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5 July 2006
BY WALTER D. REIMER
The Woodcarver's Son
© 2006 by Walter D. Reimer
February 14, 1937
Vice-Commodore Broome turned the note over in his paws and smiled. The note bore only two sentences, in a paw-writing he immediately recognized: A Broome might send the Sorcerer an apprentice. I accept. The fox smiled at the note, and then looked up at the elk. “Great job, Jimmy,” he said.
Jimmy looked tired, having taken a red-eye flight from South Tillamook to report that his mission was accomplished and to drop off a message passed to him by a certain whitetail buck. “Thanks, sir,” he said, and walked out of the office.
It’s been a long day, and there isn’t much time until the lights go out. But I wanted to write to you because I haven’t written in two weeks.
I really hated staying on that island – it was always too cold and too damp. But it’s over now, and no time to relax. We barely got any sleep in our barracks after we got back to the base when we were woken up and inspected. The petty officer didn’t like what he saw, so we all had to wash our clothes and spent two hours getting ready for another inspection. This was before breakfast, and we were all told that if we didn’t pass it’d be lunchtime before we saw anything to eat.
The rest of the day was spent in studying and learning what to take with us aboard the Orca when it leaves Monday morning.
The lights just flickered, and they’ll be going out shortly. I’ll write more tomorrow.
I love you, and I miss you.
February 15, 1937:
They had been rousted from their beds at four o’clock and ordered to grab the things that they would be taking with them. Ranua slung his duffel over one shoulder and fell in with the others out in front of the barracks. After a brief breakfast, the thirty recruits marched to the dockyard where their ship was waiting.
Ranua had seen warships before, most recently the Japanese cruisers that had paused at the Spontoons for a brief visit the previous year, but the size of the Orca still impressed him as the group stopped near the gangway. The armored sides of the ship sloped away from him and up to the main deck, and even with their barrels covered with canvas sleeves the guns looked threatening. The old cruiser’s masts and smokestacks disappeared into the fog.
Petty Officer Johansen came to attention and saluted as a feline whose uniform sported three bars of a captain’s rank on both shoulders descended the gangway. Ranua recognized Captain Gray from their navigation classes as the officer returned the salute and said loudly, “At ease, people. First of all, welcome aboard the RINSS Orca, your home away from home for the next two weeks. You’ll be broken down into groups assigned to the various divisions aboard the ship, and you will rotate through many of the tasks you can expect to find aboard.
“Now, since you will be aboard ship, you are now under my command, and Rules Ten through Twenty-one apply to you. Don’t expect any special favors, or special treatment.
“Orca has just completed a maintenance cycle here, so we’ll be headed out into open water for a shakedown cruise that will include gunnery drills. Petty Officer, do you have that roster?” Johansen handed him a folded paper, and Gray studied it under the lamp set up near the gangway. “Pay attention now,” he warned, and called out eight names, Ranua’s among them. “You lot are assigned to the Deck Division, report to Petty Officer Ivanova. Move, people.” As Ranua and the others headed up the gangway the terrier could hear Gray calling out another group for the Weapons Division.
Petty Officer Ivanova turned out to be a thin but well-muscled saluki, and she stood waiting for them at the ship’s fantail as each of the eight paused at the top of the gangway and saluted first the Rain Island flag, then the Officer of the Deck. Once they had all gathered around her she briefly consulted with two lower-ranking petty officers before saying, “I’m going to divide you up into watches, and you’ll go with these guys here to learn what you need to do and where you’re billeted.”
An hour later, Ranua stood with an older fur by the forward hawsers as the first gray light of dawn illuminated the harbor. Smoke wafted from the cruiser’s stacks as the bosun shouted through a megaphone, “Cast away forward! Cast away aft!”
Ranua and the other fur, a thickset canine named Eli, heaved on the hawsers, lifting them free of the bollards and sending them over the side as the workers on the dock reeled them in. The ship’s whistle sounded, and the terrier winced momentarily at the piercing noise as the ship shuddered through its four hundred-foot length and began to move.
As the ship cleared the dock two tugboats drew near to guide it into the shipping channel and out into more open water. Ranua watched the dock recede and turned as Eli said in a gravelly voice, “Come on, Ranua, let’s get started.”
Any ship’s deck division has a lot to do, most of it involving keeping the ship clean and in a waterproof condition. Decks need to be mopped, paint must be stripped and reapplied, and brightwork polished to a high luster.
The ship was still making its way past Seathl when its siren gave a shrill sound, causing Ranua to jump. He managed to get his ears upright in time to hear the announcement, “General Quarters, this is a drill. Fire in the aft generator compartment.” The crew started scrambling for their firefighting gear.
Ranua took his station with a hose crew, trying to recall everything he’d learned at the Moon Island base two months ago. After the firefighting parties had gotten set up, the chief bosun clicked his stopwatch and phoned in the time to the Captain. Gray’s voice came over the loudspeaker seconds later. “Stand down from drill. Two minutes, people. Well done.”
“Does he do that all the time?” Ranua asked Eli as the two stowed the firefighting gear away. “Call drills, I mean.”
“Sure does,” the canine replied. “Training like that’s the best way to do it – keeps you sharp so when the real emergencies come, you’ll be ready for them.”
The cruiser made its way out into the open sea and headed southwest to practice without running the risk of hurting anyone. At supper that night Ranua sat down beside Ari and after the two had exchanged greetings Ranua asked, “Where are you assigned, Ari?”
“Engines for now,” the rat said with a grin that the terrier matched. He knew that Ari was very mechanically inclined, and seeing the engines on Orca was probably a dream come true for him. “What about you?”
Ranua shrugged and chuckled. “Deckpaw. Good hard work, but at least I was up in the open air and sunlight.”
Ari snorted, then sipped at his beer ration. “You know,” he remarked, “I thought for sure I’d get seasick out here – I did the first time my father took us out really deep for the season – but this ship hardly rolls at all.”
One of the older furs cocked an ear at Ari’s remark and laughed. “You should be here when there’s a storm outside, young fellow,” the cougar said. “This old seahorse gets as nimble as a colt in a heavy sea.”
“Someday I hope to see that for myself,” Ari said with a smile. “I think I’m going to try for engineering school after graduation, Ranua.”
“You seem to like it, Ari.”
“What about you?”
Ranua shrugged and took a drink of his beer.
A day later, Ranua’s group was on deck as the first set of trials was begun. As he helped a signalman arrange the semaphore flags in their locker he felt the breeze across his face fur increase and the vibration of the warship stepped up. He glanced up at the smokestacks and noted that more smoke was pouring from the four thin funnels.
“Yup, Captain’s letting her shake herself out,” the signalman commented. The wolf fem licked one finger and held it up, then said, “Almost twenty knots, easy.”
“How do you figure that?” Ranua asked.
She snickered and winked. “Simple. From where I’m standing I can see the speed indicator in the wheelhouse,” and both of them laughed.
The gun drills started when the ship had finished her speed trial and the Engineer reported to the Captain that the dockyard had done its work well. A working crew and an ensign were put over the side into a motor launch that towed a wooden target on a float. To minimize the chance of a mistake, the target was five hundred yards from the motor launch.
Battle Stations was called, and Ranua and the rest of his detail were at their damage control station, armed with shoring timbers and firefighting gear as the ship shook from the reports of the five and eight-inch guns. A speaker over their heads relayed the orders from the bridge.
“Come right ten degrees, five-inch crews fire as your guns bear . . . steer evasive, eight-inch crews when you have the range . . . what the? Check fire! Check fire!” Captain Gray’s voice had sounded almost frantic as he ordered the guns to stop. The ship shook from the recoil of its main batteries, his order to cease fire coming just a split second too late.
Several furs looked at each other and Ranua started wondering what was going on. “If something’s gone wrong, they’d be calling for us, right?” he asked, and Eli nodded.
Just then the Captain’s voice came back, this time sounding angry. “Ship’s doctor and pharmacist’s mate to the main deck midships port. One injured.” There was a pause. “All recruits will cease what they’re doing and lay to the fantail immediately.” The loudspeaker cut off. Ranua gave the fire axe he held to Eli and headed up the ladder to the next compartment.
He fell in with one or two stragglers close behind him and stood at attention facing aft. Captain Gray was pacing around, his tail snapping from side to side, while Petty Officer Johansen looked furious. Finally the feline paused and looked at the assembled furs. “At ease,” he said, his voice stern, “and listen up.
“This is not a pleasure cruise, ladies and gentlemen. This is a warship, and there are perhaps one hundred ways to kill or maim yourself if you’re careless. Now, one of your mates, Seaman Redpaw, was at her post on the port side when her cap blew off. She chased it and got too close to the midships eight-inch turret.” He paused for effect. “She almost found method one hundred and one.”
The others all looked at each other, and several gasped. One blurted, “Is she – “
“No, she ain’t dead,” Johansen bellowed. “But she might vish she vas after I’m havin’ a chat vit’ her.” He smiled. “After she gets her hearin’ back.”
Gray smiled sourly at the moose. “Thank you, Petty Officer. Seaman Redpaw was knocked unconscious and almost went overboard. She’s under the doctor’s care, but I want you all to remember this,” and Ranua realized that Gray’s anger was out of concern.
“Always remember that your life and the lives of everyone aboard this ship depend on your ability to think,” Gray said, his voice carrying easily. “Think safety first, because carelessness can kill. You’re dismissed to your posts.” He turned and looked out over the sea, seething as Johansen herded his charges back.
Later in the day word was passed that the young ewe was all right, but that the fur in her ears might not stop burning from Johansen’s yelling until the ship returned to base.
Following the crew rotation set up before the Orca had left port, Ranua transferred to the Weapons Division two days later. He was assigned to one of the five-inch gun crews on the starboard side of the ship, and learned about preparing and firing the cannon as well as using the rangefinder. Mrs. O’Farrell’s class on ballistics would prove useful, and the veteran sailors on the crew were looking forward to the drills. The ship’s Gunnery Officer, a ferret, decided to start with the basics, by having the recruits work on the gun crews.
Even through earplugs, the five-inch gun in its enclosed sponson mount made a hellish racket, and Ranua learned that most of the communication was done with pawsigns. He wrestled another shell into the gun, shoving it into the barrel and pulling his paw free a fraction of a second before another fur slammed the breech closed. They both stepped back as the gunner took hold of the firing lanyard, listening intently for the signal from the rangefinder. She suddenly nodded and yanked the cord, and the gun jerked back as it fired. The breech was yanked open and the spent shell tumbled out. As Ranua reached for another shell the gunner waved and shook her head. Cease fire.
The gunner listened, then grinned widely. “Bull’s-eye!” she shouted, and everyone cheered.