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."

.... There is more of this story ...

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Story tagged with:
Fiction / Science Fiction /