“He was the one putting eye drops in just an saa ago!He’s taking the night shift the day he finds out Skipper was going to be fine! How could I have been so blind?!”
“Eve! Who are wewe talking about!?” Private called after her, him and Kowalski trying to keep up with her fast pace.
“Manor! Gah! I’m such an idiot!”
“You’re not an idiot, Eve! I should’ve suspected, too!” Kowalski pointed out.
Once they arrived at the prison, Eve stopped and turned to them. “You two stay out here.”
“What?!” Kowalski and Private alisema simultaneously.
“I know my way around the infirmary; I don’t need wewe two to slow me down.” Kowalski and Private tried to protest, but Eve had already turned and entered the prison.
Eve slid around corners and scrambled up the stairs. She stopped abruptly at the entrance to the infirmary, wanting to enter stealthily. She slowly opened the door and quietly stepped in. She peeked in, and when she saw no one, she entered.
She crept across the infirmary, staying hidden in the shadows. When she reached Skipper’s room, she took a deep breath and opened the door.
It opened fast and hit the ukuta with a thump. Eve stood in combat position as she stared into the empty room, with the exception of the sleeping Skipper. She looked around the vacant infirmary, stepped in, and shut the door behind her. She then approached Skipper until she came to a stop at his side. She gently touched the side of his face, which was cold to the touch, but his moyo was still beating according to the monitors. She pulled the cover up to his chin.
Was she wrong? Manor was nowhere to be seen and Skipper was still alive…could it have been a coincidence that Manor had eye drops and decided to take the night shift? She was about to leave when she heard the knob to the door turning. Panicking, she hid behind a gari that was sitting idle on the other side of the room. She watched as dim light gradually flowed into the room, along with the eerie sound of the door creaking open. Once the creaking ceased, indicating that the door was fully open, she examined the penguin-shaped shadow that lay on the floor from behind the cart. Her moyo pounded so hard she could barely hear the light pat…pat…pat… of the footsteps the other penguin, auk was making. When the penguin, auk was visible, she crouched tighter into the shadows.
She couldn’t see his face because his back was turned, but she knew it was Manor. He stopped at the side of the kitanda and stared at Skipper for a moment, then took the tube that pumped saline into Skipper’s vein in his flipper. Eve’s eye’s widened in shock as Manor started connecting a syringe to the line. She acted without thinking; she leapt to her feet and screamed, “NO!” as she charged at him. Manor whipped around; his eyes were wide with shock as Eve grabbed him kwa the shoulders and pushed him to the other side of the room. She then pounced on him and pinned him down. “Why!? What logical reason would wewe have to kill him?!”
Manor laughed. “Like wewe don’t know. He’s paying me, and he alisema not to let anyone get in my way…including you.” He then pushed Eve off of himself, rolled on juu of her and pressed his elbow into her trachea. Eve gasped for air when a twinkle caught her eye. The syringe laid on the floor a couple of feet away. She reached for it, grabbed it, and stabbed Manor in the shoulder with it. Manor cried out in pain and Eve was able to push him off.
She gasped for air and rolled back on juu of Manor, pinning him down again. “Why would Alastair need to kill him?! Wasn’t sending him to prison enough to satisfy him?!”
Manor grinned evilly. “Go to hell.”
“You first…” Eve placed her flipper on the syringe pump. “Talk.”
“Ha! wewe don’t have the guts…”
“Try me.” Eve stared hard into Manor’s eyes.
Manor stared hard back and said, “You’re cute. Your little intimidating act may work on everyone else, but not on me.”
For a moment they stared at each other in silence, then Eve said: “Alright, have it your way. Tell Alastair I alisema hujambo when wewe get to hell.” Eve began to slowly push the pampu in, and Manor’s smile faded.
She’d injected about a fourth of the solution in when Manor said: “No! Wait! wewe can’t…you wouldn’t!”
Eve stopped injecting and said: “Then spill.”
“I don’t know! Alastair only told me to kill him! He didn’t give me a reason! Please!”
“I don’t believe you…”
“I’m telling the truth!”
“Wait! Fine! Ugh…all he told me was…” He grinned again. “You should’ve been careful of how close we landed to the suture cart.” Eve’s eyes widened, and before she could react, Manor cut into her side with a small scalpel. Unfortunately for Manor, Eve managed to inject the remnants of the syringe into him at the same time. Eve toppled onto her side as she grasped at her wound. Manor got to his feet and pulled the needle out of his arm and held his shoulder. He cringed in pain and fell back down to the floor. Eve watched in horror as Manor began shaking and grasping tight at his chest where his moyo was. He cried out in pain and thrashed about the floor. Gradually the shaking and thrashing slowed into quick twitches, until he stopped moving completely.
Eve stayed where she was a moment, letting what had just happened sink in. Manor was dead. Alastair bribed him into killing skipper. She looked down at her wound and cringed in pain, squinting her eyes shut. She opened them again when she heard a small sound. She looked over at manor, and cautiously got to her feet and checked his pulse. When she found none, she assumed it was just her imagination, until she heard it again. That’s when she realized it was Skipper. He was waking up!
Despite the pain, she half-limped as quickly as she could to Skipper’s side. “Skipper? Skipper, it’s me…can wewe hear me?” Skipper slowly opened his eyes and looked around until he saw Eve, who smiled. “Welcome back.”
32 Hours Earlier…
Skipper watched the distorted figures above him fade into black, and he fell into a kitanda of snow. His vision was a blur…a white haze obscuring his view. A cold chill ran up his spine and he shivered. He blinked a few times to clear his vision and slowly picked his head up. Looking around, he seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. He pushed himself to his feet and scanned his surroundings. He was in a vast, white clearing covered in snow. The wind carried snow through the air, causing it to swirl around him and making it impossible to see past about a ten-foot radius. Despite the fact that he had no idea where he was au what was going on, he was calm. Suddenly a whistle resounded in the distance.
He turned toward the sound and cocked his head curiously, taking a cautious step forward. The snow pressed against the bottom of his feet, squishing between his toes, and making a light crunch with each step. He wrapped his flippers around himself, trying to fight off the cold and pressed on, taking another step forward. After about a dakika of walking he came upon a small clearing where some tracks cut through the snow. All was quiet until he heard that whistle again, which sounded closer than last time.
That’s when he saw it. Off in the distance, a train approached, slowing as it got closer. Once it had arrived, a door opened on the first compartment and a penguin, auk holding a clipboard stepped out. He took a moment to look at Skipper from under his white cap, then he spoke. “Come forth, penguin.”
Skipper was hesitant, but came forward. “Where am I?”
“This is where wewe come…after life, I’m afraid.”
“So…you’re telling me…I’m dead?”
“‘fraid so. Please board the train.”
“And if I don’t?”
“Well, once this train leaves, it isn’t coming back. So if I were you, I’d come in where it’s warm.”
Skipper considered for a moment, then figured he didn’t have much choice. He stepped slowly mbele and boarded the train, feeling the door close behind him, separating him from the chill of the outside. I must be dreaming… He thought. That’s when the most unexpected happened.
As he walked between the seated rows of small animals, he saw the badger that had helped him and Eve out of that animal testing place. They looked at each other, eyes wide with shock. Skipper took the empty inayofuata to him. “What are you…what happened?” He whispered.
“I don’t wanna talk about it…the real swali is, what happened to you? wewe should see the commotion in New York!”
“Commotion? What commotion?”
“Well, if wewe don’t know, I’m not gonna waste time explaining it to you. wewe still have a chance to get outta here.”
“But what am I supposed to do once I get out?”
“I dunno, but something tells me you’ll figure it out.” Suddenly there was a lurch, and a vibration shimmied through their bones. The train had started moving. “You need to go. Now.” Skipper stared back into his eyes, unsure of what to do. “Now!” The badger pushed him from the kiti, kiti cha and Skipper stumbled to the back of the car, where the capped penguin, auk stopped him.
“I changed my mind…I want to get off.”
“I’m sorry, you’re too late. The train has started moving.”
“You don’t understand, I need to get off!”
“You can’t! You’re too late! Now take your seat!” Skipper, determined to get off the train, turned around and pushed his way to a window, opened it, and looked out. The train was gradually picking up speed and cold, icy wind flowed into the compartment. He acted quickly, knowing that hesitating might make him realize what a bad idea this was. He climbed onto the pane and pushed off into the white abyss. The impact of his body into the snow felt like someone had just Tasered him; the shock exploding through his body as he rolled through the snow.
Once he had stopped rolling, he lay still, breathing heavily, watching the train disappear into the white haze. He pushed his aching body to its feet and stood where he was for a moment, then began walking.
He walked for about two hours, shivering and fighting through the cold. He didn’t know where he was going, but knew that he couldn’t stop. There was this feeling deep inside him that he couldn’t quite describe that drove him on. Maybe it was the feeling of knowing that his team wasn’t 100% salama yet. au maybe it was the fact that someone had tried to kill him, and he needed to know that whoever it was wasn’t going to go after the ones he cared about. Whatever it was, was telling him that he couldn’t stop, no matter what. Suddenly a small sound cut through the whistle and howl of the wind. He stopped for a moment and listened. He was about to assume it was his imagination when he heard it again; a small crackling sound reached his eardrum. He listened a little harder, trying to pinpoint the direction of the sound. He began walking toward it, the crackle becoming zaidi audible with every step.
As the sound of the crackling grew so did the intensity of the glow of a flickering light in the near distance. Skipper continued mbele until he came upon the chanzo of light: a small bonfire. How would a moto be able to withstand this cold? Skipper jumped at the sound of someone’s voice.
To Skipper’s right, a couple of feet from the fire, sat an owl. He had silky white feathers that blended in with the snow. The only distinctive areas that caused the owl to stand out were his dark colored talons and his golden eyes, which slowly opened as he turned his head to look at him. “Who are you? Where am I?”
The owl closed his eyes and turned his head back toward the fire. “I am but a figment of your imagination.” He answered. His voice was calm and mysterious, bringing out each syllable and his s’s slightly hissed.
“So…I am dreaming?”
“More au less.”
“I don’t understand…what’s going on?”
The owl opened his eyes again, and then he spread open his large wings and flapped them together, causing the moto to swirl into the air. When it settled, Skipper approached the fire, not believing his eyes. He was looking at himself.
He examined it curiously; he was unconscious, in a kitanda in the infirmary. A tube was down his throat and an IV was in his fore-flipper. A nurse was there with a clipboard, listening to his moyo and taking notes. “I still don’t understand…if that’s me…then how am I here?”
“This is just your subconscious’ way of adapting to your current situation.”
“And how exactly am I supposed to get back to reality?”
“That depends on you.”
Skipper looked the owl, then back to himself in the fire. Now Eve was kwa his side; she looked around, as if making sure she wasn’t being watched, then bent over him and gently kissed his cheek. She then left the room. After a moment, the hazy image of his resting body was consumed kwa the flames and disappeared. He touched his flipper to his cheek, recrossed his flippers, then asked: “What do I have to do?”
The owl opened his eye once again, but then stepped forward. He approached Skipper, his talons shuffling through the snow. When he stood inayofuata to Skipper, he held out one of his talons and said: “Come with me.”
Skipper looked at his sharp talons, then into his kind golden eyes and asked: “Where are we going?”
“I sense there are some things that wewe don’t understand.”
The owl smiled. “Come with me and we’ll find out.” Skipper hesitated a moment, then took the owls’ talon. The owl closed his eyes, and a moment later the snow began to swirl around them. The moto puffed out and the resulting smoke fell into the path of the vortex of snow. Skipper watched in sheer amazement as the snow whipped around them and licked at their heels. Gradually the wind and snow slowed and drifted slowly to the ground. Skipper looked around, and to his left, was Alastair and two small hatchlings.
Skipper’s face twisted in anger. “I’m gonna kill you, ya psycho!” He started for him, but the owl stopped him.
“He can’t hear you, nor see you. And wewe won’t be able to touch them. Just watch.” Skipper was going to say something, but instead just turned and watched as told.
This was certainly something Skipper never would’ve expected…Alastair was happy…and not in his usual devious way. He seemed like he was…at peace. He stepped closer, watching him play with the two small chicks. The small penguins laughed with joy as Alastair chased them around. Skipper wouldn’t have imagined Alastair capable of causing actual joy. Then one of the chicks stumbled and fell into the snow. Alastair rushed to her side and picked her up, cradling the weeping chick. “It’s okay, Eve. It’s okay, Daddy’s here.”