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20 April 2006
BY WALTER D. REIMER
The Woodcarver's Son
© 2006 by Walter D. Reimer
(Albert Sapohatan courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
January 4, 1937:
“So, you’re certain that S-3 wasn’t compromised?” Vice-Commodore Broome asked his visitor. The fox and the ferret sat in a very carefully soundproofed room that was part of the Spontoon Embassy, and apart from six highly trusted subordinates, no one knew that the two were in the same city, let alone the same room.
Outside the room the day had dawned foggy and cold, and now a light snow was starting to fall over the city nestled along the sides of the fjord. Larger amounts of snow were expected in the mountains that ringed Seathl on three sides. The room, however, had no windows and only one door; if there was a disaster, two nations’ intelligence services would be leaderless.
Sapohatan nodded, running a paw over his headfur. “All of the tests we sent out never attracted any attention,” he said, “and, believe me, we were looking. So, it would seem that our friend in the SIC was the first.”
The fox nodded, sipping at his coffee and making a face. “I can’t fathom why a city the size of Seathl can’t produce a single cup of decent coffee,” he grumbled, setting his cup aside. “What did you say this buck’s name was again?”
Broome frowned in thought, his ears laying back. “Sounds vaguely familiar,” he said, “but I’ll set that aside for later. What can I do to help you?” he asked.
“We’re designing a new code, of course,” Sapohatan replied, “and while I prefer to have such things done by my own staff, we could use some help. S-3 was the most complex cipher we’d made.”
“I see,” the fox said, nodding. “You want some of my bright boys and girls to help out your bright boys and girls?” He smiled, and his smile broadened as Sapohatan nodded. “You really don’t need to be so reluctant to ask, Albert. We are allies, after all.”
“We have a different view of things, Richard, and you know that,” the ferret said.
“Of course,” the fox said, raising a paw to concede the point. “But I don’t have to remind you that we do have common cause, and common enemies.”
“True.” Sapohatan stood up and shook paws with Broome as the fox also stood. “We’ll be letting you know if anything else develops.”
Petty Officer Johansen had been true to his word. The next day the moose had woken them up, roaring epithets and commands as the students scrambled to get cleaned up and dressed. As soon as the last one had shrugged into their heavy coat he ordered the whole group out of the barracks. Once there, he had sniffed the air theatrically and said, “Feels like a fine day for a nice run, I’m t’hinkin’.” He fell them in and set the pace himself.
The pace itself was an easy jog, but in shoes that still hadn’t properly broken in and a cold, damp climate Ranua felt like he was carrying someone on his back – someone who was hugging his chest a bit too tightly. When the group stopped after a full mile he found that he was panting, his breath steaming with each exhalation. Several of the other furs in the group were doing the same. One of the Rain Islanders, a slim canine with short black and brown fur, leaned toward him solicitously. “Hey, guy,” he asked, laying a paw on Ranua’s shoulder, “you okay?”
The terrier took a few more deep breaths and straightened up. “Yes, I think so,” Ranua said. He smiled at the Doberman and added, “My name’s Ranua.”
“Matt,” the other canine said with an easy grin. The two of them straightened up as Johansen inspected the group to satisfy himself that none of them were in any real distress after the run. The moose gave a heaving snort and said, “Vell den, let’s go ta breakfast now, an’ ya can get on t’class.”
After breakfast and a quick cleanup, the petty officer marched them to a three-story building and into a classroom. The students took off and hung up their knit caps and coats before falling in beside their desks. Johansen then left his thirty charges in the care of a stern brown-furred equine lieutenant, who told them, “Take your seats, ladies and gentlemen. I’m Lieutenant Baker, and I’ll be one of your instructors for the day. Let me begin by telling you a few things.
“For the next three months you will be tested. Every one of you represents potential. Throughout this training cycle I and your other instructors are going to try to help you find that potential.
“Part of that voyage of discovery,” and here he smiled, “will take place in this classroom. Other parts will be in classes held out in the field, or aboard a ship. Now, inside each of your desks you will find some textbooks, a notebook and a pencil. Your first class is on political science, and it starts now.” He strode up to the chalkboard and scrawled his name while Ranua and the others got out their books. “Now,” he said, “who can tell us what the first-rank powers in Europe are?” A paw raised, and Baker said, “Stand, identify yourself, and give your answer, Seaman.”
The thin grizzly stood and replied, “Seaman Mavis Swift, sir. The first-rank European powers are Britain, Russia, France, Germany and Italy.”
“Are there two Russias, Seaman Swift?”
“Yes, sir. The USSR and Vostok Island.” The horse nodded and gestured for the girl to sit down. “Now . . . you there,” he said, pointing at Ranua, “How would you characterize Rain Island’s political situation?”
Ranua stood up, thinking carefully and as rapidly as he could. Finally he looked up at the equine and replied, “Seaman Ranua Milikonu, sir. I would say that Rain Island’s between hammer and anvil. Sir.”
Baker blinked at him, as several of the students shifted in their seats. One started to snicker, but covered it with a hasty cough. The lieutenant said, “That’s a rather poetic way of putting it, I suppose. I would have preferred a more precise answer, but go on, Seaman Milikonu.”
“Yes, sir. Rain Island lies between four great powers - the British Empire, the Japanese, Vostokiye Ostrova, and the United States. Should one attack, Rain Island may not be able to gain any allies among the other powers without conceding more than they wish to give,” Ranua said, feeling several eyes on him and determined not to appear nervous despite the instructor’s regard.
“Hmm. So, who would be the hammer, in your opinion?”
The wirehair terrier thought, then replied, “Japan, sir. Its aims are to expand its empire in order to gain more raw materials.”
“Succinctly put. So, you don’t consider, say, the United States as anything but an anvil?”
Ranua swallowed, trying to ignore the surprisingly damp feeling on his paws. “No, sir. The United States has consistently maintained that it considers Rain Island a nuisance to be tolerated at best, or at worst a barrier to its manifest destiny.”
“And if the United States decided to assert its manifest destiny again, Seaman Milikonu, wouldn’t you agree that we now have two hammers aimed at us?” the officer asked with a smile.
The young terrier blushed, his ears dipping. “Yes, sir.” He sat down quickly at the lieutenant’s gesture while Baker asked, “So, anyone want to elaborate on Seaman Milikonu’s position? We now have two hammers; where are the anvils?”
A black and brown-furred paw went up, and at Baker’s gesture the Doberman stood. “Seaman Matt Peters, sir. There would be three hammers aimed at us – I mean, at Rain Island, sir,” he said diffidently.
“What’s the third one, Seaman?”
“Vostok, sir. See, we’re allies with Tillamook, an’ they might want to get at the raw materials there. We’d be an obstacle to them.”
“Very good, Seaman Peters. Sit down, please. So, we have three hammers aimed at Rain Island. Seaman Milikonu says that there are four first-rank powers in this area, which leaves the British Empire. Can someone tell me if they make a good anvil?”
Halli put up her paw. “Seaman Halli Amura, sir, and I think that Britain’s Canadian dominion has never conceded that Rain Island’s part of their country. They might not shed any tears if the Anarchcracy was attacked.”
“Very good, Seaman Amura,” Baker said. “Seaman Milikonu had a good answer, but had a bit of trouble framing the answer correctly. The rest of you did a good job of filling in the details, and that brings up an important point. Always remember, all of you: nations are never solely hammers or anvils. You have to know where a nation’s interests lie in order to gauge whether that nation may or may not become a threat.” He smiled.
“Think of it as a poker game. Anyone in here ever play?” Several furs raised their paws, and Baker said with a chuckle, “Looks like we’ll have to schedule some Moral Philosophy classes. Anyway, can anyone tell me what the key to poker is?”
“The odds,” someone blurted.
“No,” Baker said, looking around for the person who misspoke. “The key is the ability to bluff your opponents. If all you have is a pair of twos, but you bet heavily, you might convince your opponents that you have a winning hand. That way, you win. It’s risky, and it doesn’t always work.” He crossed his arms over his chest as he waited for several of the younger furs to take notes before beginning his lesson.
After the class on political science there was a brief break, followed by a class in ballistics taught by a short, elderly minkess in civilian dress. Despite “Mrs. O’Farrell’s” grandmotherly demeanor, she demanded silence in the classroom while she sketched diagrams and formulae on the blackboard. Ranua tried to keep up with her, aware that what she was teaching would be given practical application later on in the course.
Math had never been Ranua’s strongest suit, and his head was fairly reeling when the minkess dismissed them to go to lunch. As the group marched to the mess hall, the Doberman said quietly, “That was a good answer you gave Baker. You’re pretty smart.”
The terrier gave a shrug. “I didn’t do that well, and you’re smart too, or you wouldn’t be here.” He grinned at the canine, who smiled back. “Where’re you from, Matt?”
“Great Wolf Lake, way up north near Alaska,” the Doberman replied. “My family name used to be Petrov. You from Spontoon?” When Ranua nodded he added, “I didn’t think they spoke Russki in the Spontoons.”
“My father runs a store, and we get a lot of foreign customers,” Ranua explained. “I sort of soaked up the language while helping him.” The wind abruptly increased, and he shivered as a snowflake landed on his nose. “It must get pretty cold up in Great Wolf Lake,” he remarked, but Peters’ reply had to wait as the group of students stopped at the mess hall and lined up to eat.
When they sat down, the Doberman replied, “Yeah, it gets pretty damn cold. Seathl’s mild compared to it.” He grinned. “I’d love to get stationed to Spontoon when this is over.”
“If we end up there together, I’ll show you around,” Ranua said. He sampled a bit of the roast chicken on his tray, and reached for the pepper.