Fleet Admiral Akainu surveyed the endless pile of paperwork on his desk and thought longingly of what a fistful of magma would do to reduce his daily workload. Honestly, no wonder Sengoku had been so eager to retire.
His right hand was already starting to smoke, so he gave a guilty jump when a young private opened the door and saluted. "Sir, one of the vice-admirals has made an urgent request for assistance on a matter that she feels is beyond her rank to deal with."
"Is this about a pirate? A dangerous one?"
"Then let's go," Akainu said with a nasty smile, having no idea what he was getting into.
The private led him down the hallway towards the western wing of the building. Akainu was astonished as they began to walk past a long line of people, all carrying with them skeletons in chains or in cages. To make matters more ridiculous, many of these skeletons were dressed in bellbottoms or feather boas and all of them had enormous afros on their heads.
Spotting him, one man with a giant hammer on his back called, "Wait, Fleet Admiral Akainu! My skeleton is the real one! If you're just come over here and look at these signed witness statements, you'll see!"
An elderly woman cried, "No, he's lying! I have the real skeleton. Look at the crack on his head!"
"Everyone knows about the crack, you old fool! Mine is moving! And look, he can talk. 'Ie, ma nam is Rook!' Did you see the jaw move?"
The astonished Akainu was mobbed by a crowd money-hungry citizens, shouting frantically at him. It took several violent punches and kicks before they would stop clutching at his cape and hat. As he staggered away, he realized that he was missing his watch.
"What was that about?" he demanded of the private.
The young man said shakily, "That's what I've been trying to tell you about, Fleet Admiral. There's this pirate who seems to be—this sounds crazy, I know—a skeleton. And we have a 33,000,000 beli bounty on him. But it occurred to some marine that all skeletons looked alike, and he was dumb enough to say it in public, and the next thing we knew we had hundreds of people lined up outside our headquarters toting skeletons. It's absolute chaos, sir."
Akainu felt a tick develop on the middle of his forehead. As he shoved open the huge double doors at the end of the hall, he demanded, "And why does this require my attention? Can't we use a bunch of new recruits to sort out these fakes?"
Vice Admiral Tsuru was sitting at the head of a long table, surrounded by official-looking civilians in expensive clothing. She said wearily, "Unfortunately, identifying a skeleton from a picture is not as easy as it might seem. We have evidence that we've paid out at least twenty fake bounties at various marine bases around the Grand Line. That means that we've paid more money for this Dead Bones Brook than we have any pirate in existence, and we haven't even caught him yet. Doctor Vegapunk is trying to work on a machine that can be used to identify him—and we've spent another hundred million beli on that project."
"Iv you vill allow me to speak, I 'ave a proposition that may allow you to recoup some money, yez?" a sleazy-looking man with a long mustache and a silver suit said.
Akainu looked at him the way he looked at pirates and cockroaches, which the man seemed to take as encouragement to continue. "Ve, the Gallup Circus, are interested in purchasing this skeleton for our show. Ve are even villing to offer up to fifteen percent of our profits-"
"This is outrageous!" An elderly gentleman with one eyeglass shouted. "That skeleton is no mere sideshow! He's a valuable historical resource, a living window into the world from fifty years ago. Imagine the information that could be gained from an interview with an immortal existence. Such a treasure cannot be left to rot in Impel Down. The World Anthropologist Society demands that you hand him over to us!"
"Wait, the anthropologists aren't the only ones! The Community of Archaeologists would like to-"
"Who cares about history? What this is really a find for is the field of biology. Imagine the scientific processes which must go into preserving those bones in such perfect condition."
"All of you scientists can't see the big picture! An effectively immortal being: if we could unlock his secrets then we might be able to create a medical cure for dying. Naturally, we would offer a discount on our research products to any important government officials such as yourself-"
A loud drumming noise caused the windows of the room to rattle. Akainu winced. "What is that racket going on outside?"
Vice Admiral Tsuru said, "It's the Free the Soul King movement. It appears the skeleton is also a well-known musician with many fans. They believe he was forced to retire from his music career by pursing marines and they've started holding massive protests outside marine bases around the world."
"And why haven't we arrested these pirate loving idiots?"
Tsuru said, "There are too many of them. We don't have enough jail space. Why, this petition alone has almost fifty million signatures." She held up a very long sheet of paper.
Akainu was about to crumple it into a ball when some text caught his eye. "Why are they demanding what we free this pirate from prison? I thought we didn't even have him to begin with."
Tsuru sighed. "Information about this pirate musician has become in such high demand that unscrupulous newspapers have started printing rumor as fact. Even the major newspapers are running wild stories with only small disclaimers. A common one is that the marines have the skeleton in a secret jail cell. Some of the wilder ones claim that he's actually the Gol D. Roger's skeleton, or that he's former Fleet Admiral Sengoku's father, or something equally improbable."
Akainu's temples began to throb even harder. "If I ordered a Buster Call on whatever island this nuisance of a pirate is on, do you think we could put an end to this for once and for all?"
"First you'd have to find him, sir. We have approximately five thousand reports of sightings coming in a day. Most are clearly false, but we don't have the manpower to sort through them all."
"You can't order a Buster Call! Not one hair on that skeleton's head must be harmed!"
Akainu contemplated the ridiculousness of his life, that a phrase about not harming a skeleton's hair actually made literal sense. A tall thin man with sideburns pushed his way through the crowd. "The skeleton of Humming Brook has been declared a world treasure by the Royal Historian Society! As such the skeleton and all related artifacts will be taken under the possession and protection of the society. We have full legal authority!"
Someone in the back of the room called, "Oh, stuff it Ed! We both know that your group just votes yourself on what a world treasure is."
The man bristled. "I'll have you know that the Royal Society is vested with its authority from nine-tenths of the nations under the world government, including the Royal Houses of Walpurchia, Suplerfia, Hupervia-"
He was elbowed in the side by a chubby man eagerly making his way forward. "All this talk of history is garbage, you could get any skeleton for that! The true value of this skeleton is in his musical ability, which is why the Global Museum of Music demands full custody, to be used for educational and entertainment purposes." His beady eyes were glittering, probably at the prospect of the huge amounts of money he could charge for concert tickets.
"The Soul King is not a sell-out! Music is for everyone!" a flamboyantly dressed man shouted.
The chubby man sneered, "Yes, and our museum is for everyone…we have only a modest admission fee. We're legally a charity."
"You're a pawn for the record industry!"
"You couldn't even afford a concert hall."
"If this comes down to a bidding war, gentlemen, then the Global Network Dedicated to the Exhibit of Biological Rarities would be willing to pay up to three times the skeleton's current bounty, assuming it is delivered alive, or rather still talking and moving."
"The Sabaody Archipelago Concert Hall will raise you to 150,000,000 beli."
"Two hundred million beli from the Historical Preservation Society!"
"The Center on Longevity Research will raise you to three hundred million beli."
"Three hundred and fifty million from the West Blue University."
"Three hundred and seventy five million from a private collector wishing to remain anonymous."
"Four hundred and fifty million beli, and this comes with considerable political weight, as the Royal Historian Society's members include six kings, eight princes, and-"
"Five hundred million beli, and the World Anthropologist Society claims seniority over all of you by a good hundred years."
"Only if you count the days when all of you were just a drinking club for rich alcoholics trying to avoid their wives."
"Your mother was an alcoholic!"
"How dare you!" the tall elaborately bearded man from the Royal Historian society cried, punching the elderly gentleman from the World Anthropologist Society in the stomach, to much hubbub and outcry.
The sleazy man from the Gallup Circus took the opportunity to slip closer to Akainu and whisper in his ear, "I know what truly motivates you, admiral, and if you would be willing to give us certain consideration in the bidding process, my organization has information about pirate locations that might concern you."
Alas, this move was taken as attempt to seize unfair advantage by some of the others in the room, and the chubby curator of the Global Museum of Music tackled him from behind, accidentally bowling over a short bowlegged man representing the Association of Biologists, who began to whack at both of them with his cane.
Akainu watched in rising fury as the room descended into a flat-out brawl. The various groups with a historical/anthropological bent had put aside their initial differences and banded together against the alliance formed by the music aficionados and the circus industry. Everyone hated the scientists/doctors, some of whom had brought bodyguards but not in sufficient number to protect them from being overwhelmed.
Akainu desperately wanted to barbeque all of them, but the days when he'd cheerfully killed civilians who got in his way were the days before he found out how much paperwork each death generated for the fleet admiral. And if he damaged a marine building, there would be even more paperwork…
"Silence!" A loud, whiny voice commanded.
A hush which even a Fleet Admiral hadn't been able to command fell over the room as the door opened to reveal a man in a bunchy white suit and a glass face-covering—a Tenryubito. Various important personages in the room stumbled backwards in awe and fear.
The World Noble sneered, "This discussion is officially over. The Tenryubito have declared the musician skeleton to be their exclusive property. We also order the Marines to devote all resources possible to obtaining this creature as quickly as possible."
Akainu was unable to help speaking. "Even the World Nobility are fans of this freak?"
The Tenryubito gave him a look of deep disdain. "Don't be ridiculous. We are nothing as pedestrian as common fans. A World Noble simply happened to hear a recording of this skeleton's music, and display it around Mariejois, at which point we realized that such music should belong exclusively to us and not be heard by common people. Since the skeleton is already a pirate, there shouldn't be any problem with making him our slave."
The young marine by Akainu whispered urgently, "Sir, they're not supposed to say that in Marine Headquarters, are they? Aren't we supposed to pretend there isn't any slavery here?"
Akainu's headache was only accented by a loud BOOM. "Can't someone arrest those protesters? At least the ones who think they can play the drums?"
Tsuru peered out the window. "Unfortunately I don't think those were protesters. The people in the black robes—they look like the satanists."
"Yes, a group of them have formed devoting themselves to worship of the resurrected Demon King Brook. They've been sending us threatening letters. Oh, and it looks like they have a battering ram aimed right at us."
With those words, the wall cracked. "What on earth are the marines outside doing?"
"Mobbed by protesters. I'm not ever sure they can see us," Tsuru reported.
The wall fell in, and black robbed people holding candles swarmed inside, chanting, "Satan-sama! Satan-sama!" They began to systematically rip apart the room's furniture, walls, and carpeting, ignoring who they might have to trample on the way. Following them into the room were a number of people in flowery shirts, bellbottom jeans, and other ridiculous clothing. A few held musical instruments, real and fake, and most looked confused or intoxicated.
Seeing that his fears of property damage were already a reality, Akainu prepared to attack, but he'd lost sight of the Tenryubito in the chaos and couldn't resist unleashing his fire. Even using haki against a World Noble would be unacceptable. Tsuru had somehow fallen out the window and was useless. He plunged into the crowd, wildly tossing aside people as he searched for the all-important World Noble. Shouts rang out from the mob, ranging from "Soul King for King of the World!" "The end is nigh!" "Music over Justice!"
He finally spotted the World Noble being trampled by a horde of people running across his back, while a black-robbed man used his head as a stepping stool in order to tear down a picture of a past fleet admiral. A wild-eyed woman began beating him with a guitar as she screamed, "Don't touch me, alien! I'm carrying the Soul King's baby!"
The Tenryubito croaked, "Buster Call…Someone use the Buster Call…"
"We can't use the Buster Call here, this is Marine Headquarters," Akainu said.
Unfortunately, his voice went unheard or was garbled in the chaos, as his young marine escort shouted, "Aye aye, sir!" and, plucking the golden den den mushi from his belt, pressed its button.
"No!" Akainu screamed, visions of paperwork dancing across his eyes. He suspected that the paperwork from Enies Lobby had been what had caused Fleet Admiral Sengoku to start contemplating retirement. Absolute justice aside, it would be very embarrassing for the marines to level two of their own major strongholds with a Buster Call twice within the space of a few years—both times by accident.
Then an even worse thought occurred to Akainu: in the chaos outside no one knew what was happening. If a Marine fleet fired on Marine Headquarters, this could accidentally start a civil war.
Forgetting the World Noble, he took off in a dead run.
One extremely exhausting hour later, Akainu staggered back to Marine Headquarters. Alas, one person alone had not been able to make himself heard to make himself heard to ten ships at once, so while two of the vice admirals had heard his voice and stopped, the other three had continued on their path to attack.
He'd been forced to set fire to several ships himself, but not before one had managed to launch cannonballs at the headquarters, where someone still on duty had fired back. Now half the fleet was sunk and there was a huge gaping hole in the middle of the G-1 building. The idiots hadn't even been able to aim properly and rid him of the protesters and the rest of the crazy mob. Instead, they'd taken out the extremely expensive central communications facility.
Meanwhile, the aforementioned mob had managed to set fire to the Marine Headquarters building. What wasn't riddled in cannonballs was going up in flames. The area was swarmed by marines hauling buckets of water, trying to put out the fire.
The words, "Paperwork, paperwork, so much paperwork" ran like a litany through Akainu's mind as he staggered back towards headquarters (being forced to subdue six giant ships holding hundreds of marines each had left even Akainu severely injured). All he wanted was to sleep and maybe commit some creative arson on his desk full of paperwork while he could blame it on the satanists, but he had to make sure the World Noble was alive. The Saint had called down a Buster Call on his own location, after all.
Miraculously, the room Akainu had left had not been touched by the bombardment. It also appeared that the con-artists, protesters, and satanists alike had all cleared out of the vicinity, probably wisely because at this point Akainu's idea of reasonable force was even more twisted than normal—which meant he was perfectly capable of killing a crying baby.
Tsuru was organizing the tattered delegates in putting out some fires that had started around the room. It looked like she had that more or less under control, with only a few tiny flames left in the room, but judging from the piles of empty buckets and scorched furniture it had been a tough battle. The idiot private who had pressed the Buster Call was nowhere to be found, luckily for him since he would have had about as much chance of surviving Akainu as the baby.
The Tenryubito was lying on the ground bleeding profusely, and Akainu couldn't even bring himself to care. He unleashed a very very mild wave of haki that had hair crawling on everyone in the room. "Alright, listen to me, all of you, because I'm only going to say it once. This is what the Marines are going to do with that goddamn pirate skeleton."
The various scientists, scholars, notables, and wealthy individuals looked at the slightly demented grimace on Akainu's face, and listened very carefully.
The Straw Hat pirates gathered around the dining room table peering at the newspaper, various frowns, blank faces, and expressions of confusion abound.
"If they were going to print us new bounty posters, why didn't they get a new one for me?" Sanji moaned. "Why only Brook?"
"Well, it makes sense that he would need a new poster, since his old one was from when he was still alive," Usopp pointed out. "He looks completely different now."
Luffy cocked his head sideways. "The new picture is cool. But that bounty…" His eyes scrunched up in puzzlement.
"Maybe it's a typo," Nami suggested.
Robin shook her head. "Look on page five. It says here that negative bounties are a new feature added by the marines. If you attempt to turn over a pirate with a negative bounty, they will charge you a fine equal to the amount on the poster."
"So technically, I don't have the smallest bounty anymore," Chopper said optimistically.
Zoro commented, "It's weird, because I feel like Brook has been targeted more than usual lately, not less."
"Except that some of our recent pursuers have not exhibited the usual traits of bounty hunters, hm?" Robin said.
Sanji nodded. "Remember those weirdoes who snuck on here and tried to steal all of Brook's underwear? Called themselves the paparazzi?"
Brook said, "Ladies, if all of my underwear is stolen, would you mind letting me-"
"No," both women said at once.
"You didn't even let me finish speaking—not that I have a tongue to speak with."
"Skull joke!" Chopper and Usopp finished cheerfully.
"Mm, well he still has a bounty poster, and a cool one with even more zeros, so that dash sign in front of it doesn't really matter," Luffy decided.
The captain having made his decision, the rest of the crew concurred, rolling up the bewildering newspaper and putting it away.
"Still, it's a tad hurtful," the skeleton bemoaned.
Franky patted Brook on the back. "It's not your fault you were too super for the marines, bro."
Printed under Brook's picture, in extra-large bold letters, were the words "NOT WANTED."
Aokiji sat sprawled with his legs crossed on a lawn chair atop an iceberg, a sleeping mask over his eyes. An uncomfortable wave of heat washed over him and he pulled off his mask to see Akainu towering over him.
Aokiji scowled. "What do you want? I haven't had anything to do with the marines since I left and I have no interest in speaking with you."
Akainu said, "But I just wanted to tell you that you were correct."
Visibly suspicious, Aokiji asked, "About what?"
"You should have been Fleet Admiral, not me. What do you think? Do you still want the job?"
Akainu made a muffled croak that sounded faintly like a sob.