This is a story about the "Boss Skua" that menaces Baby Mumble in the awesomely funny movie Happy Feet. How exactly did he get his band? What was his name? What was going through his head at the time? Was the shortage of fish a very recent thing, or had it been going on considerably longer? These are all questions that I've written this fic to answer.
Edit: I changed the last name of Benvenuto and his father to cut down on possible confusion.
Life for a newly fledged seabird, even a scavenging one, can be a major trial even at the best of times. Benvenuto the young skua, of the Piscatello Family, moodily wondered why he'd had the luck to be hatched out at the worst of times as he rode the wind seven hundred feet above the waves, the coast a mile off to his right.
Both fish and krill were in short supply recently for some mysterious reason. Many of the Family claimed that the Supreme Skua had taken offense to some action or other that a rival Family had committed, and all her children were being punished as a result. Others thought that the deity was deliberately "thinning the flock" for the long-term good of all beings in her world. Benvenuto personally thought it rubbish. There was a logical explanation for the dearth of seafood, he was sure of it. It was just that he was darned if he could come up with one.
But the cause wasn't as important as the effects. It was happening, and he was going hungry as a result. The last time he'd had a decent meal was over two days ago, when he'd helped his flock clean up the remains of a crabeater seal on the beach.
His very youth and inexperience were even bigger strikes against him. After all, Bevenuto didn't know a lot of skills that his parents made look like a piece of fish in comparison. He didn't know yet how to cut a penguin chick out from its crèche or how to harass a shearwater into disgorging the fish it had caught.
"Maybe I'll try da fuir seal colony again," he sighed hopefully, his hunger mounting as the skua peeled off to the right, flying right up the beach for eight miles until he reached his destination. With mounting hunger, Benvenuto rapidly scanned the carpet of barking gray-black shapes as he flapped overhead, looking for afterbirth, a trampled pup, a bull who had died of his injuries after a fight, anything promising.
He also watched to see if any fur seal pups were heaving in distress. Sometimes the greedy things would drink more milk in a session than was good for them, and then they would be paid a visit from Mr. Indigestion. Benvenuto wasn't too proud to bolt down the half-curdled results. But there wasn't even a sign of that.
"Well dis just takes da cake," a discouraged Benvenuto grumbled. "Nothing foir a boid to eat even here."
Then his eyes locked onto a delightful sight. Past the edge of the colony, lying in full view on the gravel was a whole seal liver! "Now we's cooking!" the skua exclaimed ecstatically, wings eagerly powering him downwards. It briefly flickered across his mind that having just a liver lying on the beach without the rest of the seal around was pretty weird. It also occurred to him that this liver was sitting in a nest-type thing that looked like mummified tendons all criss-crossing each other.
But that was irrelevant! He had six pounds of fur seal liver all to himself! Braking, Benvenuto landed, wasting no time in ripping into his prize. Seconds later, the circle of mummified tendons flashed upwards and snapped shut around him like the flippers of a penguin or seal being slapped together-or the jaws of a predator clacking shut.
"No!" Benvenuto yelled in terror. All thoughts of food forgotten, he frantically, uselessly flapped and kicked, trying to escape this bizarre predator's grasp. Was the rest of it underground? Was it going to wait for him to weaken before finishing him off? Would it swallow him alive? Why didn't he feel any warmth from the thing?
Then five beings, for lack of a better term, beings like nothing Benvenuto had ever seen, came rushing forward from behind a small ridge. They were twice the height of an emperor penguin, and roughly the size of a crabeater seal, running on two amazingly long legs over the broken rock. They were so foreign, so utterly alien in every sense of the word, and the young skua decided to label them that. Aliens.
Desperately struggling, he wondered if these creatures, whatever they were, intended to help him. It sure seemed like it from the hasty way they were running. "Help me! Get me outta here!" he implored.
Birds see best from the sides due to how their eyes are placed, and even in his thrashing and flapping, Benvenuto got a good close-up look at the aliens as they arrived. They had no beaks, their nostrils placed in a ugly fleshy growth instead, and their mouths were rubbery gashes in their saggy, flabby, blubbery faces. Although he had the impression that these beings were at least distantly related to seals, they lacked the whiskered, protuberant muzzles, had smaller eyes, no real pelt to speak of, and possessed strong, muscular limbs. Those limbs were what held the skua's attention most keenly at the moment.
One reached forward with an incomprehensibly long forelimb, bearing an organ at the end that looked partly like a seal's flipper at its base, yet was crowned by these five-appendages, Benvenuto could only label them. The alien slipped both of its weird, five-split structures into the lips of the exotic predator that had captured him, and grasped them, prizing the jaws apart! The aliens could grab and manipulate things with their forelimbs! Every single creature Benvenuto knew of either used its beak or teeth to manipulate objects instead, from petrel to killer whale.
Right now though, he was most focused on getting out. "Yes! Thank you aliens!" he cheered as his attacker's sealed lips opened. The strength these beings had! Amazement and relief gave way to a dawning horror though, as one of the alien's five-tipped appendages began to slither through the gap it had created towards him.
And then Benvenuto knew. The beast that had coaxed him with the seal liver wasn't the one after him. It was only a servant of the aliens, capturing prey for them!
"Don't eat me!" he screamed, eyes wide as he tried to retreat. "Get your ugly alien appendages off my pouison and just let me go!" he cried, pecking as the creature took one of his wings and dragged him out into the open. There, crazed with fear, Benvenuto was helpless as the alien folded his wings to his body, then clasped the skua to its chest with one arm, holding his beak shut with the other.
The other four aliens gathered around, and peered down at him with their sparkling, casually thoughtful eyes, the muscles in their flabby naked faces moving as their mouths opened and closed. They were speaking to each other, in slow, growling voices like ice floes grinding against each other, but their captive couldn't understand a word. Were they discussing who got to eat which part of him? Benvenuto Piscatello clenched his eyes shut. He wished that they would just kill him and be done with it, if that was their intention.
The alien restraining his body and beak then began to carry him away, it's companions following behind. Oddly, Benvenuto found himself wondering which were the males and which were the females through his fear. His captor then stopped, knelt down on legs that folded forwards and put the young skua upside down on a slick, cool, shiny surface.
This was it. He was going to be dinner very shortly. When the alien removed its grasping appendage from his beak and placed it on his breast, holding him down, Benvenuto shrieked, "Please, take pity on me! For the Supreme Skua's sake, let me live!"
But his cries fell on deaf ears as another alien helped the first in strapping each of the skua's wings down, rendering him helpless, completely at their mercy. Then Benvenuto's horror grew tenfold. The aliens were going to do something monstrous and depraved to him first before they ate him! He wildly begged the grotesque creatures with all his force, begged them to reconsider and either find it in their hearts to cut him loose, or at least just deal him a humane death.
All the aliens did was just stare at him with businesslike, inscrutably indifferent looks in their eyes as they carried out their deeds. One wrapped one of its partial flipper structures around both his legs, and stuck something slick and cool and rigid into a very private opening with the other as the bird uselessly struggled, taking it out and briefly looking the object over before saying something to another one in its odd scraping ice language.
Yet another of the beings took a sparkling, beak-like object and used it to pluck several feathers from Benvenuto's side. That was painful indeed! "Ouch! Don't hurt and torture me like this!" he implored.
Then another alien took out a long, pointy, shining object, like a claw or tooth, and lowered it towards the young skua. Back muscles clenching, its subject writhed helplessly, the horrible fear he felt almost mind-rupturing. Something truly macabre was going to be done to him with that silver pointy thing, he was positively certain of it.
Frantically, he twisted his head and tried to bite at this terrifying moonbeam made solid, but his neck couldn't stretch far enough. The alien holding it said something else in its seculptural growling tongue, perhaps a smug taunt, before sticking the tip of the pointed object into his left wing.
There was a quick jab of pain, right in one of his veins, and Benvenuto was grimly confident that every drop of blood was going to be sucked out of him. But it was directly the opposite. The aliens were putting something into his body instead!
Suddenly, Benvenuto Piscatello's eyelids became unbearably heavy. He didn't have the energy to scream or struggle. His vision swam, and then his head lolled to the side as darkness overtook him.
Blearily, Benvenuto's eyes opened, the glare of the never-ending Antarctic summer sun greeting his eyes. So much light! He realized that he was laying on his back, a disturbing and unnatural position for any bird. Did that mean he was dead? No, he could still feel his heart beating and his lungs still pulsing.
Then he remembered the aliens, and how they'd just abducted him. Why couldn't he see them? Where exactly were they? He couldn't exactly look around all that well on his back, with everything askew, so he carefully flapped his wings. To Benvenuto's delighted gratitude, they were free again.
Feeling a little swimmy and drowsy, he righted himself and scanned the beach. He saw with a shock that they were standing right behind him, all five of them. But although they were only a minke whale's body length away, they did nothing except silently stand in a row.
"What was all that shenanigans about?" Benvenuto yelled back at them. But he knew now that there would be no answer. Not one to press his luck, he unsteadily ran over the gravel and then took to the air, flying about the length of four blue whales to a safe rock ledge on a cliff, where he started to tend to his mildly ruffled feathers, shaking and flicking his wings.
It was then that he noticed it. It was a yellow circle, lightly resting around his right ankle. "What in da woirld…" the skua gasped in bafflement. The alien beings had marked him in some way with this-yellow thing! Was it so they could recognize him later? Was it so they could locate his flock? Was it a way of telling other groups of aliens that this skua-and it was a sickening thought-was their property, just like a nest site?
He didn't want to know, and frankly wanted it off. So Benvenuto did everything in his power to remove it. He pecked it again and again with his powerful bill. He lifted up his foot and tugged repeatedly at the circle. When that failed, he shook his leg with all his might to fling it off, as if he had some sort of tic. But nothing worked!
Finally, he admitted defeat, and the frustrated young skua, feeling violated somehow, flew off to continue his search for food. "Thanks a lot aliens," he muttered sarcastically.
At the chinstrap penguin rookery, Benvenuto was finally able to find a meal in the form of a dead chick. As he hungrily ate, he stopped now and then to deliver hard pecks to the yellow ring around his leg. But it would remain on him for the rest of his days.
After his meal, he flew to a jutting rock nearby and rested there. Then he saw the familiar form of Tolleranza, an older sister, flying nearby. Seeing him, she turned and glided downwards, joining her brother on his perch. "Ciao, sorella," Benvenuto addressed her in greeting.
"Ciao, fratello," Tolleranza replied. "Had any luck finding food?"
"Yeah, managed to find a defunct chinstrap chick over there," he said, nodding with his head in the direction of the rookery. "How about you?"
"Well, a few of the others and I came across a leopard seal ripping at an Adelie and we…Say fratello, what's that thing around your ankle?" she asked in amazement. "I've never seen da like!"
Benvenuto's first instinct was to hide his leg behind the other. Then he began to say, "What thing arou…" But you couldn't conceal the obvious, and he gave a resigned sigh before drawing himself up and solemnly telling his sister, "Foist of all Tolleranza, I want to let you's know right off da bat that I'm not crazy. It'll sound screwy, but not an hour ago, I's was abducted by aliens and they put this ring on me."
Holding one of her wing feathers up for silence, Tolleranza gave her brother a sideways look before saying, "Um, excuse me? You're saying that you was abducted by aliens? Are you listening to yourself fratello?" Abruptly, she burst out laughing. "That's a good one!!"
"But I was!" he said thinly. He was hurt by her remark, yet could also understand her skepticism. "Just hear me out, okay?"
"Well, all right, I suppose I could do that," she answered, lightly shaking her head in amusement.
Benvenuto told his sister every detail, about the circle creature that had captured him, the weird forms and faces of the aliens, his terrified pleading, the pointy silver thing, and how he'd blacked out, waking up to discover this exotic object on his leg. As he rambled on, Tolleranza's expression turned from scornful mirth, to unease, to abject concern.
"Benvenuto, are you all right?" she said softly. "And just as important, am I all right around you?"
She thought he'd turned completely loco, as the Adelies would say! "I am totally fine sorella!" he said fervently. "All of dis stuff really happened to me! I mean, even if I's was pazzesco in the brain, could I possibly make this stuff up?"
His sister just looked at him for a few weighted, calculating moments. "Whatever you've added to your diet recently, mio fratello," she grimly told him, "I think you'd do well to lay off it." Then she took to the air without any further ado, and flew away in hardly veiled haste, leaving her dejected, galled brother where he still stood.
A blue petrel flew overhead, and from a prudent distance (for skuas preyed on her kind) disrespectfully called out to the wretched Benvenuto, "Hey Mr. Yellow Leg! Did yuh step in a squid tentacle and get one of the suckers stuck around your ankle? Hah hah!" she mockingly laughed.
"Shaddup!" he shot back. "Why don't you come down here and say that to my face in fact Bluey, hmmm?" he heatedly dared.
"Sorry, but I'm not in the mood today Yellow Leg," she mockingly responded.
Enraged and wounded, Benvenuto yelled, "My name is Benvenuto Piscatello!" before erupting off the rock and giving chase. The blue petrel had a good head start though, and escaped him with ease. Fuming, all he could do was watch her disappear. His pique would've only been stoked all the more if he could've foreseen how many more times his fellow birds would either laugh in derision at the strange tale he so earnestly tried to make them believe, or make belittling remarks about the ring he carried to brand him.
The mark of the aliens.
Don Signore, head of the Piscatello flock, was worried about his newest son. Something had happened of late to cause Benvenuto to become withdrawn and spiritless. Then too, he seemed uncertain sometimes, with an air of helpless frustration about him. It was like the boy was trying his best to cope with some profound secret locked inside of his heart and brain, some breathtaking type of knowledge he'd come across-but reluctantly understood that sharing it would only backfire. And Don Signore knew full well what that situation was like.
Whether the boy was hiding something or not, it was clear that his poor chick was quite unhappy. Like every creature that came into contact with his son recently, Signore hadn't failed to notice the bright yellow band around his leg. It was an amazing, mysterious thing, but when he'd asked the boy about it, Benvenuto had only meekly told him that he'd had it for several days, and failed to answer any more of his father's questions for the moment.
When the Don had gently pressed him to at least reveal how he got it, Benvenuto had just shrugged-a practiced shrug, Signore had thought at the time-and said that he'd woken up after a nap and discovered that this yellow ring had somehow glommed onto his leg. Signore knew full well that the story was a load of merda, and part of him had been privately enraged that his own son would knowingly lie to him.
But his boy would never lie about something unless there was a very good reason behind it, and besides, the poor thing had already been miserable and uncomfortable enough as it was. So the Don's annoyance had melted away like snow and he'd let the matter go, at least temporarily.
Now he decided to try getting to the bottom of what was haunting his son and what had caused him to have that circle once more. Taking wing, he let his fierce eyes rove over the coastline from a hundred feet above, locating the figure of Benvenuto basking on a spur of stone two miles off.
Making his way over, the Don braked and landed by his chick, saying "Good day figlio."
"Nice to see you too Padre," Benvenuto greeted him.
Bobbing his head by way of acknowledgement, Signore meditatively remarked, "You know Benvenuto, you grow bigger and stronger every day. Keep this up, and you'll be da size of an emperor before long!"
His son laughed. "Thanks Padre."
"Because of that," Signore went on, "I'd like to take you far inland to this nunatak I know about, and we's can hunt snow petrels dere, if you feel up to doing it. I'll grab one in midair, then you can help me wrestle da boid down and put out its lights," he grinned.
"Yeah, I'd love to go hunt with ya!" Benvenuto exclaimed gleefully. "Let's fly!"
And with further ado, both male skuas took wing, steadily flapping away from the coast. They reached the ice-smothered mountain peak after two hours of flying, the bare stone speckled with the white bodies of nesting snow petrels. Signore and his son said nothing as they came closer, but their bodies stuck out plainly against the ice and blue sky. When the pair got too close for their comfort, the snow petrels burst into the air, scattering in all directions. They knew of the Don's reputation and killer instinct, he smugly reflected.
He was the only bird not taken by surprise when instead of going for one of the petrels, he abruptly veered towards a bare outcrop of rock and landed heavily on it, gesturing to his son to come join him. Benvenuto's face was a study in puzzlement as he braked. "Padre, I thought we-"
"I knows what you thought," Signore said in a clipped tone, "but da real reason I brought you out to this joint was so we's could have lots of privacy."
"What for, Padre?" his son asked, eyes widening and a quiver entering his voice.
Walking right up to his chick's face, the elder skua lowered his head and said, "Don't worry, I didn't bring yas here to bump you off. But I know that something's upsetting you, although you don't dare tell anyone about it, and I'm willing to bet a penguin heart it has more than a little to do with that thing on your leg. Am I correct?"
His son began to open his beak, then closed it seconds later. Letting his head fall and shutting his eyes, the young skua vapidly whispered, "Nothing's wrong. And how I got this band is my concern, not yours."
"Come on kid, you aren't fooling anyone," Signore replied. "And as your father, anything that happens to you is very much my concern!"
Taking a deep breath, Benvenuto reluctantly raised his head, and their eyes met. "Fine. But please, don't laugh at me or say I's is talking screwy, Padre," he asked huskily.
"I'm your father. I'd never laugh at anything my boy had to tell me," the Don responded comfortingly. "And I know that you are one of the most levelheaded, thoughtful, smartest skuas I've ever had the pleasure of knowing. Nothing could ever convince me that it was otherwise," he said frankly.
"Then I'll tell you. About everything that happened. So here goes nothing," Benvenuto said bravely. As Don Signore listened to his son's account of his abduction by the aliens, he was completely flabbergasted. No, by the Supreme Skua, it can't be! Several times, hungry to confirm what he was hearing, he had his son go over the description of the aliens again.
When his son's unbelievable account came to an end, Don Signore Piscatello, as if in a daze, took a few steps back, totally gobsmacked and lost in his own whirling thoughts.
The voice of the younger bird cut in. "So I bet you's think I'm screwy too now Padre, huh?"
Blinking and shaking his head to clear it, Signore answered, "Not at all Benvenuto. No I don't, because I's seen them too."
"What?" his son screeched in shock. "You've seen them too? The long, powerful limbs, the appendages like deformed flippers, the blubbery faces and everything?"
"Yes," the Don said with a sharp nod. "I have."
"Did they abduct you too? Did they probe you? Did dey band you just like me, and more importantly, how'd ya get da thing off?"
Signore casually shook his head. "No, they didn't do any of dose things to me," he replied.
"But you saw them. Where did ya see em'?" Benvenuto asked excitedly, tensely hanging on every word.
"Ways out at sea," Signore answered. "I was looking for food, when I saw this huge, white thing bobbing on the waves in the distance. It was like eight times bigger than a sperm whale!"
"That's big indeed!" his son gasped. "Think it was another servant animal of da aliens?"
"I don't doubt it. But as for da aliens, I didn't see them until I got closer, and trust me, it was as much of a shock for me to see dem as it was for you."
"What were they doing?" Benvenuto asked in wonder.
"Some were just walking around on part of da white floaty thing, while some others were dumping bunches of stuff off the animal's backside. All of it was food bits that I guess were da parts the aliens didn't like."
"Did ya eat any of it?"
"Yous bet I did. The gulls and da petrels was eating it after all, so I didn't think it would ruin my day either. Turned out to be one of da best meals I've ever had," he finished, a smile of nostalgic pleasure gracing his beak again at the memory.
"Anything else happen?"
"Nothing. After I filled my gizzard, I flew around the thing the aliens were riding on until I'd finally had enough of looking at them, and then got outta there," Signore stated with a shrug. "That's the long and the short of it," he ended.
"So they didn't do to ya what they did to me," his son said reflectively. "But have you ever seen anything like this on another animal before too?"
"I actually have," the elder skua revealed. "Or at least, I think I has. There was this Weddell seal, see, diving into a crack in the ice, and for a few moments, I thought I saw something gray and shiny, shaped almost like a feather, on one of her hind flippers. But since she was already going under, I didn't get much of a look at it."
"So you've seen aliens, and something similar to what I has too!" Benvenuto cried ecstatically, a huge grin of delight coming over his features. "But why's didn't ya tell anyone else about it?"
"I did. But da first few birds I told about the aliens thought I was making it all up."
"Just the same sort of reaction I've been getting," his son muttered ruefully with a sigh. "What did you do about it Padre?" he asked. "I'm so stinking tired of other boids making light of me and thinking I'm just joking around when I try to tell them da honest truth of what happened on that beach!"
"What I did figlio, was shaddup in the end," Signore coolly admitted. "I had no proof whatsoever to back up what I said, and I knew that if I wanted to become Don, it wouldn't help matters at all if other boids began to suspect dat I was crazy."
"Are you saying I should shut my beak about the whole thing too?" Benvenuto ventured dejectedly.
"No. You're a grown skua after all, a full-fledged member of da Family, and that's your choice to make, not mine. Plus, the fact remains that you've been marked by the aliens, for reasons only they'll ever know, and you shouldn't hide the truth of how ya got that circle around your leg. Honesty is not only da best, but da simplest policy, I always say."
"You're right, but Padre, the fact remains that this crazy ring is earning me a lot of flack from the other birds, and when I explain to them how I got it, it makes things a dozen times worse!"
"Then fuggitabout what the other birds may say!" his father pointedly snapped. "When they diss you about that and it gets you down, remember dat you is da son of Don Signore, head of da mighty Piscatello Family!"
"And also remember figlio," Signore said, taking on a softer tone, "That you have someone in me who knows the truth as well about these aliens, someone who knows that they are not bogus, but very real. I'm extremely glad I could finally let my secret about how I've seen them out to someone who won't jeer at me in response you know, and I hope you feel the same way too."
"Absolutely Padre," Benvenuto nodded, peace and gladness almost radiating from his body. Expressing what words could not, he hugged his father then, and for a few moments they basked in the warmth that comes from paternal love and finding a soulmate you'd never expected to discover.
Separating, his son pensively asked, "Do you think da aliens will ever come back? Do ya think I'll ever see them again?"
"That's something only the Supreme Skua can say for sure," Signore shrugged. "If so, it won't happen in my lifetime. And it likely won't happen in yours."
"But even if they don't," he continued, "both you and I have had da astonishing luck to have touched and gotten glimpses of a mind-boggling mystery, you most of all. Keep that in mind whenever da other boids make smart remarks about that circle," he advised. "And if it ruffles your feathers anyhow when they tease you for your difference, you can make light of them for being all the same."
"That's a smart idea," his son grinned, nodding in approval. "I never thought of it that way before. Thanks Padre."
"You're quite welcome," Don Signore softly beamed. "You can't think well on an empty gizzard though. Ready to bust out and show these snow petrels what we can do before they get too cocky, figlio?" he offered.
"I sure am," Benvenuto responded with a wicked grin before vaulting into the air.
Benvenuto's first snow petrel hunt was a proud success. But in accordance with the dictum that "you win some, you lose some," he would fail to take a certain curious emperor penguin chick with a passion for tap dancing when he himself became a Don.
Although his quarry's question would lead him into a ramble that cost him a meal, the answers he revealed would set a course of events in motion that did bring the aliens back, and even more importantly, plenty of fish to eat. And so, it was ultimately because of Benvenuto's harrowing experience, and his talk on that nunatak with his father, that the world was made whole again.
An explanation of the strange words: Nunatak is the Inuit word for a mountain that is so deeply encased in glacial ice that only the very top shows. Padre means "father" in Italian. Figlio means "son." Benvenuto means "welcome." Signore means "chief." Severino means "severe." Fratello means "brother," while Sorella means "sister." Last of all, Tolleranza means "grace." Reviews are valued.