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30 July 2006
BY WALTER D. REIMER
The Woodcarver's Son
© 2006 by Walter D. Reimer
“Give that back, Alan,” Ranua said, taking a step toward the lynx, but stopping as the feline Rain Islander faked dropping the braided fur in the toilet. Others followed Ranua in, equally wary of making a too-hasty grab. “Give that back – now,” he repeated, his hackles rising as his tail swished. His anger showed in his eyes, along with his worry that he might lose his link to Miri.
“Why?” the lynx said. “You know, she must be really special for you to get so upset, Milky.” He laughed, swinging the locket back and forth.
One of the others drew a bit close, and stopped when the lynx faked dropping it again. “Alan, you lunkhead,” Matt said, “give it back now and no one will tell Johansen about it, okay?”
“You’ll tell him anyway Peters, you little sneak,” Alan sneered, “so go yiff yourself – hey!” he exclaimed as Ari saw an opening and stepped up behind the lynx. He snatched the locket out of Alan’s paw as he called out in Spontoonie, “I’ve got it, Ranua.”
Alan growled and whirled around, swinging a fist that the rat easily dodged. Ranua stepped up to the lynx and placed a paw on his shoulder. “Look, Alan,” he said, “it’s – “
Pain exploded across the right side of the terrier’s face and he suddenly went blind in one eye. He staggered back a step as the crowd gasped and drew back. Through the pain and in the sudden silence he heard Alan say, “That’s for showing me up, Milky. Want more?”
“For the last time,” Ranua growled, “my name’s not Milky!” and he lunged, ducking under Alan’s guard and striking the lynx in the stomach. The feline hissed as the wind was knocked out of him, but he grabbed Ranua by the scruff of the neck and brought his knee up. Ranua twisted free before Alan had a chance to break his nose.
The two traded punches until a lucky jab temporarily blinded Ranua in both eyes and the terrier started swinging wildly. His ears were laid back and he was intent on punishing the lynx, so intent that he ignored the paws grabbing at him and was unaware of the sounds around him.
He punched something solid, but it didn’t move. Ranua took a step back and finally blinked his eyes open, seeing a dark blue-clad broad chest that seemed to go up forever, but ended with the frowning face of Petty Officer Johansen. The moose just stood there, his paws on his hips and an almost amused look on his face.
“Vell? Ya vant anudder punch, Milikonu?” He raised a fist that looked like a Christmas ham. “I’ll trade ya, sure.”
Ranua looked behind him and saw that several furs had Alan’s arms pinned behind his back. The terrier relaxed as the adrenalin drained out of him, now feeling the pain in his face and fists and realizing the effort it took to keep his eyes from closing.
Two hours later, after getting cleaned up and in uniform (separately, under the watchful eyes of the petty officer and six other recruits), both Ranua and Alan stood at attention in the office of the base’s syndic as the captain considered what to do. Standing beside him was the lieutenant in overall charge of the training of new recruits, and Johansen stood between the terrier and the lynx.
Captain Muldoon sat back after reading over the reports of the incident, and the files on both the terrier and the lynx sat nearby. The squirrel tapped his fingers on the arm of his chair and asked, “Seaman Davis, Seaman Milikonu, do either of you have anything to say before I close this?”
The lynx stood still, but Ranua raised an uncertain paw. At the captain’s gesture the terrier said, “Sir, I didn’t want to fight him. But he had my Tailfast locket . . .,” and his voice trailed off as he went back to standing at attention. The lynx snuffled back the blood-tinged mucus seeping from his battered nose.
The squirrel’s ears twitched. “Petty Officer Johansen.”
“Escort these two men out of the office and wait until I or Lieutenant Leaping Deer call for them.” The moose nodded and the three of them walked out of the room.
Ranua sat off to one side, looking dejectedly at his paws as Davis paced around at a safe distance. His face still hurt and his eyes were starting to focus again after nearly being swollen shut. But the hurt inside hurt worse, as he dreaded what might be coming inside the office. He closed his eyes and tried to think of how many rules he had managed to violate, and what might happen to him.
The office door swung open. “Seaman Davis,” Lieutenant Leaping Deer said as he stood in the doorway, one paw raised in a beckoning gesture. The lynx smirked at Ranua as he walked in and the door closed.
There were some sounds, followed by Alan’s voice, muffled by the door but undeniably angry. The door swung open and he walked out, escorted by the taller canine lieutenant.
As he walked past him, the lynx snarled at Ranua, “This isn’t over, Milikonu. I’ll get you for this.” Ranua barely had time to ponder what had happened before the petty officer urged him to his feet and he headed into the office.
He stood at attention as the captain looked him over. “At ease,” Muldoon said in a curt tone. “Milikonu, you look like hell. A word of advice in the future – if you get in a fight, don’t lead with your head.”
“It won’t happen again, sir,” Ranua said quietly.
“It will,” the captain countered, “but not today. In accordance with Rule Nine, specifically 9a, I find you guilty of fighting while on Naval Syndicate property, and of striking a person superior in rank to yourself.”
Ranua braced himself as the captain continued, “In light of your record to date, however, and the fact that you were provoked and were hit first by Seaman Davis, I shall not order you reduced in rank and removed from the program.” He smiled as Ranua blinked. “However, you are fined twenty dollars for fighting and ten dollars for striking Petty Officer Johansen, and a reprimand will be placed in your file.”
Johansen said, “Sir? Vasn’t more’n a love tap.”
The squirrel gave an unamused smile. “I see. The fines and reprimand still stand. Seaman Milikonu, you are dismissed. You will be expected to pay your fine within the week. Oh, and your leave is canceled for this weekend. You are restricted to the base.” He started jotting a note as the terrier and the moose left the office.
The older fur cocked an eye at his young charge, noting that he walked with his eyes straight ahead and wearing a morose expression. “Vhat’s de matter, Milikonu?” Johansen asked as they walked back to the barracks.
“What’s going to happen to Alan, sir?” Ranua asked, his ears drooping.
“Vell, I’m t’hinkin’ dat he’ll go to de Fleet,” the moose mused. “He’s a fighter, sure, an’ he’ll do vell fer himself.” He unexpectedly grinned down at Ranua. “An’ if ya vant anudder sving at me, lad, I can arrange it so no-one’ll know but de two o’ us. Ya’ve got a good right jab.”
There were only a few furs in the barracks when they returned, and a few of them looked at him curiously. His shoulders sagged when he saw one empty bunk on the men’s side of the living area.
Later that day, after receiving his money and paying his fine, he stopped off at the base infirmary. The stresses of the day had caused his injuries to start throbbing, and he was given some aspirin.
After supper Halli, Ari and Matt entered the barracks to find Ranua seated on his bed reading. “Ranua, are you all right?” the rabbit asked, her ears twitching at the sight of his face.
“Yes, Halli,” the terrier assured her. “The fur at the infirmary said that it’ll look bad for a few days, then go away.” He looked so morose that the others refrained from intruding, and left him alone.
Before going to bed that night, he resolved that he would never take the locket off again, for any reason.
28. II. 37
There’s no really good way of saying this. I got in a fight with another recruit because he took my Tailfast locket and threatened to destroy it. He hit me, too, after Ari got it away from him.
I’m still in the program, but Alan’s not. I guess I feel guilty about that – I mean, he started it and all, but Melli always told us to try and talk our way out of trouble first.
I just got back from services, so I think the Gods understand. I hope you do.
On Monday we start the last month of this course, and we’ll all be assigned to different ships and put in actual command. The real captains will act as our instructors for the next three weeks.
I miss you so much I can hardly stand it.
I love you.
March 1, 1937:
The day started early again, because this time many of the recruits had to travel to reach the next stage of their curriculum. Ranua had the farthest to go, by train through the mountains and some one hundred or so miles to the small port of Bingham. Petty Officer Johansen had made certain that all of his charges were properly packed for the trip, and expressed relief that he would have the opportunity to get some relaxation and fishing in before the younger furs came back. Several of the furs headed for ships currently docked at the base or in the port of Seathl, while buses were waiting to take the rest to their destinations.
The sun was coming up as the train left Seathl and headed south. Ranua watched it rise as he murmured a prayer. His earlier devotions at Sunday services made him feel better about the fight and its aftermath, and now his prayers were for his good fortune and the protection of the other recruits.
He was alone now, he realized. Even aboard the Orca, he always had another recruit to talk with; now there was only himself. He wanted it that way, wishing to be alone for a while so that he could sort through both the events of the past few days as well as trying to see which path to take. He was also a bit homesick, and he wanted to hold Miri in his arms again.
The scenery as the sun rose higher was almost mesmerizing as the forested mountains gave way to rolling hills dominated by orchards and farms. The train occasionally rocked as it made its way around a bend, and he caught himself getting sleepy while counting the clicks as the wheels hit the spots where the tracks joined.
It was late morning when the train pulled to a stop at a small platform and the conductor called out, “Bingham!” Ranua roused and stretched before grabbing up his duffel bag and heading to the rear of the car and the exit.
There was a fur waiting for him, as he’d been told. She was a skunk, her uniform sleeve had three stripes on it, and she was looking towards the front of the train for him. He walked up to her and said, “Excuse me, Petty Officer?”
The skunk’s tail stiffened and he sidestepped almost by reflex, but she turned around and smiled. “Hi, you must be Seaman Milikonu. I’m Betty Jameson.”
“Ranua.” The two shook paws, and Ranua shouldered his duffel bag as they left the train station. His free paw groped at one of his jumpsuit pockets as he said, “I have my orders here – “
Jameson waved the offer away. “I was told to look for a terrier on the morning train, and here you are. You can show your orders to the Boss when we get there.” She smiled, her black fur shining in the morning sun.
The town of Bingham was a small one, with fishing its primary industry, and the Naval Syndicate leased a dock for its base. Two youngsters, a bear and a fox, ran past the two sailors while tossing a baseball back and forth as they ran. “Seems like a nice little town,” Ranua observed.
“Oh yeah, it’s a great place,” Jameson said. “They don’t just roll up the sidewalks at night – they hide ‘em,” and she laughed while Ranua looked a bit mystified at the joke. They walked up a small rise and she waved a paw at the harbor. “There she is,” she announced. “We call her the Emma Goldman.”
The ship’s real designation was PR-12, being too small to have an official name. It was small, eighty feet long and maybe twenty-five tons, with what looked like two small guns hiding under canvas covers. The designation was painted on the side of the craft’s haze-gray wheelhouse.
Her crew were relaxing, four playing catch while a few others worked on the ship or relaxed in the sun. One, a lean canine, turned away from his book and waved as Jameson whistled.
When Jameson and Ranua walked up to the canine, the skunk said, “Here he is, Boss. Ranua Milikonu, this is Lieutenant Taylor, the commander of this tub.”
Taylor was a collie, and a smile caused his long muzzle to crest as he returned Ranua’s salute. “Good to have you here, Ranua. Orders?” Ranua passed over the papers he had brought with him from Seathl, and Taylor read them over twice, his brown eyes flicking up to look at the terrier speculatively. “I’ve been briefed on why you’re here, and I’ve told the crew. Now, Ensign – “
Taylor wagged a finger at the younger fur. “Ah, ah, ah,” he chided good-naturedly, “don’t interrupt. You’ll be an ensign by the end of this month, so start getting used to the idea.” He whistled and raised his voice. “People, gather around!” The rest of the crew stopped what they were doing and drew near, several with grins on their faces. “This is Ranua Milikonu, an officer cadet from Spontoon. He’ll be acting as the commander of the Goldman for the next three weeks. I’ll be aboard as well, just to help out if I’m needed.”
“A Spontoonie commander?” one asked. “Better hide the poi.” Ranua blushed and smiled as the others laughed.
The lieutenant raised a paw for quiet. “For the duration, his rank’s Ensign, so when we’re at sea treat him with the respect due his rank. Remember – “
“The tail you kick today may be the tail you kiss tomorrow,” the crew chanted, then laughed. Ranua laughed along this time, understanding the joke.
“Exactly,” Taylor said. “Now, let’s give our new commander a proper welcome.” He looked at Ranua. “Do you have anything in your pockets, Ensign?”
“Good.” As soon as he said the word, ten furs converged on Ranua, two plucking the duffel bag from his shoulders as the rest hauled the wirehair terrier off his feet. Before he even had time to react they carried him to the edge of the dock and threw him into the water.
He emerged, sputtering and coughing, and looked up as he started treading water. Taylor looked down at him with a grin and said, “They did the same to me.” He extended a helping paw. “Welcome aboard, Ranua.”