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4 January 2007
The adventures of Ensign Halli Amura, RINS
BY WALTER D. REIMER
© 2006 by Walter D. Reimer
The alarm clock started ringing, and Halli opened one eye and glared at it for a second before reaching a paw out to silence it. As she lay back, she smiled as Trina snuggled a bit closer, and her smile widened at the sweet mixture of musks in the room.
She nudged Trina’s shoulder. “Time to get up, Trina.”
The rabbit nuzzled the tabby.
“Hey, we need to wake up or we’ll be late.”
Halli’s eyebrows quirked.
“Okay, you asked for it.”
It took only a minute of tickling before the tabby was squirming and writhing on the bed, practically screaming with laughter until she rolled off the narrow bed to land on the floor with a thump.
Trina rubbed her buttocks around the base of her tail and glared up at her lover. “That was mean.”
The rabbit ran a paw through the light brown fur on her chest and said, “We need to get cleaned up and get some breakfast.” She squinted at the clock and added, “I need to be in briefing by nine, and it’s just after six.”
“After six?” Trina got to her feet and stretched, raising her paws to the ceiling before bending over and touching her toes. Halli felt her heart skip a beat at the sight. “Shall we take turns getting washed up?”
“You’ve seen the size of the bathroom, right? There’s only room for one.”
“Okay. Be out in a couple minutes.” The two kissed and Trina went to clean up while Halli got up to make breakfast.
They parted company with a friendly wave as they boarded separate launches. Halli resisted the urge to sing on the way over, but contented herself with humming happily.
She was still humming when she appeared at the briefing room, fully kitted out in her flight suit. Niho looked up at her as she sat down and said, “Good morning! Another ten minutes and I’d have to do some explaining.”
“Sorry,” she said. “I took my time getting up, and I almost didn’t catch the water taxi – er, motor launch,” she said.
“Oh? Where were you?”
Halli smiled widely and explained. When she finished Niho nodded approvingly. “I’m at the far end, down by the school,” he said. “I’m housed with some sweet little gal from Administration.”
“Oh, ho,” the rabbit chuckled. “That explains why you’re always in such a great mood.”
The antelope blushed. “She knows a lot more than just pushing paper,” he said, and after she finished giggling added, “that’s not what I meant.”
She giggled again. “I’m sure. So,” she asked, composing herself at last, “what’s the plan for today?”
“Well,” Niho said, “we’re to go out with the whole squadron and practice coordinated attacks on a target – guns only,” and he laughed as her ears dipped. “Bombs and such will come later. You know, you’ve got a killer instinct?”
Halli just grinned at him and went to get her map packet.
A few hours later and about a hundred miles to the south Halli banked around as another seaplane peeled away from the formation and dove on the target. The ship this time was the trawler that had been seized a few weeks earlier for smuggling.
With the syndic for the seaplane patrol wing, Commander Edensaw, watching closely from above, the planes demonstrated formations designed to maximize the effect of their guns. The KV-3s attacked in waves or in staggered formations, the senior pilots aboard coaching their juniors as the instruction continued.
Finally Commander Edensaw’s voice crackled over the cockpit radios. “Well done, everyone. You got the hang of it with few mistakes, and we’ll be repeating the exercise once a week. Dummy ordnance training will start in June. Head back to base.” There was a chorus of clicking over the speakers as the pilots double-clicked their microphones in acknowledgement.
On the flight back Halli glanced over at Niho as he got out of his seat. “Need to use the can,” he explained. Halli nodded and kept an eye on the instruments.
Suddenly an ear twitched. After several weeks she had become used to the sound of the plane’s engines, and something sounded wrong. “Niho!” she called out.
“I’m busy, Halli.”
The rabbit gritted her teeth.
“Tie a knot in it, then – something’s up with the starboard engine.”
“What?” There was the sound of hurried movements behind her. The antelope came forward and got back into his seat, looking at the instruments. “Everything seems normal,” he said.
“Yeah, but it sounds different.”
Niho cocked an ear and listened for several moments, then shook his head. “Sounds about right to me.” He looked out the front window and saw the base getting closer. “We’re about five miles out, so relax.”
“I tell you, there’s something wrong,” Halli insisted. “Look, I’ll make a bet with you. Five dollars says the engine’s bad.” She stuck out her paw. “Deal?”
Niho eyed her (more specifically, her ears) then shook paws with her. “It’s a bet.”
The petty officer in charge of the ground crew shoved his cap back on his head as he looked down into the starboard engine. He looked over his shoulder and down at the flight crew and said, “Who thought there was something wrong?”
Halli raised a paw and the badger growled, “You were right, kid. One of the connecting rods was about to go – another hour or two in the air and you’d be in trouble.”
“None of the instruments showed anything wrong,” Niho said.
“And they wouldn’t until a rod had gone through the block,” the crew chief said. “We’re going to have to pull this and strip it down to fix it,” and he started muttering under his breath as Niho turned to Halli.
The rabbit grinned cheerfully and put out a paw. “Pay up.”
He scowled, even as he dug into his pocket. “And you say you heard the change in the engine?”
“Yes,” she said as she accepted a five-dollar note from him. “I’m not as mechanically inclined as some – I think my friend Ari could likely feel something wrong – but I do have good hearing.”
“I’m starting to believe that,” Niho said with a grimace. “Anyway, I’m out five dollars to you. Care to bet on something?”
Halli grinned sweetly. “I’m sure something will spring to mind,” she said as she walked off to the equipment room to change.
“You should have seen his face,” Halli said over dinner that night. “You would think I asked him to part with one of his children.”
“Now he’ll be out to get it back,” Trina observed. “Watch yourself, Halli,” and she wagged her fork at her housemate.
“I don’t think he’ll do anything mean,” Halli said, “he’s not like that. So, what did you do today?”
“Practiced, same as you,” the feline replied. “We had target practice out east. One of my wingmates almost hit the water, and Commander McCall was furious. I’m surprised you didn’t hear him over your radio,” and she rubbed her ears meaningfully. “Is your plane going to be down long for maintenance?”
Halli shook her head. “I don’t think so,” she said. “The chief will probably have his crew up most of the night getting things put back in order. Why? Any ideas?”
The feline picked at her food for a moment before smiling and saying, “Well, apart from the usual – “ the rabbit smothered a chuckle “ – I heard that we’re in line for a week’s leave starting next month.”
“A whole week?” Halli asked, an incredulous look on her face. “Where’d you hear that?”
“I overheard a few of the senior pilots talking about it,” Trina explained. “It makes some sense, since we’ve been flying five and six days out of seven since we got here.” She saw a thoughtful look come over Halli’s muzzle and she asked, “What?”
“If what you heard is true, I was thinking that I might see if I can get down to Spontoon. You know, to visit my parents.”
“Oh. Would you like someone to go with you? That is, if what I overheard turns out to be true?” Trina asked.
Halli smiled and covered one of Trina’s paws with hers. “Of course,” she said. “I want my parents to meet you.”
Trina sat there blinking for several moments as her statement sank in. Finally she whispered, “Really?”
“Uh, huh,” Halli nodded, and she stood up as Trina practically lunged into her arms and hugged her.
The next day, Halli discovered that the plane had been repaired, the ground crew up until after midnight working on the engine. She gave the crew chief the five dollar note she had won from Niho before joining her crew.
Although Niho looked at her somewhat sourly, he was still a good-humored sort. As the plane took off she asked, “I heard a rumor that they’re going to give some of the pilots a weeks’ leave.”
The antelope nodded. “You heard right. Provided, of course, that everyone does well on the ordnance exercises at the end of the week. See the levers over your head?”
“Yes,” she said, glancing up.
“Those are the release levers. When torpedo and bomb shackles are put on, those levers will actually work instead of hanging down and getting in the way of people with handsome antlers, like me.” He preened a bit and she chuckled. “When we do the exercises, there’ll be two torpedo runs in the morning, and two bombing runs in the afternoon.”
“I’ll do my best.”
He winked. “No noseovers, okay?” And he got a good laugh at her expense as her exposed skin and ears flushed bright red.
A week later the squadron was out over open ocean again, this time with each plane carrying two torpedoes shackled to their boatlike hulls. The projectiles, inert copies of the Syndicate’s seventeen-inch aerial torpedo, were painted an eye-straining shade of yellow so that they could be easily recovered. The planes also acted differently, moving slower and sluggishly. Each torpedo weighed as much as their live counterparts.
“Remember now,” Niho warned as Halli heard the plane’s call sign announced, “launch at one thousand yards and watch your altitude.” He stopped talking then as Halli brought the KV-3 into a dive and leveled off, eyes flicking from the altimeter to the gun sight.
“Ready,” and one paw went up to grasp the release lever for the port shackle, “steady . . . now!” and she yanked the handle even as she pulled back on the yoke. The plane shuddered and rolled slightly to the right from the sudden loss of four hundred pounds, forcing Halli to turn the yoke slightly to the left or risk having the plane flip over. She then used the weight on her right to help her bank hard away as the torpedo sped toward the hulk.
Niho listened intently to the assessment over his headphones, and gave Halli a thumb’s-up. Bill and Jack cheered.
“You were a little low,” Niho said, “but you stayed on course until you released, and you were dead center on the target. Now, come around again and launch the second one.”
Her second launch showed that she had benefited from the senior pilot’s advice, and she was ordered to fly the plane back to Blefuscu for refueling, lunch, and the placement of practice bombs.
“Wait a minute – I have to fly with those things on the plane?” she asked, gawking at the pair of fat 250-pound bombs shackled to the hull.
“Why not?” Niho countered. “You carried more weight with the torpedoes. Come on Halli, you can do this,” he said encouragingly.
“It’s not the weight,” she said, “it’s the maneuver.”
The bombing practice required the KV-3 to dive from three thousand feet or higher down to five hundred, where the bombs would be released. The altitude was considered important, as the plane might lose its wings if it was forced to pull up too abruptly.
The ship looked impossibly small at three thousand feet, but when Halli put down the flaps and pushed the nose down, it got bigger fast.
She hung in her seat harness, barely able to keep her heart from climbing out through her throat as she reached up and released her first bomb. Following her training, she stayed falling for a second or two before pulling out of the dive and banking away. From the corner of her eye she could see a tremendous splash alongside the target ship.
“Glacier to Sugar Maple 6.” Glacier was Commander Edensaw’s call sign, being the brown bear’s name in English.
At Niho’s gesture, Halli picked up the microphone. “Go ahead, Glacier.”
“Had there been anyone on the target, you would have rattled their teeth. Close. Go around and try again,” the commander’s clipped voice said.
“Yes, sir,” and Halli racked the microphone and spiraled up to attack altitude again.
Her second attempt hit the water on the other side of the target ship, but she had the consolation of knowing that most of the others had similar luck. Only one had managed to score a hit, and that had been a glancing blow off the fantail.
Commander Edensaw’s assessment was terse. More bombing practice was required, but what he had seen so far looked promising. The pilots in training would be granted leave.