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20 August 2006
BY WALTER D. REIMER
Similar to the RINS patrol boat PR-12 (Emma Goldman)
Modified from a public domain image from the Online Library of Selected Images
Department of the Navy, Naval Historical Center, Photographic Section
The Woodcarver's Son
© 2006 by Walter D. Reimer
“The Goldman’s a patrol craft,” Taylor explained later as Ranua finished running a towel over his headfur, “which means she’s lightly armed to protect herself. It also means that if we see real trouble, we run like hell and scream for help.” He laughed at the skeptical look Ranua gave him. “Those are orders, by the way. We fight if we have to, but our main mission down here is to scout and report.”
“Report on who?” Ranua asked as he started to get dressed. After his introductory dunking he had been shown into the small building near the dock that served as the patrol station’s shore office so that he could dry off and change. “The Americans?”
Taylor grinned and gave the terrier a broad wink. “Now, don’t get the wrong idea. We don’t watch the Yankees – that wouldn’t be neighborly,” and he winked again, making his face look like it had developed a nervous twitch. In a more serious tone he said, “We’ll be headed out tomorrow, to relieve the PR-07 – their crew calls it the Ravachol - on our patrol station.”
Ranua nodded, zipping up his jumpsuit. “How long will we be out on patrol?”
“A week at a time,” the lieutenant replied. “We come back here on the weekends to refuel and replenish, and then head back out again. From what I read in my briefing, you’ll be acting as commander as well as demonstrating what you know about navigation and ship handling. Now, I’ll show you around the ship.”
The Emma Goldman was a small craft, with just enough room for her twelve-fur crew and the supplies they needed. Her engines were powered by diesel fuel, not the heavier oil used in the larger warships like the Orca. The ship had only minimal armor and two guns, a one-pounder and a three-pounder.
The berthing spaces were as cramped as the rest of the boat, and as Taylor showed Ranua around they flattened against the side of the passageway as Jameson wrestled her gear out of one cabin. “Betty’s our Exec and senior petty officer, so for the patrol you’ll be bunking in my cabin while she sleeps with the crew.” Scarcely had the words left his lips than his eyes bulged and he blushed.
Jameson laughed and swished her striped tail. “No one had better get any silly ideas,” she said in an arch tone. Some of the crewfurs who were nearby snickered.
“I could bunk with the crew,” Ranua offered.
“Can’t do it,” the lieutenant said. “My orders are clear.” He gave a contrite smile at Jameson, who grinned and headed aft to the crew quarters.
The captain’s cabin was just below the wheelhouse and looked like a jail cell. Only two bunks, stacked one atop the other, a desk that could be swung down and locked out of the way, and two small lockers. “Here’s your home away from home for the next three weeks, Ranua,” Taylor said. “By the way, my name’s Hank.” He extended a paw, which Ranua shook.
Over dinner in the wardroom that evening, the conversation turned to wives, husbands or sweethearts. Ranua showed off his Tailfast locket, and explained its significance when he got a few blank looks.
One of the furs, a junior petty officer, looked thoughtful. “Sounds like one of them there pawfastings. I’ve heard of that out Idaho way.” Two others nodded in agreement.
The lieutenant rapped his knuckles against the table for attention. “We need to start out early in the morning, and it’s getting late,” Hank remarked. Almost as if on cue Jameson stretched and yawned.
The others laughed and started to clean up.
March 4, 1937:
The Goldman had relieved the Ravachol just as the weather started to turn foul. The small patrol craft had pitched and rolled sickeningly in the high waves, and it was all Ranua could do to keep his meals down while the late winter storm besieged the American West Coast. Gradually, though, the storm shoved its way inland and the ship was able to resume its normal patrol pattern. The weather sometimes made it hard to plot a proper course.
Ranua discovered that all of the members of the crew knew their jobs (and nearly all knew someone else’s duties as well), and that he didn’t have to look over their shoulders all the time to make certain they were doing what he told them to do. There was a great deal of informality aboard, which was sensible with such a small crew.
The one thing he was having some trouble with was having furs nearly twice his age referring to him as “Sir” from time to time.
March 13, 1937:
“Hey, Ranua,” and the terrier turned away from the chart he was studying. So far the patrol had sighted a few fishing boats and one small American Coast Guard cutter. The two warships had exchanged friendly greetings and separated almost immediately.
“Yes, Hank?” he asked, looking down at the open wheelhouse hatchway. He nodded to the helmsfur and went below as Taylor closed a small book and stowed it in the safe in his locker. “Take this aft to the radio room, please,” and the collie passed a slip of paper to the younger fur.
Ranua nodded and headed aft. The radio drew power directly from the ship’s generator, so it made some sense to have it located near the engine room. Since Hank was still the captain, he was in charge of the code books.
As he walked, he glanced at the slip of paper and paused, looking at it more closely.
There was a pattern here . . . a letter here, and there . . . his lips moved as he sorted through the message, then shook himself and went on walking.
“Excuse me, Joan?” he asked, and the radio operator looked up. She took her paw off the radio’s Morse key and slipped one earphone off her head as Ranua said, “Hank wants you to send this contact report out.”
“A contact report?” the feline asked as she took the paper. Her eyes flicked up to look at the wirehair terrier as he walked away, and she frowned.
Several hours later after she went off watch she sought out the lieutenant. “Hank? Can I talk to you, please?” Ranua was above, standing a watch in the wheelhouse.
“Sure, Joan,” the collie said. She stepped into the tiny cabin and closed the door.
She pitched her voice low, so that her voice couldn’t be heard outside the door, and asked, “Did you tell Ranua that you were sending off a contact report today?”
He frowned. “No. I know the Rules as well as you do, Joan.” One of the Syndicate regulations regarding patrol in areas where potential adversaries might be lurking required all messages to be in code. The cipher used wasn’t as complex as the one used for secret messages.
“Well, if you didn’t tell him, he either deduced it or managed to figure out the cipher on the walk from here to the radio.” As the collie gaped, she added, “If it’s okay, you might want to note that on your log.” Taylor had received a telegram prior to Ranua’s arrival, and he had shared it with the crew. Everything the cadet did was to be noted for grading and evaluation purposes after the patrol. Taylor recalled his own officer training, and suppressed a shudder.
“Yeah,” he said, “I’ll note it down. As soon as he leaves for Seathl, I want you to send the report on.”
March 17, 1937
When the crate had arrived, Broome had glanced at the machine, and the tube containing plans and diagrams. Most of his attention was focused on the memorandum in the file folder, which explained the contents of the crate. It closed with a wry postscript to the effect that Stagg apologized for sending the Beaujolais Nouveau some months late.
The joke was lost on Broome; he wasn’t a wine drinker.
The crate had been immediately packed off to the Intelligence Service's consultant who dealt in mechanical matters. Now the fur, a short black bear, placidly puffed on his pipe and watched as Broome eyed Medusa with a curious air.
"Ah, yes,” the bear said as one paw idly fiddled with one of his suspender straps. “Strange looking contraption, isn't it?"
Broome smiled wryly. "Yes, but what’s your professional opinion of the device?"
This pointed question brought a chuckle. "Of course, I read over the plans and diagrams, and ran some tests on the machine using some decoded telegrams."
"What did you think?"
The consultant frowned. "On the negative side, the design is probably ten years old, or even more. There've been some advances made since the 1920s, which I imagine the designer wasn't aware of. This is part of the reason for the other major negative, which is that the device is rather larger, and rather more complicated, than it has to be. Did the designer have any mechanical training?"
Broome shrugged. "None that I know of."
"Ah. I was wondering. God knows, he has the tiny, precise lettering of a draftsfur. At least his plans made sense."
Broome made a teepee of his paws and fingers, resting his elbows on his desk. "But does it work?"
"That it does,” the bear replied. “Thank God, he thought to enclose precise, comprehensible instructions. Only took one try to figure out how to work the thing. But that's not really what has me interested in the gizmo."
"Oh? What does?" Broome asked.
The consultant took out Stagg's memo, shuffled through a few pages, and pointed with the stem of his pipe at one later paragraph. "This fellow Stagg is of the view that it's possible to link these machines to work in tandem, to automatically run through possible solutions. Work that would take decades with one fur, could be done in weeks, days, even hours, if you had enough machines."
This news made the head of Intelligence sit back in his chair. The possibilities were tantalizing – tantalizing, hell, they were diabolically tempting. "Is that realistic?"
The pipe, having gone out, was relit, allowing the consultant to gather his words. When he spoke, it was in a measured tone. "Not only is it realistic, it's practical. You can build machines based on a more streamlined design, one at a time, and then stack them together, and wire them together, just as a kit would stack some building blocks. You could gradually increase the power of your decryption resources, one sub-unit at a time, for relatively little cost. And the real genius of the design is that there's nothing all that unusual about it. You can use off-the-shelf technology used for building adding machines and electric typewriters or teletype machines for most of the parts."
Broome turned in his chair, and stared out at the ocean. He made some quick calculations as to the wiggle room his budget afforded him. "What can I get for, say, two thousand dollars?"
"I'll have to get back to you on exactly how much that will get you, Commodore,” the bear said.
March 20, 1937:
“Engines, all stop,” Ranua ordered, and the helmsfur relayed the order.
“Deck crew, make the ship fast.”
Furs at the dock and on the ship heaved lines back and forth and made the boat fast as its momentum died and it nudged its bumpers against the pilings.
“Engines at all stop, sir,” the helmsfur said.
A seaman walked past the wheelhouse and said, “Ship’s secure, sir.”
“Very well. Helm, signal all done with engines.”
The ship’s engine telegraph rang and the indicator shifted to ‘all stop.’ The rumble of the diesels died away.
Ranua turned to Taylor, and saluted. “The ship’s secured, Lieutenant.” He gave a lopsided smile. “Permission to leave the ship.”
Taylor returned the salute, then cracked a smile and extended a paw. The two shook paws as the collie said, “Permission granted. Go get your gear.”
Ranua busied himself with packing his duffel bag and, after saluting the Rain Island flag, leaped the three-foot gap between the boat and the pier. While he shouldered the duffel he paused and looked back at the ship.
Taylor grinned and nudged his executive officer. Jameson stepped across the gap and said to Ranua, “This may be the last time I get to boss you around, kid. I’m to escort you to the train station, so let’s go.”
“Okay,” and Ranua waved at the crew, who waved back and returned to their duties.