~Fish Soup for the Soul~
A half moon hung in the sky over the New York City docks, illuminating the briny waters that swirled around the pier and highlighting the smooth wooden boards of the dock. All was quiet.
"Yo, Mac! I need that crate in building five on the double!"
Well, except for the dock workers that is. One was listening to loud music on their MP3 player, sitting at a massive fork lift while the other was attempting to yell at him.
"Mac! Mac! Mac!"
"What?!" the dock worker manning the fork lift plucked out one of the ear buds he had in. "You want somethin' or you just like sayin' my name?"
"Yeah, what I want is for you ta do your job! Now get the crude out a ya ears and do it!"
"Woah woah woah! Don't you be callin' my music crud, aight? It's Vivaldi."
"You listen to Vivaldi?"
"Yeah. It relaxes me."
"You know, you're a very cultured individual, Mac."
"And you're gonna be a very fired individual if you don't get ta work! Now move it!"
"Hey! Why ya gotta be like that, eh?" The lazy dock worker grumbled to himself as his coworker barged off. "Wise guy." He started up the fork lift, moving the crate across the wooden planks towards a large warehouse, the words Cold Storage emboldened upon the green, steel doors in bold letters. Putting the forklift in park, he got off the machine, and jerked open the doors. Icy fog spewed out of the building, giving the man a big case of the shivers.
"Stupid cold storage." he said, getting back onto the forklift, and pulling it into the building. "I should get a raise for puttin' up with these kinda conditions, or at least some hot cocoa." The fork lift dropped the crate onto the ground. Within a minute's time, the machine was backed out and the steel doors shut and locked once more, leaving all at peace inside the frozen warehouse...
The peace was shattered as the top of the crate blew off in a fiery explosion, flying high into the air. Without the top to keep it together, the sides of the crate fell away onto the frozen ground, revealing four penguins, looking very pleased.
"Great use of excessive force, Rico." said Skipper. "Now let's-oof!"
Skipper was cut off as the crate lid crashed down on top of the four penguins, eliciting a nice cloud of smoke from the charred piece of wood. The quartet of birds coughed as they dug themselves from under the rubble.
"Okay. Let's try more controlled excessive force next time." said Skipper. Rico nodded his head in understanding."Kowalski, report."
"N-negative ten degrees Celcius, Skipper." said the scientist, his beak chattering while holding up a thermometer. "W-we've successfully made it into the cold storage unit."
"Excellent. Our target?"
"According to my calculations, it should be...right behind us."
"Right, everyone initiate dramatic, emotional turn on my mark. Aaaaaand go!"
As one the four penguins turned, their eyes widening with anticipation, smiles of sheer excitement and wonder plain across their faces. The world seemed to move in slow motion, with beautiful opera music seeming to filter from the skies themselves as they stared right at...a blank wall. The smiles dropped from their faces
"Kowalski!" yelled Skipper angrily. Kowalski took out his abacus, making some quick calculations.
"Sorry. Slight miscalculation. Make that behind us and to the right."
"Miscalculation? We did the dramatic turn, man! You ruined it! Rico even did the opera bit!"
"I know. Maybe if we could just turn back around, and try it again we could-"
"No. It's too late! Just for that you don't get to participate in the next one. Now, everyone except Kowalski, execute dramatic turn forty-five degrees to the right...now!"
In a repeat performance of their previous turn, the three penguins moved as one, their wide open eyes staring at their actual prize. Crates stacked high to the ceiling, ice sickles forming lightly around the rims of the containers making them sparkle in the sparse light. Every eye caressed the enticing word that was etched across each crate in beautiful, blocky, industrial print. The one word that could constitute such a display of drama and excitement: Fish.
"It's...beautiful." said Private, a tear coming to his eye.
"Hundreds of pounds of beautiful, succulent fish. And the only thing separating them from our stomachs are a couple of wooden crates."
"Fish!" Rico screamed, hacking up a crowbar and dashing across the frost covered floor in a frantic effort to get to the crates. He raised his crowbar high, jamming it into the side of the first crate and ripping off the front, causing numerous fish to spill out before him.
"Gentlemen. Tonight, we feast!"
Diving forward, the three penguins ravenously attacked the succulent beauties of the sea, gorging themselves upon their scaly prizes. Skipper looked over towards Kowalski, who stood scrapping his foot against the floor on the other side of the room.
"Come on Kowalski. This is no time for a little thing like self-control."
Kowalski pouted as he slowly trudged towards the pile. He lifted up a fish and sighed.
"It's just not the same without the full effect of the turn."
"You know what they say, Kowalski." said Private. "One good turn deserves another. We can all do it together next time."
"Who's this 'they'?" asked Skipper suspiciously.
"I don't know, Skipper. But who ever it is, they said it."
"Not good enough. I don't like the idea of this 'they' knowing enough about our operations to make up catching sayings. I want a full report on them on my desk first thing tomorrow morning," he held up another fish. "But for now, let the gorging continue!"
Two hours later
Four stuffed penguins lay on the frozen floor, engorged bellies up, all groaning from the painful stretching of their stomachs.
"No...more..." moaned Private.
"Curse you fish." groaned Skipper. "Curse your...sweet, scaly deliciousness."
"Stomach capacity...at critical levels." Kowalski burped loudly. "Oh, sweet mamma that was good."
"Right. We've had our fill."
"And then some." added Private.
"Now, let's report back to base." Skipper grunted as he tried to get up. He rolled back onto his back and tried it again, though fell back once more. "Kowalski?"
"It appears that our enlarged stomachs have rendered us incapable of regular movement." He tried getting up, but just like Skipper before him he just fell back down.
"In light of our current inability to get to our feet, I suggest utilizing our rounded physics to return home via multiple rotations on a horizontal axis."
"Right. On my mark. Aaaaaand, roll!"
Kowalski, Skipper, and Private began rolling like black and white beach balls across the icy floor towards a ventilation shaft on the floor, where they all settled.
"Okay, aaaand bounce!" Like feathery bowling balls they all bounced hard on top of the grate of the ventilation shaft, putting all their weight into it until finally the grate collapsed beneath them sending them plummeting down the shaft and well into the first leg of their journey home, completely unaware that they were minus one team member.
"Eh...Erg...Arg! Aaaaaaaaaaah!" Rico grunted and groaned on the floor, attempting to roll, but for some reason was unable to move. He jiggled and wiggled and squirmed, trying to get moving, but nothing seemed to work. He dropped his head against the ground, breathing heavily from the effort. Slowly, he looked down to see why he wasn't going anywhere, and was more than a touch surprised to see that ice had formed around his body, sealing him to the floor! A snarl of exasperation issued from his beak, until an idea seemed to pop into his head. With a couple of coughs, a small flamethrower flew out of mouth, flying up into the air, and landing on top of his stomach.
"Hahaha!" Rico laughed in satisfaction. Victory was within his grasp. He reached his flippers up to get the flamethrower...and found it completely out of reach. Frowning, he stretched his flippers as far as they'd go, trying to reach the pyrotechnic device on top of his massively bloated belly, but he juuuust couldn't get it. His flippers dropped as he fell back once more, though soon another idea came to mind. The trapped penguins wiggled around, heaving his stomach in and out. Slowly the flamethrower started to move across his stomach as it convulsed, heading towards his outstretched flipped. Rico started to smile as it began to slip down his side, towards the awaiting wing, but just when it looked like it would be his, it slipped just a little too far to the right, hitting off his flipper and slipping across the icy floor, completely out of reach.
"Aaaaaaaaaaaah!" Rico lay sobbing on the ice in frustration. And the night had started out so well.
Zoo: Penguin Habitat 0300 Hours
"Push, Phil! Push!"
Back at the zoo Phil and Mason, the zoo's resident chimpanzees, were in the middle of desperately trying to squeeze Skipper through the bars surrounding the penguin habitat.
"Come on, primate!" yelled Skipper. "It can't be that hard!"
"Are you mad, man? It's like trying to fit a hippo into a corset!"
With a final grunt, the two chimps collapsed, wiping their brows from exertion. "It's no use."
"Perhaps we could try going over the fence instead of through it." suggested Kowalski.
Phil began signing to Mason.
"Good idea, Phil!" said Mason.
"What'd he say?"
"Phil suggests we enlist the help of Burt the elephant. He should be more than strong enough to do the job."
"We don't need him!" said Skipper. "I'm almost through!"
"And I suppose you'd enjoy spending the night there, hm?"
Skipper looked back at his swollen body, half in the habitat and half out. He tried wiggling around, pushing futilely against the rails in hopes of getting the rest of the way through. He sighed in defeat.
"Get the elephant."
"Yes, I thought so. Come Phil." As the two chimps walked away, Skipper crossed his flippers in aggravation.
"Yes, I thought so." he said in a mocking voice. "Rico, get a crowbar...Rico?"
"He's not here, Skipper." said Private.
"Well then where is he?"
"Didn't he come home with us?"
"I...don't actually remember." said Kowalski. "It's possible he could have stayed behind."
"Yep. That sounds like him." said Skipper. "That man's hunger for fish is unsurpassed. I once saw him eat a fifteen pound cat fish whole and still have room for a piece of cherry pie. And I'm talking about a Texas sized piece. Not those frufru pieces you get a fancy restaurants that you need a toothpick and a microscope to eat."
"Uuugh. Please don't mention more food."groaned Private holding his stomach. "I don't think I could eat for a week."
"Anyway, knowing Rico he'll probably roll in tomorrow morning so full of fish they're coming out his nose holes."
Uuuuuuugh!" Private clasped his flippers over his beak, running quickly to a nearby trash can where he started retching profusely.
"Was it something I said?"
Thundering footsteps and a loud yawn alerted the penguins to company.
"We're back!" said Mason, Phil and a very tired looking Burt standing behind him.
"Do you guys have any idea what time it is?" yawned Burt, trying to rub the sleep from his eyes with his trunk.
"No need to worry, chap." said Mason. "Just get them inside and you can go straight back to bed."
"Yeah, okay." Sluggishly, Burt's trunk coiled around Skipper's backside.
"Hey! Hey! Watch the tail feathers!"
With a quick jerk, the team leader was set free from his place between the bars, and dropped unceremoniously onto the concrete island in the middle of the habitat. Skipper rubbed his rump, sore from the small drop.
"Does the word 'gently' mean anything to you? Oof!" Skipper cried out as Kowalski was dropped on top of him.
"Sorry." said Burt groggily as he gently put Private down in the pen.
"Thanks, Burt." said Private.
"Um, actually..." Kowalski stared down at the small, round entrance to their secret base underneath the food bowl. One meant for normal sized penguins. "There may still be a slight problem."
Skipper turned to Burt. "Think you could, woah! What the..." Skipper flailed as Burt, half conscious, lifted him up and set him down over the hole. The massive elephant raised his trunk, curling the end into a fist. "Wait! No! No! That's not what I-"
With just a little too much force, the trunk slammed down on top of Skipper's head, popping his enlarged body through the small entrance and down the five foot drop to the floor where Skipper landed with a painful thud.
Private and Kowalski looked at each other nervously, before raising a flipper to point to the other.
Docks: Building 5 0800 Hours
Dim morning light filtered in through the small glass window set into the frozen metallic walls of the cold storage building, shining down onto the frosted floor below. The single rectangle of illumination traveled lazily across the ice covered surface, until it's watery light fell onto a frozen lump on the floor. Slowly the lump started to move.
Bits of frost flew everywhere as the ice surrounding the lump broke apart. Beneath the remaining bits and pieces laid a very miserable, very cold looking Rico. Slowly his crusted eyes opened, taking in his surroundings. As he started to recall the previous night, the memory of being frozen to the floor quickly came back to him. He looked down at himself, noticing that the swelling of his stomach had gone down, leaving him at his original, much more manageable size. Giving a great big heave against the ice loosened by both his change in size and his tremendous sneeze, he broke free of the frosty bonds.
"Wooohoooo!" Standing up, Rico immediately went into a boastful victory dance. "Uh-huh! Uh-huh! Arrigh! Uh-huh! Uh...uh...ah...Choo!" With a great sneeze, a small bomb flew out of Rico's mouth, rolling across the slippery floor and into the building's wall.
Rico shielded his eyes as the bomb exploded. Slowly he peeked over his flipper, taking in the large, burnt hole that now existed where the bomb had been. Looking around quickly, he decided to do what any upstanding penguin would do in such a situation. He dove out the hole, and hightailed it for home before the cops showed up.
Penguin Base: 0900 Hours
Skipper yawned, stretching his flippers as he walked across the concrete floor, his morning cup of fish coffee in hand.
"Well, I don't know about you boys, but I slept like a baby sheep wrapped in his momma's wool."
"And it appears that our stomachs have returned to normal size after last night's gorging." said Kowalski, with a strip of measuring tape around his stomach. He took it off and checked the measurements. "Well, almost normal..."
"Ugh, I'm still feeling a bit bloated." said Private woozily, flippers holding his stomach.
"Right." said Skipper. "I'm assigning an extra tough training regime today to work off all that fish. But first, breakfast!"
"Uuuuuuugh." Private groaned, clutching his stomach and running for the restroom, the door slamming shut behind him.
"Man, that never gets old!" said Skipper.
"Did you hear that?"
"It appears to be coming from the hatch." said Kowalski. They both looked up as the hatch slowly moved away.
"It's an enemy agent!" shouted Skipper. "Come to take us out while we're one man short. Erg! Where's Rico when you need him?"
With a loud plop, Rico hit the concrete floor of the base face first.
"Apparently, right there." said Kowalski.
"Rico! What took you so long? Did you eat the entire warehouse or what?"
"You know I tend to be hearing that response a lot lately."
Rico groaned as he slowly forced himself into a sitting position. The other penguins gasped as he looked at them.
"Rico! What happened to you?"
Rico sniffed, staying in his slouching position. His eyes were puffy and red, and his beak was wet with dripping mucus. His beak was open wide as he panted, unable to breath through his clogged nostrils, and an overall air of misery seemed to radiate from his solitary form.
Kowalski nodded, rushing over to Rico's side. He opened Rico's eyes wide, stuck a cotton swab into his nose, pulling it out quickly, and popped a thermometer into his mouth."Let's see here. Swollen eyes." He checked the swab. "Green mucus, and a temperature of..." He plucked the thermometer from the psycho birds mouth. "A hundred and three degrees. Fascinating!"
"Okaaay. So what's it all mean?"
The scientific bird stood up proudly. "After careful scientific examination I have deduced that Rico...is sick!" He stood there smiling for a moment before his eyes shot wide open. "He's sick?! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! And I touched him! I'm contaminated! Disinfectant! I need disinfectant!"
Screaming like a little girl, Kowalski rushed across the base, jumping across a table to grab an aerosol can, frantically spraying himself with the can's misty white contents while Skipper looked on with one eyebrow raised, or at least it would have been raised if he actually had eyebrows. As it stood it just looked like the forehead over his eye was raised without the actual brow part.
"O-kay. Bit dramatic, but message received. Options."
Kowalski stopped spraying himself. "Right. Right. Options...Yeeees. I suggest we quarantine him inside a sterile plastic bubble, and then, once he's inside we irradiate the bubble until every last germ is completely destroyed!" Kowalski reached under the table, drawing out a menacing looking device sparking with crimson hued electricity. "Show no mercy!"
Skipper and Rico both stared, their eyes wide open."...That's one option. Now, how about something a little less...deranged. Though I do like this new side of you."
The somewhat off kilter penguin panted for a moment, slowly realizing how he was acting. He rubbed the back of his head self-consciously as the device powered down. "Um, bed rest and relaxation?"
"Bingo!" He turned to his sick teammate. "Rico, you're confined to quarters until further notice."
Rico slowly nodded, accepting these new orders which were much more preferable to Kowalski's plan. He suddenly stiffened. "Ah-ah-chooo!"
"Ow!" Skipper reeled back as something metal smacked him in the face. He rubbed his eye, bending down to pick up the pain inducing object. "A quarter? You know very well that's not what I meant!"
"Sorry" grunted Rico, sniffling. "Ah-choo!"
Skipper cried out as two dimes and a nickle smacked him in the face, courtesy of Rico's sneeze. "Oh, come on! Does it look like I'm trying to ride the city bus here?"
Skipper's eyes widened. "Hit the deck!"
Skipper and Kowalski dove under the table as a rain of hard, metal pennies peppered the base like machine gun fire.
"Ah-choo! Ah-choo! Ah-choo!"
Skipper and Kowalski turned the table over, trying to use it as a shield from the various objects currently being shot out of Rico's mouth. A bowling ball. A plush bunny toy. A harpoon. Each sneeze brought with it some new danger, flying at a metaphorical mach four through the air.
There was a flush from the bathroom. Private opened the door, walking out with a smile on his face.
"Much better." he said cheerfully.
Private looked down as half a herring plopped down on the floor in front of him. Immediately he slammed the bathroom door shut, retching sounds once more issuing from inside.
"Kowalski!" shouted Skipper over the noise of rapid fire sneezes. "What in the name of Washington's wooden teeth is going on!?"
"It appears that every time Rico sneezes something from his gut is propelled outwards at dangerously high speeds!"
"I can see that!"
"Then why did you ask me?!"
"I don't know! I was hoping you'd have insight that wasn't already painfully obvious!"
"Well, I Aaaaaaaaaaaaah!" Kowalski screamed as a hatchet pierced the table.
"We need detain that beak A.S.A.P!"
Both penguins turned as a coil of rope dropped down beside them. Skipper pointed both flippers at it with a 'Do-I-seriously-have-to-spell-it-out-for-you?' expression. Each penguin grabbed an end and dove over the table, belly sliding across the concrete floor, swerving to avoid the onslaught of random and often dangerous objects. With a mighty leap they dove at the diseased penguin, tackling him to the ground.
"Loop that over here!"
"Twist through there!"
"Now down the bunny trail!"
"No, it's around the mulberry tree! Keep up man!"
Skipper and Kowalski stepped back cautiously. Slowly Rico rose to a sitting position, feeling his beak which was now bound from top to bottom in rope.
"There." said Skipper proudly. "Problem solved. We keep that on him until he's better. Beak doesn't open, nothing shoots out. No drawbacks."
"I said no drawbacks!"
"I know, but-"
Kowalski pointed to Rico, who was currently clutching his throat, his eye bulging while he took on a slightly blue tinge.
"With his clogged sinuses, it's not actually possible for him to breath out his nose, sooo..."
"Yeah, yeah. I get it. Mouth can't open, Rico can't breath." he turned to Rico. "Think you can hold your breath until you get better?"
Rico responded by turning purple, his eyes slowly rolling back into his head.
"I'll take that as a no." The two penguins got behind Rico, working as fast as possible to get the ropes off his beak. Within seconds Rico's mouth was once again open as he gasped for breath. He smiled as the air finally started to return to his lungs, followed by a great sneeze that sent a screwdriver flying across the room, where it impaled itself into the wall.
"So that's where that went." said Kowalski.
"Now what are we supposed to do?" asked Skipper. "Just stay behind him until this sickness wears off?"
Both penguins looked down between Rico's legs where an unpinned grenade now sat.
"I don't think that will solve our problem."
"Hit the deck!"
All three penguins dove across the room and behind their highly damaged table shield. With seconds to spare they braced impacts.
The grenade went off, scattering shrapnel across the room, much of which imbedded itself into the table.
"Rico's gut contains a veritable cornucopia of destructive devices." said Kowalski somberly. "If this constant sneezing keeps up, it's only a matter of time until he shoots out something capable of destroying us all."
"Oh, come on." said Skipper, practically laughing. "I know he's got his fair share of explosives in there, but there's no way he'd keep something that powerful in there. Right Rico?"
Rico, looked up at him, smiling and laughing nervously.
"Uuuuuuuuuuh..." Rico laughed nervously again before shrugging.
"We need to find a cure and fast!" shouted Skipper, catching on to the danger they were all in.
"Don't worry!" said Kowalski. "I know exactly what to do. This is a problem...for science!"
There was a flush from the bathroom. Private opened the door, still looking a little queasy. He stopped and looked around the half-destroyed base riddled with sharp objects and smoking craters.
"Did I miss something?"
"There, there Rico. You just sit back and relax."
Private sat beside Rico, a gentle smile on his face as he tucked the psycho penguins into Skipper's bed, which he was in mostly because it was closest to the floor. A humidifier was running full blast near his feet while a dehumidifier was going full blast up next to Rico's head.
"A little bed rest will have you good as new in no time." said Skipper, standing at a distance. "Provided you don't sneeze up any more explosive surprises."
"Comfy?" asked Private placing fresh, cold washcloth on Rico's forehead. Rico nodded. "Splendid! Now hows about a story to lull you off to dreamland? This one's called 'Prince Sharesalot and the Mean Tree Who Just Wanted a Friend.'"
"Don't tell me you're reading him one of those hippie Lunacorn books, Private."
"The man's already sick. What more do you want to do to him?"
"It's a good story!" defended Private. "It's about this tree who's mean to everyone who passes by, so they all avoid him, but then Prince Sharesalot comes along and-"
"Private, I'm feeling sick and that's only from half a synopsis. Imagine what poor Rico's going through."
"I bet Rico would love to hear the story, right Rico?"
Private turned to Rico, who just smiled up at him nervously.
Private ducked as something shot out of Rico's mouth, rebounding off the roof of the bed and down onto the blankets. Private looked at the object.
"My Prince Sharesalot plushy with Hugs and Love quotes of the day!" shouted Private, grabbing hold of the small, plush, purple Lunacorn toy. He gave it a squeeze.
"Prince Sharesalot says: Plant a seed of honesty, and soon you'll have an Honest-Tree."
Private looked up at Skipper, his lower beak quivering. "You said he went to Sunshine Meadows to feed the little bunny children."
Skipper looked down at the sad looking Private nervously. "Well I...That is to say I...What I mean is...Rico! Did you swallow all of Sunshine Meadows?!"
"What?!" Private looked down at Rico in horror. "You couldn't have! That's impossible!"
"Buh-" Rico was cut off as Skipper slapped a flipper over his mouth.
"Clearly, he's too delusional from the illness to remember his horrible crime! We'll have to get him better even sooner so he can put Sunshine Meadows right back where he found it."
"But what if he sneezes it out? The bunny children could be hurt!" Private gasped. "What if it's dark in there?! They could be scared!"
"Nonsense! I'm sure Rico's swallowed a flashlight at some point or another. I bet they're enjoying themselves just like they always do. With friendly hugs and...lots of...love...stuff...But just to be safe why don't we send Prince Sharesalot back in to keep them company?" Skipper reached for the plush, but Private drew away.
"That's alright." said Private. "They'll be fine. Besides, I've so missed Prince Sharesalot's encouraging and uplifting advise."
"Oh, yeah. Me too. Me...too...Good to have him back!"
Private smiled, giving the toy another squeeze.
"You know what they say: Whatever you do comes back around to you."
Skipper leaned in close to the toy. "What do you know of this 'they'? Are you in league with them? Answer me!"
"I've done it!"
All three penguins looked up as Kowalski excitedly waddled across the room. Skipper glared at the toy.
"We'll finish this later."
"What have you done?" asked Private.
"Using the most advanced medical science known to man or bird, I have developed medicine that is sure to cure Rico of his illness and all relating symptoms!"
"Arrigh!" Rico sat up, eagerly await the cure while Kowalski popped open a bottle filled with pills.
"Now." said Kowalski. "This blue pill will cool that fever like a fresh snow cone in Alaska."
"Side effects include soar throat, itchy eyes, nausea, and sweaty feet."
"Not to worry, because this orange pill will take care of all those other negligible ailments."
"Side effects include rapid molting, infection of the beak, and possible liver damage."
"However, if you take this red pill combined with this purple pill you won't have to worry about any of that."
Rico just stared.
"Side effects include dry skin, redness around the eyes, bloating, corrosion of the stomach, uncontrollable eye movements, rapid limb spasms, loss of ability to the the hokey-pokey, nightmares, night sweats, night terrors, wetting your bed, wetting other peoples beds, overall lose of bladder control, deterioration of the frontal cortex, kidney failure, leprosy, and a surprisingly lemony aftertaste after eating. But if you take this pink pill-"
"Oh for crying out loud!" shouted Skipper. "He was better off with the fever!"
"Medicine is a risky science." explained Kowalski. "In order to fix one thing you have to risk certain...drawbacks."
"And I suppose you have another pill to fix that pink pill's 'drawbacks'?"
"Um, actually..." Kowalski pointed to the other side of the room where sat a massive construction that looked very similar to an old fashioned iron lung, complete with I.V.s, heart rate monitors, and automatic defibrillators, which sparked menacingly about every five seconds. As everyone stared Rico slowly dropped the pills to the floor.
Skipper's expression flattened. "That's it. No more of this medical science junk."
Rico sneezed, sending a firebomb sailing through the air straight into the heart of the mechanical, medical monstrosity.
Kowalski shielded his eyes from the glare of the blast. When he looked up all that was left was a flaming pile of molten slag slowly burning on the concrete floor.
"Well, that was unfortunate." said Skipper.
"Sorry." grunted Rico.
"All that work." said Kowalski sadly. "I-"
"Moving right along." cut in Skipper. "We need to find another way to cure Rico that doesn't get him killed in the process."
The Penguins looked up to the hatch, where Maurice stood waving down at them.
"Maurice! Come right in!" said Private cheerfully.
"Thanks." said the hefty lemur as he descended the metal rungs to the floor.
"Actually." said Skipper. "Now might not be the best time."
"That's okay. I'll make this real fast. Mind if I borrow some mint?"
"Second cupboard to the left." said Kowalski.
"Thanks." Maurice rushed across the floor to the aforementioned cabinet, taking out the jar. "Oh, mind if I borrow these cloves?"
"Knock yourself out." said Skipper, looking a bit curious.
"Thanks again. Don't suppose you have any Wikiwiki flowers, do you?"
Skipper narrowed his eyes in suspicion. "Fresh out."
"Oh, well. No big deal. Thanks!" Maurice started to leave.
"Hold up." shouted Skipper. "That's a lot of herbs for just three lemurs. Just what kind of dinner party are you throwing?"
"Oh, these aren't for eating. Mort's sick and we need to them to-"
"Gotta go!" At the sound of King Julien's cry, the big boned lemur rushed up the ladder, closing the hatch behind him.
"Mort's sick?" asked Private, concerned.
"Then let's go pay him a little get well visit, shall we?"
Tribal music mixed with a techno base blared from the boom box at the lemur habitat, the notes filling the air as colored smoke rose from the surrounding tiki torches. King Julien sat on the ground, a crown made from a large, blue flower with a cross of red flower petals on the front resting on his head and a grass skirt around his waist. Small markings of red berry juice painted his face, and grass cuffs adorned his wrists, which were currently busy using a pestle to grind various plants together into a large clay bowl that sat between his legs.
"Maurice, where are you?!"
"Right here your majesty." said Maurice as he jumped up onto the central platform, the jars of herbs in hand.
"Finally! Did you get the mint?"
"That's not all I found." Maurice held out the other jar.
"Oooooh, cloves. Perfect. Now, how about the Wikiwiki?"
"Sorry your majesty, but the Wikiwiki was a washout."
"Eh, no matter. Now, how is Mort doing?"
Maurice ran over to the little lemur who sat shivering in the corner, wrapped in a small blanket. He let out a tiny sneeze.
"How ya holding up Mort?"
"M-m-my insides feel icky."
"I know. I know." he felt Mort's forehead. "He's still warm."
"Give him some ginger." said Julien absently, focusing on the grinding.
"We don't have any."
"What?! How am I to be working under these conditions?!"
"Ugh. Fine. Whatever. Just prepare the hut. I cannot keep having my concentration all brokeny."
Maurice and Mort turned as the penguins made their way up onto the platform, curious expressions on everyone's face.
"Good timing!" said Maurice, relieved. "Got any ginger?"
"Not on me..." answered Skipper hesitantly. "Mind telling us what's going on here?"
"Maurice, get them out of my space! They are messing with my mojo!"
"Yes, your highness." Maurice slowly ushered the penguins farther away from the king, who appeared to be giving full concentration to the bowl, occasionally adding more plants from the piles and jars around him.
"Is Julien actually...working?" asked Private in shock and awe.
"What kind of messed up alternate reality have we entered into?!" shouted Skipper. "Kowalski, run some tests. I want to know what universe we're in and how to get back ASAP."
"Guys, guys, it's cool. King Julien is just preparing Mort's medicine."
There was a group pause.
"Let me get this straight." said Skipper. "Julien...is putting forth effort, actual effort...to help Mort."
"Well, yeah. You see-"
"I'd estimate we're in the eighth dimension, Skipper." said Kowalski, taking notes on a clipboard. "The one where everything we know is turned on its head and the world is ruled by giant mutant squirrels." To emphasize his point he turned the clipboard around to show a poorly illustrated example of one of the mutants, eating a plane and foaming at the mouth.
"Listen, you're not in an alternate dimension, or whatever it is you think is going on."
"Well, then spell it out for us Maurice, if that's still your name in this freaky reality." said Skipper. "Cause right now this is making about as much sense as Rico reading poetry."
"Or a coleslaw and barbeque sauce sandwich." added Private.
"Or Belgeruis's forty second theorem." Kowalski snorted. "Eight point seven six nine four over x cubed." Everyone stared. "What? Oh come on! It's so obviously ridiculous!"
"Riiiight. Anyways, yeah, it may seems strange, but hear me out. You see back in Madagascar the position of healer is considered to be almost as important as the king."
"No one should be being considered anyways near as important as I am being!" shouted Julien over his shoulder, raising one hand in the air for emphasis while his eyes were still glued on the bowl.
"Exactly." said Maurice. "Julien didn't want anyone competing with his royal authority, so he made a proclamation that he would be the next healer."
"And he could just...do that?" asked Private.
"Whose gonna stop him? You're looking at the first king-healer combo in Madagascar history. Earned him a lot of street cred back home, know what I'm sayin'? Lots of respect when the dude who rules you and throws all the wild parties is the same dude who gets rid of your cold."
"So, he's like a...witch doctor?" asked Skipper.
"Healer." corrected Maurice. "Or medicine man or 'His Royal Healingness'. Any of those will work."
"Well, not to rain on your jungle parade, but are you sure you want to leave your health in Ring Tail's hands? I mean, come on! The man can barely make his own smoothies!"
"Hey," Maurice looked around, leaning in to whisper. "The king may be flaky in a lot of things, and I mean a lot of things, be the dude knows his herbs."
"There is a lot of evidence supporting the effectiveness of herbal remedies." said Kowalski.
"Well, okay then." said Skipper, perking up. "Let's go talk to the medicine man."
The penguins waddled over to the king, who had just dropped in some of the cloves and was busy grinding it into the rest of the mixture.
"Yo, Ring Tail."
"What is it, flightless birds?" asked Julien, not looking up. "You are stepping all over my healing mojo."
"Uh, right, sorry. Men, take two steps to the left." They did so. "Better?"
"Anyway, let's cut to the chase. What exactly are you planning to do with that...concoction."
"If you must know, I am preparing the herbs for the purification."
Julien pointed up without looking at a small, bamboo hut sitting just a couple feet away, a covering of leaves and flowers forming the roof.
"I never noticed that before." said Private. "Is it new?"
"Yes. I had Maurice build it this morning."
"So, what is this 'purification.'" asked Skipper.
"It is part of the healing ritual." explained Julien. "First, I, the king prepare the herbs while Maurice makes the fire inside the Healy Hut."
"You like that? That was me. I came up with that." he said proudly. "Anywho, once everything is ready, I, the king, beseech the Sky Spirits to heal Mort of his sickness. Then, I pour water into the mixture. The watery mixture sets over the fire, and from it comes steam, infused with the powerful power of my remedy. Mort sits inside Healy Hut, breathing in the steam, and then, Sky Spirits willing, BOOM! He is cured."
"Does it really work?"
"Hey! Don't question my royal healing powers. I did not get to be healer by things not working."
"Didn't you get to be healer because you decreed it?" asked Private.
"Yes, but that is beside the point. Now, Maurice, is the fire ready?!"
"All set, your majesty!" yelled Maurice from inside the hut, a stream of smoke curling out of a hole in the center of the roof.
"Perfect! Let the healing ritual begin!" Julien lept to his feet, grabbing a decorative staff with a hollowed out mango on top which rattled every time he shook it.
"Before you begin," began Skipper. "I don't suppose you have room for one more."
"One more what?"
"Person...in the Healy Hut."
"You see," explained Private. "Rico is sick, and we need him to get better so he can restore all of Sunshine Meadows to it's former glory and allow the little bunny children to frolic under the sun once more."
King Julien and Skipper stared at the young cadet. Julien looked to Skipper for an explanation.
"Never mind. Now, can Rico sit in or what?"
"No way." said Julien. "This ritual is for members of the kingdom only."
"Technically." said Maurice. "They do live in your kingdom." To emphasize his point he gestured to all of the zoo.
"True. I do rule the entire zoo and surrounding midtown area...but the answer is still no."
"Fine." said Skipper. "Then we'll just take our mint and cloves and go elsewhere." He reached down and grabbed the entire bowl of ground herbs.
"Wait! What are you doing?! That is mine!"
"Well, since our herbs are mixed in with yours we'll just have to take the entire thing back to base to separate them. Shouldn't take more than couple days. Let's go boys."
Julien jumped around in front of them blocking their exit, a smile across his face.
"There's no need for that!" he said, grabbing the bowl. "We can share the herbs. I would be being more than happy to heal Freako."
"Whatever. Maurice, prepare him for the ceremony!"
"Yes, your majesty." Maurice smiled as he grabbed Rico's flipper, leading him away. Julien turned to the rest of the penguins. "Now, who is wanting the honor of helping in the ceremony?"
"Depends." said Skipper, one eyebrow ridge raised. "What do we have to do?"
"Just had to ask."
Skipper frowned as he and the other penguins beat rhythmically on tribal drums, sitting on the ground with red berry juice painting their feathered faces and matching grass skirts around their waists.
"Look on the bright side." said Private. "I've always wanted to learn how to play the drums."
"Silence!" shouted King Julien. "I need to concentrate. Less yapping and more drumming."
Skipper glared but none the less the penguins continued to play. Julien turned towards Mort and Rico, who stood before him, awaiting the beginning of the ceremony. The king snapped his fingers. Immediately Maurice rushed to his side, a pitcher of water in hand. He poured the water into the bowl, and Julien proceeded to mix the ground herbs with the liquid using his bare hand.
"Oh, great Sky Spirits. Bless this mixture to the healing of their bodies!"
To the sound of the drums, Julien smeared some of the mixture on Mort and Rico's chests, applying two small marks of it on their cheeks as well. Maurice came to his side, taking the bowl and handing Julien the mango topped staff. In time to the music, he shook the staff over the two patient's heads creating a sound like a rattle snake's tail. Both ducked as the staff went over their head, a bit nervous of being hit.
"Does the staff really do anything?" asked Private to Maurice, who stood beside them watching the ceremony.
"No," he said smiling. "But it sure is cool."
"A high cool factor is scientifically proven to make something up to thirty six percent more effective." added Kowalski.
"I conquer." agreed Skipper, who actually seemed to be enjoying himself now.
As soon as Julien was done with the staff, Maurice returned, exchanging staff for bowl once more.
"Enter the Healy Hut!" shouted Julien. Mort and Rico nodded, slowly making their ways into the hut. Inside light filtered down from the hole in the roof, ever shifting and dancing across the walls as the smoke slowly wafted out. A wooden bench wrapped around the walls, and in the middle of the room was a small fire with tall stones set all around the edges.
Obediently, the two sat down on the benches. Making sure everything was in order, Julien held the bowl high over his head before setting it on top of the tall stones where the fire could easily heat the bottom of the bowl without the bowl falling completely into the fire. Slowly the contents of the bowl began to bubble, large clouds of steam rolling off the top and starting to fill the hut. Mort and Rico both breathed deeply, smiling in contentment as they breathed out.
"You are to be staying here for one full cycle of sun and moon!" he proclaimed loudly, stepping outside the door. "Okay. That's all. Enjoy your stay!"
Julien slammed the door, leaving the two alone inside. With a smile of satisfaction on his face, he turned to the penguins, making a hand sign to signal them to stop the drumming.
"Okay! Who's thirsty? Maurice! Prepare the fruity drinks."
"Yes, your majesty." Maurice ran off to the tiki bar to prepare the beverages while the penguins stood up, approaching Julien.
"So, that was it?" asked Skipper. "That's how the ceremony ends? You stick them in there, and close the door?"
"Don't forget the fruity drinks." said Julien as Maurice handed him a glass. He sipped it. "Mmmmm, orange-pineapple."
"How do you know it's really working?" asked Private.
"Listen for yourselves."
Curious, the penguins closed their eyes.
"All I hear is that steam." said Skipper.
Concentrating, they tried once more.
"I think I hear it." said Private.
"Well I don't." said Skipper. "What is it?"
"I hear breathing."
"Exactly!" said Julien, sipping his drink. "The mixture is already working to make their noses less...clogy."
"I can see why." said Private. "It smells heavenly. With just a hint of spiciness."
"Those are the cloves. They give it that extra kick to kick the sick right out of them."
Skipper smiled as everyone continued to stare at the steam clouds.
"So, Ring Tail." he said turning to the king. "Any other hidden talents you want to share with us?"
"Yes. I also do perfumes. Free sample?" Julien pulled out a small perfume bottle and spritzed Skipper in the face, causing him to cough. Kowalski leaned over and sniffed.
"Keep your nose to yourself, soldier." said Skipper, glaring.
Both penguins turned to Private, who was sniffling a bit after a small sneeze.
"Bless me." he said politely.
"No problem." said Maurice, handing the penguins their drinks. "Probably just the mint."
"The mint." explained Julien. "It makes the nose feel all tickley when it starts to clear out the head."
Every bird's eyes widened in horror as they stared from Julien to the shed.
"What's the big deal?" asked Maurice suspiciously.
"N-no big deal." said Private hesitantly.
"Uh, yeah!" said Skipper. "Everything's completely-"
Everyone turned towards the hut, their eyes wide in surprise as they saw the business end of a buzzing chainsaw sticking out the side of it! Still running, the chainsaw traveled up the wall of its own accord, going haywire as it slashed and sliced every part of the shed as if it were being wielded by a crazed psycho. The shed stood still for just a moment before completely collapsing to the ground, exposing a very stunned looking Mort and Rico.
"My Healy Hut!" shouted Julien.
Rico shrugged nervously.
"What happened?!" asked Maurice, staring at the shambles of the hut in disbelief.
"Well, you see," explained Private, nervously. "When Rico sneezes things tend to get a little...out of hand."
"No one was telling me he was sneezing up chainsaws!" shouted Julien angrily.
"And reactions like this are why we elected not to inform you." explained Kowalski.
"Now calm down, your majesty." said Maurice, trying to hold his king back. "You know what they say..." Maurice drifted off as Skipper got uncomfortably close to him, glaring. "Uh, can I help you?"
"'They've' gotten to him men." said Skipper. "There's no one we can trust anymore! Back to base!"
Eager at the chance to get away from the mess and one very angry king Julien, the penguin squadron dove across the platform, fleeing the scene back towards their own habitat.
"You are still owing me a new Healy Hut!" shouted Julien.
Maurice stared after them in confusion.
Penguin Base: 1800 Hours
Back at base Skipper stood staring seriously at a large white board, with a single word written upon it in red marker: THEY.
"This 'they' have been ahead of us at ever turn." said Skipper, his paranoia running full blast. "Every step we take, 'they' are there with some sort of witty phrase or little tidbit of cutesy advice. It's like 'they' know our every move!"
Skipper paid no heed to the sneeze as a kayak flew over his head, smashing to pieces against the wall behind the white board.
"But who are 'they'?" He stared intently at the word as if it would suddenly scream the answers to all his questions. "Kowalski, options."
"It's possible that 'they' is actually an acronym for an enemy organization." Suggested the scientist, who stood at the board beside him, clipboard in hand.
"Of course!" shouted Skipper, using a red marker to put a dot in between each letter of 'they'. "T.H.E.Y. Clever. Hiding their secret identity in one of the most commonly used words in the language! Well played, T.H.E.Y. Well played."
A flaming arrow lodged itself in the white board between the two penguins. Skipper simply plucked it from the board, licked his flipper, and pinched out the fire on top. He pointed the arrow at Kowalski.
"Give me acronym options."
Kowalski nodded, quickly jotting down some notes on his clipboard.
"Thrifty Hippies Embrace Yodeling?"
Skipper scoffed. "Please. All those tai-dye wearing hobos sing about is 'peace' and 'love'. As if they could appreciate yodeling."
"Three Hippos Eating Yams?"
"Possible. Let's put that down as a maybe."
"The Horribly Evil Yaks?"
A bomb flew across the room landing a distance behind Skipper, though he was too excited to notice.
"Yaks!" said Skipper. "I should have known that those soft, hairy coats hid nothing but evil and espionage. How soon can we be ready for assault by evil yaks?"
Kowalski dashed away, running around the base and checking the various systems and defense mechanisms. After finishing he ran back and saluted.
"Forty-five minutes, Skipper."
"Blast!" The bomb exploded behind him, sending rubble flying everywhere. "We could all be skewered on their massive horns by then. I want this base prepped for full scale yak attack in fifteen minutes. I-"
"Skipper!" shouted Private, currently on the other side of the room, hiding behind a table with a pot placed on his head for protection. "Shouldn't we deal with our current problem first?" To emphasize his point he gestured to Rico, who sat miserably under a large blanket on the floor.
"Your right." said Skipper. "Those yaks are sure to go for the weak link first."
"We could always try the bubble." said Kowalski, holding up the irradiation device, which Skipper was quick to smack out of his hands. The device hit the floor, sending a red beam of energy shooting across the room, burning a large hole through the steel door. The two penguins looked at the hole, and then Skipper made sure to give an apologetic looking Kowalski a nice long glare.
"Uh, hey guys."
The two penguins turned back around to see Marlene looking in through the hole in the door, a perplexed expression on her face. She slowly pushed open the door.
"Is this a bad..."
Marlene drifted off as she started at the penguin base. Marks of destruction were everywhere, from charred craters in the walls to the destroyed furniture that littered the floor. Random objects were everywhere: Toys, weapons, fish, tools, more fish, cleaning utensils, half eaten fish, which was more than a little gross, you name it and it was probably lying somewhere imbedded into the floor, walls, or ceiling.
"Woah. Did a bomb go off in here or what?"
"Actually, seventeen bombs have gone off in here." corrected Kowalski.
"Yeah. Uh-huh. I don't doubt it. Now, big question: Why?"
"Wah!" Marlene cried out, diving to the side as pitchfork flew by right where her head had been.
"That's why." said Skipper, pointing to Rico.
Marlene rose to her feet, dusting herself off. "Yeah, could've done without the demonstration."
"He can't help." explained Private. "He's sick."
"Awww, he's sick." Marlene rushed across the base to where Rico was sitting, looking him over. Rico took in a long snort, trying to swallow back some of his mucus. "Ew. You weren't kidding. Have you tried taking him to the zoo doctors?"
"Oh, that's a great idea, Marlene!" said Skipper waddling over to her. "And then after he's sneezed out a bomb and blown a hole in the roof, they'll give him a lollipop to make him feel all better."
"Oh! Can I have one too?" asked Private, earning him a smack upside the pot covered head.
"Uh-huh. Could've done without the sarcasm also. Thanks." she said, paws on her hips. She turned back to Rico. "Not to worry though. I have just the thing to get this sick little penguin back to full health. Be right back!"
Marlene ran for the exit, closing the hole ridden door behind her. Skipper scoffed, placing his hands on his hips.
"Oh, this outta be good."
Sweet, salty, savory, fishy aroma wafted through the penguin habitat, filling the air with warm, delicious scents that made every penguin's mouth water. The birds were all standing beside Rico, who was sitting up in bed, all four having a bowl of something tasty.
"It really is good!" shouted Skipper, taking another spoonful of the dish.
"Like all things soothing and delicious concentrated into a single bowl of pure bliss." added Kowalski.
"Yum yum!" grunt Rico, scarfing his entire bowl in a couple of gulps. Marlene stood by the stove, her arms crossed in satisfaction with a bubbling pot beside her.
"Fish Soup." she said proudly. "Yeah. I learned how to make it at my old aquarium. We used it whenever anyone got sick." She looked at her nails. "Not to brag or anything, but mine was always the best."
"I can see why." said Skipper.
"Feeling better, Rico?" asked Private. Rico nodded enthusiastically.
"More! More!" he shouted, waving his bowl.
"Okay. Okay. There's plenty to go around." She crossed her arms, smiling. "You know what they always say-"
"She's working for the yaks!"
Marlene screamed as Skipper tackled her to the floor as the other penguins stared, wide eyed. Private's beak started to twitch.
Author's Note: Episode Three is done! Yay! I have to admit, I'm a bit worried about some aspects of this one, but I still totally hope you enjoyed it! Let me know what you think when you get a chance! Until next time!