“It’s not going to hurt him, is it?” Jack’s niece, Hannah, asked her uncle. He stood by a cold, aluminum medical table; and, Hannah stood on the other side watching intently as he manipulated an unconscious king penguin. Jack shook his head.
“He’ll be a bit sore when he wakes up, but they’re tough birds. We need to tag him to keep track of him, otherwise, we wouldn’t go through all the trouble.” He grabbed a small gun-shaped device from the side of the table and handed it to Hannah. “I’ve already put in the tracking chip, but we still need to catalog him for our zoo. You want to do the honors?” The dark-haired girl looked at the device and found two dials on the back end with numbers.
“What number?” she asked with bright eyes. She was thrilled when her uncle offered her a chance to visit the zoo behind the scenes. Hannah’s biggest dream was to be a vet and this tiny taste of it almost proved to be too much excitement.
“This guy is number four. Use both dials,” Jack instructed her. He turned the penguin on its side to make it easier for her, and he pointed at a spot on its thigh. Hanna set the first dial to zero and the second to four, then she pressed the tip of the micro-brand against the bird and pulled the trigger. It made a satisfying “click” sound and the smile that took up most of her face somehow grew larger. Jack took the gun from her hand and turned around to put it away, but Hannah called his attention the moment he dropped the micro-brand in its case.
“Uncle Jack?” She sounded concerned and Jack turned around in a hurry. He felt Hannah move closer to him, and noticed that the room looked brighter somehow. The unconscious penguin emitted a soft golden glow.
“NO WAY!?” Jack screamed. He grabbed Hannah’s hand in a hurry and led her out of the room while reaching into his pocket for his phone.
“What’s going on?” Hannah asked. Jack hurriedly scrolled through his phone, but answered her question without looking up.
“Hold on, emergency. Don’t worry, you’re safe. Go stand by the door, lock it, and don’t let anyone in.” He pointed down the long hall to the only entrance to the back of the penguin habitat. Jack brought the phone up while he instructed her. As she walked away she heard bits of his side of the conversation.
“Mundo! I need you here now. Turns out one of my penguins is a Unique. Yeah, number four. Is he dangerous?” Hannah could not hear any more past that because he started walking the other way while she moved to block the door. After watching her uncle pace back and forth for several minutes her uncle came back to her with his phone in hand. He showed her the screen.
“This is my friend Mundo.” Hannah took in the picture of a handsome brown-skinned man with long dark pony-tail showing over the front of his shoulder. “He’s the ONLY one you unlock the door for. Not many people come through here, but it happens. I’m gonna go see if the penguin wakes up.”
“But what’s going on?” she asked again. She sensed that Jack was calmer than before, but he still seemed anxious and unsure.
“When Mundo gets here, I promise you’ll find out,” Jack said. He tussled her dark curls and added a smile to reassure her. “If you’re going to be a vet, you definitely need to know about this.” He gave her a thumbs up gesture and then turned to walk back into the room where they left the glowing, unconscious penguin.
Hannah killed about twenty minutes on her
“Hi, I’m Mundo,” he extended a hand and Hannah shook it.
“I’m Hannah,” she smiled.
“Si, I know. Your uncle talks about you a lot,” he glanced towards the door to the back of the penguin’s habitat, then back to Hannah. “He says you’re gonna be a vet. Lock the door again and come into the room.” He was already halfway down the hall by the time he finished speaking. Hannah locked the door and ran to catch up. Both of them entered the room at the same time to the sound of roaring laughter. Each of them recognized it as Jack.
Hannah felt like her eyes were ready to pop out of her head when she saw her uncle Jack laughing and carrying on with a very awake penguin. The penguin noticed her and Mundo enter the room and he lifted a flipper to wave at them.
“Hi!” the penguin said. Hannah fainted.
Her eyes opened to see Jack and Mundo staring down at her; and, she felt a cool damp rag on her forehead. She tried to sit up, but her uncle held a hand out to caution her.
“Hang on, there’s no hurry. You’re safe. Relax.”
“What happened?” she asked. She let her body loosen and dropped her head back down.
“You fainted,” Mundo said with a smile. “You were out for a few hours.”
“The penguin…” she sorted through her memory fragments. “…he waved at me. And spoke?” Both Jack and Mundo nodded.
“Yes, that actually happened. He feels really bad for scaring you,” Jack explained.” Hannah looked at Jack and narrowed her eyes.
“Can you tell me what’s happening yet?” she asked. Jack shook his head.
“We’ll get to that, but now that you’re awake we have to leave the zoo.
“Why?” She asked. “I was only out for a few hours? It was about nine a.m. when I let Mundo in the door.” She felt her uncle grab her hand and pull her to sit up and she let him.
“A lot happened while you were knocked out. The short version is that Ping, the penguin that waved at you, now owns the zoo. He’s a nice guy, but he really wants us off his property.”
“What?” Hannah asked while the two men led her out of the back room and through the narrow hall. “What do you mean he owns the zoo? How does a penguin own a zoo?” Jack shrugged.
“He’s really charming,” Jack said. Mundo let out cell phone belly laugh, though it seemed to be a private joke.
“He convinced the whole board to donate it to him. Something about his ‘people’ and the other animals being oppressed.”
“So the animals are running the zoo now?” Hannah asked. She found an answer to her question when they stepped through the doors Hannah had locked and out into the zoo proper. Immediately she noticed all the herbivores were freely wandering the grounds. She assumed they were, but Jack corrected her.
“Technically Ping runs the zoo. He’s going to do some restructuring, but the good news is I still have a job,” Jack chuckled. “And you’ve been invited to help around the new zoo too if you want.”