ring.

JANE: Yes?

DIRK: Yo, don’t spend too much time in Trickster Mode.

JANE: Is that all you have to say?

DIRK: In general? Not by a long shot.

DIRK: But pertaining to this specific issue, yeah, because you should know better.

DIRK: At this rate you’re going you’ll burn yourself out before we even go to the ballots.

DIRK: Can you just trust me on this, for once? I’m a bit too preoccupied at this exact moment to turn my chair backwards and rap at you about the dangers of dope.

JANE: I know what I’m doing, Dirk.

JANE: Do I need to remind you that all of this was initially my idea?

DIRK: In that case, how about we tap into some of that outrageous political acumen of yours, dial back on the manic pixie dream candidate bullshit, and focus a little more on substantive policy speeches.

JANE: Oh come on, Dirk. Both you and I know that isn’t how politics works.

DIRK: Yeah, you’re right. I can’t believe I actually said that with a straight face.

JANE: You say everything with a straight face.

DIRK: Another fair point.

DIRK: See, Jane? This is why you’re going to clean his fucking clock in the debates.

DIRK: All I’m saying is, there are better ways to go about unscrupulously manipulating the electorate than burning through your entire lifetime’s supply of dopamine.

JANE: Like, perhaps, gaining the ever-vaunted endorsement of one Jake English?

DIRK: Exactly.

JANE: You know, the last time we spoke about this issue I could have sworn you asked me to let you handle Jake.

DIRK: Hmm.

DIRK: I guess I did say that.

JANE: ...

JANE: Dirk, are you doing quite okay?

JANE: It’s very unlike you to forget details like that.

DIRK: I’m fine, Jane.

the prince is not fine. he is not the type who takes well to having his plans upended, or his control of a shared vehicle fully suppressed. my brother wasn’t much that type either.

DIRK: Oh, fuck off. I’m nothing like that guy.

JANE: Huh?

JANE: What guy?

DIRK: Uh.

DIRK: Forget it. I was talking to someone else.

JANE: Who?

JANE: Is someone else there with you?

DIRK: I... no. It’s nobody. Let’s just drop it, ok?

yet, unfortunately for everyone in the corporeal realm, the prince isn’t the type to overlook the need for backup plans either. he devises contingencies for both success and failure. wheels within wheels, as he likes to imagine.

in his workshop, the prince machinates, while the seer both diminishes and ascends. he is being careful to make sure the precise nature of his activity is obscure. he closes his mind to all observation. he scatters many stray parts across his worktable and busies himself with a variety of misleading mechanical tasks to hide the true intent of his schemes from me.

but certain objects and actions strike me as more notable than others. that very long, red rifle on the table, for instance. a weapon that does not belong to him and has not been used in a long time. he has been returning to the rifle between his other menial activities of probable misdirection. he dismantles it, reassembles it, slides off the receiver cover to examine the firing mechanism.

the prince clearly believes he is a very clever boy. my brother did too.

DIRK: (Christ.)

DIRK: So, on the Jake issue,

DIRK: Unfortunately, my influence is a little...

DIRK: “Limited” at the moment.

JANE: What does that mean?

DIRK: A whole lot of bullshit that I don’t have the time or patience to explain right now.

DIRK: All you need to know is that I’m working on a solution. To both my problem and yours.

DIRK: Until then, you should figure out how to get Jake to, at the very least, avoid taking a side.

JANE: Actually, I have been thinking...

JANE: Perhaps this attempt to get Jake on our side is the wrong angle from which to approach this vexing problem.

JANE: Wouldn’t it be much easier to discredit or blackmail him?

JANE: He is much beloved in the Troll Kingdom for his carefully cultivated posterior, true.

JANE: But we both know that his bottom is not the only intimate attribute for which he is famed amongst Trollish citizens.

JANE: It would take almost nothing to expose his many dalliances through the human media.

DIRK: Hoo boy.

JANE: I know! Not to be judgmental, but his zipper is as loose as his pants are tight.

DIRK: That’s not what I meant by hoo boy.

JANE: You don’t think it would work?

DIRK: Oh, it could work.

DIRK: A certain illusion of boyish innocence is an important part of his brand.

DIRK: You contrast that innocence with the gyrating of his sinewy thighs, beaming raw, sweaty sexuality right into the camera on live TV five nights a week...

DIRK: That’s what makes Jake English work as a marketable commodity. The tension between the two, the inherent friction there.

DIRK: He’s gotta look coy as all get-out. Like he has no idea how sexy he is. Like if you actually got him into bed, he’d completely disintegrate into a blushing mess of hesitation and sexless uncertainty.

JANE: Wow.

JANE: I’ve never heard anything more preposterous in my life.

DIRK: Yeah. Well, his fans get off on it.

JANE: So what’s the problem?

DIRK: The part of your plan that involves exposing his promiscuity with trolls in order to hurt his chances with the human vote.

DIRK: And thereby framing interspecies sex as an inherently scandalous thing.

DIRK: I dunno, Jane. That sounds pretty fucking xenophobic.

JANE: Auuugh!

JANE: Not again!

JANE: What ISN’T xenophobic?

DIRK: Well, for one thing, what you just said there?

DIRK: Probably also xenophobic.

JANE: WHAT?

DIRK: Sorry, that’s just how it is.

DIRK: You either gotta roll with the woke shit, or decide to commit laborious, symbolic, melodramatic suicide in the process of utterly giving up.

JANE: ??????????

DIRK: Yes.

DIRK: It is confusing.

DIRK: But that’s why you’re lucky to have me as your top advisor and strategist.

the prince appears to have discarded the pretense of misdirection at his worktable and is focused solely on the red rifle. he clicks the casing back into place. he sets the weapon on his shoulder so he can test the view through the scope. the setting sun bounces off the slick, red metal and slices a bar of light across the wall behind him.

JANE: Sigh.

JANE: Dirk... do you want me to deal with Jake or not? You’ve offered nothing helpful yet, but you’ve shot down all my ideas.

DIRK: That’s because lately, all your ideas have been fucking terrible, Jane.

DIRK: Seriously. You’ve got to quit the tricksterpop. It’s rotting your brain.

said the heathen. the cur. a true philistine. jane’s head swivels sharply to look at the juju on the mantle. she admires it longingly. piously. she will never relinquish her priceless boon, no matter what reprehensible lies the prince whispers into her ear.

JANE: Then what do you want me to DO?

DIRK: Play defense for a while. Like I said, I’ve got some cakes in the oven so to speak.

DIRK: But we can’t set them on the cooling plate just yet, so go make some fondant in the meantime.

jane frowns. the baking metaphor felt like one contrived purely for her benefit, and therefore condescending. and yet she hates how effective it was. she laments her own weakness for being so easily swayed by a well-delivered baking comparison. she lets the prince go, and begins making her own plans.

in his workshop, the prince lines up an imaginary shot. he pulls the trigger, listening to the pieces within slide and click together in a satisfying concert of metallic sounds. impeccably assembled, perfectly greased. the gun is not loaded, but the shot goes off without a hitch.

what do you think you’re up to, prince?

DIRK: Your ass is mine, Jake English.

he speaks under his breath inaudibly, perhaps frustrated, unaccustomed to scheming while others look over his shoulder. it’s possible he is not as bold, or as confident in his own designs as i believed.

DIRK: I fucking said, your ass is mine, Jake English.

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