“All right, boys,” Skipper began, pacing in front of his men, who were standing at attention. “Question. What comes to mind when I say the word darkness?”
Private, who was furthest to the left, answered first. “When Rico pulled that prank on me at two in the morning,” he alisema bitterly. “I needed a nightlight for three weeks,” he muttered under his breath. Rico snickered.
Kowalski, who was inayofuata in line, then answered. “The theory on the mysterious anomaly of dark matter,” he said, staring wistfully in thought.
Rico spat a response out in gibberish. The team rolled their eyes. Only Rico would come up with “the way an explosion looks at night.”
“Okay,” Skipper replied. “Not what I was going for. The darkness I’m talking about is the darkness that comes from within,” he explained, clenching a fist at his chest.
“Oh,” Private alisema with a touch of concern, “what about it?”
Skipper casually leaned against the table. “Tell me, boys. Who do wewe think capable of harnessing darkness?” he asked, carefully examining his men’s expressions.
There was silence for a few moments while the team thought it over.
“Um,” Private started, looking down in thought, “badgers?” he suggested.
“Red Squirrel! Red Squirrel!” Rico chanted.
“All of Doris’ ex-boyfriends?” Kowalski suggested casually, earning him a look from his teammates. He shrugged. “What?”
Skipper rolled his eyes. “Well, actually, you’re all correct,” he said.
“What?” Private protested. “Even Kowalski?” he asked, gesturing to the penguin, auk on his left, who looked at him irritably.
“Yes,” Skipper replied, “even Kowalski. But you’re missing the bigger picture. The answer is . . . everyone.”
“Everyone?” Private inquired.
“Everyone,” Skipper confirmed. “You. Me. Even your sweet old grandmother,” he continued. Rico gasped and put his flippers over his beak. Surely, his grandmother wasn’t capable of darkness!
“I’m not sure about that, Skipper,” Private alisema timidly, hoping to not be slapped for insubordination. “You know I can barely hurt a fly.”
“Really?” Skipper replied calmly. He stepped mbele and stopped in front of him, folding his flippers over his chest. “What would wewe do if someone took one of Momma Duck’s children?—took them and did the unthinkable?” he inquired.
Private was caught off guard. “Well, they would have to pay!” he answered, the mere thought angering him.
Skipper nodded. “Exactly. Like I said,” he said, turning back to the others, “anyone is capable of darkness. Under the right circumstances, anyone—anyone—can succumb to it.”
The team was silent for a moment as they exchanged glances.
“What’s the point of telling us this, Skipper?” Kowalski inquired.
Skipper turned on his heel and went back to the table, leaning against it again before responding. “I’m telling wewe this because it is important for wewe all not to underestimate anyone. Anyone is capable of turning in an instant. One day, you’re the best of friends, and the next, you’re sworn enemies.”
“You act like wewe speak from experience, sir,” Kowalski observed.
Skipper locked eyes with lieutenant for a moment, unresponding. Then he studied the coffee machine across the room as he spoke. “I’m just saying. Don’t ever dismiss anyone as a suspect based on character. Anyone is capable of darkness. I want wewe three to remember that.”
“Would this happen to have been brought on kwa those classified files wewe looked through this morning?” Private asked.
Skipper looked at the youngest penguin. “Possibly,” he replied, obviously not wanting to go into any zaidi detail than necessary. “Dismissed.”
The team exchanged another glance as Skipper went to the coffee machine. Kowalski and Rico shoved Private mbele a little.
“Skipper?” Private called softly as Skipper poured himself a cup of coffee.
“Yes, Private,” Skipper replied, stirring a samaki in the coffee, but not making eye contact.
“I was just wondering, is there something on your mind?” he asked innocently. “You seem a bit distraught.”
Skipper sipped his coffee. “I assure you, Private, wewe have nothing to worry about. Just had some old wounds reopen,” he replied, staring at an invisible point in the distance.
“Do wewe . . . want to talk about it?” Private asked doubtfully.
“Not particularly,” Skipper replied, turning back to Private with a tenacious look. “It’s also classified.”
Private touched the tips of his flippers together hesitantly. “Could wewe maybe give us the declassified version?” he asked hopefully, his head turned down, but his eyes looking up at him.
Skipper thought for a moment, and then sighed. “Fine. But only to give wewe three a better understanding,” he said.
Kowalski and Rico exchanged a knowing glance. Private was always the only one able to make Skipper bend a little.
The four penguins gathered at the table, Skipper at the head. Skipper thought for a moment as he decided which details should be left out.
“Well, believe it au not,” he started, “I used to be Marafiki with that deranged puffin.”
“Hans?” Kowalski inquired, his curiosity having instantly been piqued.
“Affirmative,” Skipper replied. “We were zaidi than friends—we were brothers. I trusted him with my life, and I would never have believed he would double-cross me had I not seen it before my own eyes. He betrayed me, and in turn, I became a wanted criminal in Denmark.” He casually stirred the samaki in his coffee. “The end.”
“What?” the team protested.
“No, wewe can’t stop there!” Private said, leaning mbele on the meza, jedwali as if Curiosity was a physical being resting on his shoulders.
“What did he do?” Kowalski asked, also leaning forward.
“Nope,” Skipper replied. “All wewe need to know is that wewe should always be on your toes, and always expect the unexpected.”
“Aw, please, Skipper?” Private begged. “You know we won’t tell anyone!”
“Denied,” Skipper replied. “This is one topic not even wewe can make me disclose,” he said, looking cognizantly at his men, as if he’d read their minds earlier.
“Now that’s dark, Skipper,” Kowalski said, pouting and folding his flippers.
Skipper smiled and raised his coffee mug. “Then I’d say, class dismissed.”