The Old Life


"As you know, Private, Rico and me were – in difference to you and Skipper – born in the penguin's homeland: Antarctica. When I was about the age of 18, the sea contained less and less fish. The reason for that was that the humans with their big fishing ships emptied the sea. But at that time, nobody of us knew why. All we knew was that we had less and less to eat. I helped my parents to keep us over the surface. It was not that we suffered from hunger, but we had to be chary and everyone had to help to make us three replete.

Then my mother became ill. We assumed that she had eaten a poisoned fish or something like that. Often, the big factory fishing ships of the humans cleared their tank out on the ocean, not far away from the ice and they just let the oil from the tank flow into the sea, poisoning the fish and those who lived of them – us penguins. My mother wasn't deadly ill, but it was enough to keep her at home. We lived in the cave of an ice berg. A quite comfortable home in that time – many families just lived on the open ice. However, my father and I always went fishing. One day he was attacked by a leopard seal."

Private gasped.

"Yeah, he was lucky he came away with his life" Kowalski said "Leopard seals are merciless… But the injury was seriously enough to never let him swim properly again. And at that time my mother's condition became worse, and so he stayed with her in the cave, sending me out alone to catch fish for the family. And I tell you something, Private: hunting fish in Antarctica is way different from getting fed in the zoo. There's on the one hand the fact that you have to get those speedy beasts. Then their number was decreased more and more by the humans. And then there were also the dangers. There were the two main rules: 'Don't swim too far underneath the closed ice in case that you don't find a breath hole.' Second: 'If the leopard seal spots you, swim as fast as you can and never look back.'"

Kowalski paused for a moment, looking to the ground. Private felt that his neck feathers were struggled. Kowalski's voice had become deeper and so seriously in the last sentences, that Private shuddered. Rico seemed as if he was sleeping, but he was awake and listened.

"There were also more dangers" Kowalski went on "Other sea monsters like orcas for example. For young penguins the jaegers and other big birds of that kind were very dangerous."

"Birds?" Private asked disbelieving.

"Yes, birds" Kowalski said "we were not all friends there, Private. But it shouldn't confuse you that much – remember Kitka?"

"However" he continued as Private opened his beak but didn't know what to say "There was also another certain group of birds everybody had to be aware of. In the time of food shortage we lived, penguins often gathered together to hunt as a team for more success. But this group, they were something else. Oh yeah…"

Kowalski looked at Rico, but he held his eyes shut.

"What was with them?" Private asked curiously.

"They had found another way to survive. Everybody knew them as 'Ice and his gang'. They were a group of penguins all around my age, who had discovered that they could get everything they wanted if they used violence."

"You mean" Private gasped "they stole others their fish?"

"Oh, if they had just been thieves… With the time a third rule developed: 'If you meet Ice and his gang, give them everything they want and hope they're not in a bad mood...' Using violence was also their way of having fun. While everyone else worked hard to not having to starve, they ate the fish they had suppressed from us, and hung out."

"How terrible!" Private said.

"Yes, there was the rumor, some of them had even killed before…. but I don't know if that's true."

"But…" Private felt anger inside him "but what were those for guys? If everyone's in sorrow they can't just tyrannize the weaker ones, can they?"

"Well, in fact they could. Nobody tried to stand up against them. Nobody. Some joined them just because they were afraid of them. But I forgot to mention the additional part of the third rule."

"Additional part?"

"Yes… it wasn't that popular as the main part, which I just said. However, it sounded '… give them everything you want and hope that they're not in a bad mood… especially when Rico is on the spot.'"

"What?" Private looked at Rico, who still seemed like sleeping. "Rico was… in this violent gang?"

"Oh yeah" Kowalski said and his voice sounded bitter. "And it was said, he was the one most violently. Ice was the only one who had him under control. He was the leader of the gang, and Rico was his right flipper. Some even called him his 'combat dog', because Rico obeyed every of Ice's demands without ever asking or hesitating. But that was just said behind a raised flipper. Too great was the fear of them."

"But…" Private said and thought about what Kowalski had just told "You said some of them might had even killed someone before… Did Rico…?"

"No" Kowalski reassured him "at least he never told me of something like that" he added thoughtfully and looked down on him. Rico opened one eye and looked at him, and at once Kowalski was certain. He felt a little ashamed of himself that he had even thought of it… But then he thought 'Well, almost… he has.'

"However" he said to get back to the story "Rico was known as a psychopath you did better not come to near."


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