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Autumn Leaves

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It was a year and a half since Björkman's Empire had been taken down by the 2013 Eurovision entrants, and even after all this time, the memory of the Swedish dictator hung over the world, like a black cloud. Things still weren't back to normal, and many were wondering if they ever would be. Many doubted that things would ever be normal again. Sweden's dictatorship had ended, but the British occupation of Sweden was brutal, and Sweden was still under occupation.
The Eurovision Song Contest, the event that had acted as a catalyst in so many of those events, was still ongoing. Tonight, Macedonia were choosing their song for the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest. They were going to be the very first country to choose a song this year. Some were wondering if some countries were going to withdraw from the contest, but Macedonia was not going to be one of them. Macedonia didn't typically get good results at the contest, but they wouldn't give up so easily. They would always come back each and every year to participate. They would always turn up every time with another song, no matter what results they got from Europe, they weren't quitters.
Macedonia was one of the lucky countries that had come out of the Björkman's Empire incident virtually unscathed. By staying out of most of the issues, they had ensured that the Swedish dictatorship had no real reason to touch them. Sure, Sweden and Macedonia had come very close to war with the Imperija incident, but it was quickly forgotten and Macedonia practically ignored the Swedish dictatorship after it was all over. And now, with Sweden's dictator gone, and the UK out of the world stage, possibly permanently, Macedonia was also one of the few nuclear powers left. Macedonia was in a real position to become a world power. But they didn't take it. They didn't want to take it. They had seen what had become of the other so-called 'world powers' and they didn't want to join them. Iceland, the UK, those countries had been ruined. Macedonia didn't want to end up like them. They were just fine as they are.
---
The lights around the stage lit up as the audience went and found their seats. Skopje Fest 2014 would be starting soon. They were choosing their song for 2015 in 2014, but that just meant they had a lot of time to get the performance and the song just right.
In the green room, the Skopje Fest entrants were waiting for the show to begin. Previous Eurovision entrants Vlatko Ilievski and Tamara Todevska were entering in the contest. Tamara would be singing by herself, but Vlatko's song was a duet with his friend Risto Samardžiev. They all hoped they would be the ones getting through to the Eurovision Song Contest 2015, but they knew the competition would be tough. Daniel Kajmakoski was the favourite to win the contest. He had won X Factor Adria, one of the biggest music shows in the Balkans, and was even mentored by Serbian Eurovision entrant Željko Joksimović.
"Are we all ready?" Vlatko asked, "The show is starting soon."
"Yeah, we're ready," Tamara said, looking around the room.
But at that moment Daniel realised that someone was missing.
"Hey, where is Kaliopi?" Daniel asked, "She's going to be the interval act tonight, isn't she?"
"Yeah, she is," Vlatko replied, "Don't worry, I'm sure she's on her way. If not, she has plenty of time before the interval."
"Hey, Vlatko, Tamara," Dimitar said, "You really like Eurovision, huh? So much that you both want to go back there. So, have any plans if you win?"
"Well, uh..." Vlatko began. He hadn't really thought of that. Tamara didn't look like she'd thought of any plans for Eurovision either.
"Now now," Risto grinned, "Let's not get ahead of ourselves. Remember, the best performance and the best song should win. We want nothing but the best to go and represent Macedonia in front of Europe, right?"
"Right," Tamara said, "We want a qualification this year, no matter who is representing us."
"That's right!" Vlatko said, "The most important thing is that Macedonia sends a song that does well, right?"
Macedonia didn't usually qualify from the final, but they weren't a country that would quit over poor results. They would always turn up each and every year to try again. And again. And again.
Suddenly, a paper ball flew over the contestants and landed by Risto Samardžiev, who picked it up and unfolded it.
"Hey, guys!" Risto laughed, "Don't throw things, please! Behave yourselves!"
He saw there was a message written on the paper. When he saw it, his smile faded.
It read 'Long live Christer Björkman - Long live Björkman's Empire.'
"Hey, who wrote this?" Risto asked, as the entrants gathered around to take a look at it.
"And more importantly, how can anyone praise Björkman after the things he did?" Dimitar asked.
Vlatko didn't say anything. He had been there when Björkman pretended to save the world at Montenegrin music festival 'Sunčane Skale.' For a short while, the whole world had loved Christer Björkman, until his true nature was revealed. He had been worried about the reaction from the public after Björkman's deception was revealed, but he had nothing to worry about. After all, Björkman had tricked the whole world, not just him. And now, Macedonia and Germany had the technology from Björkman's Empire. Meanwhile, Sweden was in ruins. Things were so different now.
---
Daniel Kajmakoski was looking for where the paper had come from.
"Guys," Daniel said and pointed to an open window in the green room, "I think maybe that piece of paper was thrown in through that window."
"That makes sense," Egi said, "But who would write such a thing and why throw it in the Skopje Fest green room?"
No one had an answer for that. Suddenly, the door of the green room opened and Kaliopi stepped in.
"Hey guys," Kaliopi beamed, "Sorry if I'm late! Is it starting already?"
"Not yet," Joce Panov replied.
"Ok, what's wrong everyone?" Kaliopi asked, "No one is happy like they usually are before Skopje Fest. Did something happen?"
"Look at this," Risto said, handing Kaliopi the unfolded sheet of paper, "This was thrown into the green room."
Kaliopi looked at the paper. A pro-Björkman message.
"I... I..." Kaliopi didn't know what to say. She had been kidnapped by Christer Björkman back in 2013 and it had only been due to quick thinking by Esma and Lozano that she had been rescued from the Swedish dictator. But still, she didn't want to complain about it, after all, Björkman did far worse to many other people.
"Kaliopi knows more about Björkman than most people here," Dimitar said, "In fact, she even met him!"
Kaliopi was more than a little annoyed at the cheerful way that Dimitar had said that. Like it was fun, like it was a game. But it hadn't been a game, anyone who had seriously dealt with Björkman's Empire knew that.
"I... I don't want to talk about Björkman," Kaliopi said, "He was a bad person who did a lot of bad things. Not only to Macedonia, but to the whole world. I won't waste my time talking or thinking about him anymore. But the Christer Björkmans of the world should know this. That they won't win. Not now, not ever."
Some of the entrants applauded Kaliopi. At that moment, the host of the show, Vasil Zafircev, walked into the room.
"Ok guys," Vasil said, "It's time to get this party started!"
Vasil had immediately noticed that something was wrong. Usually, everyone was pretty happy before Skopje Fest. This was one of the biggest music festivals in Macedonia, so to see everyone looking kind of sad in the green room was rather strange.
"Uh... what's wrong everyone?" Vasil asked.
"Someone threw a paper ball into the green room," Vlatko said.
"A paper ball?" Vasil said, "Why has that made everyone sad?"
"Here, here it is," Kaliopi said, and handed the paper over to Vasil. Vasil read it, now it made sense.
"Hah... Björkman? Who wrote this?" Vasil asked, looking down at the message, "Anyway, Björkman's Empire is gone, it's been gone for a long time now. You guys shouldn't worry about it. Look, I've got to go and get things ready, ok? The show is starting soon. Try not to worry about it, I'm sure it's nothing."
Vasil then left the room to make the final preparations before Skopje Fest could begin. Although at first they tried not to, the entrants were still thinking and talking about that piece of paper that had been thrown in. Who had thrown it? Why here? Why Macedonia?
"So, who could it be?" Daniel asked, "Obviously, it can't be Björkman himself, but do you guys think maybe it could be BjörkNet?"
"BjörkNet?" Vlatko asked, "What would they be doing here?"
BjörkNet was a group that opposed the occupation of Sweden. But their activities had mainly been inside Sweden itself. Outside of one incident at the German national final, they had never done anything in another country before. And no one would have expected them to choose Macedonia for their activities.
"I was talking to Lozano yesterday," Daniel continued, "And he said the occupation in Sweden is pretty bad right now, at least in the British and Icelandic sections. BjörkNet are the ones protesting against it."
"Well, don't you think they brought it on themselves?" Egi asked, "Think about all the bad things that Björkman's Empire did, especially to the UK and Iceland."
"I mean, sure," Daniel said, "Björkman's Empire did a lot of bad things. But I'm sure the ordinary people of Sweden didn't support that. And they're the ones who are suffering right now under the occupation."
"That's revenge for you," Joce shrugged, "But still. There's nothing we can do about it."
There was something else they were thinking about too, BjörkNet had attacked the German national final for the 2014 contest earlier in the year. Although they didn't want to think it was possible, some were concerned about Skopje Fest being a target of the Swedish organisation.
"What if they attack Skopje Fest?" Dimitar asked, "Like they attacked the German national final?"
"No," Kaliopi said, "No no, we can't think about things like that. Besides, Macedonia has never been a target for BjörkNet before, I'm sure everything will be fine tonight."
At that moment, Vasil ran back into the green room.
"Ok everyone," he said, "We can start Skopje Fest now. If you're all still thinking about Björkman, then forget about him for the moment please."
"Alright guys," said Lena Zatkoska, who was the first up, "I'm going on now, wish me luck!"
"Good luck!" Kaliopi said, waving a Macedonian flag, as the others wished her luck too.
---
The performances went by without a problem. MRT was very happy with how Skopje Fest was going. They were aware that they were not only being watched by people in Macedonia, but by Eurovision fans from around the world. And of course, having Kaliopi as the interval act was a very popular choice with Eurovision fans.
The contestants sat in the green room, awaiting the final results. The televote and jury votes were all in now. Most of the votes had been counted, there were just a few left to add to the scoreboard. It was clear that the winner would either be Daniel or Tamara, and it looked like Daniel would be the one going to Eurovision.
Vasil read off the final few votes.
"And the winner," he said, looking at the scoreboard, "Is Daniel Kajmakoski with Lisja Esenski! Congratulations Daniel!"
Daniel smiled. He had done it, he was going to get to go to Eurovision. He was going to get up to go and perform his song again, when suddenly, the lights in the green room went out, followed by the ones in the stadium. The entire stadium was in darkness. Suddenly, they heard the door to the green room burst open, and someone running inside.
"Don't any of you dare move, or I'll shoot, I swear!" a man's voice yelled. The lights in the green room came back on, revealing a man holding a large gun.
No one said anything, no one wanted to say anything. They didn't know who this person was or what he wanted, and they didn't want to know, they just wanted him to leave. Finally, Kaliopi spoke up.
"Who are you?" she said.
The man walked closer to them.
"My name is Måns, Måns Zelmerlöw," the man said, "I am from Sweden, and I'm a member of BjörkNet. That's all you need to know about me. I am here to draw attention to the horrible situation in Sweden. The one that the whole world ignores!"
Again, no one said anything. None of the Skopje Fest entrants knew what to say, and they didn't want to risk saying the wrong thing and angering the Swede.
"That's right," Måns continued, "It's fine for you to have a Swedish songwriter, but not fine for you to actually do anything about the situation in Sweden."
Daniel Kajmakoski looked down and didn't say anything, even though he knew that was directed at him. His song, Lisja Esenski, had a Swede as one of the songwriters, along with Daniel himself. Swedish songwriter Joacim Persson had received political asylum in Macedonia because of the situation in Sweden. People knew that what was happening in Sweden was bad, but no one did anything about it. After all, it wasn't their problem. Macedonia didn't have anything to do with the occupation of Sweden. That was a problem for the UK, Iceland and perhaps Germany to solve. But Germany's section of Sweden had been set free, only the north part of Sweden, which was owned by Britain and Iceland, was still under occupation. The Skopje Fest entrants hadn't expected this. Earlier in the year, BjörkNet had attacked the German national final. Germany had been choosing their song for the 2014 edition of Eurovision when BjörkNet held the entrants hostage in an attempt to free the southern part of Sweden from German occupation. It worked. Even though life under Germany was better than in the Icelandic-British sector, the Swedes still wanted their freedom. They got it. But Macedonia had nothing to do with Sweden's occupation. No one had expected the Macedonian national final to be a target too. Macedonia had never been a target for anything like this before.
"Well?" Måns said, sounding annoyed, "Aren't you going to answer me?"
"Oh, um..." Daniel hadn't expected that Måns actually wanted an answer. He thought that he was just ranting to himself.
"No, you don't have an answer?" Måns yelled, "Of course you don't! Macedonia has a party while Sweden is destroyed!"
No one said anything. The entrants could hear that the audience was running out of the arena, and that Vasil was evacuating everyone over the loudspeakers. Måns didn't seem to care. He walked out onto the stage, grabbed the video camera that was filming and walked back into the green room.
"MRT," Måns said into the camera, "Keep rolling. I have an important announcement to make on behalf of the Swedish people."
The Skopje Fest entrants sat there in silence, hoping that the Macedonian police were on their way. Macedonia had been willing to go to war with Sweden back when Björkman had kidnapped Kaliopi, so they hoped that the government were thinking of a way to get them out safely. But Macedonia had learned to stay out of problems. After the events at Eurovision 2013, Macedonia had stayed out of any and all serious world issues. The Skopje Fest entrants hoped they would make an exception in this case. Meanwhile, Måns was still yelling into the camera.
"Macedonia, for too long you have ignored the plight of the Swedish people," Måns continued his rant, "You are a nuclear power, and yet you do nothing about the occupation of Sweden. None of you, none of the countries of the world are doing anything about what is happening in Sweden."
Måns was aware that this was not just a broadcast for Macedonia, but that Eurovision fans from around the world were watching. Sweden had been one of the most popular Eurovision countries before the dictatorship. He hoped that the ESC fans would listen to him and his message. But that wasn't what the fans were seeing. Storming in to a place and threatening people wasn't the best way to get your voice heard. Some were reminded of the way Björkman himself had stormed into the 2012 contest and forced a Swedish victory at gunpoint.
"And you two," Måns said, "Vlatko and Tamara, you want to return to the Eurovision Song Contest, even after all the bad things caused by that very contest?"
Neither Vlatko or Tamara said anything, but they both looked at each other uneasily.
"Well?" Måns said, but still, they said nothing. They couldn't think of anything to say that might diffuse the situation. The seconds ticked by in silence. Måns didn't say anything either, he just held the camera closer to himself, and looked like he was trying to adjust it.
"Macedonia," Måns said suddenly, "I have some demands!"
Indeed, this was the perfect time for him to make some demands. He had all of the Skopje Fest entrants hostage and now he wanted Macedonia to do what he said. Måns read off a list of his demands. First of all, he wanted Macedonia to intervene in the occupation of Sweden, particularly in the worst parts of the British and Icelandic sectors. Secondly, he wanted Macedonia to ensure peace in Sweden. A real, lasting peace.
Now, he would wait. He had made his demands, but whether Macedonia would actually agree to any of them was another matter entirely. He told the Macedonian government to post their answer online, so that he could see it. The Skopje Fest entrants thought that now might be a good time to talk their captor out of whatever he might do.
"You know," Risto said, "You don't have to do this. It doesn't have to be this way."
"It does," Måns said, "It really does. You wouldn't understand."
"Don't... don't you have anything else you want to do?" Daniel said, "Besides this?"
"I don't know," Måns replied, "I always wanted to go into music. I was thinking about trying for Melodifestivalen, I'd like to be Sweden's Eurovision entrant next year."
"That's great," Daniel said, trying to force a smile, "I say you should go for it!"
"Maybe, maybe," Måns said, "Sweden is a mess right now. I need to fix that first."
---
It wasn't even ten minutes before the reply came back from the Macedonian government. No. No, they would not negotiate with BjörkNet. They posted it loud and clear on all the official Macedonian government websites. Daniel was wondering why they had even bothered replying to him, he was hoping that they would just ignore him and send the police straight to the arena. Were the police even coming?
Måns picked up the camera again. He looked very annoyed at his demands being rejected. This wasn't looking good at all.
"What is this?" he said, "You're saying no to me? You think this is a game? Do you? Well?"
"I- I'm sure there's a mistake," Vlatko said, "I'm sure-"
"Be quiet!" Måns yelled, "No, there's no mistake."
The entrants were silent as Måns kicked some of the props in the green room over. Måns then turned to the entrants, and grabbed Daniel Kajmakoski's jacket.
"Wait!" Daniel said, "What are you doing?"
"Now then," Måns pointed his gun at him, "Your Eurovision guy, X Factor guy, whatever he is, you think I won't do it? You think I'm bluffing? Do you?"
"No no no!" Daniel yelled, "Please please please! Don't!"
This was the scene that was being broadcast to all of Macedonia and across the internet. If Måns hoped to gain any sympathy for the Swedish cause this way, then he had misjudged the situation entirely. Sweden was not going to gain any sympathy this way. Macedonians were furious that a Swedish national was doing this to some of their biggest music stars. At that moment, Kaliopi jumped up from her chair and went to where Måns was.
"Don't do it, don't do it," Kaliopi said, trying to calm the situation, "Don't do that. Come on."
Risto walked over too.
"Hey, you really don't want to do that," Risto added, "If you do this you can't take it back. Ever. Hey, put the gun down, buddy."
"He's right, you know," Kaliopi said.
Silence. Måns just stood there, still pointing his gun at Daniel and doing nothing.
At that moment, a voice was heard over the loudspeaker on the wall.
"Macedonia does not negotiate with terrorists," the voice said.
"What the hell!" Daniel yelled, "Are you kidding me? Negotiate! Negotiate!"
Kaliopi looked down at the ground. Back in 2013 Macedonia had been willing to go to great lengths to rescue her from Björkman, but this time she wasn't sure what was going to happen. Macedonia had learned to stay out of issues, and so they stayed out. Kaliopi and the others just hoped that the Macedonian government were working a solution for this, that this was just a ruse while they came up with a plan to rescue the Skopje Fest participants and get everyone out of that arena safely. Måns looked annoyed by what the voice on the loudspeaker had said.
"You really should just agree to my demands," Måns said, looking over to where the loudspeaker was, "Helping Sweden from such a horrible occupation shouldn't even need to be suggested, the entire free world should be helping us. But they don't, because you people just don't care, you care more about this bloody singing competition than you do about what is happening in Sweden, what is happening in my country, to my people."
Måns was still pointing his gun at Daniel.
"Come on, please," Daniel said, "Don't do this, go back to Sweden, enter in that contest you said you wanted to go in. Maybe you'll even win it, wouldn't that be nice? Come on, please, put it down."
Måns sighed.
"Alright, I'll give Macedonia one more chance. One more chance to agree with my demands. Agree to my demands and I won't do a thing here tonight," Måns said, looking into the camera that was lying on the floor but still broadcasting everything that was going on. MRT really should have switched the broadcast off, but the word had spread about what was happening and the ratings they were getting for this were bigger than anything else ever shown before in Macedonia.
And then the response from the Macedonian government came in again. No. It was another no. Daniel really hoped that they would have just ignored him until the police arrived. But no, they had to reply again.
"Wait!" Daniel said, "Wait! Don't!"
Måns didn't reply or say anything. The Skopje Fest entrants were pretty close to calling his bluff, that he couldn't do it. Or could he? No one wanted to say anything to Måns but they were getting more and more convinced that he wasn't actually prepared to carry out the threat he said he was going to. This wasn't Björkman's Empire anymore, Christer Björkman was actually prepared to carry out the threats he made. No, this was BjörkNet, an ineffective organisation trying to fight against a world that just didn't care. But still, Macedonia had nothing to do with what was happening in Sweden. Maybe if this had been the UK or Iceland's NF, then maybe he could, but as it stood... no.
"That's... that's..." Måns said, "I can't... I..."
Compared with the attack against the German national final, this was amateur hour. Måns was unprepared and unwilling to do what he had threatened and it was starting to show. Still, it didn't make the Skopje Fest entrants any less frightened of him.
"Don't do it," Risto said, "Put it down, put the gun down."
Måns didn't say anything. He could have decided to give the Macedonian government another chance to agree to his demands, but it was obvious that they would just reject them yet again. Carola had made the attack on the German national final look so easy, but Måns was quickly finding out that this was a very difficult game to play indeed.
"I... I..." Mans began, before pausing mid-sentence and turning back to the exit.
Måns ran out of the door at the back of the green room and into the streets. Most people were at home watching Skopje Fest and watching this situation unfold, and so he was free to flee under the cover of darkness. The contestants sat there as police sirens sounded in the distance.
"Well, they're late, but at least they're here," Dimitar said.
At that moment, Vasil walked back into the room.
"I really don't know what to say," Vasil said, "But thank goodness you're all alright. On behalf of MRT I am so so sorry this has happened."
Vasil apologised again and again to the Skopje Fest entrants, as they all sat there in silence. No one really knew what to say.
---
It was a little while later, and everyone was preparing to put this entire thing behind them. Daniel was about to leave the arena when he noticed that Dimitar and Egi were looking at a sheet of paper that had the Skopje Fest results on it.
"This is a mess," Daniel said, "After everything that happened, you're still thinking about the results of Skopje Fest?"
"Why of course," Dimitar said, "I came fourth! That's really good."
"That's... well..." Daniel didn't know what to say to that, "Good for you?"
"Hey, Daniel!" Risto said, as he and Vlatko walked over to him, "Do you want to come to the pizza parlour with us? All the Skopje Fest entrants are going to go there after we're done here, and Kaliopi is going to be there too! It'll be great, I promise!"
Daniel just looked at them, surprised. They were going to casually go and get pizza after what had happened?
"Come on," Vlatko smiled, "Who can say no to pizza?"
"Yeah, come on," Risto said, "You have to come! Everyone else is going to be there! Come on, please?"
"Uh, I..." Daniel wasn't sure he wanted to go and eat pizza so soon after what had just happened, but he figured maybe it would take his mind off things. Besides, this was an invitation, it seemed a little rude to turn it down.
"Sure, I'll come. Sounds great, Risto."
"Excellent!" Risto grinned, "See you there!"
---
It was a few hours later, and the Skopje Fest entrants and Kaliopi were all sitting around a huge table at the local pizza parlour. Daniel sighed. He thought that with Björkman's Empire gone, Eurovision would be a safe event to enter once again. BjörkNet... no one had expected them to show up.
"Guys, guys!" Dimitar grinned, looking down at his phone, "Have you guys seen the ratings for Skopje Fest 2014? The most watched show in Macedonia... not just this year, but ever! Wow."
"That's amazing!" Joce said, looking very impressed that.
But Daniel wasn't impressed with the ratings.
"You know they were watching it because of the situation with BjörkNet, right?" Daniel said, "That's the only reason the ratings were so huge. They weren't watching it because of us."
"Hey," Dimitar said, "Don't be such a downer. The ratings were great and that's that!"
Suddenly, the door of the cafe burst open and three armed police officers rushed into the room.
"To any members of BjörkNet in here, come out with your hands up!" one of the police officers said, "You have the right to remain silent! Surrender now or prepare to fight!"
"Aaaaah!" Vlatko yelled, diving under the table, "BjörkNet is here? Not again! Not again!"
No one else said anything. Only the owner of the pizza parlour, the Skopje Fest entrants and the police officers were in the cafe.
"False alarm," said another police officer, "They're not here. Maybe they were here before, but they're not now."
"Gee," Vlatko said from under the table, "Well this is embarrassing."
"Haha," Risto laughed, "Well, not to worry. It's understandable."
One of the police officers walked over to where the entrants were sitting.
"You guys were late," Daniel muttered, "Where were you back at Skopje Fest?"
"Daniel, please," Kaliopi said, "Don't talk that way, it's not their fault."
"Sorry," Daniel said.
"Look, we get it, kid," the police officer replied, "I wished we could have gotten there quicker too, if we could have we would have. But look, that guy, he didn't get to do anything. If it had been Christer Björkman instead of BjörkNet, well, I think something bad would have happened. But BjörkNet, they can't do anything."
And with that the police officers left. The pizza arrived pretty quickly after that.
"Right, ok," Tamara said, "Let's not talk or think about what happened right now. It's pizza time."
The others agreed.
"Daniel," Kaliopi said, "Good luck at the contest. No matter what result you get in Vienna, remember that Macedonia is proud of you and will always be proud of you. You did great here tonight."
"Thank you Kaliopi," Daniel said.
"Remember what happened in Malmö, the Christer Björkmans of this world don't win," Kaliopi said, "They never win. They'll never be able to take what we have."
"Kaliopi," Tamara laughed, "I agree with you completely, but we agreed not to talk about Björkman or BjörkNet right now, ok? The important thing is that everyone got out safely, agreed?"
"Of course," Kaliopi said.
So that was that. Macedonia had been the first country to choose their Eurovision song for 2015. It had been an eventful national final, that was for sure, and Macedonia were proud of their star Daniel Kajmakoski. The incident did not help BjörkNet in the slightest, but it did help Macedonia, who hoped that maybe the incident could pull some more votes their way next May. Only time would tell if that would be the case. One thing was certain, and that was that Macedonia would be proud of Daniel no matter what the result was in Vienna.