JUST AN AVERAGE MEETING WITH EMINENCE AND THE WINDS OF CHANGE WHERE NO ONE GETS YEETED, AND IF YOU BELIEVE THIS, I HAVE A BRIDGE TO SELL YOU IN BROOKLYN
We see five individuals seated around a large conference table. Seated at the head of the table is not a tribal chief, but a Crownless King. Coral Avalon sits in full regalia, including his ridiculous animal-skinned fur cape. Underneath it, he’s dressed rather casually in a T-shirt.
On the left side are the Winds of Change. Joe is in his usual bedazzled suit and topknot, while Sid is in full wrestling gear despite not actually being in action tonight. Look, Sid doesn’t only own one outfit, he just considers it a work uniform! If anything, Joe’s the weird one! The Winds’ side also has a little green flag, and their side has a buzzer for some reason, which I’m sure won’t in any way get abused.
On the right side are Eminence. In addition to being the longest-reigning Tag Team champions in PRIME history, their newly-rechristened name also confuses the shit out of Shawn Warstein. Allegedly. Neither are dressed to compete, and if Justine Calvin looks irritated then rest assured there’s a very good reason for that. It probably has a lot to do with the fact that her partner has been giggling about catching the Russian Bear with a “deez nuts” joke earlier in the week.
If Jared Sykes appears uncomfortable, there’s a good reason for that as well. It’s the conference room. He can’t remember what happened the last time he was in a space like this backstage, only that Paxton Ray had landed a heavy shot with the limb of a mannequin and then the world went dark. The minutes beyond were a blur of blood and pain and shadow.
Coral Avalon: Alright, so… I don’t want to call this a contract signing, because we don’t have any contracts here. But apparently, you all need to discuss some terms for the last tag title defense we’re ever going to have in PRIME, and I’m the right person to mediate this because I know all of you.
Coral Avalon: What is it, Joe?
Joe Fontaine: Point of order. This won’t be the last tag title defense we’ll ever have in PRIME. Lindsay Troy is bound to answer one of my thirty-six and a half text messages I sent her last night.
Coral already looks like he has a headache, and this meeting just started.
Coral Avalon: Oh, god. Did you really do that?
Joe Fontaine: Sure did! She, uh… didn’t answer any of them.
Coral Avalon: I can’t imagine why.
Justine raises her hand briefly.
Justine Calvin: Genuine question. How do you send half a text message? Like was it a picture that got corrupted, or did you only remember to type half the words? I don’t get how this works.
She sets her hand back in her lap, remembering that this isn’t school, despite the insane number of man-children she’s surrounded by.
Justine Calvin: Also Troy is in the building. You could just go talk to her about this if you really wanted to.
Her partner swivels back and forth in his chair, eyes never straying too far from the door. Many men have their careers ended in rooms like this, their lives irrevocably altered by a legion of suits parading pie charts and talk of corporate synergy. Others are beaten half to death by lunatics.
Such is the world of professional wrestling.
Jared Sykes: Also do you have an extra buzzer? I’ve got one of those airhorn apps on my phone, but…
Justine Calvin: No.
Jared Sykes: I’m just saying it’s there if we…
Justine Calvin: No.
The Dragonslayer shrugs.
Jared Sykes: Worth a shot, I guess.
All eyes turn to Sid Phillips, his hand on the buzzer. He stares. He doesn’t say a word. After a long, awkward pause, Joe’s the one who pushes Sid’s hand off of the buzzer. Sid tries to put his hand back on the buzzer, but Joe plays excellent defense in trying to keep him from doing that.
After some time of this…
…Joe himself pushes the damn thing.
Joe Fontaine: Point of order! Half of a text message is when you start writing a text message and then someone takes your phone away before you can actually hit send.
He says this while staring daggers at Sid.
Joe Fontaine: Also, we only had the one buzzer, and we invoked the ancient and illustrious and illustriously ancient tradition of “first dibs”.
Coral Avalon: Stop pushing the buzzer. I don’t want to have to take it away.
Joe and Sid both turn towards Coral. There’s a long pause as Coral stares back at them. Then, at the same time…
Coral wordlessly gets up from his seat, snatches the buzzer away, and then slides it over to the Eminence side of the table. Jared extends an arm to try and catch it, but it’s intercepted by his partner. The Winds exchange glances with each other.
Joe Fontaine: Not cool, Avy.
Sid Phillips: Very, very, super very not cool.
Joe Fontaine: The least cool.
If Coral cares about being the least cool person in the room, he doesn’t seem to care.
Coral Avalon: Okay, so let’s get back on track with no further interruptions…
Justine turns the buzzer over in her hand, looking for a hatch or compartment on the back that might lead to a battery compartment. Really, it’s the sanest thing she could do, given the circumstances.
Justine Calvin: Well, now that we have that out of the way, what exactly are we negotiating? The terms seem pretty simple. We have the titles. You guys want the titles. And whoever walks out of Culture Shock gets to have the honor of being the last champions of the ReVival era.
Her eyes settle on Joe for a moment. Then she sighs.
Justine Calvin: Assuming that one of your many full or half text messages isn’t answered, or that you just walk to the boss’ office and have a conversation with her. Like an adult.
Jared Sykes: Hey, if you’re not using it, can I have the…
Justine Calvin: No.
Now it’s Jared’s turn to sigh.
Justine Calvin: So? What is there to discuss?
Joe turns to Sid, “whispering”.
Joe Fontaine: Psst. Justine’s kinda dumb, ain’t she?
Sid Phillips: Psst. She can probably hear you.
Coral, at the center of the table, shakes his head. His palm is on his face. He is not yet to the point where he wants to scream into it, but he’s getting there.
Coral Avalon: Stop saying “psst” before you talk at normal volume. That’s not how whispering works.
Joe Fontaine: We’re just having an aside for our audience! You’re an actor, you should know about these things!
Coral takes matters into his own hands and turns to Justine.
Coral Avalon: Look, Justine. Jared. These two dimwits want to add a stipulation to the match. That’s it. That’s the whole reason we’re here.
Joe Fontaine: Yeah, we’re thinking about something cool like an Exploding Fireball Cage Deathmatch of Death. Oh, oh… or an Arizona Firewater Deathmatch. My dad did a couple of those, and he definitely exploded once or twice! So that’s pretty cool. I mean, probably not for him, but he’s walking around alright!
Sid Phillips: He needs a cane.
Joe Fontaine: He’s sorta walking around alright!
For a moment Justine just stares. If the expression on her face could be accurately translated into English, it would say, “Why couldn’t he have exploded before you were conceived?” With the buzzer still held tight in her fingers, she glances over her shoulder.
Justine Calvin: So Joe’s pretty fucking stupid, huh?
She does not stage whisper.
Jared Sykes: Okay, I’m pretty sure they heard that.
Justine Calvin: That was the idea, yeah.
Once again, her attention turns to the team across the table.
Justine Calvin: Does anyone have any normal ideas to offer?
Girl is seriously about to regret asking that question.
Jared Sykes: My first year in the business I wrestled “Bad News” Allen Sarven in a bouncy castle submission match. Believe it or not it’s a lot harder than you might think. I know you’re probably thinking, “of course it’s hard, there are no ropes to cause a break,” but that’s not what makes it tricky. It’s all the air moving around beneath you. Makes it super hard to…
A pair of vibrant green eyes has turned their attention back to him. The person attached says nothing, they just stare.
Jared Sykes: Because footing… and… ummm…
Justine blinks, but only once.
Jared Sykes: Lemme guess. “No.”
And then she nods.
Don’t worry, though. Joe Fontaine’s got you covered!
Joe Fontaine: Oh! I know! Normal ideas, right? Let’s bring back the Pyramid of Peril! Everybody loves the Pyramid of Peril! We just need to go find whatever warehouse stores that big dumb pyramid full of murder and death traps and find a way to get it into an arena, and…
Everyone just stares at him, including Sid.
Joe Fontaine: No dice?
Sid Phillips: Not even a one-sided one.
Joe Fontaine: Okay, we could do the Hanging Garden match. We just need to break physics a little so we can hang an entire wrestling ring over the top of another wrestling ring. I mean, it’s only a theoretical match but you’re in the business of theoretical powerbombs and that’s like an adjacent science, right?
Sid Phillips: No. Fuck that.
Joe Fontaine: Oh! Oh, I know! We could bring back the Dual Halo, and…
Coral Avalon: They sold it for scrap, and Tony Gamble called dibs.
Joe Fontaine: Well, then I’m out of ideas. For now. Hey, my dad’s been in a lot of crazy gimmick matches, so I think that if we all just sat down and watched some of them, we could come up with some good ideas, and…
Sid Phillips: No.
Joe Fontaine: Street Fighter tournament?
Sid Phillips: No.
Coral stands up and walks over to Justine, taking the buzzer from her.
That gets everyone’s attention.
Coral Avalon: I’m just stopping you before you propose Gimmick Hell II.
Joe Fontaine: Wait, that was going to be my next idea! How did you know?
Coral stares at Joe hard enough that it makes him shut up for a bit, which is pretty impressive. Coral once again takes his seat at the center of the table and glances at Justine and Jared.
Coral Avalon: Neither of you are going to kill each other in a dumb gimmick match if I’m the one mediating this meeting.
He pauses and then looks at Justine in particular.
Coral Avalon: No, Justine, you don’t get to hard murder anyone, I’m sorry.
Justine Calvin: For the record, murder doesn’t usually come with permission. I’m just saying.
Jared Sykes: I mean euthanasia is a thing.
Justine Calvin: Usually. Anyway, the boys want a stip, and all we’ve come up with so far is extreme nonsense. Is there an actual suggestion coming from anyone here, or are we just going to try to out-stupid each other?
Jared Sykes: Well…
The comment causes Justine to turn her chair towards her partner again.
Jared Sykes: We can always go car-crash style while still keeping things within reason. Maybe hang the belts up over the ring and bring some ladders into…
Justine’s eyes go wide at the suggestion. Heights are not her favorite. It’s one thing to climb the ropes and send herself flying, because at least that’s largely in her control. But the thought of being unprotected on a wobbly ladder is enough to make her skin crawl.
Jared Sykes: Umm…
It’s a fact that her partner knows, but seems to have forgotten, as the dawning realization of what he’d just suggested creeps across his face.
Justine Calvin: Hey, Coral, you okay if I commit a hard murder right now?
Coral Avalon: You know, I’m gonna say no. I don’t really want to know what the dry cleaning bill would be like if I had to get all of the Jared out of my clothes.
At this, Jared snorts. He is for sure thinking about bodily fluids, but rest assured that none of them are blood.
Sid Phillips: I’m sorry, the what?
Coral Avalon: Sorry, bad turn of phrase. Anyway, perhaps I can offer a suggestion.
All eyes look towards Coral. The Crownless King suddenly appears mildly self-conscious that he’s got more than a few eyes on him. Actually, some additional eyes. A few of the Jimmy Bonafide Dancers appear out of nowhere from off-camera, now watching this whole scene. Maybe they heard the words “hard murder” and thought this would involve guns. Sorry, GUNZ.
Coral Avalon: Alright, uh…
Coral turns to the Bonafides.
Coral Avalon: Where did you guys even come from?
Misty raised a gun to answer… or she would have, but thanks to Ginny van Lear, all guns are checked at the entrance now. She’s very sad about the whole thing. Look at her face. That’s the tear-soaked look of someone denied their very reason for existing. After a moment, she silently drifts off-screen, as though standing on a cart and being pulled along by string.
Coral Avalon: Okay, that was weird. Definitely random. Hm. No wonder people complain about all of the weird stuff that goes on around here. Anyway…
Coral clears his throat.
Coral Avalon: So, you guys want to prove who’s the best, but I don’t think either of you actually want to murder each other. You just want to do the normal kind of murder, with suplexes and stuff.
Sid Phillips: What’s a suplex?
Coral Avalon: Sid, the adult in the room is talking.
Justine Calvin: The adult?
Coral Avalon: My suggestion is to do two-out-of-three falls. To win, you have to win twice. It’s not as grueling as an iron man match, but in many ways, it can be worse. You don’t know how long it will go. You can lose twice without ever winning once. Making a mistake is much more costly here than in an iron man. But… you all want to settle things. Joe, Sid, you want to prove you’re not second-best. Jared, Justine, you want to leave no doubt who the greatest team in PRIME history is. That’s what I’m suggesting. What do you say?
Justine cheek twitches ever so slightly at the insinuation. In her mind there is no doubt. After all, the record books all bear out the truth. No one in the history of PRIME has done what this team has been able to accomplish. She wants to shout that, to scream it. A voice from behind her intercepts that thought before she can vocalize it.
Jared Sykes: In all fairness, but there really shouldn’t be any doubt. I know this isn’t usually my thing, but the scoreboard doesn’t lie. That said, I don’t have a problem with it, but there’s three other voices that need to be heard here.
One of those voices is staring at him wide-eyed right now, unable to process that the king of self-deprecation just flaunted their record. It’s not uncommon for Justine to question the things that fall out of her partner’s head, far from it. But usually it’s because of how batshit nuts they are.
Jared Sykes: You get a say here the same as I do, Cal. What’s on your mind?
Punching Joe. Wondering what my career looks like after Culture Shock. Curious about whether Galadriel gets to keep her name, or if the kids across the table will call it something else. Oh, and trying to figure out what the fuck just happened in your brain to trigger a little bravado!
Justine Calvin: Uhhh. Sure.
Jared Sykes: Okay, it’s not an enthusiastic yes, but I think it counts.
Coral turns to Joe and Sid. His students. The two of them are whispering to one another. For real this time, not the “talk with your outdoor voices” thing they were doing earlier. Coral feels the need to interrupt their discussion.
Coral Avalon: Joe? Sid?
Joe looks up.
Joe Fontaine: Oh. Sorry. We were just talking about what we were going to name the belts after we win them.
Sid Phillips: Powerbomb Jr. will be mine. I will teach it to do title belt powerbombs to other, lesser title belts. You might think that this would be difficult because inanimate objects shouldn’t be able to do powerbombs, but we’ve been in PRIME long enough to know otherwise.
Joe Fontaine: So, that’s a “yes”.
Sid Phillips: Maybe Professor Vincent van Powerbomb…
Joe Fontaine: We’re saying “yes”.
Sid Phillips: Master Bombaster, First of His Name?
Joe Fontaine: You can stop now, big buddy.
Sid Phillips: But I came up with like a hundred. Some of them might appear on my roster page later once I have a conversation with the dude what manages it.
Jared Sykes: Troy says that guy’s kind of an ass.
He’s paraphrasing, but still. Accurate. Hi.
From somewhere nearby is the faint sound of violence, like a body being thrown into something heavy. But when you’ve been working in the industry for a while, this sort of thing becomes background noise.
What’s not common is the sound that comes out of Jared’s phone.
BUMP-BUM DA-DUM BWWAAAAAAAaaaaaaa…
Justine Calvin: Is that…?
Jared Sykes: The Price is Right horn? Yeah. No one will let me have a buzzer, but it felt like we’d hit one of those “point of order” moments and wanted to participate.
The other noises – the normal, wrestling-related sounds that is – begin to grow closer. Jared stands and adjusts his shirt. It’s a trick he picked up from a childhood of watching Star Trek: The Next Generation in syndication. In some circles, the shirt tug is known as The Picard Maneuver. Not to be confused with the “I go to warp speed JK now I blow your ship up” maneuver of the same name.
From outside the room comes the crashing of production equipment.
Justine Calvin: The hell is happening out there?
Jared Sykes: I’m about to find out.
And being the only one standing, he does. Pulling the door to the room open, Jared steps out into the corridor and comes face to nipples with the towering frame of the Russian Bear himself.
Joe Fontaine: Oh, shit! It’s a pair of nipples attached to Ivan Stanislav!
For Sykes, this is a confrontation he’s been avoiding for most of the night, ever since having a little fun at Ivan’s expense on the company’s Jabber platform earlier in the week. Using a language barrier to successfully land a “bofa” joke came with the cost of more than a few threats levied Jared’s way, and now fate has decided the bill has come due.
Ivan Stanislav: Well… well… well.
Ivan’s words are laced with malice, and the smug satisfaction of knowing his desire to exact a little revenge is about to be sated.
Jared Sykes: Well… (under his breath) shit.
One massive hand grabs Sykes by the belt, the other by the collar. And with the ease of a parent lifting a toddler, the Dragonslayer is pulled off of his feet and thrown straight up into the air where his body punches through the drop ceiling.
Ivan Stanislav: How about these nuts?!
The rest of the conference room rises to their feet in time to see another figure enter the fray. Stanislav is checked from behind by the charging form of Hayes Hanlon, staggering the mammoth Russian. A collection of Enemigo and production staff are next to arrive, trying to separate the two men while being all too aware of the danger this brawl presents.
Outside the conference room, pieces of plaster drift to the ground. The next thing to fall is a single sneaker. Before Justine can get through the door, the ceiling erupts, giving violent birth to a very sore, very dusty Jared Sykes.
Sid Phillips: Sloppy technique. That ceiling should have its powerbomb license revoked.
Both Joe and Coral turn to Sid, gawking.
Sid Phillips: What? I’m just making a casual observation. All I really saw was a pair of nipples trying to start a moon landing.
The last thing we see before going elsewhere is Justine pushing her way into the hall to check on her partner, making sure to collect his missing shoe along the way.