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26 October 2006
The adventures of Ensign Halli Amura, RINS
BY WALTER D. REIMER
© 2006 by Walter D. Reimer
“Good evening,” the mastiff said curtly, his voice carrying easily. “I’m Captain Smith, the base Syndic. I want to welcome all of you to Blefuscu. Now, how many of you are pilots?” Seven of the ten raised their paws, and Smith nodded. “Good. You’ll report to Captain Kahr tomorrow morning at nine o’clock in the air wing’s meeting hall. In the meantime,” and he raised his voice as a twin-engine KV-3 flew overhead, “relax and get some sleep.” He turned and walked away, leaving the furs looking at each other.
“Well, I’m going to get something to eat,” one said, and the others seconded the idea. Halli tagged along, not really hungry but curious to see more of the base.
There was a small chapel that included Russian Orthodox icons and images that she immediately recognized as Spontoonie tikis. Law-Giver and Warrior-Shield were the two dominant images, which made sense to her. She bowed to them both and walked on, her boots crunching on the gravel pavement.
The mess hall served something that she’d encountered in Seathl and had immediately added to her list of delicacies, a confection called carrot cake. It tasted fresh, so she had a piece of it with a glass of milk while others ate their dinners.
It may have been the trip, but she felt herself getting tired so she returned to the longhouse. She was asleep almost before her head hit the pillow.
The meeting hall for the pilots and enlisted ratings in the air group was large enough to hold all of them and still have room for a small raised stage. The wall behind the stage was painted with a detailed map of the entire area, centered on Blefuscu. A series of concentric rings radiated out from the center, giving the distance in miles to various points such as Spontoon and Orpington Island. Halli found a seat between two lieutenants and gazed at the map.
“Attention!” and the assembled pilots and enlisted furs stood as the air group commander walked in, followed by two aides. The fox smiled at them as he bounded up onto the stage. “Be at ease. For those of you I haven’t met, I’m Milo Kahr, commander of the air wing here. For those of you who do know me, you can safely ignore me for now.” Several of the furs in the audience laughed.
“I want to welcome you to the Southwest Air Group. We have three squadrons of fighters here, two on carriers and one based ashore. We also have two squadrons of patrol aircraft, all of them radio-equipped and with a two thousand-mile range. That range can be extended by using a series of fuel dumps located – well, here and there. The exact locations will be revealed to you after I’ve reviewed your security clearances.
“Now, those of you who are new to this part of the world need to be aware of several restricted areas.” The fox favored them with a penetrating glare. “These restrictions are necessary, and you will obey them, people.” One of his aides passed him a pointer and he tapped the center of the map.
“Here in the south,” and he pointed while some came partway out of their seats to see properly, “we have Sacred Island in the Spontoons. We are allies with the Spontoonies, and we respect their restrictions. I’m not going to start an incident simply because one of you decided to be an idiot.
“Now, over to the west we have Krupmark Island,” and he tapped the largish, vaguely pork chop-shaped landmass. “Home of criminals and God knows what all else. Your flight maps have it marked as ‘Restricted,’ so don’t bother overflying it. You might get shot at, and while we feel that all they have are machine guns for antiaircraft, we can’t be sure they’re not packing something stronger.” There was a brief pause.
“Finally,” Kahr said, “here to the northwest is Cranium Island,” and Halli swallowed. “Do any of the new people here know anything about Cranium?”
Halli put up a paw and Kahr looked at her. “You’ve heard of the place, Ensign - ?”
“Amura, sir. Halli Amura.”
“Your accent – Spontoonie, are you?” At her nod he smiled. “I’d heard that we were starting to get Spontoonie officers. Welcome. Now, you probably know more about this place than I do, but I want you to pay attention anyway, got it?” She nodded and his brush whisked back and forth briefly as he gathered his thoughts.
“Cranium Island is strange, people,” he said simply. “That’s the best word for it, and I’ll tell you how strange it can get.
“About five years ago – you can look it up, it’s in the base records – one patrol seaplane overflew Cranium Island on its way back here, at an altitude of about fifteen hundred feet. It landed safely here in the lagoon. But that was the last normal part of the flight.
“The pilot and copilot had to have their paws pried off the controls, their headfur had turned bone white and they still go into hysterics whenever they see the color blue,” Kahr said with a bleak look. “One of the two observers was dead; the other,” and he shuddered, “appeared to have been yanked clean out of his fur and skin.”
All of the furs in the room looked shocked, while one or two appeared scared. “The plane was towed out to deep water and sunk, but we still have the records and the logbooks. You’re free to read them, although I can’t guarantee you’ll sleep that night. Your flight maps have Cranium outlined in red – obey that, people,” he barked. “I haven’t lost anyone from stupidity since taking this post, so stay ten miles away from that place. Am I clear?”
He waited for the muttering to die down. “Now, our peacetime mission here is twofold; one, we patrol the sealanes here in the Nimitz Sea to protect legal shipping from piracy. Two, we watch for and try to stop smuggling operations. The KV-3s are armed for that purpose.” He grinned, showing his teeth. “For wartime missions – well, that’s what the KV-9s are for, along with the carriers.
“Any questions?” Kahr paused for a long minute, then said, “Commanders McCall and Edensaw will be posting patrol and training rosters. Again, welcome, and I look forward to serving with you.” Kahr stepped down from the dais as the two commanders tacked lists to a bulletin board.
Halli studied the training roster and found that she was assigned as a copilot. While she looked at the list she felt a shape lean over her and ask, “So, looks like you’re with me.”
She turned and saw a lean pronghorn antelope looking over her shoulder. He straightened and offered a paw. “I’m Lieutenant Hohnihohkaiyohos – but please, call me Niho,” he said. “It’s a Cherokee name meaning ‘high-backed wolf’ – my folks would never tell me why,” he chuckled.
“Niho it is, then,” she said, shaking paws with him. “Halli Amura.”
“Great,” the antelope said. “Well, Halli, I see we’re scheduled for patrol duty starting at noon. Let me introduce you to our observers, and then we’ll get a look at the plane, okay?”
He certainly seemed friendly enough. “Sure,” she said, and followed him over to the stage, where two petty officers were crouched beside the map, pointing at various features and arguing good-naturedly.
Niho walked up to them and said, “Okay, you two. Here’s Ensign Amura, our new copilot. Halli, these two are our observers, Jack Hart and Bill Running Elk.” The two were both beavers (Hart was a bit taller) and each sported three silver stripes on the upper arms of their jumpsuits – petty officer’s rank.
“Pleased to meet you both,” Halli said. “What were you two arguing about?”
Hart grinned. “Bill and me were arguin’ about when we were rotatin’ down to Spontoon. I says before June; he says later,” and he laughed as Running Elk slapped his tail against the backs of his legs.
“We periodically rotate assignments,” Niho explained, “and we operate two or three planes down at Moon Island. Of course, you probably know that.”
Halli grinned. “That’s what got me interested in flying, seeing the patrol planes overhead.”
Niho and the others laughed. “Well, let’s go and look over the plane, and get ready to go out,” the antelope said.
The aircraft was the standard patrol seaplane for the RINS, a Kypriakos-Volstead KV-3. It carried two engines on top of its high, broad wing, and it had a slightly ‘tubby’ appearance when viewed nose-on because its hull flared out at the waterline. It was painted a hazy silvery gray, and bore the diagonally-divided red and black RINS roundel with a silver anchor on its wings and fuselage. There were two observation windows on either side of the fuselage between the wing and the V-shaped tail, and there were two long blisters on either side of the heavily glazed forward canopy.
“Fixed machine guns,” Niho explained as Halli looked at the blisters. “The observers have their own mounted at the windows, and we have these. Just point the plane and let ‘er rip. They’re calibrated out to five hundred yards.”
“Have you had to use them?”
“Only once, last year,” Running Elk said. “It was a smuggler boat.” He looked quite pleased. “They shot first, and we put a few holes in them, then landed and held them for the patrol boat. How much did we get, Jack?”
“Ten dollars each,” Jack replied in an absent tone, and Halli was reminded that the Naval Syndicate operated under prize rules at times – the monetary value of a seized ship or its cargo was shared out to the crews of any plane or ship involved in the seizure.
Still, the amount of money was a good bonus for sailors involved in sometimes hazardous duty.
After changing into flight suits and drawing parachutes from the quartermaster, Niho and the two observers stepped back and watched as Halli and two ground crewfurs ran through the preflight inspection. The fuel tanks were topped off and ammunition belts were loaded into the four Bruinings. “We all ready, Halli?” the antelope asked.
“Looks like it,” the rabbit replied. “I can’t think of anything I might have missed.”
“You didn’t,” he said with a smile. “Let’s go to the operations shack and get our maps and flight plans, then we’ll grab something to eat and head out.”
The operations shack was a low building near a refurbished lighthouse that now did duty as a control tower. Radio antennas towered a short distance away.
Appearances were deceptive, Halli realized as she entered the ‘shack’ and discovered that it covered a set of steps leading down. The operations center was a bunker, roofed over with concrete; maps festooned the walls and radio operators moved small planes across a wide table painted to match the map she had seen in the meeting hall.
Niho saw her looking around and laughed. “It probably wouldn’t stop a bomb or two,” he said, “but we know that we live in a rough neighborhood out here.”
Halli nodded and studied the oilskin packet of maps given to her by the operations officer. The flight plan called for them to proceed to a point just east of Krupmark, and observe activity near that island and the smaller atolls of the Konigi Islands. Since it was less than two hundred miles away, there would be plenty of fuel for patrolling for several hours before returning to the base.
“All set?” Niho asked. Jack and Bill had drawn magazines of film for the cameras that were an important part of the job, and Halli nodded. “Fine; you get to drive, Halli.”