“Eva Blue-Eyes is a cunt,” Cali said to her entourage. “Chad’s like, ‘She’s had a hard life.’ I’m like, ‘Bitch, I’ve had a hard life and I’m the nicest fucking person ever.’”
“She just wants what you have,” said Clarice.
“Look, look at this,” said Cali, showing them her Tag. “50k more likes than me on this status, and I’m only, like, a few hundred thousand disciples behind her. Like, the fuck?”
“Oh, my God,” said Clarice. “That is, like, bullshit.”
“She acts like she’s this little peppy virgin bitch,” said Cali. “She has her head so far up her ass she doesn’t see how much she sucks.”
Cali took a moment to slurp her martini.
“What’s mine is mine,” she said. “I don’t care, one fucking Coronation isn’t going to stop that. Even if I was the favorite to get to Diamond next, before she swooped in and stole it from me on such a fucking bullshit technicality. I mean, what’s so special about her? Nothing!”
“It is a tragic turn of events, my princess,” said Clarice, delicately cutting in. “But the rhythm provides. You could easily make a comeback if you would only make adjustments to your performances.”
“I am not going back to that,” said Cali. “Begging for attention. I did that. I paid my dues. I earned the right to let them come to me.”
“As you wish, my princess,” said Clarice, though the look on her face said the conversation was not yet over.
“There’s two kinds of people,” said Cali. “People who are successful and loud about it and people who are successful and quiet about it. I’m the second kind. And on top of that, I just wanna say…”
She held a finger in the air.
The Councillors, her hideous friend and Jay the Croc Mod all listened intently, but Cali just sat there for a second, the sentence hanging unfinished.
“…well, I guess I just said it,” she said.
She slurped her martini.
Chadsworth cleared his throat and spoke again.
“My princess, perhaps attendance would return to its previous levels if you would at least make yourself the center of attention instead of relying on spectacles. These animals have been fighting for hours now, with no change. Do you really expect that to draw an audience?”
Cali turned on the throne and looked at Chadsworth like he’d just told her to clean her room.
“Jesus Christ, you’re driving me fucking insane,” she snarled.
“It’s just that, the drop in attendance has directly correlated with your unwillingness to engage with your audience…”
“The drop in audience correlated with that cunt Eva Blue-Eyes fucking me over. I am not giving into her. I am not changing my game. She can learn the hard way.”
The Councillors exchanged glances.
“My princess, it’s just that, if you don’t improve your ranking in the next season, you may be demoted to Golden and lose us as Councillors,” said Chadsworth.
“Lot of difference that would make,” growled Cali.
Finally, Cali’s Mod Jay spoke. His voice was a deep rumble, like an idling diesel engine. His teeth were crooked and white and deadly sharp, and his eyes were a luminous lime green with slits down the middle. His dark green skin was rough, almost rocky on the top of his head and the back of his neck. He wore the standard black tux for Mods. A gold hoop dangled through one of his pointed, stunted ears.
“My princess,” he said. “If I may — Eva Blue-Eyes is expecting your anger. That was the entire purpose of her maneuvers at the last Equinox and Solstice. She is only doing this because you are one of the only viable threats to her status. She is baiting you, and you are falling for it. And frankly, it has worked. It has worked perfectly.”
Cali looked at Jay with that same scorching expression, but she didn’t speak and seemed to be considering his words. Nor did she admonish him for using Eva’s name.
Jay kept talking, his scaly hands folded in front of him.
“But it is never too late, my princess. Your Councillors are doing their job — counseling you. If you refuse to listen to them, that is your business. But it is my business to protect not only you, but your status, and in that spirit I have to say — you should listen to your Councillors. They were appointed to you for a reason. They are not trying to set you wrong, they are not trying to lead you to failure.”
“If I stand up and get on that field again, I’ll be admitting that she won,” said Cali.
“She has won,” said Jay. “You have allowed it, by playing into her hands. This empty Theatrium, filled only with Suitors you have trapped here, is the proof. But there is hope — she has won only the latest battles, and not the war. It is true, you have paid your dues many times over. You have raised yourself up in the rankings. You have done it once. Now you must do it again. Remind the Auburn Palace and all its citizens why you were once the favorite to be the next Diamond Anodyne.”
Padd saw the thinnest trace of a girlish smile on Cali’s lips. It made her look playful and much more attractive. Both her Councillors were nodding vigorously.
“It is possible it will only take a few performances to fill the Theatrium again, and then you can do as you please. You must not allow for the breakdown of your senses. That is the paranoia that Eva has sown in you. You are better than any mind games she may play.”
The corners of Cali’s lips trembled as she tried to keep her pissy expression.
“You are a goddess,” said Jay.
Cali broke into a radiant smile. She pointed at Jay.
“Jay, I swear to God, you never talk enough,” she said.
She sucked down her entire drink and stood from her throne. She stretched, the sun winking off her jewels.
“You’re right,” she said. “You’re totally fucking right.”
She exhaled and threw up her hands.
“You want a song?” she said. “Fine. I’ll give these nothings a free song.”
She slammed her empty glass on the table next to her and walked to the back of the box where she addressed the meager crowd.
“All right, guys, I’m gonna set a timer,” she announced.” So you might wanna, you know, get it in gear. Just cause you’re forced to be here doesn’t mean you have to stay so quiet.”
She smiled up at them, sweet as can be. None of the Suitors made eye contact with her.
“You all said you loved me, now it’s time to show it,” she said. “Send some tips. Big or small, I take ’em all!”
“I think some of these fuckers forgot who the fuck I am,” growled Cali as she turned around.
She walked to the edge of the platform. She stepped right off and gracefully sailed down to the center of the field, where the three animals still tore at each other.
The lion and the tiger were little more than gory, meat-covered skeletons with raggedy strips of flesh and fur hanging off them.
Cali landed neatly right in front of them.
She pulled up her Tag and tapped on it.
A song started. Heavy synth; a swaggering, syncopated riff.
The three animals stopped fighting each other and noticed Cali.
She twisted off her throat jewel, naked and vulnerable in the bright sunlight. Her body was a toned miracle, her hair spun gold.
The two zombie predators forgot about each other and charged her.
“First, I’m gonna need some worthy opponents,” said Cali.
She stood tall and pointed a finger at them. A perfect line of lightning emitted from her fingertip and vaporized them.
The music blasted from everywhere.
Cali blew on her finger like a gun.
She sang. Or rather, she rapped.
First thing’s first I’m the realest
Drop this and let the whole world feel it
“Fancy by Iggy Azalea, may her voice live on,” said everyone.
The trap doors in the arena floor opened.
Out came black lifeforms, so fast they were undetectable at first. They were spiny, skeletal, night-black against the golden dust of the Coliseum floor. They had long, bullet shaped heads with silver fangs.
And I’m still in the murder business
Cali stood, buck naked with a landing strip of blonde pubic hair on her crotch, slowly grinding to the beat while the aliens circled her like wolves.
I can hold you down like I’m giving lessons in physics
She moved just as fast as they did, a golden flash to their black.
You should want a bad bitch like this
She snapped one’s spine with an elbow as it darted in at her, going for her belly.
Drop it low and pick it up just like this
She grabbed one by the chin, its silver fangs snapping with drool flying everywhere, and squeezed, crushing its face. Its blood ate through the dust on the floor and the wooden supports beneath, but it did not harm Cali.
Cup of Ace, Cup of goose, Cup of Criss
High heels, somethin’ worth half a ticket on my wrist
The beat doubled. Cali grabbed another attacking Xenomorph by the throat. While it furiously writhed in her grip, she electrocuted it. She dropped it, motionless and smoking.
Takin all the liquor straight, never chase that
Rooftop like we bringin’ 88 back
She punched a Xenomorph in the face and her fist went right through it like a hammer through drywall. She wore the Xenomorph’s long, bullet-shaped skull like a shield.
Bring the hooks in, where the bass at?
Champagne spillin you should taste that
Lady Jaden’s lips were pursed, her eyes wide, sweat beading her brow. She clasped her hands in her lap tightly, her legs crossed with one foot bobbing in the air.
More Xenomorphs came out of the floor, bounding at Cali with their fangs bared and their claws out.
Cali sang and butchered them.
I’m so fancy, you already know
I’m in the fast lane from LA to Tokyo
I’m so fancy can’t you taste this gold
Remember my name to blow
The song went by fast.
When the final beat dropped out and Cali tossed the last severed Xenomorph head to the dust, no tips had exploded over her. No seats had been filled. The Theatrium looked just as it had before she started.
Cali was silent as she rose up from the arena floor back to the box. She held a finger to her throat, put her corset back on.
The arena floor sizzled with Xenomorph blood, littered with carcasses, limbs and torsos.
Cali sat down in her golden throne, eerily calm.
“Connor, baby, come here,” she said, clapping her hands and making smooching noises.
Connor the joey got up from where he’d been lounging in the sun and hopped over. He jumped into her lap and she stroked him thoughtfully. No one said anything.
Then Cali grabbed the joey by the throat and snapped his neck.
She tossed the limp corpse to the floor where it dissolved.
“Not again,” Clarice muttered.
“I am so pissed right now,” Cali said matter-of-factly, tapping her fingers on the armrest of the throne.
Cali’s entourage kept their mouths shut. The Councillors looked grim. Jay looked nonchalant. Whiskey looked vaguely worried but was more interested in eating a haunch of suckling pig. Ham fat and grease dribbled on her chin, mixing with the pear juice and leftover margarita.
Finally, Jay spoke.
“An incredible performance, worthy of Henry Warren Majors himself, my princess — “
“Thank you, Jay.”
“ — but as I said before, it will take more than one performance to gain back what you’ve lost.”
“I know that, Jay,” said Cali, testiness creeping into her voice. “I just wish that some of the people who are actually here would do a little more to appreciate it.”
She turned her head, looking up behind them at the Suitors.
“How many freeloaders is this?” she asked.
“They are only here because you’ve entranced them, my princess,” said Clarice.
“There are 43 Suitors in attendance currently, my princess,” said Chadsworth. “All of them owe you a debt of attention of some sort. You called them in all at once, you remember — “
“Stop talking, Chad,” said Cali.
She stood up and walked to the back of the box and addressed the silent Suitors.
“Do you fuckers like it here?”
None of them responded, staring straight ahead.
“You wanna go home? You want me to let you go?”
Still no answer.
Without another word, Cali conjured an automatic rifle and sprayed the Suitors with it. She was an expert marksman — heads exploded in fountains of brain and blood one by one, their faces and heads seeming to blossom outward as the metal detonated their soft tissues, and soon the entire audience was dead and respawned.
Not one tried to get away — they just squeezed their eyes shut and waited to be sent elsewhere. Most even looked relieved.
Cali palmed the gun away, bringing her hands together. It disappeared like a magic trick.
“Eva Blue-Eyes is a cunt,” she said, slouching in her throne. “Eva Blue-Eyes is the fucking reason this happened. I’m glad I fucked Sir Donovan last week.”
The Theatrium was left completely empty, and her still-amplified voice echoed up the unfilled rows of seats.
“My princess, if you’d only kept your word — “ started Clarice but Cali held up a hand and Clarice stopped talking.
“Shh,” Cali said. “I think I just heard someone come in.”