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Synopsis: The true story at last, with photographic proof!
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Disclaimer: Mulder, Scully, Skinner, and CSM are property of Chris Carter, 1013 and Fox. Everybody else belongs to Zuffy.
Escape from Antarctica
Sector D, Antarctica
I don't know whether I heard or felt it first, a deep roar that rolled across the glacier, the sound of giant seals fighting or an orca throwing itself against the ice. My feet hit the floor with a slap and I hurried outside where a small flock was staring east in the direction of sector C. The rumble was growing louder, overlaid with a high pitched whine, not quite a scream, and it shook with such force that I stumbled sideways and had to brace a wing against the entrance to the cave. There was a distant sound of churning water like a million Adelies going in feet first.
Aunt Yuffy had her ear pressed to the ground. "Icequake," she announced. She rose and rubbed her head against the warmth of her shoulder. "Over where the Light lives." Everyone fell silent, the whispers dying out as we all scanned the rough-edged horizon. Sector C is where the earth enjoys magic powers, not so obvious in the summer as in the long winter night when the ice glows from within and the ground hums and the air crackles like invisible bubbles dancing on your beak. Legend has it that our ancestors migrated from sector C, but it's not something anyone's ever been able to prove. The young ones used to sneak out past curfew and dare each other to dash across the trembling snow - heck I'd done it myself not that many years ago -- until a couple disappeared, and all we found the next morning was a pile of red-tinged down. We had to put it off limits. That all happened after the mammals started to go there, of course.
One of the females set up a sharp, high pitched caw, then again and again. A crowd started to gather around her as her shriek got higher, and while no other voices joined in, a few beaks were opening and closing in silent sympathy. Last thing we needed was panic with all the chicks to take care of, most of them not up to a long hike out to the coast. No time to even think twice about my course of action. I called up a party of Chinstrap scouts from the mess hall and sent them out into the hot summer sun. They're my most dependable crew, but a little reckless speedwise and I warned them to make their own safety paramount, knowing that it wouldn't do a damn bit of good. We'd lost team members before, sacrificing themselves for the flock, but each death is no easier for that.
The ground had steadied. Gradually the others wandered out from their shelters and gathered in front of the cave. A few of the females rounded up the chicks that were dashing into the sun while everyone else settled into a soft murmur of worry and concern broken now and then by a cackle from one of the wise-alecks. The distant hills were often hidden in swirling snows but today stood sharp and crisply outlined against the deep blue skies. I squatted on a block of ice and adjusted my crown to shade my eyes. The trio raced across the glacier until they disappeared among the rocky outcroppings.
King Fluffy gave the orders. Me, Leatherhead, and Tetherhead, to sector C, normally an hour's march from camp, but we set out at a jog. I wanted to take the 'Cat, but the King said you never know and of course she was right. Yeah, I know you're thinking it's crazy to have a hen king, but that's the way it's always been. Anyhow, the King said a quiet foot patrol is less likely to draw any enemy's attention. Or whatever was out there. We'd captured our 'Cat out in sector C a couple years back. One of the young uns figured out the controls and now we ran it on seal oil when we needed to truck in supplies fish, rocks, seaweed for the nests, the occasional prize from the mammal camp, whatever.
It was like all that shaking gave us an extra push, cause we made some kind of record time crossing the plain to the moon mountains and a good thing it was. We came over the hills just in time to see a second sun rising, a sharp white light pushing our eyes right back in our heads. So, like, we dived behind a rock, just til we could get a fix on things, and when I popped up for a look, it was gone. Some folks say it was nothing but our imagination and all I can say is I know all forty-three shades of white and this was a shine all its own. Yeah, this baby was different.
So, like I said, we cut through the hills and looked down at the valley and it's like some monster had taken a bite of it and there on the edge were two creatures. They looked like they might be starving sea lions at first because of the color, you know, but we got a little closer and they werent. These were the mammals that wear other mammals for disguise. I winged Leatherhead in the side and he just rolled his eyes. I didn't have to ask him his opinion of these goofs, lying out there sunning themselves and I was half inclined to head back to the coolness of the cave, but Tetherhead said they might be wounded. Tetherhead had something there because mammals are about the most accident-prone species God ever put on this planet. Tether volunteered to take word back to camp and bring some help.
I was startin to wonder about that missing ice.
The boys had disappeared over the hills and there was nothing more we could do. If theres one thing weve learned over the course of the ages, its that time freezes when you have to wait and you know its not going to move again until its damn ready. My shadow had shifted by the time a faint noise carried across the ice field, no louder than the sound of molting at first, then repeated louder and louder again as it neared. No question about the message. "Mammals down."
It was Tetherhead who gradually came into view, the fleetest of the scouting party. He brought details of the unconscious critters, the hairless kind that left us the 'Cat. The ones with feet separated from their bodies. Theyre a little comical to tell you the truth. They've adapted all right to the land and theres a certain odd grace to the way they run, but the only time I'd seen one in the water those limbs were churning and thrusting in a totally useless way. The impulse for the kindly environment of the sea is instinctive in all living things from what I've seen, even in these creatures cruelly unprepared for life.
At the news, there was a murmur through the crowd and then Joe's voice, unmistakable from the back. "Leave 'em."
"Can't do that, Joe," I said.
"Yeah, you can. Troublemakers." He pecked at the air a couple times then turned and walked away.
"Birdshido, buddy," I shouted. "You know the code."
He looked over his shoulder and pecked at the air once more.
Tetherhead roared the 'Cat through the pass and it was headin' right for us and I could just make out Nuffy, our emergency medic hanging on for her life as the big machine churned up the snow. Nuffy's the silent type, doesn't say much more than her name. That or "guess who?" Bit of a jokester, our Nuff is. Anyway, she knows her stuff and thats what counts in the survival game. Anyway her beak was movin', not that it did any good with all the noise.
Nuffy jumped off even before the vehicle had stopped and she had the emergency blankets that we usually use for chicks when a storm blows down from the south and swirls into the cave and even all the heat of a thousand isn't quite enough. You got to hand it to the mammals, they've got cool stuff and it doesn't seem right for them not to share. Everyone has to pull together in this life; youd think theyd have learned that by now. No matter. Thanks to their night blindness, we're pretty well equipped, if you get my drift. Anyway, like I say, Nuff's got a couple of them thermal blankets and before you know it, she's prying apart the mammals and wrapping them up. Makes me think of the chicks again. Just as helpless, not as cute, God love 'em.
While we were waiting for the rescue team, I had a chance to look over the place where the land disappeared. Not much to tell. A hole's a hole. I mean, what's to see except a bottom and sides. There aren't even different kinds of holes because they're just all not there. More or less. This hole's not even got that much because this steam stuff is rising and hissing and you can't see nothing for nothing. I was thinking maybe these mammals were up to something, them or them lizards you see hanging around from time to time, a more misfit race and mean as spit. We ran into one on patrol a couple months back, charging out of the ice like no bird's business, snarling and growlin' and nothin' between it and the cold night breeze and sure enough the damn beast froze up almost right away but not before he took out Netherhead, may he rest in peace. No one promised us an easy time.
Anyway, the four of us maneuver the two mammals into the 'Cat and I just wish I was driving instead of Mac. Nothin' like the feel of the pedals hummin' under my feet and stickin my wings through the wheel and lettin' her rip. Tetherhead's shouting over the roar that the mammals are shakin' pretty hard in back and Nuff's pounding on the window, so Mac lets up on the speed stick and we still make pretty damn good time getting back to camp. When we pull in, I see that Nuff's been trying to feed 'em like they were her young 'uns. Soul of kindness as always, but still somebody'd better wipe the cod dripping off their faces before they wake up.
Continue to Part 2, Escape from Antarctica.