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21 September 2006
BY WALTER D. REIMER
The Woodcarver's Son
© 2006 by Walter D. Reimer
March 25, 1937:
It was the same auditorium, but the atmosphere inside was charged and everyone felt it as they filed in and sat down. The anticipation had built throughout the previous afternoon and into the night, and several furs looked a bit haggard from lack of sleep while others fidgeted. Some of the others toyed nervously with their uniform ball caps.
Ranua found himself sitting between Halli and Ari, and they grinned at each other, tails twitching.
“Attention!” Petty Officer Johansen roared, and the group stood up as all of the Command Syndics walked into the room. Commodore O’Rourke gestured for the assembly to sit as she said, “Be at ease, ladies and gentlemen. Time to set your minds at ease, too,” she added with a smile, and one Vice-Commodore chuckled as the cadets sat back down.
“The other syndics and I have completed reviewing your files, and we made very few changes to those who requested a specific branch of the Syndicate. That being said . . . Vice-Commodore Harlan, in your good time, please?” she asked, stepping back as a lean ram stepped forward with several sheets of paper on a clipboard.
“Attention to orders,” he snapped, and glared as the whole group gave him their undivided attention. “The following officers will, upon graduation, be assigned to the Naval Syndicate Air Arm for flight training and pilot certification. Aaronson, Amura, Baker, Demjanjuk, Kuwanyamtiwa, Ravenwing . . . “
One by one, names were called; Ranua saw Halli almost squirming in delight at achieving her goal of flight school. The bighorn sheep flipped a page over and said, “The following officers will, upon graduation, be assigned to the Naval Syndicate Fleet for technical school and additional training . . .” Harlan continued, and read off another, longer list of names.
Ranua sat dumbfounded as the rest of the names were announced, Ari silently exulting as his name was called for engineering school. Why hasn’t my name been called? he wondered. What’s going on?
His answer was not long in coming. “The following officer will,” Vice-Commodore Harlan said, “upon graduation, be assigned to the Naval Syndicate Intelligence Service.
Halli leaned forward and glanced past Ari to see the terrier blinking in surprise. “That’s what you get for not picking a preference,” she whispered.
That afternoon Vice-Commodore Broome stood at an open office window, the stock collar of his maroon formal uniform tunic hanging open while he watched the usual traffic going by. The weather in Seathl was not bad at this time of year, but he preferred to be in Port Vancouver with his wife and child. He turned partway as his secretary knocked on the half-open door. “Excuse me, sir,” Kathy said, “Cadet Milikonu is here to see you.”
Right on time, too. “Send him in, please, and close the door.” He resumed looking out the window as he heard footsteps come into the room, and the sound of Kathy closing the door.
There was a pause, and a clear baritone voice in accented English said, “Reporting as ordered, sir.”
The fox nodded. “At ease, Mr. Milikonu.” He turned around as the wirehair terrier in his dark blue jumpsuit subsided into a more relaxed posture. “I’m Vice-Commodore Broome, Syndic for Intelligence.” He offered a paw to Ranua, who shook it silently.
“Permission to speak, sir?” he asked diffidently.
Broome smiled. “Anytime, Ensign.”
Ranua’s ears dipped as he blushed. His graduation was still two days away, and the older fox’s words gave him a little start. “Sir, why me? I would have been happy in the Fleet – “
“I don’t think so,” Broome interrupted, waving the younger fur to a chair, “and I’ll tell you why. If you had wanted a position in the Fleet, or in sub school, or anywhere, you would have indicated that.” Milikonu looked up at him as he sat, and Broome could see the truth of what he said in the canine’s eyes.
“I’ve gone over your file pretty thoroughly, young man. You’re smart, very determined when faced with a challenge, and you have a great deal of potential. Also, you seem to be able to figure out puzzles. Isn’t that so?”
“Well, yes sir,” Ranua said, trying not to show his nervousness; of course, his tail was betraying him. “When I was a Guide I could spot the correct path, or where a trap might be found.”
Broome nodded. “I’ve read the reports from the Guide School. I’ve also read the report from Lieutenant Taylor. You read a coded message on sight, didn’t you?”
A nod, and an embarrassed dip of the ears.
“That’s quite a feat.” The fox grinned. “I’ve never been able to do it, and I’ve been in the game more than thirty years.” Ranua twisted in his chair and looked up at Broome. “Yes, you can do something I can’t. Some people are talented, others aren’t. My particular talents are as an administrator.
“And I think I know why you listed your assignment as ‘no preference.’” He held up a paw as Ranua started to speak. “Bear with me, and see if I’m reading your mind or not.
“I think that the reason you were unable, after three months, to think of an acceptable choice is that none of the areas you’ve been exposed to offer you enough of a challenge.” His tail twitched as he saw the look on the young terrier’s face. “I’m right, aren’t I?”
Ranua took his time answering, but finally replied, “Yes, sir, you’re right.”
“I was pretty sure of it,” Broome said. “Intelligence can probably offer you something a bit more challenging, if not as strenuous,” he added with a grin. “Interested?” When the terrier slowly nodded, the fox said, “Come with me, Ensign, and I’ll show you around the shop.”
Ranua followed Broome out of the office and down several flights of stairs into the basement of the headquarters building, where two sailors armed with pistols stood watch beside a locked door. A sign on the door read RESTRICTED, and a smaller sign beside the door promised severe penalties for any unauthorized personnel entering the room.
The guards snapped to attention when Broome approached, and one unlocked the door for him. “Come on in,” the fox said to the younger fur, and he ushered Ranua inside.
The room easily took up most of the floor area in the basement, but several doors around the periphery told Ranua that not all of the space was dedicated to this one room. The air was warm and smelled of poor ventilation, mimeograph fluid and a sharp scent that his nose told him was ozone. His ears dipped at a chattering sound, and he looked to his left to see a bank of teletype machines clattering away. Banks of desks were occupied by a mix of uniformed and civilian furs looking through messages or typing. Maps and charts decorated the walls along with the red-and-black Rain Island flag. Broome watched as Ranua walked over to the maps and studied them.
The maps depicted several countries, including Vostok Island and Japan, along with general maps of the Northern Pacific region. All were covered with thick sheets of clear material and grease pencils hung near each map, suspended from the wall on lengths of twine. The map of Japan bore several grease-penciled notes, along with dotted lines starting in various ports.
Ranua looked back at Broome, who smiled at the terrier’s expression. He said, “Go ahead, Ensign.”
“These are naval movements, sir?” he asked. The fox nodded encouragingly, and he looked at the notes. “Movements of troops to China,” he observed. “Are the dashed lines because you’re not sure?”
Broome laughed. “Exactly, my boy.” He grinned as several of the analysts in the room paused and smiled. “One of the jobs we in Intelligence do is try to figure out where people might be going, and why they’re doing what they’re doing. That way, we can advise the Fleet as to a proper course of action.”
“That includes defending Spontoon,” Ranua remarked absently as he looked at another map. He realized that he was thinking aloud, and he promptly colored as Broome grinned.
“Yes, we help defend Spontoon.” He had read the contract, and now it was time to add the final touch. “Of course, when you finish Intelligence School, you will be assigned to Spontoon at our post there.”
Ranua had stared at the conjectured paths of the Japanese ships. The problem-solving part of his mind fitted the pieces together . . . yes, this was what he’d been missing.
He turned away from the map and looked at the fox, finally extending a paw. “Thank you, sir, for this opportunity,” Ranua said.
March 27, 1937:
The events of the day started promptly at nine o’clock in the cavernous meeting hall on the base with a religious service presided over by Chief Shaman Walker-Under-the-Moon. The elderly bear was flanked and assisted by another bear, the Orthodox Archbishop of Seathl, and the Presbyterian fox that Ranua had seen on his first Sunday at the base. The hall held several hundred people from different parts of the base and the government in Seathl, and the ambassadors from Tillamook and Spontoon were present as well.
The twenty-nine cadets sat stiffly in the first two rows of seats, their shoes and leather belts shined to a mirror polish and their uniforms carefully pressed to a fine crease. They sat with their uniform kepis in their laps, then stood at attention as Commodore O’Rourke and Chief Syndic Engstrom walked up to the front of the hall.
Petty Officer Johansen, whose faultless uniform sported two banks of ribbons recognizing him for his service to Rain Island, gestured for the group to stay at attention while the other syndics filed in, all in their formal uniforms, and the band struck up the opening chords of Rain Island’s national anthem, An Island of Freedom:
“An island of freedom
In an unhappy world;
Against a sea of troubles
Stands the Red and Black unfurled!
Rain Island, Rain Island,
Green jewel in a sapphire sea!
Where the workers are the bosses,
And everyone is free!”
When the last notes died away, Commodore O’Rourke stepped up to a small podium. “Be seated. Ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased and proud to see you all here today and I wish to extend a warm welcome to our newest officers from the Spontoon Independencies. You represent the start of a new era in cooperation between our two countries.
“I also wish to extend my congratulations to you all. You have passed a series of tests and have proven that you have the skills necessary to succeed, not just in the Naval Syndicate, but in life.” The tall wolfhound smiled. “Before we award these young furs with the rank to which they are entitled, I would like to introduce Chief Syndic Anders Engstrom. Sir?” and she stepped back as the elkhound came forward to speak.
“I’m no good at making speeches,” he said, and grinned as a knowing chuckle rippled through the crowd, “but I will say that you young officers represent the next generation of leaders in our country, in Tillamook, and in Spontoon. Thank you for your commitment, and congratulations.” Engstrom sat down to polite applause as Vice-Commodore Harlan stepped forward with a list.
One by one the names were called, to receive their certificates and be congratulated by O’Rourke. When the list was finished, a cheer was raised for the newest officers of the Naval Syndicate.
As the new ensigns left the meeting hall, Ranua noticed a small photography shop and headed for it as a thought struck him. “Hey, Ranua,” Matt said, “where are you going? Some of us are going to Phil’s for a celebration.”
“I’ll be right with you, Matt,” the terrier said, “but I have something I want to do first.”
Having his photograph taken using the best-quality color process was a bit expensive, but payday was the next day and he felt that he could afford to splurge on this occasion. Two pictures would soon be on their way to Spontoon; one for Miri and one for his parents.
His friends waited for him at the gate, and he laughed and joked with them as they went to the tavern. As they sat down Ranua said, “I want to try something new,” and he walked over to the bar, returning with four beers and a small glass of dark brown liquor.
As he set the drinks down Ari asked, “What’s that, Ranua?” He sniffed at it, and he gave his friend a skeptical look.
“Whisky,” Ranua said. “I’ve never tried it before, so to celebrate I bought some.”
“Turning into a drunk just because you didn’t get what you wanted?” Halli asked mischievously. She, like all of the others, had thought that Ranua had been given an Intelligence School assignment because he hadn’t expressed a preference for anywhere else.
Ranua laughed along with the others, and picked up the shot glass. He recalled seeing someone drink it a certain way, so he downed the drink in one gulp.
When he stopped coughing and started gasping for breath Matt asked, “So, how did you like it?”
Ranua’s response was eclipsed by Halli suddenly whispering “Gods protect us!” in Spontoonie. Everyone looked at her as she stared at the bar.
Two young women were standing there, dressed identically in dark blue skirts and blazers. The blazers had an insignia on the collars, a musical note with two bars. One of the women looked like a raccoon with a peculiar red color pattern, and she was trading shots of the same whisky Ranua had tried with a slim canine girl. They were speaking between shots, but the crowd noise made overhearing them impossible.
“Hey, they’re cute,” Matt said. “Should we invite them over?” he asked, and his ears perked as the Spontoonies all shook their heads, apprehension written on their faces. Ari started to explain, but stared at the pair again.
One of the barflies had tried to grope the oddly-furred one, and she had sent him flying across the room with a move Ranua recognized as being taught in Guide School. The barfly’s friends rushed to defend him and she started blocking punches while raining blows and kicks on the larger furs. The canine had merely stepped back to watch, and it was only after the first woman had been pressed back against the bar that a scream split the din.
“Long live the Revolution!” the canine shrilled, at about the same time she smashed a chair over one fur’s head. She waded into the fight and the two women stood back to back, fighting hard as they moved to the door. Finally, throwing a hapless canine at Phil’s approaching bulk, they ran out of the bar.
Drinks were being called for while some furs groaned and the wail of an approaching siren heralded the tardy arrival of the police. Ranua looked at the others and said, “I think we should be leaving.” The others nodded.
As they left the bar, Matt paused and pointed over at a tavern across the street. “Think that place might be fun?”
The tavern was the Beer Bust, a bar that they had all been told about, usually coupled with dire warnings of what might happen to a fur who walked in with more money than sense. It appealed to many sailors, since it boasted a brothel on its second floor.
Ranua’s ears dipped as he looked at the sign, then at his friend. “Are you sure? There’s a film at the base cinema.”
The Doberman laughed. “I want to celebrate. Anyone coming with me?” Ari chose to accompany him, just to make sure he didn’t get in any trouble.
So he said.