Chapter 3- Surviving the Andes
A few days had passed since Kowalski left the kits forever. He was on his way to who knows where in the Time Bandit. He never knew that Pole Cat could have such valuable information. He heard that the Well Deserved and the team he trained with almost his whole life was sailing the ocean and heading north. Maybe they were tracking down Skipper and Steak Knife. That was their mission for many months so they wouldn't give it up now. The Well Deserved was a freight ship and the possibility of catching it was 67.825 to one, but he had to try. It was a screwball idea, but he was sailing north in search of them in a fishing boat and no sense of where he was.
Kowalski stared ahead and thought about how far land was away. Two whole days of sailing were making him very impatient. The boat traveled about twelve miles per hour on an average and he went for 52 straight hours. He was on day three.
"You will probably catch them," he assured himself. There was no one else to talk to. "The Well Deserved drop anchor every night and they sleep for an average of seven to eight hours a night and I have been going on for days. They also go about twice as fast as me so… I don't know!"
Kowalski saw something out of the corner of his eye and turned to look. There was a little dot on the horizon. What on earth was it? It reminded him of that thing he saw just before the Well Deserved was bombed. It was…a ship! That was a pretty big dot…It had to be the Well Deserved! Without thinking he put the boat as fast as it would go and headed towards the ship. After all this time he would reunite with his team. What would they say when they saw him? It took minutes, but he finally was getting a little closer. He could just make out the ship's smoke stacks and other details. That was it. It was getting closer.
They were still going without stopping. Maybe they didn't see him down there. He never looked for a horn on the Time Bandit, but he needed one now more than ever. He was so close that he could read the Well Deserved label, but now that he intercepted them, it was getting away quickly. Finally he saw a bell. He grabbed the string and hung from it so his weight made the bell ring so loud that it pierced the air. He kept ringing it until the propellers of the huge freight ship slowed down. It slowed down dramatically until he pulled along side it. The boat was so small next to the ship that it looked like a little bath toy next to the ship. He ran to the deck so they would see him. Finally, he saw someone peer over the rail. He would recognize that one-eyed stare from anywhere. Lieutenant Austin looked down at him and they just stared at each other for a while. Next to him appeared the dark blue and white penguin, TJ. This was too great. He finally made it! He just watched them impatiently and waited for them to say something.
"It appears to be a local," TJ said to Austin. "We must be near land."
"I don't know. Should we ask it for directions or something?" Austin pressed.
"Not sure. I think it was flagging us down. Perhaps we should…"
Kowalski wouldn't believe it. He imagined this reunion in his head and imagined both of them being so happy to see him. Instead they didn't even know who he was.
"Guys ,it's me!" he called. "Kowalski!"
They looked at each other like they never heard that name before in their lives. Kowalski had to look closer just to make sure they were the right penguins. Yes, they definitely were. He waved at them and they still seemed confused. Well, there was only one other way for them to know for sure. He quickly pulled out a his notebook and started to write down a math problem.
"Kowalski!" TJ exclaimed. "It is Kowalski! Secure that boat."
TJ shoved Austin away to get some rope. He returned back and both of them tried to unravel the rope. Then it slowly inched down so Kowalski could grab it. He snatched it up and tied a huge giant knot on the railing. Then he pounced on the rope and climbed up the side of the Well Deserved. The moment he reached the top he was practically eaten alive by TJ and Austin.
"Kowalski, you came back!" TJ cheered. "We thought we would never see you again. It has been about half a year!"
"I thought I wouldn't see you again either," he said brightly. "Well, if there is 30 to 31 days per month then multiply it…"
"Yep, that's Kowalski alright," Austin added. "So, where have you been all this time?"
"Clevelantis! I met this Pole Cat a few days ago that said he fixed the Well Deserved. So I went after you guys."
"Great. So…" Kowalski searched the deck for the others. "Where is everybody?"
"Austin and TJ exchanged glances before TJ said, "We really don't know. We haven't seen them since the shipwreck. It's just the three of us. I assume you don't know where Skipper is."
"I have some very important news to tell you," he answered dramatically.
Kowalski like being the center of attention of such an important story. He started with the beginning about being found by Elise and stayed with her family. He made sure to include that he was NOT off duty and trained that whole time. Then he skipped the happy life and went all the way to the war with Clevelantis. Things started getting exciting when he reached the rising action of the story. This was the part he couldn't wait to say.
"Did you guys find out anything about the Southern Raiders?" he asked before continuing.
"Um…Unfortunately, we have not. It has been so long since we last saw them and we have no idea where they are."
"I do," he replied. "Elise came back one day and gave us a personal note. It was written by Steak Knife himself and he was threatening us to go to the Northern entrance of Atlantis and give him military plans that tell where all the military agents are. We of course didn't know where, so-"
"Wait a minute." TJ shook him by the shoulders. 'YOU got a letter from Steak Knife. He was in Atlantis all that time?"
"Yes. We weren't going to go, but we had to. While we thought up a plan, Steak Knife stole Elise's kits and brought them to Atlantis so we had to go. We took this here fishing boat to Atlantis and we found the Red October parked there. We went on a mission and went in the ship to save them. Apparently, there is only one Southern Raider. I am not sure why, but only Steak Knife was there. We never found out why. We got there at midnight right when he was about to execute the kits with broad swords. It was so terrifying."
"Is the ship still covered in pelts?" TJ wondered.
"Yes. It was terrible. I will not lie, Skipper deserves all the credit. We were hanging from the lights up above and I was too scared to do anything. Steak Knife almost…did it but Skipper pinned him to the wall with a knife and then I took the kits away. I couldn't get Skipper to follow me. He was going to…do something terrible and he told me I shouldn't be in the room. So I left with the kits and that was the last time we ever saw each other."
They stared at Kowalski, frozen in place. They seemed like they couldn't believe that Skipper, who was only a private for one day, could do all that.
"So what do you think happened to them?" TJ pressed.
"I think something terrible happened to Skipper. I met that Pole Cat that fixed the Well Deserved and he said that he was supposed to fix the Red October. Instead, he filled it with tar so I don't know where they are now."
"Hmm…" TJ thought carefully. "Well, I think that we should locate this Red October and see exactly where it is. Say, Kowalski, can you drive a ship A ship like the Well Deserved perhaps?"
"You what?" he shrieked. "I CAN'T DRIVE A SHIP! Just get Dave to…" Right. NO more Dave. "Fine, I will try. Where are we going?"
"If Steak Knife did get out of that situation, he is heading north and that means he will be at the Andes mountains. We need to head there and then see how things are. We are almost there."
It felt nice to be back with the crew. Kowalski felt like he was truly at home again. Every moment there though he questioned himself if he was doing the right thing. He could of just simply stayed at Clevelantis and never live another worry for the rest of his life, but it just wasn't a family without Skipper. Now his chance of finding them were even greater with a ship and a crew. Being very intelligent, he figured out how to control the ship by writing down notes and learning from memory. He wondered how TJ and Austin even survived without Dave. They knew about nothing when it came to driving it. Kowalski managed to get it running good.
Finally, he could see land coming into view. The first thing he saw was mountains. Oh NO! They went backwards and were now back at Atlantis. How could that be? He checked the compass built in the ship and it confirmed that they were going north. This couldn't be Atlantis or else they would be going south. This was a new landmark. He couldn't believe he made it this far in just a fishing boat. According to the world map on the wall, Atlantis was probably somewhere halfway between Antarctica and South America. This must be South America.
"All we have to do it wait," TJ said when Kowalski confirmed their location. "If Steak Knife is coming, we will meet him here."
Days passed on the Red October and every day was like a burden. Skipper always thought dying would be scary, but it was even worse when he knew exactly how close he was to it. The waiting, thinking about death, was worse than any torture Steak Knife could do to him. He spent no time sleeping or doing anything besides standing on the bow of the ship and looking ahead. He did that all day for three days, eating nothing and sleeping not at all. Every minute was torture. Now that they were nearing land, Steak Knife watched him constantly so he couldn't get away. Life was ending. He looked down at the water and thought about how at least he had a good life even though it was a short one.
"Well, Skipper, there they are," Steak Knife introduced and pointed to the mountains appearing on the horizon. "They are just beautiful, yes?"
Skipper didn't answer. He just stared at the mountains expressionless. He was paralyzed with fear, but after staring at awaiting death for so long he just didn't have the energy to freak out. At least Steak Knife didn't get the pleasure of scaring him anymore.
They got closer and closer until the Andes were so detailed that he could truly see them. They weren't like the mountains bordering Atlantis. They were so tall that they reached into the sky and snow covered them. It was warmer this far up north, but the mountain peaks were so high up they were cold. NO wonder there was a military base here. He wasn't the type that gave up that easily so he thought on the positive side. Maybe they would hike right into a military base and he would be rescued. Skipper was pretty sure Kowalski couldn't help even if he did make it here.
Kowalski was so relieved when he saw Skipper step off of the Red October. All those days not knowing if he was alive or not were stressful and now he knew Skipper as alive. He saw Skipper mope along, carrying a whole load of dynamite. He was staring at the ground and lagging behind Steak Knife. He obviously thought there was no help left in the world for him. Kowalski almost jumped out of his hiding spot, but TJ yanked him down and slapped him.
"You're going to give us away, soldier," hissed TJ. "We can't expose ourselves until we know exactly what Steak Knife is doing."
The three of them were watching from a cliff behind a huge rock. They were going to rescue Skipper alright. All of them wondered why they were carrying dynamite. They trekked higher and higher up the mountain. The three of them dived down and huddled there silently as Steak Knife got closer. Kowalski trembled with the anxiety of being discovered. Steak Knife stopped for a moment, but moved on thinking it was nothing. Then they could hear the slow and depressed footsteps of Skipper. Kowalski knew that by now Steak Knife had to be farther up ahead. He had to tell Skipper about their escape plan. He couldn't stand to see his brave and strong-willed best friend in such a state. TJ and Austin were too distracted to watch him so be peaked out from behind the rock.
"Skipper," he whispered.
Skipper stopped in place and turned around suddenly. He looked overwhelmed to see Kowalski standing up there, but he didn't say anything.
"Are you going to rescue me?" Skipper asked faintly. "You have to. Steak Knife is going to blow up the whole Andes and me." He looked down at the bombs he was carrying with despair.
"Follow Steak Knife," Kowalski said and disappeared behind the rock. "TJ and Austin are with me. We are going to-"
"Falling behind, yes?" Steak Knife called and stopped. "It's best just to keep up and accept your fate with dignity." Skipper quickly tried to look all depressed and returned to Steak Knife. "It is hard to accept death when it awaits, but it is better to accept things as they are and know that nothing will change that."
Skipper said nothing. He glanced back at the rock and could see Kowalski glancing out. He tried to go at a continuing moping pace. How on earth did Kowalski find TJ and Austin? That was like a hallucination or something. They had been gone so long and now they arrived on his darkest hour. He knew for sure that Steak Knife didn't stand a chance against the four of them. Things could finally return to normal.
Steak Knife finally took Skipper to the near top of a mountain before stopping by a cave entrance. Skipper looked down at the other snowy mountains and the foggy air. Hopefully that wouldn't be his last sight. Steak Knife led the way inside. It was just a small cave miles away from the military base, but these bombs were powerful enough to wipe out everything. Steak Knife grabbed Skipper's wreath from the bombs he was carrying and looked it over.
"Unfortunately, I really don't think your team will rescue you so late in time," he pointed out. "Anyway, we can't change fate, yes? Now, these bombs will not destroy the military base for a while. Only one will go off. This little dandy right here actually."
Steak Knife pushed Skipper to the ground and then made him hold two red sticks wrapped in wires. It was so dangerous that he was shaking just to hold it.
"If you blow this up, won't the others go off too?" He tried another desperate attempt to save himself.
"Nope. Only I can set off the bombs at its main power source. What you don't know is I am putting bomb storages everywhere I go. This is just one of the many. When the time is right, I will let them off. That little bomb your holding will go off will go off in…" He pressed a combination of buttons and then pressed enter. To Skipper's horror, a clock appeared on it. Thirty minutes and it was going down by the second. Where were Kowalski and the rescue party? In only half an hour he would be blown off the face of the earth.
There was a shadow outside and then there was a flash of blue and white. Skipper dropped the bomb and pressed himself against the wall. TJ bowled into Steak Knife's side and threw him to the ground. Steak Knife rolled up backwards and tossed off TJ who just bounced off the wall and returned. Steak Knife just rolled to the side and pounced on TJ in the air. Skipper silently cheered for TJ along with the others who stood there, wondering if they should interfere.
TJ was doing all the attacks while Steak Knife would just wait and watch. He would jump away lightly and pummel TJ in his landings until he was a little light headed. He was about to jump on the unsuspecting TJ, but Austin and Kowalski sprang to the aid of their leader. Steak Knife was a little overwhelmed and waited for them to attack. Austin and TJ stood by each other and attacked from two different sides. Steak Knife dodged Austin, but was intercepted by TJ. He squirmed and wriggled and managed to loosen himself, but before he could escape he was attacked by the privates. Skipper needed this revenge, even if he was probably no match for Steak Knife. He effortlessly threw off Kowalski and Skipper and then tobogganed to the entrance to think. He looked at the four of them in turn and sized up the competition. He knew that he couldn't take on the four of them without serious injuries or the failure of all his plans….But, there was another way to get rid of them. Why didn't he think of it before? He glanced up at the cave entrance and then had an idea.
Skipper thought for sure Steak Knife was going to retreat, but he didn't. He just stood there like he had a master plan and then slouched against the wall.
'It's amazing how fate controls itself," he said casually and glanced straight at Skipper. "You think one thing might happen and then it just changes. The tables have turned."
"You're not talking yourself out of this one," Skipper threatened.
'Definitely not," TJ agreed.
"I don't plan to. My plans are working better than I thought. When you die, just remember, especially you, Skipper. Breathe deeply and relax. Think about your approaching death and accept it."
Then Steak Knife raised his left wing and looked at them evily.
"What are you doing?" TJ demanded, frozen by fear.
Then Steak Knife tapped under the loose boulder holding up the entrance and waved farewell to the four of them. The ground began to rumble and the entrance began to shake. Steak Knife turned around and disappeared down the mountain. All of a sudden rocks rained like rain down from the entrance. The rocks piled on top of each other and in a split second, the whole thing was buried in rocks and snow. When the avalanche stopped, they all realized that death was nearer than they thought.
The bomb would go off in twenty five minutes and they were trapped in a cave with no way out.