These Penguins Have the Right Stuf

Part 3


3-2-1 Holiday Savings!

Illustration 3

This was not right. The water beneath them was water, for one. It was supposed to be a continent of ice. Something had gone very wrong.

"Lieutenant Commander! What's going on?" Tess barked.

"Somehow the nav computer got mixed up! We should have come out from the cloud cover over Ant-"

"Never mind why! Can we land?"

"Steering is pretty limited when we're falling at 5 kilometers a minute!"

"The plan wasn't to just crash into the ice, was it? How can we land?"

"The engines are supposed to kick in and slow us down while I get us level. With the drag of the atmosphere and the amount of fuel required, Lucky said not to start them early, and that's why he was with Bla-"

"Start those engines now, and start looking for a place we can land this thing."

"Yes, Commander!"

The engines roared to life, jolting the ship but not yet appreciably slowing the Steelbeak down. They both strained their eyes looking out the window, but the empty sea did not look inviting. The sudden loud crash would have caused them to jump out of their seats if they hadn't been strapped in and further held in place by the ship's momentum.

"There's land! Blue! Tess! There's land!" A bruised Ensign Bubbles and a tangle of equipment were now occupying the ceiling. Of course. That penguin couldn't stay out of trouble for five minu-

"Repeat that, Ensign!"

"There's islands to right of us! I saw them from my window!"

"Starboard," Tess automatically corrected. "Lieutenant Commander! Have you found anything yet?"

"Still working with the engines, Commander!"

"Ensign, get over there and direct Lt Cmdr. Blue. No, belay that. Stay where you are and try not to hurt yourself further." Tess tried not to think about the probability that any window in the Ensign's vicinity was more than likely covered with "island" smudges and dirt.

Blaze's voice crackled over the intercom. "Commander, Lucky says we can use the parachute to buy some extra time, but it'll cut into maneuverability."

"How did- never mind." The switch to the intercom was still on from her speech earlier. Wonderful. The whole ship knew they were in trouble now. "Lieutenant Commander, you heard that?"

"Got it, Commander!"

"Wait until we're on trajectory, and deploy it only if we're out of options. Do we have sight of land yet?"

"Not ye- yes! Yes!" Cheers echoed from over the intercom.

"Still gonna be a rough landing," Blue warned, "so everyone, uh, continue holding on."

It was a jerky, jolting landing on an uneven surface, and they nearly ended up in the water after all, but they made it. The Steelbeak seemed intact, and there wasn't a scratch on the crew except for poor Ensign Bubbles, who had fallen from the ceiling with another loud crash when the ship had first hit the sand. But where were they?

Tess unstrapped herself, stepped over the tangle that was her bumbling crewmember, and went to open the hatch. At first she just stood there, letting the sunlight stream in and the warm ocean breeze fill the cabin. Home. Not Antarctica, no, but anywhere on Earth was better than the "best" of Europa. She lowered the gangplank and strode out onto the beach, taking off her helmet and squinting into the sun.

It seemed a fairly a normal beach. Some seaweed, a few crabs, palm trees, sea lions barking off in the distance. That reminded her, she'd have to send out scouts in pairs until they learned if there were any predators on this island and where they might be hiding. ...Did that palm tree have lights on it?

The other penguins were starting to stream out of the Steelbeak now. Ensign Bubbles, whom she was frankly surprised could still walk, had already discovered the local fauna, and was running away from it and its sharp claws as quickly as possible. Lt. Lucky and Lt Cmdr. Blue were huddled over a map, gesticulating furiously at each other as they studied it. She caught the end of their discussion as she approached.

"...I knew I should have asked him to just bring me the paper!"

"Have you two figured out where we are?"

They looked up at her over the map. "Most likely the Galapagos Islands. Not sure which one yet," said Lt. Lucky.

"The Galapagos? Of all places, why?"

"We were aiming for the South Pole. In coordinate form, 90 degrees south, 0 degrees west. But someone" - he glared at Blue, who looked innocently wounded - "got the numbers switched. We're at 0 degrees south, 90 degrees west. Or close to it, anyway, after that ride in. The Galapagos Islands."

"Huh." Tess let that sink in. "Well, now that we know where we are, does that explain why Christmas lights would be strung around a palm tree on an otherwise uninhabited beach?"

The penguins stared where she pointed.

"Uh... no," admitted Lt. Lucky.

"Then I suggest we find out."