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Title:  Scooping

Author:  pronker

Era:  Movie-Verse, twenty-six days after the prologue.  

Summary:  Four young penguins make do without their fathers on Fathers Day until an adequate substitute steps in.

Dedication:  To my dad.

IOIOIOIOIO

Rico came up from underneath the struggling penguin chick and boosted him back onto the chunk of ice that formed their abode these days.   "Gotcha, 'Rivate!"  He leaped out of the frigid sea water three minutes before Skipper and when he offered a flipper to help Skipper himself up, Skipper acted like he hadn't seen the courtesy.

"I think he's had enough for today," Kowalski said as Skipper popped onto the ice.  Kowalski patted Private's back as the wet youngster clutched the tall 'tween's waist.  Private buried his face in the soft white feathers of the solar plexus until Kowalski grunted and eased him back a scosche.  If Skipper didn't know better, he'd say that Private was afraid to look him in the eye after his failure to learn today's lesson.  He couldn't figure out what to do next with the little guy.  Skipper missed his dad's advice until he shook off the feeling.  There was no turning back to childhood.

"Yeah, okay.  I guess so."  The currents carrying their lifeboat of ice northward from Antarctica were fierce, it was true, and perhaps Skipper had made an error in judgment by pushing such a young penguin into them.  Since Private could talk directly after hatching, it seemed like his physical abilities would match up.  They didn't.

Rico tapped Skipper on the back to make him turn around.  "'Kippaaahfeeeeesh?"  he asked, dumping half a Patagonian toothfish onto the ice.  He rubbed his wonder tum as he licked his beak.  "Gooooodfeeeesh."

"Oh, yeah!"  Skipper chowed down and it was great stuff, sweet and tender right down to the tip of the caudal fin.  "Mmmmm, you're a good hunter, Rico."

Rico looked over Skipper's shoulder at something and broke into a soft-footed shuffling dance.  He patted his feet to slap the ice in a rhythm that he hummed until Skipper sat down to watch the performance.  "Ahh, dinner theater!  So that's folk dancing in your old hometown back in Hamarskaftet Nunatak?  Looks like fun."  

"Yah."  Rico continued until he got out of breath.  The sounds of pattering feet gave way to another sound above the whish of sea water devouring their ice home.  The new sound contained sniffling and murmurings of comfort.  After another quick look behind Skipper, Rico introduced juggling four mackerel and ended with a Ta-daaaah!  and then a Hooboy! as Skipper swiveled to spot Kowalski still cuddling Private.  

The youngest penguin within one hundred forty cubic miles of ocean had resumed his baby baby practice of standing on the feet of anyone handy.  Twenty minutes after his swimming lesson, Private had graduated to pressing his cheek against Kowalski's midriff so he could see what he could see by looking out to sea.  He zipped his face back into the feathers at Skipper's approach.

"Kowalski, don't coddle him.  The current whittles this ice block smaller every day and we all might have to swim for it --- "

Kowalski had shut his eyes in bliss at his early parenthood or brotherhood, he didn't really know or care which, but now he opened them in warning.  "Don't you mean you and I and Rico would swim and push the ice chunk along with Private on it?  I think that's what you meant."

Somehow Skipper wound up being the bad guy and he wouldn't stand for it.  "No, that's not what I meant."

Rico rose from his tired sprawl.  "'Kippaaaah --- "

"I'm sorry I'm not a better swimmer, Skippa --- "  Private's words came through muffling dense feathers.

"Apologies don't cut it with me.  Hey!"  Rico spun Skipper around and loomed his height over the friend he trusted most.  It was no brag, just fact that he could sit on anyone inhabiting this bit of congealed aitch-two-oh and they'd hurt for days.

Rico growled like a Siberian husky on caboose position at the sled dogs' chow line.  "Nice."

"I am nice.  I'm also needing Private to learn to swim for his own sake, and and, for mine.  And for the rest of you.  We all saved him from leopard seals and we all want to survive --- "

"KaffthePrivatekaff --- "

" --- this argument so we all can be together like brothers ought to be.  There.  Nice enough?"  The sentence hadn't started in his head that way, but he was satisfied with the way it came out.  "So, Private, are you up to getting back in the swim of things?  Say yes."

Private turned to face his teacher until only his heels remained on Kowalski's feet and Kowalski ringed his shoulders in a protective hug from behind.  "I'm scared."  Kowalski squeezed Private's collarbones until Private got pop-eyed.  He broke free of the grip and stood on his own two feet.  He raised his chin even though it wibbled.

"You're --- a penguin, how can you be afraid of the water  --- never mind.  It is what it is.  We're all behind you, Private --- "

"Pushin' me in!"

Skipper sounded honestly confused.  "What about it?  It's how my own Poppop taught me --- "

Rico spoke almost simultaneously with Kowalski.  "Itwuz?"

"Well, yeah.  Wasn't it the same for you guys?"

Two shakes of the head.  "Rico and I got scooped, right, Rico?  Ah, the memories linger."  A sublime grin preceded a lengthy gabble from Rico that Skipper understood partway and when Rico finished, he shared a nostalgic smile with Kowalski.

Skipper considered.  "So scooping might be the best option for the best result, hey, Kowalski?  Lay some newfangled technique on me, buddy."

Kowalski assumed his favored teaching stance, head high, flippers clasped behind his back.  "Scooping is when the parent bird gets into the water first and hoists the youth, who stands on the rim of the iceberg.  The parent then dips the whole totes adorbs little body, ahem, I mean the child's whole body under the water for five seconds before drawing the child up to the chest while they laugh and splash together."

Skipper rubbed the back of his neck.  "Play?  I can do play."

"Um, you can?"

"Nowayz!"

"I can, too."

"If you say so, Skipper.  Don't worry, Private, Rico and I will be standing by."

Skipper adjusted his favored stance, flippers akimbo and chin jutted.  "I'd like you two to get in with me.  We'll be together, just like brothers.  You want to be our brother, like family, right, Private?  You'll enter the water and join us?"  This felt like leadership; this felt right.  It had to work.  "We'll take turns scooping you until you feel better about it --- "

Private's chin wobbled even more.  "I want my real mommy and daddy!"  He sat on the ice and put his flippers over his face.

Now this might be a sticking point.  The three 'tweens had no prayer of turning the ice floe around in this current to return to Antarctica.  Finding Private's true relatives was impossible.  Three long faces turned into two when Skipper came up with his best idea that day.  "Private, when we all grow up, we'll go find your mommy and daddy in Antarctica and tell them what a big brave boy you were today.  We'll make sure they know that their baby had the best support around, right, guys?"  

Kowalski had a caveat.  "We will return, even if this ice disappears from under our feet --- ow!"  He glared at Rico.

"Shaddap."

Skipper flashed back on his dad's reassuring manner.  "Never mind Gloomy Gus, kiddo.  We'll pull through even if push comes to shove and we get dunked in a week or so --- hey, do you see what I see?"

The sight of a seaworthy ship bearing down on them took their breath away.  The old wreck off Antarctica's shores on which they'd eluded leopard seals carried death as cargo and this shiny white ship brimmed with life.  Shouts became clearer as the ship with two stacks reaching for the cirrus clouds overhead got nearer.  Crewmembers raced about the deck, aimed field glasses and lowered a small boat at a safe distance from the ice floe.  A blaring bullhorn directed seamen and by the time the boat reached the floe, three young penguins clotted around a central fluffy penguin.  Three men wearing ice gripper boots clambered aboard while a fourth manned the tiller.   One bearded explorer knelt beside the quartet.

"Is that one trying to karate me?  Formidable!"  Arms tipped with grasping fingers swaddled Skipper in a towel.  Skipper bit and kicked.  "Steady, we won't hurt you, mon petit chou.  Here, Juan, take this one.  Be careful, he bites."  A mesh bag soon held the four water birds.

"Got 'em all, Fabien."

"How did they get so far from home?  Another week in this current and the ice would disappear, poof!  These bébés are much too young to be on their own.  I wonder what their story is?"

As the boat skimmed over the waves back to the mother ship, Skipper studied the strong, kind face that reminded him of his father, well, on the inside.  He felt protected and the feeling eased the transition from having total responsibility for three other lives to sharing it.  The others would be looking to him for an example.

"Smile and wave, boys.  We've been scooped."

IOIOIOIOIO

The End.

IOIOIOIOIO
 

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