The command tent was more crowded than usual. At least, Leath was pretty sure it usually wasn't this crowded, though he'd never been to one of these meetings before. All the high-ranking officers were gathered for a strategising session. General Ghoti had asked Leath their because his Sergeant was in all likelihood going to have an enormous effect on the strategies. If the enemy camp was destroyed--and most of the enemy soldiers with it--the terran front would likely go very well indeed, which would of course benefit the naval front a fair bit as well.

'Now then,' began the General. 'As I'm sure you all know, Sergeant Dillywonk of Captain Leath's admirable company set off a few days ago on a mission to destroy the enemy encampment using high explosives or whatever other means deemed necessary by him and his esteemed team. As of the end of the last shift, the watch has not reported any deafening explosions or huge fireballs rising from the enemy encampment, however it is no doubt only a matter of time before Sergeant Dollywink and his brave team succeed in completing their mission and we are free to head northward to clean up any remaining enemy troops and to conquer their heathenistic villages.' A polite round of applause greeted this announcement. 'In the mean time, the research attache with our battalion has some findings they believe will be instrumental in our forthcoming invasion strategy, both leading up to and immediately following the imminent and explosive destruction of the enemy encampment. So, esteemed gentlemen, please give us your report, if you would be so kind.'

'Ah, yes, thank you, General sir,' said the lead scientist nervously. 'We, uh, have some findings, as the good General just stated, which, we think, are somewhat relevant to our current situation. You see, according to our careful survey of the geological properties of this region, the enemy encampment and our own encampment are both on the edge of a dormant volcano.'

'Ah, yes, a volcano!' interrupted the General. 'That's very interesting. Take note, gentlemen. This surely will have bearing on our battle plans, will it not? Please, do, go on.'

'Yes, well, you see, the volcano is dormant right now, but it could be set off by a large explosion, such as the one planned for the enemy encampment.'

'Ah! And what exactly would this volcano do if "set off"? Something to our advantage, no doubt.' The General winked at his officers.

'Well, not entirely to our advantage, no. See, sir, the volcano doesn't realise we're the good guys, so when it beings erupting, it will kill all of us /and/ the Tanenbaumiams. This, I think, is not quite the preferred scenario, though we obviously do not have the same military wisdom of the likes of you, General sir.'

The General now looked slightly less pleased. 'Ah, yes. Kill us all, you say?'

'Yes, that's exactly right, General sir.'

'You are aware that what we /want/, of course, is to kill the enemy and /not/ ourselves?'

'Yes, General sir, we are aware, but the volcano was not our idea, you see. It was already here. We only discovered it, which gives you, in your great wisdom, the ability to do something to avoid killing us all, if that is what you feel is best.'

'And we do hope it is,' put in one of the other scientists.

'Yes, yes, of course. Very good. I, uh, I don't suppose you might have any scientifical recommendations on what could be done? I mean, after all, you're the ones who are experts on volcanoes. Virgin sacrifices work sometimes, don't they?'

'Virgin sacrifices rarely do much good, General sir. Volcanoes, when they erupt, spew massive amounts of burning rock, and it would take a lot of virgin sacrifices to block up the hole it comes out of.'

'Ah, now we're getting somewhere! Burning rocks, eh? So what we need to do, you're saying, is build a very big wall in front of the base to block off the burning rocks.'

'A wall won't work, I'm afraid. The rocks fly high into the air. They'll go right over any wall we can build. What we need to do is either run like hell or not set off the volcano.'

'Pardon me, General,' spoke up on officer, 'but isn't there an old tale about stopping volcanoes using toothpicks?'

'Yes, good point, Major. But if you'll recall, the moral of the tale was that you /can't/ stop a volcano with nothing but toothpicks.'

'Oh, did it? I always fell asleep halfway through the story. Too much kissing. Not enough swordfights.'

'You're losing sight of the issue,' insisted the head scientist. 'We need to stop the mission to explode the enemy encampment. Otherwise, we all die!'

'But we can't stop the mission,' put in Leath. 'Sergeant Dallywonk has already left with his team. We've no way to contact them.'

'Well, then, we'll just have to hope they fail, then,' said the General. 'It seems likely that they would. I mean, they've been out there for days and still no massive explosion in the enemy camp setting off a volcano spewing burning rocks into the sky and killing every last one of us has occurred. Clearly, it's business as usual. You three may go now.'

The scientists shrugged and headed out of the tent.

'Now then,' said the General. 'I believe Major Proste has a suggestion on adjusting the patrol schedule?'


'I say, this is boring, isn't it,' commented Captain Phil. 'Not a ship in distress for days.'

'Most likely once we reach the more southern end of the Isle there will be much more to do,' commented his first mate. 'That's where most of the fighting should be going on.'

'Yes, but in the mean time there's nothing to do but cook. I mean, I like cooking, but I was really looking forward to rescuing people, you know? Excitement! Fun! Adventure!' Phil wasn't just talk, either. He had been leaving his cabin by his own choice several times a day lately, just to watch for any distressed vessels the watchers in the crow's nest might somehow miss. But since the bit with the pirates, none had appeared. Still, he was diligent and headed back on deck for the third time that day to look around.

He had been up there for almost two eager but fruitless minutes when he finally spotted something. 'Ooh! Ooh! I say! A crate! A crate in the water! It probably came from a sinking ship. Pull it on board so we can examine it!'

Though lone crates were common in these waters, the crew hauled the waterlogged crate up onto the deck and pried it open. Inside were two men, two monkeys, and a bunch of monkey corpses, many of them partly eaten.

'I say!' exclaimed Phil. "This is exciting! Do you two need rescuing? Did your ship go down? Is it nearby?'

The men blinked in the sunlight for a moment before responding. 'We's could do with some rescuin', and some water if you have it. But we don't have no ship. We floated from the shore in this.'

'Oh. No ship? Oh well. Somebody get them some water. At least we have two people to rescue!'

'So we gathered,' said Guenter. 'I don't suppose you have anything stronger than water?'

The first mate fetch the rescued prisoners some ale while Phil dashed downstairs to prepare a hearty meal for the poor souls. 'Imagine! Nothing to eat but raw monkey. No seasoning or anything.'


'So you see,' finished Morris, 'we need to kill the four of you in order to prevent your carrying out your mission or foiling ours.'

Melville pondered this a moment while he ground black pepper over his reconstituted eggs. 'It does seem we're in a pickle.'

'Pickle!' exclaimed Filcher. '/That's/ what these eggs need!' The two chefs had managed to thoroughly burn most of the food they were preparing and everyone was trying out different garnishes to cover up the flavour.

'But like I said before, we could just as easily kill /you/', said Fin.

'Oh, no, we wouldn't do that,' said Melville. 'I don't murder people. I may be an ex-pirate, but I'm not evil.'

'You're on your way to blow up an entire encampment of people,' pointed out Fin.

'Yes, but that's war, not murder.'

'Well, they're enemy soldiers. It's still war if we kill them.'

'But they're our friends. We know them.'

'That does put a damper on things, doesn't it?' interrupted Morris. 'Personally, I feel the same way, and I really don't want to kill you, but the way I see it, we have no choice.'

'I liked the idea of a draw,' said Sven/Waren.

'So, what, we just sit here until the war ends?'

'Only if these two learn to cook better.'

'We did quite well last night. It was only when you guys came down here and started bugging us that things went wrong.'

'Plus he wouldn't let me cook any fish to go with the rest of the meal.'

'Fish are majestic creatures, not food!'

'They're majestic food!' shot back Melville. 'Everyone knows that, 'cept the bloody Pesce.'

'You people do nothing but bicker, do you?' Everybody turned and half of them were quite surprised to see a Cheshire cat staring back at them. 'So you've no fish for me this time, is that it?'

'I'm afraid not,' said Hilfa

'Is that cat talking to us?' said Breck.

'Cats can talk?' said Filcher.

'Cats can't talk,' said Dudders.

'This one can,' said Hilfa.

'Must we go through this every time I appear to someone new? Yes, I'm a cat. Yes, I can talk. Yes, you're imagining me. No, I'm not real. That's not important. What's important is what I'm here to tell us.'

'I thought you didn't want to tell us stuff,' said Fin. 'Something about...I don't remember. But you refused to explain the gods to us.'

'This cat knows the gods?' asked Morris.

'She claims to have spoken to the gods and that they're zombie trout.'

'What a nutty claim!' said Breck. 'Why, only a complete loon would even be able to think up such a thing!'

'Oh, well, I'm sure it's not /that/ off the wall,' said Morris.

'Certainly not,' said the cat, fading in and out of existence. 'Why, they spoke to you in a dream recently. I was there.'

'You were?' Morris asked in surprise. 'I didn't see you.'

'I was behind you at the time. Following you around, though you were more a floating viewpoint than a real person.'

'Actually, I had a dream bout the gods being zombie trout too,' said Filcher.

'A talking squirrel told me,' put in Dudders.

'Ah, yes, the talking squirrel. I know him well. He tastes delicious,' said the Cheshire cat.

'You ate him?'

'Oh, yes, many times.'

'How come I'm the only one who's never heard of these "zombie trout"?' asked Breck.

'I believe the talking squirrel once tried to tell you but you ran him over with a cart.'

'Oops. I remember that. It was an accident.'

'Okay, so we all know about the zombie trout gods,' said Melville. 'That's fabulous, but they're not real, so who cares? How does that solve our dilemma?'

'I'm just getting to that. You both intend to set off massive explosions that would in turn set off the now-dormant volcano of Kukukillapacawowdomingobarajibjab Volcano, which would kill lots of people and be a really bad thing. Instead, however, you will abandon these ill missions and will travel to the Isle of the Gods to discuss things with the zombie trout. They'll set you all right. They have a mission for you, I think. Maybe just discovering that the gods are zombie trout is the mission. They didn't explain it to me very clearly, being fish and all, but I know you're supposed to go see them.'

'What, all of us?' asked Hilfa.



'But we've been paid to do a job!' objected Melville. 'It's dishonest to quit not!'

'I think they'd want us to quit if they knew of the volcano,' said Hilfa.

'Assuming the cat's not lying,' said Fin.

'I'm not,' said the cat.

'Well it's settled then.'

'We'll set out tomorrow!'

'It's still morning. Why not set out today?'

'We'll set out today!'