The Power of Silence
Chapter 4 - An Unwanted Harbinger
"WALK WITH ME."
The Sun said it nonchalantly, like it was between two friends. Private had come to trust the celestial being before him as much as he did a friend, though. After all, he had already been trapped inside this mysterious place, with its whiteness extending into infinity, many times over. Each time he went to sleep, he was taken here.
The round penguin diligently followed the glowing penguin away from the floating man; their usual meeting place. Issac Hull was always floating there, always looking peaceful, never seeming to age. As far as Private could tell, he was always in the same place. It was useful, though, as it was something to signal his position in the endless space. Something to bring him and Sun together, so they could hold their discussions.
Ever since Private had been struck by that ball of energy from the Sun by Sarge that day in the antechamber, he had been brought here on a near nightly basis. The first time he had spoken with the Sun itself was only hours after the energy had hit him. He had been confused at first, but the Sun brought his level of understanding up to a higher level. The place he was in, in his best definition, was the Sun, and the penguin that stood across from him now was also the Sun, taking on a form that he could communicate with. It was like he was being absorbed into the Sun to have the conversations each time he fell asleep.
So far their conversations had not been very conclusive. The Sun was very cryptic, and didn't seem to know much more than Private did. Private often found it speaking to him in riddles as he tried to decipher their meanings. They often left him feeling confused and delirious when he awoke from his trips here, and he sometimes had trouble remembering what was said. Skipper's talks helped him recall as much information as possible, but for the most part, nothing was making sense.
One night the Sun had told him about fish population distribution. Private couldn't believe it at the time; something so technical and useless as that had apparently been the most pressing information that the Sun could bestow upon him. It wasn't until he woke up and realized the Sun was showing him why the New York and the majority of the east coast no longer had any fish. He still didn't find that particularly important, but it was at least somewhat helpful. Something to do with currents, water temperatures, and food chains; Private had already forgotten what had been exchanged.
There were nights that were more important, though. Important to the extent that it actually disturbed Private. Some weeks ago, the Sun had told him of a great tragedy that was about to come, afflicting someone close to Private. It had told him that one of his friends was going to die at some point in the near future, and Private had trouble believing it.
Kowalski, on the other hand, completely threw the idea out of the window. Their conversation regarding the issue had not gone over well. Kowalski, for one, didn't believe that Private's dreams were real. He also didn't believe that a mysterious ghost penguin had actually prophesied his death. Private was more believing than that, though. He felt like the Sun was someone—or something—he could trust. Even if it did seem far-fetched, it might actually be true.
The round penguin looked up at his new found friend. It had assumed the form of a penguin. It had told him once that it had no specific form, and it was everything. Private merely saw it in the shape of a penguin, as that was what made the most sense to him. Even though, the Sun held an intimidating look around it. It could have either been because of its massive size, easily twice Private's height, or because it always seemed to be emitting a ghostly, white glow. Private found the most interesting part of it the fact that its eyes possessed no pupils, like he was blind.
The pair trekked on for some time, the only sound being their footfalls echoing around the space. Issac's floating form began to fade into a small speck as Private looked back at him. He suddenly felt scared that he would loose his sense of direction in the endless whiteness, but was reassured by the fact the Sun was still with him.
"So," the glowing penguin began, his voice bouncing around Private at all angles as he spoke. Private had been extremely intimidated at first, but now was used to it. "Did you share what we discussed with your friend?"
Private nodding, knowing exactly what he was referencing; Kowalski's supposed sacrifice. The idea of it still made him a little agitated, but he remained calm in his response. "He didn't take it well. In fact, thinks kind of escalated out of control. He's pretty mad at me now."
"Oh?" the Sun wondered. "Are you sure he is the correct one? Do you remember what I said about him?"
"Yeah. Intelligent with a knack for invention and past full of tragedy. Also someone I can trust with my life. There's only one penguin I know that meets those qualifications," Private explained.
"It is curious that he is filled with unbelief at my words, then. I assumed he would be accepting of them wholeheartedly."
"Yeah, well he's not one to believe anything without proof. The whole event that took place in the antechamber changed him somehow, too. He's very cautious now. He won't listen to me at all."
"That's a shame," the Sun responded. He turned his face to the whiteness that stood before the two penguins as they finally stopped waddling. "He will have to live up to his destiny soon. You will need to get him to see the light in the darkness, as many lives will be depending on him soon."
Private cocked his head curiously to his new-found mentor, wondering what in the world he was talking about. The penguin closed his eyes and looked towards the ground.
"There is something you should know," it began.
"What's that?" Private asked, looking at the mysterious penguin curiously.
"Look around you. What do you see?"
Private tapped his beak thoughtfully. "A whole lot of nothing," he said.
"Exactly, emptiness. Nothing." the Sun announced, turning his face to the smaller bird.
"Why is that concerning? This place goes on forever, doesn't it? You can't be lonely, though. You've got me and Issac."
"Your visits are pleasant, Private," it returned, "it is nice to have someone to actually converse with. Issac doesn't have a whole lot to say. He really only thinks about his boat."
Private thought about for this for a moment. If Issac was held in some sort of suspended animation where he could only communicate with the Sun through thoughts, why couldn't he also hear them? The Sun told him that all thoughts inside this place were shared by all, so why did Private never receive input from the Sun itself?
"I'm not sure why you are unable to hear the thoughts," the Sun responded simply, reading Private's thoughts. Private felt ashamed for a moment as the mystical penguin continued to stare into the emptiness. He knew the Sun didn't like it when he didn't announce his thoughts vocally. "Maybe it has something to do with your partial absorption. After all, you are the first organism I've ever actually had walk beside me."
"I do walk with you. So why is the emptiness of this place worrying you?" Private wondered, feeling a bit concerned for the strange penguin.
"You can't forget that I am the Sun, and therefore if it feels empty, I feel it too. I feel empty, Private, but there are other feelings that are coming along side it."
Private looked confused. Was the Sun hungry? He stopped himself from slapping his forehead at the thought as the Sun smirked in his direction.
"What feeling could be coming along with emptiness?" he asked. "Are you sad, or something?"
"Not sadness. This is an odd feeling, like something I have not experienced in a long time," the Sun said, returning its solemn gaze back out to the endless void. "It is expansion, Private. I'm growing."
Private felt confused as the Sun's words reached him. "Growing? Isn't this place endless anyway?"
"Not endless. Some things in the world may be limitless, but I am not. However, I'm growing as though I'm making room for something. It has been a long time since I've felt this feeling before," the Sun continued.
"It doesn't make any sense," Private returned.
"Maybe it does. Do you remember Issac Hull?" Private nodded. "He takes up a very minor amount of space. Nothing comparable to the emptiness that surrounds him."
Private nodded again. He didn't like where this was going. He looked up at the large penguin as its eyes remained locked on the nothingness in front of it.
"I'm making room for many more like Issac, Private. Sometime soon, I will be filled many more just like Issac. They will be absorbed into me, and they will be held here for some time. I estimate somewhere around the lines of six billion..."
"Six billion!" Private exclaimed, "That's just about every human on the face of the Earth!" He recalled hearing the figure on the Penguin's television, the night he had Kowalski had gotten into their big fight.
"I am aware of this. This is why I'm expanding, making room for all of the new individuals that will soon grace this space," answered the Sun.
"But... but," Private wondered, trying to counter what the Sun was prophesying, "how would that even happen? Issac was absorbed because he got hit directly. How in the world are six billion people going to be hit in similar ways? Is something going to go on a crazy spree with the Sun?"
The Sun sighed, looking suddenly tired. "I'm not sure of these things. You can be sure that it will happen, though."
Private felt a little concerned for the Sun, suddenly. He wondered if the act of expansion was taxing on it. It had just said it had its limits, and maybe it was growing tired.
"I'm not tired," it said, startling the small bird. Private couldn't get used to the fact that the Sun was reading his thoughts. "I am merely preparing."
"Is there any way I can stop this from happening?" Private asked. "I mean, Skippah, the others, and I stopped Sarge from using... well, you... from taking over the Earth once already. Maybe we can stop whoever it is who's planning on doing this?"
"It's impossible," the Sun returned, making Private feel a little anger. He tried his best to control his thoughts, but couldn't help but let a little emotion seep into what he was thinking. The Sun perked up at this immediately and asked, "Why do you feel anger towards me?"
The smaller bird clenched his beak as he grew a little more angry, knowing the celestial being was already aware of the answer. "Nothing is impossible in my book," he argued. "If you just tell me how to stop it, this mass absorption will never happen."
The Sun smirked in his direction again, whisking away Private's angry thoughts. It had a habit of doing that. Whenever Private felt the slightest amount of uncertainty, anger, sadness, or disbelief, it took it away in an instant. Sometimes, when he awoke after each conversation, Private wondered if he was being brainwashed.
"You seem to forget so easily, Private. Only moments ago I told you that I have my limits. My knowledge has limits, as well. I don't know how or when its going to happen, but it is going to happen. And when it does happen, six billion human beings are going to be relying on you and friend, Private."
The small bird's breath was taken away. "What do you mean? Do you mean my team and I are going to have to rescue them?"
"Yes, you will have to, but not your team. A friend of yours, someone you've been very close to for several years already, will have to make a sacrifice. It is the same sacrifice that we have already discussed. It'll be something he won't want to do."
"Do you meant Kowalski?"
The glowing penguin shrugged. "I'm not sure. Names do not possess meaning here; they are mearly tokens of your world. When those six billion people arrive here, though, you will only have so long to rescue them, before they are wiped from existence forever. You will need to convince your friend why he needs to exchange his life for the lives of those six billion."
Private felt himself grow angry again, clenching his beak. Nearly shouting, he said, "Kowalski hates me now, because of what you told me about him. He doesn't believe a word I say, and he doesn't believe you even exist. He's not going to believe a single word I say, and you expect me to convince him to die to save the lives of all the people on the planet?"
Private found himself marching a little closer to the massive, glowing penguin, wanting to get up in his face. The penguin was unmoving, and merely stared back down at him, its empty white orbs fixed on Private's blue irises. Private tried to remain confident as the Penguin gazed at him, but he found himself growing a little shaky.
The Sun had never retaliated against him for his outbursts, but Private knew it didn't appreciate them. After all, as far as Private knew, he was inside of it. Still, Private found himself required to make the outbursts at times. Most of the time it was out of frustration, but this time it was out of desperation.
"You seem to forget that he is the one that will be making this sacrifice, not you. Your task in this matter is merely to explain the situation to him. You forget these things so easily, Private," the Sun responded after a few moments of silence.
Private tried his best to keep an angry look on his face, but felt it waning. The Sun's words range true; Private's words had been selfish. Still, this wasn't fair. This sudden, massive responsibility, with the lives of everyone on the planet resting on his shoulders, wasn't something he could just take on. The idea was ludicrous at best.
"Why me?" he asked, simply. He knew that the Sun had read his thoughts, but felt the need to express the question anyway.
The celestial penguin sighed, closing his eyes again. "Who else would I ask? You are the only one I've ever seen come and go freely from me. You are the only one that can relay my words to the others."
Private knew the Sun's statement was true. He was the only animal that had ever been brought here. Issac was here too, yes, but he was stuck in suspended animation. "Okay," he agreed, "but what about Kowalski? Why him?"
"That I can't answer so easily. I am not sure of who, Kowalski is, but he must fit what I said earlier. The most important part is that he is close to you, that you trust him with your life and he does the same. I will not be able to tell him what he must do, so that responsibility rests on your shoulders."
"So I'm just a messenger boy, then?" Private growled.
Private shook his head, still feeling angry. "Any idea of when the people are actually going to get absorbed?" he asked, looking into the massive penguin's pure white orbs.
"Don't you remember that my knowledge has its limits? Times, dates, and names are not relevant where you stand now. They hold no meaning outside of your own world, and do not exist here. It's only clear what is going to happen."
Private nodded slowly, now averting his eyes from the penguin that stood over him. He wasn't sure why he felt so meek all of the sudden, like the Sun was disciplining him for his unnecessary anger. There were a lot of things in this place he didn't understand, though.
The small bird finally found the courage to look back up at the large, prophetical being next to him, but found that he was gone. Private was left alone, standing in the vast openness. He clenched his flippers into fists, angry at the Sun for leaving him standing here, alone. He still didn't know for sure if what it said had been true, and felt a growing want to punch that penguin in the face. How could it leave him with this massive task, and not at least tell him how to start?
After a few moments he felt himself getting pulled away from the space, whipping through the air at ludicrous speeds. It was a sensation he had grown used to, and the whiteness quickly transitioned into impermeable blackness.
Moments later, he awoke. He wasn't laying in his bunk this time, though. He was laying flat on his back on the floor. His heart was racing and choked his breaths in, like his lungs didn't want to work. It took him a few minutes to realize his chest was pinging with pain. Something had knocked the wind out of him hard.
"Private, what's gotten into you, man?" he heard Skipper say.
He opened his eyes and was surprised to see the leader over to top of him, pinning his flippers to the concrete below him. His face was twisted into a furious scowl as he huffed into Private's face. Private attempted to avert his eyes from his leader's as they burned into his skull, but found it impossible in his current position. Instead, he closed them again.
A stinging pain was shooting through one of his flippers as he relaxed the fist it was curled into. Had he punched Skipper?
"I don't know... I was dreaming up until now," he said, sheepishly.
"Dreaming? Dreaming implies sleeping, soldier. Sleeping penguins don't perform full nelsons on their teammates," Skipper shouted, pushing Private's flippers a little harder into the concrete.
"But, I was... I was with the Sun," Private tried to explain. "I don't know what happened, who did I attack?"
"Me," sputtered Kowalski.