June 25th, 2007


Ocean is Eleven

"So let me get this straight," said Wilford Wiggins, standing up from the upside-down bucket he had been sitting on in the Ocean family's garage. Ten pairs of eyes locked onto him, and the shy, freckled third grader blushed. He swallowed heavily.

Danny Ocean smiled. Although he was only eleven years old, he was widely regarded as the best thief and confidence man in the Greater Idaville area. Only his parents called him Danny, or Daniel if he was in trouble; everybody else called him Encyclopedia because his head seemed to contain as many facts as an encyclopedia.

"Go on, Wilford," encouraged Encyclopedia.

"Well," stuttered Wilford, "as I understand it, we're supposed to just walk into the clubhouse of the Tigers...."

"The meanest gang in Idaville," inserted Charlie Stewart.

"....past the huge guard dog they have penned up..."

"They say it's named 'Brutus'," moaned Mitch Waller.

"....disable the giant robot that Bugs Meany says is in there...."

"I heard its laser go off when I went past on my paper route!" exclaimed Red Pufflinger.

"....and somehow find the money that was stolen from the Idaville Elementary School club fund?"

"Don't forget the footlocker with the combination lock on it," added Sally Kimball, smirking. Sally was the prettiest girl in the fifth grade, and she was also Encyclopedia's junior partner and occasional bodyguard.

"That's right, I forgot to mention that," said Encyclopedia to Sally, smirking as well from his perch atop the garage gas can.

"We can't go up against Bugs Meany!" wailed Denny Hopkins. "With a usual job, it's simple; you steal from a guy, he punches you in the arm, done! But not with Bugs -- with him it's personal! The last time somebody got crosswise with Bugs, Bugs beat him up, and then he beat up his sister, and then he burned down his...."

"....lemonade stand. Yeah, we know," concluded Sally.

"Nobody takes things out of the Tigers' clubhouse!" complained Philip Sweet. "Only three people have even tried. Louis Crabtree didn't even get to the door before he was caught and sat on. Lisa Periwinkle reached the door before they dunked her pigtails in ink. And Donny Duhon, the most successful Tiger-stealer ever, actually tasted oxygen and got out into the clubhouse yard before he was tackled and given Indian Sunburns like you wouldn't believe!" The assembled rubbed their forearms sympathetically.

Wilford Wiggins cleared his throat. "Well....supposing we get past all those things, and we *do* get into the clubhouse, and we find the money. We're then supposed to just -- walk out of there with it?" All eyes turned to Encyclopedia, who smiled.

"Yes, Wilford," he replied calmly. "We are."

"Oh," said Wilford quietly, and quickly sat down.

Turn to page 98!

Dream Fragment: Honor, Homeland, Valour, Discipline

My captain cuts a valiant figure atop the watchtower, spyglass at hand, issuing orders to his command officers. Some day, I pray, I shall stand upon my own tower and bring war to the British. But -- alas! -- for now I am but an ensign first class, and a young one at that. I have many years to serve, and much to learn.

I command the aft bluffs of _Aristide_, a frigate class Isle-of-War in service of Emperor Napoleon. We are but a thousand metres in length and half that in beam -- originally a modest atoll from the South Pacific, tamed by geomancers from Indochina, and pressed into service of the navy. _Aristide_ is a small isle and does not bear the modernizations of more recent additions to the fleet, but he is older and wiser than most land masses his size, and it is this cunning -- as well as the captain's great skill at seamanship -- that has made for us a name both at home in France, as well as among the captains of the Englanders.

Now we are on the move, making twenty knots as we round the horn of Spain. Our objective: _Gibraltar_. She stands blocking the entrance to the Mediterranean, and as long as the British hold that chokepoint, we shall never defeat their ambitions in Africa. The flagship of their King is formidable; it has been nicknamed The Rock -- but we approach en masse, with fully a third of Napoleon's archipelago-fleet converging. Meanwhile _Malta_ lies many hundreds of miles to the east, too far away to render assistance to her sister-isle. We must strike while they are vulnerable, capturing the flagship or, if necessary, scuttling her.

Our frigate is too small to threaten a mighty island such as _Gibraltar_; if we engaged directly we would be crushed or subducted without any effort expended at all. Our task, instead, is to repel any supply-aits and sandbars that might present themselves, and seize their cargo for the Emperor. The captain is a master prize-taker, and the storage caves in the belly of _Aristide_ are filled with loot seized from craft sailing under all manner of flags hostile to France.

Our trouble of the moment, however, is that we are being stalked. The British have given orders to a frigate-killer, _HMI_Oualahuka_, to hunt us down. It is larger and faster than _Aristide_, and it is closing fast. Worse, it is a volcano.

From my position aft, I can do little but watch the war-isle approach. It is little more than a blunt blackened cone, and it bleeds magma down a forward spillway which raises great clouds of steam as the molten rock hits the seawater. I turn to my Geomantic apprentice, Xiyong, with some irritation.

"How can they be so much faster?" I demand. "They are far heavier than we! I need more speed from you!"

"They glide upon a cushion of lava," Xiyong whines, "while poor _Aristide_ must crawl along the ocean floor! I spur our baby as best I can, but he can go no faster!"

My eyes narrow. "This cushion of lava," I ask. "It is the same that creates the magma that flows forth, is it not?"

Xiyong bows and nods enthusiastically. "It is so, lord! The more they vomit forth, the slower they must go!"

The semaphore from my captain's tower flashes: RAISE REEFS, he commands. A futile protective gesture, I feel; the coral barriers will do nothing to stop the magma, though they might deter boarders for a time. Xiyong obediently reaches for his casting-runes, but I seize his arm.

"Belay that order," I command. "The blufs we stand upon -- they are composed largely of rhyolites, are they not?"

"Indeed they are," replies Xiyong, confused. "But why do you ask?"

I turn to my midshipman. "Order the crew to retreat to the highlands," I say. "Xiyong, you come with me." As we climb quickly up the sandy slopes of _Aristide_, I explain my plan. Excited, the geomancer nods enthusiastically.

We take up position within a stone's throw of the command watchtower. As Xiyong begins his preparations, that fool D'Alembert scuttles over. "Captain demands to know why you have not obeyed his orders!" he trumpets.

"Quiet, fool," I hiss. "I am saving us. Watch if you wish to learn, but keep your mouth shut!"

Xiyong's eyes are clamped shut in concentration, and sweat pours down his brow. He completes a number of arcane passes and stamps his feet, chanting in a peculiar rhythm. The ground beneath us begins to groan, and rifts open up in the earth. D'Alembert yelps.

"You are scuttling us, you traitor!" I slap him hard twice, and he retreats to the watchtower. I cannot allow his idiocy to affect my geomancer.

Blood flows from Xiyong's nose as his chantings and moanings increase in volume and pitch. Finally there is a great crackling sound, and stone begins to splinter. With a mighty roar, the entire aft third of the isle calves off from the whole and slides into the ocean, directly in the path of _HMI_Oualahuka_. Before it can react, it has overrun the bluffs that had previously been my command.

Xiyong pants, lying on the ground. "Pain," he moans softly. "_Aristide_ feels great pain." I pat his shoulder.

"His sacrifice was a worthy one," I murmur. "Watch now."

The rhyolyte bluffs contained a great volume of volatiles locked into the structure of the rock. As the lava cloud under our pursuer passes over our dropped flotsam, the bluff rock melts and releases its gases. Soon the volcano begins to rumble, and hot ash begins to fly from the cone. I throw myself to the ground.

With a mighty blast the cinder cone explodes, taking the top half of the isle with it. _HMI_Oualahuka_ drifts to a halt as all its human crew, including its geomancers, are killed in the explosion. Soon the volcano is left in our wake and the waves begin to lap over the edges of its shattered cone.

A crewman runs to my position. "Captain orders you to join him on the watchtower," he says, saluting. I come along with him.

This could be good, or this could be bad.