These Penguins Have the Right Stuf

Part 4

or

3-2-1 Holiday Savings!


Illustration 4

"Got everything?" Lucky had been put in charge of the investigation of the lights, and he eyed his small team dubiously: Blaze, who was good with engines and anything else that exploded but not much else, and Snowflake, their Human Relations Officer. Snowflake had been caught up in an oil spill a while back and been taken to a clinic in New Zealand to get cleaned up. Her genial nature led to her being used as a hands-on exhibit at local schools and for a couple of news crews, giving her the most human experience prior to the Europa mission out of them.

"If by everything you mean a compass and flashlight, then yes," Blaze grumbled.

"Oh, come off it Blaze. We're just going up the beach for a look-see anyway," Snowflake replied. "Can't you just be glad to be back on Earth?"

"Not if those lights mean more humans."

"They're not all bad."

"Says you, Snow. Says you."

"Right," Lucky cut in. "Let's get moving, shall we?"

It didn't take them long to reach the tree. The Commander had spotted it right off, after all. Staying well back, they all peered at it. Nothing happened. Snowflake shrugged and walked right up for a closer look, Blaze hovering behind her as if he expected the tree to explode at any minute. Lucky hesitated for a second, then joined them. It was definitely a palm tree strung with Christmas lights. Okay, then. Why? For that matter, who? And how?

Blaze answered the last question for him, at least. Poking around the base of the tree, he found a small solar-powered battery. "Looks pretty well made," he said, turning it over to check the craftsmanship. "Should run for ages if it doesn't get covered with sand."

"There's another that way," pointed Snowflake. She squinted. "And another. Looks almost like a trail."

Blaze scowled. "Probably a trap."

"So we'll follow the trail very quietly," said Lucky. "Sooner we're done here, sooner we can report back. Besides, aren't you curious?"

"We could report back now. We investigated the tree."

"You know the Commander would just send us back out again."

"And we'd probably end up with Bubbles as backup," added Snowflake. All three penguins grimaced at this prospect.

"Fine. But I'll take point. You two wouldn't know what a bomb looked like if it hit you." Blaze's glare at Snowflake seemed particularly pointed, though Lucky didn't know why.

The trees became more closely spaced together as they marched on, and soon were on either side of them, creating a lane. A little after that, the lane became paved, with neat bricks of white and red.

"What is this, Santa Claus Lane?" Blaze asked. They rounded a small cliff, and abruptly found the lane led to a large house, covered in Christmas lights and trimmed everywhere with more red and white. A real Christmas tree, not a palm, grew in the front yard, decorated with tinsel and glass balls, and the sign on the mail box read in neat gold letters, "Claus."

"Huh," said Blaze, as the penguins all stared. "Wasn't expecting that."

It took them a few minutes before they realized the lane continued on past the house. "Don't tell me there's a whole development," said Snowflake.

"Could go to a garage," Lucky offered.

"Or a stable," said Blaze.

The penguins quickly conferred. No one had appeared while the penguins had been staring at the house slack-beaked, but that didn't mean no one was home. Blaze was happy not to meet the inhabitants, Lucky thought they ought to be thorough (and he still wanted to know about the lights), and Snowflake argued that if the house did belong to Santa Claus, then not only was he no threat, but he could give them a ride home.

Blaze rolled his eyes at that. "Snow, Santa lives at the North Pole."

"He flies all around the world, Blaze."

Lucky simply left them to it while he went up to the front door and rang the doorbell. The opening bars to "Mele Kalikimaka" echoed through the house, but otherwise it stayed silent.

He called back to Blaze and Snow, who had stopped arguing to stare at him. "I don't think anyone's home. We might as well keep going down the lane."

Down the lane they went, and the lane ended at another house, similar to the first but trimmed in black and red. The Christmas tree in the yard was festooned with empty wallets, and the mailbox read "Kleckner."

Lucky didn't bother to wait for the debate this time. He walked up to the front door and leaned on the doorbell. The Imperial March echoed, followed by a voice calling for whoever was at the door to wait just a minute.

Lucky had not actually expected a response. He turned back towards Snowflake and Blaze in a panic quite unbefitting a Lieutenant, but before he got far the door opened and a redheaded man with a goatee dressed in a red hat and coat stepped outside.

"...Penguins?" he asked.

"...Santa Claus?" Snowflake asked.

"Santa Kleckner," the man corrected. "What are you doing at my winter retreat?"

"Well, we were aiming for the South Pole, but the coordinates got mixed up..."

"Why don't you come inside? I've been making up lists of anime deals for good boys and girls, but this sounds like it'll be good."

Over margaritas - this was Santa Kleckner, after all - the penguins told their tale of kidnap and self-rescue in space. In turn, Santa Kleckner explained that he was just about to leave for his workshop in Iowa after he finished putting the last details on his Twelve Days of Christmas.

"Details? Are you swapping out the partridge or something?" Snowflake asked.

"'Or something,'" Santa Kleckner smiled broadly, and a glint came into his eye. "Many 'or somethings.' Tons of 'or somethings.' Dragon Ball Z, Fairy Tail, Hetalia... " Blaze elbowed Snowflake and rolled his eyes. Clearly the topic was near and dear to this Santa's heart, but this could go on forever. Lucky discreetly coughed.

"Ah, right, as I was saying, I've got to get back to my minions, but I'll give Nick a call. He can give you guys a ride home after the holiday is done. I'd do it myself, but the Steelbeak doesn't sound like it would fit in the Darklordmobile."

"Nick?" asked Lucky.

"Sorry, Santa Claus. Lives down the lane. Anyway, you guys will be just fine here on the island. Nick got it on the restricted list back when we built the retreats, so no other humans come around except the occasional tourist diving offshore. Why don't you have a party? There are some extra decorations and stuff in a shed out back. I've got to run - savings can't wait - but I want a tour of the Steelbeak later. Merry Christmas!"

And with that, he drained his glass, packed up his paperwork, and took off in a sleek black jet that had been parked on a small runway behind the house.

Blaze, margarita still in flipper, turned to the others. "Huh. Wasn't expecting that."

"Me either," said Snowflake.

"Well, the important part is we can still get home and in the meantime we've got nothing to do but enjoy being back on Earth," said Lucky. "Let's go tell the Commander."

"And party!" added Blaze. "I liked the sound of that suggestion. We should tell the Commander that part first."

"What, you don't think there's a bomb in the shed?" teased Snowflake.

"This is a really good margarita."

And so they reported back to Commander Tess with all that they had learned, and, once they had convinced her the story was true and showed her the shed full of decorations, she gathered the penguins all together for an announcement.

"Everyone, we've had a rough time of it these last months. But we banded together and with teamwork, ingenuity, and perseverance we've returned to Earth, safe and mostly sound." Bubbles, still on the run from the crab, was clearly the "mostly." "Now I need you all to pull together one last time. It's not going to be easy to set up. Some of you may have to make more than one trip to the ship to get all the necessary supplies out, and loading up the cooler will take dexterity and care. But I believe we can do this! We're back on Earth and it's holiday time, so let's all have fun, celebrate, and make this one hell of a party!"

And the penguins did just that.


*****


Meanwhile, in the middle of Iowa:

"Alright, minions, from the top on the count of three: On the first day of Christmas, Santa Kleckner gave to me..."


Edited by TroyR (11/29/12 01:55 PM)