"Bones," the lookout reported numbly, "Crossed bones on a black flag."
The captain's face hardened. It was the year 3177 AD, but the flag still meant the same thing. Pirates, in inter-stellar space.
There had been reports of a rogue vessel trolling the spaceways between Alpha Centauri and Sol. The route was crucial to the war effort, and had implications far beyond the Alpha Centauri system.
"Sound battle stations."
The captain rose from his chair and engaged his microphone. "Give me the enemy ship, lieutenant."
With a hiss of static the green light blinked on.
"This is Captain Throne of the SLS O'Kane. Unless you power down your weapon systems we will commence our attack."
"This is Collestus of the free ship Enemiga. It has been awhile, old friend."
The captain showed no reaction, but within his heart was in turmoil. Collestus was one of his mentors from the Royal Academy, and there wasn't a better ship-to-ship combat strategist in the fleet. There had been rumor that Rear Admiral Collestus had disappeared, but he had never connected them to the appearance of the Enemiga. Collestus a traitor... It was unbelievable.
"We will power down our weapon systems and surrender our ship to your prize crew. Opening main hatch now to receive your shuttle."
Throne's eyes narrowed, and he smiled slightly. Treachery was always a safe strategy.
"Surrender received, Enemiga. Our shuttle will deploy shortly. Over and out."
The captain gestured the first officer to his side.
"Load the shuttle craft with all the proton torpedos that it will hold, and a skeleton crew of our lowest grade ship livestock."
"Yes Captain Thorne."
The captain thought for a second. What if Collestus fired on the shuttle craft while it was still in the O'Kane's hold? The torpedoes would detonate in the explosion and the ship would be broken in half.
"Cancel the proton torpedoes and load the shuttle with magnetically activated Gauss bombs."
"Game on, mentor."
“Sticks and stones may break my bones . . . but words will never hurt me . . .”
You wanna bet?
Night. The moon glows dim and vague behind a looming foreground of smoky clouds. Street lamps lend what light they can, when they don’t flicker off. When they do, some superstitious factory-worker or the little girl who lives next door hasten their pace with a gasp or a squeal.
That’s when I strike.
From the shadows behind my window I see them coming around the bend, I watch them come up the street, and then I hit the button. I’ve spent a lot of time wiring these street lamps.
I hear a muffled scream. I’ve been doing this a long time. I can tell by the voice it’s a girl in her late teens; nineteen was my guess. I smiled to myself, leaping to the sill. Somehow, it was always the most fun to do it to the women. Sometimes the men hit back.
I crept silently through the lightless dark. I could see her, though I gave her no chance to see me. She had quickened her step, not quite running but getting closer to it.
I jumped out onto the path in front of her. She must have jumped a foot. She screamed, took a step back, hand over her heart.
Why was it they were always so frightened? Was it the suddenness of my assault? Was it the darkness of the night? Was it the mask, the cape, the black horns? Yeah, probably it was the horns that did it. I might have been a psycho in a Halloween costume, but on a dark, stormy night, I was a dangerous psycho in a Halloween costume.
I cut her off. “I’m going to kill you.”
She fainted right then and there. Words, mere words. But it worked.
I laughed with sadistic glee as she fell; but then there was a thud, and a sickening crunch. I knelt quickly beside her to look. Something wasn’t right about the angle her arm stuck out at. Probably hitting the fire hydrant like that didn’t help. That had never happened before.
I felt her shoulder. Oh, there was definitely something wrong here. Was it broken? I hoped not.
I pulled the cell phone out of her pocket and dialed 911. In a hoarse voice I gave the address, and begged them to be quick about it.
Helpless, I could only stand there and watch her until the ambulance arrived. Then, under the cover of my dear shadows, I retreated guiltily into the welcoming embrace of my lightless room.
This had never happened before. It had always just been a game.
The Chronicler's Ordeal
They say that the life of the chronicler is more esteemed than that of a Turaga, more desired than anything else a Matoran can do.
They’re wrong. Dead wrong. Being a chronicler is like being a trophy, with no real purpose. You’re a burden and a nuisance for the mighty heroes you follow.
Even worse is what you see. Sure, a chronicler from Metru Nui or some nice and lawful place has it easy. Maybe some vicious Rahi, maybe a criminal or two, but nothing as ghastly as the scene we walked through. Ahead my team leader stood, looking about with a grim expression. The village we traveled to was deserted; bereft of the living that is.
I winced as I trod upon a limp hand, picking my way through the corpses.
“Who did this, Toa?” My voice annoys me to no end: shaky after the sudden scare. The Toa of Stone glances down at me.
“Piraka, chronicler. That’s who did this. Skakdi, Vortixx, who knows. They’re Piraka to the core.” His voice was harsh, and he turned away before I could answer. I was stung by his tone before—glancing at his shaking shoulders—I realized that he too was overcome by the tragedy we stood in the midst of.
I turned away instead, hunting out the team healer, a young Lightning Toa. Unlike the rest of us she was at work, lining the still bodies next to each other rather than in the grotesque sprawling they had assumed before. I looked at her, not at the dead Matoran below me.
“What are we going to do?” The real questions never come when they’re needed. Most chroniclers must get sick of reality sometimes when they depict the flowery speeches that go one between the Toa. She looked up at me, her soft blue eyes pained.
“What we’ve always done these past years, Chronicler. We leave the dead and we move on.”
I nodded, unable to look into those deep orbs, stumbling away.
I sat down in a deserted building, at an old desk. My tablet was in my hand, but I couldn’t write. A dead Ko-Matoran lay next to the desk, his hands grasping futilely at a bundle of scrolls. No doubt those were more important to him than his own life. I left my tablet on the desk then, bending over him. As I moved him into a more dignified posture I felt the tears coming. I gave in, crouching against a wall and sobbing.
These moments were not what they promised you when they handed you the scrolls and the tablets, when they welcomed you with speeches and cheers.
These were moments that even Toa could not face. There was no overarching evil to face, no mastermind to bring to justice. It was only another band of scum, of no worth to the world, no worth save for that which they deprived the innocent of.
I don’t know how long I crouched there in my grief, but at last I staggered back to the desk.
It was then that I began writing this with a vigor I had never known.
Life is Karzahni when you really look into it. Recording it just adds another stage to it. Because you see these horrors, and then you relive them by writing them. And you make others live it, even if they can only glimpse it in your text.
But for me, right now, it’s the best I can do. I’m not a Toa, I have no powers or weapons or fancy masks. All I have is this tablet, all I can do is write this.
I’m a Chronicler. This is my ordeal.
The bartender drew the glass from the faucet and slid the mug across the hardwood top to Kay. “Here y’go, miss. Enjoy it.”
She took the glass wearily, took a sip, looked up, turned, spat, looked back, turned again, looked back again, looked down at the drink, looked up again. She cleared her throat nervously and leaned forward. “Um, excuse me.”
“Somethin’ the matter with your drink, miss?”
“Er, no. No, it’s just that, um, well…” she coughed. “You’re a skeleton now, and you weren’t fifteen seconds ago.”
He nodded. “That I am, miss. That I am.” His appropriately-bone-white hand plucked a rag off the back shelf and began to wipe down a spare mug with it, click-clack-click-clack-click-clack.
She tried again. “So, if I can ask… why are you a skeleton?”
“Don’t much know m’self, miss. Sometimes things just happen.” He tapped a fingerbone on the stark-white china pate that was his forehead. Was that what you would call it now? Maybe it was a forebone. Kay didn’t know. Kay really, really didn’t know.
Her eyes flicked down to the mug still in front of her. Oh no. “Oh my god, you- you put some kind of drug in here, didn’t you-“
“Miss, it’s water. You saw me fillin’ it with your own two eyes. Plus, ain’t those your friends or coworkers or what have you over at the pool table? ‘Twouldn’t be much use for me to try anything when they’d jump down my throat the minute anything went funny.” He tilted his head, raising an eyebrow that wasn’t there anymore. “Plus – I may be nothin’ but bones, but that just ain’t right.”
“Okay. Water then. Right.” She took a shuddering breath, closed her eyes, and counted to five. One, two, three, four, don’tbeaskeletondon’tbeaskeletondon’tbea-
Still a skeleton. A kind of faint whimpering noise escaped her mouth. The bartender shrugged. “I am sorry about this. It ain’t ever easy seein’ someone get turned into a stack a’ bones right in front of ya, I know. But ‘twasn’t a thing I could do about it. These things happen, y’know?”
“No, no, no, I don’t know,” she said, her voice turning more than a little desperate. “I don’t know that people turn into skeletons sometimes. Are you dead? Oh god, am I dead?”
“Probably and probably not,” he replied. He tilted his head again and clicked his teeth together in thought. “Well, actually, I’m probably not dead either. So probably not on both fronts.”
“If I scream, are people going to look over and see a normal bartender?”
“Wouldn’t surprise me. ‘S how these things work, don’t they? Trouble comes outta nowhere, lands right in your lap, and minute you try to offload it on someone else it slips out the back porch, and you wind up lookin’ like a crazy person. ‘What,’ they ask, ‘is possibly the matter? I don’t see the trouble.’”
She leaned forward. “Mister Skeleton, please don’t start giving me life advice right now, I think I might be about to pass out.”
“Drink some water then. No point in gettin’ all worked up about it. You gotta roll with the punches, right?”
“Look, my boss reassigned my account this morning. My deadbeat brother took my car and didn’t say when he’d be back. My girlfriend’s not answering her texts, my dog’s vet bill is three times more than I thought it would be, and now my bartender’s turned into a skeleton. I think I’m allowed to stop rolling by now.”
He shrugged, his collarbones swinging up and down like a see-saw. “Alright, alright, I follow ya. But this is what I’m sayin’, y’see? Can’t just let it all get ya down. Ya gotta take it head on. Skull on, in my case.”
Kay grabbed the glass of water off the bar and began to chug it. Don’t think about the skeleton don’t think about the skeleton don’t think about it just finish the water, get up, go play pool, give Jen another text, go home, call the vet, send Jim an e-mail, get Mom to call Ted just don’t think about the skeleton.
She gasped and slammed the mug back onto the bar. The bartender took it. “Y’want another round?”
Primly, she stood, grabbed her purse, turned 180 degrees on her heel, and walked off towards the pool table. Behind the bar, the skeleton clacked his teeth together a few times.
Sometimes you just got those customers you had to turn into a skeleton to help out.