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14 February 2006
BY WALTER D. REIMER
The Woodcarver's Son
© 2006 by Walter D. Reimer
After he had been sworn in, Melli said quietly, “When you leave here, head down the hall to your left to the supply room. The others are there.” Ranua nodded, resisting the urge to glance at the contents of the book in his paws. Melli opened the door for him and he left the office. The final applicant, a canine girl with braided waist-length brown headfur, entered the room.
When he reached the supply room, Halli Amura and the others grinned at him. “Well, took you long enough,” she teased. “What did you do? Try to argue with him?”
Ranua laughed. “No, and from where I was sitting it seemed to go by awfully fast. Are we getting uniforms here?”
The rabbit shook her head. “No, just getting measured for them, and picking up some more books.” Before he could ask, a voice shouted “Next!” and she waved him in.
The feline rating measured him carefully for two types of uniform, as well as for a hat and boots, jotting the measurements down on a form. He finally pulled two thick books from a shelf and passed them to him. “Here you go,” the feline said.
Together, the two weighed over five pounds, Ranua estimated, and he studied the titles. “Bowditch’s American Practical Navigator and The Bluejacket’s Manual,” he said aloud. “Are we supposed to study these?”
The rating shrugged. “Yeah, I guess so,” he said gruffly. “They make great doorstops, too,” he added with a smirk. He also issued Ranua an oilskin pouch that fit all three books. He held out a pen and pointed at the supply issue form. “Sign here,” he said, and Ranua signed his name before stepping out to rejoin the others.
He put the books into their oilskin pouch and flipped it closed as Melli and the last member of their group arrived. Sending the young canine in to be measured, Melli said, “Now, according to the contract, the school will not start until January fourth, but you will all be here on the weekend before that for the flight to Seathl. Until that time, I want all of you to study the books you’ve been issued. The first one, naturally, contains the Syndicate Rules, while the other two are essential starter texts for your school.
“Also, while you’re waiting for January, you can expect me to put you through harder and harder exercises as Guides,” and she laughed in mock malevolence as two of the group groaned. “The Base Syndic has also asked me to tell you all that you will be expected here next week.”
“For what, Melli?” Ari asked, his long rat’s tail flicking across his ankles.
The otter grinned, which made all of them glance nervously at each other. “You’ll be given some weapons and combat training,” she said, “as well as becoming familiar with planes, submarines and warships. Remember, the idea is to train you all to become officers, so you would certainly have to know something about craft that you may be commanding at some point in your lives.”
Ranua and the others looked at each other in a mixture of unease and excitement. Excitement at the prospect of actually commanding a ship, coupled with unease about whether they were up to the task. Although they all had experience in handling small boats, only one of them, Ari, had spent any time on anything larger (and that was a deep-sea fishing boat). And none of them had been in a plane. “How long will we be here?” Halli asked. “For the pre-school training, I mean.”
“Two weeks,” Melli replied, and six tails drooped. “Cheer up,” she urged, “you’ll be done with it by Solstice, and afterward you can relax until you have to leave.”
The night sky was overcast and there had been several short-lived rain squalls by the time Ranua reached his neighborhood on Casino Island. The others had all gone their separate ways, headed for their own homes. Melli had said her good-byes at the gates of the base, and had promptly disappeared. A couple of the students had winked, guessing where she might have gone, but no one thought much about it.
The books under his arm felt heavier as he walked, and he itched to read them. Now that he was committed to the path he had chosen, he meant to start learning everything he could.
“They didn’t cut your headfur, Ranua.” The voice broke his reverie and he turned to smile at Miri. She was seated on the second step of the porch of her parents’ store, and grinned at him as she stood up.
Ranua self-consciously ran a paw over his usually untidy mop of brown fur. “Well, I guess they wanted to wait until just before we left,” he said as she stepped up to him and they kissed.
She lingered after breaking the kiss and whispered, “I’ll cut it for you, if you want.”
Ranua blushed at the thought, but nodded. “I’d like that,” he said softly. She blushed as well, smiled and took his paw as she led him around the store to the rear entrance. “Wait here,” she said, “while I get my brushes and scissors,” and she rushed into the store.
Perhaps a minute later she emerged and said, “Sit here, on the steps.” He sat under the small porch light and straightened up as he felt her sit behind him, her knees on either side of him. “Now, hold still,” she ordered, and started brushing his headfur into some semblance of order before she began cutting it.
As she snipped carefully, checking at times to make sure of the effect, she ventured, “I suppose you’ll have to move over to Moon Island soon.”
Ranua started to nod, but held himself still as she poised the scissors over his left ear. As he relaxed, she continued while he said, “We have to go there next week, for two weeks. After that I’ll be home until we have to …”
“Leave. I know, Ranua,” and she abruptly hugged him from behind before resuming her work. “I’ll hate to see you go,” she remarked. “Promise me you’ll write?”
He chuckled. “Of course, Miri.” He felt her sit back, and a small mirror was pressed into his paws. “All done,” she announced. “Take a look.”
Ranua held the mirror up and angled it so that he could see. “That looks great,” he said, and turned to kiss her. She chuckled and hugged him, then set aside her tools. “I think you’ll look dashing in uniform,” she commented with a wink, “but you’ll look even better out of it.”
They laughed at her joke, and Ranua asked, “Will you write?”
“Silly,” she said, poking him in the nose. “Of course you know I’ll write.” Her ears dipped slightly. “Will you be at Sacred Island on the solstice?”
He nodded. “I think Melli set it up that way,” he said, leaning over the step and shaking his head to let stray cut hairs fall. She brushed his headfur, and he sighed, leaning back into her. She suddenly tapped him on the head and he looked up at her. She winked and jerked her chin, and he grinned as she stood up. He stood as well, and followed her into the store and up the stairs.
November 30, 1936:
The week between their swearing-in and their familiarization training revealed one thing to the six students, and that was how sadistic Melli could actually be under her normally smiling exterior. One exercise had all six of them run from one end of Main Island to the other, a distance of over nine miles. The run was to be accomplished within a preset time limit and other Guides had been instructed to obstruct them.
Of course, overcoming the ‘obstructions’ required quite a lot of paw-to-paw combat, and the nine-mile distance was only true if applied to a flat map that didn’t take into account curves or mountains. Many of the six students received bruises, but no injuries that could prevent any of them from continuing on with their training. Other activities had used firearms, and were very similar to the war games and other exercises that the Guides usually encountered.
Now Ranua and the other five students stood at the main gate of the RINS base to await their instructors. The sentry at the gate, a grizzly bear whose Swedish-made Mouser rifle looked like a toy in his paws, had winked at them before loudly proclaiming that “No one is allowed onto the Base without proper escort!” Faced with that, the students had stood there a moment, then had moved a short distance away from the imposing guard.
“We’re expected to be at the administration building by 8:30,” Halli said, looking at her watch. The others nodded, and Ranua remarked, “It should be about that time already.”
“We go over the fence?” Ari suggested, and the others shook their heads. “You’re right, they’d be expecting that.”
The grizzly at the gate coughed, and the six turned to see a tall hound in a blue jumpsuit and matching baseball cap looking at them. “Excuse me,” Ranua called out, “are you here to escort us?”
The woman laughed. “No, I’m here to teach you,” she said, signaling to the guard to open the gate. “I’m Petty Officer Mills,” and she turned slightly to display the three silver stripes on her sleeve, “and I’ll be your shepherd and guardian angel for the next two weeks.” She smiled warmly at them as they walked in, and as the sentry closed the gate she bellowed “Attention!”
The six paused, then straightened into the Rules-approved position of attention, paws at their sides. “Fall into line, facing me,” she growled, and the students complied. “Better. At ease,” and the six relaxed as she said, “Now, I am your instructor, and during the next two weeks you will receive training on several things.
“I am addressed as Petty Officer or Ma’am. You may ask me any question regarding the subject being taught or how the Naval Syndicate works, so long as you address me properly. Is that understood?” she asked.
“Yes, ma’am,” the six chorused, and Mills nodded. “Good. And I see you’ve been studying. We have one day allocated to making you march around and look like you belong in the military, so you’d better remember it,” she said. “We will head over to the naval stores building now and get your headfur cut and your uniforms. Yes?” and she looked at Halli, who had raised a paw.
“I thought we were supposed to go to the administration building, ma’am,” the rabbit said.
The petty officer smiled. “Very true,” she said, “but I changed it this morning. My division is currently on the cleaning roster for that building, and I don’t want fur clippings all over the floors.” She laughed as the students exchanged grins. “You will be housed in one of the longhouse barracks near the Technical High School.
“Now that we understand a few things, attention! Left face!” and after pointing out to one fur that ‘left’ was in the other direction, she marched them down the short road to the storage building.
Nearly a half hour later all six were looking at each other, trying to avoid grinning too obviously. Ranua had needed the least amount of cutting, while Ann, the next-youngest of the six, was near tears as her waist-length braid had been cut away and her headfur trimmed into a more manageable collar-length style. When all of them were finished, Mills looked them over and tipped the barber. “We’ll get you lot into your uniforms now,” she said, “and get started.”