Title: Escape from Antarctica, Part 2
Author: Zuffy and Littljoe
Email: zuffynuffy@yahoo.com


Escape from Antarctica, Part 2


The mammals were unconscious as Nuffy and the boys unloaded them from the 'Cat. They were full grown from the look of it albeit underfed. Our scientific minded members assume this particular species of mammal produces young, just like other forms of life. Our spies have seen them turn orange when they’re seeking mates, but no one's ever seen any little ones or even knows what they might look like. We understand evolution, understand our own ascent from the great Birdasaurus Rex of the Old Days, but we've never been able to figure out what bizarre chain of random fate might have led these creatures to their current state. When did they lose proper covering and insulation or the means to fend for themselves without all those gadgets that they cart around? Not that some gizmos aren't nice to have, of course, even for advanced creatures such as ourselves.

"Just an example of nature in its infinite variety," Grandma Uffy used to say. "If there is a niche available, some creature will evolve to fill it. It's not the mammals' fault that selection pressure on land is so abnormal."

Much as I wanted to feel kindly to these mammals, it wasn’t clear whether these particular specimens were friend or foe and whether they might be responsible for whatever blasted through sector C. We were taking a risk with the mammals in the camp, but I had a duty to keep everyone calm.

“So ya got ‘em,” I said. “What ya gonna do with them now?” Damn nuisance and dangerous, too. Now, fish I understand. They're food. That's the long and short
of it. No ambiguity. But mammals are a mess.

Everyone else was milling around clucking and cooing and I figured it was up to me to bring ‘em back to their senses. “Hey!” I had to shout to make myself heard. “Hey, let’s not forget The Plucker. Could be his buddies here.” We hadn't seen The Mad Plucker ourselves, but a rockhopper from the great cove came by and spread the warning. Plucker was a big mammal and something had clawed open his disguise and damned if there weren't feathers spillin' out something fierce. You can bet your life they weren't his own. Rocky had collected a bag of them and passed them around. They smelled bad and a couple of the guys said they were fakes, but Rocky said it was the smell of the smoke that mammals burn in their mouths. I'd seen that myself once. Anyhow I helped myself to one of the stolen feathers and keep it tucked in my neck fringe. Just a reminder, you know.

“Where you think the Plucker's feathers came from, friends?” Some of the younger birds, the ones that always gotta be the first to stick their beaks in things, start backing away from the mammals. A couple of them start chirpin’ “Yeah,” and I know I’ve got their attention.

"They're all bird killers, every one of them!" I let this sink in, y’know? "Next thing you know, these creatures will be wearing bits of you!”

"You want to RESCUE creatures who engage in such obscenity?" Glad to hear Roughy joinin' in. "Birdshido was never meant to include these unnatural--things!"

But sure enough it’s Fluff who tries to put a lid on the truth. “Now, now. We don’t know that these are feather-rustlers…”

“Feather-rustlers is too kind for what their species been up to.”

“These two appear to be wearing sea lion skins here and some kind of mammal fur. Can that be entirely bad?” Fluffy's windin’ up I could tell. “Now where is the seal that used to wear these skins? I’d say this has to be a good thing.”

“The ice is gone.” It’s the high-pitched squawk of one of those Chinstraps. I look around to find the source and so does everyone else. “I mean the light is gone.” He’s no longer shouting.

“Whaddaya mean?” I say.

“There’s a big hole in sector C, right next to where we found those two. Where the light is. Is not. Was. It’s gone.”

“Covered by a little snow squall, most likely.” Fluffy is looking over the scouting party and I know she's reading the expressions on their beaks. This was a crew known for “enhancing” their adventures.

“No, I looked. So did Leather and Tether.” The other two nod. “It’s just gone.”
“We saw it go.”
“Yeah, it flew like a gull.”

“They took the Light.” It’s Zany in the back and there’s anger in his voice.

“We don’t know that’s true. We don’t know what they were doing out there.” Fluff adjusts her crown the way she does when she's nervous. “Rushing to judgment is not the penguin way, my friends.”

Some of the teens are creeping up on the two specimens again and start poking at their legs, but Nuff cuffs one of them on the side of the head and they back off.

Fluffy keeps goin'. “We’ve seen a good number of mammals and we’ve seen them fighting each other. Now we don’t know anything about these two except they were out on the ice alone without the gear the mammals usually carry.”

There’s a lot of nodding in the group and my argument’s slipping away. I try a last resort. “Lizards.” I say. It stops the chatter again. “They’ve got lizard friends out there to take care of them.”

“We don’t know whether this pair is for or against the lizards. I’d say the scratches on their outer skins say something attacked them. I'm betting it was the lizards.”

Xuffy leans in and sniffs at the skins then stands up and shouts in that woo-hoo voice of hers, “Smells like that lizard stuff all right,’ and everyone crowds back in.

There’s a languid voice from the back. It's Bluffy, who's affected an accent ever since she broke a wing and the mammals captured her. Her captivity turned her into an expert on other life forms or so she says. “The lizards are after their young. Lahk the gulls.” A shudder rips through the crowd. Who had not fought with everything they had against one of those damnable skuas diving in to grab an egg. Traitors to their species. A lizard among birds. I can't stop a shiver down my back.

“They're a breeding pay-ar,” she continues. “Seeking a safe nest. This may be a ray-ar chance to see their young ha-atch. For scientific reasons alone, I say we spay-ar them.”

Foolish reasoning. What idiots would nest out by the lizards? But my argument’s lost for now. My soft-hearted friends are going to have to work it out for themselves and I’m gonna be watchin'. Those mammals had better believe it.

Oh yes. It was quite a glorious time all right and everyone talked about nothing else for months afterwards. Already some pengs have started to embellish their role, if I may say so and I don't mean to criticize, and even a couple songs have been written about it: "Saga of the Stolen Light" (takes at least three nights to sing the whole thing!) and the Chinstraps' "We Saved 'Em All, Both Great and Small. " There's nothing like birdsong.

As for my humble self, I was honored to be chosen to incubate, but it wasn't quite as simple as I'd expected. Mammals are such a silly shape. I had to keep shifting my feet this way and that and finally by lifting my toes, mine settled back against my feathers. I was reasonably comfortable, all in all, but cold. It’d been a while since I held one of my own chicks like that when they'd settle in just right into that little pocket. But chicks are nice and warm. This long creature kept hanging off the ends of my feet like a clump of seaweed and I had to wiggle my toes all the time, so they wouldn't go numb. Then I got an itch under my wing and tried to nip it without sending the sleeping animal rolling across the nursery floor. I thought it moved at one point, but maybe that was just imagination.

Across from me, Pennypenny looked a bit more settled. Easy for him, his mammal was tucked 'way under that overhanging gut of his. "Hey Penny," I said. He was pecking his mammal's brown fur. "Which do you think is the male and which the female?"

"Probably the red top's the male, trying to attract a mate." He didn't even look up.

"You think so? Yours has a bigger beak and I kinda think that means it’s more territorial..."

"Old maids' tales, Xuffy. A small beak doesn’t mean anything about a guy’s ability to defend his own.” This time I got the full benefit of both black eyes staring across in a challenge. Pennypenny’s always been a little sensitive on that score.

"Oh, yeah. Probably the orange one, all right." I didn’t quite believe it, though. Penny was pecking at the hair again. His mammal's face was getting pinker and I sucked in my breath and waited to see what color it was going to turn. "Hey, Penny. Watch it. You don't think it'll turn into a lizard, do you?"

Just then, Redtop squirmed -- no doubt about it -- and I leaned over to give it a good view of me and its eyes got really big then closed again, tight, the face all scrunched up. I poked gently at the mouth and the eyes opened again. We locked for a minute and I smiled but Redtop went real stiff and I started to panic that maybe I'd killed it. Just then the mouth moved and a little voice came out, real soft, and Penny’s mammal moaned. I didn’t want to provoke them so I nudged mine back further onto my feet. Next time I looked, those eyes were closed again.


Continue to Part 3, Escape from Antarctica.