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12 October 2006

The adventures of Ensign Halli Amura, RINS

Chapter Two

© 2006 by Walter D. Reimer

May 1, 1937:

        The new gold pilot’s wings on her maroon uniform tunic felt like they were two feet wide instead of three inches.  Halli couldn’t resist grinning as the Vice-Commodore of the RINS Air Arm pinned the pilot’s insignia on the rabbit.  The goat shook paws with her before moving down the line to the next graduate.

        After a brief celebration that unaccountably extended into the late afternoon, Halli and the others went to the administration building to discover where they were assigned for further training.
        “What!?” Halli gasped incredulously as she saw her name on the wrong list.  Of the fifteen pilot trainees, seven were assigned to advanced training as fighter pilots.  Being a fighter pilot was her ambition and getting into fighter training first had been her goal.
        “Patrol?  Patrol?” she repeated, her ears straight down and her tail quivering as she stepped out of the way so that the others could see where they were assigned.  A couple of the students glanced at her as she turned on her heel and walked rapidly down the hallway.

        Lt. Samuels barely glanced up as she knocked on the open door.  “Come on in, Halli,” he said, signed his name to another form and placed it in his OUT box before sitting back in his seat.
        She blinked, her anger neatly derailed.  “How did you know it was me, Jeff?”
        The hound smiled.  “Call it an inspired guess.  Sit down and we’ll talk about why you were assigned to patrol and not fighter training.”
        The rabbit cocked an eye at him as she sank into a chair.  “Some of your test scores and your noseover back on the twentieth set your comprehensive score too low to immediately qualify,” he explained, lacing his fingers together and placing his paws on the desk blotter.
        “’Immediately qualify,’” Halli seized on the phrase.  “So I can still get into fighter training?”
        “Not for two months,” Samuels said, and smiled as he watched the younger woman almost visibly deflate.  “That’s when the next rotation starts, after all.  Be patient; hell, you might even enjoy flying patrol.  I did,” and he grinned. 
        The rabbit’s ears perked.  “You were in patrol?”
        “Absolutely.  They’re the eyes of the Fleet, Halli, and can cover a lot of area faster than even the best patrol ship.  And I know the air group commander on Blefuscu – he’s good people.”  He smiled as she seemed to relax a bit.  “Besides, you’ll likely be posted to Spontoon or at least close by, so you can see your folks. 
        “Now, you need to go and celebrate with the rest of the class.  I’ll be along presently to join you.”  He went back to his paperwork, and she stood up, straightened her Sam Bruin belt and left the office.

        Most of the class was at The Crater, enjoying a beer or something stronger.  Several were gathered around the billiard tables, playing absorbedly while dance music blared from the radio at the end of the bar.  Halli spotted Robbie at one of the tables, and she walked over after getting a chilled bottle of Orca-Cola.
        The tall jackrabbit tapped the end of his cue against the far corner pocket, then lined up his shot.  As the other players watched he struck the cue ball, which rolled the length of the table and struck the seven ball.  The ball teetered, then dropped into the pocket with a thud.
        He straightened up with a grin and chalked his cue.  “Hi, Halli.  Congratulations.”
        “Thanks Robbie, and to you, too,” Halli said as she took a seat on a stool and watched him line up his next shot.  He missed and stepped back as one of the other players moved to the table.
        “So, what did you get?” she asked him.  She offered him a drink from her bottle, and he accepted with a grin.
        “Patrol training, up Tillamook way,” he said. 
        “You don’t sound too upset about it.”
        “I’m not,” he said.  “I’m a bit tall to fit in a plane, and a seaplane has a bit more room up forward than a KV-9, you know.”  One ear twitched.  “It’ll be fun.”
        “So you say,” Halli said, still looking a bit peeved at not achieving her ambition of fighter training.  She sipped at the fizzy, dark reddish-brown soda and watched as Robbie stepped up for his next shot.  The jackrabbit sank the four and the six in succession, but missed a banking shot on the three.
        “Bad luck,” Halli commented, and giggled when Robbie scratched his ear with his cue, leaving a pale blue streak of chalk on his fur. 
        “Luck?  That’s got nothing to do with it, and you know it,” Robbie protested.  “It’s all math – look at the right angles, and how much force you apply to it, and the ball should – aw, crud,” he mourned, turning back to the game in time to see one of his opponents sink the eight ball.
        “Like you said,” the bobcat said cheerfully as he plucked a one-dollar Rain Island note from Robbie’s tunic pocket, “it’s all math.”  He put his cue up and walked over to the bar.
        “Ha, ha,” Robbie said as he put the cue on the table, “you’re as funny as mange, Jacobs.”  The bobcat laughed loudly and Robbie turned to Halli.  “Can I treat you to dinner, Halli?”
        The rabbit considered the offer, putting a paw to her chin in thought before replying, “Sure, Robbie.”
        He smiled.  “Great.  There’s a place outside the gate called the Clawmark that’s supposed to have the best food this side of Seathl.”

        An hour or so later Halli sat back from her plate with a happy sigh.  The restaurant more than lived up to its reputation, offering good food at a reasonable price.  Her meal had been the best she’d had since coming to Rain Island, and Robbie had been excellent company. 
        He had told her about his home and family.  It developed that he was the oldest of three children, and had joined the RINS after completing the local high school.  He liked flying, and thought that the idea of serving his country was the best job he could possibly have.  His admission that he didn’t have a girlfriend back home was accompanied by an almost coy look in her direction.
        Halli laughed and reached across the table to touch his paw.  “Robbie,” she said, “I think you’re very sweet, but we’re not going to be stationed together, you know.”
        “I know,” he said, “but that doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun now, does it?”
        She thought it over, then said, “You’re right.”  She waved at the waiter, and when the squirrel walked over she said, “Check, please.”


May 2, 1937:

        “Write me?” Robbie asked.
        Halli nodded and hugged him.  “So long as you write back,” and with a final kiss she stepped back, grabbed up the duffel bag containing all of her gear and headed for the seaplane dock.  He waved, set his dark blue baseball cap firmly on his head and headed toward his own flight.
        The Bosanquet B-2 was almost at its capacity of ten passengers and a heavy load of cargo for God’s Armpit and points southwest.  Halli had gotten lucky and the last empty seat was reserved for her.  Robbie was taking a more northerly route to Tse-whit-sen in Tillamook, while others of her class were going elsewhere. 
        That caused Halli to think about the other five Spontoonies in her cadet class.  She had been the only one who had gone to flight training; Ari was probably still in Engineering School with one other, two more were in the Fleet, and Ranua had been sent to the Intelligence Service.  The idea of the usually energetic terrier stuck behind a desk amused her, and she giggled to herself as she settled into her seat and fastened her seat belt.
        The wide-bodied trimotor seaplane lifted off and headed west over the city of Seathl, and Halli craned her neck to see out the port-side windows.  She had flown near the city many times as part of her training, but never directly over it, and she could see Haywood Square pass below them.  When the plane reached the westernmost point of the fjord, it banked slowly onto a southwestern heading that would take it to the lonely point of land known as God’s Armpit.

        The small refueling and resupply base on the island hadn’t changed at all since she had last passed this way from Spontoon five months earlier.  Standing on the tarmac, Halli realized with a sensation that was almost painful that she was getting closer to home. 
        After making certain that the plane was still being serviced and refueled she walked to a lonely, wave-swept point at the southern end of the island.  The rabbit faced into the seaward breeze toward home, raised her arms and began to chant a prayer of thanksgiving to the gods. 
        When she was finished she lowered her arms and closed her eyes as a wave of homesickness swept over her.  Wiping a tear from one eye she turned and walked back to the dock.

        Several hours later, with the afternoon sun dipping toward the western horizon, the Bosanquet approached a complex of three islands arranged in an irregular circle around a wide lagoon.  Halli asked, “Is that Blefuscu?”
        One of the other passengers, a weasel whose uniform bore a lieutenant’s stripe, nodded.  “Yes, that’s the place.  The seaplane anchorage is on the west side of the atoll, over there,” and he pointed off in the distance.
        Blefuscu was composed of three major islands and several smaller islets.  The largest island, on the west, was nearly five miles long and shaped like a fat letter V.  To the north lay the larger Brackett Island, but it was Blefuscu’s protected lagoon that decided the RINS in favor of the location for its Southwest Group base.
        The Bosanquet came in low over the western part of the lagoon and touched down as the sun was setting.  Two blocky ships could be seen anchored to the south; these were the seaplane carriers Eider and Merganser, and Halli suppressed a surge of frustration at the sight of the fighters arrayed around the two ships.
        As the seaplane taxied to its waiting towboat, Halli could see that the islands looked very much like the northern reaches of Main Island.  Silhouettes of pine trees could be seen on the island facing her, and her curiosity started to get the better of her.  When she got the chance, she decided, she’d explore all of the islands and find out as much as she could.
        The plane was towed to a vacant dock and made fast, and the passengers disembarked with their duffel bags.  Halli hefted the bulky bag onto one shoulder and followed the others.
        An ensign stood at the end of the dock with a clipboard, checking off names and collecting orders; Halli walked up to him and fished her orders out of a pocket with her free paw.  “Another pilot – great,” the bear said as he studied the paper and made a note on his clipboard.  “Welcome, Ensign Amura.  I’m Ensign Calley.  The transient longhouse is in that direction,” and he gestured with a toss of his head toward a broad road paved with crushed coral rock and seashells.  “The CO will want to see you and the rest of the pilots,” he added, raising his voice slightly, “as soon as you get your gear stowed.”
        Halli nodded and headed up the road, noting various buildings as she walked.  There was a base store, several bars and a recreation hall, as well as facilities for maintaining the planes.
        The longhouse was a single-story affair of whitewashed wood planks with a broad porch surrounding it.  Interestingly, it was divided into separate sections for men and women, which struck her as rather odd.
        She claimed a bunk and her ears perked at the sound of a whistle.  Following the sound, she and the other pilots and other personnel gathered on the porch facing a stocky mastiff bearing a captain’s insignia on his broad shoulders.