by Charles M. K. Horner
Chapter 3: Observation Post 33
1623 hours, 12 August, 1934
Observation Post 33
Northwest Coast, Main Island
Spontoon Island Atoll
The alarm buzzer was so loud, that her left hand bounced the soldering iron into the right side of her middle finger.
"<WootLAT! 'TLAT! 'TLAT!>" She shook her right paw hard three times and swiped the solder drops off the back of her paw onto the shop apron's dark green denim, as she pushed back from the workbench and felt the tall wood stool tip over backwards. Her toes touched the floor as the stool dropped back between her legs, and she was upright with her knees bent when it slammed down on the floor planks. Her eyes focused on the radio chassis. The condenser connection looked fine and the soldering iron was perched on the asbestos sheet (though she didn't remember dropping it there) and the gas burner was upright and still had a flame.
She smelled solder and realized she had almost poked her finger in her mouth, and wrinkled her nose. The side of her finger hurt, but didn't look blistered. (Yet.) There were 4 tiny beads of solder on the top of her finger, and a couple of beads in the short fur on the back of her paw. She shook it again, and stepping over the stool, she turned to the sink on the other side of the observation shed.
The buzzer rang twice. Too loud. Her middle finger hurt.
The faucet was on, water splashing over her right hand. It would be about a minute before the water was cold. The buzzer rang twice again. Way too loud. Her ears flicked. She grabbed a washrag from the soap-rack and wet it from the splash.
The telegraph clacker started: “ OP33 ONLY. OP33 ONLY. ALERT 2. ALERT 2. SAY OK. SAY OK. PHONE. PHONE.” The telegraph printer started and was spooling out tape.
Then the phone rang. Three long rings and a double ring. The telegraph started a repeat. “OP33 ONLY. OP33 ONLY. ALERT 2...”
“<Annaaah!>” She had wrapped a corner of the wet rag around her finger and had stepped around the map table and had her left paw on the telegraph key by the next pause. “OK. OK. OP 33 OLL KORRECT!” The rag-wrapped right paw reached up and across to the volume pot on the buzzer speaker. The phone was ringing.
“OLL KORRECT OK KAY-JI HAHA,” the telegraph clacker said. “WARN AIR FLUSTER ON PHONE MAIN CENTRAL CLEAR.”
“FlusterCom. Who would have guessed?” Kay-Ji said to the speaker box for the phone, as she reached up with her left hand to turn on the toggle switch. A little red lightbulb glowed on. The phone rang the pattern for the OP Alert. Her left hand went carefully onto the handset to click the switch she had installed. She carried the handset with her to the sink, doing a jump-rope wrist move to flop the bundled cords onto the map table. The faucet water was cold on her right paw and washed the pain away.
She could back around to the side of the sink and scan the horizon on 3 sides of the Observation Post shack. From 200 meters up, she couldn't see the breakers hitting the sparse shingle stone beach below. To the left, green bluffs and eroded sea-stacks to the South-southwest; straight out, it was all sea to a hazy line in the Northwest; to the right, more green bluffs curved away in scoops to the East. The windows were propped up under the overhangs. There were puffs of breeze from the sea side that smelled of temperate jungle. It was late summer. Moderate cumulus clouds; horizon hazy. No aircraft seen. She glanced at the 24-hour clock. No aircraft heard for 2 hours. Why AirSecurCom?
Valiant-ti came jogging around the patrol path off to the right. He had 4 of the larger canteens bouncing on his pack-frame. She heard trotting to her left. Consto was on the trail from the point trench with the small binoculars in his paw. They had heard the alarm buzzer. They each made it to a side window and leaned over the sill. They grinned at each other. Valiant was panting from the weight of the canteens of palm wine.
The speaker tubes would be warmed up by now. That speaker rig was her design. Being an electrotechnical was fun. She clicked the handset switch in mid-ring.
“Observation Post 33, Militia Kay-ji, Alert!”
“Alert, Militia! Good! Good!”, a no-nonsense alto fem voice from the speaker: “ We were hoping someone would be at your post, and not off drinking streambed popskull somewhere! This is Second Chief Jini-na, Air Security Committee – do you have the Tech for the post close-by?”
Valiant had lowered the pack-frame of canteens below the windowsill, out of sight of the phone speaker.
“I have the course and passwords, Second Chief.” Kay-ji was trying to remember if she had ever met this Jini-na at a Militia party. The Na clan were motivated. Sometimes too much so.
“Good! AirSecurCom is ‘Zephyr’– Wait! Is this phoneline secure? This Committee reminds all citizens on this line that eavesdropping on an OP Alert is a minor shaming misbehavior! You wait for the village NewsCom report!”
There were the soft but distinct clacks of 8 hang-ups on the multi-party phoneline. Kay-ji made a 'shush' sign to Valiant and then to Consto, who was putting his leg up over the window-sill.
“Password today is ‘Zeppelin’, Second Chief.”
“Good, Militia. Go to first alternate password. Now, listen: You should know that not just the phonelines have Big Ears. Right? AirSecur heard something strange about 45 minutes ago, and by luck we have a close fix on where it is. It is up above you on the Windridge Trail, just to the south of where the trail to your post comes in. Have you seen or heard any aircraft at the OP?”
“Not for 2 hours.”
"There will be at least 3 patrol planes over you shortly, but they will come from the sea-side, from a couple miles out, directly over your OP. They will want a confirmation light. Now this is an unusual thing, but I want you to listen: We have a transcription record of what was heard. We want to know if this sound was from an aircraft. Do you understand, Militia?"
The sound through the telephone speaker was not as good as a record player, but no worse than the reception from station LONO. There was a repeating siren noise that was becoming louder and louder. It sounded like something revolving with bad bearings. It was very loud and winding down -- to a loud whining thump.
"Sounds like a windmill mating with a bull peacock!" Consto whispered.
"Militia...um, Kay-ji, yes! That's what we heard near your trail head! No sightings, but the sound was confirmed. Do you know of autogyros? The short take-off and short-landing aircraft with the big whirling propeller on top?"
"Yes, Chief! Is that their sound?"
"We don't know. We do not have sound samples of all the experimental autogyro aircraft. It might even be a helicopter, or a new form of a blimp."
"A Black-ship helicopter?"
"We don't know! We want to find out if this noise-maker is still there. We are worried, because if it is an aircraft, no one in another observation post saw it land. It might be nothing -- maybe our Big Ears heard a tuba being serviced by a broken washing machine! But this is not some cowshit drill! We should be... Hold!-- What? Table that!-- Hold the line, Militia!...." They could hear the phone on the other end being set down. There were several background voices coming through the speaker. They sounded flustered.
Valiant had hopped over the windowsill. He set the stool out of his path, upright and under the workbench, and saw the burner on. He turned it off and looked at her. "Come on, Kay-ji! This should be my Com!"
"You took the Popskull Committee Command, Militia," she said, "but I have the Hat." With her wet right hand, she reached up beside the door by the sink, and took the Air Security hat from the peg. She set it jaunty over her hair, winced as her wet finger brushed the edge, and gave him a sharp look from under the brim. He kept forgetting how curly her head hair was. Her left hand held the handset between her breasts, putting a fold in the dark shop apron. Her right hand went back under the faucet.
"You're injured!" Valiant did movie melodrama very well: "Your hand! You should be on Meeting Island getting 'advanced medical treatment'!"
"Valiant, you King'fool! I burned my finger!" She showed him the finger. She showed him both sides of the finger.
Consto swung his legs over and sat on the windowsill. He pursed lips and squinted: "<'This-one does not know all the subtle symbols of the Europeans.'>"
They all knew the movie that was from. Kay-ji grinned as she looked at Valiant. He made a wry smile, and reached over the sill to bring the canteens inside.
There was a pop and a squeal of feedback from the phone speaker on the wall. There was the sound of shouting and phone bells in the background noise coming from the speaker.
"Alert! Militia Kay-ji! The Constable Sergeant here says you can be a sensible militia: You now have temporary rank of Air Security Committee Eleven. We have been told there is something landed on the Windridge Trail-- we have a message relayed from a constable on the ridge Lagoon-ward-- he seems to say there is some craft up there the size of a Constable station! That sure smells very wrong, even from here. AirSecCom wants you to set up a careful scout and report back, before some of these idiots here call up the entire Crater Lake Militia! Do you have a truck up there?"
"Alert! A small new 4-wheeler Vostok, Chief! We have a portable radio here, too."
"Good! Good! If you can get a radio up there, that might save a whole pile of fuss! Damn! This is not a drill - it could be nothing, but play this safe. We want you to report back, or send a quick radio report if you think it is an emergency. Get us some feedback. You're now AirSecCom-11; clear through the Militia Radio. Low code is OK-- be discreet. The patrol planes should be swinging over you starting any time now. Clear, AirSec-11?"
"Clear, Chief AirSec-2!"
"Keep safe, get us scout-sign! Clear!" The Chief's voice faded into a background of phone bells and buzzers: "If this has endangered a..." The speaker connection clicked off. A breeze must have started coming in from the sea. It felt cold. The Observation shed was very quiet except for a faint buzz of an aircraft far off to the sea-horizon. All three of them glanced back-and-forth at each other, and then looked out to sea where there was a distant floatplane above the horizon winging over into a turn.
"Consto! Pull out the Very-light! Do the aircraft watch and signals! Monitor telegraph if you can."
"Valiant, clear the truck-bed, and get the portable radio on the back and cranked up!"
"That will take 20 minutes. And the damn portable radio weighs 60 pounds! Without the batteries!"
Kay-ji walked over to him, looked up and placed her wet right paw on the center of the chest. "It won't take that long. You're the strong one," her hand gave a slight push, "and a good driver, Militia-Citizen Valiant. I'll be taking the bicycle. Follow with the radio as you can. And now, I want your key to the weapons locker. Clear?"
He frowned. "Alert, Militia." He took the key strap from around his neck, looked down at the key, and then at her eyes, and pressed the strap and key into her left hand. "<Anah!>" He turned and kicked open the back door.
"RINS Patrol floatplane at 310 degrees has tested machineguns." said Consto. "Pirate'Ass! Who authorized that? The civil flights better be warned off. Kay-ji, can you start the generator?"
"Clear, Militia!" She was going down the hatch to the cellar.
He swept the horizon with the binoculars, tossing its straps over his neck. He heard a clank or two from down in the cellar, and a slap to the gas tank for luck, and heard her puff and crank the engine. It caught and started into a muffled purr. He could hear the floatplane getting louder, so let the binoculars drop to his chest and picked up the Very signal-light. The patrol aircraft had started the run to overfly the OP and they exchanged wing-wags for his green light. From its heading, this first floatplane was not going to go directly over the suspect area. The full-power fly-over rattled the windows. Kay-ji came up from the cellar with a rifle and one of the Savage revolvers holstered, and a canvas ammunition bag swinging heavy from her right forearm.
"Alert, Militia. Both keys are in the gunsafe door. Clear?"
"Clear... Look, Kay-ji, could this be some stupid Euro stunt? Some joke with an Euro autogyro? Speedweek is coming up and the Euro aircrews are coming in. Our trailhead is just about at the overlook to the Survival Camp on the Lagoon side."
She was loading the revolver. She had slung the lanyard over her neck and the holster strap over her shoulder. It was set for a left-hand draw. "Survival Camp? And so?"
"The schedule for this week is...Umm. Either Naturist Mixed Couples, or Naturist Mixer..."
"<TLAT!> A Euro... Naked Survival... I would... I do not need Peeping Euro Toms!" She jammed the revolver in the holster. Then paused, loosened the revolver up and fastened the flap.
"You know it's happened before, Kay-Ji."
"Yes, damnit! OK, look, as you can, get on the telegraph to AirSecurCom, on my authority, and tell them about the Survival Camp schedule. And ask them about the wave-off of civil flights, too! <Hittso!> Here's a rifle! Clear! I'm off right now on the patrol bike." She turned and went out the back door. She didn't seem to be wearing anything under the shop apron.
In back, outside the vehicle shed, Valiant tossed another case of The Meat onto a pile of rubbish beside the Vostok smalltruck. There was a cloud of dust and cursing in Chinook. She pulled the patrol bike away from the shed wall. "Both keys are in the weapon-safe locks, Valiant!"
"It will only be another 5 minutes! Will you wait for some support?"
"Militia! I want that radio working and tuned before you come up the hill, damnit! And talk to Consto, first!" She had pointed the bike up the path, straddled the saddle, and was tucking as much of her hair into the hat, as would fit.
"<Pakkala!!> Militia KAY-JI! Where the WallStreet is your uniform?"
He could see her do a start. She twisted around and looked over her shoulder at her tail and butt on the bicycle seat. Her hands flashed up to the neck strap on the shop-apron. She winced and shook her right hand. Looking up at him, she blushed, then frowned and her tail bushed. "I'm not going to take this off for you, Militia! It was hot. And I'm wearing a damn jappyflap, anyway." She put her hands down to her hips. "I'm wearing the HAT and the REVOLVER! That's enough, Militia! The apron will be my <paskan> camouflage suit! Clear?"
"You are cleaning that bicycle seat, Kay! And you look like a naked savage!"
She tossed her head up and laughed. She looked at him and grinned. "OK! That may be good-- as I may be meeting some sneaky spy Euros, Valiant." She touched her rag-wrapped paw to the hat. "I am naked, and here is my savage--" Her left-paw flapped the holster. "Clear?"
She turned and pushed off, and stood on the pedals to pump the bike as she started up the truck-path to the Windridge. The middle finger of her right hand stuck out from the handle bar. Her tail swung with the pumping.
Maybe she was wearing a breechcloth. It was hard to see with her tail swinging. "<Vittu!>" Valiant tossed the last case off the back of the truck. "'Talk with Consto!' Yeah! Clear for sure, Militia! This radio smalltruck is going to drive up with a machine gun, too...." A double-float patrol plane roared overhead towards the lagoon.
He looked up, and Kay-ji and the bike went around the last curve up the trail.
continued in the 3 May, 1967 issue of "The Island Navigator"