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6 April 2006
BY WALTER D. REIMER
The Woodcarver's Son
© 2005 by Walter D. Reimer
January 3, 1937, 0530:
The barracks was set up for thirty furs, and in addition to the six Spontoonies and six Tillamookans there was a group of eighteen recruits from Rain Island. The sleeping area was for both men and women, with a shoulder-high wall separating the two living areas as well as separate shower and bath facilities. There was some good-natured joking as the three groups claimed bunks, put their gear away and settled down for the night. Most of them had been traveling for the better part of a day, and all had been tired.
Early the next morning, Ranua’s eyes drifted open as an ear twitched. Someone had entered the barracks, moving very quietly. As a result, he was wide awake as the lights snapped on and a broomstick was applied to a metal garbage bin as an impromptu alarm clock.
A bellow accompanied the racket. “VAKE UP, DEMMIT!” was followed by a spate of what sounded like curses in a language he didn’t understand. The recruits flung aside their blankets and got out of bed, several blinking and others yawning as their feet made contact with the cold floor.
In the overhead lights, the fur was revealed to be a moose with a massive barrel chest and sporting four silver bars on his uniform sleeve. He stopped beating the trash can and threw the broom aside, surveying the younger people with a sour look. “Vell, vhat ve got here?” he grumbled. “Here I am, tryin’ ta get t’hru m’last year, an’ dey ask me t’shepherd dese.
“I am Petty Officer Johansen,” he said, pronouncing the J as a Y, “but you vill be callin’ me SIR! Now stand to yer bunks, an’ I call de roll.” He went up and down the aisle, checking names and occasionally roaring at some unlucky fur who slouched or otherwise wasn’t at attention. When he got to Ranua he snapped, “Name.”
“Ranua Milikonu, sir.”
The moose squinted at him, then looked at his roster. “From Spontoon, are ya?”
“Vell, I can tell ya sure, ve ain’t plannin’ on doin’ no hulas here,” Johansen said, ticking off the name and moving on to the next person.
When he finished, he said, “At ease, all of ya. It’s to be my job to get you all t’hru de next t’ree months. So first, ve go to breakfast, an’ den ve’ll start.” He stamped to the far end of the room and sat down, giving a huffing sound through his large nose. The students looked at each other, forcing Johansen to shout, “GET MOVIN’!”
Ranua and the others grabbed towels and ran for the showers. Some shed their clothes and threw them onto their beds, and when one young Rain Islander paused to stare Johansen said, “Get used ta seein’ people in deir fur, lad – an’ no touchin’, by Jingo.” He laughed as the young lepine blushed and headed for the showers.
The thirty furs, now clean and dressed in their dark blue uniforms and heavy jackets to ward off the damp, raw cold, fell in and stood at attention in front of their barracks. Johansen looked them over and finally nodded. “Vell, you all clean up vell enough, I’m t’hinkin.’ Now, left face! Forvard – vait fer it – march!”
Some of the food was familiar to Ranua and the others, but some was not. The biscuits with sausage gravy were interesting, and Ari judged it superior to poi. Ranua didn’t think so, but ate it anyway.
He shortly wished he hadn’t, because it seemed to suddenly turn into lead in his stomach. Several of the others, even a few of the Rain Islanders, also looked as if they would have to get used to the food. Ann, particularly, looked as if she were about to be ill.
Seeing her discomfort, Johansen leaned over her and said, “If ya vant ta go ta de head, it’s dat vay,” and he pointed to the correct door.
She shook her head and said, “No, thank you, Petty Officer. It’s – just new, that’s all.”
A huge paw smacked her on the back. “Good! Ya vill all get to try a lotta new t’hings, I’m t’hinkin’.” He looked around at the rest of them, then made a show of consulting his watch. “I meet ya all out on the parade ground in ten minutes,” he announced. “If ya might be late, I’ve got some fun t’hings fer ya to do.” He walked out, and those who could started eating faster. The others got up and took their trays to be cleaned.
As the group lined back up the moose grunted his approval. “Nine minutes, a’most on de dot,” he remarked. “Good, ya can all folla orders. Now, listen.
“Yer training starts fer sure tomorrow, so it’s my job today ta show ya aroun’ de base,” he said. “Vhen yer first mont’ of trainin’ is done, ya might be allowed out to see the bright lights,” and he jerked a thumb in the general direction of Seathl.
The rest of the day was taken up with showing Ranua and the other students around the base, starting with the extensive dock and repair facilities. The cruiser Orca, which Johansen explained was one of the two flagships of the Syndicate fleet, was in dry-dock, undergoing maintenance to its hull. Smaller vessels, seaplane tenders and submarines were berthed nearby. The seaplane base was just beyond the docks area, and Ranua had to smother a laugh when he saw how Halli’s eyes lit up at the sight of the planes.
The base was the largest of its kind in Rain Island and included administrative and support facilities, as well as two airstrips in addition to its naval functions. It was also the primary training center for furs who had enlisted in the Naval Syndicate (the Army trained its recruits further north, near Port de Fuca).
The tour took most of the day, and by the time the evening meal came Ranua felt more than exhausted. His new boots were chafing at his feet and felt two sizes too small, while the uniform jumpsuit itched against his fur. A few of the others, including some of those from Tillamook, also looked uncomfortable. He hoped that the unfamiliar clothing and footwear would wear better as the days went by.
Dinner was as interesting an experience as breakfast had been. It sat better with some stomachs, too.
As the thirty young furs walked into their barracks that night one of the Rain Islanders, a tall canine with blond headfur asked, “Petty Officer, are we going to select a Syndic for the company tonight?”
Johansen smiled. “Vhat’s yer name?”
“Vell, Seaman Halloran, I vant ya an’ all dese others ta hear me. Gather ‘round, all of ya.” The rest of the recruits moved closer, and the moose said, “Until ya get t’hru with yer trainin’ here, I’m yer Syndic. Dat’s in th’ Rules, too, an’ ya vill be learnin’ all of dem by heart, I’m t’hinkin’.”
A fox stood at the open window of his office, feeling the wind ruffling his exposed fur and relishing the scents of cedar, pine and the salt tang of the nearby ocean. Washington was never like this, he reflected, taking another deep breath. The shoulders of his uniform bore the single broad stripe of a Vice-Commodore, and his headfur was almost entirely a lighter shade of gray than the rest of his pelt, a sign of advancing age.
For Richard Broome, it had been a strange journey to this third-floor office with a spectacular view of the Anarchcracy’s second-largest city. He had started in the United States Navy, joining its Intelligence Division in 1905 as a fire-new ensign straight out of Annapolis. His service in what was called ‘The Great Game’ was neither spectacular nor mediocre, but he had progressed steadily, and was considered a possible candidate for flag rank.
That possibility evaporated in 1918, while he was on overseas duty in England during the waning months of the conflict that the President had earlier said America was ‘too proud’ to engage in. Phoebe, his wife of ten years, sent him a long letter that was essentially a declaration of war.
The divorce was long and rancorous, and the final outcome was completely unsatisfactory; Phoebe got sole custody of their eight-year-old daughter Judith, and the stink raised by the court proceedings was sniffed by those in the Navy whose job it was to determine promotions. Broome would never see a star on his uniform collar, and that knowledge gnawed at him. Privately he damned the Navy, with its social cliques and almost Victorian attitudes.
That attitude also extended to intelligence work. It is an old saw that an army travels on its stomach. This is not true, although logistics does play a part. Accurate and timely intelligence as to the enemy’s intentions and movements can mean the difference between victory and defeat.
Unfortunately, many in the Navy hierarchy saw intelligence work as undignified, ungentlemanly, and barely deserving of a budget. After the war, as budgets were cut and disarmament treaties were signed, more and more money was pared away from Intelligence. The final indignity had been when Broome (among others) had been forced to get a second job in order to make ends meet.
Now, this caused a certain amount of relaxation of the usual protocols and formality among the officers and the enlisted men, but it was not an effective means of running the unit. Broome knew it, and felt that his nation might some day pay dearly for it.
It came as a surprise to him when, on a summer afternoon in 1928, two furs came to his office (by appointment) and told him that they were from Rain Island. They were looking for a senior officer in Naval Intelligence to take over their ‘Naval Syndicate’s’ operations, and would he be interested in the position?
Broome was, at first, uninterested. Rain Island was fairly new as a country, at least compared to the United States, and Washington gossip held that the whole country was in the paws of a bunch of outright Socialists, if not complete, dyed-in-the-fur Communists. Besides, it was rumored that they didn’t believe in money. Broome put them off gently, saying that he needed to think about it, and spent part of that night studying everything that the Navy had on the ‘Anarchcracy.’
The next morning he told the two furs that he might be interested, but he had several conditions in mind, notably his pay and a free paw in selecting and hiring operatives. Much to his surprise, the two had looked at each other, then agreed to everything he asked for. A contract was produced, which surprised him even more, considering the gossip about Rain Island. One of the stipulations in the contract was a travel allowance to enable him to settle his affairs in Washington and make his way west. Interestingly, another stipulation was that he would not be asked about any secret information or operations he might have known about. He considered what still held him to his post, and signed.
When he tendered his resignation the next day, the Admiral accepted it with such a cavalier attitude that it made the fox’s blood boil. He stopped short of wishing for any misfortune (he was from Iowa, after all, and still felt some loyalty to the United States), and closed out his affairs with a lighter heart.
Five days later he was in Seathl, surrounded by younger furs who looked to him for his leadership and managerial skills. Rain Island had built up an excellent field intelligence force, but the Naval Syndicate (who, somehow, had been given the whole Intelligence brief) needed the coordination and interpretation that an office with its clerical staff could provide. It had taken him two years to get everything running to his satisfaction, and the Syndicate had rewarded him with a promotion and bonus.
It had been a very interesting eight years, he reflected, but now he had his flag rank and was far more satisfied with his work and his life. He had married again, and little Ephraim was just three.
“Excuse me, sir,” and he turned away from the window as his secretary knocked on the open door. The Naval Syndicate was also a great deal more relaxed and sociable than the USN.
“Yes, Kathy? Sorry; I was just thinking.”
The lanky collie smiled and placed a memo on his desk. “This just came through channels, for you personally.” She gave him a wink and walked out, leaving him alone in the office again.
He stepped over to his desk and picked up the memo, reading it through carefully before putting it down and smiling. So, his opposite number on Spontoon wanted to talk to him?