Never Trust Your Uncle

by Howard Faxon

Tags: Fiction, Science Fiction,

Desc: : The family genius may be more crazy than you are.

I usually spent my summer vacations up in the Catskills sitting around and bullshitting with my uncle Charley. He was a mysterious lab rat doing unmentionable things for unmentionable government departments, but he always took time to sit and talk with me. One night, deep in our beers, I wondered what it would take to have an early American cabin that would magically appear at whatever event I wanted it to appear. I remain to this day an early-American re-enactor, focusing my efforts on just after the revolutionary war; just before and after the war of 1812. I have a copper-ware collection that most museums would fight over. I know fourteen ways to start a fire. (All right, one consists of walking over to the next campsite with a shovel and saying 'Neighbor, got a few hot coals for a pilgrim?') I have successfully knapped flint without taking off a digit. I have taken game with a bow, cap-and-ball rifle, flintlock and an atl-atl. I've served raccoon, deer, bear, snake and rabbit to uncle Charley, and he seemed to appreciate all of it (if not the taste, then the effort that went into it.)

One rainy Saturday afternoon early in June I received a rather large shipment from him. It was six meters by twenty meters of what appeared to be solid titanium, over a meter thick and cut into three gentle dishes. With the dishes 'down' I was presented with many pre-drilled angle supports and a lot of lumps faired into the surface. It was all anodized a dark brown. The top looked like someone had melted a solid plastic picnic bench into an unrecognizable mess. I had no frigging clue what this thing was. It was too ugly for modern art. A few days later I got a note from Uncle Charley. All it said was 'Happy birthday, Tony. Build your cabin on it. Tie everything together with threaded rod.'

What the fuck?

Well, Uncle Charley being what he is, I followed his instructions. I used the pre-drilled and tapped anchors to fasten down a nicely appointed squared-off beam three room log cabin. The whole thing must have weighed over twelve tons. Since there was room below the floor I built in a hatch door. The cabin was quite liveable--the fireplace sported a trammel and a deep hearth for cooking. The fire-dogs incorporated a mechanical spit for spit-roasting larger cuts of meat or birds. I had a good carpenter build a raised box bed, a deep, high-backed settle for sitting or sleeping near the fire, a good sturdy table and a long sturdy counter with an inset copper sink. A six-shelf glass-fronted pantry, a six-drawer dresser, a big glass-fronted book case and two clothes presses (one for the bedroom, one for behind the front door. That's where the coats and arsenal were going.) finished off the bill. Several captain's chairs and chests along the walls furnished sitting spaces. If pressed, the chests could provide additional sleeping arrangements. Oil lamps would provide light. A Franklin stove was a last-minute purchase as I found one cheap on E-bay. I positioned it near the fireplace so as to make building in the flue less bothersome. It promised to reduce both the smoke and demand for fuel due to its nature of possessing a sealed combustion chamber, granting higher efficiency. I still had no damned idea of why I had it built on what I presumed to be about half a million dollars worth of titanium. It seemed silly to have a wood burning stove on top of such a high-tech base-plate but that's what we did. The right back corner of the main room held a rick for a half-cord of firewood.

After all that work I stood back and looked it over. It looked--naked. I sort of squinted my eyes at it and got an idea. I had working shutters built for the windows and a front porch built, fastened to a series of huge hinges along the footing. Short legs were installed that would pivot down and hold the porch at a reasonable angle. The porch floor swung up and the porch roof swung down. It was tricky to hide the hydraulic pistons that did the work but we got 'er done. It took over six months to finish if you included the planning, engineering, parting out and construction. I invited Uncle Charley over for a Thanksgiving feed and to show off the cabin. He showed up with an appetite and a grin a mile wide. He nodded happily at the collapsible porch and told me that he was glad that I'd thought to include a floor hatch down to the 'engine room'--er, 'pantry'. He handed me a ticket to an all-inclusive three-week cruise and said 'have fun'. Looking back I realize that I was pretty innocent. The cruise ticket was designed to get me out of the way while he 'finished the job'.

When I got back, thoroughly rested and several pounds fatter due to some really great buffet dinners, I took a look around my place--sort of a 'what's changed since I left' thing. The house was fine--no surprises. I'd emptied the fridge/freezer before I'd left and left it cracked open. The cabin--The cabin had changed. It 'shimmered' a little in the winter sunlight. The roof looked optically black. It was absorptive to all light that I could determine. I shined a really good flashlight on it and got nothing back. I laid my hand on the door. It wasn't hot, warm, cool or cold. It was the temperature of my hand. I don't care if it was in the Catskills--it was near Christmas. Riiiight. I pulled the latch and opened the door. Rather, I tried to open the door. Finally I put enough pull into it to get it moving. It was like opening a bank vault.

Once inside everything looked pretty much the same. At least I couldn't tell the difference. I wandered through the bedroom, touching everything. Still, no changes. I crossed the main cabin to the store-room. Now we had something new. Against the far wall stood a sturdy three-drawered slant-topped desk with a captain's chair before it. I curiously approached this unexpected addition to my cabin. Upon sitting down the slant-top slowly opened and locked in a down position revealing a wide LCD screen and a cockpit console which reminded me of a Russian Hind cockpit that I'd once sat in during an open-air museum tour. I recognized the radios, GPS, altitude and horizon, LORAN and more. Some I had no idea about--inertial sync? Stealth? SHIELDS? I cautiously wrapped my hand around the stick and froze--bright yellow letters began scrolling across the screen. They said "Read the binder in the bottom drawer then call me. DO NOTHING ELSE--Charley"

I know this is repetitive, but --What the fuck???

The binder contained several check-lists. With care I could pack up, take off, navigate to a site, set down and set up camp just about anywhere. The coating which had been applied to the cabin, once properly charged, could let me play ultimate chicken with a battleship and win, without cracking a window or spilling the soup on the fire. Cool. So THAT's what the shields did. According to the binder I could lean out the back door and piss on an AWACS and they'd never see me once stealth was engaged. The speed was controlled by a governor for the first six months so that I wouldn't kill myself--it was locked down to Mach 2.2 ... I figured that I couldn't bitch, considering that my Cessna only got to about 400 with a tail-wind and a fart-assisted take-off. Deep in the binder I found something that brightened my eyes. I HAD GUNS! My little Catskill cabin had a thirty calibre mach 5 repeater that shot doped slugs of water. Two kilogram doped slugs of water, with Iron Oxide and Manganese Dioxide dopants that would look like ballistic turds. At four per second I wasn't complaining! The black, black roof was a big photo-electric converter. Between the beams here and there were power outlets for 110V. I bought a couple of small fans to take advantage of the fact.

The whole place had been wired with high-output LEDs for light. When packing up the fire had to be dead out as one step before charging the shell consisted of activating an iris to close off the chimney, completing the shell around the cabin. Environmental control could be engaged without taking off, controlling temperature, humidity, oxygen, CO2 and CO levels. A partial positive pressure could be maintained to allow for keeping a fire burning without killing myself. Upon finishing the binder I agreed to the DO NOTHING ELSE clause. There was too much I didn't know. I felt it was similar to walking around in an automated machine shop and trying to not become part of the finished product.

At one side of the 'cockpit' was a 1970-s style hanging Bell telephone handset. I picked it up.

"Astounded yet, my boy?"

"Charley, you magnificent bastard, how long have you been planning this little escape from reality?"

"Oh, since you were five or so. Your nasty sense of humor matured early and struck a chord with mine. The dirty bastards that I have worked for all these years keep too close an eye on me to let me break loose. You're my loose cannon, my boy. Yes, I think that loose cannon is quite appropriate My random revenge on the system. I hope to god you still have that nasty mind and a vengeful streak. Once I tell you a few tales I hope you'll proceed to emulate Thor's own hammer."

I could see him grinning his shitty little grin. "Come on down for Christmas dinner, why don't you? We'll have suckling pig over the fireplace.

"Excellent. My mouth is watering as we speak. I'll bring the wine--and the next binder."

After we gorged until we whined on glazed suckling pig, sage stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry relish, corn casserole and lemon cheesecake. We needed some downtime. Uncle Charley sat next to me on the settle, produced what looked for all of me to be a TV remote and pushed a button. The wall over the fireplace turned into a 110 inch flat screen tv with surround sound. I gave him the hairy eyeball and got his dirty little grin in return. I brought out my precious stash of Sam Adams dark which we drank through the rest of the Rose bowl.

The second binder was an eye-opener. The dish-shapes on the bottom was an emitter. There was no console control for it--the damned thing was too edgy to manage by hand. It was all under computer control. I could pick up a building about ten city blocks in size, about 22 stories tall, or equivalently deep. Yes, I could hijack an aircraft carrier. That's what the parameters were built around! I could slice quarter inch thick slices off of virtually anything or dig it out of the ground as one huge plug. Once I had it in flight the cargo would be covered in the stealth field. This fact was important as people would notice an aircraft carrier flying overhead. The cabin had a couple of personal defense mechanisms built in. Once I had my implant (now THERE's a phrase to scare the squitters out of you! Thank god that it was just a couple of resonators and a burst transmitter, nothing mind-controlling. Uncle Charley kind of knew how my head operated and what I'd squick at.) they would be enabled. Once activated the holy-shit-get-him-back mode did a monty python--it jumped up and down on whatever offended it at about 12 gees with a 100 meter rise. I scratched my beard and said " You know, a six meter by twenty meter forging hammer is going to get one hell of a lot of attention."

"Yup. It comes to about 2.2 kilotons per impact. If that doesn't get someone's attention they're not on site."

"We need to build in alternative impact sites in case the primary doesn't work out. You know, white house, pentagon, sub bases, things like that."

He shined at me. "Why you dirty little boy. Have I got some targets for YOU!"

The next morning, after sobering up, I got a bit too curious for my own good and stuck my head down the trap door. I was greeted by the unearthly blue glow of cerenkov radiation. I gently closed the trap and moved the rug back over it. Uncle Charley was giving me his fatuous uncle look. "I really don't want to know why there's something exceeding the local speed of light in my basement, do I?"

"Nope."

"Fine. How do you want your eggs, besides irradiated?"

"Over easy would be nice."

..."Fine."

After brekkies we sat down to the nitty gritty. "What's my operational envelope?"

"Umm, I never calculated it like that."

"Can I dump crap at the bottom of the Marianas Trench?"

He groaned a bit, winced and snorted this way and that. "Yup. Take it easy going up and down. Cavitation could be nasty."

Hmm. Okay, it was pressure-proof. now--

"Okay, what's my ceiling?"

A suspiciously sunny smile lit his face. "The sky's the limit!"

"Horseshit! Can I go orbital?"

"Yup. Trans-planetary if you feed the beast before hand. I'll write it up for you."

"Cool. Umm, what about exo-planetary pressures such as foud on Saturn or Jupiter?"

He immediately winced. "Use the tractor--don't go there! The electronics aren't robust enough. You'd collapse like a popped balloon."

I was taken aback. Well, then. I smiled. "Will the tractor confine metallic Hydrogen? How fast can I release it? Will the tractor COMPRESS it?"

He saw where I was going. I got a beatific smile out of him. "Yes. Why bother going the distance? Just compress a cubic meter of sea water by fifty percent a few thousand times and do a catastrophic field quench. Quite. At a distance, please." He'd just described how to create a hydrogen fusion explosion at a distance.

We grinned at each other like idiots. He turned to write macros while I continued to read the 'primer'. great fun.

We had fun writing offensive little routines. We had one that would momentarily emit energy from the emitter on the order of a solar photosphere breach. It would last about five seconds--that's as long as the power supply could reliably support the effect without running out of reserves. It took a reserve fuel tank to make it work under any conditions but that's what we wanted, so that's what we got. The ultimate 'sun' lamp.

We managed to cross-connect the black-water holding tank to the 'generator'--it didn't care what atoms it was fed with as long as the atomic number was that of something below that of Iron. That's where fusion hits the wall.

I convinced Uncle Charley to stay with me for our maiden flight. The January 'vous in Norther Florida has been a staple for years. He made a call and a delivery guy showed up with another captain's chair. The first time I powered up the console and started to go operational things began to look familiar.

"Um, Charley, would the electronics happen to be based on a Citation?"

"Yep. Citation X. Nice package. Easy to write interfaces into it, too. I'll get the heads-up screen working sooner or later."

Wow. This could work.

We closed up, engaged shields and went stealth. We went straight up sixty miles, drifted south-east a bit and dropped into a campsite as silent as a moth's fart. It was no-dark thirty when we landed. I set up Charley with a set of fake whiskers to die for. Bushy eyebrows, mustache, sideburns, beard, you name it, topped off with a disreputable hat. I used to know a good friend on the circuit named Smokey. He timed out and died one hot year coming back from the Midwestern. I miss him like a brother to this day. I modeled Charley's makeup after Smokey. We called him Sparky. Smokey had hands that were beat up and mostly destroyed after a generation working as a tool and die man. His hands LOOKED like pain. I told Charley that if anyone asked him if he knew Smoky he'd beg have to ignorance--after all, it's been over five years since Smokey went to the big flat-boat in the sky.

The 'vous Bushway's lieutenant came up sort of goggled-eyed at the cabin come sunrise. We were sitting on the porch sipping beers with the smokestack leisurely puffing out wisps above us, looking as if God had planted our asses there, no question about it.

"Umm, you pre-registered?"

I slapped a bundle of five hundred in twenties across his palm. "Nope. Here's my passport, pilgrim."

"Umm, right." He fished around for an envelope. "Here's the rules and such. You two alone?"

"Yup. I show knappin' and fire startin' on school day. Is there a blanket fee?"

"Umm, you're covered. Have a good rendezvous." He beat feet like he felt Commanche sneaking up on him.

Charley grinned. "You've got a way about you. Got another beer?"

We spent the day in an alcoholic haze. After an afternoon nap we moseyed on over to a food stall.

After a decent nosh on rice, beans, beef and gravy we headed over to the nearest campfire--it wasn't closed (group only-- lots of folks were sitting around) so we didnt' feel so bad pulling up a log.

Eventually the ice broke.

"That cabin yours?"

"Yup."

"Looks like it grew here. Damned fine job."

I fisted Charley in the shoulder. He sat there grinning like an idiot. "Sparky got it here. I built it, but he made the magic."

Many drinks were raised and many a dram was drunk that night. Charley and I woke up after passing out over the log. I was flat on my back and the morning sun was in my eyes. My legs were still over the damned log and it took me a while to figure out how to get my ass free to go pee and head back to the cabin. Charley was still sawing logs. I gave him a whack to the shoulder, helped him up and we supported each other back to the cabin. What a hell of a night.

It was school day. We were bombarded by high school kids. It figured--the pretty girls, the high school queens took over and asked moderately inane questions. I distracted most of them by demonstrating how to knap flint, how to identify chert and how to make the first strike that would tell if a rock was useable. It's amazing how uncoordinated kids can be. None--repeat--none of them listened as to how to strike a glancing blow to pressure flake a blank. It was such a pity as to how stupid they were. It happened over and over again. Eventually I'll say fuck it and leave them in their drooling ignorance. I think I caught a few kid's attention framing it as if they were out deer hunting and got caught in a cold rainstorm. Learning how to stay alive made sense then.

By the end of the day we were pissed-out tired. We made burgers, had a beer or six and dove for the covers. It had been a long day.

After hitting a sit-down food vendor (I was surprised to find Two Eagles down there!) for breakfast and coffee I bought a two wheeled pull-cart at a vendor's stall and started asking the crowds around the various food vendors where I could find cast iron goods, linen sheets and good woolen blankets. With the aid of a map and several confusions we found what I was after--some things I was missing for the cabin. I'd find some braided rugs and maybe a handmade quilt or two to hang on the wall later. This wasn't the venue where such things were sold. I found a nice .36 caliber flintlock almost as long as I was tall (6 feet). At the same place I bought the rifle I picked up four pounds of black powder, a hundred balls and five hundred patches. He had Hopp's bore cleaner as well so I added a couple of bottles to the pile. I spotted a sweet double-barreled flintlock shotgun that I couldn't resist. A blacksmith fitted me out with a couple sets of hand made iron wall hooks that I padded by wrapping with leather. They both went over the fireplace.

After a secretive spray or six of 25% DEET we sat on the cabin's porch in a couple of captain's chairs from the dining table, drinking beer and blue sky-ing. (I realized later that that's how I originally got INTO this mess.) My bank account was getting a bit peckish, if you know what I mean. It needed an infusion of cash. We tried to think about who had lots and lots of money that either they really shouldn't have or that we wouldn't mind pissing off. As I was watching the sun set I suddenly turned my head to the left and thought about all the shit going down in Mexico concerning the drug wars and all the general mayhem associated with them.

"Charley, I need intelligence."

He tried to snort his beer out his nose. "Are you nuts? You've got plenty of brains and enough nasty to know what to do with 'em. Remember the soot bombs?"

I couldn't resist grinning. A few years before I'd sent presents to the county sheriff, police chief, mayor and president of the city council of the small burg I lived in. They'd gotten up my nose enough to deserve little gifts for Christmas ... Each box had a small bursting charge at the bottom with a half full gallon baggie of printer toner taped to its top. Toner is as fine as or finer than soot. That was fun. I pulled myself back on track.

"Not that kind of intelligence, dammit. I need satellite photo reconnaissance and electronic analysis. I'm pretty damned sure the CIA won't share so I'll need my own. Can we get any spy-satellite-grade optics, a hefty processor array to fiddle the bits and the software to bring it together? I'm thinking about traffic analysis near the US/Mexican border, the shipping ports and near Mexico City to see where the drugs, weapons and money is going."

He looked at me a little funny and grunted, then grinned. "Ya gettin' altruistic on me, boy?"

"Naah, nothing like that. I need funds to get established somewhere. If the dopers lose out who's gonna bitch?"

He nodded and sat back, sipping his beer. "There's a stash of replacement satellites at Andrews. I suppose we could make one get lost." He sat there and grunted to himself once in a while, just nodding back and forth, turning his beer bottle in his fingers. "The computer's big. You get ahold of a big domed steamer chest and fasten it down next to the console. We'll need another I/O console, power and temperature control for the RAID and vector processor cluster. Ever work with a Beowulf cluster?"

I nodded. "Yep, did some FORTRAN work for processor arrays, enough to get used to the idea."

"Good. What we're gonna do is kind of like auto-grid analysis in CAD, isolate an element with a mouse or pen then let the system search and track real-time for near-equivalents. It'll take a month or six to get together but then you'll be spending some quality time in stealth data-gathering. Better start buying books to stay occupied."

I knew that I'd need some spending money before that came together, so after the rendezvous ended I took Charley home and headed for South America to do a little raiding. At two in the morning I picked up the biggest bank in Buenos Aires Argentina, went stealth and transported it to an old naval bombing island a few hundred miles from Hawaii. After setting the building down so that it wouldn't tip over I started slicing layers off of it about three feet thick and looked for goodies in what was left. It took quite a few attempts but I found a few small vaults which I picked clean, a large currency vault full of pesos which did me no damned good at all, a few mid-sized vaults containing various international currencies such as dollars, euros and Krugerrands. I stopped for a while when I found the safety deposit vault. I pulled out the racks of safety deposit boxes to play with later. I was certain that there would be plenty there to keep my attention for a while. I used my stupid little period two-wheeled cart to haul all the currency I cared to keep into the cabin, filling the chests and lockers in the main room. Two dozen of the largest safe deposit boxes served to hold the kruggerands. I stacked those boxes across the furthest wall of the bedroom where they'd be out of the way.

What I found next sent all my plans out the window.

I think I must have pissed off Hugo Chavez something awful.

Somebody liked precious metals. One whole floor consisted of small-to-medium cages filled with silver, platinum and gold ingots. It wasn't a small floor, either. I didn't know what the hell to do with all of it. I wandered back and forth, picking up an ingot here and there then putting it back. I went back to the cabin, found a pad of paper and a pen then went back to start counting. After totaling things up I looked up the spot prices on gold, silver and platinum on the international markets. For a while there I truly considered buying a tropical island. With over twelve billion in ready assets I could afford to bribe my way into anywhere I wanted but the Caribbean seemed to call to me. A nasty thought simply elevated me to another layer of joy. First, I cleaned up the island, throwing the detritus from the bank into the sea far enough off the shoreline to sink below the level of what was detectable from the surface or orbit. A flat pit was dug using the tractor, the specie was moved to the pit and covered with a plate of the rock from the old surface. Then I used the console's sat-phone to place a call to the Cuban embassy in Mexico City.

It was Monday.

"Hola. Esta es la Embajada de Cuba."

"Hello. I would like to speak with an ambassador about several issues that may prove of benefit to your country. I would like to make an appointment to speak with him, please."

"Uno momento, por favor." click. click-click.

"Yes, may I help you?"

"Yes, please. I would like to initiate talks with the ambassador regarding several issues, those being closing the embarrassment to your country known as Guantanamo Bay, leasing to me the property at issue making its clean-up and defense my responsibility, the transfer of 1.3 billion dollars in gold to the Cuban treasury and making me a Cuban citizen."

"Oh, my. Please hold." click. click. click-click... (someone was getting a ear-full) ... click.

"Hello. This is ambassador Sanchez. I understand that you may wish to do a little horse trading, sir?"

"Yes, ambassador. That's a good name for it. I am willing to place 2700 ingots of gold bouillon in any reasonable place on mainland Cuba as a show of good faith. How would you like to have the evil taste of Guantanamo Bay rinsed away?"

a pause. "The sun would shine a bit brighter each and every day. When would you care to meet?"

"Umm, I don't have a good suit. Let's say in four days? No, Let's make that a week from today, for lunch. However, I wish to move a little gold, first. Where would you like it?"

"You astound me at your generosity and good will. Would the Eastern-most hangars at the Havana airport inconvenience you?"

"Ambassador, you will soon learn that no place on earth would inconvenience me. I would be happy to comply. Please make arrangements for the shipment to appear out of nothing in approximately two hours. Be well, sir."

"And you as well--er, what is your name?"

"Anthony DeLaForge, sir. I am pleased to make your acquaintance."

"You as well, sir. A providential yet most unusual meeting, I am sure. Good day."

"Good day."

Well, that went well. I assumed that the international wires would be glowing soon. I took twenty minutes to boil up a small batch of cheese ravioli, heated the end of a jar of vodka tomato sauce and had lunch. After cleaning up after myself I raised the roof on the cache, used a mouse to select one stack of gold bricks and told the ship to set it aside. Then after replacing the cache roof I re-secured the stack with the tractor and leisurely made my way half-way across the world to make my 12:40 appointment in Cuba. Being a great believer in showmanship I dropped the gold the last meter letting it shake the ground. I lifted off and headed North-West to Miami where, hopefully, I could have a nice, white linen suit made.

I found a burned out house in a not-too-destitute quarter of Miami. I snatched away the detritus, depositing it at sea, and set my little cabin down nicely where the sidewalk would meet the porch. I un-buttoned the front porch and walked outside to savor the air. It was warm and close, what was expected of southern Florida in March. I saw faces behind curtains. I waved and received tentative waves back. I dragged a chair out onto the porch along with a little cooler of beer and proceeded to enjoy the afternoon. Soon a late middle-aged man of indeterminate race came up to the cabin. I greeted him. "Hi! Wait a minute and I'll get a chair for you." I scooted inside and pulled out another captain's chair. I shook his hand and offered him a seat. "Want a beer?"

"Sure!" I tabbed open a cold one and handed it over to him. He took a swallow and settled back.

"I'm Tony DeLaForge."

"Cicero Vargas. Glad to meetcha." We tapped bottles and settled back.

He started the conversation. "Where ya from?"

"Oh, here and there. Lately the Catskills. I'm headed for Cuba next."

"Whoo! Cuba! I heard tell that the last white man that came out of Cuba fat and happy was Pappa Hemingway!"

"Naah. Plenty happened between then and now. A lot of noise is gonna happen real fast, too. You mark my words."

He gave me the hairy eye. I nodded back. "Yep. That chancre called Guantanamo Bay is in its last days."

He smiled. "From your lips to God's ears!" We bumped bottles.

"Say, Cicero, I need to use a local phone book. I need a car and driver and the name of the best old Cuban-style suit maker in town."

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