Nicolò Catania threw his sword belt that held his sheathed cutlass and a brace of pistols on the great black table that dominated the sea cabin of his flagship the Fury. He slammed the door to the cabin shut and strode across the cabin to fetch a jewel encrusted tankard and fill it with rum.
Once he had filled it to the brim with the finest New England rum that his men could steal, he thought of the stack of papers impaled on his table with a dead Sikh's kirpan. Like any monarch of a far-flung empire there were the reports of cronies to read and evaluate. There were the intriguing diagrams of new infernal devices being made at Captive Island and finally the estimates of what his men could expect as booty from the current enterprise.
He rubbed his eyes and sighed. His work was never done.
Catania turned and found the great table missing. In its place he found a much smaller writing desk, one that reminded him of his dead father's desk in his native Sicily. Seated at the desk, a bespectacled older man with graying hair and beard labored over what Catania took to be an enormous account book. At first glance, Catania l thought him to be a purser balancing his accounts.
The man looked up but did not smile and then returned his attention to the great volume before him. Catania tried to make out what held the man's attention, but the contents of the pages eluded him, blurring as he tried to read the entries.
For a moment, Catania thought he knew this purser. The man looked up from his paperwork , laid his quill pen down on a small piece of blotting paper and rose. The bearded man rose to study Catania's face eye to eye, keeping both hands spread out on the desk. From what Catania could tell, the man was unarmed.
That was some comfort, but who knew what might be hidden in the purser's clothing. Catania felt a moment of alarm but with great effort suppressed a desire to make for any number of weapons hidden in his cabin.
"Well, a good evening to you," Catania said with a great mock bow, "And for what reason do I have the pleasure of this meeting?"
"Your life," the man said, adjusting his spectacles. Sitting down and picking up the pen, the man said, "I've come to try and understand your life. What would make a man..."
"...make a man such as I turn to piracy and other pursuits?" Catania asked. Catania glanced at a spot on the starboard paneling and quickly looked back at the man, who was already poised to begin writing.
"Precisely," the man said. "Start whenever you wish. I'll only take a few moments of your time."
Catania began to pace, plotting a course which would soon take him near that spot in the paneling. First, he had to find out about the purser.
"I don't turn down many opportunities to talk about me," Catania said. "Who am I addressing?"
The man looked up from his pages and said, "I am a poor but earnest scribbler, you may call me..."
"I shall call you Mr. Scribbler," Catania said, "You see I don't really care who you are, a misguided seeker of truth, no doubt. I just needed a name and now that I have it, I am content. Well Mr. Scribbler, we encounter all types of seekers. They practically throw themselves on our swords."
The man nodded and made a notation in his book.
Without looking up from his work, the man said, "This is about God, is it not?"
"What?" Catania asked . The question startled him so much that he stopped his pacing.
"Your life," the man said, "it's about your opposition to God and dedicating your life to the service of evil. Why do you hate him so?
"Why shouldn't I hate him?" Catania shouted. "Scribbler, I didn't ask to be born. I didn't ask the God of the universe to create me. And for what? He doesn't need anyone or lack for anything. I think he created us to writhe in pain until he deigns to notice us and then pull us out of our misery. Christians call that grace. He created us to be an object of his grace to prove to the angels his greatness and nobility, not because he loves us. For that I'm supposed to be grateful?"
"No, I don't think so. That's not the reason," the man said, not breaking the speed of his writing . "That's what you tell the seekers before you kill them. You want the ones who come trying to save your soul from an eternity of suffering to themselves suffer one last attack against their hope in a loving God."
The man produced the dead Sikh's kirpan from beside the great book. "That's what you said to the worthy Sikh when he tried to reason with you,"
Catania snorted in contempt. "Fool, he thought to add me as a spiritual trophy, a monument to his own piety. I'm like the scorpion in the story. Scribbler, I do what I do because I am a child of darkness. I do what I want and when I want."
"And what is it that you want?"
"Why everything, all of it." Catania said., "to guzzle down and spew out as I please, to soil God's handiwork until the Son of Lawlessness arises. Then we will pull down Heaven, and sacrifice all of it to our father, the prince of darkness."
"It will not happen that way, and at some level you know it," the man said as he closed his great book. From beside the book he held up a smaller volume.
"This book tells a different story," the man said.
Catania at last reached the spot he had plotted for his pacing. He pressed in on the wood paneling. A small hidden door sprang open. Catania reached into the recess and pulled out a primed pistol.
He cocked it turned to say, "And my pistol has a different report!" but the man and the desk were gone. Once more the great black table was in its appointed place. The Sikh's dagger pinning his papers to the table was gone. In its place rested the small volume.
With his pistol's muzzle, Catania flipped open the little book. It was a 15th century pocket Bible, its verses rendered in beautiful handwritten Latin. A small scrap of parchment lay inside. On it were the words, "The King of Kings will return soon, Catania. Choose the excellent way. W. H. Hayes"
From the open pages, the odor of cinnamon and temple incense rose, filling the cabin with a smell that even some of Catania's crew would have found wonderfully refreshing. Catania gagged, covered his mouth and nose and made for the quarterdeck. He did not return until his cabin boy had thrown the volume overboard and aired out his cabin.
Catania could not sleep that night. He sat in a chair, clutching a brace of pistols, waiting for a divine messenger to appear.