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9 February 2007

The adventures of Ensign Halli Amura, RINS

Chapter Thirteen

© 2006 by Walter D. Reimer

June 20, 1937

        Halli had never seen so many planes in the air at once since coming to Blefuscu.  Her plane and the others in her squadron, the other patrol squadron, and all three squadrons of fighters were lifting off and forming up over the lagoon.  Obeying orders from the control tower and her flight leader, she took her place in the formation.
        Two squadrons of fighters were orbiting the atoll on two levels in order to simulate providing cover, while the third was dispatched from the Merganser to patrol duties in the event that something happened.  The waters of the lagoon and for a few miles around the atoll were alive with the other ships of the Southwest Group to provide rescue and recovery if necessary.
        At the appointed moment the KV-3 carrying Captain Kahr moved into the van, trailed by two long Vs of seaplanes armed with either torpedoes or bombs.  Three-plane flights of fighters spread out into staggered formations above and below.
        Niho looked up and to either side as Halli flew the plane, trying to stay with the formation as it flew towards Target Island.  “You’re doing good, Halli,” the antelope said.
        “Thanks, Niho.”
        “So, um, what did you and Trina do after you left the bar last night?” he asked, giving her a sly grin.
        “None of your business,” she said with a wink, “but I’m sure you can guess.”  She saw the lead plane waggle its wings and she switched the radio over to the general circuit.
        “Okay, boys and girls,” Captain Kahr’s voice crackled in their headphones as the rocky island came into view, “here we go.  Low-level fighters, break and attack as ordered; high-level stay where you are for combat air cover.  Go!” 
        The KV-9s below the formation broke and dove, small brilliant puffballs of tracer ammunition showing where they had started strafing.  “Torpedo group, attack.”
        Halli and the other seaplanes in her group descended and formed a line abreast, each releasing their weapons in turn and peeling off as the squadron and flight leaders gave them direction or encouragement.  As they moved away the fighters came in for another strafing pass, followed by the first attack by the bombers.
        While the torpedo planes wave-hopped away to reform for their second pass, Niho smiled at Halli.  “Good shooting so far, but be prepared,” he warned.  “Kahr’s known for throwing a curve ball during an exercise.”
        “I’ll keep an eye out, Niho.”
        “Uh-uh.  You’ve got a plane to fly, so you keep half an eye out.  You have another pilot, and two observers,” the antelope said, “so use them.”
        “Bandit, bandit!” the yelp eclipsed whatever Halli was about to say.  “Bandit four o’clock and low, moving to intercept torpedo planes.”
        “Jack!  Bill!  Look sharp back there!” Halli called out.
        “On it, Halli . . . yeah, there they are.  Three, no four fighters.  Our cover’s after them.”
        “Start your attack run,” Niho urged, and Halli directed her attention to flying the plane and releasing the second and last torpedo shackled to the plane’s side.  When she had released the weapon she climbed, determined to search for any opposing fighters.
        “Where are they?” she asked, trying to look everywhere at once.
        “Off to port,” Jack said, “mixing it up with our fighters while the bombers make their second pass.”
        A fighter drew alongside the KV-3, and Halli looked out the side window to see Trina waving at her.  She waved back, jealous of the sleek little fighter her lover was piloting so skillfully and noting that the KV-9 had a faded vertical violet stripe on the fuselage just aft of the insignia.  She guessed it was an old squadron marking as she waved again and the fighter rolled and dove away.

        Finally the exercise was over.  “Good shooting, people, for a first time working together,” Kahr said.  “We can expect more of the same in the future, but for now we’ll head back to base.  Fighters will lead.”
        Halli almost slumped back in her seat as her adrenaline burned out of her.  She glanced at the clock and gasped.  “Four hours!  We’ve been out here that long?”
        “Sure,” Niho said.  “Combat operations, especially a coordinated attack like this, can feel like an instant when it actually takes a lot of time for the planes to form up and act in concert.  Whups!  Watch your right wing, Halli,” and the rabbit edged away from the neighboring plane.

        Since the KV-3s had more fuel than the smaller fighters they loitered, describing lazy circles as they waited their turn to land.  Halli sat back and listened to the cacophony of radio traffic between the tower and the fighter pilots.  There was a lot of extraneous chatter that at times obscured the tower’s instructions.
        “Vulture, come right and descend to two hundred, you’ll be next . . . Fat chance; I’m hitting the showers . . . S . . . clear for landing . . . Wave off!  Wave off!  DAMN!”
        Halli’s eyes went wide as she heard the voice in the tower abruptly recover and change its tone.  “Mayday, Mayday.  All planes in descent, break off and use alternate landing lane to the east.  Mayday, Mayday.  Blefuscu Tower declaring an emergency . . .”  The plane was banking around, and the fighter lane was below.
        Halli leaned over and craned her neck as far as she could, and saw a plume of smoke on the waters of the lagoon.  Crash boats and launches were heading for the scene. 
        She gulped against a throat gone dry as a paw groped for the Tailfast locket under her uniform and flight suit.  She glanced around frantically, but couldn’t see any fighters with a violet stripe.  Niho was listening to the chatter on his headphones, and stared at her as he saw her stricken look.
        “No,” she whispered.  “Dear Gods . . . no.”
        When it came her turn to land, she nearly put the nose of the KV-3 into the water and broke the base speed restrictions for taxiing aircraft.  As the ground crew made the plane fast, a launch bearing a huge white flag with a red cross could be seen making its way from the crash site to the hospital.

        “Come on!  Come on!” Halli breathed, her tail flicking agitatedly as she squirmed on the motor launch’s seat.  “Can’t this thing go any faster?”  She was still in her flying suit, drumming one foot impatiently on the deck as the launch chugged across the lagoon to the hospital.
        Niho said evenly, “Calm down, Halli.  The boat’s going as fast as it can.”  He eyed her with a worried expression, especially when he saw her paw hovering close to the Swedish-made M1903 pistol at her side.  “Here,” he said, “let me hold that for you,” and before she could protest he slipped the gun from her holster and stuck it in a pocket of his flight suit.  “Just in case.”

June 25, 1937
Casino Island
Spontoon Independencies:

        “Halli!” Brenda exclaimed as a brown-furred rabbit in uniform stepped into the Double Lotus that morning.  The canine looked past her and asked, “Where’s Trina?”
        Halli sucked in a sobbing breath.  “T-Trina . . . “


        “The results of my investigation are as follows,” Captain Kahr said quietly.  “One; there was too much radio traffic on the general circuit, and it was at times difficult to hear.  Two; Ensign Katrina Demjanjuk, call sign Seahawk, and Lt. Christopher Craig, call sign Sea Eagle, misheard the clearance from the tower and each thought they had been given landing permission.  Three; both planes collided at an altitude of thirty feet above Blefuscu Lagoon, Lt. Craig’s plane striking Ensign Demjanjuk’s just behind the right engine mounts.  A fire resulted.  Four; both planes were at landing speed and were destroyed.  Five; casualties.  Lt. Craig suffered two broken ribs and severe burns when he was thrown clear of the crash.  After impact, his plane essentially ‘cartwheeled’ over Ensign Demjanjuk’s.  Ensign Demjanjuk’s injuries . . .”


        “What?”  Brenda said as she came out from behind the bar and Halli started to sob, her shoulders slumping.  Her duffel hit the floor as she put her paws to her face.
        The Labrador took her in her arms and stroked her back.  “Tell me,” she said softly.


        Burned fur.
        Burned flesh.
        The smells would never leave her.
        A burly orderly tried to bar her way, and she chose to practice a move she hadn’t used since Guide School.  She stepped lightly over his unconscious body and entered the room.
        The smells hit her first, crawling up into her nose as heads turned and a nurse came forward to intercept her.  “You can’t come in here!” the goat said, and tried to shoo the rabbit out.
        “Nurse, wait,” Lt. Wolfe said.  “Let her come in.  She needs to be here now.”  He was wearing his wool cloak over his uniform, and at the sight of the look in his eyes . . .
        It was like being punched in the stomach.


        “Come on, dear, let’s have a seat over here,” Brenda said softly, tears welling in her eyes as she gently sat Halli down in a booth.  Other women in the Lotus were starting to draw near, attracted by the commotion.  “Covina, bring the brandy, please,” the canine said as she cradled the rabbit, letting her cry.


        “She’s been asking for you,” Wolfe said quietly, stepping back and whispering prayers.  Halli took a step forward and gasped, her knees nearly buckling as she reached her lover’s side.
        “H-Halli?” the feline whispered in a weak voice as the rabbit took her paw in both of hers.
        The rabbit blinked and smiled as tears dampened her fur.  “I-I’m here, Trina.”
        “I . . . I guess I’m a mess, huh.”
        Halli sniffled and nodded.  She couldn’t bear to look too long down the length of the table, where a depression in the bloodstained sheet showed that the right leg was missing just above the knee.  She looked up imploringly at the doctor, who shook his head sadly.
        “Yes, love, you’re not looking good,” she managed to say through her tears.  “But stay with me, please – please stay with me, Trina.”
        “I’ll . . . always be with you, H-Halli,” Trina said.  “I . . . love . . .” 
        Her grasp on Halli’s paw loosened.
        The light in her eyes faded.