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4 May 2007

The adventures of Ensign Halli Amura, RINS

Chapter Eighteen

© 2006 by Walter D. Reimer

July 6, 1937
Seathl, RINS Aerodrome:

        The two cups of strong black coffee (with no sugar) she’d had weren’t helping her stay awake. 
        The coffee had left a vile taste in her mouth, too.
        Halli sat in the aerodrome’s terminal, leafing through a copy of The Sentry, the base’s newspaper.  She blinked sleepily at the comics page before squinting up at the clock over the clerk’s desk.
        0230.  The rabbit grumbled and turned the page to another article, then blinked and read it a bit more closely.
        The article – from “A Special Correspondent,” which meant someone on the inside specially delegated to the task - related a debate last week within the Command Syndicate concerning resources and expenditures.  After a lengthy discussion that included delegations from the enlisted ranks of each branch of the Syndicate, the vote was in favor of finishing the construction of the three capital ships now being built, but building no more.  Future construction would instead center on smaller ships, seaplane carriers and aircraft.  Being a pilot, Halli could understand that, but did feel some sympathy for the Fleet Syndic, Vice-Commodore Przybylski.  The wolf had been the lone, albeit vocal, advocate of extending Rain Island’s battleship program.
        There were two side articles as well, by the same “Special Correspondent.”  One announced that after more debate and a much closer vote, the Syndicate would retain and refit the two old American-made cruisers Raven and Orca for the foreseeable future.  The two modern cruisers being built were supposed to inherit the older ships’ names, but would now be named Bear and Wolf.  The older cruisers would be essentially rebuilt and modernized from their keels up after the new ships were commissioned. 
        The other article related that the Army Syndicate would soon start building Skoda light tanks under license from Czechoslovakia, “with modifications.”  Building them was cheaper than buying them and having them shipped over.  It had taken almost a year of hard bargaining with Prague to get the deal hammered out.
        Halli pondered all three articles, then laid the paper aside and sighed, drumming one paw on her knee.  Her plane wasn’t due to take off until 0330, and no one had yet chalked up a ‘Delayed’ notice on the blackboard.  Just another hour, and she and the half-dozen or so officers and ratings lounging around the terminal could go.
        One long ear twitched as she overheard three furs discussing whether or not they had time to shoot some dice before their flight.  After a moment or two the trio (an ensign like herself and two petty officers) moved to a far corner of the room, and shortly thereafter came the rattle of dice as they struck the wall and rolled.
        Even with the occasional sound coming from the craps game, Halli felt her eyelids starting to droop again.  She was considering (and dreading) another cup of coffee when a clerk sauntered into the room and called out, “Plane’s warming up at the dock, people.  Be on it or miss it,” and he lifted an eraser and wiped the departure side of the chalkboard clean.
        Halli lifted her duffel and thought that she really must be tired – the canvas bag felt like it contained lead bars.  She left the terminal and started toward the docks as the craps game broke up and the other furs followed her to the plane.

        She gave up her struggle and fell asleep as soon as the plane was in the air, and didn’t wake up until their flight was circling Blefuscu.  The rabbit glanced out the window and noticed that the weather seemed perfect for flying. 
        The hole left in her heart by Trina’s passing was still with her, but she could deal with it now.  She had spent enough time in mourning, and it was time to get back to work.
        Her breath still managed to catch in her throat as the plane passed over the crash site, though.

        As soon as she disembarked Halli headed over to her squadron’s office and checked in.  She was interested to learn that Niho and the others were out on patrol, and that they would be starting night patrols the next week. 
        Captain Kahr had told her to report to him when she returned, but the air group commander was out flying.  It was necessary, his ensign explained, for the captain to maintain his flight certification.  He noted her arrival on a small memo pad, then smiled and offered her his condolences, saying that he had heard about the accident shortly after it happened.
        Halli thanked him and walked to the motor launch dock.
        Her first stop was the base post office just down the street from the school.  She collected a substantial amount of mail and sorted it carefully to make sure that none of Trina’s mail was mixed in.  Thankfully, it had all been returned to sender over a week ago, so she stuffed her mail into her duffel and walked up the street to her home.
        After unpacking she started going through her mail, and was pleased to find her first set of lessons for her degree.  It made a bulky package, containing books as well as assignments.  She laid the rest of the mail on the kitchen table and leafed through the packet, shaking her head at the amount of work that was required.  Well, she joined the RINS to be able to fly and to further herself, so hard work was expected.
        The mail included letters from her family and a small notice that her pay envelope was waiting for her at the base paymaster’s office.  She smiled at that, then sat back as her nose twitched.
        Trina’s scent lingered in the small house, and she deliberately thrust aside her grief and smiled, thinking of happier times.  After several minutes she roused herself to get up from the table and started unpacking.  She debated what to do with Trina’s things, and decided to pack them up and ship them to the feline’s parents in Norwood.
        A picture of the two of them, though – she kept that.


        The KV-3 wallowed in the swells as it taxied toward the dock, and the antelope in the pilot’s seat suddenly grinned when he saw a familiar form waiting on the dock.  The rabbit helped the rest of the dockside crew make the seaplane fast to its pier, and Niho opened the cockpit door and yelled, “Halli!  Great to see you, girl!”  The badger who was serving as his copilot in her absence made way for him as he climbed out of the plane.
        “Hi, Niho,” she said cheerfully, restored to good humor at the sight of her friends.  Jack and Bill gathered around and pawshakes and hugs were exchanged before the antelope asked the rabbit, “Is everything okay, Halli?”
        She nodded.  “Everything’s okay now, Niho, and I’m ready to go back to work.”
        “Great!  We just got back from morning patrol,” Niho said, “and I’m famished.  Come on, and after we get through debriefing we’ll buy you lunch,” he added with a chuckle.

        Over an hour later Halli sat back from her place at the table and sighed.  The spaghetti with mushrooms had been filling, and she put a paw to her muzzle as she yawned.  “Sorry,” she said to Niho and the others, “I got some sleep on the flight, but I’m still tired.”
        “Well, you’ll have to start sleeping during the day anyway,” Jack grumbled.  “We start night patrols next week.”
        “I saw that,” the rabbit said, dabbing a napkin against her muzzle.  “Who was your copilot while I was gone?”  She gave the antelope a teasing look as she remarked, “You know how jealous I get when you fly with anyone else.”
        The two observers snickered, and Niho replied, “Guy named Dale – he’s usually assigned to a fighter squadron off the Eider, but was thinking about transferring.”  He drank down the last of his beer and smacked his lips.
        Halli gave the two petty officers a wink and asked Niho, “You married yet to that girl from Admin?”
        “Well, we – hey!”  They all started laughing as the antelope blushed a vivid red and he shook his horns at the rabbit.  “Lynn and I have only talked about it,” he admitted in a grudging tone.  “How’d you find out about it?”
        The lepine raked a paw through her brown headfur.  She’d have to get it trimmed at the barber, or she’d have to get a new flight helmet.  She gave a sly smile as she explained, “I didn’t know, but I figured if I asked, you’d let something slip – and it did,” she said gleefully.
        Jack laughed as Bill plied a toothpick between his chisel front teeth.  “So, when’s the wedding?” he asked, carefully deadpan, and they all started laughing again as Niho spluttered.
        When everyone finally calmed down Halli remarked, “I saw an article in the base paper when I was at Seathl,” and went on to describe the high points of what she’d read.  When she finished, the other three furs looked thoughtful.
        “Makes sense,” Bill said.
        “How do you figure?” asked Jack.
        “Simple.  We’ve got islands all over the damn place, right?  Well, who wants a huge battlewagon trying to get around all those islands?”  Bill took a drink of his fruit juice.  “So it makes sense to concentrate on planes and smaller ships, see?”
        “Yeah, I guess so,” his partner grumbled, “but a battleship’s useful.  Shows people we mean business.”
        Halli giggled.  “So does two squadrons of KV-3s armed to the teeth and diving at you,” she said.
        “Yeah, I got to agree with that,” Jack admitted.  “But here’s another thing: why are the guys in Seathl blabbing it all over the paper?  You don’t telegraph your punches like that.”
        “Well, we are a peaceable nation,” Niho said.
        “Tell that to Target Island.”


        Later in the afternoon Halli returned to the administration building and learned that Captain Kahr had returned from his flight.  She asked the clerk to let him know that she was in the outer office, and in a few minutes the fox came to the door.  “Ensign Amura, come on in and sit down.  I apologize for my appearance.”  The fox was still wearing a dingy-looking tan flight suit.  His use of her rank, instead of her first name, told her that he was in ‘official’ mode.
        “That’s all right, sir,” she replied.  “I’m ready to get back in the air myself.”
        “Good.”  Kahr sat down at his desk and shuffled through a few papers, then gestured at an empty chair.  Halli sat down as he said, “Your, ah, companion was a fighter pilot.”
        “Yes, sir.”
        “According to your file, you also applied for fighter training straight out of flight school.”
        “I scored a bit low, sir.  That’s why I went to Patrol first.”
        “So I see.  Well,” he said briskly as he set a paper aside, “so far you’ve done very well flying the KV-3.  Reports filed by your pilot instructor show that you have a good feel for the plane and Commander Edensaw says that your aim’s improved.”
        “Thank you, sir.”
        “We have an opening for a pilot on the shore squadron – the pilot’s decided not to re-enlist,” Kahr said.  “Interested?”
        Halli blinked.  Part of her yearned to achieve her dream of becoming a fighter pilot; another part reminded her that Trina had been lost flying the same type of plane.
        Seeing her hesitation the fox cocked his head.  “Yes, Ensign?”
        “Well, sir,” she said after a moment, “I want to thank you for the offer.”  She looked down at her paws, then looked back up at him.  “But I don’t think I’m really ready for fighter training right now.  I-I’d like to stay where I am.”
        The silence lengthened, and Kahr sat back.  “I think I understand,” he said.  “I respect your feelings on this matter, Ensign Amura.  You’ll stay in patrol until the end of this month, after which you’ll be rotated into a fighter squadron as part of your normal cross-training.  All of the pilots in the Air Arm are trained on everything we have that has wings, you know.”  He grinned.  “Even the Ospreys.”
        Halli smiled.  The bigger attack planes with their recoilless cannon were a common sight around Spontoon, and were flown only by properly seasoned and trained pilots.  “I know, sir.  Again, thank you for thinking that I’m ready now.”
        “That’s that, then.”  The fox scratched under his chin.  “Go get yourself squared away, and you’re back on flight status so you can rejoin your crew tomorrow.”