Author's Note: I apologize for the delay in posting this chapter. It won't happen again.
♦ ♦ ♦
Lorrie cried for about twenty phút into Preston’s chest and before he finally pushed her phía trước, chuyển tiếp and wiped away her tears before they froze to her face.
“Lorrie, I know you’re hurting but we need to move. Think about it this way. When we turn them in, you’ll have avenged Kowalski and his father’s death,” Preston đã đưa ý kiến softly. Lorrie choked and shook her head.
“It’s all my fault. I was so caught up in trying to get away that I forgot all about him…What kind of mother am I?” Lorrie đã đưa ý kiến with a staggered breath, trying to keep herself from crying anymore.
“Lorrie, it wasn’t your fault. If I hadn’t crashed the boat, he wouldn’t have fallen out—”
“If those men hadn’t been after me for threatening to turn them in, we wouldn’t have been in that situation, either. Why did I even say anything? I’m so stupid…” Lorrie argued putting her face in her hands.
“No, you’re not the stupid one. Stupid is getting involved with those men in the first place. bạn wouldn’t have had anything to find out in the first place,” Preston insisted.
“But if I’d just pretended that I didn’t know, I could’ve talked to bạn about it hoặc something. Then maybe we could’ve made it to bờ biển and gotten to the lều, cabin without anyone suspecting anything,” Lorrie shot back. Preston sighed impatiently.
“Lorrie, no. Anybody could’ve made that mistake. The stupid mistake is instead of trying harder to find a job and start a career, agreeing to deal drugs overseas for money. I could’ve found millions of other ways to make money. Why did I ever choose that? Because I’m the idiot. That’s why.”
Lorrie shook her head.
“Preston, I just—”
Preston leaned phía trước, chuyển tiếp and pressed his lips to hers before she could complete her thought. Lorrie’s first thought was to push away and slap him, but found herself kissing him back. Despite anything that he’d done to hurt her, she still missed the way his lips felt against hers. When he pulled away, he locked his eyes to hers.
“Mistakes were made,” he đã đưa ý kiến softly, “but nothing is your fault.” Lorrie didn’t answer, she only looked back into his deep brown eyes. “Come on, we need to get moving,” Preston đã đưa ý kiến finally.
♦ ♦ ♦
“Are bạn sure bạn know where you’re going, Preston? It feels like we’ve been traveling for hours and your getting weaker,” Lorrie asked worriedly.
“Lorrie, I’ll be honest. At the moment, I have no idea where we are. All I’m looking for right now is a marker. They’re pretty much just little poles about Antarctica. They’re about fifteen miles apart. They’re used for if anyone gets lost, so they can find their way,” Preston explained.
“Fifteen miles? And what do we do when we find one of them?” Lorrie asked.
“Just leave that to me,” Preston insisted.
“That’s the problem, Preston. I can tell you’re getting weaker. bạn need a doctor,” Lorrie replied.
“Well, feel free to go find one,” Preston đã đưa ý kiến through heavy breaths as he gazed out at the dark, vast Nữ hoàng băng giá desert as snow curled through the air as it was carried bởi the wind.
As if on cue, they walked for another few yards in the dimming light of the lantern when Preston grabbed his shoulder and grunted in pain, falling to his knees.
“Preston!” Lorrie exclaimed falling to her knees tiếp theo to him, trying to see his face in the faint light of the lantern. “Preston, come on! Get up! We have to get bạn to the cabin!”
“I…I just can’t…I’ve been pushing myself for the past hour. I think it might be getting infected…” Preston đã đưa ý kiến with his face writhing in pain.
“Preston, we need to keep moving. bạn have to try! I can’t do this without you!” Lorrie pleaded.
Preston took a few deep breaths and started to push himself up with Lorrie’s help, but became weak and fell limp into her arms, causing her to fall back down into the snow.
“Preston! Preston, are bạn alright?! Can bạn hear me?!” She shook him bởi the shoulders and looked into his pale, unconscious face. “Preston!”
♦ ♦ ♦
“Major Brinkit, I’ve locked in on our potential target on the radar. Over,” Svante reported over the walkie-talkie.
“What sector? Over,” Major Brinkit replied.
“The western end of Sector Thirty-six. Over,” Svante’s voice replied.
“And about how far is that from the rendezvous? Over,” Brinkit asked.
“About four-and-a-half miles, sir. Over,” Svante answered.
“Excellent. Keep me posted. Over,” Brinkit replied.
“Roger that, sir. Over and out,” Svante closed.
“So, what exactly are we going to do?” Kowalski asked.
“I’m afraid it’s just too complicated for bạn to understand how our operation works, here. All I need bạn to do is identify your human, then you’ll be taken back here while we deal with the rest of the situation. Understand?” Brinkit explained.
“Complicated? What do bạn mean bởi that?” Kowalski persisted.
“You’re just too young for our kind if operations. No matter how smart bạn think bạn are,” Brinkit told him kneeling down and putting a flipper on his shoulder. “Now, come on. We need to get bạn bundled up so we can leave.”
Kowalski backed up. “Actually, I like the áo, áo khoác that I made for myself, thank you,” he said, not wanting Brinkit to find the switchblade he’d been keeping hidden under it. Who knows when it might come in handy? Besides, he still wasn’t one hundred percent sure if he could trust these penguins.
“Are bạn sure? It looks kind of uncomfortable,” Brinkit asked examining the awkward cut of the material.
“I’m sure,” Kowalski assured him. “Let’s just go.”
♦ ♦ ♦
Riding on what the Major had called “snowmobiles”, Kowalski rode with Brinkit as they—along with a few other operatives—glided over the snow, following the pings of the radar built into the front. Just like their attire, the snowmobiles were also white. Brinkit đã đưa ý kiến it was to make it easier to blend into the snow.
After traveling for what seemed like forever, they came to a stop when they were about two hundred feet away from two figures who were moving in a way that seemed as if it were one figure from that distance. Brinkit picked up his binoculars and looked through them in their direction. After getting a good visual, he lifted Kowalski higher and held the lens to his eyes.
“Is that your human?” Kowalski focused in on the two figures. From what he could see, the larger figure—which he presumed was Preston—seemed unconscious, and the smaller figure—obviously Lorrie, he’d recognize that thick black áo khoác anywhere—was half-carrying, half-dragging Preston through the snow. He wondered what had happened.
“Yes, sir,” Kowalski replied. Brinkit nodded and took his binoculars back, then turned to an operative behind him.
“Take him back to base,” he ordered handing Kowalski over.
“Sir, yes, sir,” the operative acknowledged. His name tag read RIDER. Rider started to reach over and take Kowalski into his flippers when Kowalski turned back.
“Promise me you’ll save them?” he requested. Brinkit sighed to himself and nodded.
“I promise, boy,” he assured him. Kowalski smiled uncomfortably as Rider turned the xe chạt trên tuyết, xe trượt tuyết around and started back toward the base, which took just shy of an hour.
Waiting once again in the room that he’d been brought to when he’d first arrived, Kowalski started scanning over the pictures on the tường again.
He started to wonder what was so special about all of these penguins. How come none of the other operatives he’d seen have a picture displayed on the wall? What separated these men from them? There was also the mystery of the white monkey all alone on the adjacent wall. Why was he separate? Was it because he was a monkey and not a penguin?
After becoming bored with the tường of unfamiliar faces, he hopped atop the little đi văng and laid back, staring up at the ceiling. He instead started wondering what was going on up there, above the ceiling and snow. He’d been waiting for at least eleven hours, now. Did Major Brinkit win? Did he save Lorrie and Preston? What exactly did he not want him to know?
And how exactly did he save Lorrie and Preston? He…did save them, right? Surely, Brinkit wouldn’t have gone back on his word. Right? He wouldn’t have lied to him.
Brinkit is just taking care of things, Kowalski thought to himself. He heard a click and sat up in hopes that it was Brinkit returning, but was disappointed to see another operative in the doorway holding a tray that held a bowl and spoon.
“I’m Hurnam, with Special Operations. Thought bạn might be hungry,” đã đưa ý kiến the operative. He stepped into the room and shut the door behind him, then moved phía trước, chuyển tiếp until he stopped bởi the couch, kneeling down and setting the tray on the cushion tiếp theo to Kowalski.
“Thanks,” Kowalski replied.
Hurnam nodded and smiled sympathetically.
“How are bạn doing in here?” he asked.
“Fine, I guess. I just want to know what Major Brinkit is doing,” Kowalski đã đưa ý kiến with a touch of hope that Hurnam would inform him. But, unfortunately, he wouldn’t tell him either.
“Sorry, sport. I can’t tell you. At least not yet. Is there anything else I can do for you? Maybe to get your mind off of it?” Hurnam offered.
Kowalski thought for a moment, then looked to the far tường that displayed the pictures of the mystery penguins.
“Who are they?” he asked nodding to the wall. Hurnam followed his gaze.
“Ah, now. Those are some very famous military leaders. They all once led the Army hoặc Coast Guard hoặc Navy, hoặc whatever else it might be,” he đã đưa ý kiến turning back to Kowalski.
“What about that one over there? He’s not a penguin. And why is he all bởi his self?” Kowalski asked pointing to the picture of the white monkey labeled NIBORU SHINGEN.
“Ah. General Shingen. Well, first off, bạn should know that there isn’t just a chim cánh cụt army. There are armies of other species. General Shingen was the greatest to ever live out of any of them. He had the most decisive and well-thought-out military strategies known to man hoặc beast. We use those strategies today,” Hurnam explained.
Kowalski looked down. “Wow,” he said. Hurnam laughed.
“Yeah. Hey, how ‘bout after bạn finish your lunch, I hiển thị bạn my lab?” Hurnam offered.
“Lab?” Kowalski questioned.
“Yes, that’s where I spend most of my time here. It’s used for experiments, forensics, medical areas, and for improving our technology. What do bạn say? Want to have a look? It’s pretty interesting,” Hurnam proposed.
“Sure!” Kowalski piped up eagerly. Hurnan smiled.
“Great. I’ll come back in about half an giờ to give bạn some time to eat. Okay?” he told him.
“Okay!” Kowalski answered. Hurnam smiled, tipped his cap, then left him.
♦ ♦ ♦
“What do those do?” Kowalski asked pointing to a series of switches in the lab that Hurnam was guiding him through. Other penguins in lab coats moved about the counters, working on various experiments.
“They activate security measures in case there’s a breach. Such actions include cameras, hidden dart guns, and lockdowns,” Hurnam answered.
“What about that?!” Kowalski asked waddling over to a bàn with a large device sitting atop it.
“That is one of many untested projects. This is supposed to be able to hear a bug planted on the other side of the world. We call it the Intensifier,” Hurnam explained.
“What about—” Kowalski tripped over the end of his makeshift áo, áo khoác and the switchblade that had been tucked inside of it slid out and across the floor. Hurnam rushed phía trước, chuyển tiếp and helped Kowalski to his feet.
“Kowalski, are bạn alright?” he asked. Kowalski nodded.
“Kowalski…What are bạn doing with this?” Hurnam đã đưa ý kiến picking up the switchblade he’d dropped. Kowalski looked down.
“I found it…When I was separated from my human,” he answered guiltily.
“Why didn’t bạn give it to us? bạn could have accidentally cut yourself!” Hurnam scolded. Kowalski fidgeted with his flippers.
“I was scared,” he admitted hanging his head. Hurnam glanced at the switchblade, then turned back to Kowalski with a sigh. He knelt down in front of him and put his flipper on his shoulder.
“I understand. bạn just got here and bạn don’t know if bạn can trust us hoặc not. Am I right?” he đã đưa ý kiến calmly. Kowalski nodded without looking up. Hurnam smiled sympathetically.
“Well, kid, I can assure bạn that bạn can trust us. We want nothing but to help. We live bởi the chim cánh cụt code,” he told him.
Kowalski looked up slightly. “What’s the chim cánh cụt code?” he asked. Hurnam smiled.
“Never swim alone.”
Kowalski picked his head all the way up.
“What kind of things do bạn do for other people?” he asked.
“We help wherever help is needed. It’s our job to serve and protect. We do things all over the world. We even have specialized units working undercover. Out of any military group out there, we’re probably the most efficient,” Hurnam explained.
Hurnam and Kowalski turned at the sound of a voice approaching behind them. Major Brinkit was coming toward them, covered in snow and an unmistakable red substance.
Hurnam stood upright with his right flipper in salute, quickly shoving the switchblade in his vest pocket.
“Major Brinkit, sir!” he đã đưa ý kiến at attention.
“At ease,” Brinkit permitted. Hurnam relaxed. “What are bạn doing here with him?”
“I was just hiển thị him the lab. I thought it might keep his mind off of things, sir,” Hurnam answered. Brinkit glanced down at Kowalski.
“Well, I need to have a talk with him. You’re dismissed,” Brinkit ordered. Hurnam hesitated, but obeyed, saluting once thêm before leaving them. Brinkit turned to Kowalski and scooped him into his flippers. Kowalski wasted no time in demanding answers.
“What’s going on? Did we win? Where’s Lorrie and Preston? Are they okay? What happened to the drug dealers? Are they—”
“Everything will be explained in time, boy. Just wait until we’re in private,” Brinkit interrupted.
When Brinkit entered the room that was all-so-familiar to Kowalski for the past several hours. He once again set him on the leather đi văng at the far end of the room. Kowalski looked up at him anxiously. Brinkit sighed heavily and kneeled in front of him.
“The mission was…Almost a success. And I feel that bạn have a right to know what happened,” Brinkit started. Kowalski cocked his head.
“But I thought bạn đã đưa ý kiến it was—”
“Classified. I know. This is…Different. bạn remember when I promised to save your human friend?” Brinkit asked. Kowalski took a tiny step back.
“Yeah…” he đã đưa ý kiến nervously. Brinkit wouldn’t meet his eye.
“I just…I just need bạn to know that I tried,” Brinkit đã đưa ý kiến mournfully. Kowalski shook his head in denial.
“Wh-What do bạn mean?”
“Let me start over. After bạn left, we had to knock out your human Những người bạn so they wouldn’t see us, since we are classified. We chẻ, phân chia, split off; your humans were taken to a small medical facility located in Antarctica that’s run bởi humans. They typically do research there, but that’s beside the point.
“We made our way to the facility and broke in, releasing all of the penguins trapped inside. Unfortunately, we underestimated the mindset of the addicted penguins and a riot broke out. There was a lot of fighting. It still isn’t under control on the chim cánh cụt end. We had most of the humans contained in the facility as we await human authorities, but some got away. We have men on hunting them down, as well as the escaped penguins before they do something drastic.
“Well, after all of that, we decided to come back for reinforcement. I stopped bởi the research lều, cabin that we’d dropped your human Những người bạn by. And…I’m sorry to inform bạn that the male died on the operating bàn and the female died shortly after. I didn’t hear a lot when I listened to the humans—all I know is that the female had encountered severe frostbite and the male could not be saved because of blood loss from a gunshot wound, serious drop in body temperature, and infection. I’m sorry,” Brinkit informed him sadly.
“But…But bạn đã đưa ý kiến you’d save them!” Kowalski đã đưa ý kiến with his voice rising. “You lied to me!”
Brinkit closed his eyes.
“It was out of my control. There would have been nothing thêm I could do,” he reasoned.
“You promised!” Kowalski accused, turning his back on him as tears started to form in his eyes. Brinkit opened his eyes and looked at Kowalski dismally.
“Kowalski, I understand why you’re upset. But I did what I could. Please believe that—”
“Where am I supposed to go, now?!” Kowalski đã đưa ý kiến turning back to him with the tears trailing down his cheeks. Brinkit stared into his hurting eyes for a moment.
“Well…You’re welcome to stay with us. bạn and Corporal Hurnam seem to have made good friends. Perhaps bạn can help him out in the lab once your old enough,” he suggested.
“Stay here?! But bạn lied to me!” Kowalski shot back. Brinkit cringed at Kowalski’s tone.
“Kowalski, son, there was nothing I could do. This was completely out of my power,” he told him again.
“Why didn’t bạn try to save her?!” Kowalski cried.
“Because, I couldn’t. They’d both been in the harsh climate of Antarctica for far too long. Humans can’t survive that like penguins can. I knew that the only chance they would have is with the humans care. It just wasn’t as much chance as I’d hoped for,” Brinkit answered.
“How do I know you’re even telling me the truth?!” Kowalski indicted. Brinkit’s face fell.
“Kowalski, I understand that bạn barely know me, but I can assure bạn that I’m not lying to you. Your human Những người bạn did not die at my flipper,” he told him. Kowalski breathed deeply and looked down.
“What did I ever do to deserve this? hoặc Lorrie?” he asked slowly. Brinkit sighed sympathetically and placed a flipper on his shoulder.
“No one ever knows why bad things happen to the good ones. I am truly sorry,” Brinkit đã đưa ý kiến softly. Kowalski let the tears come and he buried his face in his flippers. Brinkit watched him for the first few seconds, unsure of what to do. He’d hadn’t had a child of his own for a long time now, and he just wasn’t familiar with how to respond to a crying child anymore. Slowly and awkwardly, he pulled Kowalski into his flippers and held him as he wept. Kowalski buried his face into his chest feathers.
He wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do. He wanted to say something comforting, but what could he say? Kowalski had Mất tích the only two people in the world that he’d ever cared about since the ngày he hatched. Brinkit gently stroked his back.
“I know how bạn feel, bạn know,” he đã đưa ý kiến softly. Kowalski choked and answered into his chest.
“How could bạn possibly know how I feel?” he asked gripping his feathers. Brinkit closed his eyes and took a deep breath, hoping to keep himself from crying.
“Seven years ago, I Mất tích my wife and daughter,” he đã đưa ý kiến softly. “My whole world was shattered before my eyes. For days, I didn’t eat hoặc hardly even sleep. I nearly took my own life in my depression. The only thing that kept me going is the hope that I could prevent that kind of situation from happening to someone else. Never have a felt like thêm of a failure,” he admitted before he opened his eyes again. Kowalski had already quieted his crying to better listen to Brinkit. He pulled away and looked up at him.
“You’re not a failure Mr. Major Brinkit, sir. I’m sorry I yelled at you,” Kowalski said. Brinkit almost smiled.
“It’s alright. I did quite a bit of yelling and finger-pointing when I Mất tích my family, too,” he admitted. Kowalski looked down.
“Looks like we both Mất tích our family,” he pointed out. Brinkit sighed.
“Yeah. Looks like,” he agreed.
A moment of silence followed in which Kowalski and Brinkit kept their eyes fixed downward.
“What now?” Kowalski asked, bringing them both back into reality. Brinkit hesitated.
“I was planning on taking bạn to a small village after I’d found out about your human, but I just got word that it’d been attacked. We have some survivors—all children. I suppose we’ll have to raise bạn all into adulthood, here. I don’t see much alternative,” Brinkit told him. Kowalski looked up.
“What about you?” he asked. Brinkit half-smiled.
“I’ll be fine. I’ll just continue doing what I’ve been doing for the past twenty-eight years,” he told him. Kowalski thought for a moment.
“Do bạn think that one ngày I could be like you?” he asked him shyly. Brinkit laughed slightly.
“Now, why on earth would bạn want to be like me?” he asked.
“I want to help people. I don’t want anyone to go through what I’ve went through. Just like you,” Kowalski answered. Brinkit smiled.
“Kowalski, I can guarantee that one day, bạn are going to grow into a top-notch penguin.”
END OF PART ONE