pronker: (Default)
Title: Tryst; or, When The Legend Becomes Fact, Print The Legend.

Author: pronker

Era: Sometime during the TV show.

Rating: PG-13

Pairing: Skipper/Kitka

Disclaimer: I make no profit from this fanfiction set in The Penguins of Madagascar using its characters and settings that Dreamworks owns.

Summary: Rendezvous as we wish them happen rarely.

A/N: A Missing Moment from from a reminiscent scene in Watermelon Snow Chapter 28. As far as shown, there are few Skipper/Kitka stories (I would love to be proven in error!) Anyway, the inspiration began with MegaProlific authors of bodice-rippers catering to the reading public with the heaving bosoms. You know who you are.

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COMING SOON TO A ZOOVENIR STORE BOOK RACK NEAR YOU

From the author of Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Penguins But Were Afraid To Ask rises an epic romance ...

In the midst of turmoil in the Central Park Zoo involving several species but most of all lemurs, one penguin seeks an oasis of passion high above the bustle of the Upper West Side ...

Can the forbidden love between a bird of high-flying, clever prey and a bird of less intelligent prey come to completion? Will the two overcome all difficulties regarding relative size and dominate their entwined destiny as Fate would have them do? Or will the odds against their winning happiness prove as stacked as the odds for winning at Keno in Atlantic City? Best-selling romance author Ava N. Orendous tells the enthralling tale in Higher Than A Kite --- And Loving It.


Kudos for Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Penguins But Were Afraid To Ask:

"Amazing is the only word for our Ava's latest - she combines facts about penguins with pulse-pounding scenarios that blast your preconceptions about bird sensibilities to smoking husks. You will never again observe penguins waddling in quite the same innocent way. A remarkable blend of outré imagination and specious statistics from SCIENCE!" --- E. L. Jimson, author of I Just Swing That Way, All Right?

~>~

"After one relegates nearly all of Ms. Orendous' most recent offering to subway reading during rush hour, what emerges is a pleasant enough diversion that titillates in a mild fashion. This will never make Good Reads, but what of it? The wordsmith reveals in the teaser end chapter that her next opus contains the word kite, which is a bird of prey as well as a kiddie toy, so don't expect any more humor from her than this pun." --- P. D. Havelock, new submissions editor of Damning With Faint Praise Quarterly.

~>~

"It's short with three-inch margins and there are lots of blurry black and white photos. Get your bifocals out for this one, people, to catch those convoluted positions that you'll wish you could attempt without throwing your back out." --- Hans Von Franzen, Amazon Vine Reviewer.

~>~

~<~

Purple Prose Productions is proud to present this excerpt from Ava N. Orendous' High As A Kite --- And Loving It with the imprimatur of Ms. Orendous. Reserve your copy today!

From Chapter Nine ("Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Yonder")

Gentle breezes wafting across a rooftop ruffled the feathers of two birds who stood poised in uncertainty against a backdrop of impersonal Manhattan edifices. Their history lay in every glance and line of their body language, but the scene spoke of an unexpected yet not unwelcome encounter on brief notice. One bird's expression warmed to a welcome that was nevertheless sensitive to the other's state of angst.

"You seem tense, Skipper. Let me help." Kitka moved to stand behind Skipper, who twitched from the residue of battle nerves. Shaken from the efforts of subduing Mort's apocalyptic rebellion against King Julien's tyranny, Skipper trembled as he neared exhaustion. She crooned soothingly as she massaged his neck in a penetrating rub.

Skipper sank to his knees in relief. The daring peregrine falcon's expert touch soon made him forget the knots in his muscles as he turned to limp pho noodles. He bowed his head.

"Oh. Oh yeah, right there. Oh!"

"Thaaat's it, relax into me, lean back, yes, my sweet." Skipper looked up gratefully to see the underside of a razored beak bent not one half inch above his head. From this angle, his beloved seemed all cold killing machine, but her actions spoke of tenderest affection for him. He fell under her spell as their rendezvous blazed off to a stupendous start. Faint music drifted past his earholes, something adagio from Vivaldi's Concerto No. 1 in E major, Op. 8, RV 269, "Spring." The adagio tempo hinted more at "Summer," with its steamy undertones.

Skipper settled back further against her banded chest feathers. A scent that reminded him of home pushed through his senses, but he felt too lazy to identify it. His eyes drifted shut.

Kitka worked his neck like a professional masseuse and when his head lolled to one side, she nibbled right above his earhole as her breathy sigh penetrated the black gloss of dense feathers there. He jumped out of lethargy as he got to his feet.

"Er, uh, I'm in line for this, but I don't want to rush you --- "

Her voice turned into a purr that he didn't recognize. "I've missed you so, Skipper. I've been waiting and going crazy for you. Look." She indicated her nest five feet away. The beguiling scent of seaweed arose from strands embedded in the jumble of twigs and fresh leaves that promised a memorable interlude among the heights of Manhattan. "It's for you. Only for you."

Blushes didn't show through feathers, but Skipper allowed his to push him onto the path of least resistance. As if in a dream, he took the offered tips of her wings while she walked backwards to her nest, pulling him along to what they both wanted and wanted now ...

THAT WAS THE LEGEND.

HERE IS THE FACT.


"Aw come on," cajoled Skipper, his eyes glittering like the Yogo sapphires set in a platinum tiara that Brick and Cecil pilfered in Ought Three. "Those wings are headed for trouble and they're taking you with them." He grinned, proud of coming up with this bon mot on the spur of the moment.

Kitka folded her wings and arched a brow. This was her home territory, where New York City traffic clamor gave way to the whistle of zephyrs between skyscrapers. "I am not sure if I want to make up. There are other birds out there who can fly."

"Low blow, Kitka."

"Didn't we already do that? Oh wait, that was me. No. The answer is no. You and I are done."

Skipper fished for reasons to hook up without sounding needy, but damn, it had been a long drought. He'd expected to be rounding second base by now. "What if that mean falcon guy finds your new nest? I could protect you!"

Kitka looked him up and down and peered pointedly behind him and to either side. "You're alone. Rico isn't here to toss you skyward to fight him and anyway, my wing is all better. I can fight my own battles."

This was not going to plan, and Skipper always held to a plan except when he threw it over for a better one. It wasn't time to throw this plan away just yet. He playacted with a pitiful look and was only half joking when he pouted, "C'mon, doesn't seeing me again make you remember --- "

"Stop. Just stop. You know that I haven't any pity. Predators can't afford any."

Common ground, always advance on common ground. "Hey, I'm a predator, too."

"You? Alice tosses you fish each day, how does that make you a predator?"

Skipper felt himself shrink from his earlier eagerness for a reunion. The physical response dropped his endorphins to below sea level in Death Valley. "Yeah okay that's right but" --- he pierced her with his best determined look --- "before we penguins got sidetracked into the zoo, I had to learn how to fish and stuff with no parents coaching me. I was barely beyond a hatchling." He ladled on the pathos with a leaden spoon because, hey, it might work. "I had to be responsible for baby Private and the others."

There was the haughty, aristocratic look that attracted him originally. "What have you caught lately?"

Somehow she wasn't so pretty since she healed past being dependent of his nurturing her back to full flying health. He glanced at her wing. It looked identical to the one that hadn't been broken. Hmm. Maybe coming here hadn't been such a good strategy after all. He'd give it one more try. "I could help you decorate your nest, you know, bring in pebbles and seaweed --- "

He could tell she was getting bored because she looked up to check the weather as a cloud passed over a weak March sun while the touch of sunny warmth faded. "Nuh uh. Let's leave our memories untarnished, all right? I'm on my own, you've got your team to go back to --- "

Skipper's Log would never hold this entry. "You're so independent, well, be that way. I like birds and there are other birds, and, and mammals, and even reptiles who like me. Stuff it, Kitka." Bridges burned, so be it. He turned his back on her to head for the edge of the roof.

Kitka scraped her left outside talon against the tar and gravel rooftop of her new home. The sun came out from behind the cloud. "Wait. Skipper, how did you get up here?"

He had already scratched off this solo mission from today's mental agenda and was returning to base the way he came. He paused at the roof's gutter and looked down six stories where something by Vivaldi floated up from a string quartet. A street fair celebrating St. Urho's Day featured small crowds of happy shoppers and several stilt walkers ambulating in a conjoined costume as they portrayed a neon green grasshopper. "Working backwards? Zipline, crosstown bus, waddling four blocks in stealth mode and pole vaulting over the zoo fence because I was so hot to see you again. Why?"

"I can give you a lift home."

"Forget it. I'm outta here."

He dropped over the side of the building without a backwards look. The zipline held him up as he pushed off and then it loosened halfway through his course. He ripped out his worst curse as he lost his grip on the line. By General MacArthur's return, he knew how to take a fall, of course, but this was going to hurt.

He hadn't stayed frosty on the way over as he burned to be with her. Failing to secure the line properly stung like a paper cut as he paid the price for his inattention to detail while blinded by passion. Really, it was going to be humiliating to explain this to his troops, if he ever got back to them, that is.

Skipper looked around for options.

Ahah, the Simpkins Embroidered Pillow And Tasseled Sham Emporium next door to where his zipline dangled! Look at all their fluffy inventory! And their window was open to catch refreshing spring breezes! He stuck his flippers out like ailerons and made a rudder out of his feet and stubby tail. No way was he going to make it easy for the sidewalk to win by plunging headfirst into Portland cement if he missed the window.

gonna make it ...
gonna make it ...
gonna make it ...
gonna make it ...
gonna make it ...
not gonna make it ...


The sidewalk loomed ten feet down when a shriek hurt his earholes and a something grabbed both feet. The something pierced the skin but at least he wasn't going to smush against the pavement. Skipper strained his neck upwards to see Kitka's buff underbelly feathers and muscled chest bulging with effort as she hauled him skyward.

The crowd became animated.

"Cheezy louisey! A falcon caught something!"

"It's got a duck, fer cryin' out loud!"

"Onward, men!"

A stiltwalker with a grasshopper's antennae on his head lurched towards them with two others connected behind to make a pass at collecting him from midair, but Kitka's skill as frequent flyer zigged when the stiltwalkers zagged. The two birds evaded them like a P-51 Mustang eludes a Stuka. The off-balance stiltwalkers twisted their grasshopper leg stilts as inept newbies eating Szechuan cuisine twist their chopsticks. The men flopped into the crowd, several of whom bravely moshed them to safety.

With blood rushing to all the wrong places, Skipper saw no way to make Kitka's task easier by squirming in pain, so he adopted his least favorite maneuver, Routine Seventeen: Just Relax And Take It You Fool.

Kitka flapped desperately. "See," she panted, "you've eaten way too much fish with no effort."

"Just put me down," he growled as he swayed mid-air. "I want to cover my shame. Give me that much, Kitka."

Kitka landed like a ruptured duck onto a three-story building. The two birds tumbled over and over and stopped at last against a wooden support of a rooftop pigeon house. Startled coos filled the air as Skipper wound up on top of Kitka.

The falcon rolled her eyes so hard they must have hurt. "Hey, get off me! Never again. I know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em."

Skipper forgot to be grateful as he gained his feet, extending a flipper to help her stand. "You know, I've had better break ups. It's a good skill to learn in life." The building was at the corner of 91st and West End Avenue. Skipper sighted the intersection and knew exactly which direction to take to return home after hiking down the fire escape. "I'll make it from here, lady." He bent to examine his feet. "You stabbed the hell out of me."

"I had to. Sorry." To her credit, she sounded contrite.

Blood dripped between the webs of his toes. Skipper caught her mesmerized look at the red stuff before she pushed the greed inside again. Sore and bleeding and fighting a grudge, he snapped to battle stance. "My eyes are up here." Kitka still had a glazed expression so he added, "Don't take me on, sister. This is just a little prick." She licked her beak and dragged her gaze upwards again.

"I can control my urges, not like you." Why hadn't he ever noticed before that her eyes got all predator-ish when she turned wasp-ish?

He could not let that remark stand. "Oh, right, yeah! You were hoping I'd come back --- " This was a wild shot. She hadn't actually looked anything like hopeful. "You were dreaming that I'd come find you --- "

"No, I wasn't. Goodbye." She flew away.

"And good riddance," Skipper said to her tail feathers. He only half meant it.

IOIOIOIOIO

The End.
pronker: (Default)
"Time, Kowalski."

Kowalski squinted at the sun's angle.  "Eight twenty-five and three seconds."

"Far under our takedown calculations of three point nine seven hours."  Skipper always loved posing the next question.  "What went right?"

"You're asking me?"

"Options, man, with as little commentary as is possible.  Compare this encounter with the last, double time."

Kowalski sat beside his commander on a log in a grove of linden trees out of sight of traffic on Road 1.  It was just past its meager rush hour as he rested his head on his flipper in an unconscious tableau of The Thinker.  "One: Blowhole operated on a smaller scale than Project Bad Tidings and we didn't contend with a larger base containing more minions."   He closed his eyes for a moment at the thought of Parker's presumed intimacy with Doris before he had reunited unsatisfyingly with her.  "Er, yes.  Onward.  Two: Lack of accomplices for us to battle, because we never learned who Agent Twelve is and Parker remains in Cuba."  

Skipper nodded.  Kowalski would come up with a third thing later.  "Him, we don't need."  He kneaded his lieutenant's shoulder.  "How's the leg?"

"It burns worse than the cuts to the shins last week, but no tendons or muscles damaged.  I just feel woozy from blood loss."  Kowalski leaned into the touch.  "We'll depend on Rico to get us airborne to the milk truck's roof, I think.  There's small risk of notice because rural Road 1 is more deserted than Mariehamn proper and Our Man From K.A.B.O.O.M. is as precise with explosive tangents as any penguin could be."

"Sounds like a plan."  Skipper bent over the injury.  "The sea water washed the blood stains from your feathers but damn, the salt must have stung."  Skipper gave a pat to the shoulder and then removed his flipper.  No use coddling anyone, was his motto.

"It hurt like when I absentmindedly took a big bite of Rico's five alarm chili as I was thinking of ununoctium's acceptance as a noble gas for the element table."  An unwelcome option had to be said.  "If our keepers see me limping, they might take me to the infirmary."

"Will there be needles?"

"Maybe."  Skipper sucked in a breath and then let it out slowly.

"Would that be such a bad thing? For you, I mean." 

"I'll admit to not liking shots, but I don't get all --- um --- "

"Paranoid, like I got with the Viking homeschooling?"

Kowalski ducked his head.  "I wasn't going to say anything because each of us, at one time or another --- "

"It all comes out in the wash, mi terroncito de azúcar."  Kowalski had made certain that Skipper sat in a ray of morning sun that filtered through the unleafed trees.  The glossy coat shone dry by this time.  The fresh patches of growing feathers gave Skipper a youthful look, not that Kowalski would mention that, either.

The commander and his second watched Private and Rico pantomime the capoeira maneuver that might, or might not, become part of the team's repertoire.  Sasquatch approached, carrying a segment of console siding under one arm and trundling the segway.

"This right for size?"

"It'll do for a penguin orbital platform, Sasquatch.  Thanks."  She stood the segment up against a sapling and sat in the watermelon snow drifted by the log.

"I'm off for Nepal soon."

"The road trip won't be what you thought it would be."  Skipper was matter of fact.  "Did Hugo send a farewell while you were in the lorry?  I saw you rub your forehead."

She crossed her legs at the ankles and leaned back while bracing her elbows on the log's rondeur.  "No.  He's too far away.  That was your calf, I mean the littlest one."

"What?
  Mammal to bird telepathy and vice versa is just nuts!"  Kowalski looked floored but Skipper held his tongue.  Weird was the name of the game when it came to telepathy.

Sasquatch pursed her lips.  "It wasn't like with Hugo.  There was less detail and I couldn't hear his words.  I only got a glimpse of what he planned and then when he said Kastelholm and made himself such a perfect target, I kicked him."  She looked up at the tree branch drooping above their heads that had weeks to go before budding out.  "I'm sorry for that and for what I put you all through."

It took some time for Skipper to come up with a reply but the sight of Kowalski's temper starting to boil brought out the right words.  "It's in the past."  He breathed deeply of the scent of the sea in the fjord north of their position.  He pictured Ted's arrival there as a young polar bear while admiring the species' long range swimming ability and if Skipper drifted a little in concentration, nobody could blame him.

Sasquatch took in Skipper's simple statement.  "My kind will die in the wild along with the saola and the Sumatran orangutan."  She sighted where the moon was last in the sky.  "But until then, we live."

Kowalski subsided with a mutter that Skipper was certain he didn't want his commander to hear clearly.  The team leader focused once more on the aftermath of their mission.  "Kowalski, we know that Road 1 is the primary road for this island --- "

"Fasta Island, the island in the Ålands with the most humans."

"Er, right.  Can you calculate how many deliveries the milk truck will make and when it will swing this way again?"

Kowalski knew a peacemaker's diversion from a quarrel when he heard it.  The answer was something he'd been working on since Blue Three had cowered before everyone and Skipper had made a disgusted gesture that said go away boy you bother me as plain as day.  "Fasta covers 390 square miles with a population 90 per cent of the Ålands total and averages 47 humans per square mile so therefore" --- he rubbed his beak --- "given his speed we observed and the dimensions of his truck while hazarding a guess at its tare" --- he folded his flippers --- "I calculate in forty-five minutes and thirty-four seconds, give or take."

"Give or take.  Uh huh."  Private and Rico finished and came at Skipper's call.  "Rico, check on the driver of the artic.  Private, I want a word with you."  Rico sped off across the road.

"Blowhole left a crack in the window after he gassed him so the human could get fresh air.  I guess that was when the harami still thought he should do good deeds to meet you in the Pure Land."  Sasquatch fiddled with her neck.  "Eh, a little whiplash from the artic's sudden stop.  I'd better walk around to loosen it up before attempting the segway.  I've gotten through the action part and now I just want to go home."  She headed deeper into the grove.  The penguins refrained from pointing out that the watermelon snow had stained her bottom a dusky pink.

Kowalski made to move away.  "No, rest your leg.  This won't take a minute.  Private, you broke formation and communicated an unproven tactic in a highly unorthodox manner."

"Aye.  Prepared for disciplinary slap, Skippa."  

Skipper slapped him at less than half strength.  "Just because it turned out all right does not mean that it was okay to do that."

Private kept his chin up.  "Aye."

"Keep Kowalski company while I get something from the lorry."  Skipper waddled to the lorry and back faster than he would have one week ago.  He waggled a greenish travel size bottle in a most pleasing shape.

"Gammel Dansk!  Blowhole lives right."  At Skipper's look, Kowalski added, "But he's in the wrong about everything else."

Skipper smiled.  "A toast to a successful mission, just a lil sippy.  Private, how's your head?"

"Aw, er, uh --- it's, it's okay --- just a headache left, I don't see two of anythin' now and I don't hate her any more --- "  He looked not as eager as Skipper would have thought at the prospect of taking this rite of passage.

Kowalski sighed.  "Private, you and I must not partake.  You don't need to complicate a head injury and I don't want to get woozier when we need all our coordination to stay on top of the Slip'N Slide roof of the milk truck.  Skipper, limit yourself to half a sip and you'll be fine."

"Next time, Private, I'll get you a drink and you'll see what all the fuss is about.  For right now, go keep lookout and think about how you are the team's resident capoeira expert."  Private moved some yards away to await their departure at his post behind the tree trunk nearest the road.  His skrawk synchronized with one coming from eight trees down the grove and thirty feet up from the same kind of bird in the Kastelholm clearing.

"Rico sent up a flare from across the highway!  What is he thinkin'!"

"Von Hindenburg's mistake, Rico!"  Skipper hustled to Private's side with Kowalski limping behind him.  Sasquatch returned from her walk and stepped behind a neighboring linden, rolling her shoulders.

"Does this happen often?" she asked.  She peered across the roadway.  "Hugo?"  She rubbed her forehead.  "Hugo!"

A russet shape knuckle walked sedately across Road 1 with a black and white escort.  Rico reported to Skipper as the two friends grasped each other's hands.  "Ooman 'kay."  He demonstrated with a monstrous snore.  Skipper got it out of him that Hugo had startled him into an involuntary upchuck.  He held off on the slap due to extenuating circumstances.  There hadn't been a vehicle pass in the last fifteen minutes, anyway.

"I changed my mind, is that allowed, ayam?"  Hugo backed off from the handclasp.  "It happened right after you left and I looked into my future at the zoo as a big black hole.  I escaped the primate house as soon as they put me back in there and reached Imelda's habitat.  She sneaked with me to the shore and then she swam me on her back.  She said it was good exercise to lose weight and that she'd been practicing with Marcus."  He looked proud of himself.  "I paid strict attention to your briefing, penguin.  She swam up to"---  he recited carefully --- "Möckelö area near Bursfjården and we found Möckelövågen Road together."  He pointed where the smaller road crossed the larger Road 1.  "It ends at the fjord about one mile north.  I waited in the woods until all looked clear here.  I nearly got the courage to climb a tree."  He seemed finished and then thought of one more thing.  "I knew you would win the battle."

Skipper refused to voice his doubts at the statement and accepted the sentiment at face value.  "Good old Imelda.  And we're happy to serve, Hugo."

Kowalski looked around.  "Imelda!  Where is she?"

The scientist sagged at the answer.  "It took two hours to swim here because we needed to bear south around the peninsula and then north.  Imelda said she had to get back to Marcus and the zoo before visiting hours."  Hugo paused.  "The open ocean is" --- he shivered --- "cold and dangerous.  The same walrus that threatened me to keep away from Sasquatch bullied us at the mouth of the fjord."

"Harreram!  What happened, Hugo?  A walrus working for Blowhole and disguised as human entered the zoo to intimidate him," Sasquatch explained to the commandos' questioning looks.

Hugo's incisors gleamed in the sun.  "Let's just say Imelda 1, Walrus 0."

"Outstanding!  You rock, aquatic ursine!"  Skipper observed the two friends hanging back to talk things over.  "We'll just leave you two to hang back and talk things over.  Rico, this is our orbital platform for four penguins' load plus drag and we'll depend on you to supply lift plus thrust to gain the milk truck's roof."  Rico saluted and turned to check the console siding's dimensions with Private as helper.  "Kowalski, you and I have something to discuss."

Kowalski limped listlessly back to the log with his commander.  "Imelda could have transported us back, no problem.  We wouldn't need to blast ourselves skyward.  We wouldn't need to slither on top of a milk truck driven by a maniac."

"Plotz."  Kowalski plotzed.

"Think of a third thing."

"Sir?"

"Think of a third thing that went right."  At the look of confusion, Skipper went on, "Like this: uno, we're not pushed for time to get back to the zoo, dos, none of us got injured more than is reasonably expected, and tres, Blowhole got plugged in fewer hours than you calculated averaging our other battles against that nutjob.  Go for it, I dare you."  He crossed his flippers over his bald spot.

The flock of small birds twittered as they returned from across Road 1 to forage in the spare branches overhead.  The sun felt nice on his leg.  Kowalski thought hard.  "Three is that Sasquatch joined us."

"Agreed.  She could have been stubborn or let the moon cat out of the bag about me being alive."  Skipper settled himself comfortably and continued.  "Say, Kowalski, tell me more about Lineus longissimus, Plectus murrayi and Mesenchytraeus solifugus."

Kowalski's jaw dropped and Skipper laughed.  "I really want to know, Science Guy."

"They --- you --- me --- he --- messy ---"

"Come on, a brief briefing, if you please.  We have some time to pass.  Enlighten me."

Kowalski noticed how his commander's eyes remained steadily on him.  There was no way to tell if the penguin would look right or left to indicate a lie short of a staring contest and it didn't really matter, anyway.  He accepted the command tactic for what it was, swallowed his pride and launched into a lecture portraying how he would have matched DNAs of three useful species for an undetermined reason.  Ten minutes later, Skipper called a halt.

"I'd like to hear more about this, so let's table the discussion until our trip back to New York City.  Rico, how's it going?"

Rico and Private finished duct taping the charges to the underside of the thick plastic siding.  "Kaboom seefour'kay.  'Rivateliftnao."  The two hefted the siding to the verge under the shadow of an evergreen tree.  It was unlikely the sparse traffic would notice the gray piece of plastic and as Private placed rocks underneath it to provide the correct azimuth, Rico finetuned the angle for an eastbound truck of known height and speed.  At last they stepped back.  "'Kippaaaah, reddy."

"Good work.  Come here and we'll celebrate."  Skipper waved the bottle over his head to signal Sasquatch and Hugo.  They walked easily together, Skipper noticed, as similar in appearance as Maurice and Ringtail with the same height differential.  "Chug a lug, Sasquatch?"

"Why?"

"To celebrate the mission's completion."

Rico took the opportunity to take the bottle from Skipper as he mimed opening it with his beak.  He passed the bottle to her with a gleam in his eye to see the feat once more.  She stretched her hand out for it but Hugo snatched the bottle and jimmied the cap.  "This will be my first drink!  Santi, everyone!"  He tipped the bottle skyward.

"Take it easy!  Hit him on the back, lady!"

"Calf steps, my friend, calf steps.  There.  All right now?"  She took the bottle when Hugo recovered before returning it to Skipper.  She rubbed Hugo's neck soothingly.

"Ack!  Kaff!  Kaff!  Ah-ah-ah-choozowizzle!  Why --- does --- anyone --- do this?"  Hugo regained his breath.  

Sasquatch and Skipper pulled the same face.  "It's like losing your virginity, simian.  You don't understand until it's all over and starts to feel good.  Give it a minute."  Skipper passed the Gammel Dansk to Sasquatch after wetting his whistle.  She savored the heft of the bottle as she swished the contents around.

"Looks smooth."

"The Danes manage to get a few things right."  Skipper indicated Rico and she handed the drink to him, watching as he closed his eyes in rapture for his portion and licked his scar afterwards.  Rico pressed both flippers to the bottle to pass it back to Sasquatch.

She took it, hesitated and then said, "No.  Thank you."

Hugo looked mellow.  "I understand, ayam.  You do as you see fit."  He sat suddenly with arms splayed to each side.  "Tai, that's an effect as good as a durian at its peak of ripeness and aroma."  He burped.  "Maaf."

Sasquatch handed the bottle to Private.  "Take it.  I'll pass."

Private started to pipe up a why but Skipper spoke his mind first.  "Nothing matters but the mission, which was successful.  This is a nearly perfect day for me, so От всей души поздравляю, Снегурочка."  The challenge was in the tone of voice and Sasquatch met it.

"You're congratulating me when my mission to save my kind failed.  On top of that, you're calling me a maiden?  Explain yourself, soldier."  She crossed her arms.

A titter burst from Private at the role reversal before Kowalski and Rico both cuffed him.  He mouthed an ow! as Skipper formed a reply.  "The team's mission succeeded, Sasquatch, and I'm including you in the team.  The world is free of giant ice-melting venomous slimy worms that were responsible for serious injuries and might have killed a fisherwoman, you're on your way home with a friend and we're on our way home, too, in" --- he gestured to Kowalski, who held both flippers straight up --- "eleven minutes.  The team's mission was worthy of effort and your motives were pure enough for yours.  As for the means you chose, you'll have plenty of time to think things through on your road trip.  Who knows what will happen next?"

Private offered the bottle and she took it after a moment.  "To the future of my kind," she said, and sipped.  "That's all, I'm driving."  She nestled the bottle in the watermelon snow next to the log.  "But ... a maiden?"

"And why not?  Blowhole took away everything that made you not a maiden, right?"

"He did."

"So you get a fresh start in life, right, new form, new friend, traveling the world like you never did before, right?"

"I suppose so."

"Done in one: you're a maiden again."

"Fake it until you make it, is that the idea?"

"You got it, sister.  Consider this your 'special briefing.'"

"Oh you're too much."  She smiled without showing her teeth and then shrugged before she picked up Hugo by his pits to set him on his feet.  He blinked and became more alert as she knelt and gestured to her back.  He grinned broadly as he clambered aboard.  

Four little penguins waddled next to her while she positioned the segway heading east to Finland.  Rico kept lookout as she aped Blowhole's stance and motions to direct the vehicle.  After a trial run of ten feet, she turned around to bid them farewell.  "I'm nearly done on earth but you're not, bull.  You've got miles to swim before you sleep."  She nodded at Private who had wound up staunchly at his commander's side.  "And much to enjoy.  Goodbye, Skipper, Kowalski, Private and Rico."  It was the first time she revealed that she knew the names of the entire squad.  She tootled off down the road on the segway with Hugo clinging to her back as he had to his mother in decades gone by.  

"But how will you get off this island?  You don't like getting wet!"  Skipper wasn't sure that they could hear him.

"We'll figure something out," Hugo hollered back.  He unlatched one hand to wave.  "Farewell, penguins of Åland."

IOIOIOIOIO

Rico launched his team onto the top of the milk truck flawlessly.  In midair as the world spun and roared, sitting toe to toe with Kowalski, Rico, and Private, Skipper decided that his team was perfect just as it was, the loss of Manfredi and Johnson notwithstanding.  

He would never see Manfredi and Johnson again this side of the Endless Iceberg.  That was acceptable.

As the truck bumped over a pothole, the noise disguised the clank of a horseshoe magnet deploying and the shhhhzzzirrrr of the unneeded console siding kiting off the roof.  The driver must have wanted to move it move it to get on with the rest of his workday at the milk distribution plant because he sang no more.  

Rico and Private anchored Skipper and Kowalski to the roof and since the sunshine had banished the frost, the ride was nearly pleasant enough for two penguins at less than their best to nod off in exhaustion.  Each could nap in the knowledge that the peace of Åland was secured by their efforts.   

Kowalski roused when the turnoff for Mariehamn approached.  He got a little rambly, which his friends attributed to his state of pain or discomfort as the Doc in Central Park Zoo termed it.

"If we continued east to Lumparn Bay, we could see where a meteorite struck our earth one billion years ago to make a crater six miles wide. The bedrock in the area is a rapakivi granite isn't that an unusual name you know rapakivi has a high uranium content of 24 parts per million and if one of Blowhole's worms died near it the potential for the worm reviving into an even larger zombie worm is off the charts --- "

Skipper rolled his head to spy Kowalski staring blankly at the sky as he calculated the odds.  "Let's get you home to rest, compadre.  You can rapakivi us another time."

In the end the ride simply wasn't long enough to snooze and by the time Mariehamn's charming skyline came into view, everyone was lulled into a mild fatigue.  As the ancient church that Skipper had mentally GPSed appeared, he nearly didn't recognize it.  

"There's the church!  But it's been worked on since last night, er this morning, oh you know what I mean.  The cross is back up."  Whether it was removed for repair or regilding, it felt right to see it in place as they dropped off the milk truck uneventfully.

From the church to the zoo was the span of one half hour's clandestine slogging from one hiding place to the other on the quiet streets.  Before they knew it, they waddled past the polar bear habitat and waved to Marcus.  "She'll be back any minute now!" they chorused and Marcus returned the wave.  Skipper's and Kowalski's boost over the penguin habitat fencing marked a small respite before the beginning of another day entertaining guests by simply being themselves.  Nobody was up to much except laying out as they all succumbed to slumber.

Imelda greeted them through the stone habitat barrier at noon feeding time.

"GUYTH?  Got back in the NICK!"

"We're here, IMELDA!  How's by YOU?"  Kowalski had perked up since explaining worm DNA to Skipper and expounding on a meteor crater.  He chatted with gusto as he regaled her with the news she could use.  Congratulations on their victories were exchanged and this time, Marcus joined in with awed questions.  Kowalski used up his energy and had to beg off answering after fifteen minutes.  "Laters, MARCUS!  Keep it REAL, Imelda!"

"Right ON, bird!"

IOIOIOIOIO

"Why does she talk like that, anyway?  It's contagious," Skipper mused at telly time that Private insisted on.  The penguins had stayed up late to catch the Rangers score and sure enough, the point spread was one.  The Rangers 2, Ducks 1 score eased them into complacency as their nerves reknitted after a harrowing sixteen days that was planned to be relaxing.

Flipping through the channels, a chance news report in Swedish showed footage of the ripped open artic and destroyed Nikola One lorry.  They caught the word 'delfin' as the driver of the artic gave his story.  By the joshing look on the anchorwoman's face, it was obvious that the man's report about a dolphin riding a segway and hurling knockout bombs had no chance of being believed.

Kowalski shook his head as he leaned against Rico, who had stuck a partway inflated Faux Skipper under his friend's leg to elevate it.  "Linguistics isn't my field, sir, but I could devise some tests --- "

"Nah, I don't care that much.  Just chalk it up to velleity."

"I, I didn't know that word was in your vocabulary, Skipper."

"Yeah, I've stuck in 'cutlets,' too.  It's about time."  Skipper left the reasons for the additions a mystery as he went on, "This team needs to chill until we leave next week, you know, watch some hockey games, play Marco Polo, meet Bruce The Moose, things like that.  I hear Bruce is Russian and I can brush up on my Russian with him."

"Sir, you shouldn't swim just yet."

"All right then, I'll play Double Norwegian Slap 'Em and Grab 'Em Poker in place of Marco Polo."

"Skippa, I want my Omega Boom Boom maneuver considered for official status.  If I practice it hard in the next few days, will you accept it before we get back to New York?"

Oh gads, the look of enthusiasm snagged Skipper's heart like a trebel barb hook snags a king salmon.  He hated to crush it.  The move required a kick rather than a launching.  He'd need to feel more confident about no penguin misjudging the force of a kick.  He'd need to contrast a launch with the force applied to the shoulder or pelvic girdle with the Omega Boom Boom's kick, which targeted the less sturdy vertebrae.  He'd need to push aside the vision of himself or another team member kicking too hard to injure or kill.  

Skipper's mind drummed with one thought protectprotectprotect.  "Private, stay away from full on practice.  That's an order.  Iron-clad."  Private drooped until his commander added, "Let's wait until New York City.  I'll tell you my decision then."

Private's expression edged towards hope as Skipper added the decision to the ones he'd make in the course of the next week.  There was the raid on Doc's office to get him anti-scarring treatment, for instance.  For now, he yawned and looked pointedly at his team.

"Lights out.  Rico, your 'special briefing' is tomorrow first thing."

"Zaywhut?"

"The others got one while we're on Åland, so why shouldn't you?  Any requests as to the subject?"

There was no hesitation.  "Xochi."

Kowalski slung a flipper around Rico's neck as Private looked solemn with an "Aww."

"Guatemala was a long time ago, soldier, are you sure?  She left behind a sweet legacy of courage for us all.  I thought you'd want to gab about how we can celebrate St. Patrick's Day."

"Nope.  Xochi."

They turned in after Skipper doused the Vasarely Vision.  The peace lasted ninety minutes.

IOIOIOIOIO

"Private!"

"Mrrrf, wot is it?"

"Private!"

"Here we go again.  Wake up, Skippa."

"Ministrations!  Shuddering to completion!"

"Now that's just disturbin'.  I'll kick your tailfeathers, shall I?"

"Hey, stop!   Ow!"

"Sorry.  Nightmare again, Skippa.  You do seem to have more than your share."

"Atlantis' tentacles! Darla and Carol and Jillian and you swung on lianas from the clock tower to escape Savio only Savio was a zombie mutant worm instead of a boa.  I couldn't beat him just like I can't beat him in real life.  He kept stabbing me with his needle sharp tongue.  It was awful."

"I should say so."

"Before that, he made us play the Telephone Game.  I started out whispering 'Private's first prize fish is a trevally'.  You don't want to know what Carol thought I said in the end.  I was shocked."

"All righty roo, back to a sweeter dreamland it is for you, then.  Nighty night."

"Aw, I can't sleep now."

"Peaceful thoughts, sir, peaceful thoughts."

"Oh.  Sorry to wake you two."

"'Kipppaaaaah, lizeout."

"Aye aye, sir."

Rico was quieter than normal for the next two days after his 'special briefing.'

IOIOIOIOIO

Kowalski's lay out spot on the last full day at Åland Zoo was cheerful and sunlit as befitted the day before the beginning of spring.  Kowalski was not, although this had been the first swim he'd taken since Blue One had clawed him.  He chose a song with a wistful chorus as the slanting sun felt amazing on his thigh.  Skipper, Rico and Private had entertained the Saturday crowds to cover for him and now the gates had just closed.   After a minute of blue eyes cryin' in the rain, he had to break off.

"Doris, Doris!  Why do you haunt me?  Why can't I forget we ever happened --- no.  Never that.  Even if I knew beforehand that you were Blowhole's sister and might have shown criminal tendencies if we hooked up for good, I'd still have fallen for you like a truckload of #5 cans of sardines --- ack.  I don't know what I want anymore.  Curse you --- no, dammit, damn you, Doris."  A human listener would have heard forlorn braying and not put a finger on why it produced melancholy.  It seemed that another song fit his current mood better than any other.  He coughed and massaged his throat before beginning.  "This is the last song I ever sing about you, Doris,  I swear.  Really.  I mean it this time, see if I don't.  Really."

He honed his considerable mental discipline to blot out the sound of the gurgling drainage grate and began again.

"... so don't let them begin the beguine

let the love that was once a fire 

remain an ember

let it sleep like the dead desire I only remember ... "

Kowalski sang his heart out and decided he didn't want it to return.  He trailed off.  "I can't finish that one because it has too much hope in it.  This one suits us better."  He concentrated harder to mask the drainage grate plus some happy sounds from Skipper as Private made him unwind doing something or other adorable in the lie out spot towards the front fence.

"Don't you know I can't take it, 

I don't know who can, 

I'm not gonna ma-a-a-a-a-ake it, 

hmmm hmm drat hmmm some-thii-ii-ii-ing.  

Don't you know I can't sleep at night, 

but just the same, 

I never weep at night, 

I call your name ... "

"Ko-wal-ski."  Through the fronds of the Calluna vulgaris and brushing his ragged crest against the Viscum album stepped Rico, holding out a drawing on an Etch-A-Sketch.  Two penguins kissed there, one to match each of them in crude outline.  In his other flipper he held Skipper's tape recorder and fumbled with it before thinking to arrow his tongue at the 'pause' button.'  The unmistakable voice of Hank Williams sang a poignant verse from Cold, Cold Heart.

" ... another heart before my time made your heart sad and blue,

and so my heart is paying now for things I didn't do ... "

Kowalski took the recorder from Rico and turned it off.  "Rico, you mean well, but the scientific reality of you and me is that ... that ... "  When Kowalski shook his head, Rico lifted the Etch-A-Sketch high to rattle it and erase the images, then stopped.  He passed it to Kowalski.  

"You mean I'm the one who has to erase it?  You're putting this on me?"  Kowalski took the Etch-A-Sketch and turned it upside down resolutely.  Then he turned it right side up, considered the drawing crafted with love and couldn't shake it to erase the two figures.  "You think we have a chance?"

The Etch-A-Sketch and tape recorder went flying as Rico tackled Kowalski, and Kowalski tumbled them over and over through the melting watermelon snow.  Soon it turned to a delightful mush of pink and red and although they didn't look beyond each other in the moment, their scuffles made a heart shape with lacy edges.  

"You fool,"  Kowalski said tenderly.  "You fool."

It was the same old recon waddle that evening with no obvious changes to the team.  When they stayed up late to catch the hockey scores and discovered that the Rangers lost to the Sharks 4-1, it didn't seem to matter to either Kowalski or Rico.

IOIOIOIOIO

Two days later, Skipper echoed his squad's exclamations of relief after their return to HQ following Doc's cursory exam for serious problems.  The Doc's hmmm followed his gentle hands feeling Skipper's chest but he allowed the commander to remain with his team.  "I'm glad we're all back in New York City, where everyone's safe and it's peaceful."  

A police siren screamed at the same time that a boombox accompanied the thump thump thump of exuberant lemur feet.  

"You know what I mean."  

IOIOIOIOIO

IOIOIOIOIO

Six miles west as the dirty birdie flies, Frances Alberta flicked her cigarette into the gutter by a weed-strewn empty lot.  She rubbed the back of her hand.  The tattoo of a vintage Kirby vacuum cleaner looked new and still sore.  Two steps away, her ally did that handwringing thing that annoyed her and soon she wouldn't need him, thank kaiju.  He hummed under his breath all the time, too.

"Get busy on that right away, Moley."

The tunneler blew her a kiss as he lumbered into his mecha that was parked next to a two foot tall Malva neglecta.  The hatch irised closed, the ruler of the Mole Men set the angle of declension and soon dirt clods spewed behind the rusty vehicle.

Frances' stilettos tapped an ambitious rhythm on the rain slicked sidewalk, percussing a music all their own as she made her way back to her boarding house.

IOIOIOIOIO

The End.

IOIOIOIOIO

A/N Thanks to the readers and reviewers.  It's been a grand eight months from January to August 2016.

YouTube's Lana Del Rey's "Dark Paradise" provides an excellent Dorski theme and the following link to vimeo shows a fanvid with the appeal of athleticism and ever rolling waves ...

https://vimeo.com/77147732

The folks at deviantArt and furaffinity provide art that sparks the fandom.

Setting chosen from the most unusual place a view came from on the fanfictionDOTnet site to one of my stories: the Ålands.  Congratulations, you beat out Qatar, Singapore, Andorra, Isle of Man, and Mauritius.  Salut!  Skol!

IOIOIOIOIO

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pronker: (Default)
For the past ten days, Skipper had gathered as intel pieces of the puzzle that was Blowhole's latest scheme. The completed border formed who what when where why. As he looked around what would become a battle arena, the inside of the lorry supplied the inside puzzle pieces comprising how and to what degree.

Four similar consoles with attached monitors hunkered two on each long wall and the whole effect was very NASA-ish. An immobile crab stared at the penguins from each rolling lumbar chair in front of the consoles with another trembling on the metal floor at the right side of his boss' segway. A 2600 gallon tank on the far right corner of the lorry gurgled as its long side paralleled the long side of the lorry to make the righthand consoles offset from the lefthand ones in a pleasing display of feng shui. A comfy swivel chair with a snack stand containing apples and grass was bolted down between the tank and a hardwood bar. The bar, which was complete with a hanging glassware rack, captured the farthest space to the left front.

Eavesdropping had divulged that one minion had fled at their mere presence to hide behind the bar. Skipper's confidence upped a notch at this thought as his battle mind mapped the layout for strategy and tactics. Takedown was the final puzzle piece and now all the piece needed was jimmying into place followed by pressure for a snap fit. Skipper was okay with pressure as he found himself considering the words of a matronly opossum.

Ma's second reading in The Art of War described a battlefield on hemmed in ground governed by limited opportunities to retreat. "A small group of our enemies could crush a large number of us in cramped quarters if we can't escape easily. There needs to be some moments to plan an attack. The only worse sitch, Skipper lambie, is to fight with no delay with no retreat options and be desperate," she'd said. Skipper often suspected Ma of paraphrasing.

This crowded sitch needed more than immediate battle because of global consequences. What if the worms became hyperized with the destruction of one of these consoles? What if they could home in on this very lorry with a call from Blowhole's segway, undulate up the fjord and slime themselves through the crack between the double back doors to confront a team leader with poisonous needles? He failed to think of a third thing, but let himself off the hook as he glanced at Kowalski who stood battle ready at his right side. Kowalski likely contained a dozen ideas neatly grouped in four sections of three.

Kowalski had been ordered to use your brain ten breaths after turn off the think melon but he knew the meaning was to use his brain the correct way and not meander thinking about science, prototype lorries or Doris. He forced himself to keep Blowhole in view and sidestepped ogling the lovely monitors hooked up to equally lovely mainframes. He wondered if they synched to a satellite for tracking purposes before the jealousy lobe of his brain throbbed an unwelcome message: This is what you could do if you had no filters such as morals or friends. He glared at Blowhole for making him think such treachery.

Private glowered at the one who had commissioned a murder in the name of shameless self-indulgence. This wasn't to be borne, he had to be stopped right here and right now. Private hadn't had much time to practice his new signature move, but there was no better situation to put it into play. No one on his team knew about it and he sneaked a guilty look to the right at his commander. It wasn't like he'd broken regulations or anything, it wasn't. He ran the move over and over in his mind.

Rico wondered if there were fish in the tank directly ahead of him. When this was all over and Blowhole defeated, he'd find out.

"Okay, bottlenose, who'll start the traditional leaking of the exposition? I'm betting it's you."

"You're alive and" --- Blowhole's eye resumed its regular ruby color and Skipper got ready to dodge --- "a little the worse for wear. You looked less angry when I mindjacked you off the docks to drown in Shanghai Bay, remember that night, hmmmm? Or on second thought, maybe you can't."

"Oh, I am beyond rage about the mindjacking, Blowhole."

"You are? Good for you to cope so well. I wouldn't have thought it."

Private couldn't let this pass. "But Skippa, wot about the flashbacks you keep havin'? Last night you woke up --- "

"Ah bup bup bup, soldier! I told you what happens in the bunk stays in the bunk."

Blowhole spun his segway in irritation before harpooning Private with a glare. "Quiet, small fry! He says he's beyond it. Let's get down to the here and now." He appeared to be gathering hubris out of thin air after an undeniable shock to both his mind and plan. He looked down his long nose at his arch-enemy. "I've got crabs, so watch out."

"There's a shot for that nowadays --- "

"Blue fiddler crabs to help me, duh! The lobsters here have a union, some socialistic thing, I dunno. Crabs are scabs." Blue One raised a claw to say something but Blowhole ignored him.

At least Blowhole did not refer to himself in the third person like Hans did. "Oh don't tell me your problems. Moving right along, Blowhole, and speaking of tradition, I'm giving you the option of surrender." Skipper couldn't remember the last time this had actually worked but he had to try. The team functioned beautifully with four penguins and less so with three and two thirds. Sasquatch sidled away from Blowhole as he watched. Was she getting up to something independently?

Blowhole swelled his chest and then snorted. "This is going to sound crazy, but I'm glad you're alive. You're so good" --- he had to think a moment --- "at what you do, I mean, that there was going to be a challenge finding another animal to whet my wits on. A little bit of me thought I ought to clean up my act and do some good deeds so I had a chance of meeting you in the Good Place. Was that ever a chore! Really, how do you stand it all the time?"

Seeing his commander at a loss for words, Kowalski decided to go for the money. Taunting generally got results in the form of intel and he was dying to find out some things, in the name of the mission, of course. "You selfish braaper. Doesn't thwarting Greenpeace make a difference to you? I mean after all, they try to help dolphinkind."

Blowhole cleared his blowhole. It made a disgusting sound and the penguins flinched as much as they had at Roger's dinner table in the sewer. "It's part of the game. I elude them or make them go where I want them to go. " He waved a flipper, rolling his good eye as his bad eye remained fixed. He must have meant it as a distraction and it worked as Kowalski had to think hard to maintain focus. A blast from a laser would end any one of them. Was that a powering up hum he heard?

Even though Greenpeace's staff was human, Kowalski smoldered at their casual dismissal as Blowhole continued, "Greenpeace will be irrelevant soon anyhow, after the ocean grows to where it ought to be."

All five crabs in view got a goofy look of triumph on their faces. So far only one had run for cover and that threw off Private's assessment of their cowardice. Should he go with the tried and true battle routines rather than attempt a new one? A quick look to his left showed Rico's belly rippling. He was ready for anything.

Now Kowalski was on firmer ground. "Studies show that ice melt would drown the eastern seaboard and Coney Island --- "

"Where I performed three a day jumping through flaming hoops for boring humans? Yes! Go me!" Blowhole pumped a flipper, tottered on the segway and then regained his balance. "I've always wanted to see Kansas and soon I ca-a-a-a-a-an swim ri-i-i-i-i-i-ight over it. And Iowa --- "

He's excited about his plan because he's makin' that dolphin noxious noise more, so maybe I can distract him with Routine Thirty-Two, thought Private. "Iowa and Kansas are nice and flat --- "

"Private, no encouraging him." Private subsided with what looked like an abashed flipper drawn over his forehead.

Kowalski had to finish his sentence. " --- but Kansas would be the same and Iowa slightly affected."

Blowhole sagged. "You're sure? Aw, snap. I really wanted to swim over Salina, Stockton, and Sawyer ... wai-i-i-i-tt." The electronic eye flashed balefully and for a moment Kowalski thought he'd gone too far in baiting the dolphin mastermind. Would the weirdo transmit a killing beam? He stepped forward to attract Blowhole's aim before the laser eye modification could fricassee his friends. He closed his own eyes so tight they hurt.

But Blowhole wasn't through taunting. "I --- how did you get all this information about my scheme? No matter, it's still worth it. I'll get these glitches straightened out and the blend of Lineus longissimus --- "

Kowalski opened his eyes.

" --- Plectus murrayi --- "

Kowalski blinked.

" --- and Mesenchytraeus solifugus will help me rule the world!"

Kowalski exploded. "What? Mesenchytraeus solifugus? That's your third species?"

"Boy, you're one curious penguin." Blowhole got a patronizing look that reminded Kowalski that he was indeed Doris' brother. "Yeah, poor little Mesenchytraeus solifugus melts at 41 degrees Fahrenheit and since temperatures in the Arctic are warming due to climate change with average Arctic temperatures increasing at almost twice the global average rate, these babies collapse into goo and release their antifreeze into ice of any description, you name it, glaciers, polar ice and --- "

"Ice melts all over. Yeah, I get it. You said that before about global warming." Humility dripped over Kowalski's soul like a slow melt from one of the affected icebergs. It left a cold fire inside.

Skipper shifted beside Kowalski as all the pieces of Blowhole's plan now made sense. The tension in the lorry wouldn't seem to be able to rise further, but it did. Blowhole laughed as if the conflict upcoming fulfilled an urge for chaos that wouldn't be denied. "When did you hear me say that before? Never mind. The ice worms die and you're all not around to stop me. Win-win."

The words tumbled out as if Kowalski's subdued brain channeled his Skipper. "What's the third win? These things always come in threes."

"I don't have a number three. It's just an expression."

"These things always come in threes. Try harder."

Blowhole escalated to euphoria. "Won't matter, won't matter, because I've got the upper flipper. Told you!" Any trace of depression or shock vanished with another wild cackle of glee. "I've got a sasquatch on my side!"

Skipper regained his voice. "What you did to her is beneath contempt," he growled. "I don't care that it was consensual." What was that female up to? Now she rubbed her forehead as if Hugo were nearby.

"Where are you getting this information? Sasquatch, did you gossip in the zoo when I told you not to?"

Sasquatch floundered in her role but tried not to show it. "A girl's got to have someone to chat with." She had edged farther away from her boss and rested an arm on the nearest console to go for the casual look. The plasma cutter atop it was within inches of her undamaged hand. From inside the artic's trailer she had seen the floating incandescent cutter free her at mere directing gestures from Blowhole's flipper and she wanted that cutter bad. She cringed as if the entire situation overwhelmed her. Her fingers walked a step nearer.

Skipper burst out with a reasonable conclusion to take the brunt of the nutjob's attention. "And you'll use a homeschooled Viking army to further your future schemes! That's criminal on a whole other level, even for you."

"Crawling crabcakes! What?"

"Aren't
you?"

"No. That's just crazy."

"Oh."

"The sasquatch assassin and nematode nemeses are wild ideas enough. What were you thinking?"

"Um. Nothing."

The following cackle at Skipper's expense was superceded by a dire prediction. ''You can't die fast enough. Sasquatch, do your Перевал Дятлова thing like we talked about in Nepal, remember?" Blowhole scooted near the console in front of the tank to let the mêlée begin.  The last few minutes had been quite measured for a confrontation, so it took the youngest member of the team to introduce what the young do best: surprise the hell out of their elders.

"Oh no you don't! Never again! Remember Kastelholm!" To everyone's shock, Private slid like one of Rico's torpedoes towards Sasquatch's feet. He arched his supple back upon arrival to form a U shape and as his flippers supported the capoeira stance, an upside down wink passed between penguin and sasquatch. She punted his compact muscular body as she had on an icy rooftop.

Blowhole ascended into the ionosphere of giddiness. "Keep it up, old lady! Get that pen-gu-in! Ahhahahhahahah!"

Private aileroned his flippers to guide his course towards the righthand console nearest the back doors and landed on its chair. Blue Three made a half hearted try at escape but crumpled under a lightning fast karate chop. The swivel chair spun under the impact of the landing and the protruding edge of the console smacked Private over his left earhole. He nearly collapsed but then hung his head as he supported himself with a shaky flipper.

"Private!" Skipper advanced towards Blowhole. Despite Private's absence, Kowalski and Rico slipped ahead to form an attack triangle with Skipper its rear guard. Skipper grit his beak at not being on point and wasted no more words on the arrogant dolphin.

Blue Six determined to prove his worth. "I'm on it, boss!" He shoved his chair away from the console to send it rolling in the penguins' direction, perhaps not a deadly attack but providing a stumbling block, at least. Rico snap barfed a set of rubber chocks at two of its wheels and as the chair stopped short, Blue Six obeyed the law of gravity and kept on going. He tumbled from the chair to land on his back. "Ahhhh! No fair!" His scrabbling claws entangled in the rope linking the chocks and after some imaginative curses, he lay still, gasping.

Kowalski ended Blue One's mad rush at him with a hiiiiyahhh! and a sweep kick, but not before a claw sliced his thigh and drew blood. Blue One skidded directly in front of the bar to break three legs against its teakwood. He moaned and out of the corner of his eye Kowalski saw Blue Five pull him behind the bar. The scientist kept up pressure against the thigh and chanted we heal fast we heal fast to himself. "Keep going, Rico! Protect Skipper!"

Rico dove ahead of Skipper with a wild gabble that contained "YuhurtVen!" Blue Two took a defensive stand in front of Blowhole as Rico charged him.

"Take that, you psychotic penguin!" The crab waved its blue outsized claw while the smaller one rattled a staccato like César Millan's dog training clicker. Rico made a rude sound as he somersaulted over Blue Two by a good half penguin to land precariously on Blowhole's back two feet up from his flukes. Blowhole leaned down to swat him before he remembered how segway competence requires an upright stance. The realization came too late as the segway obeyed its rider and swung to the left.

Rico whooped Yippeekiyiyay! as he imitated Roscoe Jarboe's prize winning bullrider pose with one flipper waving an imaginary Stetson and the other balancing himself against the surprisingly soft hide. In less than the regulation eight seconds, he was forced into a Crouching Panda, Supercilious Snow Monkey dismount because the segway jolted forward to crush Blue Two into five separate pieces strung together by slime. "Sasquatch! Help!" screeched Blowhole.

This was worse than the time hunters who called themselves "harvesters" shot contraband 30.06 rounds into Sasquatch's herd. During that horrific episode, the unspoken reality of being a herd animal meant that others of her kind stood the same chance of being shot. Today, the moment Blowhole learned whose side she was really on, she formed a huge solitary target for the crabs and Blowhole himself. Her courage failed her as had Hugo's. What was she doing in with this violent group? She cringed for real in the small space between the bar and the left wall. She forgot about the plasma cutter as she covered her face.

Skipper chose Routine Sixteen: Mix 'Em Up Mêlée Melange as he finally, finally broke free of his mother hens in front of the bar. He chose a simple judo hip throw when Blue Five gained heart by his co-workers' bodaciousness and charged from behind the bar. As he crashed to the floor, Blue Five whimpered loud enough to drown out Skipper's own hah of smothered pain at the exertion. The crab scuttled back behind the bar and when Skipper poked his head around it in pursuit, Blues Five and One screamed. The penguin team leader contented himself with making his war face. Blue Five swooned dead away on top of Blue One's broken legs to make him faint, too. A glance over their fallen bodies showed Sasquatch cowering in the corner. Now what the hell was up with her? She looked like she was washing her hands of the whole plan.

Growling to himself, Skipper faced Blowhole head on.

Blowhole's subsonic squeal ripened into an audible, "Sasquatch! A little help here!" The segway's left wheel spun in what was left of Blue Two to make Blowhole's retreat as uneven as his balance. Guts spurted as the wheel zzzzzzzzrrred on the metal floor and Blowhole slammed crookedly against his tank.

Hearing the slam, Private swiped his flipper in front of his face to clear his head. There was no way Skipper's gut had been correct about today being near perfect. His eyes recorded two Skippers shimmering before two Blowholes. Private wobbled on the chair and when his movement sent it spinning in place, he lost the battle to keep his last meal. Despair at his helplessness swept over him as thoroughly as the disgusting sick cascaded over the unconscious Blue Three. He dragged himself to the edge of the chair and fell off, calling upon Routine Seventeen: Just Relax And Take It You Fool.

She could commit, or not. She could bull her way through to the back doors and trust they were only closed and not locked. More than ever, she yearned for her horns and the mass that had been carved away. After nine deep breaths, she recited her mantra and straightened her shoulders. Sasquatch headed to the fray as the mantle of shame shed like last winter's fur.

Skipper registered random assaults on his senses: the smell of Private's voided stomach contents, the sight of Blowhole's alarmed retreat, the sound of Kowalski's hitched gait as Rico supported him to back up their leader, the touch of cold steel floor beneath his recovering right pinkie claw and the taste of his own bile as his ulcers decided to act up. He drove for the win with an epiphany that had just hit him. It was perfect because it formed the third item from his previous list of two. "Blowhole, I'm betting that your consoles have a kill switch for the ice worms in case they grow beyond your control or get up close and personal with you. Am I right or am I right? I'm right. I knew it."

Blowhole's face said it all. "Don't you ever get tired of showing me up?" He poked his segway control panel and they all started as they looked around for whatever that activated. Rico took point as the only undamaged member of the team left and awaited orders. A new background akakakakak noise added to the murmur of the tank's pump, injured crab groans and crackles from one after another of the consoles.

Skipper heard Private stagger to his side. He didn't look around at the young penguin as he drilled Blowhole with the masterful gaze at which the Rat King quailed. Skipper had his beak open to ask is this all you've got? when Sasquatch drew near. "Ooops, sorry!" she said as she stumbled and ended the short minion career of Blue Six. He made no sound as her size 15EEE pulverized his exoskeleton. "I didn't mean to, boss!"

"Whatever! Just do it!"

Private rejoined his team. "Wot's goin' on?" He sounded confused and by Ringtail's Sky Spirits, he was too groggy to remember their plan. Now Skipper did turn aside to evaluate his soldier's condition and saw Private give a dazed stink-eye to Sasquatch. His gut warned Skipper that Private was not acting. A fierce knock on the noggin had reawakened the honest hatred he had harbored for her until recently.

Blowhole's voice turned deadly. ''Sasquatch, do your thing now."

Kowalski let go his thigh and drew himself up. He didn't think she would betray her new herd, but then she was female and he had trouble reading females. One glance to his right showed Skipper's face as calm as ever it got in battle. He trusted Sasquatch and so would his lieutenant.

"I am going to murder you, penguins." Sasquatch played her part as well as Sarah Siddons would have. She loomed over four little penguins to sweep them up and tuck them under one arm although they struggled gamely or acted like it. One deft hand plucked Private from the group and her other hand made as if to wring his neck like slaughtering a chicken for Sunday family dinner. Right before her palm closed over his eyes, Private's bleary gaze sought out Skipper as the last friend he'd see before diving into the Eternally Foggy Sea. Skipper sent all his reassurances in a look even as he played his part, too.

"No! Stop! Let him go, kill me! I've lived my life!" He saw Private's beak wibble with no words forthcoming.

Blowhole chanted, "Do it do it do it!"

Kowalski twisted himself in a different direction as if his sliced thigh grated against Sasquatch's brawny forearm. It did, but that didn't matter at the moment. "You butcher! Everyone, close your eyes!" On the last three words, Kowalski's voice got as high-pitched as any of them had ever heard it as the glass console screen still monitored by a frozen in place Blue Four shattered into micro shards. The crab thrust himself back from his workstation. His rolling lumbar chair banged against Blowhole's segway and the dolphin tottered off balance to flop like a flounder on the floor. He raised a flipper to his laser eye. The penguins heard a snap followed by a rising hum familiar to all fans of Commodore Danger films when the Ultimate Weapon prepared to discharge.

Skipper tossed out a command that he was sure Blowhole couldn't understand. "Rico! Thirty degrees larboard!"

"Aaaaaaaaa!" Rico snapped his head upwards as his auto-barf grappling hook snagged the plasma cutter from the top of a console. This was Rico's favorite auto-barf grappling hook and as it reeled itself back, he wrested a flipper from Sasquatch's deceptively loose grip to aim a well-placed karate chop that turned the plasma cutter on. Kowalski took over then as he gestured it to float in front of Sasquatch who was the largest spot among the many spots before his eyes. The unexpected effort took it out of him and he sagged against Rico.

"Afraid of you, harami? As if!" Sasquatch laughed and they'd never heard her genuine laugh. She placed Private gently on the floor and grabbed the live plasma cutter from the air. She raised her arm to let the other penguins drop without slicing feather, flesh, foot, or beak. She angled the blade back against Blowhole. Red laser met plasma blade. Blowhole's red eye laser blast zinged and zanged as it ricocheted from the green plasma around the interior of the lorry, finally shattering the sea water tank and dissipating in an explosive hisssss. The plasma cutter gave up its green ghost in a glow that highlighted Sasquatch's wide brown eyes. She dropped it with a "Harreram!"

"You --- traitor! Unnatural! Gargoyle!" Blowhole galumphed like an ungainly caterpillar towards Sasquatch until lifted by his aquarium tank's outpouring.

A salty suffocating wave surged to the lorry's door and then back, leaking through electronic consoles as it drowned the last hope for the entire linked control boards. The penguins surfed the sloshing waves until they reached Sasquatch who had planted her big feet against the floor. The water reached mid thigh on her as she stuck out her arms to balance in the deluge. After they made their way up her body, Kowalski loosened one flipper from her fur to brush water off Skipper's chest frantically and then stopped at a look from his commander saying that he would not get sick from the soaking because he couldn't. They struggled up to her shoulders, Rico and Kowalski on the left and Skipper and Private on the right. Shades of Manfredi and Johnson's killer tsunami, this had been a close one.

The team squinted to find where Blowhole had beached until the emergency lighting sizzled to nothing. In the murk, they heard Blowhole's "Until next time!"

"After him, boys! And lady!"

A dolphin-sized trapdoor opened under their aquatic adversary and the water followed the laws of fluid dynamics as it swooshed away and down. The four penguins and Sasquatch hurried to the opening in time to see Blowhole seal himself inside an escape ruse shaped especially for him. From its bay suspended underneath the lorry, the torpedo-like vehicle shot forward as its fairing scraped the undercarriage. Blowhole got away in a backfiring belch of internal combustion fumes. The last they saw of him was his bottlenose pointed defiantly forward as his flippers maneuvered a control yoke that looked like an airplane's. Blue Five and Blue Four dragged Blue One between them through the opening and disappeared to everyone's disinterest.

Kowalski said what didn't actually need to be said. "A customized Messerschmitt KR 201 roadster. It can do sixty miles per hour. Blowhole's on the loose again."

Skipper panted and sat on the abandoned segway's tire. "We stopped him from drowning the world. That's as good as it gets." He brushed off Private's attempts to preen the damp from his bald spot. "Leave it." Private seemed not to know what to do with himself until Rico lifted Kowalski's flipper with his and nodded at Skipper. Skipper placed his flipper atop Kowalski's and nodded at Private. Private acted more like himself as he slipped his flipper atop the penguin pile of appendages.

"Yayyyyy!"

"We did it. By Light-Horse Harry Lee, we did it."

"Sir, your gut was right."

"Ahgrommmtzteam!"

Sasquatch slogged through mushy piles of wiring that resembled intestines as she macerated already crushed crabs whose guts spurted from between her toes. She had a look of despair despite their triumph. "I'm stuck in this body. I --- I gave up everything to defeat him." She sat on the pommel of the segway as her weight lifted Skipper's seat until his legs left the floor. He swung his feet thoughtfully.

"Stuck in this body?"
Kowalski, Rico and Private chorused.

''No one else promised me what he did. No one else could have changed me. No one else can change me back."

Skipper turned hopeful eyes to his Science Guy. Kowalski shook his head. "I don't dare try. I'm not as smart as Blowhole or Dave." It was a bald statement and must have cost Kowalski a great deal.

Blue Three moaned from a soggy mess of apples, lichen, broken champagne flutes and fescue. He rubbed his eyestalks like a sleepy hatchling. "What did I miss?"

IOIOIOIOIO

TBConcluded
pronker: (Default)
For the past ten days, Skipper had gathered as intel pieces of the puzzle that was Blowhole's latest scheme.  The completed border formed who what when where why.   As he looked around what would become a battle arena, the inside of the lorry supplied the inside puzzle pieces comprising how and to what degree.  

Four similar consoles with attached monitors hunkered two on each long wall and the whole effect was very NASA-ish.  An immobile crab stared at the penguins from each rolling lumbar chair in front of the consoles with another trembling on the metal floor at the right side of his boss' segway.  A 2600 gallon tank on the far right corner of the lorry gurgled as its long side paralleled the long side of the lorry to make the righthand consoles offset from the lefthand ones in a pleasing display of feng shui.  A comfy swivel chair with a snack stand containing apples and grass was bolted down between the tank and a hardwood bar.  The bar, which was complete with a hanging glassware rack, captured the farthest space to the left front.  

Eavesdropping had divulged that one minion had fled at their mere presence to hide behind the bar.  Skipper's confidence upped a notch at this thought as his battle mind mapped the layout for strategy and tactics.  Takedown was the final puzzle piece and now all the piece needed was jimmying into place followed by pressure for a snap fit.  Skipper was okay with pressure as he found himself considering the words of a matronly opossum.

Ma's second reading in The Art of War described a battlefield on hemmed in ground governed by limited opportunities to retreat.  "A small group of our enemies  could crush a large number of us in cramped quarters if we can't escape easily.  There needs to be some moments to plan an attack.  The only worse sitch, Skipper lambie, is to fight with no delay with no retreat options and be desperate," she'd said.  Skipper often suspected Ma of paraphrasing.  

This crowded sitch needed more than immediate battle because of global consequences.  What if the worms became hyperized with the destruction of one of these consoles?  What if they could home in on this very lorry with a call from Blowhole's segway, undulate up the fjord and slime themselves through the crack between the double back doors to confront a team leader with poisonous needles?  He failed to think of a third thing, but let himself off the hook as he glanced at Kowalski who stood battle ready at his right side.  Kowalski likely contained a dozen ideas neatly grouped in four sections of three.

Kowalski had been ordered to use your brain ten breaths after turn off the think melon but he knew the meaning was to use his brain the correct way and not meander thinking about science, prototype lorries or Doris.  He forced himself to keep Blowhole in view and sidestepped ogling the lovely monitors hooked up to equally lovely mainframes.  He wondered if they synched to a satellite for tracking purposes before the jealousy lobe of his brain throbbed an unwelcome message:  This is what you could do if you had no filters such as morals or friends.  He glared at Blowhole for making him think such treachery.

Private glowered at the one who had commissioned a murder in the name of shameless self-indulgence.  This wasn't to be borne, he had to be stopped right here and right now.  Private hadn't had much time to practice his new signature move, but there was no better situation to put it into play.  No one on his team knew about it and he sneaked a guilty look to the right at his commander.  It wasn't like he'd broken regulations or anything, it wasn't.  He ran the move over and over in his mind.  

Rico wondered if there were fish in the tank directly ahead of him.  When this was all over and Blowhole defeated, he'd find out. 

"Okay, bottlenose, who'll start the traditional leaking of the exposition?  I'm betting it's you."

"You're alive and" --- Blowhole's eye resumed its regular ruby color and Skipper got ready to dodge --- "a little the worse for wear.  You looked less angry when I mindjacked you off the docks to drown in Shanghai Bay, remember that night, hmmmm?  Or on second thought, maybe you can't."

"Oh, I am beyond rage about the mindjacking, Blowhole."  

"You are?  Good for you to cope so well.  I wouldn't have thought it."

Private couldn't let this pass.  "But Skippa, wot about the flashbacks you keep havin'?  Last night you woke up --- " 

"Ah bup bup bup, soldier!  I told you what happens in the bunk stays in the bunk."

Blowhole spun his segway in irritation before harpooning Private with a glare.  "Quiet, small fry!  He says he's beyond it.  Let's get down to the here and now."  He appeared to be gathering hubris out of thin air after an undeniable shock to both his mind and plan.   He looked down his long nose at his arch-enemy.  "I've got crabs, so watch out."

"There's a shot for that nowadays --- "

"Blue fiddler crabs to help me, duh!  The lobsters here have a union, some socialistic thing, I dunno.  Crabs are scabs."  Blue One raised a claw to say something but Blowhole ignored him.

At least Blowhole did not refer to himself in the third person like Hans did.  "Oh don't tell me your problems.  Moving right along, Blowhole, and speaking of tradition, I'm giving you the option of surrender."  Skipper couldn't remember the last time this had actually worked but he had to try.  The team functioned beautifully with four penguins and less so with three and two thirds.  Sasquatch sidled away from Blowhole as he watched.  Was she getting up to something independently?

Blowhole swelled his chest and then snorted.  "This is going to sound crazy, but I'm glad you're alive.  You're so good" --- he had to think a moment --- "at what you do, I mean, that there was going to be a challenge finding another animal to whet my wits on.  A little bit of me thought I ought to clean up my act and do some good deeds so I had a chance of meeting you in the Good Place.   Was that ever a chore!  Really, how do you stand it all the time?"

Seeing his commander at a loss for words, Kowalski decided to go for the money.  Taunting generally got results in the form of intel and he was dying to find out some things, in the name of the mission, of course.  "You selfish braaper.  Doesn't thwarting Greenpeace make a difference to you?  I mean after all, they try to help dolphinkind."

Blowhole cleared his blowhole.  It made a disgusting sound and the penguins flinched as much as they had at Roger's dinner table in the sewer.  "It's part of the game.  I elude them or make them go where I want them to go. "  He waved a flipper, rolling his good eye as his bad eye remained fixed.  He must have meant it as a distraction and it worked as Kowalski had to think hard to maintain focus.  A blast from a laser would end any one of them.  Was that a powering up hum he heard?  

Even though Greenpeace's staff was human, Kowalski smoldered at their casual dismissal as Blowhole continued, "Greenpeace will be irrelevant soon anyhow, after the ocean grows to where it ought to be."  

All five crabs in view got a goofy look of triumph on their faces.  So far only one had run for cover and that threw off Private's assessment of their cowardice.  Should he go with the tried and true battle routines rather than attempt a new one?  A quick look to his left showed Rico's belly rippling.  He was ready for anything.

Now Kowalski was on firmer ground.  "Studies show that ice melt would drown the eastern seaboard and Coney Island --- "

"Where I performed three a day jumping through flaming hoops for boring humans?  Yes!  Go me!"  Blowhole pumped a flipper, tottered on the segway and then regained his balance.  "I've always wanted to see Kansas and soon I ca-a-a-a-a-an swim ri-i-i-i-i-i-ight over it.  And Iowa --- " 

He's excited about his plan because he's makin' that dolphin noxious noise more, so maybe I can distract him with Routine Thirty-Two, thought Private.  "Iowa and Kansas are nice and flat --- " 

"Private, no encouraging him."  Private subsided with what looked like an abashed flipper drawn over his forehead.

Kowalski had to finish his sentence.  " --- but Kansas would be the same and Iowa slightly affected."

Blowhole sagged.  "You're sure?  Aw, snap.  I really wanted to swim over Salina, Stockton, and Sawyer ... wai-i-i-i-tt."  The electronic eye flashed balefully and for a moment Kowalski thought he'd gone too far in baiting the dolphin mastermind.  Would the weirdo transmit a killing beam?  He stepped forward to attract Blowhole's aim before the laser eye modification could fricassee his friends.  He closed his own eyes so tight they hurt.

But Blowhole wasn't through taunting.  "I --- how did you get all this information about my scheme?  No matter, it's still worth it.  I'll get these glitches straightened out and the blend of Lineus longissimus --- "

Kowalski opened his eyes.

" --- Plectus murrayi --- "

Kowalski blinked.

" --- and Mesenchytraeus solifugus will help me rule the world!"

Kowalski exploded.  "What?  Mesenchytraeus solifugus?  That's your third species?"

"Boy, you're one curious penguin."  Blowhole got a patronizing look that reminded Kowalski that he was indeed Doris' brother.  "Yeah, poor little Mesenchytraeus solifugus melts at 41 degrees Fahrenheit and since temperatures in the Arctic are warming due to climate change with average Arctic temperatures increasing at almost twice the global average rate, these babies collapse into goo and release their antifreeze into ice of any description, you name it, glaciers, polar ice and --- "

"Ice melts all over.  Yeah, I get it."  Humility dripped over Kowalski's soul like a slow melt from one of the affected icebergs.  It left a cold fire inside.

Skipper shifted beside Kowalski as all the pieces of Blowhole's plan now made sense.  The tension in the lorry wouldn't seem to be able to rise further, but it did.  Blowhole laughed as if the conflict upcoming fulfilled an urge for chaos that wouldn't be denied.  "The ice worms die and you're all not around to stop me.   Win-win."

The words tumbled out as if Kowalski's subdued brain channeled his Skipper.  "What's the third win?  These things always come in threes."  

"I don't have a number three.  It's just an expression."

"These things always come in threes.  Try harder." 

Blowhole escalated to euphoria.  "Won't matter, won't matter, because I've got the upper flipper.  Told you!"  Any trace of depression or shock vanished with another wild cackle of glee.  "I've got a sasquatch on my side!"

Skipper regained his voice.  "What you did to her is beneath contempt," he growled.  "I don't care that it was consensual."  What was that female up to?  Now she rubbed her forehead as if Hugo were nearby.

"Where are you getting this information?  Sasquatch, did you gossip in the zoo when I told you not to?"

Sasquatch floundered in her role but tried not to show it.  "A girl's got to have someone to chat with."  She had edged farther away from her boss and rested an arm on the nearest console to go for the casual look.  The plasma cutter atop it was within inches of her undamaged hand.  From inside the artic's trailer she had seen the floating incandescent cutter free her at mere directing gestures from Blowhole's flipper and she wanted that cutter bad.  She cringed as if the entire situation overwhelmed her.  Her fingers walked a step nearer.

Skipper burst out with a reasonable conclusion to take the brunt of the nutjob's attention.  "And you'll use a homeschooled Viking army to further your future schemes!  That's criminal on a whole other level, even for you."

"Crawling crabcakes!  What?"

"Aren't you?"

"No.  That's just crazy."

"Oh."

"The sasquatch assassin and nematode nemeses are wild ideas enough.  What were you thinking?"

"Um.  Nothing."

The following cackle at Skipper's expense was superceded by a dire prediction.  ''You can't die fast enough.  Sasquatch, do your Перевал Дятлова thing like we talked about in Nepal, remember?" Blowhole scooted near the console in front of the tank to let the melée begin.  

The last few minutes had been quite measured for a confrontation, so it took the youngest member of the team to introduce what the young do best: surprise the hell out of their elders.

"Oh no you don't!  Never again!  Remember Kastelholm!"  To everyone's shock, Private slid like one of Rico's torpedoes towards Sasquatch's feet.  He arched his supple back upon arrival to form a U shape and as his flippers supported the capoeira stance, an upside down wink passed between penguin and sasquatch.  She punted his compact muscular body as she had on an icy rooftop.  

Blowhole ascended into the ionosphere of giddiness.  "Keep it up, old lady!  Get that penguin!  Ahhahahhahahah!"

Private aileroned his flippers to guide his course towards the righthand console nearest the back doors and landed on its chair.  Blue Three made a half hearted try at escape but crumpled under a lightning fast karate chop.  The swivel chair spun under the impact of the landing and the protruding edge of the console smacked Private over his left earhole.  He nearly collapsed but then hung his head as he supported himself with a shaky flipper.

"Private!"  Skipper advanced towards Blowhole.  Despite Private's absence, Kowalski and Rico slipped ahead to form an attack triangle with Skipper its rear guard.  Skipper grit his beak at not being on point and wasted no more words on the arrogant dolphin.

Blue Six determined to prove his worth.  "I'm on it, boss!"  He shoved his chair away from the console to send it rolling in the penguins' direction, perhaps not a deadly attack but providing a stumbling block, at least.  Rico snap barfed a set of rubber chocks at two of its wheels and as the chair stopped short, Blue Six obeyed the law of gravity and kept on going.  He tumbled from the chair to land on his back.  "Ahhhh!  No fair!"  His scrabbling claws entangled in the rope linking the chocks and after some imaginative curses, he lay still, gasping.

Kowalski ended Blue One's mad rush at him with a hiiiiyahhh! and a sweep kick, but not before a claw sliced his thigh and drew blood.  Blue One skidded directly in front of the bar to break three legs against its teakwood.  He moaned and out of the corner of his eye Kowalski saw Blue Five pull him behind the bar.   The scientist kept up pressure against the thigh and chanted we heal fast we heal fast to himself.  "Keep going, Rico!  Protect Skipper!"

Rico dove ahead of Skipper with a wild gabble that contained "YuhurtVen!"  Blue Two took a defensive stand in front of Blowhole as Rico charged him.

"Take that, you psychotic penguin!"  The crab waved its blue outsized claw while the smaller one rattled a staccato like César Millan's dog training clicker.  Rico made a rude sound as he somersaulted over Blue Two by a good half penguin to land precariously on Blowhole's back two feet up from his flukes.  Blowhole leaned down to swat him before he remembered how segway competence requires an upright stance.  The realization came too late as the segway obeyed its rider and swung to the left.

Rico whooped Yippeekiyiyay! as he imitated Roscoe Jarboe's prize winning bullrider pose with one flipper waving an imaginary Stetson and the other balancing himself against the surprisingly soft hide.  In less than the regulation eight seconds, he was forced into a Crouching Panda, Supercilious Snow Monkey dismount because the segway jolted forward to crush Blue Two into five separate pieces strung together by slime.  "Sasquatch!  Help!" screeched Blowhole.

This was worse than the time hunters who called themselves "harvesters" shot contraband 30.06 rounds into Sasquatch's herd.  During that horrific episode, the unspoken reality of being a herd animal meant that others of her kind stood the same chance of being shot.  Today, the moment Blowhole learned whose side she was really on, she formed a huge solitary target for the crabs and Blowhole himself.  Her courage failed her as had Hugo's.  What was she doing in with this violent group?  She cringed for real in the small space between the bar and the left wall.  She forgot about the plasma cutter as she covered her face.  

Skipper chose Routine Sixteen: Mix 'Em Up Melée Melange as he finally, finally broke free of his mother hens in front of the bar.  He chose a simple judo hip throw when Blue Five gained heart by his co-workers' bodaciousness and charged from behind the bar.  As he crashed to the floor, Blue Five whimpered loud enough to drown out Skipper's own hah of smothered pain at the exertion.  The crab scuttled back behind the bar and when Skipper poked his head around it in pursuit, Blues Five and One screamed.  The penguin team leader contented himself with making his war face.  Blue Five swooned dead away on top of Blue One's broken legs to make him faint, too.  A glance over their fallen bodies showed Sasquatch cowering in the corner.  Now what the hell was up with her?  She looked like she was washing her hands of the whole plan.

Growling to himself, Skipper faced Blowhole head on.

Blowhole's subsonic squeal ripened into an audible, "Sasquatch!  A little help here!"  The segway's left wheel spun in what was left of Blue Two to make Blowhole's retreat as uneven as his balance.  Guts spurted as the wheel zzzzzzzzrrred on the metal floor and Blowhole slammed crookedly against his tank.  

Hearing the slam, Private swiped his flipper in front of his face to clear his head.  There was no way Skipper's gut had been correct about today being near perfect.  His eyes recorded two Skippers shimmering before two Blowholes.  Private wobbled on the chair and when his movement sent it spinning in place, he lost the battle to keep his last meal.  Despair at his helplessness swept over him as thoroughly as the disgusting sick cascaded over the unconscious Blue Three.  He dragged himself to the edge of the chair and fell off, calling upon Routine Seventeen: Just Relax And Take It You Fool.

She could commit, or not.  She could bull her way through to the back doors and trust they were only closed and not locked.  More than ever, she yearned for her horns and the mass that had been carved away.  After nine deep breaths, she recited her mantra and straightened her shoulders.  Sasquatch headed to the fray as the mantle of shame shed like last winter's fur.

Skipper registered random assaults on his senses: the smell of Private's voided stomach contents, the sight of Blowhole's alarmed retreat, the sound of Kowalski's hitched gait as Rico supported him to back up their leader, the touch of cold steel floor beneath his recovering right pinkie claw and the taste of his own bile as his ulcers decided to act up.  He drove for the win with an epiphany that had just hit him.  It was perfect because it formed the third item from his previous list of two.  "Blowhole, I'm betting that your consoles have a kill switch for the ice worms in case they grow beyond your control or get up close and personal with you.  Am I right or am I right?  I'm right.  I knew it."

Blowhole's face said it all.  "Don't you ever get tired of showing me up?"  He poked his segway control panel and they all started as they looked around for whatever that activated.  Rico took point as the only undamaged member of the team left and awaited orders.  A new background akakakakak noise added to the murmur of the tank's pump, injured crab groans and crackles from one after another of the consoles.  

Skipper heard Private stagger to his side.  He didn't look around at the young penguin as he drilled Blowhole with the masterful gaze at which the Rat King quailed.  Skipper had his beak open to ask is this all you've got? when Sasquatch drew near.  "Ooops, sorry!" she said as she stumbled and ended the short minion career of Blue Six.  He made no sound as her size 15EEE pulverized his exoskeleton.  "I didn't mean to, boss!"

"Whatever!  Just do it!"

Private rejoined his team.  "Wot's goin' on?"  He sounded confused and by Ringtail's Sky Spirits, he was too groggy to remember their plan.  Now Skipper did turn aside to evaluate his soldier's condition and saw Private give a dazed stink-eye to Sasquatch.  His gut warned Skipper that Private was not acting.  A fierce knock on the noggin had reawakened the honest hatred he had harbored for her until recently.  

Blowhole's voice turned deadly.  ''Sasquatch, do your thing now."

Kowalski let go his thigh and drew himself up.  He didn't think she would betray her new herd, but then she was female and he had trouble reading females.  One glance to his right showed Skipper's face as calm as ever it got in battle. He trusted Sasquatch and so would his lieutenant.

"I am going to murder you, penguins."  Sasquatch played her part as well as Sarah Siddons would have.  She loomed over four little penguins to sweep them up and tuck them under one arm although they struggled gamely or acted like it.  One deft hand plucked Private from the group and her other hand made as if to wring his neck like slaughtering a chicken for Sunday family dinner.  Right before her palm closed over his eyes, Private's bleary gaze sought out Skipper as the last friend he'd see before diving into the Eternally Foggy Sea.  Skipper sent all his reassurances in a look even as he played his part, too.

"No!  Stop!  Let him go, kill me!  I've lived my life!"   He saw Private's beak wibble with no words forthcoming.

Blowhole chanted, "Do it do it do it!"

Kowalski twisted himself in a different direction as if his sliced thigh grated against Sasquatch's brawny forearm.  It did, but that didn't matter at the moment.  "You butcher!   Everyone, close your eyes!"  On the last three words, Kowalski's voice got as high-pitched as any of them had ever heard it as the glass console screen still monitored by a frozen in place Blue Four shattered into micro shards.  The crab thrust himself back from his workstation.  His rolling lumbar chair banged against Blowhole's segway and the dolphin tottered off balance to flop like a flounder on the floor.  He raised a flipper to his laser eye.  The penguins heard a snap followed by a rising hum familiar to all fans of Commodore Danger films when the Ultimate Weapon prepared to discharge.

Skipper tossed out a command that he was sure Blowhole couldn't understand. "Rico!  Thirty degrees larboard!"

"Aaaaaaaaa!"
 Rico snapped his head upwards as his auto-barf grappling hook snagged the plasma cutter from the top of a console.  This was Rico's favorite auto-barf grappling hook and as it reeled itself back, he wrested a flipper from Sasquatch's deceptively loose grip to aim a well-placed karate chop that turned the plasma cutter on.  Kowalski took over then as he gestured it to float in front of Sasquatch who was the largest spot among the many spots before his eyes.  The unexpected effort took it out of him and he sagged against Rico.

"Afraid of you, harami?  As if!"  Sasquatch laughed and they'd never heard her genuine laugh.  She placed Private gently on the floor and grabbed the live plasma cutter from the air.  She raised her arm to let the other penguins drop without slicing feather, flesh, foot, or beak.  She angled the blade back against Blowhole.   Red laser met plasma blade.   Blowhole's red eye laser blast zinged and zanged as it ricocheted from the green plasma around the interior of the lorry, finally shattering the sea water tank and dissipating in an explosive hisssss.  The plasma cutter gave up its green ghost in a glow that highlighted Sasquatch's wide brown eyes.  She dropped it with a "Harreram!"

"You --- traitor!  Unnatural!  Gargoyle!" Blowhole galumphed like an ungainly caterpillar towards Sasquatch until lifted by his aquarium tank's outpouring.

A salty suffocating wave surged to the lorry's door and then back, leaking through electronic consoles as it drowned the last hope for the entire linked control boards.  The penguins surfed the sloshing waves until they reached Sasquatch who had planted her big feet against the floor.  The water reached mid thigh on her as she stuck out her arms to balance in the deluge.  After they made their way up her body, Kowalski loosened one flipper from her fur to brush water off Skipper's chest frantically and then stopped at a look from his commander saying that he would not get sick from the soaking because he couldn't.  They struggled up to her shoulders, Rico and Kowalski on the left and Skipper and Private on the right.  Shades of Manfredi and Johnson's killer tsunami, this had been a close one.

The team squinted to find where Blowhole had beached until the emergency lighting sizzled to nothing.  In the murk, they heard Blowhole's "Until next time!" 

"After him, boys!  And lady!"  

A dolphin-sized trapdoor opened under their aquatic adversary and the water followed the laws of fluid dynamics as it swooshed away and down.  The four penguins and Sasquatch hurried to the opening in time to see Blowhole seal himself inside an escape ruse shaped especially for him.  From its bay suspended underneath the lorry, the torpedo-like vehicle shot forward as its fairing scraped the undercarriage.  Blowhole got away in a backfiring belch of internal combustion fumes.  The last they saw of him was his bottlenose pointed defiantly forward as his flippers maneuvered a control yoke that looked like an airplane's.  Blue Five and Blue Four dragged Blue One between them through the opening and disappeared to everyone's disinterest.

Kowalski said what didn't actually need to be said.  "A customized Messerschmitt KR 201 roadster.  It can do sixty miles per hour.  Blowhole's on the loose again."

Skipper panted and sat on the abandoned segway's tire.  "We stopped him from drowning the world.  That's as good as it gets."  He brushed off Private's attempts to preen the damp from his bald spot.  "Leave it."  Private seemed not to know what to do with himself until Rico lifted Kowalski's flipper with his and nodded at Skipper.  Skipper placed his flipper atop Kowalski's and nodded at Private.  Private acted more like himself as he slipped his flipper atop the penguin pile of appendages.

"Yayyyyy!"

"We did it.  By Light-Horse Harry Lee, we did it."

"Sir, your gut was right."

"Ahgrommmtzteam!"

Sasquatch slogged through mushy piles of wiring that resembled intestines as she macerated already crushed crabs whose guts spurted from between her toes.  She had a look of despair despite their triumph.  "I'm stuck in this body.  I --- I gave up everything to defeat him."  She sat on the pommel of the segway as her weight lifted Skipper's seat until his legs left the floor.  He swung his feet thoughtfully.

"Stuck in this body?" Kowalski, Rico and Private chorused.

''No one else promised me what he did.  No one else could have changed me.  No one else can change me back."

Skipper turned hopeful eyes to his Science Guy.  Kowalski shook his head.  "I don't dare try.  I'm not as smart as Blowhole or Dave."  It was a bald statement and must have cost Kowalski a great deal.

Blue Three moaned from a soggy mess of apples, lichen, broken champagne flutes and fescue.  He rubbed his eyestalks like a sleepy hatchling.  "What did I miss?"

IOIOIOIOIO

TBConcluded
pronker: (Default)
At Skipper's request for privacy, his physical took place on the top level of their habitat in the very last bit of daylight.  After much whispering, Private and Rico had departed to ready themselves for battle in the interior space.  

Kowalski blew gently on the bald spot on Skipper's front to determine his combat fitness.  After palpating the entire area, he declared that the swelling caused by the bruised spleen had improved and that the battle was not yet over to replace the sleek coat.  "The white feathers are winning, but underneath will be the worst of your scars ever, sir."

"Meh."

"When you moult, it will show."

"Meh."

"The feathers might not grow in evenly after the moult."

"Meh."

"It could compromise your waterproofing ability.  The Doc will have something more specialized to stop scarring than what is in my medico bag.  We could raid his office in a surgical strike when we return to New York City."

"M-oh.  'Surgical strike'?  You're cute.  No needles?"

"No needles."  

"If you think it's that important, we can schedule Operation: Operation first thing when we get back."

"Now
who's being cute?"  Kowalski continued the mandatory pre-mission exam.  As the last bit of sun danced on the cusp of night, the sky's robin's egg blue shifted to a divine glaze of eggshell white over azure enamel.  "You're up to sixty-nine per cent of your normal baseline in speed, strength, endurance and agility," he concluded.  "A whole nineteen per cent more than the last exam.  Congratulations."

"Aw, shiiiiii---take mushrooms.  I'll need to depend on you all to run interference for me.  I, I'm sorry, soldier."

"This isn't the first time --- "

Skipper looked down at his nude strip.  "It may be for the highest stakes.  When our possessed car knocked me out cold, Rico faced it down and won.  If it had done us both in, the world would be out two penguins.  If we fail now, the ice melt changes the world for the worse."

"Our little world would have been rocked without Rico and you."  Kowalski stood straighter.  "That counts for something."

"Pshaw.  Moving along, did you kiss and make up with the Private?"

"Yeah.  He told me that Prince Sharesalot says Oversharing is not the Lunacorn Way.  That was awkward all around.  Me and my big beak."

"What you said was the truth."

"So what.  I don't need to be little Mister Truth-teller."

"Our team would be poorer if the sensitivity got knocked out of him, but yeah, some truths none of us like to hear.  His truth is too cute for words."

"Marlene called him a sweetie."

"She ought to know.  She's sweet as a Winkie herself and smart as a licorice whip."

"I agree, sir.  We're done here."  Kowalski used Ole's telescope to survey the horizon of the darkening sky as Skipper watched.  He sighted in the evening star and the places where Arcturus and the Ploughman and the Bears would appear later.  "Star positions charted and my internal alarm set for optimal departure window.  There's a new moon tonight so Möckelövågen Road ought to be starlit only.  There might be a traffic signal to govern access to Road 1, though."

"Darkness is the best cover of all.  What did I tell you about fate?  Even the moon is with us.  Or, in this case, not."

They trooped down the ramp to discover Private and Rico waiting for them.  Rico stood three steps back from the foot of the ramp and Private stood three steps back from his penguin brother and one step to the side from Rico's right flipper.  "We're practicin' a smashin' new routine.  K'walski, you get on Rico's left side opposite me, Skippa, you get six steps directly behind Rico.  On my mark, we charge up the ramp."               

Kowalski got into place with a broad smile after returning Ole's telescope to Faux Skipper's corner.  "Svinfylking!"  

"Bless you!" the others chorused.

"No, svinfylking is the Viking name for the flying wedge attack."

Rico broke formation as he turned around with a scowl.  "Futball!"

"Riiiight, Rico, the New York Behemoths use this tactic with another name, but it's the same principle of warriors guarding the weaker element inside ... their ... oh Tesla's manners, I've done it again."

"Ouch, Kowalski."

"Sorry, Skipper!  You know what I mean."

Rico grumped futball under his breath and took up his place.  "Mark!" cried Private.  The wedge stormed uphill and by the top, their superb muscle memories catalogued the routine.  After three more practices, it became second nature.

"Wot'll we name it?"

"Your call, soldier."

"We're lackin' a Routine Ten."

"Ten it is.  Lights out, gentlemen."  Skipper added the zinger that had just popped into his head.  "The whole mission ought to be a milk run."

The groans did not subside for some time.

IOIOIOIOIO

Imelda did her best to stage whisper.  "GUYTH!


Kowalski assumed that Marcus was sleeping and waved the others on as he waddled to the polar bears' fence.  He pointed to where she had previously loosened two bars on the top rail.  "You may need to part these soon.  The artic picks up Sasquatch and Hugo soon and we're moving against Blowhole before dawn, Imelda.  If everything goes pear-shaped and none of us come back, just look innocent.  If Sasquatch and Hugo get shafted back here by zoo overlords and we don't, see what you can do to free them because they really don't belong in a zoo anymore.  Thank you for all you've done so far in surveillance and consulting on Skipper's health."

"I'll do what I CAN without endangering Marcuth.  How ITH Thkipper?"

"Not too bad off.  He's healing fast."

Imelda swam her moat to poke her nose through the fence.  "That'th motht ECTHELLENT.  Good care on YOUR part."

"We tried hard.  Uh, well, this is it, as the saying goes.  Goodbye."

"Bye!"  Marcus' treble piped across the echoing waters.

"QUIET, THON!"  Imelda's bellow made Kowalski wince.  He slid to catch up with his team.

The four entered the moose habitat in the usual way.  Because of the moonless night, they nearly missed Sasquatch stretching her arms to the sky as she stood atop the scaffolding with its attached ladder extended as high up as possible.  After her wail faded, they paused until she somersaulted down in front of them.  "Welcome," she said and led the way into her stable.

IOIOIOIOIO

''Go ahead, whoever is calling, make my night better.  I dare you."

"Agent Twelve reporting.  Brief surveillance complete.  The Centre for GeoGenetic Research artic is in the zoo's parking lot, repeat, the artic is in the zoo's parking lot.  Shipment transfer to Copenhagen indicated for tomorrow on the 7:30 a.m. ferry for Sweden from Berghamn on Åland.  Estimated time of departure from zoo 5 a.m. via assumed most direct route which is Road 1.  Twelve out."

"Twelvie!  Go-o-o-o-o-o-d to hear your voice, lady!  How's it going scooting around the island on the old Vespa?"

"What?"

"I mean, it must be a little fun, right?  The wind in your ears, the sense of clandestine activity being discovered at any moment giving the cardio a bit of a workout?  Come on, I've been cooped up in this lorry for ages so entertain me with a timely travelogue, you tusked terror of the tundra!"

"Walruses do not have ears and we do not live on the tundra."

"I was just going for alliteration.  It's a weakness.  Don't get offended!"

"Mmmm.  As for the Vespa you provided, I traded it in for a hog."

"You needed to check with me first, Twelve.  I venture that even in your human disguise, a person riding a Blue Ribbon Yorkshire sow around town gathers unwanted --- "

"A hog is a Harley-Davidson motorcycle imported from the colonies.  It's a customized Trike Model Tri-Glide Ultra for your financial records.  You ought to receive the invoice on your iPhone soonest.  My weight and a Vespa's capabilities are incompatible."

"Oh, er, uh, I wanted to flatter you --- "

"Not necessary.  Twelve out."

"Wait!  Don't go!  Wait.  I want to talk to someone who understands the larger issues, like my bigger plan than murdering Skipper --- "

"Yeah, Twelve, us crabs are all talked out.  Wait'll he gets going on --- "

"Shut it, Blue Three.  You can be replaced on one seashore shell gathering soirée, I don't care about your seniority."

"Blowhole, this is becoming embarrassing.  What do you want from me?  I am nobody alluring like Agent Fiona ffolkes and you are no Commodore Danger.  I work alone."

"I just want to talk.  I'll pay you overtime."

"Very well, let's synchronize.  You're on the clock starting at ... 2213 hours.  I'm by the ocean where I cached the Trike so if you hear soughing noises, that's not me snoring, that's the tide coming in.  Really."

"Whatever.  So, um, Twelvie, do you believe in an afterlife?"

IOIOIOIOIO

Skipper paced in front of his augmented team or 'herd,' as Sasquatch would put it.  "We must assume that Blowhole accessed information about your departure.  He's got all the good stuff to gather intel despite being a bad guy."  Kowalski growled but his leader ignored it.  "His plan to plant a spike strip along Road 1 means you're in for a rough few minutes' ride.  Be warned."  Sasquatch and Hugo had moved their space heaters farther apart again, he noticed, and speculated as to the reason.  Hugo had listened to the details of timing, fjord placement, road numbers and isolated country spots with the concentration of his solemn orangutan kind while Sasquatch showed a lesser degree of attention.

"So now I know what it's like having someone out for my particular hide," Sasquatch began.  "It's the opposite of what a herd animal ever wants to feel."  She looked like she was hunting for words and Skipper was disinclined to lend aid.  Helping her physically relocate and stay alive was one thing, helping her psychologically was not his strong point.  He gave what he could to a temporary ally and bulled on through.

"Yeah, so now you know.  It became part of living when you danced with Lady -- I mean Sir Danger.  Anyway, Blowhole didn't say for sure he was planning to off you and if you make yourself valuable to him, he won't.  That's the scenario if we fail and you play him for a ride out of Dodge, sister.  Figure out his motivations, figure out how to make them work to your advantage.  Tonight you ought to mellow him out by referring to his successes with your change into an assassin, something like that.  You play it by earho- um, ear."  He sized her up and noted the worry wrinkles around her deepset eyes.  "You can do this."

She took a measured breath.  "If you say so."  She glanced at Hugo, who nodded.  "Afterwards, there's no need for you and your herd to waddle back to your habitat for rest.  Stay here and be fresh to go when your beta says."  

"I'll take you up on that.  We brought what we needed with us."  Skipper demonstrated combat poses that he favored.  "And Rico will supply the rest."  Rico pointed to his belly.

"Amazing."

Skipper puffed out his chest with pride and then deflated with a wince.  "Anyway, we got calidad excelente intel and the point is not to make him suspect anything is going on.  If he doesn't mention that the artic picks up you two tomorrow, then he's blowing off your whole deal and you'll have that to add to your file on him."  

Kowalski broke in.  "That option would imply he's figured out a way to assassinate his assassin and steal her body so no lab could dissect it for DNA study.  Hugo's death could be arranged as seeming to succumb to old age.  Fascinating."  At Sasquatch's unsettled look,  he added,  "In a scientific way.  No one here wants --- "

"Ahem.  We'd still accomplish our mission against him and free you two before that could happen unless he throws a real spider monkey wrench into our plans by doing that in the next few hours.  Catastrophes are part of life, you think about them and then step out in faith, as Ole might say."  Skipper looked up as if for inspiration.  "Let's say that he is pretending to be fair with you for a while, what does he think of Hugo riding along?"

"Blowhole said it was all right, but Hugo doesn't want to go now."  Sasquatch stated this disappointment calmly enough.  Skipper admired that in an animal.

Hugo looked embarrassed.  "I got cold feet.  You all don't know how it is to be old and weak --- "

Skipper already had moved on to specifics.  "What if they toss you into the artic with her?"

"I'll pitch a tantrum and the humans will think it's because I'm senile.  I can act like I'll probably be someday."

That dispirited statement seemed to clinch the subject until Sasquatch burst out of her calm. "Where did your courage go?  I thought you wanted freedom and this is your chance --- "

"Ayam, let it be --- "

"I tried, I really tried to help a friend and what did it get me?  Alone with my enemy and forced to keep up an act that is torture --- "

No way was Skipper allowing the mission to disintegrate because of a squabble.  "Hugo, you have the right to refuse.  Sasquatch, deal.  We're your herd for the time being and you'll only be alone with that nutjob for maybe minutes before we blow something up --- "

Rico made a happy sound.

Arcturus sliced the dark skies like a shuriken as Kowalski pointed to it from the north doorway.  "The safety window is closing.  He'll call soon."

"I've got to know that you're able to handle this.  Can you?"  Skipper drilled her with the look reserved for troops too shaken to follow orders.  It had always worked before.

In the end, it took Rico to lend her part of his nonchalance.  "Ah-kwatch, keepcalmncarryon.  'Kippaaaahnusonyrside."

"Yeah.  What he said," Skipper added.  Sasquatch's lips trembled as she nodded.  She moved to the window to gather strength from an absent moon that shone inside her.  When the carrier dot flared, his team had already chucked Skipper onto the rafter with Kowalski steadying him this time.  The others waited behind the manger.

"What's cooking, boss?"  She started the conversation with a question and Kowalski frowned.  Dr. Phil said questions are like attacks.  He breathed easier at Blowhole's reply and felt Skipper relax against him.

"Kebabs of dull with bland sprinkles.  How's it going with you?"

"I'm meditating on your place in my life instead of hitting the sauce.  You know" --- she looked upwards at Skipper who drew his flipper across his throat and then her gaze lost focus realistically as if she were thinking hard to form a clear statement --- "you're a genius making me into your assassin the way you did."

"So I'm told."

Skipper couldn't fault her for using Routine Three: Be Polite If It Kills You.  He waited to see if Blowhole's withdrawn mood changed.  "Who told you besides me that you're a genius?"

"Sis did even before I got my degree and then Dave and recently the Mole Men.  The term lost its charm after Skipper's ghost appeared to me."  Atop the rafter, Skipper's jaw dropped.  Kowalski threw a flipper around him as he leaned forward.

"Er, why aren't you flying high because of that?  Enlighten me, boss."

"No more worlds to conquer, one less bell to answer, one less bird to pick up after, I don't know who my mind is going to play against now that he's in the Good Place.  I can hardly reach him there even after I kick the chumbucket.  I'm thinking ahead to my next earthly scheme, what can I tell you?  It's the curse of genius."

"I thought you'd be happy as a calf in clover tonight."  She seemed to search for words of cheer.  "I know, how about a good rondelay?  Row row row your --- "

"Don't.  Life is not a dream."  His voice got harder.  "You and what's-his-name get ready because tomorrow morning the artic picks you up.  Actually it's more like dead of night pickup, but be on the lookout for me.  I'll be the one with the spike strip six miles out."  Sasquatch allowed herself to jump for joy, but before she could arrange properly elated features on her face, he signed off with a terse,  "Blowhole over."

"Catch me."  Skipper sailed down without looking who would catch him.  "Sparta's expected ending, I don't understand that at all."

Private let go of his leader.  "Skippa, he's feelin' the pain of loss.  Mind you, it's not wot we think of as loss but it is a change for him and maybe he never thought to have it happen?  Maybe he's got nothin' inside of him to help him carry on?"  Private looked down.  "That's wot he sounded like to me.  Maybe I'm wrong."

"Yrrite."

"I think so too, Rico.  It seems Blowhole is only brain and no brawn of the intestinal fortitude kind."  Kowalski looked smug in the knowledge that he had both.

Skipper tapped his forehead.  "Hmmm.  Okay okay, that's a good thing for the mission.  He's depressed because I died and he can be taken offguard easier did you ever hear the guff coming out of your beak at crucial times it's impossible he is in mourning --- "

"It's possible," Hugo contributed.  "Depression dulls the senses.  He'll be the lesser dolphin for his weakness."  He yawned.  "I'm ready for this day to end.  Good luck, penguins."  He curled around his space heater.  "Selamat tidur, ayam."

Sasquatch tightened her lips and didn't answer.  After a moment, sonorous snores similar to Rockgut's filled the stable.  She jerked a thumb in her friend's direction.  "He's right about that, anyway.  Time to rest.  Make yourselves to home."

Skipper and his crew formed a puppy pile of penguins as Sasquatch squatted before the heater to rub her hands.  The carrier dot plus the heater's coils illuminating Sasquatch's brooding outline were the last things that Skipper saw before he closed his eyes.  As he drifted away to slumber on Private's chest, he reflected that this would be the closest she had been to bedding down with a companionable herd in a long time.  It ought to make her more content with her friend's change of heart.  When Kowalski roused them, she had stretched out by the north doorway and bid them a sober farewell from her prone position.  Hugo didn't awaken.

IOIOIOIOIO

"Wait for it.  Waaaiiiit for it --- "  The driver's door to the milk truck opened and a man in a tidy cream uniform descended.  As he made his way to the back of the milk truck, the penguin commandos sidled around the billboard post to keep out of his sight.  The man whistled a merry tune as he gathered milk crates and stacked them on a handcart, performed a kick-out on his load and trundled it into the café after punching a security code on its back door.

"Now!"  Private vaulted on top of the milk truck.  There was a sleek aerodynamic feel to the truck that Scandinavian engineers must have been proud of and the roof's edges were rounded for a spoiler.  Private braced himself for the burden as Skipper hurtled towards him.  The commander's hug upon arrival steadied them both as the two of them pressed themselves onto the slick surface, Skipper supine and Private prone.  When Kowalski and Rico appeared as if by magic onto the roof, the three did better anchoring Skipper by each flipper and both feet than they did with themselves.  The moonless night witnessed a series of high-ones of epic proportions before the driver clanked his way back with the empties, slammed the back door shut and hustled into the driver's seat.  The truck with its stowaways took off.  

"Time?" Skipper asked over the surprisingly quiet truck noise.

"Will you listen to that!  This is a hybrid I think no rumble it's a honey organic milk truck for a greener Åland win with Volvo --- "

"Kowalski!  Can the geek and open the speak!  I said what time is it!"

Kowalski craned his neck to seek the stars.  "Five oh one and forty-three seconds."

"Number of delivery stops?"

The truck bumped over a pothole left over from winter's wear on roads.  It was too early in the season yet to be repaired by vigilant civil servants.  Kowalski pressed harder on Skipper's left flipper as all four penguins slid a bit. 

"Unknown, sir.  Mariehamn's population is 11,521 and we may assume corresponding amounts of public buildings since it is the capital of the island and also numerous touristy cafés and such along with private homes."  He paused.  "As you said, hippie Viking solstice worshippers love their organics."

Skipper had had days of delay to fine tune his battle plan.  "Keep track of the landmarks in the city as we pass.  We want to return near the zoo and not ride all the way back to the milk distribution plant.  The rest of you help, too, because Kowalski also needs to estimate six miles' passage.  Damn, there aren't many tall buildings for me to scope out from flat on my back to assist."  He looked to the left and right and down his body.  Just past the hump of his spare tire waved Rico's topknot in the breeze as he secured his leader's feet.  "I'm drowning in a rookery of penguins."

"Aye, sir.  We wouldn't have it any other way."

"In the name of Balaclava's cavalry, can we be off at last?  Hooha!"

IOIOIOIOIO

TBC

pronker: (Default)
The late morning sun warmed the zoo as the A.A.R.P. inductees began a relaxing game of cards on the topmost level of their outdoor habitat.  "I know it's our regular card day, but playin' cards on Tuesday mornin' doesn't feel right somehow."  Private licked his hole card giveaway that the others needed to see to play correctly.  He stuck the pasteboard on his forehead as the others concentrated on deciphering the best strategy with their own dealt cards.  As with other sessions of pleasant diversion, the outer world fell away from the dominion of time.  

"Stomp The Wombat, Bangladeshi rules" --- Kowalski triaged his commander without seeming to --- "and one point seventeen degree punishment."

"Rubbing it in, Kowalski?  I'll be back up to nine degrees before you know it and then watch out.  Your glass jaw is known to us all."  Skipper frowned over his fan of cards and selected one to place face down before him.  "Draw one."

"Mummy!  Mummy!  Jag förstår inte!"

"Ditch the cards!  I forgot about opening time and we're made!  Rico!"  Four little penguins threw their cards onto the discard pile and then three little penguins formed a united blocking front to the onlooker at the fence.  They smiled and waved as Rico produced his flamethrower to eliminate the evidence that these birds were leagues beyond ordinary.  Rico wafted away the smoke and took his place at his commander's side after he disposed of the flamethrower in the usual manner.

"Aw.  Gdhand."

"I know, I know.  Another time.  Now where's our cheery smile?  Not that one, the other one.  There you go."

The boy's mother walked up, thumbing what looked like a guidebook.  "Hur säger man ilmatyynyalukseni on täynnä ankeriaita på svenska?"

"Mummy, the English today, please."

"Ja, Per.  What did you be seeing?"

"Penguins playing the gambling cards.  How can this happen?"

"It is not the regular, but these are American birds.  Let us give them the break."  She opened her fur coat at the throat and patted her son on his bright blond head mostly covered by his knit cap.  "The weather is tipping the toes towards spring.  We are preparing the trip to Sweden for tomorrow morning.  The outdoor sports with the Mormor will be fun, ja?"

Skipper saw the pout, which was oh so familiar to him as a commander.  He chuckled when the boy said, "Mormor and Farmor ski the whole day long with us when we visit.  When is the video game time?"

"Poor little dumpling, always with the thumbs and the sounding effects.  Your mummy and fadder have plan.  For being the good student, you will play the video games on the handheld all the time we are on ferry to Sweden and back to Åland."

Skipper leaned forward as he listened hard to put this intel together with any Viking homeschooling conspiracy agenda.  It might fit if the video games were the usual conquering or shooting types.  He was taken aback by the boy's response.

"Tusen tack, Mummy!  The Sims 3 for the win!  I make the family with the two babies and the four vallhund with their puppies and three budgies and the Volvo  --- "

Oh.  The conspiracy theory returned to the back burner.  He looked around to make sure nobody on his team noticed his special attention to the boy and his mother, but they all knew him too well.  Rico whistled, Private made a rude noise unusual for him, and Kowalski rolled his eyes.  Then Kowalski perked up at the mother's next words as the boy drew near at her gesture while she pointed to something.  She lowered her book to his level.

"We leave from Mariehamn via the Road 1 to Berghamn on Eckerö Island for ferry.  We pass the airport" --- all four penguins stopped smiling --- "after nearly ten kilometers', pardon, six miles' drive and then ---"

"What is this blank spacing, Mummy?"

"That is the Möckelö area near Bursfjården.  The land near the fjord by the airport has few peoples because who wants to be hearing airplanes all the time where you live?  Lonely Möckelövågen Road joins the main Road 1 here but as we drive on --- "

The penguins stopped waving as they absorbed this intel.  Skipper's gut rumbled and they nodded in agreement.  Before Kowalski could say anything, the mother continued reading from her book to her son, who capered as if he could not wait to leave on his trip.  He tossed his knit cap into the air as she pursued their itinerary.

"Fadder wants us arise at 5 in the a.m. to make the special 7:30 ferry to Grisslehamn."

Per's "Whyyyyyyyy?" reminded them all of Mort's cry of uncomprehending juvenile despair over cruel fate visited on him by authority figures.

"This is for the international cooperation, Per.  The special 7:30 ferry will have the sasquatch on it with us.  She is going by artic to Copenhagen for testing in laboratory.  Natural History Museum Centre for GeoGenetics has set aside this time for her and we Scandinavians cooperate with each other in peace.  Now we leave at the early hour but we stop for breakfast along the way will that not be fun --- "

The penguins stopped listening.  There was a profound silence after the two humans departed that was broken only by Skipper's gut sounds.  "We knew this was coming.  We know the hour.  We know the place.  We act.  Told you!"

"Labs schedule their times carefully, Skipper, and despite what we are focused on with Blowhole and Sasquatch, they have other programs ongoing than testing her.  Your gut seems to have an in with both Denmark and St. Urho.  I bow to it."  He performed the action and ducked away from Skipper's butt slap.  "When he knew our destination, Ted told me a bit about Åland's layout since he comes from near here.  There's a good chance Möckelövågen Road is Blowhole's lie out since it's near the fjord and he may have wanted a swim now and then."

"It's not chance, it's fate and how did you get Ted to shut up about it?  You know how he talks and talks."

Kowalski attempted humility.  "I just listened and nodded at the important parts and tuned out the rest.  You should try it sometime."

"In my next reincarnation, amigo.  For now, we are sitting pretty.  Up high!"

The rest of the daylight hours passed by with ample time for the introspection that Skipper usually avoided like the avian plague.  The group performed for a reasonable amount of guests in turns by flopping with no grace into the water, splashing playfully at each other while avoiding getting Skipper wet and joining him in sets of one or two when he looked lonely sitting on the beach.  He did little that afternoon beyond a few comic waddles and seemed to be conserving his strength for the next day.  Somehow the penguins gravitated to two conversation pits on opposite ends of the small beach as the day progressed.  Kowalski claimed first one-on-one time with his leader and expounded on Blowhole's financing scheme to Skipper's limited understanding or interest.

"Science knows that sea monkeys are just brine shrimp that have a dancing gene, like Julien --- "

"Don't mention Ringtail!  I nearly forgot about how much time I waste with him, and now you're giving me heartburn on top of all my other problems!"

Oh oh, he'd managed to upset the applecart.  "Easy, sir, eeeeasy."  He took another tack as he reaffirmed the importance of their mission per Dr. Phil's instruction if you want a different result, choose a different behavior.  "Blowhole is mutating ice worms to giants to melt ice --- again --- with their natural anti-freeze and he'll succeed without our intervention because there are no natural predators big enough to control them.  It's diabolical!"

The tactic worked as Skipper shifted focus.  "We're here.  We're all the predators we need."  

"Well put, sir."  Kowalski beat feet for another mind clearing swim and Private took his place.

"How is the water, Private?"

"Whee, fantastic!  See how it sparkles in the sun like a really sparkly thing!"

"Couldn't be any prettier."  Skipper flicked away stray droplets from Private's head.  

Private shook himself like a golden retriever.  "Oh!  I forgot!"  He brushed away the droplets that had spattered Skipper's front while Skipper folded both flippers over the bare spot on the breastbone.  "I didn't get any into the skin oh no please say no --- "

"Dial down the panic, compadre.  I'm all right.  Plotz."

Private plotzed.  "Whew.  I had a nightmare last night that you didn't recover from Kastelholm."

"Aw, was that what that was?  Nah, I'll be around for your next promotion."  The late afternoon breeze from the Gulf of Bothnia picked up a candy wrapper that some kiddie had dropped despite Scandinavian neatness.  It flew into Private's face and he examined it.

"Skippa, I'll make it up to you.  It's not a Peanut Butter Winkie but it might be a treat."  Private everted the wrapper to show a tad of taffy still on the inside.  He held it as Skipper licked.

"Mmmm.  Okay itth tathty smack like smack butterthcotth.  Here, I left you half."  He held the wrapper as Private polished it off and then crumpled the wrapper under a rock for disposal later.  "Look at that Rico.  He's our power swimmer on the team."  Rico had lost count of his orbits around the habitat and so had everyone else.  He porpoised in front of the beach with a "Yeehawwww!" before slipping under once more.

"Yeah.  He's so happy.  He'll have Miss Perky to welcome him home."

"Maybe that's why he didn't bring her along.  You can't miss someone if they're with you all the time."

Private folded his flippers demurely on his lap.  "Skippa, why didn't you order K'walski to stop seein' Doris after the first um, rejection when he fell apart?"

"Oh hell.  Did I ever mention I hate delays?"  Skipper lowered his voice even though Kowalski had just now sprawled onto a lie out at the farther end of the beach.  "Private, I'm not the love police.  There's no need to force the issue because uno, it wouldn't do any good and dos, it's not my business."  He grew stern.  "It's not yours, either.  He's an adult just like you and I wouldn't interfere in your love life.  It's acceptable if he wants to think about her day, noon, and night, and as long as it doesn't hurt our team and there's no abuse involved --- "

Private traced a heart in the sand.  "Wot if I asked you to interfere in mine if there was um, abuse?"

"Are you keeping something from me?  Nelson's column, don't tell me you have been rendezvousing with somebody by the Petting Zoo please don't let the name be right on --- "

"Skippa!  Not bloody likely!"

"Well?"

"I'm just askin' for a worst case scenario like you always say for me to ask myself wot would Skippa do?"

"Good you're not involved with anybody in this part of your commando training, keep it up.  Um."

The gurgling of water in the drainage grate filled the silence and Skipper had nearly bio-feedbacked his heart rate to normal when Private piped up with another poser.

"Skippa, do you think Åland is more relaxin' than our holiday in Hoboken?"

"I didn't nearly die in Hoboken despite my evil bio-mechanical android double, young Private, so that's a no."

"Oh."

The innocent question sparked a deeper thought.  "I can't remember clearly, but I might have sneaked a peek at the Endless Iceberg when I dipped my pinkie claw into the Eternally Foggy Sea.  It didn't look so bad."  He winked at Private.  "That was sort of relaxing."

"Don't joke about it, Skippa."

Another thought struck.  "In fact, I may have gotten a tour of the place pre-need, so to speak.  I think I remember flying towards the Light, but everything is hazy."

"Stop.  Just stop."  Private couldn't tolerate the subject any longer.

Henbane couldn't have shown the truth to Skipper any clearer.  "Ah, then, you're too young to have this conversation.  Come on, what do you think the point spread will be when the Rangers defeat the Ducks tomorrow night?  I'm betting it's one.  Raanta is revved up to keep the spread down and I'm sure they'll win this time."

"Are you so certain, then?  Ow!"

"That was a tiny slap, Private, don't overreact.  Yup, my gut is sure.  Next question?"

"Oh, um, my next question can wait.  Here's Rico to keep you company."  Private scurried away to settle by Kowalski's lie out.

It was nearing closing time as Rico plopped onto his belly to allow Skipper to brush away water droplets from his back.  He eased into a catnap in the sun.  He jerked awake to startle up a smoke bomb when, after some minutes, Skipper smacked his butt with a "Mother of Mercy, is this the end of Rico?" followed by a loon-like laugh.  Coughing and sputtering, the two made sure no human saw the interchange and then cackled to themselves for a long time.

IOIOIOIOIO

"Oh those two.  They are more alike than Skipper wants to believe."  Kowalski shook his head.  "Eh, Private, I'm at a loss to say why Dave and Blowhole's genetic marker system seems off regarding how ice is to be melted.  Give me a distraction."

"K'walski, why does Skippa need to win all the time?"

"It's for the team and well, for his own sake.  He's just that good at what he does."

Private sighed with the realization of his limited experience.  "I suppose it's beyond me.  It's like I always wondered why you and Doris kept talkin' to each other now and again even after you two broke up the first time."  He added more than he had originally intended to.  "I mean, I saw her run over you three times with her brother's segway the last time we faced Blowhole --- "

"She didn't aim for me, I'm sure.  It just happened."

"When you met after the first split, did she ever ask you if you'd moved on, then?"

Kowalski thought hard.  "She did the first time we met on Liberty Island.  I said no and she stopped asking.  I want the best for her and if my opinion helps her see that she's just playing the field, maybe she'll come back to me."

"I think she's mean.  Why would you want her?"

"That's personal, Private."  Kowalski cleared his throat.  "Yes, it hurt me to see her but she needed advice with one boyfriend after another and --- well, you're a virgin.  You wouldn't understand."

"Rude!"

"I'm sorry, but you just wouldn't.  It's not your fault."

Private rose and strode away but not before tossing a final remark over his shoulder.  "Skippa's right.   Delays are hurtful."

"Private!  I didn't mean --- Fibonacci's sequence, I've done it again."  Kowalski saw Private say something to Skipper and afterwards Skipper and Rico looked his way.  He lay down flat and studied the clear sky.  It was blue as a robin's new egg and getting a touch warmer each afternoon now that the watermelon snow was in its final bloom before its spring thaw.  Soon the delightful pinkish red stuff would melt into bloody tears to feed a growing stream of runoff from a winter that had died.  He didn't look around as Rico settled beside him.

"Kwoskii."

"I know, I know.  I deserve whatever you say.  He's right and I was rude.  I'll make it up to him, okay?"

Rico huffed.  "Noddit."

"Well, what do you want, then?"

''The true friend is one that's coming in the door when everyone else is going out."

Kowalski shot upright.  "What did you say?  How did you say it?"  Rico flourished a small tape recorder as he held down the 'pause' button.  "Oh.  You finally got around to horking up a tape recorder so Private doesn't need to memorize the Åland log entries for Skipper.  For a minute there, you had me going."  He thought a moment more.  "That was one of Dr. Phil's sayings.  Thanks, I guess."

"'Rivate okay nao.  Sez yrrite."

Kowalski groaned.  "So what.  I put my foot in my beak again.  What else is new?"

"Noo myoozik.  Lissen."  Rico released the 'pause' button and a plaintive tune twanged across the beach.  If there had been any guests left, Americans and not a few international visitors would have recognized the inimitable Hank Williams crooning one of his best.  Rico reclined by his bunkmate.

"All right, all right.  He's a great singer.  Music me away, big fella."  Kowalski's look of smug knowledge shattered like a lacework Meissen dessert plate dropped upon a marble floor as the song continued.  "I haven't heard this one before.  Why did you choose it?"

"Lissen."  

The music carried them along until In anger unkind words are said that make the teardrops start.  Why can't you free your doubtful mind, and melt your cold cold heart gave Kowalski pause.  "I'm not angry with anyone, Rico, even though I was unkind to Private.  It's a grand song but inappropriate if you think it applies to me."

Rico held his flipper over the recorder's buttons so his friend couldn't disrupt the song and when Hank sang You'll never know how much it hurts to see you sit and cry he had good reason to.  "Shut it off.  Just because I mention Doris now and then doesn't mean I weep over her loss, for goodness' sake."

Rico slapped away his friend's errant quest for the 'pause' button.  "Lissen."  The song concluded and Move It On Over began.  "Happyer."

"Hmmmph.  Very well.  This one does apply to our being forced into conj---er, communal  sleeping spaces."  They shared a laugh at this dog house here is mighty small but it's better than no house at all before Skipper called them for evening recon waddle around the habitat.

"Team, the plan is set and we are set for battle.  We roll at the usual time tonight for what ought to be the last trudge to the moose habitat.  This time tomorrow, we'll be deciding how to celebrate St. Patrick's Day.  I'm for getting jiggy with it, are you?"

"Yeah!"

"Everybody sick of downtime?"

"Yeah!"

"Me, too!"

IOIOIOIOIO

TBC
 
 
pronker: (Default)
 Sasquatch and Hugo slept in until the zoo's opening time.  As Sasquatch tied into her morning monkey chow with a grimace and Hugo tied in with gusto, he reflected, "You'd think I'd be used to waiting at my age, but I actually am impatient to hear how the battle went when the penguins return."  He popped a chunk of chow into the air before gobbling it like a salted peanut.  "I have you to thank for my unsettled state."

"Is that sarcasm?"

"Indeed not.  I feel alive inside, even if my energy level on the outside doesn't show it."  He led the way to the scaffold where Sasquatch noted the crowd waiting for her to do something, so she did.

"Tell a fellow when you're going to grab him like that!"  Hugo adjusted his fur.

Sasquatch swung herself up to sit beside where she had tossed him up on the scaffold.  "It's the unexpected things in life that spice it up."  She waved back at a little boy and his mother who had been waving since the two left the stable.  The two humans were the last to leave the moose habitat vicinity in the clumping pattern that most visitors adhered to.  Sasquatch saw the boy and his parent disappear into the primate house as they followed their group along.  "So we wait until the penguins accomplish their mission, or don't.  I'm sure they'll wrap everything up with a pretty bow and come over to brief us tonight at some point."

"Brief us?  Now you're talking like them."

She shrugged.  "I waddle the waddle, so I talk the talk.  They're my temporary allies and herd and that makes them yours, too.  Change is in the air."

"If you say so."

The wintry late morning sun warmed their backs and they could tell that spring was approaching.  Sasquatch pursued her theme of change.  "I've done all I could to fit into a regular life being a daughter, a mate, a mother, a grandmother, and now --- "

"And now what, ayam?"

She swung her feet.  "It's hard to explain to one who has always led a solitary life, but I want to lead a life alone like you now with no more personal nurturing.  I want to ensure that my kind survives to the next generation but I never want to get personal with anyone ever again."  Sasquatch pulled her broken finger absentmindedly and then flinched when it twinged.  "I don't expect full understanding from you.  Your friendship is enough, Hugo.  It's all that I want or need at this stage."

Hugo patted her undamaged hand.  "I have not weathered your life, but my own has not been without challenges.  When I met you, I wanted to end boredom somehow and you've done that for me.  Let's move forward no matter the outcome of the penguins' mission.  I want freedom and you want freedom.  That's not too bad a goal for over the hill animals like us.  Somehow we'll get it."

Sasquatch raised an imaginary Oktoberfestkindgestalt Bavarian beer stein.  "To peace on a mountain."

Hugo fist bumped in return.  "To peace in the jungle."  His gaze hardened.  "Let's go for it."

IOIOIOIOIO

"Skipper's Log: Hiatus Version 3.2.  I'm committing this entry to memory and not ordering Private to memorize it because it is a not so pretty kettle of fish with personal attachments.  On the plus side, I can preen myself again.  There is only one nude spot left on my front and it's getting smaller each day.  By folding my flippers across my chest just right, nobody can see it.  Bending is easier and I feel stronger but I'm not up to par yet, so no swimming, rolling or sliding.  Kowalski says I'm fifty per cent of general pre-Sasquatch condition including needing to rebuild more blood volume.  Meh.  Onward to the negative, Blowhole's takedown suffers delay after delay and by Jackson's muzzle loader, I dread telling my men the latest decision."

It proved just as difficult as the commander had surmised even though he waited until after lunch and that ought to have mellowed them.

"Team, you're going to hate me for this, but I'm not here to be liked.  We're delaying Operation: Plug A Blowhole until Wednesday morning."

"Sir?"

"Yagottabekidnme!"

"Skippa?"

This was too important for the usual meeting format.  "Walk with me."  Skipper led his troops across the isthmus but instead of turning left towards the front fencing, he turned right to thread through the small patch of trees at the back of the habitat.  Calluna vulgaris clustered at the feet of several picea abies who must have been one third the age of Private.  The calluna vulgaris may have been a month shy of budding its spring greenery, but last year's flowers remained on the plant in a dignified show of brownish glory.  Contrasted with the evergreen needles of the six feet tall picea abies, it made food for thought regarding age and the passing of seasons.  Skipper didn't much like the food and he was certain he didn't like needles, so he got to the point after twelve steps.

"The Ides of March are tomorrow and Kowalski rightly divulged that they can be considered unlucky.  Now before you all say luck is what you make it and remind me that I said it first,  I want to tell you that Wednesday is St. Urho's Day.  It's a particularly Finnish day and I want to ride that wave all the way to the beach."

Under the tallest picea albies, he turned to gather his crew in a circle.  The afternoon's weather was clear and crisp.  The watermelon snow from days ago had piled a soft pinkish blanket that pooled about the hips of the tree.  Skipper's eyes reminded Private of the sapphires in the cabochon necklace that he had admired in the jewelry store when they had nixed the thievery shenanigans of Brick and Cecil.  He knew that something momentous was about to take place.  

"Men, I'm determining the attack day because I've had enough with letting socialistic rules or my convalescing body set the timing of all this.  I've not had a perfect day in years, but my gut says that Wednesday will come close."  

There was silence for one full minute before Kowalski broke it.  "Skipper, I don't believe that St. Urho is venerable or blessed, much less canonized --- "

"That's the trouble with you, Kowalski, you don't believe.  Well, I do.  If he's a saint, he's got mojo and we need it."  

"Are you sure it's your gut and not your ulcers acting up again?  We've all noticed that you've not been digesting your food well lately --- "

Skipper closed his eyes and looked inward for ten seconds.  "Nope, it's the gut part of my gut and not the ulcers."

Kowalski had to concede.  "Guts are hard to fool."

Private was surprised that Rico proved the last to convince.  "'Kippaaah, mebbe Kwoskii testyu?"

"Rico has a point, sir --- "

Skipper stood firm.  "Not more tests like you did after the mindjacking.  They hurt me."

"But I specifically did not use needles!"  Kowalski's voice rose to his upset-there's-no-more-salmon level but not to his we-are-going-to-die-horribly-in-six-point-seven-seconds level.

"I didn't say physically."

"You didn't say anything at the time."

"Never mind.  I don't want any tests.  My gut wouldn't lie."

Kowalski steepled his flippers.  "Sometimes we need to be cruel with needles to be kind.  I never did discover what disease that Doc's injections saved us from.  It could have been fatal."

"This has nothing to do with that."  Skipper fixed Rico with his commanderiest gaze.  "Rico, I'm not undergoing anything that Kowalski can come up with away from his lab or even in it.  I believe this change in schedule to be best to take down Blowhole.  Now do you want to even the score for Sven's injuries or not?"

Rico up-highed after a moment's thought.  "Kaboom!"

"I couldn't have put it better myself."  Skipper looked to the sky.  "Ole, you sit this one out."

The team saluted as one.

IOIOIOIOIO

"Sasquatch.  Hugo.  Rise and shine, you two."

Hugo stirred.  "Zzzzz---what?  Why are you here at this hour, penguin?"  Skipper saw that they had placed their space heaters closer together so they rested nearer each other but made no comment.

Sasquatch yawned and stretched.  "A snafu in the mission?  Did Blowhole move his lorry?  Is he gone?  What happened?  Are any of you hurt?"

"Everything is copacetic, but there's been a change of plan.  We're on for day after tomorrow because he's still near the airport as far as intel shows," continued Skipper.  Kowalski clicked the 'change' button on the remote and the Vasarely Vision frazzle showed Hugo and Sasquatch sitting up with Hugo's pelt matching Sasquatch's for deshabille.

Sasquatch had not yet gotten it together.  "What time is it?  Where is Arcturus?"  She scrambled out of bed to peer out the north window.  "Harreram, I nearly overslept if he's contacting at the usual hour."  She slumped in relief.  "There's time to wash and not much more.  Hugo, I'm not up to playing your late night games any longer."  

"It was your first time, my friend.  You did all right."

Skipper smacked his forehead and then directed his team to study the manger for weak points.  "Tra la la, I'm not listening.  We don't need to hear about their late night games."  He looked thoughtful after Kowalski, Rico, and Private each pointed three compromised slats due to Bruce The Moose's refuge from boredom by cribbing on good Finnish spruce.  "This is a no go for a hide up top although it's secure enough to hide behind.  I need a better observation post.  Kowalski, options?"

Hugo was already at the waterer.  "Playing Botticelli is my forté to stave off boredom, that's true.  Wait a moment for the water, I'm dry as a desert angin from asking the game's questions."  He sucked on the waterer and afterwards dashed a gnarled hand under it before smoothing down his thinning sagittal crest fur.  "Your turn, ayam."

The penguins waited until the middle of the night latrine calls of age had been tended to and the atmosphere in the stable approached calm.  Skipper briefed his team and allies after studying Kowalski's drawing in the dirt of the floor.  "Kowalski agrees with me that we ought to practice getting this dunsel body of mine to the topside of the milk truck for five in the a.m. Wednesday morning." He pointed upwards to the open beam ceiling.  "Private, gain the high ground on that rafter and be my stabilizer.  It's a round cedar log so it's a greater challenge than the flat top of the truck will be.  You can ace this."

Private attacked the log as if it were a giant ice worm.  He crowed, "Launch him!" as he planted both feet and dug his claws into the unpeeled bark.  He watched as Skipper stuck both flippers out to allow Kowalski and Rico to each grasp a pit before they curled a flipper around a thigh and thrust upwards.  With perfect faith in the aim of his team, Skipper ascended to the rafter where Private steadied his landing with something resembling a hug.  The two sat on the log and not a moment too soon as the Vasarely Vision disappeared to be replaced by the carrier dot and then the flare of Blowhole's laser eye.  He must have turned the brightness down quickly because the light in the stable reverted to its usual level.  From their perch at an acute angle to the television screen, Private and Skipper heard Blowhole's exhalation but no words.

Sasquatch picked up the ball and tiptoed with it.  "So."

Skipper looked backwards and down to see Hugo wave his hand over his brow.  Sasquatch appeared to take the hint to run downfield.  "So, um, Boss, that was some toot, huh?"

"I'm kind of slippy tonight, Sasquatch.  Are you?"

Skipper saw Sasquatch make her eyes look droopy and almost wished he were a real ghost so he could whisper dialogue into her ear and remain unseen by Blowhole.  He could appreciate that her acting skills had grown in the short time she had been performing and hoped that she could step up her game in these critical last communications.  He trusted that Blowhole was not thrown off by the tone of concern in her next words.  He supposed that with anyone as selfish as Blowhole, caring left over after a single drunken rendezvous was taken for granted.  "A little.  But you overdosed, boss.  You're lucky not to be catatonic.  Watch out next time."

Blowhole looked uncommonly sober to Sasquatch and not just in a hung over way.  "I can't get Skipper out of my mind.  He's in the Good Place.  He looked wavery around the edges or was that just me?"

Uh oh.  Blowhole was testing her and maybe doubting that he saw a ghost after all.  Sasquatch puffed out her cheeks and rolled her eyes as if to say here we go again.  "I did not have otherworldly contact with the penguin that I offed.  You alone saw a ghost.  He's in the Pure Land?  Well, yes.  Obviously."

"Why do you suppose that?  You didn't know him."

Sasquatch felt everyone's eyes on her.  "I'm saying that because I'm a good minion and agreeing with you.  As you said, I didn't know him and you knew him better."  She threw in an honest appraisal.  "He was a good fighter so maybe that was enough to get him in."

Blowhole must have been pacing on his segway by the way that Sasquatch's head zipped back and forth to follow.  A rare solemnity colored Blowhole's voice, a new tone that was not Flippy's empty cheer or Blowhole's villainous glee.  Skipper wondered if this was what Doris would call his Francis persona.  "I don't understand why he should be there.  This means more thought.  I am swearing off everything until I figure it out --- "

"You mean you're reforming?"  For the sake of everyone's goals, it was better that he continue using mind altering substances until he was taken care of.  Sasquatch cudgeled her brain to come up with reasons for him to get blotto sans henbane without seeming obvious.

"It's too late for that.  And besides" --- he cracked his jaw in a yawn --- "I wouldn't do justice to my plan if I quit on what took me all the way across two oceans and up the Ganges to the Gandak River to think of.  When I reached my stash of segways upstream and trundled to Dave's lab inside the mountain, my minions waiting for me there thought it was good, too."  He paused.  "Unless they were just shining me on.  Chipmunks can do that."

By the Great Horn Spoon, Blowhole's weeks long delay in purloining his enhanced assassin away from DNA discovery had made him extra thoughtful, too.  It did not bode well for his takedown.  Skipper never thought he'd want to hear the dolphin's mad cackling glee again, but he was wrong.  Outward glee depicted an inner hysteria that sometimes glossed over details that might lead to accurate conclusions and nobody in the stable wanted that.  For example, what if Blowhole's seemingly shaken confidence inspired him to call in the mysterious Agent Twelve for backup?  Agent Twelve was a complete unknown.

Hugo was frantically stroking his brow and waving his hands.  Sasquatch put on a joking air.  "Come on, you're giving up everything?  Not even a lil drinkie with a pal?"

"Last night was a warning from Beyond not to use again.  I'd be a fool not to heed it."

Coy and coquettish was a stretch for Sasquatch's talents.  "Not even a teeeensy one?"

Blowhole's morals were nothing if not stretchable.  "Well, maybe one.  Nothing harder than booze, though."

"Thaaaat's my boss."

"Mmmmhm.  Gotta go.  Keep on the straight and narrow because the artic will pick up you and Hugo any time now.  The three weeks might be flex time to get you scheduled for Copenhagen's lab and you don't want to be hauled out of your habitat drunk as a skunk."

Teasing proved more attainable than coyness.  "Sir!  I beg your pardon!"

"Can it, old woman.  Blowhole away."

IOIOIOIOIO

TBC
 
 
pronker: (Default)
Skipper didn't seem to care about covert conversation as they waddled along.  His voice rang strong and clear under Arcturus.  "Washington's welkin, it's a good thing the live screen had a sensor to click back to the white dot if nobody talked in ten minutes, but did you hear that maniac, Kowalski?  He's doing what he's doing because he wants to and no other reason besides his own will.  I tell you I've thought him nutso before but this is the absolute end.  So now we know why he made giant worms!  We know, we have intel running out our earholes, we act, and that's that.  Operation: Plug A Blowhole will be outstanding for the mission files.  I never thought when we came here that relaxation could be so, so relaxing."  Skipper was on a natural high of intel-gathering victory, thought Kowalski, and the fact that they had yet to actually defeat Blowhole in the supple flesh was secondary.

Private soared into the stratosphere, too.  "Wot I thought when I couldn't catch you in time, Skippa, was that we were done for.  Right done for, or at least Operation: Plug A Blowhole would need a major revampin'.  And now we can put him away like we'd planned in four hours!  Piece of cake!  Huzzah!"

Rico grunted, "Chikns."

"Aw, soldier, I am not counting chickens.  I've hardly ever felt like this!  We've turned the delay into a relay of good solid intel thanks to Kowalski.  We have the best possible sitrep going and your Gloomy Gus face will not turn me into a Negative Nellie.  This must be what McDonagh felt like when he scored the game-winning goal against the Devils to clinch the 2011 final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference!  Gold stars and Stanley Cups to you, Kowalski!  Up high!"

Kowalski coasted on this for some steps until he saw Imelda's habitat coming up.  It was best not to have an audience for the subject he wanted to broach.  "Skipper, a word alone, please."

"Uh, sure."  Skipper made the signal for Routine Four: Scout Ahead I'll Catch Up Later.  Rico and Private slid away like watermelon seeds squirted by sticky kiddies at the county fair.  The leader watched them slide with what could not fail to be envy and then turned to his lieutenant with a smile.  "What is it, m'main penguin?"

"I'll have more to say about Blowhole's cockamamie plan in the debriefing when the others are present but first, why did you ask about Doris?"

"That?
 It was for camouflage, you know, befuddle and then stab with the real zinger, classic Routine Thirteen?  We've got gold intel now, so what does it matter?  I guess Doris told her brother about me and her hooking up so he assumed that I had feelings for her because even as a ghost I asked about her welfare --- oh shiitake mushrooms."

"You've noticed that she didn't tell him about me."

Kowalski had always realized that Skipper was good at fishing for excuses.  "You don't know that, compadre.  Blowhole was responding directly to the question without expanding yes that was it he only said he himself was never going to fall in love because to him it's awf--- "

"Skip it, Skipper."  Kowalski folded his flippers over his chest and tried to spot Imelda.  She and Marcus must have been asleep in their den.

"No no no.  You're going to eighty-six the gloom and doom because you've got faulty intel.  First rule of interrogating, and I quote, 'a neutral and nonpartisan source' --- that's Blowhole under truth serum, by the by --- is that the subject 'takes the position of answering questions directly but seldom volunteers information so that the interrogator may need to ask specific questions to obtain the information required.'  Am I right or am I right that he answered simply but incompletely?"

Kowalski argued further as was his way.  "Maybe.  I'm wishing right now that I really had needed that new identity as Esmerelda Ramirez to live undercover in Puerto Vallarta.  She sounded an uncomplicated sort of penguin."

"You don't want to know the backstory that Rockgut concocted for her, but that's neither here nor there.  What's crystal clear tonight is that you need a 'special briefing.'"

"With my history?"

"Not that kind of briefing!  This is about chance being the fool's name for fate and how that works for our team.  What if I had ordered you or Private or Rico to perch on the manger and the slat had worked loose?  What if Blowhole had then gotten wind of you three hard on his trail?  He'd move his lorry or skip town and then where would the mission be?  It was fate that he saw me and not any of you and continues to think me dead, I say."

Kowalski countered as quick as a jackass penguin could gulp down an anchovy.  "Fate and not scientific chance, really?  He will still be taken by surprise at your not pushing up blåklocka when we catch up with him, so there's that.  Also, Rico and Private and I are not compromised health-wise so we would have jumped off when the slat came free."

Skipper's good mood fled south like a migrating monarch butterfly deserting Manitoba for México when fall first chills the air.  "All right, point taken.  Let's move along to Doris and her brother.  There are things that families do, even strange ones like theirs.  They stick together and keep a united front against the world.  For instance, I wouldn't tell Kitka some personal things that you know about me and you wouldn't tell Doris some details about you that we three know and keep to ourselves.  Family is family.  It's not chance but fate that you and I are in the same family."

"But --- "

"No buts!  Orrrrrrr" --- Skipper got a burst of inspiration tailor made for the sitch --- "maybe she didn't tell him about you because you mattered to her and I didn't.  She wanted to keep you to herself or think about you some more to know what to tell him, oh hell I don't know."

"Doris is capable of thought, that's true."

The ulcer threatened under the breastbone and Skipper had to wrap up this briefing swiftly after that slight concession from his lieutenant.  "Chew on this awhile, smart guy.  I got taken off guard and spouted a nonce question to shake up the bastard.  I can become as rattled as the next penguin and answered like I thought you would.  If he splashed down on a wrong conclusion about her and me, brother, I can't help it.  Get your head in the game.  You're smarter than he is, dammit.  Fate made you my second."

The stubborn look returned as Kowalski twisted away.  "He's smart, too, brother, but he can't figure out his own sister --- "

"And you can?  Or me?  Drop it for another time, soldier!"

IOIOIOIOIO

Rico and Private could see their breath as they lolled inside the fence.  "Skippa's flappin' his flippers and bouncin' on his toes.  That's almost never a good sign.  Crikey, here comes the wordless yell to the sky.  Wot do you think it's all about, then?"

Rico got a sour look.  "Doris."

"Wot about her?"

"'Kipppaaaah brotter up wif psycho."

"And K'walski is upset over that?  Maybe.  I don't think he ought to be, but maybe."

Rico's rumpled face tinged with sadness.  "Luvzer."  To Private's relief, the sorrow faded and was replaced by determination.  "Kwoskkii not stupid."

"I think love makes us all stupid, my friend.  She's not been around for ever so long and K'walski is still hung up.  He needs a distraction."

Determination gave way to something Private couldn't decipher.  He was about to ask Rico about it when Skipper and Kowalski approached.  He and Rico caught just the edges of their conversation.

"You'll see her again.  I feel it in my gut."  

"I don't want to."  Skipper waited for his boost over the fence but Kowalski cleared the toprail by two feet without a glance backwards.  

"Rico and Private, do the honors.  Kowalski has a heart, I mean headache."  Kowalski aced a dive into the moat after brushing off Rico's comforting pat.  He disappeared into the habitat interior.

After he skimmed the top of the fence to land beside Skipper, Private knew moody when he saw it and kept his beak zipped.  He slid both flippers under the recovering right foot and heaved.

Rico caught his uncommunicative commander on the other side and ushered him along the narrow path to the isthmus.  Private saw Rico jar some reply out of Skipper and then spied their beaks moving but couldn't make out words.  He shrugged as he leaped back over and accepted the cold comfort of near freezing running water in their moat for a personal best time once around the habitat before sliding headfirst down the ramp inside it.

Except for a tightness around the eyes, Kowalski looked the same as ever at the debriefing.  "There's something bothering me about Dave and Blowhole's species blending, but for now this is what I've got."  A sneer distorted his features as he declaimed, "Blowhole is flat out stupider than a Gentoo.  Studies have shown that ice melt would drown Florida and the eastern seaboard and Gulf Coast.  While the Mississippi would surge far up its course and affect Iowa slightly, Kansas would be the same as now.  His schemes are not the hundred per cent villainy he thought."  The sneer vanished as Skipper voiced a question.

"What about Denmark?"

"All of Denmark would disappear as would our homes in Central Park Zoo and Antarctica --- um, well, no, but Antarctica would be lots smaller."

Skipper had never looked more leaderly as he sat at the head of the class.  "Doesn't matter.  We take our heritage with us.  Cheer up, boys, we defeated Dave and he was a bigger menace than Blowhole."

Excuse me, he wasn't, in the global scientific sense, Skipper, Kowalski wanted to say, but Skipper was on a roll.  "Let me think.  Denmark would be totally wiped from the face of the earth if his plan succeeds" -- the others could not believe their earholes --- "and I have personal reasons for wanting that to happen"  --- Rico and Private rose as one to deliver a tempered smack down in rampant insubordination --- "but in the end, he must be stopped.  Even Danes don't deserve total annihilation.  Where would we be without lingonberry jam and open-faced sandwiches?  Am I right, men?"  Skipper turned behind him for moral support.  
 
Rico ceased swinging his blackjack and nodded enthusiastically.  "Heayeahhhh!"  

Private came down from combat stance with a beguiling disguise into a leisurely stretch and yawn as his posture gave way and he stretched flat on the floor.  "So we're off to battle tomorrow, gents."  His eyes were half-lidded with fatigue.

"Delay is done, young Private.  It turned out better than anyone could have expected.  Hit the sack with me for a few hours until we need to catch the Monday milk truck."  Skipper appraised Kowalski as Private rolled into the deeper access of the bunk he shared with his commander.  Little hbbbhbbbbs issued from it after less than one minute so Skipper kept his voice down as Rico also retired.

"What do you think is wrong with Blowhole's plan?"

"I'll sleep on it and maybe it'll happen in a dream that I'm back in New York City where I have my lab with its calculator and other machines like the DNA analyzer to work with.  I'll dream I have some backup, too."

"Other than penguins?"

Kowalski snorted after crossing his flippers and evading Skipper's gaze.  "I'd even take Joey at this point."

"You want somebody to fight with?"

"I feel like punching something, yeah.  It would help if --- "

"--- you could dot her eyes.  I know the feeling, amigo.  I got unhappy with Kitka once or thrice."  Skipper poked Kowalski in the chest.  "But we don't do that, now do we."  He noted how Kowalski's flippers balled with tension.  He poked him again.  At the simmering look, he said, "Take a swing at me, boyo."

It was a measure of Kowalski's frustration that he made no reply but launched a Marquess of Queensberry textbook punch, left up to guard, right in a straight jab.

Skipper bobbed out of reach and got on his bicycle around the imaginary ring, weaving around his lieutenant's attack that lacked its usual thoughtful strategy.  By the time Kowalski paused to wheeze his way back into normal breathing, Skipper discovered with pleasure that he himself was lightly winded.  Finally, he thought, some endurance.  "Feel better?"

"Some.  Thanks, sir."

"No problemo."

The four little penguins dutifully rolled out at the time of night when dawn was a mere expectation for the eternally hopeful.  After gobbling the few smelts that they had saved for use as energy bars, they matched Skipper cup for cup of coffee.  "Good thinking, team.  Light meal before action, caffeine to stimulate the think melon, and hey we're off."

The zoo was as quiet as it ever got.  There were only columns of fog now that appeared ghostlike in the dark.  The four welcomed back the stars as they waddled past the polar bear habitat.  "Should we see if Imelda can be muscle or lookout for this mission?"  Kowalski felt it his obligation to point out even unlikely scenarios.

"She'd be bodacious in a fight and maybe we could jam her aboard the milk truck.  Any ideas how?"

"Um.  Let me think.  No."

"So we think alike.  She'll be our undercover resource here at the zoo."  They trod single file to the moose habitat.  Sasquatch was awake.
"That was a trip and a half, as the expression goes," she greeted them without preamble.  "So you're on the way to him?"

"We are," Skipper said.  "You stay here by the TV in case he comes to and gets confused and/or wants to start up partying again."  

"I shall do my best."  Sasquatch retrieved her dead soldier from the exercise yard and refilled it with water as they watched.  "He's probably not going to be conscious any time soon, though I'm unsure since I've never used stuff like he has.  Booze fills my needs nicely and it's not criminal to enjoy it."

Skipper waved her irrelevant comments off and got straight to business.  "There's another reason not to deploy you.  If we fail today despite all our plans, you'll have a chance with him to get away from the zoo.  Be warned, Sasquatch, that he said you might meet with"  --- he sketched air quotes --- "an accident on the way to Nepal."

"Hugo told me.  That bandar ko chaak."

"I don't know what that means, but yeah, don't trust him any farther than you can throw him.  If he's still under the influence when we arrive, all to the good.  We'll disable the lorry after we ensure he doesn't escape and then notify Ålanders somehow.  I'm thinking Rico's riveting the doors shut as a tactic at the moment."

Rico grinned with all his beak before making appropriate sounds.  "Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah!"

Hugo was practically sitting on the space heater.  "What about his helpers?"

"Minions have limited loyalty and once they see he's outgunned, they'll be scuttlin' away like the lackeys they are even before the authorities arrive.  Spineless weak things."  Private looked fierce and belittling at the same time.

"Technically, Private, crab exoskeletons take the place of spines --- "

"Enough, Kowalski.  We march.  Sasquatch, Hugo, keep the home fires burning."

Sasquatch joined Hugo by the soothing warmth as they chorused well wishes.  "Subhakamana."  "Semoga Beruntung."

"The same back at you."

As they trooped past the primate house and reptile building to the café beyond it and the service entrance beyond that, there came a rustle of human voices in the zoo that generally occurred an hour before opening.  A lone woman was too preoccupied in predawn somnolence to notice them hustle under a bench.  She was joined after a moment by a co-worker and the two commenced dragging ladders to set against tree trunks in the café's outdoor seating area.  They each took an end of a banner and secured it to an upper branch.  After they departed for unknown errands, the penguins studied the banner.

"Kowalski, analysis."

"Judging by the banner's cheerful cherry color and lack of nationalistic or religious emblems, I gauge that this signifies a secular celebration.  The large numerals in the center give a --- a ---scientific --- "

"What?"

"The numerals are 3.14.  Today is Pi Day.  It's an international holiday, Skipper."  Kowalski stroked his beak.  "But why are penguins depicted on the banner?  And why is Åland's celebration today when both Sweden and Finland use the day-month configuration for dates and not our month-day one?  I'm puzzled."

"Be puzzled as we wait by the service entrance.  Step lively, men."

On the sidewalk outside the service entrance was a billboard to seclude themselves under after Rico held aside a large enough corner of chain link fence for Skipper to slip through.  They chose a shadowed spot behind one of the billboard's posts and in front of the zoo gate.  Time glided to a stop as they prepared for combat in various fashions, nearly all of them related to limbering up.  Muscles were gently stretched, martial arts moves rehearsed and when a reasonable amount of time had passed with no truck, Kowalski became concerned.  "Skipper, I'll recon from across the street.  When I spot it coming, I'll give the signal and slide back pronto."

"Lock and load, soldier."  Skipper pointed to the parking lot, where an unusual amount of cars entered for this dark and early hour.  "Stay sharp and watch out for humans."

"Aye, sir."  Kowalski sped off.

"Skippa, wot's the plan for bringin' you with us when you can't, you know?"

"We cling to the top to avoid exposure while Kowalski calculates mileage and yes, I'll need an extra boost to get topside and help to stay put.  I'm sure you all can manage that."

A smidgen of sun peeked over the horizon when Kowalski zinged back.  His face took them all aback and Skipper rubbed his belly while looking dyspeptic.  "Urk, the smelts want to swim upstream.  Out with it, Kowalski."

"Skipper, the celebration is for us.  The billboard shows an American flag crisscrossed with a Finnish flag and penguins eating pie with guests while sitting on a large Greek letter pi.  The zoo is honoring our stay here by changing their regular Pi Approximation Day of July 22nd to our American Pi Day of March 14th.  It's touching, really."

"Cripes with a clutch purse!  Pi Day?  What sort of mad socialistic holiday is that?  I suppose the unions give milk delivery drivers for small zoos the day off, too?"

"Pie!  Yum!"

"It looks that way, sir.  It's pushing the envelope of lactose refrigeration to intolerant levels and I calculate that the organic milk will go off, so to speak, at 1900 hours tonight--- "

"--- which is after closing, and then the hippie solstice worshipping delivery drivers will restock tomorrow morning before guests arrive.  Outstanding.  I'm happy for whoever celebrates this geekery.  Now let's skedaddle to our habitat.  Another delay.  I knew it."

"Pie!  Yum!"

"Not pie to eat, Rico, pi the mathematical formula demonstrating the timeless principle --- oh forget it.  It's nothing to do with food.  This does delay our takedown of Blowhole unless Skipper is feeling up to a six-mile waddle with no sliding or rolling."  Another option occurred.  "We could take you piggyback by turns when you got weary, but we'd arrive exhausted and not much use to the mission.  And our four-hour window would need adjusting and then there's this unusual amount of guests to spot our absence --- "

Skipper's face fell.  "I'm dunsel as much as ever.  Damn Sasquatch did a number on me.  She's just lucky I'm the forgiving type.  Let's vamoose to our habitat to wait again."  The colorful watermelon snow did nothing to brighten their mood as they trooped back to the habitat while evading human observation.  Imelda and Marcus had awakened and waved from their den but Kowalski was the only one returning it.  
 
They released some pent up energy by blasting the guests with every routine they had performed in the zoo.  Later in the afternoon when squealing kiddies tossed the penguins traditional Finnish tartlets stuffed with delicious blueberries that blended American with Finnish ways, they enjoyed the day more.  After all, upside was that Blowhole thought his arch-enemy dead and Sasquatch still on his side.  As he delicately nibbled on his tartlet, Private put it best. 

"This is so much better than lutfisk, Skippa."

"It is worth the blue tongue, at that."

"I take it back!  Pi Day is everything to do with food!"

"Boobries yum!"

IOIOIOIOIO

TBC
pronker: (Default)
"He can't --- no --- no!  Unbelievable!"

"Where'sh my shong?"  Sasquatch danced on the balls of her feet while ignoring the lead bull penguin.  Maybe if she distracted Blowhole with movement he would think the bird a hallucination of his wasted imagination and focus on her instead.  

It was not to be.

"Skipper?"  Blowhole repeated.  

Sasquatch hugged the TV to blot out Blowhole's view while belting Rachel Stevens' rollicking international hit I Said Never Again But Here We Are that she had overheard in the primate house.

"Shtand aside, Sasquatch.  I can't be seeing what I'm sheeing."

Skipper and Blowhole stayed as still as if they were wax dummies in Madame Tussaud's.  Sasquatch was spared deciding which way to go with this dilemma when Blowhole threw back his head and screamed,  "It's not fair!  I get rid of my greatest arch-enemy in this world and he haunts me from the next!  How long must this last?  How long until he leaves my schemes alone?"

Ahah.  Play act like none of this was happening.  By the way that Blowhole's iris was a thin disk around his blown open pupil, he was far gone on the weed so this ought to be easy to pull off.  "Boss, I don't --- hic --- see anything."  She swayed her bottle back and forth like a metronome.  "You didn't see anything."

This was getting complicated.  Blowhole continued staring at Skipper and the shock must have brought him a measure of sobriety because his speech improved.  "I see him and you can't.  I'm cursed.  I'm haunted."  Fear flashed over the dolphin's face as he hyperventilated.  "My plans, my beautiful plans wai-i-i-i-i-i-t a minute.  I know what happened."  

What next?  When Skipper remained still, Sasquatch thought hard about how to smooth over the horrible night this was turning into, but she came up empty.  She swayed as she schooled her face into a slack-jawed mess.

Blowhole now was ... trembling?  "H-He glided down like an angel he's in the Good Place oh crabcakes I'm scared of good."  He turned to Sasquatch.  "You really don't see him?"

Sasquatch strained every acting muscle she owned as she looked through the immobile Skipper as if he weren't standing right beside her.  She shook her head vigorously and put a hand to her temple like the experience of combining beer and henbane was overwhelming.  In the back of her mind she was calculating how long she would have to play stupefied to stay realistic.  She whimpered as Hugo nudged his way into her thoughts.  

::Keep it up, ayam.::

::As if I have a choice!::

Skipper spoke at last.  "I'm coming for you, Blowhole."

"Er, wh-what?  Isn't that something an evil spirit would say?"

"I'm not evil, I'm Justice.  I know everything."

The scopolamine had reduced Blowhole to ditheriness.  "Uh uh well yes you would coming from the Other Side and all say listen you're not going to haunt me forever are you --- "

Skipper placed his flippers in familiar akimbo position.  He'd never thought of Blowhole as scared of good as he pushed for an advantage.  "Do you deserve my company forever?  I don't think so."

Sasquatch made believe she was in a stupor and it was not far from the truth.  She yearned to be in a peaceful mountain pasture with all her heart.  There was simple structured life within her reach if she could just weather this night.  

"Wh-what'll it take to get rid of you?  I don't know any exorcists --- "

"Answer my questions and I might let you live in peace."  Skipper twitched a little as he realized his misstep and Sasquatch saw that Blowhole picked up on it despite his condition.

"Huh?  B-But you know everything --- "  The ring of iris grew larger as Blowhole's metabolism processed the substances swirling through his body and mind and his psyche skirted sanity once more.  Sasquatch decided to throw caution to the winds as she introduced chaos.  

It couldn't hurt.

"Boss!  B-B-Boss!  Blowhole, stop!  I c-can't stand it!  You've got to stay sane to get me back home!  Don't go nuts on me!"  She cried bitter tears and smacked the TV.  The carrier dot returned and for a moment she thought she'd gone too far.  She hit the 52-inch television screen again.  Instead of the set flashing and shattering, the resulting flicker dimmed to a smaller dot and then expanded to display Blowhole's mechanical eye pulsing redly.  His whole face rezzed after a heartstopping two seconds.

"Keep it together, woman!  I'll deal with him!"  The atmosphere of the stable passed the boiling point to approach thermodynamic.

Sasquatch upped the ante as much as she could to destabilize the dolphin.  "Nobody but me is here, I say!  You keep it together!"  She hurled the bottle of beer out the south door and jumped up and down in a hissy fit that she had witnessed her third calf throw when she had first attempted to wean him.  If restlessness were one of henbane's effects, she'd give them restlessness.

At this point, Skipper had nothing to lose by asking questions.  If he had to fail tonight, he'd fail with intel.  He hammered hard while the truth serum still held sway.  "How'd you get up to evil aquatic overlord again so fast?  Is your real name Francis?"  A third question, an off-the-wall one before he sneaked in the all-important query about the worms to underplay its magnitude.  "Where is Doris?"

Sasquatch began to kick up the dirt in her stable and a rattled Blowhole glanced back and forth between the two animals as he answered the questions in reverse order.  "Chill out, ghost.  Sis Instagrammed from a meditation retreat in Atlantis.  I think she's gone hippie.  And yes, it's Francis.  Blame my parents.  I do."

Skipper was hard put to ignore Sasquatch's fit of temper as she threw a world class tantrum twenty-three inches away.  She held her breath so that she'd pass out.  He would muddy the waters with some misdirection of his own as he responded to Blowhole how he thought Kowalski would.  "At least Doris is under a roof, oh what am I saying.  She's all right.  She's all right."  He sucked in a breath large enough to inflate Faux Skipper in one go.  "I'm all right, too."  There was a muted whine from behind the manger and the commander didn't need to see him to know that it came from his lieutenant.

Blowhole's voice turned monotone as the truth serum squeezed the most personal data yet from him.  "Ye gods and little fishes, I'm never going to fall in love."  His pupil remained the size of a Botts' dot so there was time left to play this sitch to a fruitful end.  Skipper didn't dare glance at his team and continued to keep Blowhole in his laser-like sights.  

Blowhole cocked his head and spilled his guts in a calm fashion.  "How did I get overlord funding?  Kickstarter.  I sell a good product, thanks to Dave's genome sequencing genius.  Ye-e-e-e-es, limited edition sea monkeys the size of a breakfast kipper fit right into a 55 gallon home aquarium, humans use 'em for pets or they use 'em for bait, I don't care and neither would Dave.  I'd tell you how I do it, but then I'd have to kill you."  The pupil flared and then returned to near its normal size so fast Skipper could almost hear it sizzle.  "Oh wait."  

Skipper had to ace his five on three power play like Lundqvist would while Blowhole was still dazed enough not to question his arch-enemy's lack of translucence.  He didn't picture himself as the ethereal sort of spirit who tended only to vague statements and he didn't think that  Blowhole would consider him becoming such after death, either, regardless of his current zoned out state.  Even the mad dolphin's Flippy persona held some savvy.

"Why make giant ice worms?" Skipper asked softly.  The other questions didn't matter because this was the crux of the interrogation.  What he assumed was Sasquatch's version of Routine Thirty-Two: Confuse And Distract concluded and she lay in the dirt out of Blowhole's range of view.  She sprawled on her side with her eyes closed and he couldn't tell if she were really unconscious or faking.  

Skipper hoped Blowhole would end this communication as oblivious to his arch-enemy's continued existence as before.  It would stymie the whole physical confrontation plan six miles away if Sasquatch blew it or, he admitted, he himself blew it at this juncture.  He was not immune to the histrionics displayed tonight.  The old ulcer problem flared up.  "Pin---burp---federers," he muttered out the side of his beak.  

Blowhole crept closer on the screen as he swayed on his segway.  He must have linked his iPhone with a tabletop monitor for stability and by the way that no alarmed chatter played in the background, his six minions were absent.  Well, that made sense because anything a boss did not wish was to appear weak to subordinates.  A leader must always be physically superior to his team.  "Who wants to know?"

Uh oh, belligerence was never far beneath the surface with Blowhole even as he was at the moment.  "Your judge and jury and if you don't tell me right now, your executioner,"  Skipper said with a calm he did not feel.  No harm, no foul if he threatened what he would never deliver even as a phantasm.

Skipper saw something give way inside Blowhole.   "I want to swim through Iowa," he said.

He must have heard wrong.  "Some static here on the Endless Iceberg, say again?"

Now there was no stopping him.  "I made my worms from blending a few species that pool their qualities to melt icebergs and and glaciers and and the polar ice which will raise global water levels did you know oh of course you do that over the past one hundred years average Arctic temperatures have increased at almost twice the global average rate so I'm, um, helping Mother Nature along this time."  He paused to gasp for breath fifteen seconds before continuing.  "I've decided to go green with my schemes, you see.  No more mecha Chrome Claws, no moving the moon, just thinking globally, acting locally, yessiree."  

He became more animated and the commander feared that the triple dose of henbane might lose effectiveness.  If the scopolamine's influence ended as he had observed in other sorry addicts during their interrogations, the dolphin would pass out after a burst of final truths.  Blowhole was likely nearing the rush stage because of his talkativeness.  He had to push now.

Skipper wanted to pull out all the stops to gather intel, but he could only manage one incredulous word.  "Iowa?" 

"Yes
, and Kansas, too."

Inside, Skipper screamed, "Aaaaaaagh!  Melting the polar caps for weirdo reasons every damn time?  You're in a rut!" although he listened impassively on the outside.  It was costing him and a gassy burn started in his esophagus but he tamped it down.

Oh yes, Blowhole was flying high now and headed for a crash and burn in a short time.  "It's classic.  The sooner I can swim like a real dolphin over my domain, the sooner I can tour Iowa without this ridiculous thing."  He slapped the segway's console and a scary blob shaped like a giant cardinal emerged as would an airbag in a car.

"BASS FISHING TOURNAMENT!" the University of Iowa mascot  bellowed.

Blowhole tamped it back into the control housing with an impatient hiss.  "And Kansas!" he rhapsodized.  "Kansas ought to be deep in the briny when I get through!  It's already flat.  I can't wait to swim over Kansas and Iowa.  They must be the garden states of the Ewe Ess of Ay."

It had to be said.  "We'll --- my team will stop you, Blowhole."

"Forgive me if I discount what you spout off, ghost."  The pupil flared into a black hole as deep as the evil in the dolphin's soul.  There was no more fear on Blowhole's face.  "You've got as much agency as that pathetic thing in the stable with you.  I only need her to stay away from Copenhagen's Natural History Museum Centre for GeoGenetics.  She'd never lie or go against me because she's afraid of me.  It's entirely possible that she will meet with an accident on the way back to Nepal.  I haven't really decided yet."  His head nodded as he fought the zigzagging physical effects of the scopolamine slithering through his system.  "W-wait you could help me all this means nothing to you isn't that so ghosty now that you're dead would you tell me when the artic will arrive just a lil hinty pleeeease --- "

"Why.  This.  Much.  Trouble.  To.  Swim.  Over.  The.  Midwest."

It was the beginning of the end for this session.  "Because I wannnnt to and I caaaaaannnn.  'S reason enough.  Hooo mama the rush the rush I can't take much more I'll never use againnnnn why dint she kill you for good --- "

Best keep up pretenses.  "She did.  It was what you paid her for or will pay her for."

Blowhole's pointy face drooped towards the screen until his nose tapped it.  "Promished her double if she'd bring your carcase to me she failed oh I wonder whatever happened to Dave --- "  He dropped out of sight as the segway lost its driver.  There were sounds of flopping and one groan and then silence.

Skipper counted eight hundred heartbeats before moving.  This delay proved most interesting.  As the others gathered around him, he motioned to Kowalski who had for once not helicoptered around him to ask him if he got hurt in the fall from the manger.  "Check her."

Kowalski bent over Sasquatch to take a pulse and peel back one eyelid while Hugo held her hand.  "She's only fainted."

"Let's move out.  Hugo, any thoughts before we go?"

"Boredom is sounding better all the time."

IOIOIOIOIO

TBC
 
pronker: (Default)
"Even better --- wait for it --- the movie is in black and white!" Private worked hard as unofficial morale officer and only Skipper noticed.  The commander was relieved that someone provided lighter material for the team this afternoon.  Skipper put on an interested face as he snagged a bit of popcorn from Rico's bag.

"So.  And we're black and white.  I get it.  What's its sitch?"

Private kept up his enthusiasm as the muted introduction to the film showed a beautiful young woman with black hair and ivory skin speaking animatedly.  Freckles sprinkled the bridge of her pixyish nose.  "Sunday Matinee Madness Maven Moira says it's a 'winnin' combination of romance in South America and the breakout dancin' of Fred and Ginger.'"

"Fred?"

"Not our Fred, Rico.  It's the primo dancer of old movies, Fred Astaire.  He's as graceful as a penguin."  Kowalski showed knowledge of the genre if not gusto.

"South America," Skipper mused.  "Would that be Chile?"  Rico tugged back his own bag of popcorn from Skipper's reach and produced one for each of his team members at his leader's gesture.

"No, sorry, sir.  It's Brazil.  It's startin' in a moment."  Private unmuted the TV and a lilting brogue reached their earholes.

"---ven Moira here on Polite BBC.  Good afternoon, film fans.  You're in for a treat as Fred and Ginger spice up a Tropic of Capricorn romance with a jalapeño hot carioca as Etta Moten provides sultry vocals.  An integrated cast portrays Brazil's rich dynamic as well as any thirties musical can, and I'm not just saying that because I'm Black Irish.  Come into my parlor and enjoy Flying Down To Rio with me."

As spinning propellers swooped towards the audience in an exciting opening sequence, Private added a final fillip of diversion from serious Blowhole-related topics.  "The Olympics are in Rio this year, too!"  

Rico wolf whistled at a Miss Perky lookalike in a ballroom scene as Skipper offered commentary.  "Too light topside, too bulgy in her ballast.  We can do better."  The two bided their time as plot points involving a plane crash into jungle and the main leads spending an unchaperoned night together played out.  "Hooboy.  Human morality," Skipper snorted.

The commander perked up as Fred and Ginger overclocked the digital screen while dancing an incandescent carioca.  He glanced at Private's long face at the lack of overt gaiety over his choice of film to boost morale.  He acted.  "Men, we need exercise.  Let's cut a rug."  At the command, Rico grabbed his leader about the waist with a yeahbaby and deep dip until Skipper forced him into the proper steps.  Fred and Ginger were joined onscreen by the crowded dance routines with waves of performers that only thirties musicals could do memorably.

"Smashin'!"  Private hauled Kowalski to his feet.  Kowalski spied the troupe of dancers of color to mimic and bent his tall frame over Private while the younger penguin swayed backwards like a black and white lily bending on its stem.  They shook their shoulders in tandem as if trembling with Antarctic cold and Kowalski cracked a grin hard enough to give him a scar matching Rico's.  The four penguins rocked to the syncopated beat as they touched flippers and balanced on one leg as they kicked at the knee of the partner.  At the same time, the partner kicked backwards to avoid a painful knock and they synchronized back and forth until the next and most famous part of the dance proceeded.

Forehead to forehead, Rico and Skipper along with Kowalski and Private placed their flippers atop their partner's shoulders and shuffled in time to the music.  When both pairs attempted the 360 degree pivot while still touching heads, they stopped one quarter of the way around.  "My spine!" came from Kowalski and "Ack!" from Rico simultaneously.

"Private, your height and mine do not compute."

"Righto, let's change partners and dance."  

"Bye, 'Kippaaaah."  Rico switched to Kowalski without a backward glance.  The humans commenced snapping their hips and skimming their partner's forms without touching anything but the foreheads.  The penguins did the same until Skipper looked uncomfortable.

"I think you and I should stop."

Private clung to the routine beyond reason as he turned his back while still strongly in his commander's personal space.  "Why?  This is the best part!"

Skipper stepped away.  "Because I say so.  Look, I want to sit down, that's all."

"All tuckered out, are we?  Why didn't you speak up sooner?  Here's a plump pillow for your sit-upon, Skippa."  Private and Skipper settled to watch Rico and Kowalski still at it.  By the time the music number subsided back into plot, the scientist and the Penguin From K.A.B.O.O.M. flopped beside them.  For the finale, four little penguins watched girls draped in chiffon tear away a great deal of their costumes to perform synchronized arm movements as they stood on the wings of biplanes similar to the penguins' own radio controlled one.  One girl seemed to fall from her stanchion's tether but was rescued quickly.

"Fake, fake, fake."

"I know, K'walski, but use your imagination."  Private took another look.  "Or girl watch, if you prefer."

"Psssht.  Human girls."  Kowalski catalogued his scant collection of female acquaintances with the scientific method.  He tested with one control and numerous experiments.  First was Marlene, smart and friendly and full of possibilities for the right suitor; Rhonda, well nobody would touch her with a ten-foot flipper; Pinkie had a history that would shrink anyone's ego while there were far too many busybodies in her flock for her to pick apart any relationship with, and then there were those ungainly legs; Shelly had her macho plastic man to fixate upon now, good on her; there was the Blue Hen, ever virginal and ever mean; Kitka was too scary, he admitted to himself; and always and forever his control in l'amour, Doris of the iridescent hide and knowing looks.  

Come to think of it, the lush curves of the lead dancer gave off the air of intriguing backstory and experience.  He studied her as she braved the faux clouds on her faux flight.  He made a wry face.  Don't go there, Kowalski, he thought, because she could make your Doris look like an angel and not a fallen one.  In universe in the film, she lived and breathed and displayed talent; in the real world, she was likely long dead.  That was the trouble with movies this old.  He was about to comment on the fact when Private completed his survey of the fulsome acres of pulchritude, too.

"These girls bein' human doesn't seem to bother Skippa and Rico."  Private sniffed.  "None of them can hold a candle to Shawna."

Skipper sought to make a more solid contribution to the lighter mood.  "Well, Private, you may be right about that.  Take Frances Alberta, for instance.  Evil zookeeper or not, she couldn't beat Shawna in a Miss Tri-Cities Beauty Contest, but she was quite a ... peach.  Get it?  Peach, elberta peaches, pretty girl is a peach.  I thought it up myself just this minute."

"Skippa, stick to leadin', please."  As the film headed to its predestined happy ending, Private seized the fade-out moment to shout, "Jitterbug!"

"Aw, Private, I can't really do that one justice in my current shape and you know it.  Not that I wouldn't want to with you."

"Don't worry, Skippa.  No flippin' me over your head or slidin' me between your legs or vice versa.  Just footwork, see?"  He guided his commander into a Modified Stompin' At The Savoy.  He gripped two willing flippers to pull them together belly to belly and then pushed them apart to shuffle into a cross step.  "And now the sweetheart push.  Again.  One more time."  Despite its tameness, the two accomplished a cooling down sort of activity from the energetic carioca and their cardio rates appreciated it.

Beside them, Kowalski whooped as Rico spun him like a top before tossing him within one quarter inch of the ceiling.  

"Rico!  No friendly fire casualties, soldier!"

"Otay."  Kowalski dropped like a bride into Rico's grasp.

"Put me down this nanosecond!"

IOIOIOIOIO

IOIOIOIOIO

::I've never used, Hugo.  Do you think I was convincing?::

::I think so and they did, too.::

Sasquatch and Hugo grabbed bananas on the way out to their exercise area.  The fog appeared lighter this afternoon, more of a sliding silver curtain than a blackout drapery.  The two friends clambered onto the tire swing.  

::What do they think of me, anyway?  Weeds and trips and such.  The most I've ever done is nibble licorice plant which is quite bracing.::

"Why are we using headtalk when we're alone?"

::I don't trust them not to surveille me no matter that we're um, working together.  The lead bull would do anything to defeat Blowhole, I could see that.::

::All right.  Headtalk it is.  Echo-o-o-o-o! Yodel-ay-eeee-hoooo!::

::Stop that!::

::Come on, have a little fun.  Life is not that bad.  Trust me.::

Sasquatch squirmed in the hole of the tire and Hugo straddled the rope up top with his legs pointing in the opposite direction as hers.  She gave an idle push to set the swing in motion. Hugo made a dismissive noise.

::Who cares what penguins think as long as we get away from here?  They seem competent.::

::My friend, I can see that you are not a herd animal.::  Sasquatch licked the smear of banana off her fingers.  ::It matters because they are my temporary herd and I need to fit in.::

Hugo aimed his peel for the crotch of the tree branch and nearly made it. ::We orangutan males live alone mostly and contact with females is limited to when we both, um, are in the mood.  Some males, like me, never get a date.::  He shrugged.  ::I can live with that.::

::There you go.  I am used to thirty or more in a structured group.  I was one of five alphas in my herd.::

Hugo scratched his head.  ::More than thirty Orang Pendek in a group?  Your home must be remote indeed to avoid kidnapping humans.::  Sasquatch kicked them higher as she clenched the sides of the artic-sized tire.  To Hugo, her face looked pinched with thought.  She was a complex friend.  He held on with both hands and both feet to the rope.  ::Don't spin.  I can handle anything but spinning in my golden years.::

::Hugo, I'm going to tell you a secret.::

::That's high enough, ayam.  I don't want to lose my banana.  Secret?  Friends don't keep secrets from each other.::

::The good ones do.::  Sasquatch leveled them into a twenty degree arc as the two enjoyed the sway of gentle movement.  She was reluctant to end the stasis.

Hugo broke the radio silence.  ::Sasquatch, I realize that you are not like other great apes.  What do you want to tell me?::

::I was not born an ape, a yeti, a sasquatch, a bigfoot or Pendek Orang.::

::Of course you weren't!  We grow into ourselves and then comes the time when we are not blobs of baby but thinking, speaking animals --- ::

::Not that either.::  Sasquatch took a deep breath to force out the difficult mental words.  ::I was born a wild yak in China.::

In no plane of existence could Hugo have thought of this.  ::No.::

::Yes.  I met Blowhole in a bar and he made me into his assassin because he knew his arch-enemy Skipper would want to meet a sasquatch.  He hacked the bulls' zoo schedule to discover their location when my change would be complete.  It helped that as either yak or yeti I am quiet-footed and withstand cold and heights although Blowhole could not have foretold Kastelholm.  Do you hate me now?::

::It explains so much.:: There was a long silence as Sasquatch closed her eyes and willed herself to calm.  ::I don't want to hug you for keeping this secret, but I don't hate you because I've lived long enough to have my own secrets.  We move forward, ayam.::

Sasquatch halted their swing.  ::If I don't make it through this and see home again, I wanted you to know the truth about me.  My devotion last night said to come clean.::

"Piffle.  Let's go brachiate on the scaffolding."

IOIOIOIOIO

Ice skirled in sparkling shaved swirls as the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins met in battle royal.  Kowalski looked up from packing a bottle of beer along with an opener and henbane matched with a faux henbane.  He entrusted everything including the fish oil to Rico with a pat on the back.  "Pack your patience, sir."

"What the braap is Lundqvist doing!  He let two by Sheary get by in the second and now one by Crosby in the third!  Five to three Penguins can't stand as the final!"

But it did.  Skipper grumbled about it until switching to a delayed Channel One squib on the letters children wrote to Central Park Zoo.

"Just like missives to Santa, our zoo penguins receive dozens of letters each day.  Let me read one that will touch your heart."  Chuck Charles spread the letter to show to the camera.  It was crayoned inside a black Sharpie outline of a penguin on lined school paper.  "'Please come back soon because I miss you and I look forward to smiling and waving at you because that's all I can do from my wheelchair because I broke my leg on the halfpipe at my skate park because I am dumb like my mom says.  The end.  Signed, Fisher Mircowicz.'"  Chuck folded the paper solemnly before his mood whiplashed into cheer.  "Until tomorrow, Chuck Charles signing off and may your problems escape the nightly news."  Skipper slashed savagely at the remote to access the frazzling lighting channel.

"He sounds dumb, yes he does."

"Skippa, he's a kid!  Cut him a break!"

"He already got one, but we'll let that pass.  Men, we march early.  Form up so I can cuss out the Rangers on the way."

IOIOIOIOIO

Sasquatch appeared to be getting more into her acting.  "I'll already have it opened so he sees me as further down the road to stupefaction.  He'll want to catch up."  She looked sly.  "And that way, I can replace the beer with water and he'll never know it.  The smell of beer makes me urpy and so does the fish oil."

Rico nodded as if the realm of addiction was not too far from his general mental state.  He opened the bottle for her and dumped the beer before plunking the bottle under the pet waterer to refill it.  He placed both sorts of leaves on top of the TV before looking to Skipper for approval.

"All right, amigo, I bow to your passion for misleading scenarios.  I still remember the English bone china teacups that you filled with sticks of dynamite."

Hiding behind the manger was getting to be crowded with the addition of an elderly orangutan.  Skipper asked for a boost to perch atop the manger's edge slat at Sasquatch's stage right or Blowhole's stage left or something, Kowalski wasn't sure.  "Be careful, sir.  Don't overdo."

"Of course, nurse.  If I need to supply stage directions, she can see me better up here.  I'll be fine."

Hugo took a closer look at the manger.  "Bruce The Moose cribbed on the slats, see the bite marks?  Moose are like horses and nibble on wood when they're bored.  I can feel for him myself.  Take care, penguin."  Skipper looked down at his uncertain footing much as he had on Kastelholm's icy ridge.  

"I've got it under control, but thanks, Hugo."

Right on time came the familiar skeewoozzt of the carrier wave blooming into Blowhole's visage.  "One two three nothing new to spew to you so let's par-tay, old lady.  Blue Six is a keeper because he brought back three mashy soggy leaves that ought to do the trick.  See?"

Sasquatch waved her bottle as she squinted at what Skipper assumed were the leaves.  "What'sh your drinkie?"

"It's a smo-o-o-o-th as silk single malt Scotch.  Envious, much?"

She blew a raspberry in reply.  "Here's a smooch fer ya!"  She downed a swallow after swishing it over her gums.  "Mmmmmmmmm, it'll kick in any second now."

"You're not getting ahead of me.  Let's see, take a swig, mash the leaves on top and steep --- "

Sasquatch choked.  When she could speak, she said, "You're not putting all three in!  Blowhole!  Boss, don't!"

"Shut up!  I'm counting seconds here, fifty-eight, fifty-nine, sixty, come to papa, baby!"  The manger crew cringed at the loud clash of tonsils and waited for results.  They didn't wait long.

"Ha.  Ha.  Hahahaha.  Oooh yeah.  Mmmm.  That's uh --- uh --- did you feel like you're circling Akron in a zeppelin --- no words here --- "  

Sasquatch caught herself from displaying any more of the concern that she would give to any of her fellow creatures, even Blowhole. It seemed she was only deadly when she was on the job for money.   It made Skipper applaud internally when she continued in her act and took another swig while clapping a companionable arm around the TV and leaning close.

"Hey, ol' buddy, ol' buddy, howzabout a song?  I heard you in the shower that next morning, sounded like you gots a shurprishingly lovely shinging voice, lemme shtart --- "  She tapped the beer bottle against the screen and Skipper could tell that Blowhole was amenable by the way that the crazoid cleared his throat and blowhole at the same time.  He leaned forward to catch everything that issued from this unwise action of a demented dolphin and steadied himself on an abutting slat.

There was a squeeechpop as the nail supporting the top of the slat worked loose around the splinters that Bruce had cribbed from the manger's top horizontal board.  Skipper clung to the abutting slat for a moment and then let go as the slat slowly arced downward.  He wavered on his own slat as his shifting weight loosened the nail in that one, too.  From behind him him he heard movement and pictured the scenario as he slid remorselessly downward as if on Kastelholm's drawbridge from the time when it had had a drawbridge.  There would be his team forming a tower stack, Rico at bottom, Kowalski in the middle while supporting Private whose flippers even now swished fruitlessly behind his body.  Hugo would climb to the manger's top to reach out for 'penguin' but his aged muscles would move too slowly to catch him.  It was all so inevitable that he would face Blowhole in this way, out of tiptop shape and unprepared for a confrontation this soon.  He couldn't jump, he couldn't without trashing his body even more to keep out of the action when his team needed him.  He allowed the sitch to happen and steeled himself for whatever came next as events transpired in slow motion as they always did in such times.

Both slats came free at the top but stayed loosely fastened at the bottom.  As the abutting slat hit the dirt floor of the stable, the slat with Skipper on it deposited him one second later as gently as if it were concerned about his compromised health.  He landed fully within Blowhole's range of view.

"Skipper?"

IOIOIOIOIO

TBC
 
pronker: (Default)
Kowalski got right to business.  "Set the beer we snagged and the fish oil in a safe place and look for a weed that resembles the dandelions of Central Park.  Yes, it will be hard to tell it from other weeds but if I spotted it from the admin building, you can see it from up close.  It's a good thing the snowfall isn't piled as heavy under the shelter of the tree.  No, Rico, we don't want a flamethrower to melt the snow so put it away."  

Within the ring of safety lighting by the main entrance flagpole, an observer would see four penguins scratching like chickens under a weeping willow.  The tree's drooping branches etched designs on the pond nearby, which looked forlorn despite the pattering of its fountain's droplets that dimpled its surface.   It took kiddies around a pond throwing in pennies on which to whisper kiddie wishes to make a pond come to life, thought Skipper.  He started to picture the youngest member of his team who was scratching beside him tossing a penny into the Central Park Zoo's fountain.   He caught himself in time.  Private had not been a kiddie in ages.

"So is this hebenon?"  Private stuck out his tongue to taste test the soggy shriveled leaf that looked like something a human would flick from his sole after a November stroll through Central Park.  Skipper sprang sideways to knock it from the young penguin's flipper and Kowalski caught it before it dropped back to the patchy snow.

"Ow!  Private!  No tasting controlled substances!  Never again for your delicate system."  The commander winced as he rubbed the left side of his chest.   "Dammit, will this ever stop hurting?"  

"Delicate?  I am not!"  Private sulled up and glared at his leader.  

Skipper waved away the maunderings and got straight to the point.  "Once was plenty."  He sat after mumbling an Angry Word from his extensive list.  He wanted patience with this convalescing thing and he needed it right now.  "Don't be impulsive with sticking anything in your mouth.  You are what you eat." 

"Then why aren't the Inuit whale blubber?"

Rico offered a cheesy grin and shuttled Private away.  He said something to him that made Private look sheepish.

As Skipper took a breather after his explosive exertion, Kowalski stuck his tongue into the moisture clinging to the leaf.  "I'll test it."  The others watched as the scientist rolled the bead of moisture around his mouth and swallowed.  "Nothing yet.  There are other plants that look like it."  He sighed gustily.  "If you three paid attention to my briefings more you'd remember the lecture about global weed distribution from four and two sevenths months ago oh honestly why do I bother instructing you dunderheads --- "

"Zaywhut?"

"K'walski, maybe we drift off because it's borin' --- "

"Gentlemen, we've found our truth serum plant.  Kowalski, get it together."

Science Guy must have been practicing his falsetto.  "I feel pretty oh so pretty I feel pretty and witty and --- "

"Slap him, somebody." 

Rico upended his bunkmate and shook the plant's effects right out of him.  Kowalski retrieved the bottles and thanked Rico for the intervention as they waddled to the moose habitat.

IOIOIOIOIO

Sasquatch downed the fish oil without hesitation and chucked the empty out the south door.  "Harreram, that's awful.  You're sure it will work?" 

"It works for us penguins.  I woke up one time on a bed in Kyoto --- "

"Sir, you don't want to tell that story to her."

"Oh.  Right.  I'd have to clean it up."

"With Clorox, and we don't have any."

Hugo got them back on track.  "So Blowhole needs prompting to drink with Sasquatch and we'll listen to figure out his reasons for making giant worms.  That's ambitious."  He got a gleam in his eye while his seamed simian lips puckered.  "It's rather exciting, too, because maybe it will work and maybe not.  It's more risk than I've been involved with in some time.  I like it!  Ayam, tune up your acting skills.  I'll help you."

"I'm not much of an actor.  I said that before."  Sasquatch thrust out her chest and struck a dramatic akimbo pose as the penguins watched.  Hugo shook his head and rearranged her left hand to cup her chin while he poked her right arm straight ahead at shoulder level with waggling fingers falling from a limp wrist.  

"Let's improvise a scenario.  If someone bends to kiss your hand, that's the proper position.  Now look down and then up into his face with a half smile.  Bat your eyelashes.  I said bat, not flutter.  Quarter speed.  No, third.  Better.  That's not half bad, ayam."  Hugo turned to the penguins with an indulgent smile.  "She can rehearse before the call."

Kowalski had adjusted his internal clock to synchronize with other nights' communications gauged from Arcturus' position since fog still covered the zoo and shuttered its canopy of stars.  He had allowed a generous lead time to the communication.  "Well.  That's genteel and all, but we want the opposite of genteel.  We want loopy and drunk, but not so drunk as to pass out or spew."

Hugo looked dubious.  "I've seen drunks but never been drunk.  The closest I can think of is a saying that my captors chanted while transporting me in a fanny pack to the seaport.  They giggled a lot.  Let me think, jungle time is so long ago ... oh yes.  Durian jatuh sarung naik, or "the durian falls and the sarong comes up."  Naturally as a toddler I didn't understand it as I do now, but the sense of devil-may-care when smelling a delectable durian ought to be similar to alcohol's effects."  He windmilled his arms and staggered as he sniffed hard enough to deviate a septum.  "How's this?"

Rico sputtered as he shook his head.  He lolled out his tongue and flung a flipper around Skipper's and Kowalski's shoulders as he sagged between them to mime needing support by designated drivers.  Skipper and Kowalski eyed each other and dropped Rico to the ground.  "Too overdone for the first and the other is too far comatose.  Skipper, we need tipsy and happy here with a touch of hallucination.  Join me in improv?"

"¡Bueno!  ¡Viva Gammel Dansk!"  The two bypassed dignity in the interest of putting away a menace to earth's environment.  They croaked two verses of Sweet Adeline while embracing and butting their heads together.  They pointed to a spot behind Sasquatch and gargled a welcome to an unseen companion and when he or she joined them, they became overjoyed to the point of tears.  At the last, they propped each other up with dippy smiles and googly eyes.

"Like that, Sasquatch," Skipper sniffled.  He rubbed his eyes as he surveyed his troops.  "Aw.  You look like regular old penguins now.  I could get used to your auras.  Crud."

Kowalski thought of a strategy.  "Sasquatch, what do you do when you get drunk?"

"Hello?  The whole point of tying one on is to forget troubles and blank out what you did with Blowhole.  I don't remember because I don't want to."  She leaned over the manger with folded arms.

Skipper was the only one who could speak after full disclosure.  "Tee Em Eye aside, act the way you've seen others act in bars, or, or, movies.  Or TV."

"I stick to myself in bars, except for that one time.  I don't like TV."

"Movies?"

"Never saw one."

"You're dropped from the plan.  We have nothing in common."

"If that's your humor, color me unamused."

Kowalski waddled into the breach.  "Moving beyond the beer effects, henbane ingestion results in sensations of flight and restlessness.  Work it."  He crossed his flippers and cocked his head at her.

"Here, ayam.  Prop."  Hugo placed the beer bottle in her grip.  He closed both of his gnarled hands around her knuckles.  "Try hard."

Sasquatch looked confused for a moment.  After looking to where the moon last appeared, she took a deep breath and smiled widely.  It seemed sincere enough as she ran her tongue around her lips and relaxed her shoulders.

Kowalski critiqued.  "That's a start, but open up your face.  You look like a deer in the headlights.  Okay.  Now slump."  Sasquatch rolled her head on her shoulders and formed a serpentine slouch with her spine.  She swayed and put out her free hand to Hugo, who got into the spirit and steadied her.  She belched loudly and he wagged a bony forefinger at her as she waved the bottle under his nose.  

"Laugh," ordered Kowalski.

She froze.  "It's been a long time."  

"Think of when you were happy," Hugo said soberly.  He seemed to have lost his spike of enjoyment.

Sasquatch handed the bottle to him as she broke away to lean one hand against the jamb of the north door.  She stared into the night as the pelt on her back quivered.  The penguins looked at Hugo, who shrugged.  "She'll get over it."  He spoke as if he had weathered similar storms in his long life and seeing them in others provoked the old saying and this too, shall pass.

Skipper had not reached that stage of detachment from earnest troubles, although he knew it could afflict him at some point if he lived long enough.  "Give it a moment," the commander said to Kowalski.  He moved to stand shoulder-to-shin beside Sasquatch as they both took in the view to the north.  The fog skirled between the ghostly back chainlink fencing and the invisible admin building and it seemed they were on the Endless Iceberg looking out at the Eternally Foggy Sea.  It was enough to remind him where he'd nearly swum to and he backed away from the memory that he lived with because of this female.  It was time to be a leader.

"Sasquatch."

"I said I'd cooperate, but I can't act happy when I'm not.  This part of your mission needs scuttling."  She swiped her forearm across her eyes.

"Fake it until you make it."  Skipper loosened up.  "Aw, I know it sounds corny, but hey, it works for me when I need it to. "  He looked back at the others who pretended not to gawk as they milled around.   He lowered his voice as he leaned closer.  "Try this on for size:  May it, uh that's your soul, shed its bleak load of fears and regrets, may it stand undismayed in that glory of light, stripped and stark unafraid till the clear evening star marks the end of the road. So go back onstage and sell this to that maniac mammal, er, not that you're not a mammal, too.  You know what I mean."

Sasquatch crossed her arms and Skipper mirrored her pose.  "Pblbpbpbpbpbl, like the words are magic or something."

"Words can be.  Come on, what's the worst that could happen?"

"Hmmph, you tell me.  I'm in over my head with worms and plans and delays to plans.  I just want to get to the action part and go home."

It was time to break out the big guns.  "Manfredi and Johnson said that too and they never saw home afterwards.  Our team used to be six until the tsunami swept us four apart from them.  The last I saw was their pink pool noodles and I vowed to never be underprepared again.  I'm preening you for a swim in dangerous waters, what do you say?"

"Hmmph."

"And don't let it slip that I quoted poetry.  Is it a deal?"

Sasquatch turned to face him.  She flapped her arms like Big Bird.  "Yippee.  I'm flying.  The joy of flight.  Amazing."

Kowalski approached.  "That's the spirit, Sasquatch.  Keep it up and now do this."  He opened his eyes to their maximum aperture, crossed them and gurgled,  "The colors sound loud hey Blowhole did you ever really look at a galosh what is the singular of galoshes never mind I could go for some pizza can you call it in for me --- "  He ran out of breath.  "And suchlike.  Random comments ought to sell it.  Oh yes, act restless, too."

"Like this?"  She twitched her shoulders and zipped her gaze from one penguin to another before fixing upon the behavior of bouncing on the balls of her feet.  She continued until Kowalski stopped her.

"That'll do.  Save it for showtime after you sprinkle in the faux henbane.  Let's set up the options by the TV."

Sasquatch lined up the bottle of Mariestads Påskbrygd atop the 52-inch screen TV along with the blob of henbane leaf to show Blowhole and its doppelganger to actually plop into her beer.  She glanced by habit out the north door and then at Kowalski.

"Five minutes," he said.  She puffed her cheek flanges out and paced, waving her arms and chanting a Nepali phrase.

Private pulled Skipper aside.  "Wot does feelin' giggly have to do with a sarong goin' up?  Wot's a sarong?"

"Private, I don't have the time for another 'special briefing.'  Let it go."  The young penguin looked wise, whispered 'oh,' and made room for Hugo.

It must have been wearyingly late for the aged orangutan, but Hugo showed concern for his friend in a low key fashion.  "Penguin, reactive plants like the leaf she's to substitute can have alarming effects.  You take prunes, for instance --- "

"No, you take them.  Kowalski's got this figured out."  Skipper found himself counting seconds and when Kowalski met his gaze with a firm nod, he reached up to Sasquatch's hand.  She looked calm enough as he tapped the crooked finger that a penguin had broken.  Their eyes met and he acknowledged the role she was playing in this game of oneupmanship to a mad aquatic overlord's complex scheme.  Everyone else hissed at him to join them behind the manger and he complied after a wink.

The game began.

"We-e-e-e-e-ell, Sasquatch, as I live and breathe."  Blowhole bubbled the greeting to demonstrate.  "Another night, another dollar.  I hope your day was more eventful than mine."

Sasquatch swung the beer in front of the screen like a pendulum as Skipper pictured Blowhole's lone pupil blowing wide open.  "It's about to get lots better."

"Where did that come from?"  The dolphin licked his lips loud enough so they all heard.

"I did some dumpster diving after His Royalness' visit and scored one or ten of thesh.  Alllllllll for me."  She managed a snicker if not a full throated laugh.  It was progress.

"Good on you."  His voice turned sly.  "I've got a full bar."

"Good on you.  I've got something to make thish even better."  She pirouetted before the screen and slapped her hand against the bottle.

"Don't tell me you've got ingredients for a boilermaker.  Your keeper will scrape you off the floor with a demitasse spoon."

She brayed like a donkey and Skipper chilled.  Blowhole was no fool and did not take being played.  She was close to overdoing her act.  He stepped to the left of the manger.  He caught her eye as she dropped out of her dramatic head toss that was violent enough to sprain a ligament.  He flapped his flipper violently up high and then lowered it to rest at chest level.

"Ahem.  Yes.  Boilermaker no, something more natural is what I found, if you know what I mean."

"Nothing would surprise me in hippie Viking land.  You can't possibly have scored --- "

"Henbane for the win!"  She brandished the true leaf of the weed before the screen.

"Hold it closer and keep it still, for kelp's sake.  I want to scan it."  The laser eye beam emerged from the screen and changed color to ice blue as the penguins learned something new about their foe.  A ray traced the leaf and when the scan completed, the familiar red returned and retreated into Blowhole's location.  Beside Skipper, Kowalski gnashed his beak.  Uh oh, his lieutenant was more jealous than ever of Blowhole's abilities.  This would bear watching.

"Yeah, okay, I'm up for, well, partying.  With you.  By remote control, if you will.  The crabs are teetotallers, something about their feeding filters getting clogged with booze, I dunno.  And it's so boring here it makes Hetauda look like Las Vegas."

She was in the proper groove.  "Just lemme demonstrate and you'll be higher than K2 soonish, Bubba Ray."

Disaster.  They had neglected an opener.  Skipper took full responsibility for the gaffe.  He elbowed Rico and mimed holding a bottle while deploying an opener, but the materiel would not be needed as Rico elbowed his leader back and pointed.  Sasquatch opened the bottle with her teeth as she smoothly switched the henbane out for the other leaf atop the TV.  Rico's jaw dropped and Skipper saw that Rico had added Sasquatch's name to Sven's as someone to hero worship.

"See, open the bottle and take a swig to make room."  She gulped a fair portion.  "Then sprinkle leafy-poo on top and swish."  She became garrulous.  "You gotta let it steep I let it steep oh I dunno maybe a minute so yeah.  That happens."  

Skipper's eyes grew round as Sasquatch emptied the bottle in one swallow and tossed it aside.  She melted into the ground.

"Sasquatch!  Hey!  Where'd you go?"

She levered herself up to sway before the screen.  "Hi, dude."

"Good stuff, huh?"

"Mmmmhmmmm."  She twirled her chest hair with both hands.  "Soooooooo."

"There's nothing like it, huh?"

"Mmmmmhmmmm."  She examined her nails.  "Get some.  It'll do ya good.  Oh yeah, how's the plan pro-progr-coming along?"

"Fair to middling.  Some doofuses discovered how dangerous they are and got photographic evidence so they're not as secret as before.  Just as deadly, not as secret.  The plan is still full steam ahead, not to worry."

"I couldn't worry about anything at this moment in time.  Shay, um, time --- when can you get shome of the good stuff, d'you think?  Partying alone is, is sad.  I've had enough of sad."  The group behind the manger sensed the underlying truth in her last sentence.  It made the act more convincing.

"If you don't get a better offer, you mean."  Good grief, Blowhole playing hard to get was sickening to behold.  Skipper's last mackerel threatened to make a return appearance.

Sasquatch only made her hands like binoculars as she played looking around her stable.  "Woohoo, beautiful and easy dolphin lady spotted off the port bow!  All hands, I mean flippers, engage!"

"You're drunk and high and I wish I were.  Eh, tomorrow Blue Six can scout around in the daylight for the weed.  It'll be a good break in assignment for him."

She fell out of character.  "So tomorrow night is Operation Blow Me Away?"

Skipper held his breath as he heard caution in Blowhole's voice.  "That sounds we-e-e-e-eird coming from you.  Make it Operation Minion's Casual Sunday.  Laters."

Sasquatch sashayed out the north door to get fresh air and, Skipper suspected, alone time.  Living with a roomie was a large change from her norm.

"Sir, it's a delay within a delay.  I expected as much."

"Skippa, the time will swoosh on by, you'll see."

"Penguin, you have an explodey look about you."

"'Kipppaaaah nokaboom."

"I'm fine.  Sheesh."  He turned his back on them all and sought out Sasquatch.  He thought that she would head north as far as she could go because that was where the moon had last been at this hour of the night.  He found her by the chain link fence.  "You did well.  Now we've confirmed he's at a disadvantage because he's eager for a diversion and that he has six helpers or whatever."

Sasquatch hooked her hands in the chain link fence to rattle it.  "Prison.  I need out.  When, bird?"

"ASAP.  I get impatient, too."

IOIOIOIOIO

TBC 
pronker: (Default)
From the twilit beach, the water with the skim of mist on top looked so inviting that despite his words of two minutes ago, Skipper yearned to splash and swim and show what he could do as if he weren't still on the mend.  He directed the yearning outwards to construct an exercise regimen with an innovative flair.  "We lazed this morning and danced in the afternoon, so show me what you can do in the moat on short notice.  Porpoising, cannonballing, and any old third thing highly encouraged and approved.  I want to be able to tell you apart in these weather conditions and we have the time for Operation: Extreme Ultraviolet.  Do me like I did you, Private."

Private stepped close and timidly oiled his beak.  He reached up but stopped before actually touching his superior officer.  

"I won't break, soldier."

Skipper closed his eyes as the young penguin sprinkled tiny pecks here and there.  Before he could succumb to exasperation, the commander cupped the hesitant beak with both flippers to make sure, strong swipes that did the job the right way.  As he was bracing Private's face, he discerned strength that only needed proper guidance and before long, he dropped his flippers to allow the penguin to complete the task.  At a pause, he opened his eyes to see Private in adorable mode, looking proud of himself.  Skipper pointed to his own eyes and Private carefully nudged a drop into each of them.  Skipper blinked and cleared his throat.  "Good job."  He stepped back to take them all in.

Rico seemed to vibrate even though he was standing still.  Kowalski looked bathed in a fountain of spray from Doris.  Private's aura resembled the rainbow he was always gabbing about.  "Operation is a success.  Move out."

His troops dispersed at once as he knew they would.  Kowalski remained on the surface as he swam backwards at great speed.  He kept his flippers pointing upwards to display how he could control direction by using his feet only.  As he angled into the turn at the far end of their island, he stayed in the middle of the moat.  Skipper applauded the fine muscle attunement needed to gauge the speed of one leg against the other in unsynchronized paddling to make the controlled turn.  He added a "Hooha!" on Kowalski's second orbit.

Rico and Private teamed up to do a Modified Corkscrew.  From the planting strip's shore, Rico tossed Private fifteen feet straight up after Kowalski's third orbit before splashing in to play being the enemy.  Private spiraled downwards toward Rico's belly.  The precision required to avoid injury at the splash made Skipper take a half step towards the water regardless of his condition, but he needn't have worried.  The rainbow evaded the vibrator by a full inch as Private dove like a stuka under Rico's outstretched flipper.  The two bobbed in the moat and when Kowalski joined them, three heads swiveled to the island shore for approval.  

Skipper was feeling generous after the teamwork displayed by Sven and his group was echoed by this squad.  "Snowcones all round!  I'm buying!"  Four little penguins shared a laugh before Skipper turned towards the isthmus to walk off some energy while his men returned to troop space that he did not want to intrude upon.  He blanked his mind to speculation about the future and before he knew it, he had traversed the isthmus, waddled on the path next to the fence and strayed into the planting strip past the moat's drainage grate.  He shook his head at himself as he nearly trod upon Kowalski stretched out between a Calluna vulgaris and Viscum album.  He hadn't even heard the penguin singing softly.  He blamed the noise scattering fog.

"Way down, below the ocean, where I want to be, she may be ... " 

Oh.  'Awkward' covered this sitch perfectly.  "Pardon me coming through don't bother stopping I'm moving along carry on ---"

"I'm singing about Doris."

"I'll leave you to it."

"Wait, Skipper.  I want to talk about her."

Skipper sidled away.  "You don't have to."

"But I want to and this is downtime."

By Jeremy Wade's blue shirt, this was what he despised about delays.  "Okay."  He sat in the watermelon snow.  "Shoot."

Kowalski still looked outlined with an irregular leak of droplets tinged with indigo.  Skipper rubbed his eyes to shorten the effect. 

It seemed rhetoric was the order of the day.  "Who hasn't gone bonkers for love?  You forgot that our bones and Kitka's are different.  Hers are hollow for flight and ours are solid for ballast in the water."  Kowalski karate chopped billions of air molecules to demonstrate.  "That means we can martial artify like nobody's business."

This might not end too badly if he followed Routine Nine: Confess What Everyone Knows And Beat Feet In The Confusion.  "Research about our skeletons is more your thing than mine, but I was out of my mind with love, yeah, I admit it."

"I know how to be out of my mind.  I want to get back into it now."  Kowalski turned to the specific.   "Did you know Doris swam with me to Harry The Octopus to get inked?  She couldn't get further than the dot on her face.  It hurt too much and she cried so I stopped him."

"Ouch."

"Yes, I suggested she get one on her dorsal fin where her hide is less touchy, but you know Doris."

"Um."

"I can talk about it now.  I know you won't mention details about you and her."

Skipper eased away from the subject.  "But you didn't quit getting your tat that day."

Kowalski rubbed his neck.  "I thought about quitting, but I couldn't because she was there watching me commit before she tried it.  And now the ink is on me forever and she's gone forever."

"Don't be too sure of that, mi amigo.  Life happens, things change and we change with it.  Embrace the suck and go the braap forward."   Skipper smacked his forehead.  "And this is why I don't like waiting around.  Too much time to think."

Friends allowed differences between each other, according to Dr. Phil.  "You really don't like to think, do you?"

"Pshaw, I did enough thinking in the jungles of México.  I reached conclusions about important stuff in the days or weeks or minutes of boredom in between bouts of action that turn guts to water and that's it --- no more thinking."  It must have been the fog which blurred perceptions and outlines that made Skipper unbend.  The next words merged into the forgiving mist.  "I don't miss Kitka anymore.  It happened just like that one day."

It was odd to have the leisure to speak of these things and they both thought so even more with Kowalski's next question.  "What about Marlene?"

"She's my girl bestie just like you said.  I think we realized that after a while.  We'll have a gab fest when I get back."

Kowalski shivered when a drop of dew fell off a leafless twig from the Calluna vulgaris.  The fluid dynamics of the drop's movement made the twig sway like a tentacle in the still night.  "She performed like a penguin fighting off the space squid while I was sidelined in the wheelchair and you three were giddy gadabouts at Invexpo."

"Yeah, how did that get started, anyway?  You and her, I mean."

It seemed there was no end to Skipper's imagination.  Kowalski supposed the lingering effects of a near death experience might be responsible.  He would need to devise a test for that when he returned to his lab.  "There is no me and her."

"Be careful, compadre.  Things start up with shared dangers.  I speak from experience."

Kowalski shut down the soul baring because unlike Prince Sharesalot, he had a heart to protect.  "Skipper, if that is your gut talking again, it's wrong."  He had to know one last thing.  "So where are you and I now?"

"Brothers, like always."  Rico and Private approached on quiet feet, but Skipper heard them regardless and he saw that Kowalski did, too.  Skipper knew the right way to end a one on one session as they both stood.

"You really can't catch a break with Doris, can you?  Damn."  Skipper dropped a fraternal hug around Kowalski and stepped back into officer space.

Kowalski kept his head up.  "It's not her fault.  It's not anyone's, I guess.  We were not meant to be long-lasting.  I touched her gentle flipper" --- he didn't notice Rico aiming a fulminating scowl at his back --- "and the soft pad on it sent me into bliss while we --- "

"Stop!  K'walski, Tee Em Eye!"

Rico sighed with relief as he extinguished his mini-batch of dynamite.  Kowalski turned at the hiss.  "Apologies, Rico, my friend.  I forgot you are sensitive to mushy love stuff."  

He became stern.  "Private, you'll find you'll hear things that make you uncomfortable now and then.  Grow up."

"Not like that!  Never!  Happy place, I'm goin' to my happy place --- "

Skipper chucked Private under the beak.  "Someday your happy place will have someone other than lunacorns in it.  I'll look forward to seeing what you do then."

"Y-You will?  Well, in that case, Skippa, I won't disappoint you."

Skipper looked nonplused.  "You never have for long --- wait, what did you mean by that --- Sherman's tank, I said it before and I'll say it again, hate is not too strong a word for delays.  Too much think melon time."

Rico rolled his eyes and pushed them all towards the moat.  "BeeBeeCeekaboomnewztime!  Ven!" Skipper balked at the water with a questioning look at Kowalski, who shook his head before following Rico's splashless dive.  Private ignored Skipper's growl as he chivied his leader back along the way he had come until they sat once more in front of the TV.  

"It can't be that some didn't make it.  It can't."  Private passed the remote to Rico as usual.

Rico looked mournful and surrendered the remote to Skipper.  He slumped as he rubbed his scar, a habit that Skipper thought he had left behind after the first few painful months of the injury.  The mournful look turned to hope as the regular BBC News showed a more cheerful Gavina than anyone would have thought.  Someone had freshened her makeup and hair along with suggesting contact lenses.

An announcer with an aquiline nose shuffled his notes.  "We present our Polite News newscaster Gavina Formes in a special report on a story that she has tracked since its beginning.  Recent events transferred the ice worm nature oddity tale into grim realms.  Gavina, if you please."

Gavina sat straighter as she spoke without notes.  "On February 22nd of this year, Svalbard reported sighting enormous ice worms on a roaming iceberg and by March 6th, Iceland joined in and the Kraken Triangle got its name when Skorpa, Norway, contributed to the tales.  Due to distance, weather, and the obligation of fisherfolk to continue their hazardous tasks, there were no captures or reliable visuals to substantiate the rumors.  That has changed."  She nodded.

The footage which followed still made the penguins lean forward.  Skipper smacked one flipper into the other when Richard accosted the spotted monstrosity directly, Private made appropriate sounds of distress when the cameraman's hand floated into view, Kowalski hmmmm'd at the convenient ice shelf, and Rico ran his flipper back and forth over his topknot when Sven's blood spilled.

Gavina continued with a note of pride.  "Fear not, dear viewers.  Their fishing boat charter rescued the group immediately for transfer to nearby Rainbow Warrior's medical bay after administering vital first aid.  Svalbard's premier science reporter and my colleague, Sven S.C. Formes, no relation, Jeremy Wade's apprentice, Richard Koenig, and their cameraman, Jan Mayen, are in serious but stable condition.  The two sailors were treated and released."  Her voice hitched.  "Formes and Mayen are still in coma, but Koenig agreed to a brief interview.  Richard, are you ready?"

The screen split seamlessly to show a young man holding a microphone as he reclined in a ship's bunk.  There were tubes dangling from him but his smile eclipsed his eyes' white bandages that contrasted with coffee-colored skin.  Kowalski placed his accent as Virginian.  "Ms. Formes, I've read your abstract on vermiform extraction via electrolysis for practical piscatorial purposes.  This is a real pleasure, ma'am."

"Thank you, Richard.  How are you?"

"I've been better.  The doc says my eyes need a rest before she fixes to subject them to bright lights in an examination.  She hosed off the stinging slime which had me woozy as an upside down trevally, I can tell you.  Those are mean toxins."

Gavina blinked rapidly and made a move to rub her eyes in sympathy.  She stopped herself.  "Venomous slime and a fierce stylet make a formidable large creature.  Did you sense any intelligence?"

"Ma'am, it was full on mean and that's the truth.  I think it reacts to stimuli without intelligence and with territoriality.  We touched down on the glacier where it happened to be and it attacked.  The boat arrived and it was a larger threat than we were so it fled.  Jeremy and I have scared off bears by standing close together and flapping our coats above our heads to look bigger."

"He's to get involved, do you think?"

Richard's smile faded.  "I suppose, at some point after he's done more research.  I failed."

"You saved Sven's life and tackled a giant worm head on.  You have nothing to be ashamed of, young man."

"Yes, ma'am.  Thank you, ma'am."

Gavina blinked some more.  "Ah, me.  This world and the next then the fireworks, as dear departed Mr. Formes used to say.  Rest well, Richard."  There was an iris out effect as some scientist on Rainbow Warrior got cutesy with the camera and then Gavina returned full screen.  "That's all my time, viewers.  Continue with regular BBC for your worm stories as I pass the torch to greater scientists than I.  With accredited evidence and firsthand contact, who knows what will happen next?  Gavina Formes from Polite News signing off."

"Yaaaayyy!  They lived!"

Skipper clicked the remote to the frazzle light that Rico had nicknamed Vasarely Vision.  "My brothers, humans have their moments.  Rico, you can relax now."

Kowalski tugged Rico upright from his fetal position.  "Rico.  Sven will recover.  Come along."  Rico followed Kowalski to their bunk as tamely as if he were a Petting Zoo penguin.  "I'll handle him, sir.  Setting my internal alarm for the usual Blowhole-Sasquatch face time --- now."

"Private, we rest."  Skipper yawned as he settled down. 

Private plumped his pillow before reclining.  "Skippa, do you still watch wot we do on the security cameras?"

"Good Fourth of July glory!  Now that you all found out, you'd ham it up for the camera and I couldn't trust anything I'd see, so no.  What brought this up?"

"A reality TV star like Jeremy doesn't seem hammy to me.  He's always respectful of the humans he meets and they live close to nature with the rivers givin' them all they need.  They don't have anythin' else."

"I'm tired, Private.  Your point?"

Private scooched down their bunk to get comfortable.  "Jeremy makes his livin' doin' wot he loves and makes gobs of money, I suppose.  Couldn't we get Mason and Phil to sell your old footage to some human on Ebay anonymous-like and use the money to help Sasquatch's plan for her kind?  K'walski could doctor it to make us look cartoony."

"It's just like you to forgive her and think of that.  I destroyed it, amigo."

"Wot, all of it?  Even my mimin' you mimin' me?"

"Every last bit."

"Crabcakes.  Bonas nochies, sir."

IOIOIOIOIO

TBC
pronker: (Default)
The cameraman's coverage continued jerkily after he joined Richard, Sven, and two sturdy sailors clambering over the boat's side into a dory.  Sven immediately proceeded to the prow as if he could make the dory go faster by sheer willpower.  The coxswain gunned the engine.  After panning for whatever Richard had seen breaching and finding nothing, the camera swept Bråsvellbreen glacier as it stuck its icy tongue into a choppy sea off Nordaustlandet.  The camera lingered on a waterfall sluicing through the glacier to plunge oceanward as shadows grew long.  Sven looked back towards the camera, his usual ready smile replaced with a steely determination rivaling a penguin's.  He sliced his hand across his throat after a spasm of sneezes.

The screen returned to Gavina.  She faced her audience with aplomb.  "I've known Sven for years.  He's fearless as Ernest Shackleton when it comes to exploring."  She ran her pearl necklace through her fingers before folding her hands in front of her.  "Let's recap.  Sven's theory regarding giant Antarctic worms in Arctic waters agrees with mine in these points:  Lineus longissimus, the carnivorous nemertean found off our coasts, and Plectus murrayi, the algae-eating Antarctic ice worm that manufactures its own antifreeze, contribute traits to an omnivorous hybrid that menaces our fragile environment and possibly individual humans.  My colleague is asea to investigate fishing vessels' recent spotting of a worm, or the worm if Sven's theory is correct, on an uninhabited island in the Svalbard Archipelago.  He assumes it is one creature with fantastic cruising ability due to its size."  

She tapped her earpiece, listened briefly with a questioning air and then continued.  "Where I depart from his theory is consideration of their origin, because certainly the distances between little Skorpa in Norway, faraway Iceland, and Svalbard mean that there is more than one.  How are they spreading in this part of the Arctic now being termed the Kraken Triangle?  Cryptozoologists eager to brand name the phenomenon consider worm sources from as bizarre as Atlantis super science to --- Naomi, what's happening?  Of course, go ahead, do the split screen.  Viewers, here we are, back with Sven, Richard, and the fearless crew --- God in heaven!"

Skipper glued himself six inches from the screen and the others formed a corona around him while he rocked on sea legs as if voyaging with the modern day Viking explorer in his dory.  "There!  On the glacier!  Watch out, Sven!  ¡Peligroso!  ¡Ay Dios mío!"

"Crikey, it's a monster!"

"Hrazzztomfjordmimplotz!"

"Yellow, orange, and green spots, body the color of Alex The Lion, approximately twenty feet of unknown total length showing from this angle.  It's flattening itself to keep a low profile and Roy Chapman Andrews' eggs, it's rearing above their heads as the dory reaches the glacier!  Now it's --- it's crashing down and oh!  They're in the water.  This is not good."

The cameraman's waterproof camera showed bubbles and then fist-sized chunks of ice surrounding the five men as they struggled to the surface.  Life jackets propped the group up in the frigid water with the capsized dory bobbing in and out of the frame.  The camera followed Richard Koenig's motions but the sound appeared lost as the man mouthed what looked to be "Fish on!" in a jaunty fashion.  He and Sven had lost the hoods to their yellow slickers and the sailors' knit caps joined the hoods in Davy Jones' sports locker. 

Skipper supplied advice because he couldn't help himself.  "None of you men look hurt and Richard says what Jeremy always says when he's caught something.  Way to go, Richard.  Now don't get cocky, hold on until the boat comes because you humans can't tolerate the cold water like we can --- hell's bells!"

Gavina clenched her hand to her earpiece so hard it must have hurt.  "Sven! It's sliding off the glacier and into the water oh God it's disappeared below you where is the bloody boat --- "

The penguins wrung their flippers as the cameraman fulfilled his duty to his profession until his possible end.  He splashed away from the group of flailing men to get a full shot of Sven, Richard, and the two sailors as they bobbed back to back in order to provide a defensive perimeter.  Sven brandished a fist at the darkening blue sky as whitecaps began to form.  He howled something they could not lipread.

Skipper shook the 52 inch television set.  "Yes!  Do that!  Show the braaper your war face!  Just stay alive until the boat reaches you it's only a klick away where in the hell is the lousy underpowered piece of --- "

Rico was too upset by Sven's predicament to cover Private's earholes.  Private shrank from the horror he was witnessing and the two clutched at each other in mutual comfort.

Gavina slapped both hands on her desk as she shouted at the scene with all illusions of politeness thrown out the porthole.  "Sven!  Richard!  Hang on oh where in the f--- "  The split screen frazzled to interrupt her words until the television screen showed only the frantic ocean scene in deference to her lost composure.  Undoubtedly, her director chose the more newsworthy view to pursue as the waiting grew unbearable.

Kowalski dealt with the tension in his own way.  "Multiply knots by one point one seven to get miles per hour.  Estimating thirteen knots per hour which is this boat's class top speed so twenty-two point one miles per hour stands.  The boat is one klick away from the glacier therefore zero point six two miles out and so reasonably the boat could reach the glacier in approximately two minutes if it were already at speed but it's starting from dead in the water this is going to be an awful five minutes, Skipper."

"I know, mi amigo."  Skipper's frenzy turned to icy calm.  "We wait."

Kowalski's internal alarm buzzed at two minutes out.  "Three minutes more."

The penguins listened to Gavina's crew bewail the lack of sound as the woman's necklace clacked with her fingering.  She snapped directions to the technicians to no avail and subsided into hyperventilating loudly through her microphone.  "Here's a paper bag, Ms. Formes."  The voice sounded kindly but footsteps receded as the someone walked away without further comfort.  The paper bag crackled as Gavina breathed into it.

The feed showed Sven and the others shivering as the cold soaked next to featherless human skin.  The cameraman's grip shook and the compensation built into the camera for jiggle could only do so much.  A tremor worse than any others vibrated the camera as a wave filled with icy chunks surged and the group lifted to its top.  From out of the sea rose the worm with its stylet everted.

"That's a big needle and it has barbs."  Skipper backed away from the screen.  "I was almost over my needle thing, too, but check the size of the barbs.  One stab and we'd shatter with splatter."  He resumed his attentive stance close to the screen after a moment.  "Sven, you're in for the fight of your life.  Be a Viking of the good sort."

Alpha worm sized up alpha menace and struck out at Sven.  The first blow missed as Richard shoved Sven aside and the six foot lance plunged into the salty sea.  Richard tossed his head back and laughed in the exuberance inherent in discovering a new species as he wrapped his arms around what could be termed the creature's neck although there was no bulge to indicate a head.  The man's weight did not impede the worm as it reared back to savage again.  Slime issued from around the exit point of the proboscis from the soft mouth parts of the chimera.  Richard wiped it from his face with one hand and screamed after some seconds.  He scoured his face with both hands as he slid off the creature to splash in front of the cameraman, whose courage failed.  The camera showed four men getting smaller as the cameraman swam away from the fracas.

Just as the cameraman appeared to swim to safety, a loop appeared in front of the lens to cover it.  It was as if a dank beach towel slimed with fish milt stuck to the lens.  There was still no sound and now no picture.  The feed returned to Gavina's studio.  She sat stiffly at her desk, paper bag forgotten as it lay by her right hand.  "Follow this story on BBC Regular News tonight.  Polite News can no longer be responsible for its gravity."  She looked gutted.

Kowalski kept faith with his dedication to Science.  "One minute until the arrival of the boat."  That was all anyone said until Gavina's hoarse voice broke the silence once more.

"V-Viewers, the sea may have claimed five souls today.  Poor Sven, he did have such a terrible cold.  I mailed him my homemade remedy, but he won't need it now."  She shook her head and wiped her eyes.  "It is one minute until the boat reaches our braves.  As soon as we know their status, we'll inform --- Wait!  Here now!"  The part of the worm that resembled a tentacle unstuck from the camera and through the slimed lens a grisly spectacle unreeled twenty feet away.  

The current in the white-capped ocean did not favor the cameraman's swim away from danger and his limp hand floated palm up before his camera's lens as he drifted back towards the glacier.  The harness did its duty securing the camera to the cameraman's torso as the view tilted down into the trough of a wave and then up to the sky that would shortly turn to indigo.  As the penguins watched, a chance wave lifted the man's body and the view changed to the dory that had turned turtle.

Four desperate men clung to the dory's rocker bottom.  There was no keel to use as handholds and they scrabbled to stay together.  The coxswain steadied Richard as Jeremy's man passed his hand in front of his face to scrub away clinging venomous slime.  As the cameraman's limp form touched the dory, its momentum bumped the damaged vessel closer to the vertical calving ice.  Sven's forehead ran with blood but he retained his strength as he reached for the drifting man and hauled him up with one hand as the camera continued recording.  For a bizarre moment, Sven in profile seemed to have lost his presence of mind as he deliberately let go of the dory and stood in the water with head and shoulders above the waves.  He blew a kiss to the sky.

"Wot?"

Rico let go of Private and gesticulated with appropriate jubilant sound effects.  "Huzzahvenshelf!"

"Rico is right as rainbows!  It's an ice shelf under the main glacier, we know how glaciers thrust only their shoulders above water when they reach the sea and leave the rest of their big bums to Imagic-Nation --- "

"Soldier!
 This is not Lunacorn time and you're --- absolutely right.  Good job.  So he's standing on an unseen ice shelf and the rest of them can, too, until the boat gets there --- "

"Skipper, thirty-five seconds more and it ought to arrive --- "

The penguins gasped as the worm again attacked and this time found its mark.  Water geysered off the column of its body as its barb snaked towards Sven's throat to deliver a glancing blow.  Sven dropped the cameraman's body to clutch his throat with both hands.  He sank into the water with only his mohawk showing until Richard scrambled over the dory's nearly flat bottom to press both hands against the flow of bright arterial blood.  The camera showed two more forms joining Richard and Sven on the shelf with Viking warrior might, one to take charge of the floating cameraman and one to scout wildly around for the worm's return.

The worm vanished into the deep, the camera displayed a support harness lowering from the boat's gunwales as a gaff snagged the dory, and at last the camera's feed died along with the day's sun.  Twilight descended in the penguins' part of the world, too, as Gavina's sobs echoed through her studio.  A Teletubbies slide with Technical Error Please Be Politely Patient emblazoned on it replaced her trembling form as she slumped over her desk with unstrung pearls scattered on its surface.  Skipper switched the TV to their impromptu lighting system channel.

"Anybody for a swim?" he asked.

Kowalski's voice was faint.  "Not yet for you, sir."

"I'm okay with that."

IOIOIOIOIO

TBC
pronker: (Default)
Deep in thought, Kowalski nibbled the end of his pencil until he spat out the eraser.  It bounced onto the floor and into Rico's left nostril.  Rico sneezed and the three took cover, but nothing other than spray came out.  Kowalski spread his flippers in apology.  "Uh, ha ha, went a little too far.  Sorry, Rico.  Er, back to making the most of our delay to gather improved intel to ensure the best takedown, now, ah, the results will be worthwhile, but the next option is reaching some."

"Zowhutelziznew?" grumbled Rico.

"Er, hehheh, this depends on Sasquatch relaying disinformation to Blowhole.  Given what we know about both of them, they like to hoist a few."

"There are no taverns at the zoo, Kowalski."  Skipper frowned.  "We don't know the city well enough to have her suggest they meet off zoo grounds for a booze fest.  Give me another option."

"A moment, sir, and you'll understand this one with a single word: henbane."

Skipper made a rude noise.  "You can't be suggesting getting chickens in on our plan.  This zoo lacks a Petting Zoo with cackling fowl, or didn't you notice?  Are you looking for another genius egglayer?"

"Nobody is smarter than the Blue Hen --- uh, strike that.  As I was saying, henbane, a widespread weed containing scopolamine which is truth serum, plays a part in getting Blowhole's pie hole to open wide about why he wants Purpose X to succeed so badly that he commissioned a murder."

Private felt obliged to add, "But, K'walski, it's not spring yet and all the greens are frostbitten browny stems.  How would he find your slopeamean?"

Kowalski gravitated to the one penguin who didn't scoff at his option but merely questioned its implementation.  "There's a patch under the weeping willow where Skipper harvested my pain meds and I spotted some in the forest on your March so we know it grows around here.  Private, you'll like this part.  Henbane is also known as hebenon."

"Ooooh, Hamlet!  Hebenon is the only part of the play I didn't understand!"  Private tapped his flippertips together and showed doubt in troubled blue eyes.  "But, K'walski, when Hamlet's uncle fancied his sis-in-law bad enough to kill his own brother by pourin' hebenon in his earholes, it was murder. We're not the murderin' kind."

"Shakespeare's jerkin, I know Blowhole's weight and metabolism speed like I know my own after all our encounters with him.  I can gauge the right amount of henbane to give it a kick but not kill him and Sasquatch can relay it while acting sloppo enough to lure him in.  We give her real henbane to show him what it looks like and she palms it to add something innocuous  to her own drink.  Addictive personalities like Blowhole and Sasquatch always have a yen for that extra zing to their habit."

"Why?"  It took Rico to ask the obvious.

Kowalski's confidence blossomed.  "Because if Blowhole has been waiting for Sasquatch's departure to Denmark for over two weeks, he's bored out of his skull.  Think about it --- no state-of-the-art humongous lab to tinker in, on the outs with his sister if she even knows he's alive so no family chitchat, Parker six thousand miles away, no friends because Dave is absent and Blowhole isn't the type to have friends like regular dolphins do anyway --- and you'll reach the same conclusion that I did.  Bored Blowhole,  looking for a kick.  Probably has a bar in his lorry loaded with booze.  Bring Sasquatch in to drink with him on their two-way TV Quasi-Oktoberfestkindgestalt and we'll gather more intel than the law allows."

Skipper remained agog at Kowalski's analysis.  "Whoa whoa whoa!  We heard him say he's made more worms.  How is he doing it from here?  He sounded jazzed about that, not at all bored."

"But there's nothing more tempting than a scientist's yearning to have flippers-on experience in the creative process!  I calculate that his iPhone transmits instructions to the Nepal lab regarding manufacture and transport of the giants to Arctic waters.  It's possibly completely automated although I'm not sure about that part because his Blue Crew are around for something.   It's more ambitious a plan than he's ever --- had ---" Kowalski trailed off.

"And you envy him?"  Skipper's leadership honed in on his troops' needs and he could state with no one contradicting that he knew his team as well as any penguin could know another.

Kowalski stayed strong as he met his commander's gaze.  "I didn't say that."  

"Yeah, I gathered as much when you figured out his Invisibility Ray machine's controls enough to stop it but not enough to invent one on your own."  Skipper looked to reassure his second in a non-sappy way.  "We like you just as you are, man."

As long as the subject came up, Kowalski decided to clear his conscience.  "Uh, Skipper, about the Invisibility Ray machine, I'd like to confess --- "

"I know, I know, you got jealous, but you're a good guy and good guys don't always finish last.  The Endless Iceberg is full of 'em and where else would any sane penguin want to live for eternity?"

"You still don't see --- I give up.  Moving right along, henbane used to be an flavoring ingredient in beer centuries ago and you know how trendy flavored beers are at the moment --- "

Skipper blew a raspberry.  "They're nausorating.  Puke.  Hurl.  Barf.  Stand down, Rico, I didn't mean you."

"Aaaand your purist notions aside, Blowhole adores cutting edge everything, so he'll send Blue Whoever to the verge to scout around for some.  Then Blowhole and Sasquatch party together in the cool way that folks do nowadays, you know, on devices rather than actually being in the same room.  We dose Sasquatch with fish oil beforehand so she doesn't absorb alcohol as much.  The plan is solid enough."

"What if Blowhole goes for something more sophisticated?  A good bourbon, for instance?" 

"I knew you'd bring that up!" Kowalski crowed.  "He'll still want to experiment, because newest on the hootch market are smoked maple bourbon, citrus vodka, botanical rye, chocolate artisanal whiskey --- "

Rico broke in.  "Marshmeowmeow rum?"

"Sorry, my friend, not yet.  I'll keep you posted.  But the point is, Skipper, that Blowhole is likely drooling for a fellow boozer to party with.  If he has home-brewed raksi on tap, we're up against it with my plan, although we actually have enough intel to zap him right now."  He looked down.  "You know overkill is my weakness.  I want this delay to be good for something."

Skipper headed to the front of the class as if for Show 'n Tell.  "Chill out.  You can never be too prepared.  All right, Operation Boozehound is a go.  Sasquatch tells him she scored some beer left behind by the fly by night vendors from the king's visit, she lets it drop that she's got a lil' e-e-e-extra shomething in her drinkie-poo, and we listen to what she makes him spill."  He paused in the midst of giving his lieutenant a macho manly swat on the butt. "Waaaiiiit a minute, what if he's become a solitary drinker?"

Kowalski cleared his throat.  "Dr. Phil says that solitary drinkers are morose.  Any dolphin with a laugh like Blowhole's when he shows positive glee over having the temporary upper flipper over us is just the opposite."

Skipper dropped his own flippers to his sides.  A wave of conflicting feelings washed over his face and what was left on the beach was not pretty.  "It's on, then.  I'm always up for getting something back on Blowhole for that mind jacker ray.  I didn't act right for weeks.  Um, days, I mean days." 

Kowalski mouthed, "It was months,"  behind Skipper's back.  

"But I'm myself again."  Rico waffled his flipper in a comme ci, comme ça gesture that his commander chose to ignore.

Kowalski was on a high after getting his boozy plan approved.  He seemed to forget that Skipper could hear him, or maybe he dissociated himself from the scenario of getting back at someone as revengeful as Blowhole was.  Skipper and his crew weren't like that.  They weren't.  "He's himself again, he says.  It's just that himself comes up with these ideas, like stopping homeschooling.  I mean, really, what do we care?  And don't give me those big sad eyes, Private!  They're humans.  We're birds.  Get the difference?"

Private thought of Shawna.  Rico thought of fish.  Skipper used biofeedback to get his blood pressure under control after humming when you feel an anger wiggle calm it with a jolly giggle didn't work.  "That's on the back burner for now," he acknowledged.

"Pfah, Skipper, the odds are ninety-eight point six per cent chance against --- "

"Don't quote me odds again!"

Kowalski got exasperated.  "What do Vikings have to do with our mission statement of helping one animal at a time?"

"Have you seen their helmets?  Some mammal died for a stupid hat!"

It was straightening out those little bits of misinformation that made Kowalski what he was.  "Technically, Skipper, animals can be dehorned without --- "

"Ah bup bup bup!  Don't confuse me with scientific jibber jabber!  Even mammals don't deserve to be without their horns.  How would you like to be without your beak?"

Private and Rico formed a coalition to get the two back on teamwork track.  "It's telly time!  Turn on the telly, Rico.  Skippa, you sit there and K'walski, you sit there.  I'll sit between."

Rico made up a new curse word for the occasion.  "Pinfederers, shaddap!"  Like a rosary with only four beads, Rico, Kowalski, Private and Skipper sat in a row to allow the alpha waves to soothe their brains to mush.  Commodore Danger's rugged looks flashing onto the screen in From Sweden With Furniture made Skipper smile and he gestured to Rico for the remote, but Rico twisted away and kept surfing since the broadcast was dubbed in Swedish.  There flashed by a Teletubbies marathon that Private squealed over and a nature documentary on butterflies that made Kowalski sit up straight and still Rico lorded dominion over the remote.  "Ahhhhh," he said at last. 

Gavina Formes chirped as sprightly as before.  "If you're just tuning in, other polite news confirms that Tuscany's restaurants' revolutionary method of fly control is ready to sweep the service sector worldwide.  Here's a sample of their method."  A YouTube clip reeled in front of the penguins showing two industrious chefs slicing veal on a butcher's block.  Suspended from the ceiling were baggies one foot above human average height at each corner of the block to form a fortress of cleanliness.  There was a black numeral on each baggie that even penguin vision couldn't make out.  "You can see this technique is green and not mean to the flies.  And now for Arctic news."  The clip irised out to a jumbled mess of gray with splashes appearing and disappearing on the screen.  

"Apologies, viewers, we are fortunate to receive the transmission from out at sea in any clarity whatsoever.  Please bear with us.  Jan, Michael, Vincent, get on this problem right away as Polite News continues coverage of the ice worm mystery.  Our man, Sven S.C. Formes, no relation, has been joined by Jeremy Wade's protegé Richard Koenig in Svalbard to sort out what is happening in the deep and on icebergs.  It's a natural partnership and we welcome the young man's experience."  Gavina's tone turned serious as she removed her earpiece to twiddle it.  "It is my hope that this news remains polite.  The possibility of a giant ice worm dragging a fellow harvester off her boat is daunting to me personally.  As regular viewers know, I angle in my spare time.  There's nothing like putting a meal on the table through your own efforts."

A squeak emanated from the earpiece.  "Ahah, let's see now."  She brushed aside coppery hair to replace the device after adjusting her spectacles.  "Ready?  Oh, audio only for now?  Go ahead, Sven."

" --- frzzz --- sweetness, I could use your worm expertise although our ship's churning and heaving might make you indisposed."  There was a squiggle on the screen followed by a kerbpshpt  as the visual resumed with the audio.  Sven's all weather gear showed a yellow as bright as Eggy's as he sneezed capaciously into his elbow.  "Crappy headcold won't leave me alone, er, sorry, Gavina."

"It's all right.  Take care of yourself as best you can.  Tell our viewers your location, Sven."

"One klick off Bråsvellbreen glacier on Nordaustlandet.  The island is nothing like I remember, Gavina.  Rainbow Warrior is in the area and reports no onland walrus activity, either.  The poor beasties must have been frightened off their lie out by our prey."

"Prey?  Surely you will catch and release?"

Sven grabbed his cameraman's instrument and shoved its lens close to his face.  There was a scuffle until Sven hissed something in Norwegian to his film crew.  The penguin team found themselves staring beak-to-red-nose with Svalbard's best science reporter.  "We might not have a choice.  My colleague agrees that the sheer size of the creature could swamp this boat and its rumored deadly barb is not to be trifled with."  Sven moved the camera off himself and pointed it towards the bow of the boat, where another yellow slickered person stood poised like a doughty figurehead.  Even though the human's back was to him, Skipper discerned the admirable focus and resolve common to the River Monster guy who now turned his talents to solving sea mysteries.  He high-oned his teammates.

"We'll get action!  Hooha!"

"Now we'll see somethin'!  Anybody workin' for Jeremy never gives up!"

"Why can't more girls be like Jeremy?  Er, I mean, a human to trust, for once."

"Hedamaaaan!"

From her studio came Gavina's worried voice.  "Sven, it's turning dark.  Won't you drop sea anchor until dawn and then set out for the glacier?"

Sven's big grin lit up the scene in the ebbing daylight as he hogged the camera again.  "You know as well as I do, lovey, fishing is when you find it.  He and I both --- "

Sven remembered what a dramatic bit of news footage required as he aimed the camera at the bow when a hoarse cry sounded there.  The yellow figure pointed towards the glacier.  "We're off, Gavina!  Wish us luck!"  

IOIOIOIOIO

TBC
 
pronker: (Default)
Sasquatch leaked serenity as much as Ole had as she approached the penguins after her devotion.  If he had been in a better mood, Skipper would have remarked on the resemblance, but as it was he flailed his flippers before rounding on her.  "Your fault, Sasquatch, that I'm not up to snuff and can't slide or swim or damn well zip line to where Blowhole is holed up and need to be boosted after being fed like a braaping baby for days and days along with, well, you can just guess other humiliating things --- "

She sustained her calm as she crossed her arms and legs before accordioning into a lotus position in the pinkish snow.  Skipper spewed the ball of indignation from the past two weeks as he lofted the sphere down the alley to pick up a seven-ten split.  She waited until he ran out of wind.

" --- braaping --- liability to the team --- goldbrick --- "  Skipper spun on his heel to grab a drink of water from the moat.

She faced the less disturbing penguins.  "So.  What happened to set off this avalanche in the eight hundred heartbeats from when I got here until now?"

Private remembered how she kicked him off Kastelholm.  "He's jolly well right to --- "

Rico remembered how she had ruined Private's first March and growled, "Why I odda --- "

Dr. Phil.  Remember Dr. Phil.  Kowalski scrambled to save the sasquatch-penguin detente.  "We're delayed two days until our plan resumes.  The quickest way from A to B is not always at the most feverish pace.  You can be right, or you can be happy, but you can't be both.  I want you to get excited about your life.  Never put more into a relationship than you can afford to lose."  What would sound most profound to her?  "Get real."  

It worked and she nodded gravely.  "I see.  You all have anger issues with me because you're delayed.  Does this mean you have changed your minds about helping?"

Kowalski threw in something that Prince Sharesalot might say.  "If nothing ever changed, there'd be no butterflies."  It was easier to speak with her as her calm eroded around the edges.  

"Wait, does that mean that you won't help Hugo and me?"

Skipper wiped his beak after returning.  He sat in the snow beside her.  "My word is my bond.  We'll help you both.  I'm upset about the delay.  I hate waiting."

"Why?"

"Why?  Because it's a waste of time."

"We're given so much time and no more.  It's like that for everyone.  You can spend time but not waste it."

"Well then, I've just had enough of spending time waiting for action until I felt better.  Haven't you ever had enough of something?"

She undid her arms and examined her nails.  "I have.  It's why I went to that dive in Hetauda.  After enough raksi, Blowhole's plan about saving my kind from extinction sounded rational.  I still think it is.  I just don't want to do what it takes to be part of it."

"So you have no principles, then?  Just willin' and not willin' to do this and that?  How do you bleedin' live with yourself?"  Private assumed he'd get disciplinary action for this, but there was no lutfisk around so he didn't care.

"Survival of the herd is my principle."  Sasquatch huffed after a moment.  "Aren't you going to do something about your calf?"

Skipper blinked.  "Huh?  He's not my --- "

"It takes a herd to raise a calf.  Everyone pitches in and we push them into the middle of the herd when there's danger and we wallop their bootys when they mouth off.  Well?"  She made a spanking motion.

"Look, lady, you know zip about penguin commandos.  He's not mine, I'm just his commanding officer and he's all grown up so no rump whomping except in a macho sports team kind of way."

Rico fidgeted.  "'Kippppaaaah."

"Hold on unless it's dire.  Is it?"

"Nuh-uh."

"Then I'll continue setting Sasquatch straight.  This unit helps animals and yeah, humans on the down low.  We four are not related, I'm not anyone's father, but we are brothers as deep as blood ties could make us.  We've lost team members that we'll never forget.  We.  Are.  The.  Penguins.  Get it?"

"Got it."

"Good."

"'Kippaaahhh."

"Spill it, soldier."  Rico did.  "A telescope?  Where --- this is Ole's, right?"

"Uh huh.  Ndr rozbsh by Ah-kwatch."

"Who's Ole?"  Sasquatch leaned back on her elbows to a comfortable sprawl after absorbing the information that this was not a patriarchal herd led by a staunch father.  She had wondered about the lack of females in the group.  Life would have been almighty cruel to take every one of their mates.

"Ole was a rat we met here.  He's dead now."  

Skipper gave the telescope to Private, who turned it over and over with a somber expression.  "He was a peaceful fellow who died like a, a, rat in a trap.  He didn't deserve dyin' in any way, shape or form."

Sasquatch rolled to her side and curled up in the snow.  She played with her chest hair absently.  "The rat who chatted me up was Norwegian.  I didn't have time for that and he quit trying.  He started out blethering about stars and then led the spiel into living in peace, you know how some animals grab your fur and get in your face when you're too polite.  I stopped being polite a long time ago."

"It was the same rat.  He told us he'd tried to speak with you.  Private, stow the telescope in the corner by Faux Me.  We've got precious little materiel up here and it may come in handy."

"Ah, and Foamy is --- ?"

"Not in the mood for chatting, Sasquatch.  We'll be in touch."  Something about Ole's character seeped into Skipper's mien.  "You did well tonight, no matter what.  We'll see what develops over the next two days."


Sasquatch arose.  "There's nothing I can do to make you feel better."  

"You would if you could in principle.  It would be in your best interest."

Kowalski ruminated on what Dr. Phil said about welcome changes of subject.  "Sir, fog is coming in and by dawn we'll be lucky to see the beaks in front of our faces."

Sasquatch headed for the isthmus on large, quiet feet.  "I'm leaving.  Sorry about your friend dying."

Private blurted, "There's more to animals than friend or enemy.  There's just bein' decent and, and respectful like Princess Self-Respectra says --- "

"Call to quarters, men."  By the time Skipper took a last recon before heading down the ramp, Sasquatch had disappeared into the silvery stillness.

IOIOIOIOIO

To Private's surprise the next morning, Skipper made no mention of the way his youngest team member's beak ran away with him.  In fact, the four went back to bed after breakfast smelts that wafted eerily through the fog from their unseen keeper.  Right around noonish Skipper sent Rico to scout for guests and he returned making large zeroes with his flippers.  The commander kept a weather eye out for cabin fever as hours passed in glum silence as he seemed to table exercising in favor of brooding.

With the downtime came reminiscences in late afternoon.  As often was the case, the four hunkered down in front of the electronic hearth that was the TV without the set actually being on.  Skipper needed drawing out, Rico figured, so he began their bull session by slapping Kowalski's butt rhythmically.

"So it's like that, is it, Rico?"  Kowalski kept up the Bavarian pattern in turn and since they were both sitting, their bottom slap dance was more of the cuff-tailfeathers-and-thighs variety.  It served to make Private snicker while Skipper watched impassively.

"Crikey, Classified and his bunch came through in the end."  Private assumed a sly air.  "Eva was a crashin' big part of comin' to help us and K'walski in particular, I'd wager."

Kowalski smiled at the memory before crossing his flippers over his chest.  "One kiss does not a relationship make, Private."

"Wot does?"

"Years.  Years and years, ups and downs, give and take, seasons in it like spring and summer and Antarctic winter.  And then it's spring again and you never know where you stand and it's grand adventure sailing the waters."

"Sounds like you'd get bloomin' seasick."

"That's the glory of it."

"It's too much.  I'm not ready."

"You will be.  You'll have a Doris or Eva in your life."

Private's sure instincts as unofficial morale officer said to lighten things up.  "As long as it's not a Blue Hen."

"Urk."  Kowalski swallowed wrong and by the time he'd recovered, Rico had nodded and put a more goofy expression on than Rico-Normal to resemble Shelly's lovelorn look.  "Yeah, there's unwanted attention, too."  He brightened.  "All part of romance, Private.  It's worth it, worth more."

Skipper got up to secure a cup of coffee, still silent.

Private gave up on the indirect approach as he stretched and stood.  "I wish we had the north wind at our back, Skippa."

"They are around somewhere and if things come to a not-so-pretty pass, we'll do our best to contact them for help against Blowhole, Private.  Are you doubting your team's ability to --"

"Wot I meant was the breeze.  The fog is so still that it gives me the collywobbles and it must look out there like the Eternally Foggy Sea.  I don't fancy not bein' able to see far."  He looked unhappy.  "And the sounds comin' from every whichaway I hate."

"Come here."  Skipper put down his coffee and snagged the young penguin's head under his flipper.  He groomed Private's face including anointing his eyes with the preening oil.  "Remember Rico's briefing on this technique a few days back --- actually it was Kowalski's interpretation of Rico's briefing but let's not quibble --- and the effect won't last long, but it'll help you see better because of the snowcones or something in our eyes."  He winked at Private before releasing him.  "If you want a better explanation, ask the Science Guy and prepare to be bombarded with Tee Em Eye."

"Sir, I can hear you."

"I know you can."

Kowalski wouldn't take this lying down.  He loomed his greater height over his leader to back him in the corner up against Faux Skipper and the real Skipper backpedaled in a good-natured way.  The tension in the quarters amped up from frustration over the delay to confront Blowhole and the lack of performing for guests added to their need for physical release.  Skipper's grin faded as Kowalski pressed harder to invade his personal space.  Beak to beak, Command Division glowered at Science Division and until Rico whispered his plan to Private, the young penguin feared that a true fight would break out despite them all being friends. 

"Rvrdaaaaants!"   Rico spun like a Texas twister before shoving Faux Skipper between the two would-be pugilists.  He thrust Skipper's mighty righty into the nook of Faux Skipper's left pliable plastic flipper that was forever in akimbo position.  He nodded at Private, who shoved Kowalski's left Part A into Faux Skipper's right Slot B, grabbed Kowalski's right flipper with his own left one and set off dancing.  An appropriate phrase bubbled up and he blurted it out.

"Erin go bragh!"  

Rico commenced the riveting dance moves on his end and they proved contagious.  After a jerky start, the four pranced like their lives depended on performing the energy-draining steps as Faux Skipper kept up effortlessly.  Five minutes later, Flesh-And-Pint-Low-On-Blood Skipper dropped out and gasped "Routine Eleven!" on his way to the floor.  Twenty minutes after that, Routine Eleven:  Stay Fit And Healthy Until You Die lived up to its name as the three collapsed.  Switching to a vigorous can-can had proved the last straw.

Picking up his Faux self, Skipper observed his squad coalescing into unity again as Private stared back at him discerningly from the floor.  "I see better gasp or um, different, after the preenin' wheeze now, Skippa kaheeeorp you seem to pantpant glow like a Japanese lantern, quite pretty, actually."  Private rolled his head to see Rico with his beak agape recovering beside him.  "And Rico, you gasp look different than ahhhhh he does."

As his team acknowledged, Kowalski never missed an opportunity for a lecture.  "We could weaponize hahahhahahhaaaahhhh the ultraviolet aura effect to keep track of each other in dim lighting, but how often kaffkaff will we have the leisure to preen each other before wheeeeze battle?"

Skipper smacked one flipper into the other after elbowing Faux Skipper away.  "We won't.  Good call, soldier," he said, and like that, the focus returned to accomplishing the mission.  "Damn, damn, double damn, triple damn, hell.  I wanted to sweep and clear Blowhole before St. Urho's Day.  The day after is St. Patrick's Day and we could have had real reason to celebrate.  I don't know now, I just don't know, men."

Kowalski regained his feet and his breath.  "The Ides of March come the day before St. Urho's Day and is this delay a warning to beware moving against Blowhole until the Ides are over with?"  He stroked his beak as his commander did a double-take.

"That sounds like something that a certain lemur would say about his Sky Spirits.  Don't tell me you are getting superstitious, Science Guy.  I wouldn't have thought it of you."

Rico placed himself between Kowalski and Skipper.  "Stpfite.  Nao."  He was serious, Skipper saw, and so was little Private.

"Cool it.  Sir."

For the second time in as many minutes, Skipper did a double-take.  "Aw, relax.  This is just talking.  Extrapolate from my tone, soldiers."

Private waved Rico away and rubbed his eyes.  "Rico, you've stopped glowin' and so have you, K'walski, and you, Skippa.  You're back to normal not-pretty."  Rico sniffed haughtily at the slam before turning to his bunkmate.

"Good, so let's concentrate on the mission again."  Kowalski spoke up, clipboard at the ready.  Rico turned his back on the rest of his team and sat at the front of the class as Kowalski tapped the pencil against the study aid.  "We know this:  Blowhole makes giant deadly worms for Purpose X and wants Skipper more than out of the picture so Purpose X can happen.  He wants Skipper dead and his team demoralized afterwards so to not stop his super-dee-dooper evil plan.  He'll fail because we have a mole in his organization.  We know it's especially evil because he has been escalating his eviltude with each scheme, Private, so put down your flipper."

Skipper made a moue from the back of the class as he mock-threw a spitball at the teacher.  "If I had died, you'd have carried on.  Come on, Kowalski."

"Of course we would have, sir.  No question about it.  But we would have been stunned at a critical time, just as much as you would have been if his plan were to take all of us out to deprive you of troops."

Hit.  Kowalski  acknowledged satisfaction at the way his leader looked shocked.  "I - I hadn't considered that.  Way to go with options about thinking like a criminal mastermind, soldier."

Kowalski swelled his chest until he concluded that this was not the compliment it seemed.  "Er, thanks.  Now onward to results."

IOIOIOIOIO

TBC  
pronker: (Default)
The image returned to the carrier wave dot until Sasquatch snatched the remote to change the channel to the staticky lighting one.  She turned on the group behind the manger with an impatient hiss.  "Hugo, I know how to flirt!  How do you think I got four calves?"

"That's been a while back, ayam --- "  Hugo raised placating palms.

"Oh yes, the rubbing, the licking, I remember all right.  Life is simpler now."  Sasquatch looked out the north entrance at the moon or where the moon would show through the solidly socked in slate sky.  "I have my own share of green memories."  She studied Skipper.  "It always seemed like the alpha females paired with the alpha males in every herd.  You'd think they'd clash too much, but no."

"Clashing can be its own brand of fun."  Skipper appraised the ally he'd never dreamed of.  "Good job.  So we know he's using a large lorry and he's not so crazoid as to not fear the cops and damn, he's got cojones the size of church bells to string Parker along all the way in Cuba."

"Your team's cojones impress me if you bulls can take down an entire base.  I never realized."

"Never mind that.  You done good, sister, and I don't care the kind of animal you are or where you're from or what you were born."

Hugo stretched and yawned.  "Are we through here?"

Kowalski started as if waking from a dream.  "Hugo!  You can mind talk with Sasquatch!  I just tumbled to it!"

"No duh, bird."

"What's it like?  I'd like to know for scientific purposes."

"Well, it saves misunderstandings on the one hand and makes more on the other.  In short, it's like any other form of communication."

Kowalski thought hard.  "Sasquatch, is this also your opinion --- "

She shushed him with a look.  "I'm done for the night, penguin.  I'm through, Hugo, but I want a walkabout before sleeping.  My nerves are shot."  Hugo shrugged and curled around his space heater.

Skipper looked closer.  She had a tremor going in her left hand.  "Waddle with us back to our place."

She looked abashed for a moment.  "My kind have a devotion about home we practice at night, even if it's our own dwelling and we've lived in it some time, it's not an always thing but I would like to rededicate myself in your home if you don't mind it's okay to refuse really it is --- "

"Your Sky Spirits are your own business.  Let's go."

Skipper was as happy as Kowalski had seen him since leaving New York City.  He was nearly skipping in right echelon point position of the small group.  The lieutenant waddled slowly in his commander's wingman position and wondered how to break the unwelcome news that he'd been keeping close-beaked about.  As they approached the polar bear habitat, he pushed to the front of his team to stall returning to their interim home.  It took a moment to spot the bear family because they blended in well with the concrete rocks.

"Hi, Imelda, what's shaking --- cover the Private's eyes, Rico, quick!  Cover your own eyes or I'll do it for you and now for Skipper's oh good golly that leaves me out --- "

Skipper backed away.  "What the deuce, Kowalski?  She's giving her son a midnight snack.  It's beautiful."

Marcus unlatched and waved.  "Hi!  What's up?"

"We can wait until you're finished with him, Imelda."  Kowalski stared at a point over the polar bear's left shoulder as she sat cuddling her son.  "Um, anything new with you?"  Imelda's and Marcus' coats looked silvery in the dispersed light from the flat sky.  Kowalski calculated that before long, fog would creep in on little penguin feet and their zoo might lose attendance even more than with snow.  At least fewer humans meant that covert operations would be in less danger of exposure.  

Imelda nuzzled the top of Marcus' head before shoving him away.  "That'th all for NOW, you RATHCAL.  Keep the little mouth THUT tho grownupth can TALK."  She ambled to her moat to splash ungracefully before hauling out by the habitat fence.  She nudged aside the bars as before and stood on all fours in front of the group to eye Sasquatch with the calm that comes from great power and ferocious fangs.
"The watermelon THNOW ith thtupendouth, I lotht forty more poundth, and THITH one" --- she jerked her head at Sasquatch --- "hath a roomie."

Skipper took control.  "We know about him, but thanks anyway.  We'll be going now.  Stay sharp."

Sasquatch had something to say.  "Good on you to lose weight.  Feeding littles takes it out of you, I remember."

"MMM-HMMM.  And you never KNOW which time will be the LATHT --- "

" --- so every time is precious when they're at this stage.  Yes."

Imelda reared to stand on her hind feet.  She topped Sasquatch by a head.  "THO you're WITH them.  Good on YOU."

The penguins headed for their habitat at Skipper's signal.  He looked back to see Imelda and Sasquatch raise paw and hand in farewell before Sasquatch followed them.  She bent to lift Skipper over the fencing, but this was too much like Kastelholm for Private.  "We've got him."  With studied practice, the three boosted their leader over as their visitor shrugged and popped a handstand over the fence.  She twisted in midair to cling to the fence on the other side.  She faced the moat with a grimace while clutching the top rail behind her.

"Don't like the water, eh?"  Private tried not to sound smug as he, Rico, and Kowalski plunged into the moat to hit the beach on the other side.  
"This way, Sasquatch.  Like me."  Skipper could waddle along the base of the fencing to the isthmus that the keepers used to service the habitat island, but the pathway was too narrow for her.  She sidled on the fencing's bottom rail with nimble size 15EEE heels until reaching the isthmus.  The isthmus had a culvert at its bottom to keep the moat's water in one cohesive entity although it seemed broken in two by the isthmus topping it.  The implications to her own identity soothed her nerves.

Sasquatch took in the solidarity of the group before her as they high-oned the successful information gathering and consolidation of their plan.  After Skipper gestured broadly to make herself at home, she spied the apex of their habitat's housing faux rocks and climbed to the top.  She left the world behind as she faced where the waning crescent moon would be, and still was, though she could not see it.  She spread her arms and tilted her head back.

Rico pointed at Sasquatch.  "Samez bfor."

"Interesting."  Skipper slapped Kowalski's butt.  "With tonight's intel we can get Operation: Plug A Blowhole rolling full tilt tomorrow.  That's more like it!"

Kowalski had to put forth his revisions and he really didn't want to do it in the quarters area of their habitat.  Experience and Dr. Phil stated that when delivering unwanted news, it helped if strangers witnessed the event to provide a social damper on cyclonic tempers.  He sneaked a look at Sasquatch as she stood on top of their island rocks.  A lilting cry hit his earholes.  "Skipper, Åland's working week ended last evening and I - I didn't calculate socialistic union rules into our plan.  It's not likely that organic milk will be delivered on weekends as on weekdays to a small zoo café, now if it were a large institution such as a hospital or government building that would be different --- "

Skipper hadn't had a good rant in some time.  He cut loose despite any outsider onlookers.  "What!  Do you mean to stand there and tell me that just because the working week is over with that the milk trucks brapping stop delivery for 48 hours?  That's disgusting!  The zoo is open both weekend days!  I've never heard of anything like this, it's another reason to never ever travel outside the Ewe Ess of Ay, it's positively un-American --- "  Kowalski pointed in the direction of the main entrance flagpole where the Finnish flag would be waving if it were daytime.  "Oh.  Right."  

Their leader inhaled sharply and continued.  "Little kids getting contaminated drinks, not to mention oldsters who need their calcium and pregnant humans who likewise need vitamins found in hippie milk --- "

Skipper would hyperventilate and get dizzy if he went on much longer.  As his leader's second, it was Kowalski's task to redirect rage into safer channels.  He lay the groundwork for the duel.  "Sir, waiting until the working week begins once more is far the better option than attempting another route to the airport area in the next two days.  We can gather more intel to be prepared.  Given that Gavina hasn't broadcast ice worm stories lately --- "

"That we know of, Kowalski.  There's no DVR and we don't monitor the TV 24/7."

Riposte.  "Nor would we in New York City.  Cut us and yourself some slack, sir.  As for the organic milk, refrigeration studies show --- "

"Don't give me refrigeration when Blowhole is out there doing something with giant worms, oh braap, worms --- dirt --- ground --- underground, could the Mole Men be in on Blowhole's plan?"  Skipper knotted his flippers behind his back and paced faster.

Parry by exaggeration.  "Lysenko's lineage, could it be true?  Or what about Zookeeper Frances?  She's out of work and has oodles of time to fritter on idle schemes!  Maybe Clemson and Savio helped --- "

"Clemson is a lemur and Savio is a snake.  I'm thinking humans and dolphins plotting together.  Keep it real, amigo."

Now advance-lunge.  "Do we even know if Mole Men are fully human?"

Private's mind was officially blown.  "Skippa, my head hurts."  

"Ngyah," agreed Rico.

Skipper did a reality check as his breathing slowed.  "Okay okay.  We play it loose.  I'm shelving the Mole Men idea until proven otherwise."

Absence of blade.  "Well put, sir."  Kowalski yearned for his lab.  Was it something in the water that promoted these wild ideas?  Was Skipper susceptible because of his Kastelholm injuries?  Were Sasquatch and Hugo in their mind talk affecting his vulnerable brain consciously or unconsciously?  He sighed and took a leaf from his own book: Prioritize to concentrate on what you can fix.

IOIOIOIOIO

TBC
 
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"Another giant worm off the assembly line!  Here's how I did it," gloated Blowhole.  Ten minutes later, everyone's eyes glazed over except for Kowalski's.  He kept nodding and nearly burst out with a question for Blowhole until Rico nudged him.  He twitched and resumed mumbling to himself.

Blowhole had a captive audience in Sasquatch and he knew it.  "A transposon is a DNA sequence that can change position within a genome, i.e., jump to create or reverse mutations.  The cell's genome size gets altered as much as yours and my worms' did.  Class II transposons encode the protein transposase which they need for insertion and excision.  E-e-e-e-e-evolution for the win!  We masterminds alter DNA inside a living organism, and viola, ordinary worms explode into giants and you became a new kind of animal.  You may applaud."

Sasquatch snorted, a small bit of sass that boded well for her general mood.  She seemed heartened by having a friend living with her, and Skipper couldn't fault her for that.  "A result that I asked for, received, and now you need to reverse since my commission as your assassin has ended.  It doesn't get any easier waiting day after dreary day even when you explain your methods."

Blowhole harpooned his minion with an expert's aimed putdown.  "Evolution may deactivate DNA transposons, leaving them as inactive sequences.  If I wanted to, I could use my Nepal lab to blast your vertebrate cells to evolve you into who knows what.  You'd be even farther from your original kind."

Sasquatch ran a hand over her bristling sagittal fur.  "Go on.  You love hearing yourself spout hot air."  She disguised a disgusted shake of the head as a chance to spy on her interim herd.  Skipper came away from the end of the manger to make drawing out gestures.  After crossing her arms, she nodded to Blowhole to continue as if she knew she were in for a long lecture.

"Because I'm in a good mood tonight, I'll let you get away with that remark.  Very well.  Here's the skinny."  By the way that Sasquatch's head swiveled, Skipper supposed that Blowhole rode his segway back and forth and the background swirling around the iPhone's transmission distracted her.  He must be in a fairly large area if he could pace, figuratively speaking.  If he were scientifically excited to talk a lot, so much the better.  Loose lips sank ships.  Dolphins had thin lips, but oh well.  

"Mutagenesis means that a transposon jumps into a gene and produces a mutation inside living organisms such as my worms and oh right, you," Blowhole rhapsodized.  "Excessive transposon activity could result in RNA interference so you'd risk becoming a genetic muddle with inactive stretches of genes and oh gads, the genetic splicer works best on plants so you may have wound up a kudzu!  Ma-a-a-a-a-agnificent!  Blowhole, you genius!  You kept your subject within the same kingdom!"  Skipper couldn't see Sasquatch's face at this news and didn't want to.  She remained stoic as Blowhole talked himself away from delusions of grandeur into lauding the bonesaw set into Dave's surgical table.  After a while, the dolphin with the doctor's degree from the internet displayed his skewed version of a bedside manner to his one time patient.

"You won't be the same as before, you realize, because it would take too much time to clone your discarded bits, like your --- "

"I never expected to be exactly as before."  There was sorrow and strength in Sasquatch's words.  "Not even you can work miracles."

"Far from it."  Well.  Humility was unexpected.  As Skipper suspected, it didn't last long.  Imaginative curses that he'd never heard before came next.  "Gotta go.  We may need to move the lorry.  Ciao."  Grab onto him, Skipper projected at her with all his might, and don't let him leave.  Act interested and do it now.  At the moment, he wished he were a sasquatch himself.  He could think her through proven interrogation techniques.

Sasquatch canted one hip and splayed a hand on it while riffling her cheek fringes with the other.  She cocked her head.  "Stay awhile longer, can't you?  You've never told me your experiences that led you to where you are today.  I'm fascinated."  She shifted her weight to cant her other hip and switched hand positions.  She jerked as if hearing a strange sound and added a coquettish twirl of chin whiskers.  

Skipper caught movement out of the corner of his eye and snapped his head around.  On the fringe of their group, Hugo rubbed his forehead and mouthed indistinct words while shimmying his hips like Ringtail warming up his congada.

Kowalski, Rico, and Private smiled broadly.  Skipper shrugged a "What is it?" at them.  Rico responded by placing one flipper on a hip and mincing in a circle, batting his eyes.  Private couldn't keep it together.  He leaned into Kowalski's chest gasping until Kowalski tucked him under his flipper as the young penguin shook silently.  Hugo gave them all a dirty look.  The orangutan flashed a hand gesture in what Skipper recognized as sign language and since it wasn't ASL, he felt at sea.  He hated feeling at sea when he wasn't even allowed to get wet.  He rubbed his chest as he strained to understand her technique.

"Today's your lucky day.  The patrol car drove right on by.  Hmmm, where to start?  Once upon a time not too long ago, an innocent dolphin performed three shows a day in an American aquatic park.  He little realized that his glorious destiny and his accomplished past were clouded by the Dark Side that is a certain pen-gu-in who has paid the full price for his heinous crimes.  That's Skipper, in case you --- "

"I get it.  I get it."  Sasquatch replaced her impatient tone with a more congenial one after more mutters from Hugo.  "Continue, I'm dying to hear more."

"Our dolphin friend wasted months performing and when he became the park's second most popular attraction, he nearly busted his proverbial buttons with pride.  Pathetic, right?"

Oh.  This was flirting.  In Skipper's wide experience, it took reams of confidence.  Did she have it, that was the question.  "You were only second?  That shouldn't have been!  Who was first?"

Blowhole burbled his exhale in the disgusting way that made their beaks itch.  "Two disabled pen-gu-ins who worked in unbelievable tandem in their routine.  In fact, they reminded me of Skipper's boresome foursome's teamwork.  I forget their names, but they milked their wooden leg and crippled flipper bit until I got sick of it.  The cretin humans didn't, though.  Right before I busted out, the pair made poster pen-gu-ins for Handicapable Habitats Hub and you're stalling me, aren't you."

"No."  She didn't stammer, good on her.  "I'm actually interested."  Oh ho, Skipper had heard this one on dates more times than he wanted to admit.  Now she ought to deploy Routine Number Five: When Speaking With A Techhead, Seize The One Term You Know And Run With It.  "So Blowhole, you say that I may be a plant a month from now?"  Right on the money, lady.

"I don't want it to happen, so it won't.  Have a little faith in me, m'kay?"

"Oh sure, sure.  Go on with your backstory, please."

"Dolphin Boy gets his genius back, returns to his jim dandy base complete with brilliant plan for ruling the world with assistance by Parker The Platypus, and the pen-gu-ins happen again.  Big apocalyptic boom, Dolphin Boy is adrift with his minion on a flotsam raft."  The team leaned forward to hear the part of the story they didn't know.  "That's me and him, in case you ---"

"I guessed."

"I'm not dead of starvation because Parker fished for me.  Have you ever tried to pick out individual fish from a school with just one eye?  It's not easy frijoles, baby, and my laser beam just charcoals them.  I told Parker I'd pay him on spec from my next scheme if he'd save my life.  He did, bless his mercenary heart."   Blowhole's mood soared with a prolonged cackle.  "When we split up in Cuba, let me tell you the Cubans goosed up their patrol boats when they saw a raft going into their fair country.  I dove off it to follow a fishing trawler heading home to Bangladesh and ate what dropped from their nets, Parker made landfall on a beach in Holguín, we keep in touch by coded Tumblr gifs, next question?"

"How do you stay so humble?"  

Hugo moaned and dropped his hands to his sides.

Blowhole's tone was noncommittal.  "I see you're bored.  Let's save continuing this epic until we're on the artic.  Don't want to peak too soon, ness paw?  Then we'd have nothing to talk about on the trip."

"Hugo will be able to understand you more than I can.  He's quite intelligent."  She was playing  herself down and Hugo up, accompanied by confirming that Blowhole was no more planning on securing Hugo's transport than he was performing tricks for little Swedish Princess Leonore's fifth birthday party.  Skipper sat back to observe interrogation skills blossom.

"Uh-huh.  Right."  For a megalomaniac dolphin, he sounded shifty.  "'Bye now, old lady."

Sasquatch managed not to lose her poise.  "Goodbye, Blowhole."

IOIOIOIOIO

TBC
 
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Sasquatch's headache threatened to resurface as she plucked at her eyebrows while attempting communication again.

::Finally!::

::I didn't answer your call because I was asleep.  We oldsters need regular hours and when we don't get them we become cranky.  Bad mood warning, ayam.::

::The news was worth a call in the middle of the night.::

::I'm here now.  Proceed to whine.::

::That's not fair.  You're my only friend in this place and I want you to escape with me, I'm trying, don't --- ::

::Maaf.  Let's start over.  Sasquatch, your call is very important to me.::

::The penguins bullied me again.::

::And you told them to go jump in a lake.  Good on you.::

::No, I didn't.  I'm taking them up on their offer of help, mostly, oh it's complicated.  I want to talk some things over with you.::

::What! Do you think they'll do their best by you when you nearly murdered one of them?::

::They'll help you get away too!  They said so.::

::So did Blowhole.::

::I'm reporting to him nightly and they're listening in.  I am not good at talking like they are, er, except for one of them.  Last night the meadow was grazed to the ground.::

::I have no idea what you mean.::

::The, the information wasn't anything new that they could use.  I'm afraid that if Blowhole finds out the bull penguin lives, he'll smack them all down and you and I will be left out in the cold by each side.::

::Blowhole scares me.::

::Me, too.  The penguins say that they've taken him on before and won.  Hugo, I can't try to kill anyone ever again.  It makes me feel cleaner to say that.::

::Now I'm afraid of going with you.  Perhaps it's best if I remain here at the zoo.  I'd not win in any fight with whack-a-doo dolphins or even commando penguins that I outweigh many times over.  Something strange happened right before closing, too.  It's not every day you get threatened by a walrus.::

::Harreram!::

::A motorized chair carried him in, well in the beginning I thought it was a him.  We stared at each other through the glass, as you do.  He seemed a run of the mill disabled guest of full years because usually they spend thoughtful time with each animal.  For a little while, we both enjoyed the warmth together over aching old bones.  Then he pulled off a stocking cap and turned into a young female walrus who hissed like a cockroach and said,  "Blowhole says to cool things with Sasquatch.  Stay in the zoo if you know what's good for you.  Word to the wise."  Then she left.  I'm shaking now reliving it.::

::The harami!  To threaten an elderly animal with a thug!  If I were dithering before about jumping the traces to join those birds, I'm not now.  That bandar ko chaak.::

::I refuse to go out of this world fighting or get hurt fighting.  It takes animals my age a long time to heal and there's not enough of my time left.  I don't want to fight, period.::

::So you give up rather than take a risk on freedom?  Good to know.  You could fight if your life depended on it, right?::

::Sometimes animals find themselves in unhappy situations and live with it.  You may discover that one day.::

::The penguins didn't give up even when I nearly killed their lead bull.::

::I am no penguin.::

::Neither am I.  Come on, Hugo, stay with me here.::

::It seems you are braver than I am.  I must accept that.  No, I'll not go with you.::

::I won't give up on this, my friend!::

::Let me know when you leave so I can say goodbye.  Thanks for letting me see family before I die, Pendek Orang.  I wish we could have had a road trip together.  Have a nice life.::

::Hugo!  Don't hang up your hands!  Hugo?::

::Still here.  We can talk later if you like.  My three o'clock playtime with my keeper starts now.::

::Later will work.  Don't be mad at me.::

::I'm not mad, just disappointed and mainly with me.  Eh, here she comes at me with the sign language again.  I need to concentrate on her.   She's taking my hand, oh tai, now what.  Selamat sore.::

::Selamat sore.::

Sasquatch squeezed her eyes shut as she reassured herself.  She was never a loner, she was a leader and saw the right way to do things.  She did them alone if necessary as she had had to do to utilize Blowhole's plan, but she was never a loner.  She wanted Hugo along, but if she were truly his friend she could not force him because his wishes counted.  It would be right for him and for her if he would leave and she needed more time to persuade him.  Sasquatch sighed deeply at the thought of depending on the penguins whose talents she needed now that she didn't trust Blowhole.  In the electronic realm of TV communications alone, she was a calf and not a bright one at that.  If --- no, when --- she was freed from this form and roamed with her herd, this zoo time would seem a bad dream.  She must keep her eyes on the prize.

The north entrance to her stable showed a gray afternoon.  The snow had stopped and patches of watermelon snow formed in various areas throughout the paddock.  On a whim, she sat on the tire swing to propel herself higher and higher.  When she stopped pumping her legs, she leaned back to spy the leaden sky with no clouds or birds dotting it to provide a focus.  As the air swooshed softly through her fur, the whole world seemed as monotone as the Pure Land without the spiritual joy.  She continued leaning back until her momentum slowed and then closed her eyes.

It was all too much.  Would Blowhole spill his guts tonight?  Could the penguins forge ahead without more information?  Would the Danes force their schedule and come early for her?  Could the penguins stop her from being stranded so far from home and what would DNA testing consist of?  Could she endure it with dignity if it were painful?  And what would happen eventually when her dual nature was discovered?  She might be put on TV even more than she had been with the king's visit.  Sasquatch didn't like TV.

To avoid madness, she thrust herself upright and gave a mighty kick at the white earth.  The tire swing spun tightly to its rope's limits and then unwound.  Kaleidoscopic views battered her senses and she almost cried out before her stressed brain made sense of them.  The stable, the fencing, the stone barrier, and the pine tree's trunk formed static images that became meaningful.  Why, it was almost easy to see the future if she opened herself to looking beyond the seeming.  Like the stone barrier, Blowhole would continue his plan because he considered himself unstoppable.  The penguins were the tree trunk, living naturally as they bowed to the strength of wind so that they would not break.  The fencing served as the immediate future, strong metal to bind her in her circumstances yet with openings to see the path beyond.  As the swing slowed to its last spin, the stable provided a sense of the home she would return to if she could only keep her head these next few weeks.  The stable was man made and her mountains were not, but both offered what she needed to live.  

When the dizziness passed, she stood with renewed purpose.  So Blowhole thought he could intimidate Hugo and herself?  Fat chance.

When Hugo's keeper brought him to live with her as her companion later that afternoon, she greeted them both with a genteel bow.  The keeper plugged in an extra space heater and the two were left alone to wrestle away any awkwardness.

"I told you acting lonely works," said Hugo.

IOIOIOIOIO

"Delayed feed, but we'll take it, right, team?  Scooter, tell me all the Rangers' dark plotty plots for acing the Stanley Cup playoffs!"

"They won 4-2 their last game so they may make the playoffs, sir.  I'm with you on their chances.  Rah Brassard Rah!"

"They're skatin' like blazes, look at that goal!"

"Rangerrrrrs!  Rangerrrrrs!  Brodwayblueshrrrtsrah!"

"Say, Bonnie, you and Chuck have been spotted at the Rangers' home games lately.  Is there anything you want to say to your news crew and New York City?"

"No comment, Scooter."

"Chuck?"

"No comment, Scooter."

"Subtle, much?  Foreign assignments together have been known to promote l'amour."

"Go away, Scooter.  My ninja skills beat yours at ABC's Battle of the Amazing Anchormen, comprende?"

"Aw, nunchucks.  You're no fun to banter with, Chuck."

"Exactly.  I save it for the right person and that person is not you, m'man."

"I know when I'm a third wheel.  But to get back on the ice, the Rangers play the Penguins Sunday.  Hornqvist is looking spectacular this season as the Swede From Sollentuna tunes up his game."

Skipper couldn't resist.  "That's an opportunity for the best named team out there, although I'm a Rangers fan all the way to the crease."  His squad lounged around him in front of the TV.  It had been another quiet day at the zoo.  The team improvised a luge display for the few guests in deference to his subpar condition and as they slalomed from the top of the habitat to the snow-covered beach, they scooted him off to the side right before splashing down to frigid watery delights.  Skipper took a moment to observe their styles as he awaited their return.

Rico spewed intermittent streams of water as decorously as a suburban home's front porch water feature.  Private made as if he were drowning and Kowalski lifted him in his flippers to the surface as his paternal instinct dictated.  Kowalski would make a fantastic dad, mused Skipper.  It was not likely to happen with Eva, Doris, or anyone else since their lives remained dedicated to their cause.  What was more likely was that Kowalski would brood about Bad Guys getting all the Good Stuff when they finally confronted Blowhole.  Criminiddly, morphing a peaceful yak species into a killer sasquatch species took the evil mastermind cake.  The creation of giant worms was the anchovy frosting drizzled on top.  

A second later when Kowalski dunked Rico's head, Skipper flashed onto how deadly Kowalski could be if he weren't on the side of the penguin angels.  Sure, many of his schemes would spin off into disaster, but it only took one success like the mysterious invention that was stolen when they shipped Rhonda to Hoboken to make Mother Earth not so motherly.

When Private's head broke water, the sight of his leader sitting alone in watermelon snow stirred his tender heart.  He aimed his splash away from Skipper as he burst out of the water to be at his side.  "Wot's up, Skippa?"

"Think melon time."  Private shrugged off the water droplets and leaned into Skipper's touch when the alpha preened his neck briefly.  "Got a little left.  skjdkth Hold still.  slllpgh There."

"Look at those two then, like hatchlin's they are."  Rico and Kowalski flashed by the beached penguins on their fifth underwater go round of the island.  In perfect tandem, they porpoised for the onlookers before making a hole in the water once more.

"I envy them."

"Soon you can swim again, don't you worry."

"Oh, swimming?  Yeah, that, too."

Private got up his courage.  "About Sasquatch, she could be lyin' about everythin', you know."

"Thank you
, Private.  I had not considered that option.  Of course she could.  I still hurt too much to throw out the notion."

"So you're goin' with your gut, then?"

"I am.  Next question."

"Queen Pleaseandthankyou says that sarcasm corrodes the vesicle."

"It's vessel and she and I would never get along."

"Well, she would try.  Sir."

"Go back and play some more.  Entertain me."

"Entertainin' now, Skippa."  Private bent his butt to the beach before forward open piking into the water.  Rico and Kowalski beamed upon his joining them in another three porpoises for the diminishing group of humans.  "Skippa's on about somethin', gents," he said on the far side of the island.

"Blowhole and a sasquatch to contend with on a supposed relaxation program will do that to a commander, Private."

"Lembe," concluded Rico.  Kowalski led them to the lie out between the Calluna vulgaris and the Viscum album.  It was in shade but they didn't mind.

IOIOIOIOIO

"He lives with me now."

 "So, Hugo, are you for or against us?"  This updated sitch didn't feel like a punch, exactly, but Skipper rolled with it anyway.

"My plan is to get away from here before I swing on the Neverending Liana.  She's with you wholeheartedly now and so I am, too.  In for a sen, in for a rupiah."

"Whatever that means.  Keep out of the way with us when Blowhole calls.  I'll take any interpretations on what he says, so listen hard, primate."

"Queen Pleaseand --- "

"Thank you for any future help, Hugo.  The end.  Now be quiet, Private, and scoot behind the manger, he's up soon."

IOIOIOIOIO

TBC
 
pronker: (Default)
 "Private was beating up on me so I had to clock him.  I'm kidding, it was just a bad dream and I'm moving on now.  Stop fretting and grab rack time, soldiers."  There was the usual rustling and shifting about until all was quiet in the kitty-corner bunk.  Neither Kowalski nor Rico could claim the same in theirs.

"Kropmmtztntcls?"

"It was a wild notion of his, Rico, we all have them.  Settle down like Private and Skipper, all right, buddy?"

Rico couldn't give up the subject.  "'Kipppaaaah.  Tntcls.  Weird."

"He told me where he fought them after he came back from his first solo mission.  He and I got a little drunk on the Gammel Dansk he smuggled home.  Let's just say that Atlantis has a darker side."  Kowalski massaged his neck.  "Good night."

"Nuh uh.  Cold."

"Our bunk doesn't get the brunt of the draft like theirs does since the wind changed direction  to arctic North from prevailing South Southwest out of the Gulf of Bothnia.  Hey, you know what?  That's like the Indian Ocean's winds changing direction during the monsoons!  Isn't that scientifically fascinating?"  Rico's silence was answer enough.  "Um, we're not freezing like on the ice floe leaving Antarctica, so there's that."  Kowalski's head  throbbed, but his neck hurt worse.  His pillow was all wrong.  "Give me your pillow."  He leaned over Rico and blocked the bunk's opening partially by making a fort of the two pillows.  He lay flat in the growing warmth.  "Ah, better."

"Nuh uh."

"It's the only option I can come with at this hour.  What are you doing?  I'm a scientist, not a pillow!"  Rico lay his head on Kowalski's belly and stuck his feet in between the two pillows with a contented rumble.  "Get off me!"

"Nuh uh!"

"Look here, Rico, the only way you and I work this communal living atrocity is when we sleep far apart from each other."  Kowalski bunted Rico's head off his stomach with a pained hiss.  "Fossey's knickers, my head thumps and my neck hurts when I move and my shins burn and now there's you.  I can see I won't get any sleep tonight.  The willow bark only took the edge off the discomfort."   

Rico scrabbled to his knees and rolled Kowalski onto his stomach before straddling his back.   "Cut it out!"  Kowalski tried a stomach pin reversal in the Greco-Roman grappling tradition, but by virtue of his headache he forgot the final movement and blended in a Tai Chi White Crane relaxation posture to form an absolute martial arts mess.  "Give, already.  I give."

"Quiet, you two!"

"He won't leave me alone, Skipper!"

"Rico, leave Kowalski alone.  Kowalski, keep your flippers to yourself.  Don't make me come over there.  Act your ages, for crying out loud, and remember: What happens in the bunk stays in the bunk."

"Acting now, sir."

"Sowwy."

Rico waited until peace returned, effleuraged the sore neck until Kowalski purred and then flipped him onto his back.  "All right.  I guess you've earned pillow rights.  Lawrence's cyclotron, what are you doing now?"  The pillow fort exploded outwards and then pitter-pattered the feet of one daring penguin pooh-poohing the need of light before tripping over the retired slop bucket in the corner and returning.  Two pillows slapped Kowalski in the face before he made out Rico's darker than dark outline and that of another penguin's who settled in their bunk.  There was a screeunch followed by three eeeuh eeeuhs before Faux Skipper blocked a great deal of the opening space.  Rico pummeled the pillows in to obliterate the rest.  He plumped Kowalski's stomach to his liking.

"Air, Rico.  We'll need air."

"Ahhahaha.  Ha.  'Kay?"  Rico leaned up to squeeze a flipper between the top pillow and the roof.  He waggled it to depress the pillow a bit.  Kowalski could not see his friend's expression through the gloom.  He pictured the eager to please look anyway.

"It's okay.  Pile on."

"Cannnnballlll!"

"Ooof."

"I said quiet! Key-why-ut!"

It wasn't the most restful night Kowalski had ever had, but it would do in a pinch.  

IOIOIOIOIO

By morning, the feathery snow kept up a steady drift and there was watermelon snow to anticipate.   They all looked forward to the simplicity of playing in the snow after breaking their heads about Sasquatch and Blowhole and securing travel to his last known position.  Their keeper tossed fish their way and hurried off and a shivering worker operated a snowblower noisily to clear the paths, but guests sought the comfort of home and hearth in the first major snowfall in some time.  Throughout the day, every penguin on the island but one became bored.  Near the end of opening hours, one bundled up disabled guest straggled in.  As he studied the zoo's map kiosk myopically from his PowerChair, he missed seeing a little scarred penguin twirling in the snow with his eyes closed while joyfully honking to the bountiful heavens.  The other little penguins stewed in a funk of ennui.

"K'walski, don't take this the wrong way, but I'm sick of your face."

"Private, it's mutual."

Rico opened his eyes after his final revolution and looked alarmed.  When his face crumpled enough for Skipper to take notice, the commander stepped in after a significant eye roll that encompassed his entire squad.

"Team, we've got cabin fever.  This could get real ugly real fast."

"Is that wot it is?  How did we get infected so quickly?  Why haven't we ever gotten tired of each other before?"

Kowalski had had a moment to think.  He called upon the expertise of an expert swimmer in these emotional waters that generally sloshed over his head.  "It's just like Dr. Phil says.  We caught it because we're on" ---  he sketched air quotes --- "vacation and we don't have regular outlets.  I miss my lab.  Rico --- well, he carries his kaboom with him so he doesn't count.  Private misses his ducklings to swoon over and Skipper misses Marlene."

"I do?"

"She's your girl bestie, so yes.  You must admit you're good friends."

Private floundered in a rut of negativity as foreign to him as anything could be.  "Wot's the cure?  I don't like this feelin'!"

"We need a jolt of something new, something unexpected."  The falling snow felt good plastering the bumps on Kowalski's noggin and he rubbed it cautiously as he considered options. 

Skipper was still parsing Kowalski's analysis of his relationship with Marlene.  He smiled and waved at the lone guest who wheeled past the penguin habitat to favor Imelda and Marcus.  There was no need to stage any entertainment and he felt at loose ends.  Likely the lumpy old person in the PowerChair would make a quick tour of the zoo and then head for home if he could tear himself away from the warmth of the primate house. 

"Bestie?  I guess."  Skipper looked bemused and then pointed at an object blowing through their habitat fence.  "Hey, catch that newspaper before it falls into our moat!"

With the guest now out of sight, Skipper felt no compunction to somehow return the newspaper that had slipped from under his arm.  He held out his flipper expecting it to be filled with the newspaper without further comment.

Private pirouetted like Polina Semionova as he retrieved the newspaper and threw out a stray remark with a sly look as he forked it over.  "I wonder how Julien is doin'?"  He blinked rapidly and looked as if he'd prefer to take back the provocative words.  Skipper's flareup was less than he'd supposed or maybe even wanted in order to end the boredom.  

"Don't mention Ringtail!  This is a rest from Central Park Zoo, sort of."  

Kowalski existed to point out inconsistencies.  "With Blowhole and a sasquatch."

"Did we ever believe anything will go easy for us?  I am not really  --- sur--- surprised --- that --- th-that --- I --- he --- oh braap.  Oh, braap."  Skipper's face fell.  "Here's our jolt.  Ole is dead."

Dismay settled on the four as they gathered around to look.  On the back page of the newspaper was a photo of an outsized rat in a trap with his head at an unnatural angle.  A human held Ole's corpse in tongs as if it could zombify and bite him in revenge.  As snow drifted onto the photo to blur the sad image, Private spoke his heart.

"The engine for peace has stopped outside the station."

Skipper shook his head.  "No.  The engineer has left it."  He looked sharply around the deserted zoo.  "Rico, a Viking's funeral for our fallen Norwegian."  They stood at attention as Rico produced a flamethrower to immolate the newspaper.  The black ash muddied the melted snow beneath until more snow interred Ole's papery remains.

IOIOIOIOIO

"I don't hold to his lifeview."  Skipper said later, pursuing a line of thought for the enlightenment of his team.  "I respect it, though, and Rockgut would have, too."

Kowalski added his own twist.  "Respect isn't love, and that's from me and Dr. Phil.  I would never desert the team for peace, Skipper."

"'Bye, Ole."  Rico's contribution to the farewell was short and bittersweet. 

Private searched for a profound thing to say and wound up reciting his duty roster.  "Your reread of the Routine Two lecture is noted on your Log, Skippa, along with poor Ole's horrible fate.  Wot will Stockholm do without him?"

Rico shrugged.  "Live."

"He'll have been inspirin' others to live in peace, that's right, Rico!"  Private turned doe eyes to the rest of the team.  "That's wot he would have wanted!"

Kowalski didn't have the heart to disillusion his young friend as to what Rico probably meant.  "Undoubtedly.  Um, Skipper, small towns such as Mariehamn often provide services that larger communities have long since given up in the rush of so-called progress.  It may be that a middle of the night milk delivery truck route would take us to the airport area where we could deploy to hunt Blowhole's um, hole in the wall gang."

"And take him down all in one night?  How would we get back here?  Remember, I'm --- I'm --- well.  You know."  Skipper's edge was blunted by Ole's passing and he looked tired despite their inactivity during the day.  Kowalski decided that Private would need to be in on a scheme to make them all turn in earlier than usual.  Not for the first time he wished for their surveillance gear hidden behind the all-purpose pivoting door.  He could save the team from trundling back and forth to the moose habitat if Sasquatch could communicate with their own 52-incher.  But she was not tech-savvy and what if she --- he gulped --- pushed the wrong button on the remote and they wound up in a three-way call with Blowhole?  Nope, tromping through the snow it was.

The milk truck route was an iffy option and not particularly one of Kowalski's best.  He strove to put a good face on it.  "Averaging our take down time of Blowhole not counting initial intel gathering comes to three point nine seven hours.  That's doable, Skipper."

"Includin' the time when the whole zoo was forced into singin' whether they could carry a tune or hit clinkers every other note?  And squashin' Chrome Claw?  And our first encounter with him when he planned to --- "

"Mathematics says three point nine seven hours, Private.  Here, look."  He shoved the abacus into the young penguin's face.

"I'll take your word for it, K'walski."

Skipper had a base plan to fine tune and he got right to it.  "I get it now.  We insert into the milk truck on its way out with full bottles, take down Blowhole and/or his giant mutant worms in three point nine seven hours or less, rendezvous with the same milk truck on its way back to the milk distribution plant with empties, and return to the zoo before opening time.  No pressure."  

Rico held up a flipper to signal 'wait.'  

"What, big fella?"  They watched him upend his duffel.  Soon they peered at a fjordphiliac cruise brochure for eastern Sweden.  "The Gulf of Bothnia, yes, Dekarsofjarden fjord is north of us and we are down here."  Kowalski's sense of spatial navigation served him well most times.  "A foldout map of Åland and hooboy, a map of the city proper for Mariehamn!  Here's the zoo and pictures of its amenities, all the better for international guests.  And us."  A café diagram with healthy stylized cows drinking healthy glasses of milk showed for a corner of the zoo they'd never seen.  "And you just know it's organic milk and must be renewed daily!  Let's hear it for organic!"

"Yay.  Hippies.  Yay."  Skipper brightened.  "But that's a good thing in this case!  We're bound to spot a pickup point for the milk and hitch a ride.  Take that, hippie Viking solstice worshippers!"   

They high-oned until Kowalski signaled behind Skipper's back to snooze early.  He and Rico joined Private in copious stretches and eye-scrubbings until Skipper caught the contagious yawns and flopped into his bunk without further ado.  Kowalski set his internal alarm.

IOIOIOIOIO

It was a briefer conversation than usual that night.  Skipper could tell that Sasquatch tried to stretch things out, but her inexperience showed and Blowhole was taciturn rather than blustering.  He stated everything was 'on an even keel, old lady' and signed off quickly.

Sasquatch turned to the penguins with a shrug.  "Sometimes he's like this when he's scheming.  I don't know what else to do.  If I can't get more out of him, what will happen?"

Skipper led his team from out behind the manger.  "We'll improvise.  We've got a good fix on his location and a general idea of his monsters and how he makes them.  What we don't know is the why.  So tomorrow is another day, I mean night, sister."

She leaned against the logs of her stable and smoothed her fur as much as possible.  "Will the snow slow down your operation?"

"Hell no!  We penguins live for snow and waddling on snow and sliding --- I mean traveling through snow.  Just you keep on his good side and we'll see you tomorrow."

She made a face.  "No guests today.  It was boring."

"It is easier to be busy than look busy."

"I had time to think."

"That can be a good thing."  Skipper didn't want to push after her revelations the night before.  He waited.

"Can I change my mind about helping?"

"We've told you who he is and what he does.  If you still consider him a good bet, there's nothing more I can say."

She frowned and twiddled her heavy chin whiskers.  Her brow went up and down as if there were restless thoughts behind it.  "I'm not used to being like this.  I'm a leader in my own herd and this feeling sucks."

"I hear you."  He waited some more, but she had nothing else to offer other than an absent wave goodbye.

IOIOIOIOIO

"Agent Twelve reporting.  Mission complete."

"I can a-a-a-a-always count on you to succeed in a surgical strike, Twelvie.  You take care now and thanks for delivering the weapon.  Breaking you out of Hoboken really paid off."

"Further orders?"

"Ditch the PowerChair in a, in a,  let me see ... ditch.  Continue cruising off Åland and keep your distance from any large worms in the briny.  I made them extra mean."

"All for the greater plan, yes I understand."

"I knew you would.  You're my soulmate.  Um, I mean, good, g-o-o-o-o-d that you get it.  Nobody else around me does."

"Hey, Boss, should I be insulted?"

"Why start now,  Blue Four?"

"Permission to crush him for you the next time I see him?"

"What?  No!  You're my solitary backup with Parker so far away, they're minions more of the -- the --- um --- something something bo-bleenex, banana-fana fo-fleenex, fee-fy-mo-meenex something kind, if you get my drift.  I need them until I, er, don't."

"As you wish.  Twelve out."

"Don't be a stranger, call me anytime you want so we can chat some more --- oh you're gone.  Crabcakes."

"Gosh, you made up a song about me?  I don't know what to say, Boss!"

"Blue Four?"

"Yeah, Boss?"

"Shut your pie hole."

IOIOIOIOIO

TBC
pronker: (Default)
Skipper suspected what harami meant and since her gaze passed through each team member to settle on him, he owned the insult with stoicism.  Now was the time to be firm with her.  "I've done no such thing," he asserted.  "Buck up.  When you realized that he's a hit or miss employer, that was your --- your" --- he cast around for something she could relate to --- "moment of Zen."  Now provide an example.  "There was Parker who got up in our feathers and expected to be paid for it by Blowhole and just ask Parker today how solvent he is."  Now clinch the deal.  "Keep up the communications and report them to us.  We'll guide you."

Despair settled on her like the night sky's new cloud cover blown in by the strong wind. "It's not just me.  It was never just me.  My kind are being killed off.  Even the Endangered Species List says so."  She subsided into muttering something in what Kowalski assumed was Nepali.  She kept shaking her head.  Once she drifted back into English.  "We'll end up like the saola and Hugo."

Kowalski suspected that she was dissociating from the moment as she passed her hands twice in front of her face.  After a moment, they fell bonelessly to the stable's floor.  She sagged back against the manger and let her legs splay.  He fought off the flashback of Parker and Doris together-together to pursue his original line of questioning.  "Sasquatch, about Blowhole's mad doctoring of you --- "

"Space squids!  Billy Mitchell's squadron, is he in league with space squids?  Can even he be that stupid crazy?"  Skipper looked to his lieutenant.  "Don't you see it, Kowalski?  Space squids, tentacles, long stringy worms like Messy subterfuge --- "

The headache wasn't completely gone yet.  Kowalski rubbed his eyes.  "And you said my imagination needs dialing back.  Skipper, it's Mesenchytraeus solifugus and let's consider calamari-munching, non-team player Blowhole collaborating with space squids."  He considered.  "Logic says --- "

"Since when does logic apply to Blowhole?  Melting the Arctic ice cap because he got bent out of shape over performing for humans jumping through a Ring of Fire?  Pulling the moon out of its orbit?  Making Chrome Claw to intimidate the world and expecting that a well-placed C-4 charge from Rico wouldn't turn that lobster into mecha bouillabaise?"  Skipper made blowing up gestures followed by a hearty smacking of his beak.

Rico slapped his flippers over Private's earholes from behind as one after another of their leader's Angry Words blistered the air.  At the last sentence's expletive, he dropped his beak closer to the young penguin's head and hummed the theme from Hawaii Five-O to muffle further B-bombs.

Private rolled his eyes as he twisted free.  "Really, Rico, I'm not a hatchlin' any more --- "

Sasquatch took in the four penguins involved with only their own group and busted out crying.  "It was going to be beautiful," she sobbed.  "The money was going for a stretch of Nepal land in Godavari resort area because the Jumla region that I suggested first is too remote and nobody would witness the Chinese shooting and trapping and dri-driving us off cliffs because they were hungry for our tri-tips --- "

All four stopped what they were doing and listened to the cry of a heart breaking.  "H-He would fund a reserve and our herd would wander in little by little over the border, you see, and when the civilized humans discovered how peaceful we are even though we are called wild ya-yeti and how my kind simply want to be left alone to live --- "

She crumpled sideways and poured out the words to the inside of her right elbow.  As she drew up her legs before curling her left arm over her head, Skipper saw how its pinkie was healing crookedly.  She still wasn't clarifying 'my kind' and was it -- could it be that she considered herself beyond any kind?  Had she forgotten that she was two kinds?  He and Kowalski shared a look and Skipper could tell that Kowalski's mind was racing.

Kowalski's thoughts motored as fast as Juan Pablo Montoya in the last lap.  She had to be yearning to be just one species again.  As she wailed on and on about suburban versus rural sensibilities and how hunters could not justify themselves to suburbanites scrutinizing butchering ways right next door, he rubbed his temples.  

"I didn't agree at first, but then he was so smart that it seemed he was right --- he's a lot smarter than me-e-e-e- --- "  Her voice changed from a pleasant contralto to a screech reminding Kowalski of Doris' and his disagreement over the beau who took his place in her queue, Harry.  

There were too many variables about the why of her possible return to normality when it didn't really count because the how and when mattered more.  Kowalski himself would not want to be anything other than a penguin genius.  In the end, it was private what species she considered herself and maybe she could never be normal again.  He hoped that Skipper would not push for irrelevant intel to Operation: Plug A Blowhole.

"What will become of me now?"  Sasquatch ended her breakdown as she lay spent in the dirt of the stable floor.  There was little left to say.

Kowalski surprised himself by understanding a female's needs.  He waddled closer to her woebegone face and limp arms.  "You'll go onward because the only way out is through."  He was joined by Skipper and together they voiced the best words she could hear.  

"Never swim alone."

It seemed that focusing on the mission had once more risen to the top of Skipper's concerns and instead of What the hell animal are you? being his next question, he pursued what Kowalski considered a brain fart.  "Did Blowhole ever mention allying with one or more space squids?"

Something rallied behind the exhausted gaze.  "No.  Do you think that's likely?"

The reply reminded him of what Marlene might say and Kowalski appreciated any ally to squelch the space squid tack of inquiry.  He suspected that Skipper would use anything to defeat Blowhole or to complete a mission he set his laser-like sights on.  It might be Parker's poisonous spurs or Doris' kind, wide-ranging heart or Private's hyper-cute, whatever it took or whatever the cost, he'd weaponize it.  It was tempting not to assign responsibility to anyone but his leader, although everyone on the team had to assume part of it to be fair.  He spoke up before Skipper could scoff at her doubt.

"We're taking it under advisement."

Skipper appeared to be erasing the ink of space squid involvement.  "I may or may not be right on about space squids.  I make constant changes to battle plans.  Get used to it."  He softened.  "What I usually do is consult this guy."

Kowalski straightened.

"And bombard with this guy."

Rico's grin was ferocious.

"And get heartened by this guy."

Private gasped.

"So we'll be in touch."  Skipper gave the signal for move out.  Rico pulled Faux Skipper from the manger as the team prepared to leave.  At another gesture, they slid to await him under the tire swing.  He saw their quick and easy movements and thrust down envy.  "Not much more to say.  Help us and we'll help you.  If you don't want to help, then at least don't hurt."  He pointed to his front.  "Not more, anyway." He brushed off a fleck of straw from his thigh. "And we'll still help you."

"Hugo, too?"

"What about him?"

Sasquatch dragged herself upward to wilt into a lotus position.  She opened both hands and rested their backs on her knees, displaying scarred palms to Skipper.  She took a cleansing breath.  "He's my friend.  Blowhole promised he would take us both away from this prison."

"You're just trouble all around, you know that?"

"But you need me."  She locked gazes with him as a challenge.  "And I need you now."  She presented her case without dirty looks or even downward twist of mouth.  It was a simple, level regard.  "Blowhole could return me to Nepal before the monsoon starts in late June.  Can you?"

"We shall do our best."

Sasquatch dismissed him with a nod.  It was a case of one-upmanship in her own habitat, so Skipper allowed it.  He paused near the door.  "One more thing."

She was wiped out emotionally and he took pity on her.  "Do you know what channel to change back to?"

"I could figure it out."

"Don't bother."  He plastered himself near the space heater for a final bit of comfort before heading out into the wind.  "This is the 'last' button for switching back and forth between the unused channel for lighting and the carrier wave from Blowhole.  Kowalski should have shown you how to do it before leaving, but he's taken knocks to the head tonight and he forgot."

She saw which button he was pointing to and nodded again.  "Thanks."  She rubbed her own head.  "There's willow bark stashed in a hollow of the second log up from the floor near where you're standing.  Take half to him and tell him to chew it for pain relief and give the rest to me."

Another breakthrough.  "I'll do that.  Thanks."  He retrieved the willow bark and dragged himself away from the space heater.  He handed half the bark to her along with the remote and the thing he saw before she pushed 'last' was her chewing the bark and waving a hand over her forehead.  It was the same motion that Hugo had made when Sasquatch echoed his words dissing Blowhole.  Skipper drew his own conclusions.  "до свидания," he said.

"до свидания," she replied.

IOIOIOIOIO

Private generally dropped right off to sleep.  Tonight was different.  Sasquatch had broken in front of him, spilling deepest thoughts and feelings as he did himself at times.  There was a reason for her attack on Skipper and although she had made poor life choices, the scope of her hopes and dreams was revealed to him.  It was a noble effort darkened by her savagery.  He couldn't reconcile the two until he recalled how much he had desired the Peanut Butter Winkie factory to continue producing the delicious sweet cakes and how he had pushed aside the welfare of Skipper, Rico, and Kowalski to fuel his greed.  He was glad the darkness concealed his look of shame at the memory because he knew that he had a tender conscience, he knew it and was trying to toughen up.  Everyone had high-oned for joy when the company restructured and extruded high-fructose sugary products as before.  He undid the crinkly wrapper of a Peanut Butter Winkie slowly so as not to wake Skipper.  

Skipper mumbled beside him and turned over to face their bunk's opening.  Private pressed himself closer to his leader because the wind had changed direction from its prevailing stream and now moaned through the less effective baffle of the ramp.  It snatched the candy wrapper and suspended it against the far end of the bunk.  He snuggled to share warmth and sucked on his Winkie.

razzafrack "Chuck Charles here."  Crikey, Skipper dreamed he was the anchorman again.  Private poked Skipper's muscled back.  

"Skippa.  Wake up."

"New York City citizens were shaken and stirred from above and below when tentacles fribbled from cumulack clouds and the East River to kromitz the gloggles of Central Park Zoo.  Upknocking officials promise that Channel 1 slobcasting will be given top prioricycle in its dunnage of the crisis --- "

"Wakies!"  He nearly choked on his Winkie and swallowed it hastily.  "Roll out!  Up up up!  Rockgut wants you in his office straightaway!"

"--- and now here they come!  Private!  No!"  Skipper would fall out of bed if Private prodded any harder.  He got an idea and tickled Skipper's pit.

"Ah hooo ha ha hee hee!  Stop!"  His commander thrashed and nearly toppled to the floor anyway until Private hauled on his flipper to save him.  With commando reflexes, Skipper's trained body acted from muscle memory and committed Routine 12 on his bunkmate.  "Ow!"

Private rolled from under Skipper after propping up his commander's chest from squashing his own any more.  "Sorry!  You were sleepin' loud."

"Whuh --- tentacles everywhere --- we ran like the wind.  And you didn't, Private."  Skipper massaged his chest as he settled back.  "Ouch.  Damn Sasquatch."

"Wot did I do in your dream?"

"You hyper-cuted for all you were worth.  They got you anyway and tore --- Well.  It was only a dream.  Comparte tu gozo y tus logros con los demás."  He yawned.  "And your actions spoke louder than my words."

"Why?"  It was rare to have one-on-one time with Skipper to talk leadership.  This was nearly as satisfying as the 'special briefing.'

"You faced the suckers after I ordered you to run.  What I planned was to defeat them by regrouping and choosing another option from Kowalski's clipboard, but you did what I wanted, just not when.  Or you tried, anyway."

"And I died for it?"

Skipper jumped.  "Yes.  Um, you might have.  The dream ended before I saw.  Don't do that, Private."

"I should say not!  Dyin' by tentacles is not on my bucket list!"

"Aw, drop it."  Skipper turned over to face the bunk opening again.  "Lie closer and I'll block the wind for you."

"Yeah, it's true, it's from the north tonight and it's fixin' to snow."  Private pressed his back to Skipper's.  He giggled.

"What?"

"Just thinkin.'  You're breakin' the north wind."

"Cut it --- oh cheese and crackers, now I set you off again --- I mean shut it.  As of right now."

"Bonas nochies, Skippa.  Hold on, we ought to trade places.  You're the one with the holes in his coat."  He clambered over to the outside of the bunk.  "Actions speak louder than words, you said it first."

"Buenas noches, amigo."

IOIOIOIOIO

TBC
 
 

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