Title: Escape from Antarctica, Part 3
Author: Zuffy and Littljoe
Escape from Antarctica, Part 3
As King, I made the decision to keep a careful watch over the mammals and when I checked the nursery a short time later, they seemed to be warming up. Their faces were no longer so pale and red patches were starting to show underneath their eyes. It was a good sign, though frankly it was hard to look at that flat face and raw skin for very long. Fortunately I had a good crew keeping an eye on them. More important for me to take some time to try to figure this out before they came to.
The disappearance of the Light was a shock, of course. It's always been there. It's one of the things we've always been sure of, a mystery certainly, but also, well, a source of local pride.
The legends go back beyond time and it's one of the reasons we've always been able to claim this territory as our own. The occasional tribe that camps on our majestic swath of ice doesn't stay very long. A few days and they take off in disorderly retreat, half running, half sliding across the ice on their stomachs. We've even had to adopt some of the chicks abandoned in the general panic. We've tried to warn the others away, but they haven't got the wits to understand our rationale, no matter how clearly stated. Still, word has gotten around, or so it would seem. Fewer and fewer other pengs venture into our territory and when we walk through their lands on the coast, they stand aside and fill our wake with their envious clacking. Among other things, we are tall and good looking, sharp of eye, firm of beak, feathers of purest black and white. Birds' birds.
But I digress. As I was sitting on my rock, the ancestral rock of the kingly line, a mechanical roar intruded on my thoughts, a low rumble then the high-pitched rattle of the engine and the foul smell of mammal fuel. I squawk the order that all inessential personnel are to descend to the cave, while the troops rush out and group into a defensive formation.
Everyone was in place and not a moment too soon. I couldn't help but notice that Joe and Zany had pushed their way to the front and the way they were making eye contact had me worried.
It's not often that the mammals chug into our valley. If they venture inland at all, they go straight to the Light. Some of us think they've turned it to ill. Me, I'm not sure. Not sure for one thing that anyone can take charge of those mysteries, which now seem to have disappeared into the pure blue sky.
Anyway, a 'Cat appeared on the horizon, apparently following the track of our rescue mission. Instinctively, the birds behind me started pulling in tight, but I sent word around to relax, stare at the sky, breathe deep, and feign nonchalance. There wasn't a loose muscle in the whole crew.
The noise of the machine soon overwhelmed anything I might shout, then the motor cut and a tall mammal jumped down. His feet crunched against the ice and he left black marks in the snow as he approached our front line. He was bareheaded and his gray hair frosted up right away. Two other men jumped down after him, though they hung back, staying within a step or two of their machinery. The three men weren't wearing seals but the jackets that puff out to make them look bigger and scarier. An old ruse that everyone knows about; probably a holdover from their evolutionary past. Gray Hair pulled something out of his pocket, started a fire and put it in his mouth.
"So where's Mulder?" asked Sunglasses, the second man.
Mulder. I made a mental note of our mammal's name.
"The tracks end here, if you haven't noticed. Evidently he drove into one of these caves." The gray haired one pointed to our sanctuary. "Go in there and bring him out."
On the left, Roughy leaned in to sniff Grey Hair's jacket and suddenly looked up and signaled to Joe. I tried to make eye contact and warn them off, but Joe and Zany were careful not to look in my direction.
"It's the Mad Plucker." Joe spit out the words. Plucker. The word passed from beak to beak, a puff of breath with each iteration of the hated word. Plucker, Plucker, Plucker, Plucker A hundred voices found common rhythm in the hated syllables, the high pitched warble of adolescents who hadn't lost the last of their grey down mixed with the hoarse voices of our elders. If the troops were tense before, you can imagine the effect of this one word in a low mesmerizing chant. Eyes turned toward the intruder, wings flared out involuntarily, some small stones were kicked toward the invaders, a few birds pecked at the bottom of the mammals jackets, wanting and not wanting to see what lay inside.
"These birds are creepin' me out," said the third mammal.
"Pull yourself together, Hasert," said Plucker, who inhaled the fire. When he spoke again, his voice was rough. "These are penguins, the teddy bears of the bird kingdom."
"They're too damn big and noisy. I seen 'em in the zoos and they're not like this." He stepped backwards and lost his balance against the tire track of the Cat.
Plucker blew out a mouthful of smoke but otherwise did not move to help his fellow mammal. "These birds are simply mutants, reshaped, shall we say, by the radiation of the ship. A by-product of experiments past. Over the generations " He waved his flaming stick, dropping grey dust on Puffy who set up a squawk. "Aberrations of nature, Hasert. Ignore them and search the cave. Even you can outwit a penguin."
"Radioactive birds?" He dusted the snow off his legs. "I'm not mucking around in a cave full of hot wildlife."
Hey, one bite and youre freakin penguin man. Sunglasses did an odd walk and shook his posterior then shrugged and went back to sit on the treads of the Cat.
Plucker ignored him, keeping his eyes on Hasert. "Will you cut the crap and go in there. You're armed aren't you?"
Hasert slapped at his jacket and I wondered how many of my fellows would understand the import of this threat. He pulled a black object from his pocket and started waving it around, finding strength not within himself but in yet another mammal crutch. "Ok, out of the way, you birdbrains." He stepped straight into the defensive line which opened a path sufficient for him to take three or four steps before closing in behind him. Roughy lifted himself on his toes and flapped his wings over the heads of the Chinstraps and started grunting and snorting through his nostrils.
The smaller birds - Guffy, Tuffy, Stuffy, Puffy and the others - nipped at the intruder's legs, tugging at the long strands that held his boots together, dodging his wild swings after each tug and pulling on the stiff fabric of his pants. The mammal kicked at our troops, but his foot met more air than feather as the kids ducked out of the way, dropping to their stomachs under the flying leg and pecking at his underside as they slid past his feet. In the commotion, Joe moved in and smacked his beak against his neck, sending him stumbling further into the crowd. The mammal caught himself from falling with a hand to the ground, then whirled around, waving his weapon in the air. Roughy moved in from the side and leapt into the air to try to knock the threat to the ground and even things out. The first swipe of his beak missed as the mammal Hasert pulled his arm back. His eyes were dark and full of fear and his breath smelt foul as he shouted and cursed. Guffy, little Guffy whod never been in a fight before, delivered a head butt to what must be a sensitive part of the mammal anatomy, and the Hasert screamed and suddenly the thing in his hand exploded with a flash and roar and new stink of evil. Before I had a chance to scan the crowd for injuries, Zany moved in and delivered a fierce bite to the mammals hand, pulling off the fake skin and knocking the object to the ice.
The other two mammals held back, watching their buddy drop to the ground in a crouch, one arm protecting his bare head. "Hey, man. Get me out of here." We obliged, pushing him away from the cave with butts and bumps and the random kick until he finally stumbled and fell at the feet of Plucker. Plucker laughed.
"This story's going to follow you around, Hasert."
"Freakin' birds." He rose on his knees and brushed off his jacket, looking over his shoulder at a couple of the boys as they kicked his gun toward a crevice in the ice.
Pluckers fire had gone out and he dropped it on the ground. "You can redeem yourself by coming back with explosives and taking care of this flock. Mulder's not going anywhere in the meantime. I understand the crew at the base forgot to give him a spare tank of fuel."
Yeah, well it was a total and complete wipe-out. Like birds 85, mammals 0. Nothin' more than the odd bruise or two on our side -- not that anyone was admittin to damage -- and adrenaline was still pumping hard. Someone started a dance and someone else took up one of the victory songs. The Chin-straps were doing a victory lap around the camp. Yeah. Roughy, Zany, and I exchanged high beaks.
A group of younger birds -- fit and ready for anything -- groups around us and they start stompin their feet and set up a chant, "Birds rule!"
"Plucker worked with the lizards."
I bet they brought the lizards to our lands!
"They're responsible for the deaths in sector C!"
He even smelled like rotting fish!
"I say we follow them and attack."
But it's a short-lived celebration, cause before you know it, Fluffy is up on that rock again, shouting to be heard.
"A well-won victory!" She'd better believe it "But friends, we must move quickly to escape their revenge."
Lets go get em.
"We're not afraid of no feather-plucking mammals."
"Of course were not, but we must use our superior wits. Were we able to fight them fairly in the sea well, that would be one thing. But they are returning with mammal treachery."
"Mutants. You heard 'im. Said we were mutants. It's an insult to all birds." Zany rises up on his toes to show off a fine form. "But we showed 'em who had mutated and who had not!"
"Give them the captives, I shout. "That's what they want." Theres a large rumble of agreement.
Can't do that. The mammals in our cave are the enemy of our enemy. That means, of course, that they are
"A hopeless liability. Turn them over, Fluff."
Fluffy fixes her sharp black eyes on me and I return the favor. Everyone else quiets down and its just the two of us. "You want to do Pluckers work for him, Joe? Leave them to whatever fate he's got planned?"
Damn it, Fluff. Thats not what I meant. But we cant keep these creatures."
"If we turn them over to Plucker, then we've mutated ourselves." She turns her back and caws to the Chinstraps, "Fire up the 'Cat. We're taking everyone to the mountains."
Just then a group of young 'uns bursts out of the cave, runnin in a circle shoutin Freakin birds, freakin birds.
I calmed the crowd down and urged them to turn their energies to rapid evacuation. Even with our psychological advantage, I calculated that it wouldn't take that Hasert more than a few hours to return with his contemptible weapons. It was barely enough time to clear out and head for our secret base farther inland. The last resort. We loaded the chicks into the 'Cat and half the colony followed them on foot. The other half stayed behind, a defensive force in case I had underestimated Haserts speed. With luck the Cat would return for our mammals in time for an escape. Those of us who stayed behind exchanged jokes about the Hasert and promised ourselves what we would do if he returned, but truth is, there was a lot of bravado in the talk. I've seen mammals blast fish and krill out of the sea. I've sniffed the air afterward and it smelled like a dishonorable and useless death.
So about then I noticed Fluff standin' in the doorway to the Cave, twirlin her crown and lookin' off at sector C. I come up and stand next to her. Neither of us choses to break the silence.
Finally, I go first. "Looks like a storm's brewin' out there."
"Could be our salvation if it blows away our tracks."
I nod, knowin' that there's more. Whats on your mind, Fluff?
Just thinking about this place and everything its meant. How long we've been here, building a birdly way of life.
I look around. Seems the same as always to me except for all the scuffing in front where we had our fun with that Hasert mammal.
Got the place chewed up a little
You and the guys did a good job out there.
I was beginnin' to wonder if you approved.
My heart was with you. There are just all these other things " She sighs, whistlin' through her beak holes. "Were not who we are, Joe. I didnt realize that before.
Sure we are. Top birds, just like always. You, me, the flock Seems like a damn silly thing for her to say.
"I'm just thinking about what Plucker said -- about our being mutants, experiments. Maybe we've less control over our evolution than weve thought."
"He was name-callin'. You dont want to take that trash talk seriously."
"He didn't know we understood."
"Still name callin'."
Fluffy goes all quiet again, so I step right in. "There's nothin' mutated about us. We're the smartest, biggest, meanest, and all around number one birds "
"And we have to face the truth. We have been experimented upon, possibly, or altered by encounters with the Light. Its even possible that theres a little lizard in each of us. Joe, we carry a special burden. Fate has a special mission for us."
Thats a load of guano. Nothin' wrong with us.
"No, Joe, I meant a moral burden and a practical one. There's a world of good and evil in what the light did to us and could do to others. Who else can bring the truth of this to the world?"
"Not those two in there, that's for sure."
"No, not yet. But later "
We cant keep them forever, Fluff. Its too damn risky.
I know. But somewhere along the way, the Light spawned those lizards. Maybe Plucker's two enemies can do something to stop their return. Maybe in the end they can save us, too.
"Whaddaya have in mind?"
"Don't know yet. I've just been making it up since I jumped out of bed this morning."
"Well, you've made it up pretty well." I put a wing across her shoulders and she does that whistling thing again.
Xuffy called from inside the nursery. The mammal they'd nicknamed Redtop had awakened. By the time I ran down the long entrance passageway to main shelter, the creature had crawled across the room to its mate. It tugged at my heart how sad its life would be if the other did not survive. Redtop reached into the clothes of the other, a gesture that I was convinced was a tender act of love, until it pulled a small black object from its mate's clothing. Roughy was ready to pounce, but I stopped him with a glance, for it was obvious that the object was not a weapon. Redtop touched the small red dots and made a small noise. The object made its own noise. I'd seen this before. The mammals carry voices around with them, never to loose track of the sounds of their loved ones for the aural seems to play a superior role in their culture. I had a sudden inspiration. This mammal was seeking help from its tribe, but was too weak to deliver the message. I stepped in to take command and sealed the rescue mission. I gave precise directions and instructions, describing landmarks, the angle of the sun, the length of the march from the sea, and the weather conditions. I repeated everything twice to make sure there was no misunderstanding. Shortly, I was certain, the friendly mammals would come. We wrapped our hapless charges in the blankets again and carried them to a visible position, then retreated behind the rocks and watched the success of our plan.
I spelled out the facts in the report. Mulder had told me he was going to Antarctica, hell or high water. I expressed some skepticism about his plan, but he did not ask me for Bureau resources and I had no authority over what he invoked as his vacation time. I believe he called on a contact of his in Congress who was able to pull some strings with the military. It surprised me, actually, that the Air Force hopped to the way they did and flew him down there. But thats not where I came in. I received a phone call a couple days afterward, as I said in my report, and though the transmission was garbled, I was certain that it came from him or his partner. I was able to put the Senators military contacts in the picture about Mulders location. A rescue squad picked them up a fair distance from the original coordinates Mulder had shared with me, but I dont know how he and his partner ended up where they were. Neither Agent Mulder nor Agent Scully recalls summoning a rescue, but given their hypothermia, this is not a surprise.
Well, thats what I said in my report and the Attorney General seemed satisfied except for the bill the military passed along. We were able to argue primacy of human life and the whole thing passed from questionable expense report to Spooky-lore in pretty quick order. Truth is, it was a lot stranger than that.
When Mulder took off, he was suffering from a head wound that made me even more dubious than usual about his plans. Hed made a lot of trips up shit creek in the years he reported to me, but frankly this was the most harebrained, doomed expedition Id ever seen. Hed obtained his precious lead from one of his enemies who then blew himself to bits. Part of me wanted to tell him to save himself, but my attempts to bring Mulder into a conventional way of assessing risks and benefits never had any effect. Particularly in any matter regarding Scully, Mulder is likely to put aside whatever native caution he might actually have. No, I wasnt going to be the one to try to convince him it wasnt worth trying to rescue his partner. Without her frankly, itd be his death if he didnt try. I wish I could say I wouldve done the same thing in his shoes.
Anyway, in the days after he left I spent most of my time at the Bureau, trying to figure out some way to keep tabs on him and it was already getting late when I received a call on my direct line. The interference was so strong that all I could hear was a loud squawking sound. Fortunately, my assistant hadnt gone home yet and she was able to call for a trace right away. Meanwhile I'd flipped on the tape in the hope that voice recognition software might be able to untangle the words from the static and distortions. The voice was frantic, that was the only thing that came through clearly.
So, there I was with an unusable telephone connection and if Mulder was asking for a rescue force, Id be lucky if our technicians could pull some meaning from the tape fast enough to do any good. I decided just to move ahead on my hunch. Central switchboard was able to patch me through to one of our bases at the Pole and I raised the guy whod sent Mulder out in a Cat in the first place. He tried to blow me off, said theyd told Mulder it was at his own risk, so I told him his ass was on the line if two federal agents were lost because of his bureaucratic navel-gazing and I dropped the Senators name in a couple times for effect. All this time the base was actually picking up Mulders frequency on his GPS - dammit if they didnt know exactly where he was and they were probably listening in on the phone call themselves. I threatened the goddam appropriations for their hardship pay and alcohol allowance and Id like to think that put the fear of God into them because they sent out a chopper to find them. Fortunately Mulder had had the wits to pack a couple of thermal blankets or they would have frozen to death. As it was they were unconscious when the rescue team found them. The doctors down there med-evaced them home. End of story. The technicians never did manage to find anything intelligible on the tape.
The springtime air was already muggy as they exited the hospital doors after their visit with Leila. Neither partner spoke and they touched fingers as they walked, not yet comfortable with a public show of affection. Mulder held the car door open for Scully then jogged around to the drivers seat and slid in, then wormed the key into the ignition. He cocked his head, listening for the balky engine to catch. His car hadnt been the same since his return from the dead. He swung his arm around the back of her seat, preparing to reverse, but paused as he met her eyes.
So you really dont remember either? he said.
She let out a sigh. If you mean your spaceship
No, I mean anything. Between the hug his eyes lit up, and the plane ride home.
She shook her head. That time is essentially blank.
You do remember hugging me.
She laughed softly and smiled more to herself than him. I must have lost consciousness after you started to warm up. I have no factual memories how we ended up at the base. I suppose we walked, somehow, in a state of hypothermic delirium, to where the helicopters found us."
"Supposition is not fact, as I believe Ive mentioned before. He began to ease the car out of the parking place. Looking over his shoulder, he continued. You think you covered miles of ice, crossing a small mountain range in a pair of my wool socks. Interestingly hypothesis, Dr. Scully."
She was silent and he assumed she must have shaken her head.
"And did you, while wearing a pair of borrowed socks, call one Walter Skinner in Washington?"
"Obviously one of us did, Mulder."
"Ah, what about the Facts, huh? Come on, tell me what you saw."
What makes you think I saw anything?
You brought up delirium. You wouldnt have mentioned it if you hadnt seen something.
"The mind discards delirious memories, Mulder."
See, you do remember that you saw something that you refuse to remember. He shifted into first and straightened the car.
"No, this is precisely what I mean about distinguishing between fact and delusion. Hallucinations can pick up environmental clues. So, my mind would have been free associating. We were in Antarctica, so "
"How did you know that? I never said where we were, did I?
She had settled her hands over her stomach in a way that he had begun to find positively irresistible. "I knew from " She paused and looked out the window. "I just knew it and so the way these things work, naturally I imagined, uh, things that fit."
"Things like? Cmon. Ive always wondered what form a Scully delusion would take. Something Cartesian or mathematical or maybe one of those Lego models of a molecule." Hed stopped the car and was watching her evade his eyes. Cmon. What was out there? I didnt have the advantage of any delusional visions.
It was nutty.
Ok. Nutty. I can live with that.
"I, uh she ran her tongue across her upper lip. It made perfect sense. I imagined the smell of feathers, beady eyes, a cold beak a taste of old fish. Absolutely logical "
"Feathers? What did you figure? We were captured by penguins?"
"There. You see how silly it was? For one thing, penguins don't live that far from the coast."
He couldnt stop himself from grinning. You looked it up. God, Scully, you actually checked on the possibility. She was silent again, so he continued. "But you saw them."
"Maybe that would explain the mystery of the thermal blankets."
"What mystery? Those were yours."
"No, I didn't think to bring any."
"How do you explain that, huh?"
"Well, not by means of giant penguins."
"They're giants, now?"
"Mulder, some things can't be explained."
"Maybe if we went back to investigate... It could be an X-File, Scully."
(As Mulder pulls out of the lot, the voices taper off, still disputing )
Thanks to Lone Gunwoman for advice and to Lone Thinker for goading me to write this. LJ and I engaged this as a joint project as neither of us would have had the guts to carry it out alone.
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