All Stories, Fantasy, Science Fiction

The Code Master by Tom Sheehan

Some people in or about his circle of friends of Willard Coxby III, weren’t sure of his nickname, with choices at the start, whether it was “Tulips” or “Two-Lips,” both being cautions of the ear, the receptions, as if one served over the other.

Those who settled on “Tulips” from the outset, would smirk, smile, shrug their shoulders as if to say, “It happens to some of us.”

Those who picked “Two-Lips,” knew it as an outgrowth of his teaching hundreds of boys in the State Forestry Federation {SFF) how to handle Morse Code with the best of telegraphers, right from their feeble the woods, where he also tutored them in bear and wolf aversion, among a host of needed advice if staying alive for the time being, as what it amounted to, in his best way; he’d been around the pond a few times, as they said of him, all the way around the pond.

It was on one of those nights, parents all home and comfortable under covers, that Coxby III had put his crew under their own tent covers and was laid back on the ground beside the fire, musing about the day, enjoying the special splurge of stars and heavenly bodies he loved to look upon which made him laugh a few times hearing the echo again,, that he noted the twinkling of one heavenly body, one he had not payed special attention to, when he realized the twinkling was delivery a constant message in Morse code, saying, “We are stuck here and cannot move. We are stuck here and cannot move.”

Coxby III wanted to scream to wake the whole campsite, all but him under wraps and snoring away in the inimitable ways of doing so, but felt himself wanting to share this time and chance with nobody else; this joy, this special moment, was his and his alone.

He’d take advantage of it to whatever length he could. “But, no wings on me,” he managed to mutter to himself as he dug for his army-issue flashlight, a veteran to the forest as he himself was, having also scared off a few wild animals in its own time, plus a lot of yelling and arm-waving.

Coxby III, Two-Lips on this occasion, sent off his first message in response in good, solid Morse Code by the way; “Are you out of food and water?”

Came the twinkling response: “We do not exist on food and water.”

“What then?” he sent off across the very heavens themselves, a minor disbelief gripping him with its doubt.

“We feed on intelligence. On new ideas, On new ways. But we are stuck here.”

Coxby III could feel the plea in the words, as if he realized he was probably the lone person in creation answering this star or this craft in a state of emergency. He was alone in this, in this universe, on this rare Earth, bound to the ground, wingless, flightless, no hope in being otherwise at the moment, and most likely for his natural life.

He could not fool anybody. He sent back another message: “I am Earth-bound and where are you stuck? In what place in the broad heavens?”

Came the reply: “We are caught on a mountain top in our craft on a small star known as Ishtabloc Thread, a most evil and dangerous place, created by the Devil himself.”

“Ah!” Coxby III said to himself, “at least they are in tune with a firm belief of the universe and its place in the faith and belief of true being. I am lucky to have come in contact with them, with him, whoever he is.”

“Who are you, sir?’ Coxby III sent back in Morse code, its use and comfort rising to a delivery in the quickest manner he had ever managed, sped it off on its way, like Hell was on fire behind him, or behind both of them, him waiting the identity of the signaler at the other end of the world, or the universe, to put it more correctly.

Came the twinkling to Coxby III’s eyes; “I am Gertig 909, commander of this vessel, on my third cruise about the stars you obviously enjoy, look upon with grace and acceptance of a most high order and appreciation, from your end to the end. My second mate is Walbit 201, on his first cruise about the universe. He will learn much from this meeting.”

“Tell Walbit 201 that Coxby III is pleased to meet him and hopes to meet again somewhere down the lines of the universe, if there be any lines or any diversion or division of such. I struggle now to find some new energy for you in my dim and struck brain, looking for a new idea, a new thought, a new plan to uplift your souls and your craft from the current predicament, so help me God.”

“Is He with you?” came a quick response, so quickly and so smoothly, as if a special hand was working the code delivery. “We saw him once suddenly leap from His pain and misery to stride across the whole of the universe in one huge and giant step, and disappear from our eyes.”

“He is everywhere, here, there, everywhere even as you find yourself with no energy.” Coxby III felt like he was preaching, and suddenly stopped his instant responses, to gather his mind, his whole self, to help this lost craft atop a dastardly mountain, caught in a ferocious grip of the ages.

As it was, it was the last message Coxby III ever sent to Gertig 909, a simple directive of “put it in reverse.” Just like that, “Put it in reverse.”

Gertig 909 and his craft were gone. Apparently gone forever, as it might be, for it has been 55 years since Coxby III said, “Put it in reverse.”

Coxby III was thinking, “Time may be measured different out there, if it’s measured, if it makes any difference at all.”

Coxby III is 88 years old now, a bit infirm from those long nights sleeping on the forest ground, and spends every decent night, stars aglow overhead, on his front porch, in a comfortable rocking chair, waiting to get a new signal from an old friend, and getting nothing as yet. His wife, Alma, who shared many nights on the porch with him, has been gone more than 10 years. He has two sons and two daughters who take turns getting him into bed every night, and under covers, admiring his tenacity, his faith in the return of an old friend someday, not knowing how far he’s gone, where to, when will he come back, if ever, after being told “put it in reverse,” which took Gertig 909 off his stuck place in the starry skies.

Wham! Gone! Wherever!

Tom Sheehan


5 thoughts on “The Code Master by Tom Sheehan”

  1. Too many people never see the true sky anymore, with the cities and the light pollution. They are not allowed to fancy the same way Coxby III could, long ago. Too many eyes trained on screens and not up. Excellent little piece here, don’t need knowledge of Morse to get it.


  2. Technical note or question – Gertig 909’s distance from earth might have been discerned by time between messages based on the speed of light. If they were quick the distance would have been relatively short by astronomical standards.

    Too technical?


  3. Hi Tom,
    There is a nice bit of irony in this but then maybe not.
    For them to exist on intelligence but not to have the intelligence to reverse. (A cat is an expert in reversing. If it is somewhere narrow that it shouldn’t be, it reverses. It’s really funny if they have their head stuck in a yoghurt pot and keep walking backwards!)
    But maybe they needed the intelligence to come from others and they fed on that.
    I’m not sure about the God references but again, we might piss off ‘The Sensitives’ by the story stating that God is a he!!!
    So many stories – So much quality my fine friend!!!


  4. There was so much Morse code going on. It must be quite an amusing sight.
    ‘Put it in reverse’ has so much irony in it, and the result remains unknown till this day. Well the stars are still twinkling, but no ‘Tulips’ around to make sense of what they are saying.
    Will have to gaze at the sky, but city lights are rude and unkind.
    Wonderful story! So creative. 🙂


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