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28 June 2007

The adventures of Ensign Halli Amura, RINS

Chapter Twenty-one

© 2006 by Walter D. Reimer

July 11, 1937

        “Hey, Lieutenant?” the second in command of the RINSS Proudhon said as he emerged from the radio room.  “We’re coming up on the contact point.  Sugar Maple 7 says that they can see us.”
        The patrol boat’s commander nodded, leaning forward in his bridge chair unconsciously.  Ever since the KV-3 had reported it was under fire, his nerves and those of his crew had been on edge.  They had been pushing the gunboat’s engines as hard as they dared in their efforts to get to the crash site as quickly as possible. 
        The sight of an explosion hadn’t done their nerves any good either.
        “Turn on our lights and start looking, Rufe.  They’re out there somewhere, and we don’t want to run them over.”
        “Right.”  Orders were passed and the boat’s powerful searchlight stabbed into the darkness.  After a few moments the ensign leaned forward, his binoculars to his eyes.  “Helm, steer ten degrees to port and slow to one-third.  “Jack?  You better see this for yourself,” and the ensign offered his glasses to the commander.
        The lieutenant did so, looking in the direction indicated.  “All right,” he said, lowering the glasses.  “Bring us in and signal the deck crew to have the boats ready.”
        Then he started laughing.


        Halli sat casually on the bow of the KV-3, her M1903 pistol in her paw as she calmly returned the glares of the six furs floating below her.  They were apparently all that was left of the smuggler boat’s crew, and had swum away from the flaming wreck as it sank while clinging to life preservers and bits of floating debris.
        The seaplane still sat low in the water, but Jack and Bill were taking turns at the small emergency pump and helping her watch the prisoners.  The starboard waist machine gun was far more impressive than her automatic.
        A fairly constant drone overhead told her that the other patrol plane was still watching over them, and occasional star shells lit up the area.  She twitched an ear as Bill called up from the cockpit, “Halli?  Seven says our ship’s coming in, and they’re shoving off now.”  There was a pause and he chuckled.  “Their pilot says to give their regards to the Killer Rabbit.”
        “Okay, Bill,” she said, laughing softly at the epithet (apparently Niho’s remark about her instincts had gotten around the base pretty quickly,) even as she started to feel a bit tired.  Her nerves were starting to take their inevitable toll on her, and she could feel her paws and tail begin to tremble.  “Please thank them for their help.”
        “Sure thing.”  After a few minutes a dark spot appeared in the distance to the north, followed by the brilliant glow of a searchlight as it swept over them, then came back and stayed there.  She resisted the urge to wave.
        One of the furs in the water, a bear with light brown fur, tried to start swimming toward the KV-3.  He stopped as a pistol fired and the bullet zinged into the water in front of him.  “Stay right where you are,” Halli warned, resting the smoking pistol back in her lap.
        “But – but there’s sharks in these waters!” the man protested in English.  His accent marked him as American.
        “Which would you rather deal with – a possibly hungry shark, or me?” the rabbit asked, this time raising the firearm and aiming it at the fur.  The bear subsided, adjusting his position on the piece of planking he was holding onto and muttering to himself.
        “That’s better.”
        The trembling stopped, but only a bit.
        She could almost hear Trina’s laughter, and that comforted her.
        The Proudhon hove to, and two small boats were lowered over the side to fish the survivors from the water.  While the waterlogged furs were being hauled aboard and searched briefly but thoroughly, a voice hailed Halli from the wheelhouse of the patrol craft.  “Ensign?  Need any help?”
        Halli waved then.  “Yes,” she called out.  “We have one injured, and the plane’s been taking on water.”
        “If it’s leaking, we’ll have to scuttle her once you’re safe aboard.”  The rabbit waved again to signal that she understood, and poked her head into the open cockpit door to pass the word.

        Niho, semiconscious from shock and blood loss, was taken off first, followed by Bill and Jack.  Jack’s last act aboard was to pull away the patches that had slowed the sea from entering the plane.  Halli finally holstered her pistol and slipped the plane’s code books into her flight suit before stepping out of the cockpit and into the waiting boat.  As the boat pulled away, she felt a twinge at the thought of leaving the KV-3 to sink. 
        It had done an excellent job.
        The Proudhon was just as she remembered it from her early orientation training the previous December, a small patrol craft with all available space at a premium.  But they had a shower and the coffee waiting for the flight crew was fresh and hot. 
        She sat and sipped at the mug in her paws as she heard the ship’s engines increase power, followed by a dull flat boom as the three-pounder cannon fired.  The commander wasn’t taking any chances on the crippled KV-3 staying afloat and posing a possible hazard to navigation.
        She found that she didn’t want to go watch the plane sink.
        Looking around to make sure she was alone, she relaxed and let reaction finally set in.  Halli gave in to it, hugging her knees up to her chest as she shivered.  She and her friends had been close to death, but they had come through.  The rabbit passed a paw over her eyes and whispered a chant of thanksgiving before getting to her feet and leaving the compartment to check on the others.
        Niho had been taken to the small ship’s dispensary.  His wounds only looked bad, and Bill’s actions had stopped him from losing too much blood.  A few days in the base hospital on Moon Island would help him recover enough to be sent back to Blefuscu, and she and the two petty officers would probably welcome the rest.
        She knew that she would enjoy being back at Spontoon, if only for a little while.
        A shadow passed over her as she got another cup of coffee from the galley and she looked up, then straightened as she faced the lieutenant who commanded the patrol ship.  “Sir,” she said.
        “At ease, Ensign Amura,” he said.  The rat motioned for her to sit down and he took a seat facing her.  “I’ve already spoken to your two observers,” he said, “and the Rules say that I have to hear your report now.”
        “Yes, sir.”  She took a breath and started to tell him what happened, trying hard not to leave out any details.
        When she finished, he smiled.  “Your report matches what I’ve heard so far,” he said, “but the syndics will want it in writing.  You can use my office to file the report.”
        “Yes, sir.”  He left the wardroom, leaving her contemplating her cooling mug of coffee.


        “Ensign?  Ensign?”  Halli blinked her eyes open to see a rating smiling down at her.  The female otter said, “We’re arriving at Spontoon.  Just tying up at the dock.”
        “Oh?”  The rabbit sat up in her borrowed bunk and rubbed her eyes.  “What time is it?”  She dragged the back of her fist across her nose.  The bunk’s owner was a badger, who apparently didn’t bathe much.
        “Almost ten.  There’s coffee in the wardroom,” and as the otter walked out Halli stood up and looked out the porthole at the bright summer morning over Hanamahina Bay.
        “To hell with coffee,” she murmured.  “I want poi.”
        A group of burly furs wearing shore patrol insignia went aboard the Proudhon as soon as the gangplank was in position and escorted the six prisoners off to be interrogated.  Niho was taken off next and loaded into a waiting ambulance that would take him to the hospital.
        As Halli saluted the Rain Island flag at the stern of the patrol boat she glanced up and paused.  Someone with an eye to naval traditions had lashed a broom to the foremast, signifying that the sea had been swept clean of enemies.  The rabbit grinned and tipped her ball cap to a jaunty angle before disembarking.
        Two officers were waiting for her, Jack and Bill standing beside them.  She saluted the senior of the two, a mouse, and the woman returned the salute curtly.  “I’m Lieutenant Brown, Intel Syndic,” the mouse said, “and I believe you know Ensign Milikonu.”  She indicated the terrier standing beside her, who grinned.
        “Ranua!” Halli exclaimed.  He had lost some weight and she almost hadn’t recognized him.  The two embraced briefly as the mouse looked on in amusement.
        Halli stepped back and looked at the terrier.  Ranua had been a friend of hers and they had gone through officer training in Seathl, but he had been selected for Intelligence because he had failed to express a preference for a particular branch of the Syndicate.  She wanted to ask him about himself, his family and his girlfriend, Miri, but realized that it would have to wait.  Business first.  He nodded, understanding her expression.
        “The two of us will be interviewing you three – and Lieutenant Hohnihohkaiyohos when he’s well enough to talk to us,” Brown explained.  “After that we’ll see about getting you back to Blefuscu.”
        “Thank you, ma’am,” Bill said.

        The interviews took several hours, and by the time the last question was asked and answered to Lieutenant Brown’s satisfaction Halli felt exhausted.  “You know something?” she said to Ranua as they walked out of the administration building.  “I don’t care if it’s in the Rules, I’m through talking.  I want a hot bath, a clean uniform, and dinner.”
        “In that order?” Ranua laughed.  “Come on, we’ll stop by the longhouse and you can clean up.  Then I’ll treat you to dinner.”
        “Poi?” she asked hopefully, and he laughed again, nodding.  He knew that it was her favorite comfort food.

        The next day she woke up in the transient longhouse, and as she was finishing her breakfast at the mess hall Ranua walked up to her and sat down.  “What, not eating breakfast?” she asked.
        “Already ate,” he replied.  “The prisoners started talking last night.”
        “That didn’t take long,” she remarked.
        “Well, you have to know how to ask the right questions, I guess,” he said with a shrug.  “Turns out they were smugglers.”
        “Weapons, bound for Kuo Han.”  He glanced at his paws for a moment as his tail wagged.  “Apparently certain people in China are paying top shell for guns and explosives.  You know why, of course.”
        Halli nodded.  Hostilities had flared into open warfare in southern China just a few days earlier, and all the aircrews had been briefed on it.  Rain Island was watching carefully, but doing nothing (so far) to cause anyone to question their neutrality.  “So that’s what blew up, then.”
        The terrier nodded.  “From what we’ve learned, it was about a ton of stuff,” Ranua said.  He smiled at her.  “You did a great job out there, Halli.”
        The rabbit smiled back and shrugged. 
        “It was easy, Ranua – I was cornered into it.”
        The terrier nodded, staying quiet while Halli finished eating.  “You have a few days before you have to go back to Blefuscu,” he pointed out, “and you may get called back in to clear up some point or other.  Where can we get in touch with you?”
        Halli smiled.  “Either at my parents’ house, or at the Double Lotus.”
        “The Double . . . oh, sure,” he said with a friendly grin, and Halli realized that he probably hadn’t heard about Trina.

        A bit later she visited her parents and stopped at a shrine to pray before taking a water taxi to Casino Island.
        “Halli!  Great to see you again, girl,” Covina sang out as she entered the bar.  “You staying or just visiting?”
        “Just visiting today, Covina,” the rabbit said to the Malinois.  “I’m staying with my folks for a couple days.”
        “That’s great.  Say, listen, we’re having a party tonight – “
        “There’s always a party going on here.”
        “Ah, but this one’s different,” the canine said with a sly grin.  “We’re throwing a going-away bash for Lisa tonight.  Oh, don’t look like that; she’s only going to Seathl to talk things over with her bosses and visit her family.  Then she’ll be coming back.”  She beckoned the rabbit closer and murmured, “I was thinking that you might want to help us out with something . . . “

        That night the Double Lotus was alive with a large number of women enjoying themselves (some a bit more than others) while several musicians played the latest dance tunes.  The bar's former tender, a buxom cheetah, had arrived a bit late with her beau, a tall and slightly older whitetail buck.  The two of them sat at a corner table, which caused some of the couples nearby to excuse themselves and head for more secluded spots.  Brenda and Covina both greeted the cheetah with slightly more than friendly kisses while her boyfriend looked on without comment.
        Ranua and his girlfriend had been invited as well and had slipped in virtually unnoticed, taking seats beside the buck and the cheetah.
        The party’s guest of honor, Lisa Fallingwater, caught sight of the cheetah and laid down her clarinet.  The two embraced in a companionable manner and the vixen whispered in the feline’s ear, “So?  Set a date yet?”
        The cheetah grinned.  “Working on it.”
        The remaining musicians sounded a fanfare of sorts and everyone turned as a huge cake was wheeled in.  Lisa stepped up to the cake, which was decorated in waves and whorls of frosting, as Brenda shouted, “Friends, we’re here to say goodbye to our guest of honor tonight.  But although we know she’ll be back, we want her to know what she’ll be missing.  Right?”
        “Right!” the crowd chorused, and Lisa looked around at the group.
        Some of the smiles seemed just a bit too happy, almost expectant.       
        Her eyes narrowed in suspicion.  “Just what’s going on?” she asked as she faced the cake again.
        At that exact moment Halli, wearing nothing but a grass skirt, leaped out of the cake, grasped the surprised vixen by the shoulders, and kissed her soundly as the crowd cheered.