WAR!


Chapter Twelve

 

Friends in High Places * by David Christensen

 

Greg scrunched his eyes tightly to block out the anticipated flash of a phaser burst, as if his mental power alone could hold back the photon torpedoes the president and his fleet were aiming at him. The computer started into the song "You Can't Go Home Again" as the chocolate-covered man on the viewscreen finalized the launching sequences which would terminate Greg's existence.

An endless second passed.

Then another.

Greg slowly opened an eye and peered at his viewscreen. The president was screaming something very unpresident-like at his subordinates. Greg looked out the viewport, only to see what the president was getting a hernia about. Instead of a phaser burst which would have certainly destroyed Greg, the president's fleet had delivered a harmless dosage of Bavarian cream filling into the vicinity. "You tarklefrinjin idiots!" the president screamed at his assistants. Greg quickly assessed the situation. Apparently, the Improbability Drive had had a few last burps of power, somewhat like the aftershocks of an earthquake, one of which had altered the president's weapons systems.

Greg giggled and waved at the president. The president was so angry that his chocolate was melting.

The lights on Greg's bridge suddenly flashed from their reddish hue back to normal, making Greg squint. A flashing light caught his eye.

"Warp mains back online," read the status panel next to his left elbow. Not pausing to look a gift horse in the mouth, Greg punched in a course and engaged warp drive.

"Ta-ta," Greg said with a cheery smile to the fuming president as he blasted off at Warp 7, adroitly missing the streams of cream still shooting from the torpedo bays. Someone was going to have a mess to clean up.

Thirty minutes later, Greg settled back in his chair. "I guess Improbability Drives are just too unpredictable, eh?" he said to his computer, which agreed. "First my warp drive disappears, then a I get thrown into another galaxy, then it turns that poor president guy into a chocolate sundae and turns his weapons into a Dunkin' Donuts store, THEN my ship goes back to normal! I hope the president's stuff all went back to normal, too; I don't want him to stay mad at me." He signaled the computer to bring him a cappuccino, which materialized into his hand.

"Ahhhhh..." Greg sighed. He looked at the Improbability Drive monitoring screens, which had been left behind when the Drive disappeared. They sat in the corner of the bridge, connected to nothing, looking as harmless as sleeping Great White sharks. He began musing aloud, scribbling math formulas on a piece of paper.

"You know, if the probability of the president's weapon systems turning useless was 14,400 to 1, and the probability of my warp drive suddenly reappearing was 28,800 to 1, I wonder..."

A short time later, he cleared his throat to get the computer's attention.

"Computer, what would the probability of the Improbability Drive spontaneously reappearing, placing me in my galaxy with Todd and Jeff in my control, giving me 150,000,000,000,000,000 credits, and then spontaneously disappearing forever?"

"Exactly 215,264,567,987,624,168,145,197,654,635.7565859048 to 1, sir."

"Hmmm...." Greg fiddled with the Drive's monitoring system, altering its parameters so that the monitors would be unaware they were not connected to an actual Improbability Drive. He activated a monitor on the Engineering Deck which focused on the empty place where the Drive had sat.

Finally, he opened a commlink to the Artificial Intelligence motherboard in the Improbability Drive monitors. "Did you say, 'Exactly 215,264,567,987,624,168,145,197,654,635.7565859048 to 1?'" he repeated into the microphone. "No Improbability Drive could handle odds like THAT!"

"WHAT?!?!??" shrieked the monitor's motherboard in outrage. "I'll show YOU who can handle those odds, chump!" The Improbability Drive's monitors went berserk with flashing lights. Greg looked at the Engineering monitor. The Drive banged back into existence like a lightning bolt. An ominous, tooth-rattling hum began to emanate from the Engineering Deck.

"Er, don't you even want to know just exactly what it is that the odds are 215,264,567,987,624,168,145,197,654,635.7565859048 to 1 against happening?" said Greg, smothering a grin.

"Don't bother me--I'm busy!" yelled the motherboard, furiously crunching numbers.

There was a blinding flash. Greg looked around his ship. In the brig were Jeff and Todd, sans clothes. Greg quickly checked his bank account. He had 150,000,000,000,000,325 credits. The Improbability Drive monitors were gone; checking the Engineering monitor, he saw that the Drive itself was gone, too.

On the whole, it was extremely improbable.

"Cool!" Greg said. He advanced to a cowering Todd and Jeff. "Now let's see what I can do to rid myself of you guys! Computer, do they have any weapons surgically implanted?"

"No, sir."

Todd stood up. "You...you...you big dummy!" he shouted, his face turning deep red.

"Now, now, that's hardly fair," Greg countered. "On the contrary, I think myself rather intelligent. After all, who's got the clothes on?"

Jeff flushed purple and tried to cross his legs. Todd looked down, looked up, looked down again, and then fainted.

Greg smiled. "I'll figure out what to do with you guys later. But first I'll get us out of the range of your alien friend. How does Warp 9 sound, computer?"

"Excellent, sir."

"Power!"

Greg's ship shot away. What he didn't realize was that he was in an intergalactic speed zone. The maximum speed was Warp 6. In the wake of Greg's ship an Intergalactic Traffic Regulator flashed its Speed Detection System at Greg, found his speed to be a disturbing Warp 9, and quickly began accelerating in his direction.

Greg heard the siren sound over his auditory channel monitor, and thinking it was a different dupe they were after, continued his speedy flight. Suddenly, both acceleration and velocity turned negative. His realization that his ship was caught in a tractor beam was followed only by the realization that he was the dupe. He reached for his pocket to retrieve his license and found that he must have left his wallet in the other jumpsuit. What was the probability of that?

The viewscreen flickered on. Greg stared into the face of a uniformed ITR agent. He grinned weakly.

"Why, hello there, Officer," Greg said, offering an insincere smile. "Was I speeding a bit?" he asked, ruefully shaking his head.

"Show me your intergalactic pilot's license," the ITR stated.

Greg's grin got bigger and weaker. "Well, you see...I...uh..."

"Once more. Show me your intergalactic pilot's license."

"He doesn't have one!" Jeff and Todd yelled.

The ITR flicked his eyes over to where Jeff and Todd were being held. A pained grimace shot across his face, and he directed his gaze back to Greg. "You realize that holding prisoners while within the DC-Zone is strictly prohibited. I am going to have to take control of this ship and its possessions."

The hatch of Greg's ship opened abruptly and a small object flew into the room. It began hissing a purple gas into the air. Even as Greg drifted away into darkness, his mind struggled with the bleary thought, "DC-Zone?"

-------------------------

When Greg awoke, he found himself in a small cell globally and a straitjacket locally. He moved his head far enough around to see both Jeff and Todd in similar getups. He just had time to get a nice "Thptbtptbtptbtptbtptbtpt!" off when suddenly the door to their cellblock burst open.

In strode a man that Greg vaguely recognized. Before he could place the face, the man walked over to his cell and looked in, as if inspecting him. Greg could feel the man's keen gaze on his face, and then man surprised him by exclaiming, "Greg!"

The man was very familiar. Very, very familiar. Except for the long hair, Greg could swear that he could have been...

"David!" Greg exclaimed.

The man smiled. He turned and called into the hallway. "Craig, it's someone you'd recognize. You ought to come in here." Then, turning to all three of Todd, Jeff, and Greg, he asked, "This is another one of those War!! things, isn't it? What is this? Six?"

"Seven," Todd corrected. "The sixth never got off the ground."

"And let's see, it must have been you and Jeff teamed up against poor little old Greg," David said, addressing Todd.

"Well, er, I guess so," Todd said.

"That's not very nice," David commented.

Jeff spoke up. "Well, it's not very nice of him to take all of our clothes all the time. With me having college activities and all to go to."

"You know, I think you can come up with a better reason for teaming up against Greg."

"Uhhh, he has funny hair?"

"Todd has funny hair. What's your point?"

"Um, well, let's see..." Jeff stalled.

Another man entered the corridor and joined David. David spoke. "I'll tell you why you should gang up against Greg. Because you have 2 to 1 odds. And that's more probable than 1 to 1 odds. Unfortunately..." David drifted off.

"Unfortunately what?" Todd demanded.

"Unfortunately 3 to 2 odds are worse than 2 to 1 odds. And those odds are stacked against you."

"What do you mean?" Jeff squeaked.

"Well," David said as the other man opened the door to Greg's cell. "There are three of us, and two of you."

"Eep!" Todd said.

As he finished getting unwrapped, Greg recognized his releaser. "Craigo!"

"Give me some skin, man!" Craig said. Greg gave it. The two of them joined David outside of Todd and Jeff's cages.

"Now, the question remains..." David continued. "What do we do with you two?"

"A French bath?" Todd suggested.

"Give us dinner and send us on our way?" Jeff queried.

"I don't think so," Craig said in his best I-don't-think-so voice.

"Well, what should we do, guys?" Greg asked. The three men got together and conferred. A short time later, they emerged from their huddle with a collective smile on their collective faces.

"I bet you wonder what we have in store for you guys, don't you?" David asked Todd and Jeff.

"Somewhat. Just answer us one question," Jeff pleaded.

"Well...okay. Shoot."

"What's this DC-Zone thingie? And how did you guys rescue us from the ITR?"

Craig smirked. "Since War!! 5, David and I have been investing in intergalactic space property. The DC-Zone is a piece of the galaxy completely owned by David and myself. And even though how we got the ITR to turn you over to us is another question, I'll answer it anyway. It was quite easy when I'm the head of the ITR."

Todd's mouth fell open. There had been much stipulation in Intergalactic tabloids about the new mystery owner of the ITR. No one had known who it was or how they got there. This answered that question at least.

David spoke. "I bet you really want to know what will happen to you, so I'll tell you. I called an old friend of mine, a certain William Gates the 14th. Old Billy is involved in some pretty nasty things for the government, torture devices and the like. So..." He trailed off.

"You'll be able to experience first-hand some of the worst tortures devised by man," Greg finished. Craig cackled eagerly.

"Not...not...not...WINDOZE!?!" Todd stammered.

"Oh, he guessed it!" Craig said, disappointed.

"More precisely, you will be locked in a room which has only one door. The only object in the room will be a circa-1989 386 computer. The door will remain locked until you can type in the correct case-sensitive 14-character password. The catch is this: You will remain in your straitjackets, with only your tongues freed. The keyboard will accept one key input every ten minutes. Every two hours, the password will spontaneously change to a new random sequence, which you will have to guess. And all the time, water will be entering the room at a rate of 1 gallon per hour. And you know how well water and electricity mix."

"Um, okay," Todd said, since there wasn't much they could do in the situation.

A half an hour later, Jeff and Todd found themselves in the very predicament David had described. Todd tried to struggle to his knees, but with only his tongue free, it took him a long time. Enough time for a four gallons of water to seep in the room. He finally made it, positioned his head over the keyboard and pushed a random key. A deep buzzing tone filled the room, causing Todd to jump and fall over again. Jeff was trying to lift his head out of the slowly rising water level so he wouldn't drown. Speed seemed to be an important issue here.

Outside the room, David, Craig, and Greg watched Todd and Jeff.

"It looks as if Todd is as good at math as he is at playing the French Horn," Greg said snidely. "Even if he gets 13 of the digits right, the password will reset before he can get the 14th character in."

"Not only that," Craig piped up. "If, through some miracle, they should actually get the door open it won't do them any good! There's just open space there! Ha!"

David pushed the button that sounded the buzzer in Todd and Jeff's prison. They both jumped at the sound and fell on their faces in the ankle-deep water--which would shortly become knee-deep, and then thigh-deep, and continue until it either drowned Todd and Jeff or short-circuited the computer, sending a burst of electricity though the water and all surrounding objects, namely Todd and Jeff.

"Parchesi, anyone?" David said brightly, as he settled back into a comfortable chair to enjoy Todd and Jeff's demise.

Greg looked into Todd and Jeff's prison and whistled. "I dare say they're about goners in about 10 minutes. Just enough time for me beat you both at Parchesi."

"Put your money where your mouth is!" David said. He rolled double 5's.

continues




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