"So tell me," I say over the CB radio, "What exactly is your beef with Captain Bones and the Space Slug? I know you don't like the makeup of the crew but you totally shut down when Bones came into the room."

"How did you manage to connect an 80-year-old communication device to our commlink?" says Claret through the radio. "We didn't even authorize the connection."

"Aristide's been reading the internet forums," I say. "Apparently the radio for this vehicle can communicate with any other vehicle in range." Aristide gives me a thumbs-up from the backseat.

"The deal with Captain Bones is that his ship destroyed our home city," says Smoky Quartz. 

"Do you want to talk about it?"


"The mayor decided to separate from the separatist alliance," says Bonci. "The city council put it to a vote and came up in favor. So the week after we tell the alliance, the sky is blotted out by a giant black mass and there's a little flash of light and suddenly everything is in ruins. Our parents hustle us onto a nearby shuttle and punch in the coordinates, next blast from the Space Slug catches them in the back and they disintegeate before our eyes. We don't even have time to say goodbye because the shuttle is already hightailing it to the nearby ringworld."

"And you've been running around in a junky shuttle for how long?"

"I don't know. Clarity, how long has it been? Three years?"

The Gworb who is not Claret speaks. "Three and a half, maybe, depending on how you measure time. It's been a while."

I stare out the windshield without knowing what to say.

"Are you still there?" says Clarity.

"Yeah, yeah, I'm here. Sorry. So you were, uh...how old are you guys now?"

They give me ages ranging from fourteen to seventeen. Which means that three and an odd years ago, they were ages eleven to fourteen. 

How old are you after your childhood is stolen by war

For a while, nobody in the car says anything.

"Are you still there?" says Bonci.

Ramon grabs the radio. "This Captain Bones sounds like a real piece of work," he says. "Which is strange, because he seemed like such a nice fellow when we spoke to him. Quite the opposite of the Student Loan Company."

"It's easy to be nice when you never actually see your target," says Klunk. "I've never met a mean person among starfighter pilots or planetary bombers. They're all very nice about blowing people up."

"Bones," I say. "Bones. The name sounds familiar for some reason. Something about the man is bothering me and I just can't put my finger on it."

"It is kind of a spooky name," says Ramon. "Or hammy. Little of both maybe. Ah, Resistance crew, I've got something coming up ahead of us. Are we looking for a shiny green ringworld?"

"Yes," says Yellow Hair.

"Orbiting a barren planet?"

"That's the one," says Smokey Quartz.

"Broken ringworld?"

"Bingo," says Bonci.

Ramon has better eyes than me for things at a planetary distance. Through the front windshield and against the backdrop of stars, a massive ring of green metal, broken open at one section, orbits a planet that looks like it was blown apart and then fell back together under its own gravity.

As we fly towards the ruins, I ought to be worrying about who could possibly have enough firepower to blow a planet into chunks. Instead my mind is still stuck on Bones. Didn't I name that mummy Captain Bones? But I dropped the name when the crew of the ships said that I'd got past Captain Bones, so...


Wait a minute.