Boko’s living quarters had looked like nothing else that Klein had ever seen.
A concealed trapdoor in the forest floor had opened into an extremely large open underground room which served as the chameleon’s home. There were stairs on the walls and ceiling, going in every direction as though they’d been the work of MC Escher. The chameleon had run precipitously to the center of the room and uncoiled his tail under himself again to spring up to its ceiling, turning upside-down in midair to land on it with both hands and feet.
From there, he’d begun scuttling all over the place in 3-D, rattling off everything he’d owned as he’d showed it off. Boko had owned masks, candlesticks, rugs, shelves, capes, robes, wrenches, togas, uniforms, djellabas, loincloths, shoes, boots, sandals, hourglasses, canes, vases, suits, instruments, beakers, lamps, bottles, statues, paintings, and books about his favorite subject – everything. He’d finished his series of mad dashes by dropping back down to the ground from the center of the ceiling where he’d started, turning right side up on his way down that time.
“There’s a method to my madness,” the reptile had assured him. “Make sure to remember where everything goes, I don’t want to risk losing anything,” he’d specified. “Aside from that, make yourself at home. I don’t get many visitors.” The skunk had taken due mental note of this. “That makes me lucky to be here,” he’d assessed. “So, whether I live alone or not depends on your definition, you see,” Boko had explained. “What do you mean?” The chameleon had gestured to everything around them. “I live here with my friends. I call it Noah’s Vault.”
Klein had smiled. “It’s beautiful that you’d think this way,” he’d said wistfully. “There must be so much history behind all those things. So many stories to tell.” The skunk had told the reptile the story of his life until then, but when he’d asked his host to reciprocate, Boko had gone silent. “I look to the future,” the chameleon had finally said, “I kind of have to.” Klein had felt bad for having asked, and hadn’t pressed the issue. “What do you see in it?” The reptile had smiled. “You, I hope. What would you say to a change of scenery?” The skunk had nodded.
“Do you know what participatory anthropology is?” Boko had asked. “I think so, yeah,” Klein had replied. “Would you like to try it?” It’d seemed interesting enough. “Sure, why not?” The chameleon had seemed overjoyed. “Excellent! Are you ready for some?” The skunk had blinked. “You mean right now?” The reptile had nodded. “Absolutely!” So they’d been on their way to where the Sahuagin lived, just like that. Boko had made a campfire for them, and gone off to hunt and gather before returning with tales of other tribes he’d worked with.
When they’d reached the land of the Sahuagin, they’d slept under the stars on their own one last time before approaching them, to be adequately prepared for it. In the morning the chameleon had seemed to have been coming back from somewhere else. “What have you been up to?” Klein had inquired. “Getting breakfast. Most important meal of the day. I traced a circle of protection around you before I left.” The skunk had wondered whether those worked or not. “Your adaptive capacities will be key,” the reptile had warned him. “Do as the Romans do.”
When they’d reached the Sahuagin, Boko had already known how to greet them in their tongue. After just a few hours of observation he’d already absorbed enough of their language and had found the right words to say to them to gain their trust. Klein had been astonished by how fast, but the chameleon had shrugged it off. He’d offered them help with various practical matters of concern to them, in exchange for just a few days of residing study. Klein had seen him change his skin color to the Sahuagin’s as he’d learned all he could about their culture.
The skunk hadn’t made as much headway as the reptile had in their tongue, but Boko hadn’t minded translating for him. He’d said that translating was like alchemy, taking something to turn it into something else which was both different yet somehow still the same. It’d been such a different life from anything else. The tribe had certainly been impressed with his bird calls; the chameleon could imitate anything. One time, though, Boko had come back from the hunt on his own, panic stricken. “What happened to all the others?” Klein had asked him worriedly.
“They’re all dead,” Boko had dropped. “It all happened so fast,” he’d shaken his head.
“This endangered big cat showed up, and it became them or us quickly,” he’d explained. “The others won’t take this well. We should go.” So they’d run away from the village without a word, just like that. On their way back to Noah’s Vault, the chameleon’s head had perked up and he’d sniffed at the air, twitched, and scowled, intense concern mixed with subdued fury. “The forest is in danger, Klein,” he’d said through gritted teeth. “I can hear them. I can smell them. They’re here. It takes years for trees to grow and seconds for them to fall. I can feel them in my bones.”
Boko had started running even faster, as the skunk had struggled even more to keep up with him. When they’d reached a clearing in which beaver and woodpecker loggers had been taking down trees, the chameleon had leapt at them, a mask of demonic rage on his face. His skin had seemed terrifyingly covered by a swarm of a million bees as he’d scuttled, sprung and dropped from one to the next, tongue lashing and tail whipping their axes and chainsaws out of their hands to crush them in his tail coils. Having seen Boko jump in first, Klein had imitated him.
‘No limits, no limits at all.’
With an improvised battle trill, he’d leapt into the fray and he’d somehow found it in himself to start taking down loggers himself, driven by passion and madness. He’d let all the accumulated resentment that he’d been building up over the course of his life come up to the surface, and he’d finally unleashed it on something with everything he’d had. The twisted joy he’d felt had made him feel like blood had been running through his veins for the first time in his life. If this had been what it’d felt like to have been a villain then he’d wanted to be a villain forever.
Boko had carjacked one of the loggers’ vehicles the rest of the way back to Noah’s Vault. He’d disassembled it eerily fast, and he’d hung its dismantled mechanical parts on the walls and ceiling of his lair like Christmas decorations. That night, driven wild by their life of crime, Klein had finally made his move on Boko, and Boko had welcomed it.
Klein had woken up to Boko typing at his computer terminal. “Ah, you’re up!” he’d chirped. “There was a sculpture stolen from Basilisk Museum yesterday. I can’t believe they didn’t care enough to protect it any better than that, can you?” The skunk had shaken his head. “What I’d give to be able to be in two places at once sometimes,” the chameleon had sighed. “What shit security. We’re starting work there this afternoon, “ he’d winked. “Huh?” Klein, groggy, hadn’t been sure he’d heard him right. “Let’s go show them how to do this right, why don’t we?”
Having done gods knew what to their computer system, and having put on his best business suit, Boko had already been on his way with Klein to Basilisk Museum. “Let me do the talking, all right?” The skunk had nodded. “Look, don’t touch.” Answering every question people had asked with just the answer that they’d been looking for, the chameleon had winked and sweet-talked his way past everyone they’d met like he’d owned the place with the irresistible charisma that nature had seen it fit to reserve for true psychopaths.
Seemingly intuiting the security codes from thin air, he’d walked into the surveillance booth, protected from detection by his color-shifting ability. He’d knocked out the seven-headed hydra who’d manned it with his tongue and tail in two seconds flat. He’d found and memorized where everything had been supposed to be, and no laser or tripwire had stopped him from cutting open glass casings with his claws like knives going through butter. They’d already been gone before break had been over and had spent the evening picking where they’d put the sculptures.
“These should be a lot safer here than they were there, don’t you think so, Klein?” The skunk had laughed. “Well, people are a lot less likely to find them here than there, that’s for sure.” They’d spent another good night. But it’d been followed by another panic stricken morning. “There’s an abandoned building slated for demolition near here,” the chameleon had woken him up with, “there’s no time!” So they’d rushed out the door before Klein could’ve asked anything else, and soon they’d reached an ancient building by a cliff with a crane nearing it.
“Come on, DO your stuff!” The skunk hadn’t been sure what the chameleon had meant. “What stuff?” The reptile had rolled his eyes at him. “Stop them!” Klein’s eyebrows had raised. “How?” Boko had heaved an exasperated sigh. “Do I need to do everything myself?” he’d asked as he’d dashed toward the demolition crane. He’d leapt up on the crane’s side with both feet, coiled his tail between he and it, and uncoiled it while re-extending his legs to push the crane off the cliff along with the person who’d been operating it. He’d stuck his landing like an acrobat, puzzled.
“What’s with the attitude? What did you think we were here to do?” The skunk had been at a loss for words. “That building was irreplaceable. So were all of the objects in it. That crane was just assembly line production. They make a thousand like them. You save what’s unique.” Klein’s disenchantment had been complete. “I guess the driver wasn’t unique.” Boko had laughed. "Of course not. People are all alike. I mean, doesn’t everyone say that? Besides, people die eventually anyway. Only objects have a shot at immortality in the first place.”
Klein had been in survival mode by that point. “So that’s why you protect them,” he’d pretended to concede. “From the tyranny of the animate,” the chameleon had finished. “Objects can’t hurt anyone. Their souls are pure.” The skunk had tilted his head. “But where do I come in, though?” The reptile had sighed. “I’m old, Klein, a lot older than I look. I don’t remember anything from my earlier life. At the end of the day, I’m just another pathetic mortal thing. Who’ll protect my objects when I’m gone?” The skunk had stopped and thought about it.
Klein had realized that he couldn’t live with someone if it meant he couldn’t live with himself.
The next morning, it was Boko who’d found a note the skunk had left behind.
‘The world doesn’t need your permission to change, Boko. It’ll happen regardless of whether you want it to or not, and that’ll never change about it. You may have better social skills than anyone, but when push comes to shove, I still think I’m more of a people person than you are. I do want to protect the world, but I have limits, and people are a part of my world too. I learned a lot from you, but I’m going to take my chances with the world on my own now. Best of luck finding someone else to replace you. Your skunk,