Spontoon Island
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13 June 2007

The adventures of Ensign Halli Amura, RINS

Chapter Twenty

© 2006 by Walter D. Reimer

        That’s pretty . . .
        Sanity-bereft-thou!  They’re SHOOTING at you!
        “Break right!  BREAK RIGHT!” Niho’s voice rose to a shout as Halli yanked the control yoke over and shoved the throttles all the way forward.  The KV-3’s airframe shook as it banked upward, swooping to the right of the boat.
        There was the sound of hammering, so loud that the rabbit at first thought it was her heart, but realized that it was the sound of bullets – actual, lethal bullets – striking the seaplane’s wings and hull.  There was a thud, the tinkle of glass as the port cockpit window blew in, and Niho grunted, flinching to his right.
        Halli spared him a glance as she leveled the plane off.  The controls were suddenly starting to feel a bit mushy.  “Niho!  Are you okay?”
        “I’m fine!  I’m fine!” he said in an angry tone.  “I’ve got the plane; get on the radio and call for help.  Shoot at my plane, you godforsaken . . . “  His voice trailed off as Halli got out her navigational instruments and caught a quick star fix, then started going over the chart.  While she calculated their position, Niho started fighting with the controls.  “What the hell’s wrong with this thing?  Jack?  Can you see?”
        “Yeah, Niho,” came the reply from behind him.  “Port engine looks like it’s smoking, and – Christ, Niho, the wing’s chewed up.”
        “Damn.  Thought so.  Halli, how’re you coming?”
        “Got it!”  She snatched up the radio, set the frequency to the emergency channel and started calling out a summary of the situation and their current position.  She listened to the response and said to Niho, “Sugar Maple 7 and the Proudhon are on their way.  Seven’s closest; they’ll be here in about an hour.”
        “Not good enough,” the antelope growled as he jockeyed the plane around and descended.  “We’re going to have to land, and by the time Seven gets here those bastards will be long gone.”
        Niho turned to grin at her, and she bit back a gasp at the dark smear matting the fur along his jawline.  “So we slow them down.  Take hold of the controls, Halli; you’ll have to help me with this strafing pass.”  He looked hard at her expression.  “What?”
        “You’re bleeding.”
        “I’m not hurt bad,” he said.  “Just some flying glass, I think.  Now come on and let’s give them something to think about.”
        Halli nodded, grinning as she started to help him with the controls.  “Right.”
        The damage to the left wing was starting to tell, as the plane slewed around and lined up on the boat’s wake again.  Halli coaxed the KV-3 down to fifty feet while Niho kept a close eye on the port engine.  “Niho,” Jack warned.
        “’Fraid so.  Just started burning,” the beaver reported from his vantage point.
        “Too late now.  Let’s go in.”  He increased power to the starboard engine and helped Halli keep the plane in trim as it neared the boat.
        Whoever was aboard had not let his guard down; bright flickers of tracer fire started to stream up toward them again.  Niho’s lips skinned back from his teeth as he squeezed the triggers on his control yoke, and the KV-3 shivered as its nose guns fired.  He held the plane as steady as possible, even as the hammer blows of bullets striking the wing returned. 
        The plane suddenly lurched to the left as the fur on the boat’s machine gun started aiming at the flames coming from the left engine.  Niho finally broke off the attack, and as the plane banked the left engine quit completely.  He coughed then, a harsh liquid sound, and Halli felt the fur on the back of her neck creep.
        “Halli . . . take over and land us,” the antelope said as he slumped back in his seat.  He was still breathing, and she breathed a prayer as she leveled the plane off, keeping an eye on the altimeter.
        Thirty feet . . . twenty . . . ten . . . There was a hard impact as the plane hit the water a shade too fast, and the lack of thrust from the left engine caused the KV-3 to fight Halli’s grip on the wheel and slew to the left, skidding like a car on an icy road. 
        The rabbit was out of her seat in an instant.  “Bill!  Niho’s hurt; come up here and help me!”
        “On the way,” and the stocky beaver shouldered his way into the cockpit.  He and Halli started to remove the lanky antelope’s seat belt and Niho groaned, his back arching in pain.  “Where you hit, Niho?” Bill asked.
        “Shoulder – I think,” the antelope said.  The beaver probed the blood-sodden jumpsuit, and Niho gasped in pain. 
        “Yup, you got hit there,” the petty officer agreed, and probed further.  “Looks like one round went through the cockpit and grazed your side, too.  Come on, Halli, let’s get him into the back so we have some room.”
        She helped him, feeling her paws grow sticky and slick with the lieutenant’s blood.  They settled him down beside the radio set and Halli suddenly stiffened.  “I’ve just had an ugly thought.  Jack, can you find that flare gun?”
        “Sure, Halli.”
        “Fire one.  I’m thinking that those furs out there may want to come back and finish the job.”
        “Oh, Christ.”  There were fumbling sounds in the semidarkness along with the sound of waves slapping against the plane’s hull.  Moonlight glimmered off the water as Jack’s shadow was seen at the starboard window, and everyone averted their eyes as the flare was fired and cast its lurid green glare over the water.
        Jack scanned the horizon with his binoculars, then froze.  “Halli?”
        He looked back at her.  “I hate the way you think.  They’re coming.”
        She just seemed to go numb at the words, groping for a seat.  The seaplane rocked in the swells while Bill fussed over Niho’s wounds and Jack looked at the approaching cabin cruiser.  They won’t take us alive, Halli thought, and they’ll be long gone by the time Seven or the Proudhon get here.  What do I do now?
        You fight, came a voice inside her.  She started, unsure, and the voice repeated itself.
        Fight, Halli.
        She murmured, “Warrior-Shield, guard us,” in Spontoonie before asking, “Jack?”
        “We’ve still got one good engine, right?”
        “Suppose so.  But we can’t take off.”
        “I know,” and in the darkness the rabbit’s ears laid completely back against her head.  “But we can maneuver.”
        Buck teeth gleamed by the moonlight and the dim lamp where Bill worked on Niho.  “I get you, Halli,” Jack said.  “What do you need me to do?”
        “How many flares do we have?”
        “Lessee . . . five.”
        “Have to do, I guess,” she said as she headed back to the cockpit.  At one point her booted foot splashed and she grumbled, “Figures we’d take a hit in the hull.”  The KV-3’s belly was well-armored and the hull’s angle could deflect a shot, but against heavy-caliber bullets there was a chance that it could be punctured.  She settled into her seat and hit the ignition switches.
        The left engine failed to even turn over; the right caught, sputtered and came to life.  “Jack!” she called out.  “Give me a bearing!”
        “Starboard, looks like four o’clock.  Range about a hundred, decreasing.”  There was a brief bright flash from the boat.  “Rifle fire.”
        “Damn.  It’d make sense that the machine gun wasn’t all they’d have.  Okay, coming about.”  Her foot stamped on the rudder pedal and the plane started to swing. 
        The wounded plane moved slowly, but finally she could see the boat drawing closer in the moonlight and she tensed her paws on the control yoke.  As soon as the boat was lined up in the crosshairs she stopped the turn and hit the triggers.
        Twin streams of tracer fire erupted from the Bruinings in the plane’s nose, the swells causing her aim to be thrown off.  But the range was diminishing – she estimated that she had started firing at just over fifty yards – and she was gratified to see the boat veer suddenly and a dark shape go over the side. 
        What followed was a complicated ballet, the seaplane and the cabin cruiser each jockeying for position, the cruiser faster, the seaplane more heavily armed as the crew of the smuggler boat discovered when they drew off to the side of the KV-3 and Jack and Bill started firing from the waist guns.
        A few times the boat managed to present its stern to the seaplane, sending a small blizzard of machine gun bullets that kicked the water into foam and caused splinters to fly off the KV-3’s wings.  But Halli ignored the projectiles, concentrating instead on centering the fire from her plane’s guns onto the stern of the boat.
        She almost leaped straight up out of her seat as the volume of fire coming from the boat’s stern slackened, then died off.  She eased the throttle forward and moved toward the boat.  “Jack!  Star shell!”
        The flare lit up the area and she poured gunfire into the boat, which now sported a plume of smoke from its fantail.  One fur waved his arms at her frantically, only to have another take a swing at him. 
        In response she came in closer, raking the boat as she timed her shooting with the swells and the motions of the KV-3 in the water.  She gave a start as she felt water lapping at her ankles and realized that the plane’s motions in the water were becoming sluggish.  They would have to find and plug the holes, then pump the plane out.  “Bill?  Jack?”
        “Here, Halli.  How’re we doing?”
        She uttered a curse in Spontoonie.  “They put a few holes in us.”
        “Gee, you think?” Bill asked.  “We might be able to set up a swimming pool in here soon.”
        “Yeah,” Jack chimed in, “and me without my suit.”
        “Is Niho okay?  Can you two find out where the holes are and patch them?”
        “He’s okay, just out cold.  We’ll start looking, but you might want to get on the radio and start calling SOS.”
        That shook Halli.  Abandoning the seaplane would limit their options to the small inflatable rafts and their sidearms; the boat’s crew would get the upper paw.  She pulled on her headphones, determined to stay with the plane as long as possible.
        Besides, a stray thought told her, if she didn’t make it she might see Trina again.
        “Sugar Maple 6 to Sugar Maple 7.”
        “Sugar Maple 7, go ahead.  Where are you?  Over.”
        “We had to land, pilot’s injured.  The boat is nearby and I think I crippled it.  Position?  Over.”
        “Give us another flare.  We’re practically on top of your last position fix.  Over.”
        Halli’s heart rose in her throat.  She might not have to die, after all.  “Jack!  We need another flare!”
        “Right,” and shortly the sky lit up again.
        “We see your flare, Six.  We’re about two miles out from you.  Proudhon’s last signal had them about two hours away.  Over.”
        Halli nodded and said, “Understood.  We’re taking on water, so we might need to abandon the plane, over.”
        “Okay, Six.  We see you now.  That boat looks dead in the water, but we’ll give them a pass or two to see if they still want to play.  If they don’t, we’ll advise and you can bail out.” 
        Halli switched off the starboard engine and as her ears adjusted she could hear the sound of an approaching aircraft.  There was also the crack of a rifle, and a small splash of water against the hull.
        The rabbit ground her teeth.  “That . . . will be quite enough of that,” she growled as she pushed herself out of her seat and went aft.  “Jack, where’s the flare gun?” she asked in a deceptively quiet voice.
        “Here,” and the stubby pistol was pressed into her paws.  “Careful, it’s got our last flare in it.”
        “Oh, I’ll be careful.”  Halli went forward.
        Opening the cockpit door let some water slop in, but she barely noticed it as she climbed out and onto the nose of the KV-3.  The waves had been pushing the plane and the boat closer to each other, since both were now at the mercy of the ocean.
        She could see, albeit dimly, several furs aboard the cabin cruiser.  Halli took careful aim, staying seated to give her a better chance at the shot.  Just a bit closer . . .
        The heavy flare pistol bucked and she watched as the round arched up and landed against the boat’s fantail in a blaze of sparks.  A small spurt of flames shot up, followed by the growing orange glow of an actual fire.
        “That’ll keep you busy!” she shouted as the furs she saw on deck ran to try and extinguish the fire.  They were beating at it furiously, trying to put it out, as the flames obviously reached a fuel leak.
        But then the lepine saw one of the crew, silhouetted by the flames, aiming what appeared to be a fire hose.  She cursed low and venomously in Spontoonie, berating herself for her stupidity as she realized that she should have thought of that.  The hose was probably being fed from the bilges or a feeder hose thrown over the lee side of the boat.  Once they had the fire out . . .
        As soon as she thought it, the flames made contact with an intact fuel tank (but it could have been an ammunition magazine or the cargo).  At any rate, the night sky lit up as the stern of the boat exploded with a roar like thunder and showering the ocean with bits of flaming debris.
        There were screams in the distance, a fiery stick figure leaping for the water with arms flailing.  Halli felt a wave of hot air roll over the stricken sea-plane and as the shock wave hit she grabbed hold of the mooring cleats on the plane’s nose.  She watched slack-jawed as the boat went under with a huge, sucking noise.
        It disappeared so quickly it seemed as if a monstrous, unseen paw had yanked it beneath the surface.  Then all was as calm and still as if nothing at all untoward had occurred on this fine, clear evening.