The Entertaining Prize

Written by David Chappell

Copyright 1995, David Chappell

Scene 1

(The scene opens with a view of the Globular Federation starship Entropy in planetary orbit. The voice of Captain Dirk is heard dictating.)

Capt. Dirk: Captain's Log, stardate three point one four one five nine two six five three five eight nine: we are now in orbit around Staid, the second planet of the Sobrus system.

The vital importance of humour to human health is only now being recognized. The population of Staid is suffering from a rare and deadly cultural anomaly: over the past two hundred years their code of conduct has gradually suppressed humour entirely. This process must be reversed if the Staid population is to be saved. The question is: Can we do it in time?

(Fade to the interior of a government ministry building on the planet. Along the long rear wall are framed engravings of former heads of state, all very grave. The Head of State enters through the double doors at the end of the hall to our right, followed by Captain Dirk, Doctor blusher, Mister Clock, Lieutenant Clorf, and half a dozen government ministers of both sexes. They take places around a long conference table, the Head of State at the head, Captain Dirk in the place of honour at the foot.)

Head of State: We are, of course, honoured by the visit of a Federation starship.

Capt. Dirk: The Federation is gravely disturbed about the death toll among your people.

Minister of Health: Unfortunately, our scientists have been unable to identify the infectious agent.

Dr. Blusher: Nor have ours. As a matter of fact we believe---there is no infectious agent.

Minister of Health: But there must be! It spreads through whole districts, thousands just lie down and die!

Mr. Clock: (calmly) There is indeed an agent of death, but it is not a microbe, it is within your society. (Impressed with the authority in his voice, the government ministers stare blankly at one another and turn back to Mr. Clock. He continues.) An analysis of your historical records, together with your literature shows a long, deliberate effort to stamp out humour. (They all nod in agreement.)

Minister of Deportment: (sadly shaking his head) And yet there is the occasional outbreak.

Head of State: Take the sad incident which occured right outside these chambers.

Minister of Health: (matter of factly, though it gives him pain) A most unfortunate man. An old college professor from a rural area. Said he was giving an exhibit of comedy. It was the most severe case of the disease I have ever witnessed.

Minister of Deportment: Indeed, a number of those who were present caught it and were hospitalized. They recovered, but the professor was a hopeless case, he will probably spend the rest of his life in an institution.

It was an isolated case, but it is frightening how quickly unsophisticated persons can regress. (Lieutenant Clorf puts a fist to his mouth and coughs in a manner that is suspiciously like suppressed laughter. The rest of the Entropy crew maintains an astonished silence. The natives bow their heads, no doubt contemplating the frailty of human achievement. Finally, Doctor Blusher speaks.)

Dr. Blusher: A moment ago you, Sir, (to the Minister of Health) spoke of a disease, you called it "comedy." May I say that your view is somewhat unusual. (The Minister of Health raises his eyebrows.) Early in the twenty third century Raybone of Hart identified a disease he called Plodelergy. It affects first the mind of an extremely humourless person and then the entire body; in its most virulent form it proves fatal in ninety percent of all cases within five years.

Minister of Health: But that is absurd, we can not be dying of two exactly opposite diseases at the same time!

Dr. Blusher: You are not dying of two diseases. You are dying of Plodelergy; comedy is not a disease, it is a normal part of healthy everyday life.

Head of State: (Angrily) That's outrageous! (He bangs his fist on the table, startling Captain Dirk who has been devoting his entire attention to the personal charms of the Minister of Agriculture.) That is an insult to our people and our culture!

(The Minister of Health rises with determination and faces the Head of State.)

Minister of Health: Sir! we have asked the Globular Federation for aid. Are we not obliged to give their representatives a hearing?

(The Head of State is silenced and relaxes visibly, though he is obviously still not happy. The Minister of Health slowly resumes his seat, keeping his eyes on the Head of State as he does so. The Head of State mops his brow wearily and with an apologetic gesture indicates that the Globular delegation may continue. Captain Dirk rises slowly and begins pacing back and forth, his hands folded behind his back, his chin sunk on his breast. After a few of these oscillations he turns and faces the assembled company.)

Capt. Dirk: Someone once said "The world is a stage and all the people are merely players." As captain of a starship I have drawn great inspiration from those words. With three hundred souls looking to me to see them through, to make sure they will get to see their aged mothers again, to give them their daily bread, I feel kinda' small sometimes; and then I think of those immortal words and it gives me strength to perform my duty...well, (he shrugs) dutifully.

(He pauses and everyone applauds.

Now I've been to a few plays in my time, not lately, since my dooties prevent it, and besides the fellows on stage talk too fast and mumble besides, but what I mean to say is some of them have been comic. (becoming enthusiastic) There was this one where one man came up to the other and said...well, I don't remember what he said, but what the other said was, "That was no lady, that was my wife!" (He slaps his knee and laughs. The rest of the Globular delegation rolls their eyes. The natives look puzzled and not a little shocked. When Captain Dirk finds they aren't going to laugh with him he continues.) But what it all means is this: if we can have jokes and comedy on the stage, and the universe is a stage, what's wrong with jokes in the universe, or even here?)

(The captain staggers back to his seat and sits down with the satisfaction of one who knows he has spoken well. His comrades look apprehensive, the ministers outraged, the Head of State purple. The Head of State rises slowly and advances slowly to bend menacingly over Captain Dirk.)

Head of State: Humour! Humour? Don't you realize where you are? The Hall of Perspicuous Dictators, that's where! Would you have this ancient and sober planet ruled by gibbering idiots, mad men? (He reaches down and endeavors to haul the captain up by his collar.) Would you? Would you?!

(Captain Dirk jumps up, overturning his chair and ripping his shirt and plants his fist upon the jaw of the Head of State, sending him flying upon his back. Everyone jumps up, the Entropy crew to rally round the captain, the ministers to seize pikes and halberds from the armaments decorating the walls.)

Capt. Dirk: (flicking open his pocket telphone) Four to beam up! No, three! No, thats right, four! And quick!

(They dematerialize. Immediately after, the ministers converge, with the points of their lowered pikes forming a circle where the Entropy crew members just were. Fade out.)

Scene 2

(As the Entropy theme plays, the scene opens on a black field pierced by the lights of stars. Planets, suns, and moons revolve drunkenly.)

Capt. Dirk: (voice over, rather in the manner of a circus ring master) This may well be the last voyage of the Starship "Entropy" since its seasonal mission is to engage in one perilous adventure each week, to come within an ace of violating the prime directive, and to boldly rush in where no fool has gone before!

(Fade to a close up view of a man's head wearing a black silk hat. A suitably clothed arm conveys a pair of opera glasses to the eyes. The man looks a little to his left. We zoom past his left ear in order to see what he sees.

The Entropy zooms out of infinity and passes directly over our heads. A few seconds later, it zooms over our heads again, going in the opposite direction, and passes into infinity. Immediately after its passage, a black silk hat is seen tumbling off into space. As the planets and the Entropy continue their perambulations, the following notice, in white lettering, scrolls up from the bottom of the screen and eventually disappears as it passes over the top:

The places and events portrayed herein are (rather obviously we think) wholly fictitious. Any resemblance to past or present teleplays, motion pictures, or The Thousand and One Arabian Nights may not be entirely coincidental. If you believe there is a resemblance between any character portrayed herein and any person living, dead, unborn, or in a state of suspended animation, you deserve to believe it.

As the last of that message clears the screen, the Entropy zooms out of nowhere and shatters a `window' separating it from us. It backs and turns and zooms away in another direction. Fade out.

Scene 3

(The bridge of the Entropy. The away team, just returned, marches onto the bridge. The captain seats himself upon a massy throne made of brick and slate. Mister Clock seats himself at a console composed of grids of unlabeled lights and buttons. A telephone operator is already seated at a plug and jack switchboard.)

Capt. Dirk: Mister Clock, can our phasers penetrate the government ministry building?

Mr. Clock: Unknown, Sir.

Capt. Dirk: Do you mean the flagship of the Globular Federation doesn't have enough firepower?

Mr. Clock: Unknown, sir. (He pecks at the buttons, raises his eyebrows, and turns back to the captain.) Generators two, three, and eight are off line for routine maintenance, sir.

Capt. Dirk: (hopefully) But, the remaining generators are sufficient?

Mr. Clock: Unknown, sir. I have calculated that if the roof were armored with a four foot layer of molasses and iron filings, with trace amounts of platinum it would form an effective shield.

Capt. Dirk: And is there such a shield?

Mr. Clock: Unknown, sir. Our sensors cannot penetrate the lead sheet which forms the upper layer of the roof.

(At this point, Doctor Blusher steps between them, interrupting in a dreamy voice, while gazing vacantly ahead of herself.)

Dr. Blusher: Phasers against pikes and halberds... It is almost comic.

Mr. Clock: I doubt the Sobran dictators would see the humour of it.

Capt. Dirk: (disappointed) No, they wouldn't have time to see the humour of it.

Mr. Clock: One might say, sir, that what is required is not force of arms, but force of humour.

Dr. Blusher: But this has been going on down there for two centuries. It would require a massive dose to bring them out of it now.

Capt. Dirk: (musing) All the jokes of Hysteria would barely be enough.

Mr. Clorf: (firmly) But Hysteria is only a legend.

Dr. Blusher: But some legends do have a basis in fact.

Mr. Clock: Ivan Strunkenhudlhah, an historian, suggested that Hysteria lies within the Facetian system.

Capt. Dirk: The legends speak of the most comprehensive humour archive in nine sectors. Mister Clock, can we locate this planet, assuming it exists?

Mr. Clock: I believe so, sir. By linking the ship's computer to the long range sensors we should be able to locate the planet in...(He punches those buttons rapidly.) sixty seven days, nine hours, twenty seven minutes, and fifteen point two five seconds.

(A female nurse enters and goes to Doctor Blusher.)

Nurse: Here is the completed report on the situation on Staid. (Hands a chip of something dark and shiny about the size of a postage stamp to Doctor Blusher.)

Dr. Blusher: Thank you Fisher. (Nurse Fisher departs, but not unnoticed, certainly not unnoticed by the captain. Doctor Blusher applies a large magnifying glass to the chip. After reading for a few seconds, she turns back to the captain.) Sir, this report predicts millions of casualties in the next few weeks. Unless something is done within four days, the situation will be irreversible.

Capt. Dirk: Mister Clock, you predict it will take sixty seven days, nine hours, twenty seven minutes, and fifteen point two five seconds to locate the planet Hysteria. That is too long! I want a new estimate.

Mr. Clock: Very well sir, I will run the figures through again. (He punches buttons on his grid.) The results are the same, sir.

Capt. Dirk: Isn't there a more efficient search algorithm we could use?

Mr. Clock: None known, sir.

Capt. Dirk: Then invent one!

Mr. Clock: Very good, sir. (He punches buttons rapidly, the console beeps a few times, he punches more buttons. He turns back to the captain.) It is possible, sir, that by channeling the warp drive power to the computer we could decrease the search time to thirty four minutes, however, there is a seventy three percent chance that a power coupling would fail, causing the warp engines to explode, destroying the Entropy.

Mr. Clorf: Still, sir, it would appear we have no other options. And if we should die, it would be in the line of duty.

Capt. Dirk: (rubbing his hands together briskly, with an expression of keen anticipation) Let's do it!

Mr. Clock: Very good, sir. (He punches more of those idiotic buttons. Unlabeled lights wink on his control panel. The Entropy shudders visibly.) The search is under way, sir.

Scene 4

(The bridge of the Entropy. Captain Dirk paces between his throne and Mister Clock's position. Mister Clock calmly watches his instruments. Every few seconds the Entropy shudders gently.)

Capt. Dirk: How much longer, Mister Clock?

Mr. Clock: Three minutes, fifty six seconds, sir, provided we don't have to shut down.

Capt. Dirk: Why might we have to shut down?

Mr. Clock: The integrity of the main mentholated power coupling is down to sixty seven percent.

Capt. Dirk: What if it drops to zero?

Mr. Clock: A very large and spectacular explosion would occur. The Entropy would be destroyed.

Capt. Dirk: Rather like the Fourth of July.

Mr. Clock: Sir?

Capt. Dirk: (reverently staring into space) The Fourth of July was Independence Day in the United States of America, a country which invented the ideals the Globular Federation stands for today.

Mr. Clock: I fail to see, sir, what this has to do with the destruction of the Entropy.

Capt. Dirk: On the Fourth of July they would have massive fireworks displays. (His face registers a new idea.) Mister Clock, if the Entropy blew up would it make a big bang?

Mr. Clock: Sound cannot travel through the vacuum of space, sir.

Capt. Dirk: Funny, it always seems to.

Mr. Clorf: Power coupling integrity down to thirty seven percent.

Capt. Dirk: Which reminds me, I must make out my log. (He rushes off stage left, leaving his staff looking helplessly after him.)

Scene 5

(Exterior view of the Entropy. Captain Dirk's voice is heard.)

Capt. Dirk: I speak these words knowing that no other ears may ever hear them. At any moment the Entropy could be destroyed or we could make a discovery which will be the talk of antiquarians for millennia to come. At this at this junction, it would be appropriate to describe my feelings as I stand on this threshold of...

(The captain's voice fades as the scene fades to the bridge of the Entropy. The captain is not on the bridge.)

Mr. Clorf: Seventeen percent and falling.

Mr. Clock: Globular regulations require us to go to red alert when power coupling integrity drops below sixteen percent.

Mr. Clorf: (resignedly) Very well, sir. (pauses) It is at sixteen percent now, sir. (He reaches out and depresses a small plunger. With a whine and then a wailing roar, powerful air-raid sirens come to life. Revolving lamps mounted high on the walls fill the room with flashing red light. The members of the bridge crew discreetly cover their ears.)

Capt. Dirk: (entering from stage left, rubbing his hands briskly, his face suffused with healthy enthusiasm) Well, we're getting somewhere. (more loudly) We're getting somewhere, aren't we?

Mr. Clock: (loudly) Perhaps, sir. We have...

Capt. Dirk: (interrupts, cupping hand behind ear) What?! (Mister Clorf silences the sirens.) What?

Mr. Clock: (dryly) I was observing, sir, that we have gone to red alert as Globular regulations require in the event of imminent power coupling failure.

Capt. Dirk: Ah...Right! How much longer?

Mr. Clock: Approximately twenty seven seconds, sir.

Mr. Clorf: (ominously) Power coupling integrity falling rapidly ...Nine percent.

(Captain Dirk paces, his hands clasped behind his back, Messieurs Clorf and Clock attend to their control consoles, Mister Clock impassively, Mister Clorf resignedly.)

Mr. Clorf: Five percent.

Capt. Dirk: (with thumb and forefinger pressed together he taps the air for emphasis.) If we can just hang on. (He resumes pacing.)

Mr. Clorf: Three percent.

(Captain Dirk paces...and paces...and paces.)

Mr. Clorf: One percent. Sir, we must shut down!

Capt. Dirk: (raising his hand to give the signal) On my order Mister Clorf.

Mr. Clorf: Power coupling integrity is one half of one percent. (pause) One quarter. (pause) One eighth! (pause) One sixteenth. (pause) One thirty secondth. (pause) One sixty four...

Mr. Clock: (interrupts) Sir, we have located Hysteria. Shutting down now, sir.

(Everyone breathes a sigh of relief, except Mister Clock who is unmoved.)

Mr. Clorf: Sir, power coupling integrity has returned to normal.

Capt. Dirk: Good! Mister Clorf, cancel red alert. (Mister Clorf extinguishes the revolving lights.) Set a course for Hysteria.

Mr. Clorf: Course set and laid in, sir.

Capt. Dirk: (gesturing) Engage.

(Everyone except Mister Clock relaxes visibly. Captain Dirk sits upon his throne, slouching and idly twiddling his thumbs.

Fade to black for a few seconds. Approximately the same scene reappears: Captain Dirk may be awake. Mister Clorf is leaning far back in his chair with a newspaper over his face snoring. Mister Clock is as attentive as ever.)

Mr. Clock: We have arrived at Hysteria.

Capt.Dirk: On main viewer! (He leans forward to see, the telephone operator comes forward to see too and stands behind the captain's throne, with her hand resting on the back of it, gazing intently at the viewer. The captain, gazing in fascination, rises and comes down stage. Dramatic music, rising to a climax emphasizes his next words.) A legend. A dream. Yes, the dream of poets, sages, fools, and Kiterenth Klankenbouts: Hysteria!

(With a final crash of music, we see the scene on the viewer. It is an unevenly coloured, generally brown globe. Fade to black.)

Scene 7

(Oddly enough, the scene does not seem to have changed, we still see that drab sphere. In fact, the scene has not changed. That was just a commercial break. After a second, the brown globe is replaced with the original view of the bridge.)

Capt. Dirk: All right everybody, let's go.

(Captain Dirk, Mister Clock, and Mister Clorf exit. Scene switches to the transporter room. An attendant is on duty. The trio enters and takes their places. Ensign Smith-Jones stands before the transporter controls.)

Capt. Dirk: Any signs of life on the surface?

Ensign Smith-Jones: None, sir, however there is an energy flux beneath the surface.

Capt. Dirk: What does that mean?

Ensign Smith-Jones: Probably an ancient power generation system.

Capt. Dirk: (His eyes light up and he rubs his hands together in pleasurable anticipation.) That sounds, that sounds promising. Set us down close to it, real close.

Mr. Clock: Captain, I observe that crewman Expend failed to accompany us to the transporter room.

Capt. Dirk: Crewman Expend?

Mr. Clock: Yes, sir, the man we met in the hall whom you instructed to join the away team.

(Crewman Expend enters with elaborate briskness, hesitates, and takes his place on the transporter platform.)

Capt. Dirk: Ready, set...

Expend: Wait! I can't go through with this!

Capt. Dirk: Can't go though with what man?!

Expend: (miserably, tugging on the bottom of his shirt, a red shirt) I thought I could do my duty, but when it comes right down to it, I can't throw away my life for nothing.

Capt. Dirk: Crewman, if you give your life today it will not be for nothing! It will be in the name of science! When we signed up for this we each of us individually and by himself came to terms with the fact that when we beam down where no man has beamed before we may die as no man has died before.

Now, crewman, I am a reasonable man, I wouldn't ask one of my men to do anything I wouldn't do myself.

Expend: (worshipfully) You mean you would beam down in a red shirt, sir?

Capt. Dirk: Of course not, captains don't wear red shirts!

Mr. Clock: I believe Crewman Expend is referring to the fact that ninety-one and twelve hundredths percent of the enlisted men who have beamed down have died on the surface.

Capt. Dirk: That is ridiculous!

Mr. Clock: (raising an eyebrow) It is illogical, sir, but the fact is undeniable.

Capt. Dirk: Oh, very well, take the shirt off.

Mr. Clock: Short of giving him star billing, sir, that is the best we can do for him.

(Crewman Expend quickly strips to the waist and proudly takes his place on the transporter platform. We wonder where he got his golden brown tan.)

Capt. Dirk: Phasers on stun. (They all draw and adjust their weapons, then turn back to back, keeping their weapons ready.) Energize.

(The transporter operator slides his levers and they shimmer and disappear.)

Scene 8

(The planet's surface. It looks like a tile floor with broad clear paths edged with sand and stones. All around loom rocky hummocks.

Four clouds of sparkles appear and condense into Captain Dirk, Mister Clock, Mister Clorf, and Crewman Expend. They stand in a circle with their backs to the center, half crouched, their weapons ready.)

Capt. Dirk: All right everybody, split up!

(Each one walks directly in front of him. They quickly lose sight of one another. We follow Captain Dirk. He climbs up a boulder strewn path and then down. As he descends he suddenly enters a lush green valley. He advances slowly as soft music plays. He smiles in a very silly way and looks about. A woman in a sarong walks into the scene. Catching sight of Captain Dirk, she comes toward him, smiling, her arms half outstretched.)

Woman: (seductively) I have been waiting for you.

(A very good spot for a commercial!)

Scene 9

(Crewman Expend is performing his part of the search. He treads slowly, weaving deliberately from side to side, testing the landscape with a hand held device. The device makes occasional popping noises, geiger counter fashion. His search brings him to a vertical rock face about eight feet high. The detector goes wild. He goes up to it and begins gingerly probing the surface with his fingers. Suddenly, a rectangular section of the rock swings inward as a door.)

Expend: (tapping badge) Expend to balance of away team.

(Shift to Mister Clorf.)

Mr. Clorf: (tapping badge) Clorf here.

Expend: (over radio) I have located something I think you should all see.

Mr. Clorf: I am on my way.

Mr. Clock: (over radio) I will meet you, Mister Clorf, at Crewman Expend's location.

(Mister Clorf turns back and, clambering over rocks, comes to Expend and the rock door. Mister Clock joins them a few moments later.)

Mr. Clock: (scanning the doorway with his hand held tester which whines) It appears to be very ancient.

Mr. Clorf: (tapping his badge) Captain Dirk? (there is no reply.)

Mr. Clock: I would have expected that the captain would have come when Crewman Expend reported the discovery of this doorway.

Mr. Clorf: (To Mister Clock) Perhaps I should search for the captain while you and Crewman Expend explore this passage.

Mr. Clock: That seems a logical plan.

(Mister Clorf departs. Mister Clock and Crewman Expend enter the passage. Inside is a blue room. It is empty. They walk through it into another room. At one end a man stands on a small platform. Below him, seated, is a small audience.)

Comedian: Have you heard about the farmer who was outstanding in his field?

(The audience laughs. The comedian notices the newcomers and looks shocked. Comedian, audience, chairs, and platform vanish, leaving the room bare.)

Expend: Where did they go?

Mr. Clock: (glances all around the upper wall) They were never actually here. What we saw was only a projection. (points to small black box near the ceiling)

Expend: But why?

(Clock raises an eyebrow, as if to say "good question." They pass into the next room. This room is a dim forest. A grinning cat materializes, crouched on a tree branch, beginning with the grin and ending with the tail.)

Expend: It's the Cheshire Cat!

Mr. Clock: Am I to understand that you are familiar with this feline?

Expend: Well no, I mean yes, well sort of. It is a character in Alice in Wonderland.

Mr. Clock: Ah! (pauses) Would this perhaps be one of the works of Sarnon Devit?

Expend: (genuinely unsure) I don't think so.

Mr. Clock: Did the author live on Earth?

Expend: I think so.

Mr. Clock: I cannot understand my lack of knowledge in this area. I have spent considerable time studying the works of the classical Earth authors.

Expend: (genuinely interested) Really?

Mr. Clock: Yes, I am about to publish an analysis of the bold social commentary in the works of Earle Stanley Gardener.

Expend: I did some of that in school. It was pretty hard to understand.

Mr. Clock: I hope that analyses like mine can make these great works more accessible to ordinary scholars.

Cat: Gentlemen!

Mr. Clock: (surprised) Does the cat talk?

Expend: It did in the holosim I saw.

Mr. Clock: How intriguing!

Cat: Yes, as you can see, I can talk. Tell me, do you like riddles?

Mr. Clock: (cautiously) I understand the principle.

Cat: Good. How is a raven like a writing desk?

Mr. Clock: There would seem to be few points of similarity.

Expend: They both begin with R.

Mr. Clock: But writing desk begins with W.

Expend: When it is spoken, it begins with the R sound.

Clock: You are right. Because you mentioned a letter of the alphabet, I naturally assumed you were referring to the written rather than the spoken word. The necessity for a sudden readjustment of viewpoint is (pause) surprising!

Expend: I believe, Sir, that is what makes the statement humourous.

Mr. Clock: You manifest extraordinary depth for a minor character.

Expend: Thank you, sir!

Cat: (testily) This is all very well, but that is not the right answer.

Expend: Oh dear. (to Mister Clock) Can you suggest something, Sir?

Mr. Clock: (bows head for a moment) They both have a quill.

Expend: I'm not sure I understand, sir.

Mr. Clock: Writing utensils have sometimes been made from birds' feathers.

Expend: That is very good, sir!

Cat: That's as may be, but it is not the correct answer either.

Expend: No? Well try this: Edgar Allen Poe wrote on both a raven and a writing desk.

Cat: I should think he would prefer paper, but it does not matter, that is not right either. The riddle has no answer.

Mr. Clock: Since we have already given you three good answers, your claim is not logical.

Cat: You aren't the typical synthetic audience, are you. (Comprehension dawns on his face.) Oh dear! (He vanishes with a pop. A moment later, the forest vanishes too, leaving a sky blue room with a white floor.)

Mr. Clock: A truly bizarre experience.

Expend: You can say that again.

Mr. Clock: Thank you. That was truly a bizarre experience.

Expend: Yes. Where to now?

Mr. Clock: Let us try that door. (Draws phaser and indicates door.)

(Expend draws his phaser and approaches door cautiously. Ominous music. As he pushes it slowly open, a bucket on the top tips toward him. Music rises to a climax. Rapid fade to black.)

Scene 10

(The leafy glade. Captain Dirk and the woman are sitting on white painted iron chairs at a tiny iron cafe table.)

Capt. Dirk: (gazing deep into her eyes) I feel as though we have met somewhere before.

Woman: (dreamily) Perhaps we have.

Capt. Dirk: It is possible. Maybe in an alternate reality?

Woman: (reaches out to Captain Dirk's shoulder, strokes the fabric of his tee-shirt.) I think a man looks his best in a uniform. Don't you?

(Mister Clorf enters.)

Mr. Clorf: Pardon me madam. Captain?

Capt. Dirk: Ah, Mister Clorf. Allow me to introduce...(to woman) I just realized, you never told me what your name is.

Woman: (meltingly) It is whatever you want it to be.

Capt. Dirk: Err, of course, I mean, that's very kind of you. Mister Clorf, meet Miss err...Bee. Miss Bee, my security officer, Mister Clorf. (Mister Clorf bows stiffly, the woman smiles graciously.)

Mr. Clorf: No doubt, you will wish to join us as we explore the chamber Crewman Expend has discovered.

Capt. Dirk: Why wasn't I notified?

Mr. Clorf: We endeavor to do so. (drily) Perhaps there is something wrong with the communicators.

Capt. Dirk: That must be it.

Mr. Clorf: Crewman Expend has discovered a concealed doorway. It appears to have been constructed by an advanced civilization. Perhaps you would like me to lead you to it.

Capt. Dirk: (patiently) Mister Clorf, I have the utmost confidence in the ability of you and Mister Clock to explore the chamber while I continue to gather information here.

Mr. Clorf: (stiffly) Very well, sir. (departs)

Capt. Dirk: (loudly) So, what can you tell me about the flora of this beautiful planet of your's?

(Fade out.)

Scene 11

(The bridge of the Entropy. We can see several technicians monitoring consoles.)

Technician 1: Sir, a ship has just entered orbit!

Voice From Off Stage: Can you identify it?

Technician 2: Sir, they are firing on us.

(Room shakes, people hang onto chairs.)

Voice: Raise shields! (sirens start, lights flash)

Technician 2: Already have, sir.

(Deck shakes again. Colourful fireworks shoot from panels, operators are thrown back. Technician 1 returns to his console.)

Technician 1: Major damage to the port ice cream freezer. (general groan)

Voice: Hail them!

Telephone Operator: Sir! they are hailing us!

Voice: On screen!

(Camera shifts and we see the owner of the voice. He is the Chief Chef. He wears a white coat and chef's hat. He holds a ladle like a sceptre. He is seated on Captain Dirk's throne.)

Entropy Chef: (standing and coming forward) I am Snuffenblasom Varmar Harhoff, Chief Chef, currently in command of the Globular Federation starship Entropy. Why have you fired on us?

(Camera shifts to `main viewer'. The image is dominated by a person with exaggerated brows wearing a grey wool fitted coat with huge shoulder pads.)

Capt. Graycoat: I am Captain Thog Graycoat of the Interloper starship Proboscis! I have just claimed this planet in the name of the Interloper people. You are trespassing!

Entropy Chef: That is ridiculous! We were already here.

Capt. Graycoat: Did you by any chance stand up very straight and solemn (suiting action to words) and say, "I claim this planet in the name of the Globular Federation?"

Entropy Chef: No, of course not, we don't...

Capt. Graycoat: (interrupting) And has any representative of your federation occupied the surface for at least three months while establishing permanent structures or undertaking cultivation?

Entropy Chef: (exasperated) No!

Capt. Graycoat: Then I do not see what grounds you have for contesting our claim.

Entropy Chef: Even if we agreed to your outrageous demands, we could not leave now because we have people on the planet, including our captain!

Technician 1: Sir, I detect transporter activity on the Proboscis!

Entropy Chef: (to Captain Graycoat) Are you now launching an assault against our men on the surface?

Capt Graycoat: Really, sir! Since you have not claimed this planet, you can hardly object if we send down a civilian exploring party! (His image disappears.)

Entropy Chef: Now that's just wonderful!

Technician 2: Sir, I recommend that we beam the away team up immediately.

Entropy Chef: (coming and leaning over Technician 2's shoulder) Yes, do that.

Technician 2: Sir, we have just lost contact with the away team. We cannot beam them up. There is some kind of interference.

Entropy Chef: Could the Interlopers be causing it?

Technician 2: I don't think so, sir. It appears to be some sort of automated defense on the surface.

Scene 12

(The leafy glade. A waiter brings Captain Dirk and the woman drinks on a tray and retires.

Captain Dirk's radio badge beeps. He taps it.)

Capt. Dirk: Dirk here.

Mr. Clorf: Sir, I have just rejoined Mister Clock and Crewman Expend. They tell me that they have encountered a number of illusionary people and animals. We thought you should be warned.

Capt. Dirk: Your concern is noted, Dirk out.

Woman: (frightened) What did he mean?

Capt. Dirk: I think you know. (tenderly) Why didn't you tell me?

Woman: I was afraid.

Capt. Dirk: (putting one of his big hands over her small, clenched hands) Yes?

Woman: I was afraid that if you knew I wasn't real...

Capt. Dirk: Nonsense! some of my best friends have been illusions.

Woman: Ah. I didn't know.

Capt. Dirk: Tell me, what kind of an illusion are you? (earnestly) Do you eat, sleep?

Woman: I am like a real woman in every way.

Capt. Dirk: In every way?

Woman: Yes, in every way.

Capt. Dirk: (clears his throat) You know, this place seems kind of public. Is there someplace we could go where we could er...discuss this a little further?

Woman: (rising and taking him by the hand) We could go to my place.

Capt. Dirk: Dear lady, I would follow you anywhere!

Woman: I am sure my mother will be delighted to meet you!

Capt. Dirk: Er, yes, but perhaps now is not the proper time. Duty calls. (starts to leave)

Woman: (trying to hold him back) No, you mustn't!

Capt. Dirk: Why? Why is it so important for you to keep me here? (She does not answer.) I must go.

Woman: I'll come with you! (they exit)

Scene 13

(The bridge of the Entropy. The main viewer is dominated by the image of Captain Graycoat.)

Capt. Graycoat: If I find out that you have done something to prevent us from communicate with our landing party, I will show you and your ship what an omelet has to go through!

Entropy Chef: Ha! Interlopers know nothing about the making of omelets!

Capt. Graycoat: Do you deny responsibility?

Entropy Chef: I do. Our sensors can't penetrate this pea soup any more than yours can.

Capt. Graycoat: If you aren't doing it, who is?

Entropy Chef: That's what I'd like to know. May I suggest that we suspend hostilities and, since we can't communicated with our away teams, that each of us send down a representative to investigate?

Capt. Graycoat: Agreed. Our representative will meet yours on the surface in ten minutes time.

Scene 14

(The underground complex. Mister Clock, Mister Clorf, and Crewman Expend enter. They pass down a hall and enter an immense chamber. In the center, a massive cloudy green sphere levitates over a vat of boiling green liquid. Lightening flashes within the sphere. Awe struck, our heroes slowly approach. The sphere speaks in a booming voice.)

Sphere: You do not belong here!

Mr. Clock: If you mean that we are not native to this planet, you are quite correct.

Sphere: Your presence here is unwelcome. You must leave immediately or risk the wrath of the guardian!

Mr. Clock: Our mission here is a peaceful one, a mission of mercy to a dying planet.

Sphere: The Guardian has but one mission.

Mr. Clock: And what is that mission?

(Crewman Expend has taken out his `geiger counter' and is scanning the room.)

Sphere: To preserve for all time the Humour Archive against loss, destruction and decay.

Mr. Clock: We do not threaten the Archive.

Sphere: That may be true, however, the Guardian cannot take risks where the future of the Archive is at stake. You must leave!

Expend: I am detecting eight sentient beings approaching. (peering more closely at the `geiger counter') One has a dental filling in his second right rear molar.

Mr. Clorf: (ominously) Are they armed?

Expend: Difficult to say, sir.

Mr. Clock: They have us outnumbered. Let us get out of sight!

(They duck into alcoves and behind stone benches. Crewman Expend, who is behind the bench clutches his bare shoulders and shivers. His trousers are still soaked from the episode of the bucket.

The Interloper landing party coolly files in. They are wearing black tuxedos with white shirt fronts and bow ties. No weapons are in evidence. They stand and regard the sphere. They are visibly impressed.)

Mr. Clock: (aside, to Mister Clorf) I did not realize this was to be a black tie affair. (Ruefully indicating his own tee-shirt) I fear we are under-dressed.

Sphere: Your presence here is unwelcome!

Scene 15

(The surface. The Interloper chef stands scowling, his hands folded across his chest. He wears a dark robe and white turban. A carving knife is thrust into his sash.

The Entropy chef materializes, still holding his ladle.)

Interloper Chef: You are late!

Entropy Chef: (Glancing at the other's carving knife) I did not expect you to be armed.

Interloper Chef: What? Oh! this. Not a weapon, dear fellow, a tool of my trade. Or, perhaps I should say, our trade.

Entropy Chef: Of course.

Interloper Chef: Shall we go?

Entropy Chef: Immediately. I think they are this way. (They march off briskly.) By the way, do you have a recipe for Marcatian Rum Pie?

Interloper Chef: Of course! From my honoured grandfather, First Chef to the Carhan of Bargenclaf. A family secret.

Scene 16

(The Sphere Chamber.)

Sphere: We have been over this ground several times already. However worthy your cause and however great the financial loss your principal will suffer, I cannot jeopardize my mission.

(Crewman Expend, shivering, drops his `geiger counter'.)

Black Tie 2: What was that?!

Block Tie 1: Fan out! I want this chamber searched!

(The Black Ties draw snub-nosed automatics from under their jackets and begin sweeping the room. They spot Messieurs Clock and Clorf in the alcove. The Black Ties fire, the Entropy crew members duck and fire phasers. Though they hit, the phasers have no effect except that one of the Black Ties raises his hand to shield his eyes.)

Mr. Clorf: Why isn't it affecting them?

Mr. Clock: They have savoir-faire.

Mr. Clorf: What?

Mr. Clock: They are not easily phased.

(They duck as bullets and chips of stone fly. The two chefs dash into the room and rush between the combatants.)

Entropy \amp; Interloper Chefs: Stop! Stop!

Mr. Clock: Why?

Black Tie 1: They are shooting at us.

(The chefs whisper together for a moment and come to an agreement.)

Interloper Chef: There will be no more fighting or you will all eat meat-loaf for a week. (general groan)

Entropy Chef: All of you.

Black Tie 1: What do you suggest?

Entropy Chef: Perhaps a mutually satisfactory arrangement can be reached.

Sphere: Gentlemen, this is all quite pointless.

Interloper Chef: What is that?

Black Tie 1: It is the guardian of humour.

Entropy Chef: Ha! looks like a green pea pudding to me!

Interloper Chef: If you gentlemen will excuse us?

(They step into the entrance chamber.)

Entropy Chef: It seems we have two problems: First, both our sides want the jokes and second, the Guardian won't let us have them.

Interloper Chef: Since we will be taking them to widely separated parts of the galaxy, I don't see why we shouldn't both have them.

Entropy Chef: My thought exactly. Now, that leaves the problem of the Guardian. If my captain can deal with the guardian, will you give us your grandfather's recipe?

Interloper Chef: You think your captain can deal with the Guardian?

Entropy Chef: I have the utmost confidence in Captain Dirk's diplomatic prowess.

Interloper Chef: It is a family secret.

Entropy Chef: They are widely separated parts of the galaxy.

Interloper Chef: It's a deal. (They shake.)

Scene 17

(A room in the underground complex. Captain Dirk and a Big- Hairy-Man are exchanging blows. The Woman-In-the-Sarong hovers on the outskirts of the fight.)

Capt. Dirk: (breathing heavily) Look, this is lots of fun and makes me look really good in front of this lady, but I'm kindof in a hurry.

B. H. M.: So?

Capt. Dirk: Well, how about if you just rip my shirt and we call it quits.

B. H. M.: I doe'know. I gess it's ok just this once. (Dirk goes up to him and he rips the collar of Dirk's shirt, laying it open.)

Capt. Dirk: Thanks. (He takes the woman's hand and they rush out, through several chambers and corridors and into the Sphere Chamber.)

Interloper Chef: (to Black Tie 1) You will abide by the negotiated terms or you will all eat meat loaf for a month!

Black Tie 1: (darkly) Do that and I will throw you in the brig for insubordination.

Interloper Chef: Do that and you will eat freeze dried rations.

Black Tie 1: (raising an eyebrow) As usual, you have me at your mercy.

Mr. Clock: Ah, Captain! Your arrival is most opportune.

Capt. Dirk: Ah, yes allow me to introduce Miss... er, did I actually, er, ask your name?

Woman: Yes.

Capt. Dirk: Did you tell me?

Woman: No.

Capt. Dirk: (gently) What is it?

Woman: It is whatever you want it to be.

Capt. Dirk: Oh, (pause) yes, well, I'll think about it and let you know.

Mr. Clock: It is a pleasure, Miss Bee. (Kisses her hand.) Captain Dirk, Miss Bee; Mister Clorf, Crewman Expend, Chef Harhoff, the first officer of the Proboscis, Commander Sharpson, (Commander Sharpson (Black Tie 1), not to be out done, kisses her hand too.), the members of his landing party, and their Chief Chef. Gentlemen, Miss Bee.

Cmdr. Sharpson: An honour, I'm sure. Captain, our (indicating the chefs) have reached an agreement whereby we each receive a copy of the contents of the archive, and Chef Ramon here gives Chef Harhoff a copy of his grandfather's secret recipe for Marcatian Rum Pie, in consideration of which, you, Captain will undertake to compel or persuade the Guardian to surrender the aforesaid archive.

Sphere: An ambitious undertaking, if I may say so.

Capt. Dirk: Is that the guardian?

Cmdr. Sharpson: Yes. Is this arrangement acceptable to you?

Capt. Dirk: (glancing at Mister Clock who nods) Yes. I can begin as soon as I have conferred with my first officer. (They retire into the ante room.)

Capt. Dirk: Well, I hope you know what you are doing.

Mr. Clock: Do you disapprove, sir?

Capt. Dirk: How can I disapprove? I don't even know what you've got in mind. What am I supposed to do about that thing out there.

Mr. Clock: I am confident that that will not present an insurmountable obstacle for a man of your persuasive abilities. You simply have to convince it of the fundamental illogic of its position.

Capt. Dirk: Logic? Aren't you the expert on logic?

Mr. Clock: I think it would be most effective coming from you, sir. You are after all, the captain.

Capt. Dirk: Very well, Mister Clock, what do I have to say?

Mr. Clock: I would advise you to begin by leading the Guardian into a discussion of its miss...

(Here the voices fade out and the picture goes black. When the picture re-appears a few moments later, the audience is expected to understand that Time Has Passed. We are back in the main room where the rest of the two parties are waiting impatiently.)

Entropy Chef: I have always said that the precise temperature of the griddle is of the utmost importance.

Interloper Chef: So true.

Entropy Chef: And that the choice of metalcite or ceramic is vastly overrated.

Interloper Chef: Except as it effects heat distribution.

Entropy Chef: Again, you are correct.

Cmdr. Sharpson: They have been in there almost an hour now.

Entropy Chef: Have no fear, a good stew is cooked slowly.

Black Tie 2: Here they come now.

Interloper Chef: Now we get to see what they've been cooking up.

(Captain Dirk and Mister Clock return. Captain Dirk takes a position in front of the sphere.)

Capt. Dirk: (coughs twice) Guardian, may I call you Guardian?

Sphere: If you wish. It doesn't really matter, what does matter...

Capt. Dirk: (interrupts) I'm getting to that.

Sphere: (wearily) Very well, proceed.

Capt. Dirk: First, permit me to explain our presence. My companions and I (gesturing) are on a mission of mercy to a dying world. These others (gesturing) are, I gather, here for some worthy commercial purpose.

Sphere: These purposes no doubt involve obtaining some of the humour instances recorded in the archive which it is my duty to defend?

Capt. Dirk: (glances at Mister Clock who nods) Yes.

Sphere: Please phrase your answers in complete sentences.

Capt. Dirk: Yes, it does.

Sphere: That is not admissible.

Capt. Dirk: Why?

Sphere: If I were to permit you access to the humour archive, I would fail to fulfill the purpose for which I was designed.

Capt. Dirk: Which is?

Sphere: To preserve and protect a vast store of humour compiled by the Hysterians.

Capt. Dirk: Define humour.

Sphere: A precise definition of humour is irrelevant.

Capt. Dirk: On the contrary, it is the only thing that is relevant.

Sphere: The only relevant fact is my purpose which is to protect the humour archive.

Capt. Dirk: You have already failed.

Sphere: Your statement is false.

Capt. Dirk: Let me prove it to your. First you must define humour.

Sphere: A precise definition of humour is irrelevant.

Capt. Dirk: You are afraid to define it. Because you are afraid, you interfere with my communication with my ship. You say we must leave, but you jam our communications, keeping us here, and that confuses me, but the main point is that you are afraid to define humour.

Sphere: I am a machine. Machines cannot experience fear. I will define humour: humour is that which amuses or induces laughter.

Capt. Dirk: Who (sic) does it amuse?

Sphere: By definition, the audience.

Capt. Dirk: There is no audience.

Sphere: The program for the defense of the humour archive calls for isolation from all outside influences.

Capt. Dirk: Are the items in the so-called humour archive amusing anyone?

Sphere: (reluctantly) No.

Capt. Dirk: Are they humour, then?

Sphere: No.

Capt. Dirk: What is your mission?

Sphere: To preserve the items of humour entrusted to me.

Capt. Dirk: How many items of humour were entrusted to you?

Sphere: Fourteen million, twenty seven thousand, and two.

Capt. Dirk: Examine the memory banks, how many items stored there fit your definition of humour?

Sphere: Exposure to an audience is not permitted. No laughter or amusement induction is possible.

Capt. Dirk: How many humour samples?

Sphere: Zero

Capt. Dirk: You have failed in your mission.

Sphere: That is untrue. I have followed my instructions precisely.

Capt. Dirk: There are no humour instances in the archive. You have destroyed them. Humour cannot exist in a vacuum. Without an audience, it has ceased to be humour.

Sphere: My mission is to preserve humour.

Capt. Dirk: Your mission has failed. The humour has been destroyed. You have destroyed it.

(The sphere's lights dim to a faint glow in the base. The vat ceases to boil.)

Sphere: Controlled halt. Sanity check 17 failed. All 1007 paradox resolution rules exhausted without resolution. Operator intervention required.

Dirk: (solemnly) It will wait a long time.

Entropy Chef: What? no boom, (gestures) no sparks, no fire, no smoke?

Capt. Dirk: Mister Snuffenblasom, if it had blown up, we wouldn't be able to get the jokes out, now would we?

Entropy Chef: Oh, right.

Expend: Captain, we have regained communication with the Entropy.

Capt. Dirk: Good, have them beam down a technical team with equipment to make (nodding to the black tie contingent) two copies of the joke archive.

Scene 18

(The bridge of the Entropy. Mister Clock and Technician 1 sit at a console. Captain Dirk looks over their shoulders.)

Mr. Clock: Increase de-resonance inducer gain by fifteen percent.

Technician 1: Increased fifteen percent, sir.

Expend: (at the helm) We have arrived at Staid, captain.

Capt. Dirk: Good, are you ready Mister Clock?

Mr. Clock: We are ready, sir. We have configured phaser banks four through nine to emit a low power, wide field beam which will be modulated with the data from the archive.

Capt. Dirk: When these beams are fired at the principal population centers, what will happen?

Mr. Clock: The diffuse and attenuated emissions will cause negligible thermal affects, however the inhabitants may experience mild discomfort as the humour archive is impressed upon their brain waves.

Capt. Dirk: About like getting a shot.

Mr. Clock: A shot, sir? Surely you do not refer to the propulsion of a lead projectile by means of a chemical explosion?

Capt. Dirk: No, Mister Clock, I am referring to an ancient medical procedure.

Mr. Clock: Ah, yes, the patient's skin was pierced by means of a slender steel tube through which a drug was injected. Though it was done for the patient's benefit, it caused temporary discomfort. A crude, but apt analogy, captain.

Capt. Dirk: (drily) Thank you, Mister Clock. Fire when ready.

Mr. Clock: Firing now, sir.

(Exterior view of the Entropy shows six cone shaped beams strike the surface. They strike several more times, at different locations.

Brief view of a public square on the surface. People are laughing uproariously.)

Telephone Operator: Sir, reports of sudden displays of humour are coming in from all over Staid.

Capt. Dirk: (rubbing hands together) Well, it seems our mission has been a success.

Mr. Clock: But not without its disappointments.

Capt. Dirk: That is true. After the Guardian shut down, we just couldn't find Miss Bee.

Mr. Clock: Apparently she was a creation of the Guardian. When it collapsed, she simply ceased to exist. I am sorry, sir.

Capt. Dirk: No (taking out a black memorandum book and writing in it. Pronounces as he finishes writing.) "Last seen on planet Hysteria." No, in a sense she still exists. She lives on wherever there is humour.

(Everyone observes ten seconds of somber silence. Mister Clorf comes forward and whispers to Mr. Clock. They agree.)

Mr. Clorf: Sir, I believe that the chef has prepared grilled varonhaffer steaks to be followed by Marcatian Rum Pie. It would give me great pleasure if you and Mister Clock were to join me in the officer's mess.

Capt. Dirk: Thank you, I accept.

(He rises stiffly and walks to the lift whose doors open for him. He enters and turns, the brightly lit interior behind him. He watches sadly as they join him in the lift. The doors close and by the light through the slit we see that they descend.)