Spontoon Island
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30 November 2006

The adventures of Ensign Halli Amura, RINS

Chapter Four

© 2006 by Walter D. Reimer

        Halli blinked.  “You want me to fly us out?” she asked, trying hard to keep her voice from rising.  It was all she could do to restrain herself from jumping up and down enthusiastically.
        “Sure,” Niho said as he led the way out of the operations center and to the docks.  “You are checked out on this type of plane, right?”
        “Yes,” the rabbit said, her ears standing straight up, “but you’re the pilot – “
        “Exactly,” Niho said, “which means if you screw up I’ll get in trouble.  So take it nice and easy.  You need the hours in the air, you know.”  He smiled and started to help her put on her parachute as she hurried to buckle it on.
        The KV-3 had an enclosed cockpit, so flying helmets were not required, and after casting off from the dock Halli ran her paws over the controls.  “All set back there?” she called out to Bill and Jack while she put on a set of headphones.  She glanced behind her to see them both nod and wave, and she hit the ignition switches.
        The two engines caught and roared to life, and Halli set her feet on the rudder pedals as she taxied away from the dock.  She picked up the radio’s microphone and turned to Niho.  “What’s our call sign?”
        The antelope laughed.  “I was wondering when you’d ask,” he said.  “We’re ‘Sugar Maple 6;’ the base’s call sign is ‘Great Tree.’”
        She nodded and rechecked the frequency setting on the radio before pressing the microphone key.  “Sugar Maple 6 to Great Tree,” she said, then gulped.  “Request permission for takeoff.”
        “Roger, Sugar Maple 6.  Lane’s clear, and good flying.  Give us a position report every hour.”  She acknowledged and racked the microphone, then steered the plane into the correct position before pushing the paired throttle levers forward.
        The KV-3 responded well, building up speed as it cut through the lagoon until the hull rose up and clear of the water.  Halli eased the yoke back and banked the plane to the right, describing a wide sweeping turn that gave her the opportunity to get a bird’s eye view of the atoll.
        The eastern island bore the base hospital, easily recognizable by the huge red cross on its roof, and rows of small houses.  To the south one of the three destroyers assigned to the base rode at anchor, and as she brought the plane around and climbed she could see that another destroyer was shepherding the Eider out of the lagoon.  “Where are they going?” she asked.
        “I think they’re headed east, out to the open water so they can do some practice unobserved,” Niho remarked.  “The Bakunin’s with her, along with her patrol screen,” he added, looking down.  “I think I heard someone saying that the Reclus left last night to patrol north around Balimnibarb.”
        Halli nodded while she brought the plane up to two thousand feet and leveled off, taking a westerly heading and gratefully accepting the offer of a pair of sunglasses from Niho.  She suddenly flinched at the sound of two heavy machine guns being fired behind her.  “What the hell?”
        “Just Jack and Bill testing the guns,” Niho laughed.  “You should test yours as well now.”
        “Okay.”  She grabbed the arming lever with a paw and pulled it back, then ran her thumb over the firing button mounted on the control yoke.  The plane jiggled a bit and she could see the bright puffballs of tracer ammunition arcing away from the plane.  “I think that we’re ready now,” she said with a chuckle.
        Niho opened up his map and pointed.  “Our first landfall should be here,” and he indicated the outermost islands of the Konigi chain.  “We should be there in a bit over an hour and a half.”  He fished a small magazine out of a pocket in the cockpit door and started reading.  Halli smiled when she saw that the title was Amazingly Amazing Adventures, with lurid cover art showing a scantily-clad minkess recoiling in terror from something in a shadow.    
        She fiddled with the radio dial and grinned suddenly.  There it was, sounding a bit distant but clear as a bell:  “ - dio LONO, the Voice of the Gods, saying a big Hello to all you lonely pilots out there.  Here’s a little something from one of our local bands, titled Love Among the Palms.”  Hula music started to come through the headphones and Bill called out, “Hey, Halli, that’s great music.”
        The rabbit looked back and waved at the beaver, then settled back in her seat and looked out at the seemingly limitless horizon spreading out in front of the plane.

        After an hour she switched frequencies and reported in while Niho stowed his comic book and picked up a set of binoculars.  “Anyone seen anything so far?” he asked over the drone of the engines.
        “Nothing, Niho,” Jack said.
        “I saw a fishing trawler – Japanese – about a mile south of us, nets in the water,” Bill reported.
        He glanced at Halli, who shook her head.  He peered off into the distance and pointed.  “There’s landfall.  Good piloting, Halli.”
        “Thanks, Niho,” she said, feeling very pleased with herself.  It was difficult navigating by compass over open sea, with no landmarks to guide her and the possibility that a crosswind might nudge them off course.  But she had kept an eye on the compass and one paw had never left the yoke.
        The patrol pattern never got closer than ten miles away from Krupmark, and was an irregular back and forth pattern that gave maximum coverage to the thicket of small islands between the criminal haven and Spontoon.
        After several hours the crew ate the boxed lunches that had been prepared for them.  Halli was munching on an apple when she looked off into the distance.  “Bill, what’s that off the port side?  Looks like a ship.”
        “Hmm?  Where?  Oh, okay,” the beaver said as his voice crackled over the headphones.  “A trawler, can’t tell whose, about ten miles away and moving southeast.”
        “That puts it moving away from Krupmark,” Niho commented after looking at the map.
        “Should we call a patrol boat in on it?”
        “That’s the usual procedure,” Niho remarked as he adjusted the radio dial.  “We’ll have them met at Spontoon’s ten-mile limit and see if a search catches anything.”  He passed the message on to the nearest patrol boat, and received an assurance that it would be intercepted.  The plane’s call sign was recorded in case the ship ended up seized and there was prize money to be given out.
        The sun was nearing the western horizon when Halli turned the plane eastward, and she had to spot the searchlight on the Blefuscu control tower in order to land the KV-3.  As she taxied to the dock she cut the engines and opened the cockpit door so she could help Bill and Jack tie the plane up.  Once it was securely moored she closed out her logbook and said to Niho, “Thanks for letting me fly today, Niho.”
        The antelope nodded, then cracked a smile.  “Get used to it; you’ll be getting a lot of flying time in this beast,” and he thumped the overhanging wing affectionately.  “Now, I say we go get showers and something to eat.”
        “You got my vote,” Jack said.  “I saw on the bulletin board that there’s a movie tonight.”
        “What’s playing?” Halli asked.
        “Something by Shirley Shrine,” Jack replied, and he laughed as the rabbit’s ears went straight down and she gagged.
        “I think I’ll miss that,” Halli said, walking off to return her parachute and then wash up.


        The next day dawned early, with everyone in the longhouse getting up just as the sun started to peer above the horizon.  Habits acquired in training died hard, and the hard-packed beach sand felt great to run in as all of the pilots jogged once around the island before breakfast.
        Halli learned that crews assigned to afternoon patrols generally had some free time in the mornings, so she hitched a ride on a motor launch across the lagoon to the south island where the Merganser was moored. 
        The ship was huge to her eyes, and she recalled what she had been taught in flight school: eleven thousand tons, capable of 22 knots and carrying 24 planes.  The six hundred foot-long ship dwarfed the launch as it motored past the carrier.  The ship’s wheelhouse was set well forward, with most of its deck space dominated by hangar elevators, cranes and catapults.  One of its KV-9 fighters was being hauled out of the water as she watched, the plane’s engine cowling decorated with what looked like a homicidally enraged duck that she guessed was the carrier’s emblem.
        Someday, she promised herself.

        After taking a quick look around the anchorage she took another launch back to the seaplane base and caught a brief nap.  When her alarm clock rang, it was time for her to get dressed and go to her briefing. 
        She was reading through the orders and glancing at maps when Niho, Jack and Bill walked in.  “Hi!” the antelope said.  “You’re here early.  Eager to get back up, huh?”
        “You bet,” she replied enthusiastically.  “Hey, Jack, how was the movie?” and she laughed as the beaver shuddered.
        “As bad as I thought it might be,” he admitted, “but at least it might protect me if I end up on Cranium Island.”
        “The cure might be worse than the disease,” Bill joked, and they all laughed as they sat down for their briefing.
        “Same old, same old,” Jack muttered as he looked at his copy of the flight plan. 
        Halli grinned.  “More flight time and more experience,” she corrected him.
        The petty officer groaned a bit, then smiled.  “I gotta wonder about people who are that enthusiastic.”
        She shrugged.  “I like flying.”
        Later, dressed in flying suits and hefting their parachutes, they walked back out to their plane.  This time they all assisted the ground crew in making sure that the KV-3 was ready to fly before casting off. 
        Halli closed the cockpit door behind her and switched on the radio as she made one last inspection of the instruments before starting the engines. 
        The patrol this time was entirely uneventful, with few boats seen other than those who were on legitimate business.  One plane, a big China Colonial Airways Dornier Do-X flying boat, passed ten miles south of them, headed in to Spontoon.
        They were about to head back when Niho noticed Halli squirming a bit in her seat.  “You okay?”
        “Guess I shouldn’t have had so much to drink with lunch,” she said a bit shamefacedly.
        “Okay, I have control,” the antelope said as he took hold of his control yoke.  “Go back and use the can.”  The crew used a large metal can, obviously salvaged from the mess hall’s rubbish pile, as a latrine.
        “But – “
        “But I can’t have the copilot bouncing around in her seat, Halli.  Don’t worry; Jack and Bill won’t look – much, that is,” he chuckled.  Halli unstrapped herself and moved aft.
        Using the can required a bit more time for her than it did for one of the men, but she finally finished what needed to be done.  She nudged Bill aside and opened the window, then poured the contents out so that the slipstream could carry it off.  “Hate like hell to be the poor guy who’s on the receiving end of that,” he commented as she closed the window.
        “I don’t know,” Halli said, “I’ve heard of people paying good money.”  Placing the can back in its bracket to be cleaned out after they landed, she went back to her seat.