A long time ago, when the Bahrain Writers’ Circle’s creative writing workshop was in its infancy and led by Ana Paula Corradini Boreland she set us an exercise to create a world based on an object. I happened to pick up a tiny little green rubber penguin.The following story was the result of that exercise.
Recently a friend, retired Col.Pavan Nair, shared his real-life experiences on expeditions to the Antarctic and this story came to mind. I hope he finds it amusing.
The figurine is a green penguin no more than one and half centimetres in height. He has a yellow beak and feet, pink hat, black glasses, a notebook in his ‘hands’ – which are really more like a penguin’s flippers – and a pencil in his ear. Unlike penguins his body is all one colour – a bright leaf green. It’s hard to tell whether he is alive or an artefact collected by the famous Antarctic explorer Captain Richard Byrd, as some folk say they have on occasion seen the tiny creature’s eyes move.
In the late Captain’s log books we have discovered the following account of a strange land to be found somewhere in the coldest part of that ice-bound continent. Captain Byrd, who is said to have suffered carbon monoxide poisoning in his 1935 Antarctic exploration, states that that is the year he discovered a place called Galapagalpeng.
Here then is his account in his own words:
“I don’t know how long I was unconscious but when I opened my eyes I found I was in what appeared to be a large hall that seemed to be made completely of ice. The walls were deep glacial ice with pale green striations that were clear as crystal. There was a single light source in the centre of the hall from which emanated a blue-white glow that cast a bright enough light to illuminate the entire hall. It was also the single source of warmth, for when I looked down I realised I had been undressed and no longer had on my several layers of clothing, parka, fur-lined cap and snow goggles. Instead I was in my underwear and vest with my socks on, yet I was comfortably warm.
No sooner had I raised myself and sat up when a high pitched squeaking filled the air and hundreds of tiny green penguins appeared through what I realised were arched doorways that in my supine state I hadn’t noticed before. Some of the penguins had notebooks, others had tiny instruments and they all had on white coats. Then one, who was evidently their leader, stood in front of me and squeaked. I blinked at him and shook my head uncomprehending, as he was certainly addressing me. Then there was a twitter that filled the room very much like laughter. I grinned back. Clearly they were not menacing.
The leader bowed unmistakably at me and held out his flipper hand side up. Assuming that he wished me to do so too I did and he hopped onto my palm indicating that I should raise him so that he could touch my temple. I felt no sense of apprehension and obeyed, my curiosity at these tiny obviously intelligent creatures was more than piqued. I brought him in line with my temple and then to my surprise saw him puff himself up to almost fill my hand and reach out to touch my temple.
He then proceeded to squeak directly into my mind in various pitches until finally he clearly said in plain easily understood English, “Please nod if you understand me.”
I was so surprised I almost dropped him. But I nodded and soon all the other penguins came rushing forward and speaking directly to me in English albeit in highly pitched squeaky voices!
“How do you know…” I had barely said these words that boomed out loudly rattling the hall, and they all said “Shhhhh!”
The leading Galapagalpeng then said directly into my mind, “Our land cannot take loud sounds, please either whisper or just say the words in your mind, we are Galapagalpengs and can communicate mentally when we are in contact with your body, ideally with your temple. Our voices are pitched to not upset the sonic balance of our land. Yours sadly, isn’t.”
So this is what I have learnt about Galapagalpeng and its inhabitants the Galapagalpengs. The one thing I don’t have and which they wouldn’t divulge were the coordinates to mark the exact location of Galapagalpeng in the Antarctic and after enjoying their hospitality for the last six months – the southern hemisphere’s summer – I admit that I am happy I don’t know.
The people – Galapagalpengs: Most of the time they look like tiny green penguins and vary between 1.5 to 3 centimetres when in their native habitat. As adaptable life forms they have learnt to compress their physical molecules at will and do so according to the temperature outside and in order to use as little energy as possible.
Their legends or science claims that they are evolved from regular penguins and still possess their flippers and dense fur, but their feet have become thick yellow fat-encased appendages, as have their mouths or beaks. They have taken on the colour green to reflect the colour of the deep ocean that exists beneath their icy homeland and feel no need for clothes as their privates are well hidden from both the elements and other’s eyes. However, when puffed up to a manageable size they look very like regular Emperor Penguins including displaying the white front and black body, however, I believe they don’t show the yellow patch of fur that one sees on un-evolved penguins.
They eat raw plankton and have learnt, like the whales, to metabolise the plankton in their bodies to meet all their nutritional needs. They eat only when they are hungry which could be once in two or three days, for this all they need to do is visit one of their many subterranean accesses to the deep ocean waters that flow under the ice of their part of the South Pole and help themselves. The Galapagalpengs have never known hunger as such, since at times of natural calamities a single feeding can be made to last longer by shrinking their bodies down even further.
They communicate in what appear to human ears as high-pitched squeaks. Loud sounds can upset the balance of their homeland and crack the ice-mountains in which their cities and homes are built. By capturing radio and telephonic waves that flow past the South Pole, they have learnt almost all the languages of the world and can, if necessary communicate with humans telepathically merely by coming in contact with a part of the human body, but ideally directly via the human temple. They can also communicate telepathically with each other when they form a chain and are in direct contact with another Galapagalpeng.
The Galapagalpengs have learnt to split the water molecule and isolate the hydrogen atom for fission to release power and energy in a safe and controlled manner. This provides them with both light and heat, which are needed all year round. Something that I understand is just being developed in our world. They have done so in such a way as to be able to use a single atom of hydrogen to heat and light their homes; usually just two atoms per home are sufficient for several lifetimes. Atoms are split from the abundance of cold water available under the ice at the South Pole.
They are monogamous by nature usually having only two offspring per couple. These are usually one male and one female. It is looked down on by the society at large to have more as it is seen as a sign of selfishness. In the past when ecological upsets have threatened the balance of their homeland and several Galapagalpengs died, then as a patriotic gesture they have had more children. The female Galapagalpeng has a pregnancy that lasts six months through the darkness of their winter and then the young have enough time to grow during the six months of daylight. The normal lifecycle in human terms is twenty-five years. At the end of their designated lifetime an entire generation of Galapagalpengs wishes the next in line a farewell and then they proceed in an orderly manner to the shoreline. Here they compress themselves down to nothing more than what would appear to be a blob of greeny-brown muck and are washed away by the sea. The ceremony is referred to as “Entering the Sea.”
The young grow at an amazing rate reaching maturity in five human years. It is only at the end of their growing period that they are allowed to and indeed even express the desire to marry. Four intense years are spent learning to use the many instruments that the Galapagalpengs invent to read and decipher the radio waves that they catch from all the different countries around the world as they chatter through the stratosphere above the South Pole. They have learnt to translate all the gibberish and understand it in their economical squeaky language formally called “Galapagalpengalese” or for short “Pengali”.
Their homes: For housing the Galapagalpengs hollow out the ice and create large interconnected burrows each individual family’s home being closed off by a thin glacial sliver of ice. They are quite private so don’t normally rush into each other’s space unless invited. After the babies grow through their six-month infancy and childhood they are given individual spaces within the family home.
As a people they are very respectful of privacy and when they wish to communicate or socialise they merely touch the sliver of ice between their homes and a sound of a frequency undetected by human ear flows through the door. The host Galapagalpeng then melts it to invite the guest in. Large meetings are held in a vast ice hall and each community has at least one of these. The halls, as with most construction in Galapagalpeng, is built by expanding their body mass to determine a required size and employing a controlled beam of atomic energy to carve out the space. Since homes and the large community halls are constructed out of the ice the striations of clear green in the ice form a window as well as screens on which they beam several different programmes, mostly of an educational and informative nature.
Religion: As such they have no belief in an after-life or super power or god. They believe they all come from the elements of the ice and sea and eventually belong back to them. Their guide for morality is social acceptance.
Their Government: The Galapagalpengs do not have any political system. Leaders are chosen according to their expertise on any situation. For instance, on discovering me in a comatose state, they brought in their best biologist to determine what to do with me. She realised that I was warm blooded and mono-molecuvariable – meaning to say I was incapable of adjusting my molecular mass like them- and needed to be moved into a warm place. But when it came to questioning me their leading expert was a Male Inquisitor – meaning one who asks questions in a mild, non-threatening manner. And so on, to each the responsibility according to his or her expertise. There are rarely any disputes or quarrels as they realise that they are a most singular creation and each represents a part of the whole. Crime is unheard of; the extremely rare cases of a Galapagalpeng going against society is dealt with ostracism and the individual is encouraged by the group to annihilate him or her self and Enter the Sea.
Their entertainment & sports: There is one thing they acknowledge from the human race, with much delight, and that is the game of chess. They found a board many years ago washed up on their shores and were able to decipher the pieces and movements. They have created many different sizes of the game and have devised it to fit into their hand-held instruments wherein they may play against the instrument or another player who connects with the system. So, many tournaments and contests are held between communities and halls all in a good-natured spirit.
During their six-month long nights, besides having many entertainments for the females such as carnivals and parties with singing and dancing –as most of the females are carrying their young, the Galapagalpengs also have bouncing matches. In these the best ‘bouncers’ expand themselves to their full height and mass, which can be as large as an Emperor Penguin, and bounce against each other until one knocks the other down. The champion ‘bouncer’ of the year wins a crown of ice.
And here Captain Byrd’s description of Galapagalpeng ends. There is a footnote in his log:
“Just before the beginning of the Long Night, the Galapagalpengs helped me construct a boat built entirely of ice with a raft of rigid seaweed at the centre for the time when the ice would melt as I sailed further north. They were sure that I would find my own kind before the ice-boat melted. They had fed me on fish which some of them had brought from the shore and which I had requested to cook on the heat of an atomically heated plate. They also insisted that I eat seaweed as their biologists had analysed my spittle and decided that I could not get enough nutrients from my own body. And as a farewell they gave me a goodly quantity of this cooked fish and seaweed supplements.
I had made friends with the Inquisitor’s assistant Mr. Weeke a young new graduate who was my constant companion and who wore a pink hat and always carried what appeared to be a notebook in which he inserted tiny dots and dashes. He wished to come with me, and after much discussion with the elders they decided that he could be spared in the full knowledge that he may never return. He has been a wonderful companion these many years and has never given me any trouble. He is able to sit still and observe all around him without appearing to move, so much so that visitors seem to think he is an artefact. He has also learnt to eat tiny quantities of fresh uncooked fish, preferring sardines or tuna with only sea brine to salt it.
I pray that some day he will find his way back to Galapagalpeng.”