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Books by Quantum Muse contributors and friends.
A Felony of Birds

by Harris Tobias
The Greer Agency

by Harris Tobias

by Harris Tobias
Hold The Anchovies

by Harris Tobias
Alien Fruit

by Harris Tobias
Peaceful Intent--Stories of human/Alien Interaction

by Harris Tobias
CHRONON--Time Travel

by Harris Tobias
The Stang

by Harris Tobias

Uncle Zapf


Harris Tobias

“Don’t open that,” Uncle Zapf shouted at Kyra and Dorf in his most serious voice. The two children recoiled from the commanding tone. Dorf’s hand immediately came away from the handle of the chest.

“We were just looking for a good place to hide,” Kyra said bravely.

“Anyplace but there, children,” Zapf said regaining his kindly uncle’s voice, “anyplace but there.”

“But why, uncle, what’s in there?” Dorf’s curiosity was by now fully aroused. Zapf could see that if he didn’t explain there would be no peace.

“Call the others,” he said, “and I’ll tell you a story.” Kyra and Dorf ran calling through the many rooms of the old house, all thoughts of hide and seek forgotten. The children assembled quickly as Uncle Zapf’s stories were not to be missed. A few minutes later Dorf, Kyra and three other children were seated on the bear skin rug before the great fireplace. Around the old uncle were his five precious nieces and nephews—Kyra, Dorf. Mindy. Martin and Tom.
“This old chest has been with me since my early days at the Academy. It was my footlocker issued to me as to all young recruits. It sat at the end of my bunk in the barracks and held my meager possessions. Later on it held my personal things when I was assigned as a fresh recruit on my first mission. I was only sixteen, not much older than you are now, Martin.

“I was the most junior officer on a small patrol craft in orbit around Deneb 4 protecting a mining colony from raiders. Thorg pirates had been raiding and stealing the colony’s women. The ship was called the Admiral Dillard in honor of some long dead spacer. She had a crew of twenty-five and was armed with laser cannon and a few anti-matter missiles. More than enough fire power for a rag tag band of pirates. We had been lying in wait for a couple of weeks when the captain got on the horn and said he’d intercepted a distress signal from a hospital ship. The damaged ship said they had been attacked by pirates and left stranded and disabled.

“To his credit, the captain ordered us to the rescue without a moment’s hesitation. It didn’t take long to find the stranded ship lying dark and still in the blackness of space. We were all outraged to see a hospital ship so cruelly violated, a jagged hole ripped through its prominent red cross. To attack such a ship was an unspeakable crime, the lowest of the low. The captain ordered most of the crew into the ship’s boats and went off with them to look for survivors. There were only four of us left on board the Dillard, two hands, the engineer and I; I was the ranking officer.

“We had the derelict ship on the screen and watched as our ship’s boats approached. I was examining the breach in the hospital ship’s hull when I noticed something peculiar. The jagged black hole through the Red Cross reflected the oncoming lights of our boats. It was just the sort of dull reflection you would get from a freshly painted wall. Then it hit me. We were rushing into a trap. I immediately raised the captain on the radio to warn him but it was too late. The fake hospital ship was returning to life as the evil pirate craft it was. She was training her guns on us and our poor unarmed rescue craft were sitting ducks. I immediately dispatched the engineer and one crewman to man the ship’s guns. The other crewman I ordered to the controls and began defensive maneuvers.

“Now bear in mind that up to this moment I had never been in combat before. I had a few hours on a simulator at the academy but nothing really prepares you for the real thing.

“I armed the laser cannon and ordered it to fire straightaway. The pirate ship was firing too. My first shot was wide and took off a piece of the tail. My second shot was better and put a real hole in her hull. That was enough for them. They couldn’t match our firepower and weren’t about to try. So like the rats they were, they turned tail and ran, jumping to the safety of their secret base to lick their wounds.

“When we regained our crew and secured the boats, the captain called me to his cabin. He told me he was putting me in for the medal of valor and told me how proud of he was of me. Then he presented me with his most beautiful bejeweled sword. A sword that had been in his family for two hundred years. He’d hoped to give it to his own son but his boy was killed in the First Thorg War.”

“Is that what’s in the chest?” Mindy asked. “The sword? The medal?”

“Can we see them?” they all clamored at once.

“All in good time, children, all in good time. There are lots of wonderful things in this box and I want to tell you about all of them. But right now would be a good time for dinner.”
After the evening meal, the children settled down again and Uncle Zapf continued his stories.

“As a result of my heroic action, the captain promoted me to first lieutenant and gave me responsibility for the ship’s mess and laundry.” Here he had to stop and explain to the young ones that a ship’s mess was its kitchen. “It wasn’t a very glamorous duty but I was happy to be in charge of something no matter how small. I worked hard and did the best I could. The cooks liked me and they too did their best. The result was that the Dillard’s mess was regarded as the best in the fleet. We ate so well that the captain and the rest of the crew started putting on weight and after a few months had a hard time fitting into their space suits. The Admiral of the fleet looked the other way as he was a frequent guest at our table and was putting on weight himself.

“A few months later, we were again assigned to watch over the mining colony when an alarm sounded for all hands to report to their battle stations. We all thought it was a drill but the captain assured us that this was the real thing. By that time my responsibilities on the ship had increased. I was put in charge of all extra-vehicular activity since I was the only officer who could still fit comfortably into his spacesuit. When the alarm sounded I was to don my spacesuit and wait in the airlock with three marines in case the Dillard was punctured or needed external repairs.

“This time, the Thorg ship made a big mistake. The Dillard was hidden among the asteroids near the mining colony when the pirates popped into our space.  This time we came in with all guns blazing. The Thorgs got off a few shots but they were no match for an angry Dillard. The pirates had just launched a landing craft for the trip to the colony when they saw us. The landing ship turned to get back on board but it was too late. A few well placed shots from the Dillard’s cannon and the Thorg ship was a ruin. Hulled, blasted and afire she exploded in silence. Space was littered with twisted debris and dead Thorgs. We could hear chunks of metal smashing into our ship.

“The captain ordered us outside to assess damage. We opened the airlock and floated outside. We were greeted by at least a dozen space-suited Thorg. The wily survivors from the landing craft were attempting to board the Dillard. The pirates were armed with laser rifles. My squad had only side arms for protection and we were burdened with repair kits and tools. I was carrying a large sheet of plasti-hull in case we needed to patch a hole.

“I called for help before the shooting started. Unfortunately it would take our crew several minutes to squeeze into their space suits. My mess hall success was going to be the death of my men and me. My first duty was to protect the ship. I called my men back to the airlock where we would make our stand. We couldn’t let a single Thorg through. Their atmosphere is so toxic to humans that even a small leak in their suit would poison our whole crew instantly. Instinctively I opened my sheet of plasti-hull and held it in front of me like a shield. It wasn’t laser proof but it afforded us some cover while we re-grouped just inside the airlock. Already we were down a man. I could see his body tumbling slowly into the void. If we could only close the airlock door we’d have a chance but we were outnumbered, outgunned and overwhelmed.

“We shot several Thorgs and lost a second marine. When the remaining Thorgs rushed the airlock we fought hand to hand. Even then we were at a disadvantage as Thorgs have three arms. It was two against six. We were out of ammo and were reduced to throwing wrenches and glue guns at the Thorgs. It looked hopeless. I couldn’t allow the Dillard to fall into enemy hands. I fought like a demon and managed to wrestle a laser rifle away from an invader. I put it to good use. Sergeant Merkin fighting along side me scored a direct hit with a sprocket wrench puncturing a Thorg helmet. The rifle proved decisive and the last Thorg died outside the airlock. We quickly closed the hatch and called the captain.

“Safely back on board, we were greeted as heroes. Only then did I realize that I still had the Thorg rifle in my hands. It became one of my favorite souvenirs. Later my whole team was awarded the fleet’s highest honor—the Triple Star of Bravery.”

“Oh I want to see it,” said Tom.

“Oh yes, can we see it?” asked the children.

“Not just yet, my little ones. I still have so much more to tell. So let’s get ready for bed and I’ll tell you more stories in a while.”

The children brushed their teeth and got into their pajamas as Uncle Zapf picked up his endless adventure. The little ones showed signs of fatigue and put their small heads on their pillows. When every one was settled, Uncle Zapf continued.

“I was promoted yet again and this time I was made captain. I was given command of my own ship; I was one of the youngest captains in the service at that time being just 18 years old. The ship they gave me wasn’t much to look at. She was battered and old but I loved her more than anything before or since. She was called the Stellar Navigator but we all called her Stella. Our job was to repair and maintain the fleet’s far-flung navigational beacons and buoys, the devices that mark the invisible routes through space. It wasn’t a glamorous job but it was an important one. The Stella had a crew of forty-seven officers and thirty-three crew. She was unarmed except for small arms but she boasted a complete machine shop that we knew could make or fix anything.

“The work we did was tedious and technical. Our crew was largely electricians and engineers. We spent months in space keeping the sector’s navigational aids in tiptop shape. I won’t bore you with the details of repairing a MK-601 sub-luminal beacon but suffice it to say that I found the work both stimulating and rewarding.

“Now navigational aids are free for all space faring ships to use. They are of great service to commerce and are used by legitimate traders and smugglers alike. It wasn’t our job to police the space ways. We were unarmed and neutral. Our neutrality was usually enough to keep us safe but when the second Thorg war broke out, we were captured by a Thorg Battle Cruiser on the very first day. The colossal ship just pulled the Stella into her hold like a piece of space junk. We sat in that cruiser’s hold for weeks, prisoners without so much as a word from our captors. Nor could we radio out for help. As far as the fleet was concerned, the Stella and her crew had vanished, casualties of war.

“We had plenty of spacesuits but we couldn’t get out of our ship. Thorg guards would shoot at us every time we poked our heads out. We were prisoners, trapped in our own ship inside the great Thorg vessel. Our supplies were running low and there was no way to communicate with the outside world. How to find a way out became a top priority. We had many strategy sessions but no one had an idea that would get us out of our predicament.

“Then one day Luke Vengle, a clever young mechanical engineer had a brainstorm. “Robots,” he said. We could turn our large store of MK-601 sub-luminal beacons into an army of killer robots. We threw ourselves into the work. We used all our computer skills to reprogram the harmless navigational beacons into dedicated laser weapons. Another team of engineers came up with novel ways to make the lasers mobile. Some rolled around on little tank treads, some hopped like rabbits and some walked like people on two legs. None were more than a foot tall but they were deadly. We worked day and night utilizing every scrap of electronic gear we had. When we were through, we had 217 dedicated Thorg-killing machines. We called them Gollies.

“The Golly army was ready the same day our food ran out; we had no time to lose. We set them loose from front and rear air locks simultaneously. They swarmed over the Thorg ship like an army of angry squirrels shooting every Thorg they encountered. The Thorg fought back but the Gollies were small enough to get into the ductwork and the ship’s plumbing. Most of the Gollies were destroyed but not before they hunted down and killed every last Thorg.

“When the shooting stopped we donned our space suits and entered the Thorg ship. We purged the poisonous atmosphere and filled the big battle cruiser with breathable air from Stella’s supply. We had turned defeat into victory. The Thorg ship was an amazing prize. We flew her back in triumph to our forces. Human engineers studied the Thorg’s weapons and technology, which helped us win the war. The Gollies turned out to be such a useful idea they were mass-produced and are now standard equipment on every Navy vessel. I saved one of the original Gollies as a souvenir. Every now and then it gives the box a thump so I know it’s still alive.

“After the war, a grateful nation promoted me to Admiral and gave me command of the entire western fleet. I have many stories from those days. But they will have to wait for another time.”

There was no need for Uncle Zapf to continue. The little ones had fallen fast asleep and even the older children were nodding their heads. One by one Uncle Zapf straightened their covers and kissed them goodnight.

In the coming days, the old chest was forgotten, the winter break ended, and the children found other things with which to fill their time. When their parents came to claim them, the children were ready to leave. Their imaginations were still on fire with their uncle’s fabulous tales. But life is filled with many distractions and it was to be the last time the cousins would get together at the old Admiral’s house.
The years slipped away and the children grew into adults. Martin was commissioned a First Lieutenant in the Corps and Tom was admitted as a freshman to the Academy; Mindy had her heart set on being a Spacer as did the twins Dorf and Kyra. Uncle Zapf’s adventure stories had influenced them all.

Ten years would pass before the cousins, now grown into fine young people, would again assemble in Uncle Zapf’s big house. Unfortunately this time it was for the old man’s funeral. Many fine words were spoken. Stories were told of a man well loved, about his fine sense of humor, and his remarkable story telling ability. No one said a word about his military service.

A year or so later the contents of Uncle Zapf’s house were to be sold at auction and the cousins were there with their families, eager to acquire some of the old man’s treasures. After the antiques were sold and the crowd had thinned to a few dealers, the boxes of miscellaneous household items came up for bid. Martin and the cousins had waited all day for this moment, their eye on one battered old chest in particular—a military issue footlocker that they remembered held the Admiral’s souvenirs. The dealers weren’t much interested in the old box. It was locked and didn’t weigh much. “Probably empty,” said the auctioneer. The children were the only bidders and bought the old box for a few credits.

Later, when the last dealer loaded the last box of junk into his van and departed, the cousins were left alone with Uncle Zapf’s box of souvenirs.

“We can break the lock,” said Dorf, still filled with the directness of youth. “I want to see the jeweled sword.”

“And the medals,” said Kyra, “I’ve been dreaming about them all my life.”

“I’d like to see the Golly,” said Mindy, who wanted to be an engineer.

“I always wanted to see the Thorg rifle,” said Tom, “I’ve never actually touched an alien device.”

Dorf found some tools and was poised to strike the lock a blow that was sure to break it. Martin stayed his hand. 

“I don’t think we should,” said Martin, “open it I mean.”

“Why not?” said the others. “We’ve been dreaming about uncle’s souvenirs since we were babies.”

“I know,” said Martin, “but if we don’t open it, all those stories he told us might still be true. Don’t you see, the sword, the Golly, the medals they’ll still be real. But if we find the box empty then we’ll know it was all a fiction and Uncle Zapf will turn out to be some ordinary man. Is that what you want? Uncle Zapf not an Admiral, not the hero of the Second Thorg War? I don’t think I could stand it.”

In the end they all agreed to keep the box locked. They took a solemn oath to never look inside. Tom said he would bury the box in his back yard. As soon as this pact was made and the cousins shook hands and kissed, they would all swear to their dying day that they heard a distinct thump come from inside the box.

Read more stories by this author

2012-06-09 08:23:28
Another well written tale. Sometimes it is better to keep the memories in tact rather than know the facts

2012-06-06 08:18:17
I like the story! Sometimes fantasy is good enough, seeking truth may not be what we really want!

2012-05-03 10:40:23
I enjoyed the tall-tale storytelling of the uncle. If he made it all up, it makes you wonder what was really in the box...

2012-05-03 10:10:37
How is this story science fiction?

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Books by Quantum Muse contributors and friends.
A Felony of Birds

by Harris Tobias
The Greer Agency

by Harris Tobias

by Harris Tobias
Hold The Anchovies

by Harris Tobias
Alien Fruit

by Harris Tobias
Peaceful Intent--Stories of human/Alien Interaction

by Harris Tobias
CHRONON--Time Travel

by Harris Tobias
The Stang

by Harris Tobias

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