Justin Greystone in Skies of Death (5_14)

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Aperanian Talk Show

by Anna M.C.

HOST: [Still looks a lot like a medieval Jerry Springer, only one who is obviously recovering from a particularly vicious medieval battle. Think slings and bandages and an impressive network of fresh, livid scars. His plaster leg cast is clearly autographed with "Love and kisses, the Witch Bethel," topped off with a lipstick mark in a compromising location.] "Thank you, thank you, everyone, for taking time out from propping up the bar at Dunfirm to tune into this week's show. Now, I know that after what happened last time, I swore that we would never, *ever* again have a member of any of Aperans' royal families as a guest on the show. [AUDIENCE boos with disapproval.] Well, except for that "I Married King Tronin!" episode, but that hardly counts. First of all, they're not royalty anymore, and I mean, if we discounted all of Tronin's former brides as potential guests, who'd be left?" [He laughs nervously, and waits for the AUDIENCE to respond likewise.]

OBLIGATORY ROWDY WOMAN IN THE AUDIENCE: "Shut up and bring on the princes, honey!" [Obligatory rowdy AUDIENCE cheer follows.]

HOST: [Glaring] "Yes. Well. It appears that my statement to the *Aperanian Herald* with reference to our new royalty-free policy may have been a trifle . . . hasty. Since then, we've received an astonishing quantity of cards and letters -- a disproportionate number of which appear to be scrawled in crayon, rather rife with misspellings, and bearing "The Camarand Royal Asylum for the Insane" as their return address -- demanding that we reconsider. [A weak cheer rises from a select segment of the AUDIENCE, all of whom are swathed in dressing gowns, barefoot, bereft of anything sharper than a spork, and looking as though they've seen the inside of a bottle of thorazine on more than one occasion.] And, since said asylum also accounts for a disproportionate amount of our viewer demographics, well, who am I to deny the unwashed masses what they want?" [The HOST smiles the bitter smile of a man who majored in communications in direct defiance of his father's advice to major in accounting.] "And it appears that what you want is reassurance: reassurance that just because you have a title, a crown, and an ancestral pedigree finer than Princess Ariel's dog Woje, it doesn't necessarily guarantee you wouldn't end up being a total loser anyway. So, by popular request, we have today's topic for you -- "A Royal Pain: Useless Siblings of Royalty!" [AUDIENCE cheers raucously. A large and distinctly feminine contingent of the AUDIENCE begins chanting "Jus-tin! Jus-tin!" while a group of businessmen bearing name tags reading "Aperanian Cheese Marketing Guild" all start shouting "Geoff-rey! Geoff-rey!" and pumping their fists in the air. The HOST winces visibly.] Without further ado, may I present our special guests. If they'd been dwarves, their parents would've named them "Stupid" and "Sleazy" -- It's Prince Geoffrey Blackpool and Prince Justin Greystone!"

[The AUDIENCE goes wild, cheering and stomping loudly enough to crack the plaster. After an uncomfortably long wait, nothing happens, and the cheers slowly fade into an anarchic rumble of discontent.]

HOST: [Clearly readying himself to flee, the crutches notwithstanding.] Heh. Um, I said, 'Without further ado,' your royal highnesses!" [Still no response. Now smiling the frozen smile of a man who knows he is an easy target for AUDIENCE members who *eat* their rotten fruits and vegetables and reserve other, less savory objects for hurling at the stage, the HOST begins limping toward the wings.] "All right, you useless [expletive deleted], where the [really nasty expletive deleted] are you?"

[With a change of camera angle, we see the stage curtain lurching and writhing with the hapless thrashings of GEOFFREY BLACKPOOL, who has managed to become both lost and entangled in the fabric. Quite nearby, an oblivious JUSTIN GREYSTONE is putting the moves on the simpering, scantily-clad female HOSTESS who is supposed to be leading him onstage.]

JUSTIN: ". . . . and so then the bartender says, 'A talkin' dog? I don't believe--'" [JUSTIN breaks off his joke, mildly annoyed, at the HOST's approach.] "Look, d'you mind? I'm kinda busy here."

HOST: "Mind? Why should I mind? Just because I've got a SHOW TO DO? Get out on that [very, *very* nasty series of expletives deleted] stage RIGHT NOW or you can just give us back your appearance fee -- but of course you already gave it to your bookie, didn't you?"

JUSTIN: [Contriving to appear unjustly wounded] Well, now, just calm down, there's no need to make such a fuss. Keep it up and you'll be takin' those little pink blood pressure pills just like Erik. They give ya a heck of a nice buzz, though. Or so I hear. [Winking at the hostess] Just wait right here, darlin'. I'll be back with the punch line, and a nice bottle of Ripple Blanc, before you can say 'my husband's outta town.'"

[As he ambles out onto the stage, JUSTIN casually yanks at the curtain in passing, freeing GEOFFREY. His hair wildly mussed and a hunted look in his eyes, GEOFFREY looks frantically around for a few seconds. Thoroughly embarrassed, he draws his sword and hacks the offending curtain to ribbons on principle, then re-sheaths his sword and trots after JUSTIN. Panting and cursing, the HOST follows. The AUDIENCE greets the appearance of both GEOFFREY and JUSTIN with renewed cheering. GEOFFREY puffs out his chest with pride. JUSTIN grins appreciatively as a few paper airplanes with female phone numbers folded inside strafe the stage by his feet, piling up into a sort of deviant origami. He picks up a mug from the coffee table, raises it in a toast to the AUDIENCE, sips, and makes a revolted face.]

JUSTIN: "Water? You gotta be kiddin' me."

HOST: [Snidely] "Sorry, fresh out of Ripple Blanc. Please, have a seat. Now, before we begin, can I just confirm one more time that you've both signed waivers renouncing your right to sue the show?" [Both GEOFFREY and JUSTIN nod.] "Excellent. On to our first question. Both of you have very famous, very powerful, very overachieving brothers. Do either of you ever find yourselves getting sick of being the 'wind beneath their wings,' so to speak, and dream of snatching a bit of your own spotlight?"

GEOFFREY: [With a smug, pompous expression] "Ah, well, that's a very popular misconception -- that I'm not as vital to Karteia as Dirk is. Couldn't be further from the truth. Dirk may be the strategist, but I'm the muscle. The leader of his troops, the hand that wields the sword!" [Warming up to the topic, he grows in intensity.] "He couldn't do without me. Not for a second."

HOST: "I see. Is that why Dirk used you as a firecon stooge?"

GEOFFREY: [Visibly deflated] "Well . . . ah. . . . that's, that's another misconception, really. You see, I was . . . um . . . in on the plan, and . . ."

HOST: [Patting GEOFFREY's hand reassuringly, and addressing him in soothing tones.] "Of course you were. Don't doubt you for a minute. Justin? You ever dream of stealing some of Erik's thunder?"

JUSTIN: [Reflectively] "Well, once in a blue moon, I admit I do get a sort of hankerin'. Wonderin' what it's like to be a big hero like Erik, you know. So what I do is, I just take a deep whiff out of a jug of peroxide and bang my head against a wall 'till my ears bleed, and then it goes away."

HOST: "Okaaaaay. Well, time for some questions from our audience. You there, the lady in the sunglasses."

WOMAN IN AUDIENCE WHO LOOKS SUSPICIOUSLY LIKE KIRI, "DISGUISED" IN ENORMOUS SUNGLASSES AND A SILLY SCARF: "Prince Blackpool, do you like cheese souffle? Homemade. Mmmmm. Piping hot and oh-so-yummy." [She waves the uncovered casserole dish around enticingly to aid the spread of the wafting aroma.]

GEOFFREY: [Eyes glazing over with lust] "Oh, gods . . ." [He half-rises out of his seat, only to be restrained by the HOST.]

HOST: "Put that thing away!" [SECURITY GUARDS bustle into the audience, disarming the temptress.] "Next question, next question. You, there, the other lady in the sunglasses."


JUSTIN: [Shrugging] "Anything to please a lady, that's my motto." [He starts to unbutton his shirt as theme from "The Stripper" starts up backstage.]

HOST: "No! Stop that! Stop it! The censors hate this show already!" ["The Stripper" fades into silence, and Justin, shrugging once more, rebuttons his shirt. The HOST takes refuge in a deep, long-suffering exhalation.] "Fine. *I'll* ask the questions from here on out. Geoffrey, Justin, both of you have acquired quite . . . *embarrassing* reputations. Exactly how justified do you think those reputations are?"

GEOFFREY: "Embarrassing in what way?"

HOST: [Gritting his teeth] "People think you're stupid as a brick, Geoffrey."

GEOFFREY: [Taking umbrage] "Don't call me stupid!"

HOST: [Who has apparently seen *A Fish Called Wanda* recently.] "My mistake. Calling you stupid would be an insult to stupid people."

MAN IN AUDIENCE WHO LOOKS SUSPICIOUSLY LIKE GALEN, "DISGUISED" IN A GROUCHO-MARX-STYLE SET OF FAKE GLASSES AND A MUSTACHIOED RUBBER NOSE: "I object to that accusation! A careful analysis of the evidence, with particular attention to Geoffrey's military achievements, clearly indicates that Geoffrey is actually engaged in an elaborate, dare I say *brilliant* ruse, to throw Dirk off his guard by merely *pretending* to be stupid!"

[After a moment of stunned silence, the AUDIENCE dissolves into hysterical laughter. Some of them are literally rolling in the aisles.]

HOST: [Wiping tears of mirth from his eyes] "Yeah, yeah, and Tronin was a monk. Tell us another one. Seriously, Geoffrey --"

GALEN LOOK-ALIKE: "No! I shall not be silenced! Geoffrey! Tell them! Tell them about our secret plan! Tell them --" [SECURITY GUARDS converge upon the struggling GALEN, dragging him away through the AUDIENCE, as GEOFFREY smiles nervously and the INSANE ASYLUM INMATES exchange looks of condescending pity.] "Belldonna is Bethel! Traquill is Woje! Coulter *lives*! The truth is out there! It's a conspir--" [His final word is muffled by the no-nonsense hand of a SECURITY GUARD being clapped over his mouth.]

HOST: "There's always one in every audience. Justin? Would you say your reputation as a reprobate is merited?"

JUSTIN: [Grinning smoothly enough to grease a rusted axle] "I'd say my reputation doesn't begin to do me justice."

[Women in AUDIENCE whistle appreciatively and make a sexy "Wooooo!" sound.]

HOST: [Who is getting rather fed up with Justin's cockiness.] Which brings me to my next point. Geoffrey, Justin, it's been brought to my attention that both of you have been caught in rather . . . compromising positions with the respective fiancées of your respective brothers' enemies . . ." [The HOST pauses, noting GEOFFREY's lips moving as he tries to sort out the tortured syntax of that sentence.] "Oh, hell. Just show the slides." [Two slides appear projected on the rear stage wall, one of GEOFFREY being kicked in the face by ARIEL, the other of JUSTIN and BETHEL in flagrante delicto. While GEOFFREY buries his head in his hands, JUSTIN, obviously proud, surveys his picture from various appreciative angles.] "Well? Anything to say for yourselves?"

GEOFFREY: "She was just playing hard to get."

JUSTIN: "Can I get a copy of that in an 8 X 10 glossy?"

HOST: [Thoroughly disgusted] "Well, your answers to this next question should be interesting, for various reasons. What would you identify as the single proudest moment in your life?"

GEOFFREY: [Floating on happy pink clouds of fond nostalgia] "There was that one time I defeated Marko in single combat, man against man, swords clashing, muscles straining, sweat flying --" [Voice that sounds suspiciously like KIRI's whimpers appreciatively from the audience.] " -- manly strength pitted savagely against manly strength, the best man winning, fair and square." [Indulges in a macho sniff.] "Yeah, that was a good day."

HOST: "You ambushed him and ended up dumping heavy barrels on him when it looked like you were losing."

GEOFFREY: "Did not!"

HOST: "Did too. Justin, what about you?"

JUSTIN: [Rubbing his chin reflectively] "Well, there was the Tri-Kingdom Drinking competition . . . but I'd say that moment up there ranks pretty high." [He ogles the slide with renewed interest.] "She sure is flexible, ain't she? Oh, and then there was the first annual Reprobate of the Year pageant over at Grogan. Came in first for the 500-Meter Dash From Responsibility. Made a thousand kolnas, finally able to buy a decent horse. Lot better than the 500 kolnas you cheap [expletive deleted] are payin' me to be on your lousy show."

GEOFFREY: [In a murderous tone] "They're paying you 500 kolnas!? They only paid me 50! And I had to haggle for it!"

HOST: [Backing away from the flush-faced GEOFFREY in terror.] "Now, wait just a minute, Geoffrey, let's not be hasty. I'm sure it was just a matter of typos in the number of zeros. Remember, you promised not to sue --"

GEOFFREY: [Drawing his sword] "I never promised not to feed you your own spleen."

HOST: [Fending off Geoffrey with a crutch] "Get the casserole! Somebody distract him with the casserole!"

[As the credits roll on the donnybrook-in-progress, the camera captures GEOFFREY hacking the HOST's crutch to splinters in a parody of an Errol-Flynn-style swordfight, as KIRI, hands clasped in a classic Olivia De Havilland pose, watches adoringly. Meanwhile, JUSTIN, attempting to sneak offstage, finds CJ waiting, arms crossed and foot tapping, next to the prone body of the bound and gagged female HOSTESS. As he turns and runs screaming, she pursues with a businesslike efficiency. Then the camera pulls back to reveal the AUDIENCE fighting merrily, just for the heck of it. Only one lone figure stands aloof from the fray at the rear of the building, looking at the fracas with the air of one whose suspicions have at long last been vindicated.

GALEN: "It's a conspiracy!"



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