Dusty - Silicon Snow

Catanich returns to the thrilling historical fiction he has so brilliantly made his own. This is the first of seven side stories from the infamous Gopal affair told as a chillingly dark, hard-edged series of novels of theft, conspiracy and espionage.

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Dusty - Silicon Snow

Chapter 1

Aliso Elementary School
South Laguna CA, USA
October 14, 1956


For many, we go to school to learn the basics. I know I did. But I also had great teachers that found ways to spark my imagination; to see things differently, to understand that I had no limitations. And it wasn't just me. One of my best friends was Michael Sarcinelli and we were assigned to do a 6th English report on something that interested us. We were then sent off to the library to do the research.

Now how could a 6th grade English assignment get kids like us into the middle of something?

Simple... Here's Michael's assignment that he turned in that day. You be the judge.


    Impact of the Steam Engine
    By Michael Sarcinelli
    October 14th, 1956

    As the steam engine was put in warships, it had a major impact around the world and specifically impacted pirates. Shap-'ng-Tsai was a pirate who operated along the coast of Southern China in the 1840s. He was based at Tin Pak that was 175 miles west of Hong Kong. He rose to power as the leader of a pirate fleet soon after the war ended.

    By the end of the 1840s, Shap-'ng-Tsai's pirate fleet had grown to more than 70 ships. He extorted protection from the Chinese traders but attacked both British and American trading ships as well. Because Shap-'ng-Tsai had spies everywhere, he was informed of the valuable cargo and tax bullion ships had on them.

    In 1849, the British sent three steam engine powered ships to attack Shap-'ng-Tsai's pirate fleet. The British navy pursued Shap-'ng-Tsai's pirate fleet down the coast of China to the Tong King river. There the British blockaded the mouth of the river to prevent escape and waited for the beginning of hi tide. At hi tide, the British attacked and two of steam warships crossed over the sandbar at the river's entrance that the pirates thought would protect them.

    The pirates were caught off guard and laying at anchor when the warships attacked. Because of the river's fast current moving inland due to the hi tide, the pirate junks were unable to swing around and return fire. Over 1800 pirates were killed and 58 pirate vessels were sunk or captured.

    However Shap-'ng-Tsai escaped up river, accompanied by a handful of pirates. They jumped overboard holding a cannon ball and an upside down bucket holding air. They walked unseen over a half mile on the bottom of the river to safety.

    As the tide changed, the steam warships were forced to leave fearing that they would be trapped on the sand bars.

    Three years later, Shap-'ng-Tsai was offered an emperor's pardon and was commissioned into the Chinese navy. He died as an officer, hero, and pirate.

And then as kids, we implemented it for our needs. Isn't this called adaptive learning?




The bet was for one dollar that Michael couldn't stay underwater for the five minutes like he kept telling everyone he could do. Now, I could hold my breath and stay under for over three minutes in a pool. I did that all the time. But five minutes... never.

Finally, he said, "Ok... chickens. I'll make it ten minutes if you make it two dollars."

Ok, now I knew something was wrong, but Cliff said "It's a bet" and they put their two dollars on the table in front of my mom.

As always, this brought the "Now boys, you shouldn't be betting."

"That's ok Mrs. Contie. This is a slam dunk," Michael said.

So Michael walked over to the tin bucket that the club filled with sand so the parents could put their cigarettes out in it and dumped the sand in on the ground. He then walked down to the deep end of the pool, picked up another bucket filled with sand and jumped in yelling "Start!"

Of course, this shocked all the moms around the pool, Cliff started to complain, but I watched as Michael was breathing air from the upside down bucket and exhaling air back into the bucket. Oh... the other bucket of sand, it was used to weigh him down so he would stay on the bottom and not float.

My mom who was timing this finally said "Ok Bobby, that's 10 minutes. Now go drag his butt back up here. And don't dump that sand in the pool."

This is a great example of how kids learned to do so many things that drove our parent's nuts as we were growing up. A simple 6th grade English assignment taught us how to stay under water for a long time and that summer with my mom's help, we deployed it for real in the open ocean.

Now as Boy Scouts, we did everything including help our Boy Scout Master mix the cement for his new retaining wall at his house. Lesson learned - How to make the cement.

Next came the question of how much weight does it take to sink one gallon of air. Ok... Now upscale it. I asked my father, but he sent me to the library to read up on "Buoyancy". Boring... Instead, I asked a friend's father who was a Navy diver and he said, "Just over design your needs on this. Use a bag of cement and don't worry about the math."

Well we did over design it, four bags worth.

Now as eleven-year-old kids, moving those bags of cement down to the beach was going to be hard. We discussed making a large balloon but we couldn't find a source for the helium. Then we discussed using a large kite. It worked before but I promised my mom I wouldn't do that again. We tried a red wagon but it wouldn't go over the ruts in the dirt road and we would never get it across the sand on the beach. Finally, I had to ask my mom for help

"Mom, can you drive us down to the beach today?"

"Oh sure, but why don't you want to walk?"

"Ah we have to move something heavy down there and we need the station wagon to do it."

"Should I ask what you guys are doing now?"

"Well... umm... we are going to make cement anchors for our lobster traps."

"Oh, so you're now going to catch lobsters? Remember, there are professional fishermen out there doing the same thing and they will get real mad if you guys interfere with their business."

"Ah we know but we will stay away from them. I promise."

"Ok. Get everything together and get it in the back of the car. I have something to do first so let's plan on leaving at 11 ok."

"Ok. Bye"

So after attempting to put one bag of cement in the back end, we decided to divide it in half and put the dry cement in left over cardboard boxes. Then two of us could lift it and slide it in the back of the station wagon. Then came my father's Red Cross stretcher he had hanging up in the garage. Next of course came our surfboards.

Finally, here came my mom... she looked; she inspected; and finally said, "Get in the car and let's talk. Now, what's this project of yours really about?"

"Ok... Ok" I complained. "We're going to build an underwater fort. There, you happy. We need the cement to anchor the fort down."

"I see. And you have this designed out on paper?"


"Then, may I see it?"

"Ok, I'll be right back" I said as I ran down to my bedroom to get it. As always, my mom said when I was going to do something, I had to draw it out; plan it out and finally create a part's list. Well I did. I really did know what I was going to do.

Upon my return, I handed the drawing to her and said, "We've gone over everything and I know it will work."

"And how far down are you planning to build this."

"Ah... 20 feet maybe"?

"Ok. But before you really use it, I must be allowed to inspect it or no deal."

"Mom..." but I could see in her eyes that this was not open for debate or discussion. So with a "Ok! Deal" she started the car and drove us down to the beach.

Now as my mom put up the umbrella and put out her beach towel, four little boys carried each of the 8 boxes of cement out to the edge of the water using my dad stretcher.

There at the water line, we made our cement - using salt water. In each of the boxes of cement, we placed a large eyebolt with a large washer and nut that we would attach rope too. It was late in the afternoon when we decided that the cement was now hard enough to start moving it out to our fort's location using our surfboards. It took two trips each to get the cement weights out there with the eyebolts pointing upwards.

This is when my mom said "enough for one day. Your dad should be home and I need to start dinner."

The next morning, we were up at dawn and heading to the beach with fins and masks. There at a five foot depth, we opened the greased 16' by 20' canvas tarp that my father used as a drop cloth when he painted the house. Attached to each corner of the tarp was twenty feet of half inch rope and one after the other, we dived down to attach the rope to the cement weights. However before we headed up, we exhaled under the tarp starting the bubble.

This is when my mom and a friend, Helen showed up and started setting up their beach junk. And yea as promised, my mom took Chris' surfboard and together, we headed out for the "pre-kid use inspection".

Now my mom was a swimmer, a good swimmer. She also was a diver as in free diver. As we got to the fort's location, she just slid off the board, dove down and there under 25 feet of water, she gave me thumbs up.

What came next was the surprise of all surprises that summer when mom said she had told Helen what we had been working on. Helen who was an experienced scuba diver walked back to the car, pulled out her dive tank and said, "I want to see this with my own eyes" and yea... mom and Helen took two of the boards out, dove down and with the twist of the air nozzle filled up the bubble for us.

Now Michael and I were on our boards next to them when we were told to stay put while they checked out the "fort". Five minutes went by, and finally Michael and I dove down to see if they were ok.

There they were the two of them inside the bubble talking and as we swam inside, they said, "Hey... boys aren't allowed" and my mom dunked me.

The fort lasted for over two months when the deterioration of the cement became too bad. However, the eleven kids that used the fort that summer, we all had serious homework to learn so that we could answer the following questions:


  • How do you resupply the air?
  • What is carbon dioxide?
  • How will you make ocean proof cement?


And on and on the questions were asked as we sat there eating lunch with my mom and my friends. Yea... sometimes, we ate on the beach other time we ate in the fort.

As for the original reason to make the fort, we all forgot what it was. However, Helen did not and insisted we bring her two abalone and four lobsters each weekend until we had to go back to school in September. It was not a bad price to pay for the use of her dive tank.

Oh, the next year we built it better, stronger, and bigger.

"Some kids have forts in trees. Some have them in vacant lots. We always seemed to be different; I guess we were just the odd balls. See, ours was at the bottom of the ocean. However, as kids, we all had one thing in common, our imaginations. Mine just didn't have limitations placed on it..." - Jim Catanich, 1987




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