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Imperija

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Björkman's Empire - Imperija (Macedonia)

Ever since Esma and Vlatko had revealed their Eurovision song, things had been going wrong for them. They had been getting hate ever since they revealed the title. Imperija. Empire. The title 'Imperija' had led to some people in Macedonia to believe it was a song praising the Björkman Empire, and now Esma and Vlatko were in big trouble. Very big trouble. Esma was leafing through the pile of letters they had received. There were letters everywhere, covering nearly the entire floor. And they all said pretty much the same thing. Hate letters, people assuming that Esma and Vlatko supported Emperor Björkman when in fact, that couldn't be further from the truth. But the paranoia around anything remotely involving the Swedish regime meant that just having a song titled 'empire' made everyone assume the worst. The music video was also problematic. In Skopje Square they had statues of all the Macedonian greats, Alexander the Great, Toše Proeski and so on. A few months after his takeover of Sweden, Björkman demanded that a statue of himself was added to the square, and soon the Macedonian government had it commissioned and built. The Björkman statue was huge, towering over every other statue in Skopje Square, and had cost millions. The Macedonian government had wasted a lot of public money trying to please the Swedish despot. The people of Macedonia were horrified. Who was Björkman to demand a statue of himself in Skopje? But still the leaders of the world bent to his every whim, the policy of appeasement growing more and more every day.
---
Vlatko and Esma were sitting in Vlatko's apartment, trying to think of a solution to this problem. How could they show the public that their Eurovision song wasn't really what they thought? Suddenly, the two of them heard a knocking at the door.
"I'll get it," Vlatko said. He opened the door and found Kaliopi waiting outside for them.
"Hello Lozano, hello Esma," Kaliopi beamed, "May I come in?"
"Sure, sure," Vlatko led her into the apartment.
"I heard people around here don't like your song much," Kaliopi said, "Lot of complaints have been going around."
"That's true," Vlatko said.
"It's so annoying," Esma said, "There's no hidden message in our song!"
"Well," said Kaliopi, "If it makes you guys feel any better, the response outside of Macedonia has generally been pretty receptive, people like Imperija and it's going to do well in Malmö, I guarantee it."
"It doesn't matter much if no one here likes it," Esma said sadly, "People are reading to much into our song and are seeing what isn't really there."
"Esma what are we going to do?" Vlatko asked, "Everyone thinks we support the Swedish Empire."
"Well, you don't," said Kaliopi, "People will surely realise that. Imperija's got nothing to do with the Björkman dictatorship."
"That's not good enough," Esma said, "We've got to show people that we hate what that man has done to Sweden. If we denounce Björkman's Empire on the news, everyone will know how much we despise that nasty dictator."
"Are... are you sure that's wise Esma?" Vlatko asked.
"Wise? Why wouldn't it be?"
"Vlatko's right Esma. Listen," Kaliopi said, "If there's one thing I've learned from Baku 2012 it's this; don't insult Björkman. Think twice before you attack his empire publicly. Especially since you'll be going to Sweden in May, and you know what that madman is like. Look what he does to his own people, never mind what he'll do if you insult him in any way."
"The hell are you saying Kaliopi, that we can't stand up for ourselves?" Esma shouted.
"Now Esma, that's not what I'm saying at all, but you've got to pick your battles carefully and against Björkman you can't win."
"Kaliopi's right Esma. We'll just have to put up with it until the contest. Hey, at least here it's just letters and shouting, in Sweden who knows what would happen if you sent a song they didn't like."
"No Vlatko, nothing happens any more. In Sweden there is silence. They don't have a choice. They have to do whatever Björkman says."
"Yes, it truly is a dreadful place," said Esma, "It's our job to ensure that Macedonia never ends up like Sweden. Björkman has ran that country into the ground and ruined everything."
Suddenly they all heard banging at the windows. There was a crowd outside flinging eggs and hurling litter against the building. Yellow yolk dripped down the glass.
"For goodness sake I just cleaned that!" Esma yelled over the noise of eggs splattering against the wall.
"Are they for real?" Kaliopi muttered, "No Macedonian entrant has ever got this amount of hate before."
"They still think it has something to do with Björkman's Empire..." Vlatko said.
"They should try bloody listening to it then!" Esma said, "It's a beautiful song about how music unites the whole world, there's no connection to Sweden whatsoever!"
"We're gonna have to change the song," Vlatko concluded, "Swap Imperija for something else."
"What," Esma snapped, "No! We've worked hard on Imperija! I'm not changing it! The people can say what they like, this is the song we are sending to Malmö."
"Hahaha," Kaliopi laughed, "Maybe I could get my friend Romeo to write you two a new song, then there wouldn't be so much hate against you guys."
"There'd be hate anyway," Esma said, "They'd find something wrong with the new song, they always do. Nope, my decision is final. It's Imperija we're sending to the Eurovision."
---
While other countries generally found Imperija to be a good song, the reaction inside Macedonia was almost entirely negative. The song had been unnecessarily politicized. People despised the perceived connection to Björkman, seeing it as a message praising the despotic Swede. However, inside Sweden, Björkman's paranoia took over, and he saw the song as insulting to him and his empire. He passed a law in Sweden banning people from listening to Imperija, which soon became the theme song of the Swedish resistance against Björkman. Björkman wrote to the Macedonian government demanding that the song be changed, and the channel MRT frantically got Vlatko and Esma a slot to appear on the news show the next day, and were told by the government to announce that they would be changing their song.
---
Vlatko and Esma were sitting on a couch in the green room of the MRT studio. Esma was quite upset at having to change Imperija, while Vlatko was just following the popular opinion which was telling them to change the song. Looking out through the open door they could see the set which they would soon be standing on. A newsreader was sitting at a desk reading the news. All the news these days seemed to relate to the bad things that Björkman's Empire were doing. His attacks on Iceland were increasing, Swedish political dissidents were being shot nearly every day. But there was no condemnation in the newsreader's words. Everyone was far too worried about about upsetting Björkman, and so followed a policy of appeasement, reminiscent of the days before World War II.
"Why is everyone so afraid of him," Esma said, "Why is no one saying the right thing, that Björkman is wrong, and we must stop him."
"Esma please," said Vlatko, "We've got to be neutral, we're just Eurovision entrants, it's not our place to have an opinion on these sorts of things."
"It's our right to have an opinion!" Esma yelled, "I just don't see why we have to bow down to him of all people."
"Because it's important that we do," Vlatko said, "You know he's a complete basketcase at the best of times, we'll be a lot safer in Malmö if we just do what he says."
"You do realize this is how Hitler started, don't you? Not enough people stood up to him so he just became worse and worse. Someone needs to stand up to Björkman before it's too late!"
"Yes well someone else can stand up to Björkman," Vlatko said, "Let's not put ourselves on the firing line, ok Esma? Now come on, calm down, we'll be on soon."
Just then, the newsreader waved towards them, their cue to walk out onto the set. The audience clapped and cheered as they walked out; the audience had been specially selected so that they wouldn't boo or jeer because of Imperija. And still, the two of them felt good being celebrated for a change, instead of being constantly criticized.
"Well," said the newsreader, "Here they are, it's Lozano and Esma!"
The newsreader then left the room, leaving them to make the announcement all by themselves. It was clear that no one else wanted to be connected to the Eurovision entry any longer, especially now that it had caught the attention of Björkman.
"Yes yes, hello everyone," Vlatko said, "We are here with a special message about our Eurovision entry, we've listened to your opinions, and so we are changing the song and-"
"No, no we're not," Esma yelled suddenly, "Here's a message for you Björkman, go to hell! Imperija's staying and that's final!"
"Esma no! What are you doing!"
"Björkman get lost you pathetic little dictator! The Swedish revolution will get rid of you soon!"
"Esma stop!"
"I'm not afraid of you Björkman! And it's Imperija you'll see in May!" Esma then stormed off the stage and into the green room.
"I'm so sorry," Vlatko whispered before following her.
Unluckily for MRT, the event had been broadcasted live, and word of Esma's speech quickly reached Sweden. The Macedonian government sent frantic apologies to Björkman himself, but received no reply. People wondered whether Esma's antics had got the country into serious trouble. Björkman wasn't used to being told no. When a country stood up to Björkman, it usually preceded a nuclear bomb dropping. People had seen what had happened to Iceland, the only country which had seriously threatened Björkman's rule. And no one wanted to be the next Iceland.
---
Björkman slammed his fist on the desk as Jon Ola Sand tried to calm him down.
"How dare they!" Björkman yelled, "How dare they!!! They made a mockery of me today, and the whole world saw it!"
The Swedish leader was furious. Although he knew it was what everyone in the world thought, he hated people speaking out against him. He wanted people to do what he said because they feared him. Jon Ola Sand rolled his eyes.
"Now now Christer, you still have all the power, don't get so mad over this. Please calm down," Jon said, "We need to think of a a solution to this problem..."
"Oh don't you worry Jon, I already have a solution."
"Oh really? And what's that?"
"I've got a way to force them to change their Eurovision song, and it will set a real example to other countries who may be thinking of messing with us..."
"Excellent master! But how will we do it?"
"Well, first of all Jon, you're going to go to Macedonia..."
---
Jon Ola Sand was the first robot that Björkman had ever built, and he accompanied Björkman nearly everywhere as his own personal body guard. He was also Björkman's most trusted robot, as well as his second-in-command. He was therefore the perfect candidate to go on a mission for the Swedish emperor. It was a few days after Esma's outburst on the news channel, and Jon Ola Sand was now walking along the streets of Skopje. When not using his powers, it was hard to tell that he was a robot, and people casually passed him by, not knowing who he really was.
Meanwhile, Esma and Vlatko were returning home from the shops. They had just bought many new props for their Eurovision performance and were going to see which ones looked the best, when it started snowing heavily. A thin frost covered the ground and brown leaves were falling from the trees. You wouldn't think it was the middle of March. Freak weather had been the norm all over the world ever since the nuclear attack on Iceland.
"That sick Björkman, he even controls the weather," Esma said.
"That's great Esma," Vlatko said, pulling along a shopping trolley full of props, "But could you help me pull this?"
"Vlatko, you should act like a gentlemen for once in your life and pull it for me," Esma said, "Can you believe it, asking a frail old Roma woman to pull a heavy trolley! Good heavens!"
"Oh fine then Esma! I'll just do everything, as usual. You do realise this country could get nuked because of you, don't you?!"
"Because of me? Vlatko, if we ever get nuked it'll be because if people like you. Why can't you people see that this appeasement policy is not working?"
"We don't have an appeasement policy Esma! We don't have a choice!"
"There's always a choice," Esma said bitterly, "It's just that most are too cowardly to take it."
"Not this again," Vlatko sighed, "Look, let's just get inside."
---
Meanwhile, Kaliopi was walking down an alleyway. Suddenly, she heard a strange buzzing sound behind her. No, it can't be... or can it?
She spun around, and, just as she thought, it was one of Björkman's robots staring right at her.
"Ro...robot?!" she said, "What do you want?"
"I am Jon Ola Sand, second in command. I'm here to collect you under the orders of the Björkman Empire," the robot stated coldly before grabbing Kaliopi.
"Hey, let go of me!" Kaliopi yelled, "Let me go right now!"
"Not so fast," Jon said, "Christer Björkman needs to have a few words with you."
And with that the robot teleported away with Kaliopi in a blinding flash of blue light.
---
The next day, the two Eurovision entrants were going through all the strange items they had brought with them in the shopping trolley.
"So which is better?" Vlatko said, "This pair of sparkly shoes, or this cuddly bird toy?"
"Uhh... to be honest Vlatko," said Esma, "Those are both a little cheesy. I'd prefer it if our Eurovision performance was a little more serious."
"Serious? Jeez Esma, lighten up. It's only Eurovision."
"Lighten up? Lighten up?! I can't lighten up, not with the whole country booing at us every time we walk down the street! And just remember, it's not 'only Eurovision' anymore, you just look at the nightmare this contest has become with all this Björkman nonsense!"
"Esma, nobody wants to talk about Björkman! I don't want to talk about Björkman!"
"Neither do I," Esma said, "But it's all anyone talks about anymore."
And it was true. Discussion was dominated by the new Swedish ruler and his constant threat of nuclear war. Would he really push the button and send the whole world into the apocalypse? No one knew for sure. Vlatko decided to change the subject, there was, after all, no use worrying about something you had little control over.
"Seriously though Esma," Vlatko said, looking back down at the props he was holding, "Which one is the better one?"
"Neither of them! The whole world is on the brink of nuclear war and here you are shoving glittery shoes and stuffed toys in my face, get a god damn grip Vlatko!"
"Esma..."
Just then, they heard a knock at the door again.
"I'll get it," Vlatko said, glad for the interruption, "Probably Kaliopi again."
He opened the door to find a police officer standing at the door. He showed them a police badge to prove he was genuine.
"Hello, is this the Lozano residence?" he said.
"Why yes, it is," Vlatko said, shocked a policeman was standing at his door.
"May I come in?"
"Sure, sure," Vlatko showed the officer in, "Esma, it's the police!"
"Well don't look at me, I haven't done anything," Esma laughed.
"Don't laugh Mrs. Redžepova," the officer said, "This is a serious matter. I believe you all know a Ms. Kaliopi Bukle, is this correct?"
"Why, yes," Vlatko said, shocked, "Why? What's happened?"
"We believe that you two are the last people who saw her before she disappeared yesterday," the officer replied.
"Disappeared?!" Vlatko asked, worried.
"What?!" Esma yelled.
"Yes, disappeared, no one has seen her since yesterday, we have filed a missing person's report. I hope you realise Esma, that this could be to do with your outburst a few days ago. Your actions have put this country in serious danger. I hope you're proud of yourself."
"We'll always be in danger as long as Sweden is still run by that madman," Esma replied.
And with that, the officer left.
"What a god damn jerk," Esma muttered under her breath.
"We have to go and find her," Vlatko said, "If the Swedes have took her-"
"Then what, it's my fault?" Esma said, "Is that it? Blame me again?"
"This isn't about blame right now, no one could have foreseen this. We just need to go and find her."
---
The police officers looked all day for Kaliopi, but found nothing. Esma and Vlatko too, couldn't find Kaliopi, and so returned to the apartment, disappointed. Rumours started to spread that Björkman had taken her because of Esma's actions at the TV studio. But no one knew what had happened for sure, except for one man. Christer Björkman.
And so, after having found nothing, the officer knocked on the door of Vlatko's apartment yet again. The Macedonian president had demanded that they arrest someone, anyone, on the suspicion of Kaliopi's kidnapping, all so that they didn't have to put the blame on Björkman. Not yet, anyway. And the two Eurovision entrants would make perfect scapegoats.
"Yes, officer?" Vlatko said.
"We've discovered nothing more. I hope you realise that as you were the last ones to see her you are immediately under suspicion," the officer snarled, "I hope you have a good alibi."
"Well, no," Vlatko replied, "We were here all day yesterday."
"How convenient..."
"Convenient?" Vlatko said, confused, "It's not convenient, it's the truth."
"We'll find out the truth soon enough," the officer grinned, "Vlatko Lozanoski, you are being arrested on the suspicion of the kidnap of Kaliopi Bukle-"
"What the!" Esma shouted, jumping up out of her seat, "What the hell are you doing?!"
"You have the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law-"
"Esma!" Vlatko screamed, "Esma I haven't done anything! Please help me!"
"You leave him alone!" Esma yelled, "He's innocent!"
"Mrs. Redzepova," the officer turned and pulled out another pair of handcuffs, "You are also being arrested."
"What the hell are you doing?!" Esma shouted as more officers arrived to take the two of them away.
"You're lucky you're just getting arrested," the officer yelled, "If anything happens to this country I'll have you done for treason! I should have you both shot."
Both in the back of a police car, the two Eurovision entrants looked at each other in horror as the police car sped off down the road. How could they even think for a second that they had been the ones who kidnapped Kaliopi?
---
Sitting in their jail cell, the two of them wondered how it had come to this.
"Maybe it wasn't such a good idea to agree to go to Eurovision after all," Vlatko whispered.
"Yup, worst idea I've ever had," Esma admitted.
They glanced over to the TV in the cell. The news was all about their arrest.
"Yes, it is true," the news reporter said, "Esma and Vlatko, our 2013 Eurovision entrants, are both being held in custody on the suspicion of kidnapping Kaliopi, last year's Eurovision entrant. No evidence has been provided as of yet by the Skopje police force, and we are still wondering how they came to this conclusion. One rumour is that they are mistaken, it was really Sweden who kidnapped her, but there is no proof of this yet. Another rumour is that the two singers are jealous of Kaliopi's high placing in Baku last year."
"But no one even knows the results of last year!" Vlatko yelled.
Technically, that wasn't true anymore. The televoting and jury results from last year had been discovered. Or rather, Björkman had released them. It wasn't known if he had modified the results in any way, but Kaliopi came 6th in the contest.
"Jealous?!" Esma yelled, "What a load of old cobblers!"
Suddenly, the image switched to one of Björkman standing by his robots, and Kaliopi, who was standing next to him. Swedish flags were hung all around them. It was a recording that Björkman himself had posted on Youtube.
"Yes yes yes, that's right!" Björkman cackled into the camera, "Looky here, it's big bad Björkman! Hey Macedonia, are you guys looking for something? I might just have it. Look what I've got!"
He pulled Kaliopi into the shot.
"Yes yes, I got your precious little singer. Ah, so we meet again, Kaliopi. What did she get, last in the final or something?"
"Actually I came-"
"Shut up! I didn't tell you you could speak!" Björkman yelled.
A robot whispered something into the Swede's ear, and Björkman became a lot less serious.
"Right then Macedonia," Björkman laughed, "As I was saying, since you wouldn't change your Eurovision song when I bloody well asked you to, I've decided to give you a little extra 'persuasion', as it were. Now then, I assume you understand the threat I'm giving you. By this time next week I demand that your Eurovision song is changed. We will speak again then."
Björkman laughed again, it was clear he was enjoying this. The video then switched off, the news reporter on the screen looking horrified. So it was Björkman who had kidnapped Kaliopi. It seemed the Macedonian police force had made an awful and ridiculous mistake.
---
And that was it. In a few short minutes, their innocence had been proven. And so Esma and Vlatko were released from prison. It had turned out that the President had suspected all along that it was Björkman who had kidnapped Kaliopi, but had blamed Esma and Vlatko so that the country had more time to prepare their nuclear weaponry. The country was annoyed at the government using their Eurovision entrants as a scapegoat so they didn't have to blame Björkman.
---
"We were patsies, Vlatko," Esma said, "To take the blame off of Björkman, you see what I was telling you? All the world leaders are in bed with Björkman, there's nothing we can do about it."
"I-"
"They would have left us there to rot if Björkman hadn't released that film of himself admitting it!"
"Esma-"
"I tell you, when I sue this government they're going to wish they never messed with me!"
"Esma!" Vlatko yelled, "Let me talk for once. This doesn't help us get Kaliopi back!"
"We'll get her back alright," Esma smiled, "Björkman's not a match for us."
---
The whole country was in shock. It was unprecedented for Björkman to take hostages from another country. His own, yes, but he had never done this before. Macedonia immediately cut off diplomatic relations with Sweden, pulling their embassy from Stockholm and scrapping their peace pact with the Scandinavian country. The President announced that Macedonia was prepared to go to war with Sweden over this issue. It was a worrying prospect for the whole of the Balkans. Macedonia had nuclear weapons, but they were extremely outdated, and nothing compared with Björkman's nuclear arsenal. The President hoped that Esma and Vlatko's new song would persuade Björkman to give Kaliopi back. But Björkman was unstable and unpredictable; no one could be sure what he would do next. And first of all, the President had to persuade Esma and Vlatko to actually go to the Eurovision Song Contest. It was unsure whether they would continue after being falsely arrested.
---
"I don't know," Vlatko said, "It might not be a good idea."
"You've gotta come back," the President said.
"What?!" Esma yelled, "After we were both arrested due to your stupidity?!"
"You're bloody kidding me, aren't you? You were in that jail cell for a whole 10 minutes. I'm sure it wasn't even that bad, you had a TV and everything!"
"It's the principle of it," Esma said, leaning back in her chair, "What if we don't want to come back?"
But they eventually agreed to continue with participation, if only to make sure Björkman brought Kaliopi back. The country was relieved, countries that withdrew from Eurovision soon found their way onto Björkman's 'hit list'.
---
"So essentially we only have a week to write a whole new song," Esma said.
"Well, it doesn't have to be good," Vlatko said, "Just as long as we have something, anything."
"Would he... would he really do it?" Esma asked.
"Do what?" It took Vlatko a while to realise what she meant.
"Oh! Of course he would," Vlatko said, "I mean, I don't know if you watched Melodifestivalen this year but Björkman pretty much went on a murder spree after the final."
"Yes," Esma said sadly, "I think everyone saw that."
The whole world had seen Björkman's attack on the semi-finalists of Melodifestivalen. The Melodifestivalen Massacre, one of the darkest days of Swedish history, had horrified the world. The recording of the event had been leaked and shocked everyone. Some countries were seriously reconsidering their position in the Eurovision, but, with Björkman now running the entire EBU, he accepted no more withdrawals.
Suddenly, Vlatko's mobile phone started ringing. He answered it.
"Hello? We're kinda busy at the moment, so... yes, yes. It is. I know. Oh, really? That's great news. Thanks Darko."
"Vlatko get off the phone right now," Esma said, "This is serious!"
"Great news Esma," Vlatko smiled, putting his phone in his pocket, "I was just on the phone to Darko Dimitrov, he says he had a song ready for us all along! We can go see him now if you want."
"Oh, great," Esma said sarcastically, rolling her eyes, "What wonderful news."
"Yup, hopefully it'll be a great song."
"We had a great song," Esma said, "It was called Imperija! Now Björkman is forcing us to do this rubbish."
"Well, look, even if it's not as good as Imperija, Björkman will have to bring Kaliopi back. Now listen, I'm going to go and meet Darko, you coming?"
"Yeah, sure," Esma said, "I guess I've got no choice."
---
"You guys are pretty lucky, I already had a song written with you two in mind," Darko admitted, "I was hoping the public backlash over Imperija would make you guys come to me for a new song, so I had one written already."
"That's great news," Vlatko said, "Ya see Esma, this won't be bad at all."
"It's called 'Pred da se razdeni', Darko said, "You could listen to the demo now, and see if you like it and then accept it."
"I think we'll have to accept it regardless," Vlatko said, "We don't really have time to turn it down and find a new song."
"Excellent," Darko said, "Now then, hopefully we can also avoid the public backlash that Imperija got. I've got a girl called Magdalena, she's going to write up some lyrics for the song, and I've told her to be extra careful not to mention anything that could be taken in any way to mean anything to do with Björkman. No more mention of 'empire', this new song has none if that. We've really had to step on eggshells to create a neutral song for you guys."
"That sounds good to me," Vlatko said, "As long as there's nothing in there that could upset Björkman even more, in any way."
"Oh don't you worry about that," Darko said, "There won't be."
"Right well then," Vlatko said, "Next week we'll show the world our new song."
---
Vlatko and Esma were sitting on the train, which was soon to arrive at the TV studio where the new song would be shown for the first time.
"At least we'll get Kaliopi back," Esma said, looking up from her newspaper, "That's one positive."
"You see, there you go!" Vlatko smiled, "It's always best to look on the bright side of things."
Esma put her newspaper down on the table. The headline read: 'Innocent! Esma and Lozano freed from jail, Björkman responsible for Kaliopi's abduction.' It had been obvious all along that Björkman's Empire was behind the abduction, if only the police hadn't interfered and wrongly accused the two Eurovision entrants. Suddenly, they heard yelling on the carriage. Looking behind their seats they could see a gang of guys beating up one man.
"Here's for your 'empire'!" one of the gang yelled as he kicked the man again, "Björkman trash! Swede scum! Bring back Kaliopi you jerk!"
"I guess that guy is from Sweden," Vlatko said.
"Well, aren't we going to do something?!" Esma asked.
Vlatko shrugged.
"If we were getting beaten up in Sweden, do you think they'd do anything for us?" he answered.
"Well, we don't know that for sure, but that's not the point," Esma said, before standing up and going to confront the gang.
"Oh god Esma no, stop!" Vlatko shouted after her. The gang turned to face Esma.
"Hey, you lot!" Esma yelled, "What the hell do you think you're playing at?!"
Luckily, they seemed to recognise her, and her authority. They looked down to the floor as if they were naughty schoolchildren. And with that the gang went and sat back down.
"Thank you," the Swede mumbled, before running out of the carriage and going to sit somewhere else. Attacks on Swedish citizens in other countries were common now because of the dictatorship in Sweden, even though the Swedes who were out of the country typically did not support the Björkman regime. Esma was pleased with herself.
"I tell you Vlatko," Esma said as she sat back down next to him, "If everyone stood up for what is right, this world would be a very different place."
"Well, yeah, but not everyone can be as brave as you."
---
They arrived at the studio. They were having another televised song presentation. It was important that Björkman saw that they had changed the song.
"And now, I bring to you, Esma Redžepova and Vlatko Lozanoski!"
The new song was called 'Pred da se razdeni', meaning 'Before the dawn', and Darko was right, the new songwriters had taken extra measures to be extremely careful. The audience cheered at the end, and overall there was a better public reception to the song. But it was Björkman's reaction they were most concerned about. Twenty minutes passed, and still there was no official reaction from Björkman. Something was wrong, he was usually so quick with his responses to countries' Eurovision songs. Esma and Vlatko were still standing on the stage, hoping Björkman would teleport back into the room and return Kaliopi.
"So Björkman, we did what you wanted!" Esma said, "Bring back Kaliopi!"
There was no reply. Esma and Vlatko went home. Hours passed. Day turned into night. And there was still no reply, no response from Björkman's Empire. Did he like the new song? Didn't he? And just where was Kaliopi anyway?
---
The morning soon came. Esma and Vlatko watched the news the entire day, and still, no reply from Björkman. He was teasing them. He was clearly enjoying this. The Macedonian government sent many messages to Björkman's Empire, all of which Björkman ignored.
"What a jerk," Esma said, "Why's he still doing this? We did what he asked."
"I don't know," Vlatko said sadly, "Why won't Björkman just do as he promised."
The words Björkman and promise didn't seem to belong in the same sentence.
"Björkman doesn't keep promises," Esma said, "Melodifestivalen showed us that."
Suddenly, Vlatko's phone started ringing yet again. Answering it, instead of a phone call, he received a video file. The sender appeared as 'C. Björkman'.
"It's a video message," Vlatko said, "It's from C. Björkman."
"Björkman?!" Esma jumped up, "Quick, play it!"
Vlatko pressed the play button. Björkman popped up on the small screen, a robot standing next to him. Kaliopi was nowhere to be seen this time.
"Esma, Vlatko. Meet me at Lake Ohrid," Björkman hissed at the screen, "Just the two of you. Well, more or less, as long as you don't bring the police. They can't be involved in our little Eurovision game. Do what I say and you get Kaliopi back. I promise."
"Another false promise from Björkman?" Vlatko asked, "Or is he for real?"
"I don't know," Esma said, "But there's only one way to find out. It's time we go to Lake Ohrid."
"What? Really? That's so far away, plus it could be a trap! You sure we don't wanna get the police?"
"After what happened last time?!" Esma said, "No way! We got arrested, remember! The police round here are useless. We'll do a far better job ourselves."
"Ok Esma, if you say so."
---
And Esma and Vlatko were back on the train, this time traveling to Lake Ohrid.
"How in the hell did he get my phone number anyway?" Vlatko asked, replaying the message on his phone.
"I dunno," Esma said, "You'd be surprised at what Björkman has, he probably has a huge database with the entire world's phone numbers on it. And will you stop playing that message? Björkman irritates me."
"Sure, sure," Vlatko flicked the phone off.
The train arrived at Lake Ohrid. A beautiful crystal clear lake, forests surrounding it in all directions. Little birds and butterflies flew in all directions.
"I know precisely one guy in Lake Ohrid," Vlatko said, "And that is Gjoko Taneski."
"Gjoko Taneski... hmm... why does that name seem familiar..." Esma trailed off.
"He was in the Eurovision back in 2010," Vlatko reminded her.
"Ah, 2010," Esma remembered, "Back when the Eurovision was what it was supposed to be."
"Exactly."
Vlatko then walked over to the boathouse and knocked on the door.
"Wha? What do you want?" came the reply as the door opened.
"Hey, Gjoko," Vlatko said, "We gotta little bit of a problem."
"Oh, and what's that?"
They explained the situation to him.
"Wha, Björkman?!" Gjoko said, shocked, "Coming here? No no no, I don't want to be part of anything like that. Go away."
Gjoko tried to shut the door but Esma pushed it back open.
"C'mon, just listen, we need your help right now, ok?" Esma said, "Vlatko tells me you got a boat."
They needed to get Kaliopi back, after all, and so Gjoko reluctantly agreed. Like many he too didn't want to be involved with anything to do with Björkman's Empire.
"Fine," Gjoko said, and so he took them to the lake.
"This boat's the one," Gjoko said, pointing at a medium-sized blue boat, "My one. Why do we need a boat anyway?"
"We don't know yet," said Esma, "Just in case. We never know what Björkman's planning. It's best to be prepared."
The boat sat in the lake as the three of them sat, and waited. And waited. Drifting around the lake, hours passed and still, nothing.
"You sure he's coming?" Gjoko asked finally.
"We're sure," Vlatko answered, "Got a message from him this morning."
Suddenly, a bright light filled the area. They shielded their eyes from the glow. When the light faded, there he was. The Swedish dictator, the one who had caused all this trouble in the first place. A robot was next to him, he was holding Kaliopi. She was trying to free herself from the robot, but it was useless.
"Kaliopi!" Esma yelled.
Björkman had these strange metal shoes on, a stream of jet blue light coming out of them. Jet shoes. So now he could fly as well as everything else. Every day Björkman's Empire was left alone, Björkman was creating stronger and faster weapons. Things had gotten too far. How could anyone stand up to him now?
"Hello, little ones," Björkman laughed, "I have your prize, right here!"
It was at this moment that Björkman and the robot started to fly off, slowly gliding to the other side of the lake. They were messing with them again.
Gjoko ran to the controls and the boat followed.
"Let me go already you madman!" Kaliopi yelled.
"Ok, give you heard her, give her back Jon," Björkman laughed.
And with that, the robot tossed Kaliopi at them. She landed in the boat. Incredibly, it had all gone according to plan. Björkman and his robot then disappeared in a flash of light, presumably to terrorise the citizens of some Swedish city or another. Kaliopi was pretty happy to be back on the ground at least, even if it was on a boat.
"Hey everyone," Kaliopi said, getting up from the tangle of fishing nets, "Long time no see!"
"Well, there you go guys," Gjoko smiled, "I told you I could do it."
"We never doubted you," Vlatko grinned.
"Thanks guys," Kaliopi said, "You really are the best."
And with that, they had a group hug. They were truly happy. This time, they had won. But it wouldn't be so easy next time. Björkman had gave them what they wanted only because they had done what he had said.
"Wish we had entered Eurovision back in 2010, instead of now," Vlatko said finally.
"Well," Gjoko replied, "The competition has changed, that's for sure. It ain't like back in my day. Eurovision used to be a peaceful song contest, and just that, a contest. Nowadays it's all just an excuse to install dictatorships."
Talking about it, the 2010 edition of the contest seemed like such a long time ago. Relatively uneventful, the biggest thing that had happened was Spain's performance being interrupted. That was it. Everyone remembered Germany's victory; a real victory, not like Sweden's. People all across Europe missed what Eurovision once was, and were scared by what Björkman had transformed it into. The 2010 Eurovision seemed so distant, and not at all like now. It really was a happier time.
"Violent thing too, it's become," Gjoko continued, "I mean, look what's happened today. You two should seriously reconsider being a part of this... 'contest'. Not even a real contest anymore, I bet Björkman will just decide the winner like he did last year."
"It's not like we can just quit now," Vlatko said, "It's not that easy."
"Besides," said Esma, "The whole country is expecting us to be there. We can't exactly let them down."
"Well, it's your choice," Gjoko said, "But I'm warning you, be careful out there."
"It's not really a choice," Vlatko said, "Björkman's threatening all the countries who try to withdraw from the contest. It's easier to go and make him happy."
"I'm sure you guys could think of something," Kaliopi said, "Anything to get out of it."
"We can't," Vlatko said, "Just think what Björkman would do to Macedonia if we withdrew now."
And he was right, Björkman's Empire was getting ever stronger. The attack on Iceland had shown the world one thing, do what Sweden tells you to do. And Macedonia and their Eurovision entrants were planning on doing just that.
---
It was now two weeks later; and Esma, Vlatko and Kaliopi were back in the apartment. Kaliopi had brought her laptop over and they were browsing various Eurovision fan sites. There were various messages on forums by people demanding that Imperija be brought back. But it couldn't be brought back. Because Björkman didn't like it.
"Now people... like Imperija?" Vlatko asked.
"The public reaction has totally changed again!" Esma yelled, "Why can't people make their bloody minds up!"
"Yeah, people are posting on all these different websites that they want Imperija back," Kaliopi said, "Annoying really, as they're probably the same ones that were complaining about it in the first place..."
"Well that's just tough," Esma said, "We can't exactly change it back now, not after what happened."
"Yes but there's at least one positive in all this," Vlatko smiled, "In Macedonia at least people like this one more."
"Macedonians won't be the ones voting in May though, will they?" Kaliopi said, "You can't vote for your own country. And there were no positives for me at all, getting kidnapped by some dictator because of a contest I was in a year ago? Not exactly the best moment of my life."
"He's such a god damn jerk," Esma said, "Look at how he can hold this whole country to ransom like that."
"Still don't understand why you guys are going to the Eurovision this year," Kaliopi sighed, "If it was my decision I wouldn't go. It's just gonna be a big propaganda show like when Nazi Germany had the Olympics back in the 30's."
That comparison again. One made all too often. The 2013 Eurovision as the 1936 Olympics; Björkman's Empire as Nazi Germany. The world had said no in 1945. No. Never again. But now a dictatorship had sprung up all over again, and the world was doing nothing about it.
"Yeah well," Vlatko said, "People still went to those, didn't they?"
"They did, but it won't look good in the future," Kaliopi said, "People don't look back on those Olympic games in a good light. People won't look back on this Eurovision in a good light. They can't, not with that dictator running things. I wish I'd never gotten involved in this song contest, it's too much hassle. When Björkman is involved, the story rarely has a happy ending. I know I've been pretty lucky."
"Well, no one could have seen Björkman's rise to power coming," Vlatko said.
Just at that moment, the postman came by, shoving a letter through their letterbox.
"Looks like you guys have mail," Kaliopi said as she went to collect the letter and read it out.
"Hello Esma and Vlatko, as a result of your bad behaviour these past few weeks you are ensured the worst possible draw in your semi final. Enjoy not qualifying. Yours sincerly, C. Björkman."
Short, but made the point perfectly. Björkman was practically admitting that this year's Eurovision Song Contest would be rigged. Bad enough forcing countries to enter his contest, but forcing them to enter a rigged contest?
"What a jerk," Esma said.
"Damn," Vlatko said, "He won't let us withdraw now either. That guy is really out to ruin our Eurovision entry this year."
"You see," Kaliopi said, "Now that you've stood up to him he'll make you guys come last or something."
"It's a possibility," Esma said, "We'll just have to take it as it comes."
This had shown Esma and Vlatko what Björkman was truly capable of. And with this guy running the Eurovision, only time would tell what this year's contest would bring.
The End.