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28 January 2007
The adventures of Ensign Halli Amura, RINS
BY WALTER D. REIMER
© 2006 by Walter D. Reimer
June 14, 1937:
Sporadic rain spattered and streaked against the KV-3’s windshield as Halli squinted, trying to see. Although the sky was a big place, there was the possibility that they might be straying into the path of another plane, or near places they were not permitted to go.
“The windshield wipers aren’t helping much,” she grumbled, looking at the compass and checking her watch. A quick set of calculations rolled through her mind, and she decided that they still had another half-hour before they’d have to turn to avoid Krupmark Island. “I wish we could climb above this.”
“And that’d pretty much waste the trip,” Niho observed as he scanned out his side window with binoculars. “Besides, we’ll be out of this rain squall soon.” He looked back at her and grinned. “At least you’ve shown that you haven’t forgotten anything while you were down Spontoon way,” he chuckled.
“Come on, it was only a week,” she giggled. “What did you think? I was drinking Nootnops Blue the whole time?”
That drew a laugh from Jack and Bill as well. Halli squinted ahead again and pointed. “Look over there. I think the clouds are breaking.”
“Good, steer for it,” and as the weather cleared the crew resumed scouting for any suspicious ships or planes. “Remember,” Niho added, “our return leg this trip takes us near Cranium. Mind the chart.”
“Don’t worry, Niho,” Halli said, “I know where we’re going.”
They flew on for almost another hour before Halli brought the seaplane around for home. She looked out at the islands below, then at her map and finally at her compass. “If we stay on this heading we’ll miss the restricted zone by ten miles,” she said, glancing at her superior. “That far enough to suit you?”
The antelope nodded and sat back in his seat. “I don’t have any questions about your skills as a pilot, Halli,” Niho said seriously. “I’m not criticizing.”
“No, I’m sorry,” she said. “That came out wrong.” She smiled at him as her ears dipped. “Sorry.”
“No problem,” he replied with a reassuring smile.
“Hey,” Bill called out from his observer’s seat, “got a plane, four o’clock and high, about three thousand, heading this way.”
“None that I can see,” the beaver said. “’Course, that don’t mean nothin’ around here. He’ll pass over us.”
“Yeah, but that course . . . “ Niho stared at the chart. “Straight where he’s not supposed to go.”
“Should we try to stop him?” Halli asked.
Niho thought for a moment, looking up at the passing plane. Finally he said, “Yeah. Halli, intercept course. We’ll try to pull up alongside him and signal him with the Aldis lamp.” The rabbit increased power and pulled back on the control yoke, the KV-3 climbing higher and pursuing the other craft.
After several minutes the RINS plane drew alongside the other aircraft, a twin-engine Birchcraft whose fuselage showed a lot of grime, but no markings or registry numbers. Which probably makes it a smuggler, Halli thought as she waggled the wings.
“Bill! Get on the Aldis lamp and tell them to change course,” Niho called out.
“Anywhere, so long as it isn’t straight ahead!” The antelope sounded edgy. “We’re getting too close.”
Halli looked across at the other plane’s pilots. A wolf and what looked like another canine looked back, and promptly tried to speed up. “They’re ignoring our signals,” she remarked.
“Okay, if that’s how they want it. Fire a burst across their nose.”
“We’ve got to warn them off somehow.”
Nodding, the rabbit turned the plane slightly and hit the trigger on her controls, sending twin streams of tracers lancing out past the other plane.
The plane rolled slightly, dodging the bullets but remaining on course. “Damn,” Halli said.
“Damn is right,” Niho said as the antelope glanced down at the map. “Turn away, Halli.”
The rabbit sighed and banked to the left, descending as she described a one hundred eighty-degree turn. She returned to an eastward course, and they flew on for perhaps a half a minute.
There was a brief flash behind them.
And Jack started screaming.
Halli felt her headfur trying to stand on end at the sound of the beaver’s yell. The rest of her fur didn’t have to try.
Niho shouted, “Jack! Bill, what’s wrong with Jack?”
“He was looking back, keepin’ an eye on that plane. Alla sudden he just turns with this real odd look in his eyes and asks ‘Didja ever go to make a pork sausage, and find that it’s got hairs all over it?’* Then he screams and just up and faints on me.” Halli looked back to see Bill patting Jack on the side of the face. “C’mon, you idiot, snap out of it! Niho, I think he’s out cold.”
“Okay, keep an eye on him,” Niho snapped, and gave a deep snort. “Damn! Halli, let the base know we might have a casualty.”
She paused. “Might?”
“Well, if he doesn’t die, or go crazy . . .”
“I get the idea,” she said, and started calling the base.
“I tell ya,” Bill muttered, “he gave me a look that’ll chill me to my dying day.”*
As soon as Blefuscu appeared on the horizon they received permission to land, not at the usual anchorage but at the docks near the base hospital. “Fast work,” Halli remarked.
“Yeah.” Niho looked morose, and Halli reached out a paw and touched his arm. He looked at her and she smiled.
“He’ll be okay,” she said, trying to reassure him.
“I hope you’re right,” he said, his voice edged with worry.
A team of nurses and two doctors were waiting at the dock and helped haul the limp beaver out of the KV-3 and onto a stretcher. As soon as he was securely strapped down they grabbed the stretcher and ran with him back into the hospital.
The rest of the plane’s crew started to follow but paused at the sound of a motor launch’s horn. “Now we’re for it,” Bill said under his breath as Captain Kahr leaped from the launch’s gunwale and onto the dock. The fox’s ears were laid back and his tail looked three sizes bigger than usual.
All three braced at attention as Kahr stamped straight up to Niho and snapped, “Report, Lieutenant.”
Niho reported as succinctly as he could, and the fox’s demeanor softened. “All right, all of you stand easy,” he sighed. “It was an accident, and you did right in trying to divert that plane. No matter what they might have been doing, whatever happened to them – well, no one’ll know, I guess.” He waved them to join him as he walked up the dock to the hospital.
As they entered the emergency room they could hear Jack yelling, “Let me up, dammit! I’m okay!” They found him in an examining room surrounded by doctors, nurses and the on-call psychiatrist. He was still strapped to the stretcher, glaring up at them as he repeated, “Look, I’m not crazy – I just passed out!” He looked around and caught sight of Niho. “Niho, tell these people I’m okay.”
“Tell me first what it was you saw, Petty Officer,” Captain Kahr said as he pushed his way to the front of the crowd.
Jack lay back and looked at the captain for a moment, then he closed his eyes. “I was . . . looking back at that damfool plane . . . and I saw . . .” He opened his eyes as the others watched, and he licked his lips.
“It . . . looked like a tentacle, and part paw . . . but it looked like it was made outta lightning,” he said slowly, “and while I watched I saw it swat the plane outta the sky, Captain.” He smiled sheepishly. “I guess watching that Shirley Shrine movie worked – all I did was pass out.”
Niho shook his head and Bill laughed, while Halli just smiled. “I’m glad you’re okay, Jack,” she said.
“That remains to be seen,” Kahr said sternly. “Petty Officer, you’re confined to the hospital until you’re certified able to return to duty. The rest of you are dismissed, and I’ll want a contact report on my desk before nightfall.” He took the psychiatrist aside as the crowd dispersed.
June 18, 1937:
Jack was discharged after three days, grumbling about the quality of the food in the hospital but otherwise none the worse for wear after his experience. Bill kept laughing at him, though, and the two argued good-naturedly about whether he ‘passed out’ or ‘fainted.’ The argument continued until they were in the air and Niho finally told them to knock it off.
While he had been in the hospital they had another observer substitute for the beaver, a taciturn wolf from another squadron. Aside from reporting what he’d seen, he rarely said anything else, so Jack’s return was welcome.
After they landed and put up their parachutes and other kit, Niho called them together. “Get some supper and plenty of rest,” he advised. “Tomorrow we go out with the others to do practice attacks again – and no, Halli, no live ordnance yet,” and he laughed as the rabbit sniffed theatrically and pouted.
The antelope laughed and made a show of giving her a consoling hug and pat on the back. “Aw, there there,” he said. “In two weeks we start coordinated live-fire exercises with fighter cover,” and he started laughing as she brightened noticeably.
Later, over dinner, Halli told Trina what Niho had told her, and she smiled as her lover nodded. “We were told the same thing,” the feline said. “Another week of practice by ourselves, then we pair up with you.” She smiled. “Maybe we’ll see each other.”
“Maybe,” Halli agreed.
“That reminds me,” Trina said, “I decided to follow your example, and went to talk to the education officer about a degree.”
“Oh? What did you have in mind?”
“Chemical engineering,” she replied. “The less reliant Rain Island is on imports like rubber the better off we’ll be in case there’s a supply problem.” She ate a bit more of her pan-fried fish and added, “I’ll be starting about a week behind you.”
“But I’ll bet you’ll catch up fast,” Halli teased. Trina was a very fast learner, at a large number of subjects.
The tabby grinned. “You’re a good example.”
Halli laughed, and they kissed. “Feel like taking a walk after supper?”
The rabbit waved at the dune line across the street from their front door. “Along the beach. We haven’t really been over there yet.”
Trina nodded. “Sounds like a good idea. We may as well know as much as we can about the neighborhood, right?”
“Right. We’ll get the dishes cleared away and we’ll go.”
The beach beyond the grass-anchored dunes was a fairly level plain of wind and wave-sculpted sand that stretched for almost the entire length of the island. The occasional streetlight and the peaks of some roofs showing above the dunes were the only signs that the area was inhabited as they strolled along, enjoying the sea breeze and each other’s company.
*(With thanks to Mitch Marmel for selected lyrics from The Dead Milkmen.)