No Apocalypse in the Rose City
by Team Baldwin
Erik Petersen stepped out of the airport and surveyed his surroundings, hands on hips and with a sense of expectation. His red eyebrows nearly met in a frown as those expectations failed to be met. First of all, it had definitely been brighter inside the airport than it was outside, and it was three-thirty on a July afternoon. What sort of climate made such a thing possible?
He threw back his head and studied the sky. It was thick with layers upon layers of clouds, a symphony of grays that blocked out any trace of direct sunlight.
“Beautiful day, is it not?”
This improbable assertion was delivered in an accent almost as thick as the clouds. Erik lowered his gaze to find a black and white car with a red rose and Rose City Taxi on the door had pulled up to where he stood near the curb. He bent down to address the driver through the open passenger window. “You think this is a beautiful day?”
The cabbie flashed a generous smile. “At least is not raining, yes?” Then, before Erik could respond, he asked, “You need a ride, sir?”
Erik nodded. The cabbie smiled even more broadly and exploded from the driver’s seat. “Please, let me help with your bag, sir.”
Erik looked at the dark little man, so scrawny that his entire body was only slightly bigger around than one of Erik’s legs. He smirked. “I can manage, thanks.”
The cabbie bowed and assented, anxious to accommodate, and popped the trunk. Erik lifted the small suitcase with one arm and stowed it before climbing into the backseat. Rolling slightly to the left to remove his wallet from a back pocket, Erik took out a folded card and said, “Do you know where the Hotel Monaco is?”
“Oh yes, sir, yes! Is downtown. Very, very nice place. Expensive. Wealthy people stay there. Important people.” The driver’s eyes met Erik’s in the rear view mirror. “Are you important, sir? Famous, perhaps?”
Erik laughed. “Neither. Just a guy on a business trip.” But as his eyes drifted back to the engraved invitation still in his hand, he no longer felt like laughing.
“This is your first time in Portland.”
The driver–whose name was on display in the cab but looked nearly unpronounceable–said it like a statement; Erik figured he was still learning the nuances of American English. Erik nodded absently and stared out the window, ignoring the passing landscape and fixating on the clouds stretching boundlessly in all directions. As he watched, tiny drops of rain began to dot the grimy window.
“Does the sun ever come out here?” he demanded petulantly.
“Oh, yes, definitely.” The cabbie nodded energetically. “The summers are usually short, but dry and sunny.”
“It’s the middle of July.”
“Yes, summer is late this year.”
“So you’re having a long spring.”
“Actually, we had two weeks of spring in February. This is winter finishing up. But I don’t mind rain. So much better than what I am accustomed to.”
Erik smiled wistfully. “I used to love a good thunderstorm.”
“Oh, that is too bad,” the driver said sadly.
“Why? Don’t you like thunder?”
“No, is too bad for you, sir. In Portland, we don’t get thunder and lightning very often.” The cabbie looked at him in the mirror again. “No thunderstorms in the Rose City.”
“What’s with the Rose City thing?”
“Is nickname for Portland. There are roses growing everywhere. They say the weather is perfect for them.”
Erik merely nodded. He knew nothing about growing roses.
The driver must have sensed this and moved to new conversational ground. “You are here to visit family, perhaps?”
Erik nodded absently again, looking back down at the invitation, then caught himself. “No, I’m here for a meeting.”
They were stopped at a traffic light, and the driver turned and gave him a sly smile. “A meeting at the Monaco? And you insist you are not an important man?”
Erik took a deep breath and said very deliberately, “I’m just a cop from Philadelphia who was invited to a conference.”
The light had turned green. The cabbie returned his eyes to the road. “Policemen in Philadelphia must be paid very well.”
In truth, Erik had balked when he’d gone online to book the hotel room. Cops in Philadelphia didn’t make the kind of money that easily funded hotel stays at several hundred dollars a night.
“It’s a special occasion,” he told the driver.
“I am very happy for you to celebrate your special occasion in the City of Roses, sir!”
Erik rested his head against the seat and closed his eyes. He already hated this city.
* * * * * * * *
The Hotel Monaco offered bold furnishings in vibrant, whimsical colors. Erik knew from the website that it was supposed to be charming. Neither his luxuriously appointed suite nor a long, hot shower that left his skin nearly as red as his hair and beard had helped him to perceive the charm. In lieu of that, he had gone in search of alcohol at the adjoining upscale restaurant, the Red Star Tavern and Roast House.
Sitting at the bar, he’d ordered a boilermaker. In Philly, most places served up the “city special” using Old Crow bourbon and Pabst Blue Ribbon. The bartender apologetically informed him that the closest thing to Old Crow they stocked at the Red Star was Jack Daniel’s, and there wasn’t a PBR to be had anywhere on the premises. Erik growled and asked for the closest possible substitute. Instead, he’d gotten some locally microbrewed on-tap ale of which he had deliberately forgotten the name instantly. It was an unthinkable outrage, a scandalous emasculation of a traditionally manly drink.
It was all he could do to get through the first three.
He was just beginning the hateful task of drinking a fourth when the sigh of silk and a breath of perfume wafted tentatively into his cloud of masculine malaise. He intended to ignore it and probably would have if his peripheral vision hadn’t caught a glimpse of long, golden blond hair. Erik hazarded a sidelong glance. A young woman stood beside him, trying to get the bartender’s attention in the busy bar. She waved, frowned when he didn’t see her, hopped up and down in combination with the wave, and bit her lip in frustration.
Erik rapped his knuckles loudly against the bar. The bartender’s face turned his way instantly.
“The lady needs a drink.”
Smiling uncertainly, the barman nodded, delivered two drinks to a server, and hurried over.
“I’ll take a Lawrenceburg,” the woman told him. As he rushed off to make it, she turned toward Erik. “Thanks. Busy night, I guess.”
Erik nodded. Now that he had her attention, he realized he had no stomach for smalltalk and wasn’t in the mood for company. He looked at a point in the distance straight in front of him. With luck, she would join friends at a table once her drink arrived.
The barman brought her drink, a yellow fruity cocktail. She paid for it, looked at Erik, and laughed. “I take it you don’t approve.”
Erik shrugged. “Each to his own. I like my drinks to taste like alcohol.”
She slid onto the stool next to him, her long hair swinging in front of her face and requiring her to push it over her shoulder with one hand. “I like my alcohol to taste like fruit with a kick.” She sipped the drink. “Mmm. Nectar of the gods.”
Erik snorted in mid-gulp of his beer. “Only very pathetic gods would drink that.”
Raising her eyebrows, the blond crossed her legs. They were shapely and bare. At her right ankle was a small rose tattoo. “I suppose your gods would drink boilermakers.”
Shaking his head, Erik held up a finger to announce forthcoming wisdom. “Mead. That’s the drink of true gods.”
She wrinkled her pretty little nose. “Ew, I had mead once. Hideously sweet stuff, like a dessert wine with delusions of grandeur. I’ve avoided it ever since.”
“You just haven’t had the right mead.”
She leaned in and her voice dropped an octave. “Or maybe I was hanging with the wrong gods.”
Erik couldn’t prevent a small, slow smile. “Could be.”
She gave a quiet, throaty laugh and pulled back into her own space. Taking another sip of her cocktail, she looked at him appraisingly. “So, if mead is the drink of true gods, why are you drinking shots and beer?”
The smile dropped from his face and he turned away from her again. “Because I’m not a god. I’m a man.”
She openly looked him up and down. “I don’t know. You look pretty godlike to me. With shoulders and arms like that, you must lift weights or something.”
After a while, he said, “I used to lift weight. But I gave it up.”
“Aw, that’s too bad. Why’d you give it up? Did you hurt yourself?”
“To stop something terrible from happening,” Erik said. “We all gave it up.”
Rapping his knuckles on the bar abruptly, he barked an order for another boilermaker. Draining the last of the his current beer, Erik looked at the blond. There was the faintest glimmer of light in his eyes that hadn’t been there before.
“I used to be part of something… big. Something powerful. The things I could do… did do…” He was briefly lost in memory.
Looking enthralled, the woman said, “So what happened? Why’d you stop?”
As she spoke, the barman delivered the drinks. Shaken back to the present, Erik’s eyes darkened. “I told you. Something horrible would have happened, so we gave it all up.”
She gaped at him. “You gave up something you loved that much, something that defined you, because maybe something bad might happen?”
Bristling, he said, “Not just ‘bad’–catastrophic. Cataclysmic!”
She laughed at him. “Right, the world would have ended if you’d kept on lifting weights.”
Rage flared up inside him, but he channeled it into downing the shot of Jack Daniel’s and a third of the new beer in one gulp. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Maybe not,” she said, “but I do know a thing or two about trying to be someone you’re not. Some people can pull it off, but most of them end up like you: frustrated, angry, and living as a shadow of himself. I’m sorry for you. I really am.”
Erik’s eyes shown once again as he felt his rage breaking through its restraints. “You think I need your pity?”
She shook her head, leaning toward him and lowering her voice again. “No. I think you need a kick in the ass.”
He slammed his feet to the floor, slapped his card on the bar, and called for the check. He chugged the remainder of the beer as the bartender hurriedly processed the bill. He glanced at the blond and was surprised to find her watching him with obvious excitement. Most women would have been frightened by him right now. The bartender’s hand certainly shook as he handed back the card and receipts.
“You like to live dangerously,” he said to her.
She simply smiled. “I live true to my own nature. You should try it again sometime.”
His rage was stoke anew. He signed the bill “Erik Petersen,” but it was Thor, god of thunder who stormed out of the Red Star.
* * * * * * * *
By the time Thor reached the Fifth Avenue Meeting Room back at the Monaco, most of the pantheon were settling down at their seats. At the front table, his father, Odin, was heartily tearing into the roast. Opposite him, Thor’s brother Heimdall slowly cut off a bite of his steak.
By now, the buffet line had become quite short. The god of thunder strode to it and found himself behind his brother Vidar.
“Hail brother,” Thor said, more out of obligation than a genuine desire for conversation.
Vidar nodded, but said nothing.
“Been a while,” he tried again.
Vidar nodded again, scooping a pint of mashed potatoes onto his plate.
“How’s the, uh, vengeance?”
Vidar appeared to think about it, then shrugged and walked away. The millennia had not changed the god of silence.
“Man of few words,” said the young man behind the buffet table. He had a fresh-scrubbed face and wore a white smock with a subtle logo for Rose City Catering. “Will you have steak, ham, or roast beef, sir?”
The caterer carved off about twenty thick slices, until only a stub of roast remained. “Would you like more? I have another whole roast I can bring out.”
“This’ll do for now,” Thor said, accepting the plate. His blood was rushing through his body like whitewater raging over rocks. His head reeled from the invigorating, intoxicating power generated by the gathering of the pantheon. He’d nearly forgotten how it felt to be among his own kind after spending so many long years living among mortals. He felt his eyes flashing with sparks of lightning and did nothing to subdue them. In the presence of his brethren, there was no need to hide who he was.
Well, except perhaps from the young caterer who was staring at him across the buffet. Dampening his eye-sparks, Thor gestured for a small mountain of mashed potatoes to be added to his plate.
“What is there to drink?” Thor demanded. “I hope it’s not more microbrews.” He pronounced the last word as though referring to goat piss.
“We do have a selection of local and national brands of beer and wine, but,” said the caterer, his youthful eyes gleaming, “Mr. Aesir also had us order several cases of mead.”
“Mead.” Thor repeated it almost like a prayer.
“Yes, sir! Several different brands, all of them made in the Pacific Northwest.” The boy said this as though it were a selling point, but Thor was willing to overlook the mead’s origins as long as it tasted as it should: fit for gods to consume.
“I guess it’s been a long time since the Aesirs have had a family reunion, huh?” the caterer continued, showing Thor the bottles of mead that filled an entire long table at the end of the buffet. “Mr. Aesir sure did go to a lot of trouble and expense for this dinner.”
Thor glanced at the table where Heimdall sat, carefully chewing and lifting his glass of mead. Over the rim of the glass, his eyes met Thor’s, and each of them gave a minute nod of acknowledgment. Turning back to the caterer, Thor said only, “Yes, it’s been a long time.”
“Bet this is just the beginning.”
Thor frowned. “Beginning? Beginning of what?”
“Of the reunion activities. You know, tonight, the formal dinner; tomorrow, a big outdoor picnic, or maybe you all go to a sporting event.”
Thor’s eyes were flashing again. “I hope there is nothing else planned.”
The caterer nodded in knowing sympathy. “I know just what you mean. When my family get together, it always ends up in a fight, everyone spitting venom. Not a pretty sight.”
Thor didn’t know what to say to that, so he merely stared. The caterer smiled brightly and said, “Can I get you anything else, sir?”
Reaching for the mead, Thor said, “This’ll do for now,” and left with his plate in one hand, two bottles of mead in the other, and a third tucked under his massive arm.
* * * * * * * *
The feast went on for hours, until nearly every scrap of food had been consumed and the servers had been sent away. Only then, when the pantheon were truly alone, did they begin to talk openly of why Heimdall had arranged this gathering. Even so, Thor did far more listening than talking, knowing that only the watchman of the gods knew the reason they had reconvened.
Eventually, Heimdall stood and addressed them all.
“As you all know,” he began, his impossibly white skin gleaming in the light, “after the death of my brother Baldur, we agreed to give up our lives as gods in the hope that we might avoid further catastrophe. I have gathered us here because this plan has failed.” He paused before stating, “Ragnarok has begun.”
The room thundered for a long moment with the energy of gods shocked silent. Finally, Odin took to his feet and spoke.
“Certainly not,” said the Father of All. “Where are the signs; the earthquakes, for example?”
“Haiti, Japan, Chile,” Heimdall replied levelly. “Earthquakes would seem to be on the rise lately.”
Not to be thwarted, Odin pressed on. “Well, what about the seas rising up?”
“Japan also suffered a devastating tsunami recently,” Heimdall answered calmly. “Also, I believe the mortals have been noticing a rise in the sea level for some time.”
“Th-th-the poisoning of the sky and land?” Odin sputtered.
“The pollution of man.”
Odin, not used to being so easily refuted, plopped back into his chair, fuming in silence. Freyr spoke up from another table at the back of the room.
“What about the three winters with no summers between?”
“Global climate change is wreaking havoc with the seasons all over the world,” Heimdall explained. “Everything is out of balance. Some parts of the world are seeing longer summers and shorter, milder winters.”
“That doesn’t exactly fit the prophesy,” said Tyr, gesturing with his only hand.
“No, but here in Portland, winter has continued for most of this year,” Heimdall said. “Even in mid-July, the winter rains are still falling. That is why I believe that Portland is the epicenter of Ragnarok.”
This time, the room was abuzz with the voices of gods arguing against the validity of the alarm that had just been sounded. Heimdall, maddeningly patient, simply waited for the chatter to die down before proceeding. Thor believed in seizing bulls by the horns. He got up, took an empty mead bottle by the neck, and beat it against the table like a gavel. In short order, he had the attention of the entire pantheon.
“If your interpretation is correct, Heimdall, and Ragnarok is truly beginning, that means that Loki must be free.”
Heimdall nodded. “When I put all the signs together, I took a trip to Loki’s prison and found that he had broken free.”
“Imagine that,” Odin scoffed. “Who’d have thought that entrails wouldn’t make bonds that could stand the test of time!”
“Hey, I said at the time that we should have used chains,” said Freyr.
“We should have killed him,” Heimdall stated flatly. Loki was the only thing that ever seemed to get a rise out of him.
“That’s what I wanted to do,” Odin groused. “Then we could have done away with this Ragnarok nonsense for good and continued our lives as gods. But noooo, Skadi said it had to be torture!”
“You mean I wasn’t the only one who thought that whole set-up was stupid?” Tyr cried. “We should have stood up to her about it. Leaving him tied up with entrails and having a snake drip venom on his face for eternity? Sure, maybe that’s good for a few hours’ entertainment, but it’s hardly a permanent solution.”
At that, the room erupted into a discordant mass of complaints, recriminations, retorts, and rationalizations. Thor noted bitterly that it was more like a meeting of the United Nations than of gods. Again, he pounded the table with the mead bottle.
“You all disgust me!” he spat. “We are on the brink of Ragnarok, the destruction of the world, and you sit here bleating like frightened sheep. Once, we ruled this earth; together, we made the ultimate sacrifice to keep it safe, giving up our birthright. Somehow, that sacrifice was not sufficient, and Ragnarok is upon us.”
Odin interrupted. “But it wouldn’t be upon us if–”
“Yes, if Skadi hadn’t wanted torture,” Thor said with scorn. His father had really not weathered these thousands of years gracefully. “If Freyr had insisted on chains. If Heimdall had simply killed Loki. If, if, if!”
On the final “if,” Thor hurled the mead bottle to the floor, expecting a dramatic shattering. Instead, it hit with a mighty “clump” sound, bounced, and rolled under one of the other tables. The carpet must have had one hell of a pad under it. He scowled and moved on.
“What’s done is done,” he intoned. “For whatever reason, we find ourselves facing Ragnarok. We can only do that as gods.” Casting a look around the room, Thor turned and strode toward the door, stopping just as he reached it to say, “I’m leaving a room full of bickering, whimpering children. When I return, I hope to find it full of my brother gods, the Aesir.”
Thor opened the door and walked out.
* * * * * * * *
The god of thunder stood like a supplicant trying unsuccessfully to pour a libation. Public restrooms always had this effect on him. He closed his eyes and tried to picture himself facing his favorite pissing rock back in Asgard.
He heard the door slam open and glanced over his shoulder. A disheveled balding man came in, walking in that too-careful manner than announced he was inebriated. Thor shot him an unfriendly look to communicate his desire for privacy. Naturally, the man responded by choosing the urinal right next to his.
Jaw clenched and eyes flashing, Thor concentrated on erasing the man’s presence from his notice.
“How’s it goin’?” the man said after a moment’s silence.
Stonily ignoring him, Thor just kept trying to urinate.
“You here on vacation?” the man asked, too loudly. “I’m here on vacation. Me’n the wife.”
Clenching his jaw, Thor pictured his favorite pissing rock again.
“‘S funny, us takin’ a vacation, since I just got fired. But I got a hell of a sever’nce and had a shitload of miles saved up, so we said, why the hell not? Right?”
Thor pictured himself cracking the man’s skull with the pissing rock. At last, he began to flow.
“Dude, are you peeing or pressure-washing?” The drunken man laughed, donkey-like, then waved a hand in apology. “Sorry, I know this isn’ a social activity. I’m just not quite myself. I get here on my vacation and turns out, my ex-boss is stayin’ here, too. Throwin’ this big reunion thingie. S’posed to be his family, but I think it’s really some kinda secret society or somethin’.”
Suddenly, Thor was more interested in what this man had to say. “What’s your boss’s name?”
“Ex-boss,” the drunk enunciated. “Name’s Aesir; you know, Aesir Communications? Founder, C.E.O., asshole.”
“Why did he fire you?”
“Pfffft!” Thor leaned away to avoid a spittle shower, but the man took no notice. “Said I overstepped my bounds or some such crap. I was his assistant. He had me start assembling the guest list for this shindig months ago. Just tossed me this list of names and said, ‘Find ‘em.’ Well, how can I do that without doing a little research, right?”
Thor shrugged. Relief and curiosity had combined to make him more tolerant of this fool.
“So he tells me to find this guy Vidarsson. I find someone with that name who’s a, whatchacallit? A web developer. But I’m trying to make sure I got the right guy, so I make some inquiries and accidentally dig up some dirt. Turns out, this guy’s got some enemies–business rivals and such–who swear that their companies’ servers were hacked and desss’mated right after they crossed Vidarsson.”
Thor stopped in mid-zip. Vidar was the god of both silence and revenge. If he had been indulging in vengeance, that meant he had broken the pact the gods had all made to abandon their godly practices. “Heimd– I mean, Aesir fired you for that?”
“Well, not just that. I got dirt on some of the others, too. This guy, Wodan–”
Thor recognized the name his father was currently using.
“He’s nobody important. Worked in middle management his whole life. Turns out he’s an absolute tyrant, though. Rules his tiny domain with an iron fist. H.R. always has a stack of grievances with his name on ‘em. Man, you wouldn’t believe the sexual harassment claims against him that have been swept under the rug over the years. Used to coach Little League teams, till the parents and umpires petitioned to have him banned.”
Thor felt his anger deepen. His father had also broken the vow!
“I had all kinds of stuff. I wasn’t gonna use it for anything n’farious, you unnerstand. But Aesir found the info and canned me. Hell, he should have been more worried about the stuff I know about him, not his cronies.”
“Like what?” Thor said sharply.
The man pursed his lips in an exaggerated manner. “Oh, let’ssee… ‘Kay, he thinks I don’t know this, but he doesn’t just run a communications business. He’s got this whole intelligence operation goin’ behind the scenes. Industrial espionage, political blackmail, that sorta thing. But it’s all hush-hush, you know, and–hey, what? Wazzit somethin’ I said? Doncha wanna wash your hands first?”
But all Thor could think of as he burst through the restroom door was that his brethren had betrayed him. He was about to get mythological on their asses.
* * * * * * * *
The Fifth Avenue room trembled as Thor stormed in. He was carrying his suitcase, which he dropped to the floor. Beneath the carpet, the floorboards groaned.
“You’ve already damaged the table with your pounding,” Heimdall said. “I’d appreciate it if you’d refrain from any more vandalism. I’m responsible for any insurance claims.”
“Responsible!” Thor spat. “Ha!” From the suitcase, he pulled a pair of iron gloves and began to put them on.
“Thor, what are you doing?” Odin demanded. “You know we pledged to give all that up.”
“Pledged! It’s easy to make a pledge, father. You know what’s hard?”
Thor reached into the bag again and extracted a large, short-handled hammer. “Keeping it.”
“Good to see that your flare for the dramatic has remained intact,” Heimdall said dryly.
“So has my honor, which is more than I can say for any of you!”
Tyr sighed impatiently. “What are you talking about, Thor?”
Lightning sparks shot from Thor’s eyes, strong enough that he could actually see them himself. “All these millennia, I’ve kept my vow to live as a mortal. So many times, I was tempted to break it as obstacles small and great frustrated me. But no, I refrained, because I knew that the fate of the world rested on our pact.”
“We’ve all lived with that frustratrion, Thor,” Odin said. “No need to act like it was your burden alone.”
“I thought it wasn’t!” Thor said. “The only thing that made the situation bearable was the knowledge that we were all suffering this pain together. But tonight, I find out that we weren’t all suffering together.”
“Well, of course we weren’t together,” Freyr said. “That’s what disbanding is all about, not remaining together.”
“That’s not what I meant!” Thor shouted. “I’ve just learned that, while I have been slaving as a mortal, refraining from using my godly powers, others have been indulging in theirs regularly.”
Odin snorted. “Ridiculous.”
“Is it?” Thor asked. “What about the way you rule your employees like a little tin god? What about your attempts to mate with every female you encounter?”
Once again sputtering, Odin said, “What’s godlike about that? All men do such things!”
“And Vidar! I understand some of your business competitors have suffered massive losses due to computer hackings.”
Vidar merely raised one eyebrow.
“No, don’t try to deny it!” Thor bellowed. “I won’t hear any of your excuses.”
“Stop this merciless hounding,” Heimdall commanded.
“Or what? You’ll turn your legion of spies on me? Let me save you the trouble. My life is an open book. There’s no dirt to be found on me, Heimdall.”
“If you would just calm down–”
“Calm down! Calm down? You’ve robbed me of my essence for all these thousands of years! All this time, I’ve been keeping myself in check, careful not to even come close to letting loose because I didn’t want to be the one who slipped and brought on Ragnarok. If I’d known how weak the rest of you were, I wouldn’t have bothered. I’d have lived it up. What was the point of leaving Asgard if you were all just going to keep being gods in secret?”
As he finished, Thor threw the hammer at Heimdall, who ducked along with everyone else roughly in its path. The hammer struck a sconce on the wall, rendering it a charred ruin in a burst of lightning, and returned to Thor’s waiting hand.
“Wow, you are out of practice,” Odin said.
The door to the hallway opened and the young caterer stepped into the room. “Mr. Aesir, can I get you anything else? The dessert course? Some more mead?” Taking in the smoldering sconce, he added, “A fire extinguisher?”
“Nothing, thank you,” Heimdall said dismissively. When the caterer failed to leave, Heimdall said pointedly, “You may go.”
“I’d really rather stay. This looks to be getting interesting.”
The gods looked to each other in confusion. No one had expected any of this.
But Thor was looking at the caterer and remembering their earlier conversation. Suddenly, his memory played back a list of fragments of things he’d heard since his arrival in Portland.
When my family get together, it always ends up in a fight, everyone spitting venom…
But I don’t mind rain. So much better than what I am accustomed to…
I do know a thing or two about trying to be someone you’re not. Some people can pull it off…
“I think you should stay,” Thor said to the caterer. “I’m sure we have a lot to talk about… Loki.”
With a mischievous laugh, Loki began to change. Gone was the young besmocked man, replaced by that of a grinning half-giant, the true form of the trickster god. He scampered to the buffet table, grabbed a bottle of mead, and sat down in Thor’s vacant seat. Placing his feet squarely on the table, he took a swig. Heimdall lunged forward, but was caught by Freyr and Tyr.
“Begone, murderer!” the Watchman growled, struggling against the three hands holding him back. “You are an enemy to the Aesir. You are not welcome here.”
“Oh, this again?” Loki whined. “I thought we settled this at Aegir’s.”
“He may stay,” Odin said grudgingly. “The rules of hospitality require it.”
“There, you go, Heimdall,” Loki said brightly. “Our daddy says you have to play nice with me.”
“That has never been definitively established,” Odin barked.
Breathing deeply and deliberately, Heimdall slowly calmed himself and was released by the other two gods. “What do you want?”
“Oh, you know, the usual,” Loki said, leaning the chair back on two legs. “Heard you were having a reunion and I was dying to catch up with you all, so I came. Of course, I wouldn’t have had to crash it if you’d simply sent me an invitation. I know you had my address. Well, up until recently, of course.”
“How long have you been free?” Thor demanded.
Loki shrugged. “Less than a century, longer than a breadbasket. What does it matter? The point is, the band’s getting back together, and I for one am tickled pink about it.”
Freyr grumbled, “I never could understand half of what he said.”
“Listen,” Loki said. “I know we’ve had our differences. I concocted an elaborate plot resulting in the the death of your brother, you tied me to boulders and left a snake to drip burning venom on my face for centuries. Water under the bridge.”
“Water under the bridge…” Thor repeated angrily under his breath. Heimdall was strangely silent.
“We all die in Ragnarok,” Loki went on. “Well, except for Vidar here.”
Vidar cocked his head and shrugged with one shoulder.
Loki went on. “None of us wants to die, am I right? So why don’t we build on that?”
“There’s nothing you can say that interests us,” Thor erupted, raising the hammer. “You’ve already done your part to trigger Ragnarok. I suggest that you leave before–”
“Thor,” Heimdall said, holding up a hand to stop him. Puzzled, Thor lowered the hammer. Heimdall turned back to Loki. “Go on.”
“I’ve had a lot of time to think about this,” Loki said, “and I’m not convinced that all of this end-of-the-world stuff is inevitable.”
“Of course it is,” Odin said. “It has been foretold.”
“Okay, yeah, but you guys didn’t think it was completely inevitable, or you wouldn’t have entered into that silly pact. Cute as hell, by the way, but still silly.”
“It would have worked,” Thor insisted, “if everyone had stayed true.”
“They did stay true–true to their own natures,” Loki told him. “But even that’s not my point. I think that Ragnarok was always going to happen, no matter what you did or didn’t do, or I did or didn’t do. The natural disasters, the climate changing–I think it’s possible that part of the prophesy is meant for mortals. It’s largely due to their abuse of the planet, after all.”
“You have a point,” Heimdall said thoughtfully.
“He doesn’t have a point!” Thor protested. “He’s the trickster! His only point is treachery.”
“A guy can change, you know,” Loki said. “I mean, on the inside, too.”
Heimdall said, “So what are you proposing?”
“Nothing,” Loki said.
“See?” Thor said.
Looking pointedly at Thor, Loki said, “I’m proposing we do nothing. I don’t go round up the giants and the dead and my various monster children, and you don’t declare war on me.”
“And the final battle…?” Heimdall prompted.
“But the earthquakes!” Tyr said.
“And the seas,” added Freyr.
“And the endless winters,” Tyr finished.
“What’s all that to us?” Loki said. “Sucks to be mortal, I guess, but we’re gods. If they destroy their own habitat, we can remake the world to our liking.”
“But… no battle?” Thor was outraged. “How can we have Ragnarok with no battle?”
“I believe,” Heimdall said, “that’s the point.”
Thor was momentarily struck mute as the entire pantheon slowly smiled.
“Everybody lives?” Odin said, blinking.
“Well, everybody but the mortals, presumably,” Loki clarified. “But hey–more world for us.”
Tyr said giddily, “It’s brilliant!”
“How did you ever think of it?” Odin said, clapping Loki on the shoulder.
“It’s amazing what millennia of venomous Chinese water torture does for one’s clarity of thought,” Loki answered with a smirk.
“So this is over, right?” Odin said. “We can go back to being ourselves. We don’t have to go back to our crappy human lives?”
Heimdall shrugged. “I’d say we can do as we please. If we choose to keep aspects of our mortal lives intact, I see nothing wrong with that.”
Loki sprang from his chair. “Then I guess we’re adjourned! Last one back in Asgard is a nine-mothered bastard.” Looking at Heimdall, he quickly said, “I’m kidding. Kidding!”
As the gods began to ready themselves to leave, Thor shouted, “Wait a minute! Wait just one damn minute! I’ve spent the last few thousand years denying myself the use of my godly powers like some kind of ridiculous Christian monk. Now you tell me I’m not even going to get my final glorious battle?”
Loki patted him on the shoulder. “There, there. I know that getting to live forever is small comfort, but we all have our burdens to bear.”
The entire pantheon laughed uproariously. Even Vidar snickered audibly.
Thor stood motionless as the rest of the gods filed out of the Fifth Avenue room, talking amiably amongst themselves.
“I really hate this city,” he muttered, tucking the hammer back into the suitcase.
© 2011 Andy Baldwin and Leanne D. Baldwin