Impractical JokeBy Tom Beck
Page 1 of 7
|"Tell me some more jokes, Orac," Vila commanded. He settled back in the lounge seat, a drink arranged in his fist. His eyes were closed, and he seemed the ultimate in luxurious self- indulgence. Typical Vila, in fact.
"Very well," replied the peevish supercomputer. "How many Space Troopers does it take to change an illumination cube?"
"No idea," said Vila. "How many?"
"None. Space Troopers do nothing without orders."
Vila chuckled. "Not bad, you overrated box of tricks. Gimme another."
Before Orac could obey, Avon wandered out onto the flight deck. Noting Vila's near- comatose, near- supine appearance- -noting that it was, in fact, typical Vila, only more so- -he asked, "What are you doing?"
"Getting material for my act," Vila answered.
"I thought you were doing a magic act," Avon said.
"That was last year," replied Vila. "Want to do something new this year. Can't have the kiddies think I'm too limited, now can I?"
"You're not limited at all," Avon said. "You can drink and you can sleep. What a vast range of talents."
Vila only grinned. Typical Avon, he thought. When in doubt, insult me. "Is that the best you can come up with, Avon? You should get Orac to write your material."
"Is that what you're doing? What kind of act are you preparing?"
"Stand- up comedy routine," the thief said. "Just like my old great- great- great- uncle Henny. Nightclub act. I've been having Orac research some old jokes for me, stuff the kids won't have heard because it's all so old. Pre- spaceflight, in some cases. 'Course, Orac's got no delivery at all- -his timing stinks, in fact- -but the material's not bad. Anyway, what're you going to do?"
The computer tech turned away and started to examine something at the station. "Nothing," he said.
Vila opened his eyes and raised his head to stare at the dour programmer. "Nothing? Oh, come on, Avon, you've got to do something! We're all doing something. I've got my comedy routine, Cally's doing a mindreading act, Gan's playing a circus strongman, Jenna's showing off her bellydancing. Even Blake's going to do a dramatic reading of 'The Charge of the Light Brigade.' You've got to participate! It is for orphans, you know."
"Spare me the appeal to my heartstrings, please. I haven't got any."
"That's my line, and don't avoid the issue. Avalon's counting on all of us, including you."
Avon continued to putter around at his station. "Are you finished with Orac yet? I have something important to use it for, if you're done. I really must congratulate you, Vila. Anyone else might think using a one- hundred- million- credit computer as a gagwriter was a bit of a waste." He walked up to the device and removed the key.
"You don't own Orac, you know," Vila complained. "I haven't finished yet."
"Yes, you have," said Avon with finality.
"Thanks a lot. And you still haven't answered me. Why won't you do something at the cabaret?"
"I didn't do anything last year. Why should I this year?"
"That's the point!" Vila cried. "You let them down last year. These are orphans, Avon, kids whose parents were killed by the Federation. We owe it to them to give them a good time. Plus, Avalon needs the money to keep her hospital going."
Avon sighed. "If it's money you want, Vila, I'll be happy to donate some funds...straight out of a Federation bank, in fact. Just like I did last year. Isn't that enough? Why do I have to humiliate myself in front of a roomful of bratty youngsters whose only claim on my time is that they were unlucky enough to choose dissident parents? Unsuccessful dissident parents, I might add."
The thief regarded his friend skeptically. "You don't fool me, Avon. You're scared." He recoiled a little at the tech's angry flush, but bravely plowed on- -as bravely as a Vila could. "That's right, scared. You're afraid that you won't be able to entertain a bunch of kids. You've no sense of humor at all, Avon, and you take yourself way too seriously. What does it matter if you're not ready for primetime? It's for a good cause."
Avon towered over the little thief. "That's enough, Vila. Spare me the reverse psychology. I am not scared of appearing before an audience of children. I could thrill them better than all of Phe rest of you put together. Especially you and those awful jokes you're making Orac dredge up for you. I have my own reasons for what I do, and I can't expect you to understand any of them. I am not performing and that's final. As for my sense of humor- -I wouldn't expect someone who laughs at his own stupidities to fathom my superior comedic aesthetic." And with that Avon stomped off the flight deck, his nose so high in the air that he almost stomped over Blake and Jenna.
"What's with Mr. Warmth?" Jenna asked.
"And what's bothering you?" Blake followed, noticing Vila's silently seething anger.
"Sometimes he just burns me up!" the thief sputtered. "Thinks he's so much better than the rest of us. Got his nose up in the air all the time. Treats us all like dirt, makes fun of the rebellion. Won't do an act for Avalon's charity benefit. And now he has the nerve to say that his sense of humor is better than mine!"
Jenna and Blake looked at each other. Neither had ever seen him so angry before.
"Vila," Blake began, "he may have a point there. You do tend to make some of the worst jokes I've ever heard."
"Still, Blake, Vila's right," Jenna said. "Avon's getting pretty hard to live with. He has his own set of seasons: ego swells, ego rests, ego swells, ego rests...guess which one we're in now?"
"He's awfully damned useful even so," said Blake. "But I know what you mean. I did not appreciate the Valentine's Day card he sent Servalan, for example. Or the way he keeps borrowing my Head and Shoulders- -what does he need it for, anyhow? What kind of dandruff would dare live in his scalp?"
"And he's getting worse, too," said Jenna.
"Oh, you're just upset that he beat you out for Entertainment Tonight's 'Prettiest Rebel of the Year' award," said Vila, earning a vicious glare from the smuggler.
Blake shook his head. "Anyway, if he keeps this up, he'll be impossible! Even Cally is impatient with him." As if on cue, the Auronae telepath walked onto the flight deck, her nose clearly out of joint.
"Cally, your nose is out of joint," Vila mentioned helpfully. He was always saying useful little things like that.
"Oh," she said. Carefully, she adjusted her nose back to its normal position. "Thanks." Then, her face reassumed its exasperated look. "That's the last time I try to snuggle that ice- cold Alpha again!"
"What happened?" asked Jenna sympathetically. She actually couldn't stand Cally- -who never seemed to put on an ounce regardless of how much she ate while Jenna could just look at food and balloon out- -but felt it was important to maintain a facade of female solidarity on the male- dominated Liberator.
"You all know I'm coming into heat, and it's terribly important for me to find a mate," Cally said, her lack of discretion once again disconcerting her crewmates. Growing up on Auron had deprived her of any sense of propriety. It was only with a lot of effort that they had gotten her to stop talking of her woman's problems at the dinner table. Except for Vila, of course. The Delta had been enthralled by the anatomical exactitude of her descriptions. Blake was almost sorry that he had canceled the thief's subscription to PlayDelta.
"Anyway, I chose Avon as my broodpartner, but he will have nothing to do with me. I came across him in the passageway just now and determined to make one last attempt to gain his acquiescence. But just as I reached for him, he turned away, and I caught my nose on one of those damned studs on his jacket." She rubbed her sore proboscis.
"It's that damned self- importance he carries around like a banner," said Blake. "He's even worse than Servalan in that regard."
"He told me that if he wanted, he could become a better pilot than me in half the time it took me to get my training," said Jenna. "He couldn't find his backside with both hands and a Paserprobe, and he thinks he could be a better pilot than me!"
"He takes himself so seriously," Blake continued. "No sense of humor at all. No lighter side to him, in fact, except when he's picking on Vila."
"Not just me," said Vila. "Gan is getting sick and tired of his 'How's the weather up there?' cracks. And you say my jokes are bad."
For a second, the whole crew was silent, ruminating on the difficulties of trying to share a ship with Avon, even an enormous ship like Liberator.
"You know what I'd like?" said Jenna. "I'd like to pull some kind of trick on him, just to deflate his pomposity a little. Nothing too harmful, just something that would let him know he isn't as important as he thinks he is. Prick that 'I'm- so- serious- and- so- superior..to..you' attitude of his."
"What a neat idea!" said Cally, whose Auronae innocence hadn't yet catalogued the obsolescence of 'neat' as a superlative. "Anything to get through to him. I'm in."
"Me too!" piped Vila. Gan merely nodded, startling the others. As usual, no one had seen him enter.
"I don't know," said Blake. "He's not the type to sit back and accept any kind of humiliation. This might escalate. There was a rebellion last year on Induris Major that was disrupted by a waterballoon fight between two rebel factions. And the only thing worse than Avon as an ally has got to be Avon as an enemy."
Jenna chuckled. "How do you tell the difference? Remember when he wiped your collection of anti- Servalan limericks from the memory bank just so he could store some more suggestive algorithms? No consideration for others at all. I say we get him good! Once and for all!"
Blake nodded. "Yeah, I suppose you're right. But it's got to be something that'll really get his goat, really drive him crazy. Any ideas?"
"Pretend to dump him out an airlock?" asked Jenna.
"Don't you think that would just make him even more of a homicidal maniac than he is now?" Blake pointed out.
Cally shook her head. "The closest we ever came to this kind of a trick on Auron was to change our telepathy receivers to another wavelength and then not tell the intended victim." The others just stared at her. "Okay, so we're not good at it. So sue us!"
"And my limiter won't let me even pretend to hurt someone," said Gan.
"Well, I've got something," said Vila. "I've been using Orac to research old jokes for my act, you know? It turns out there's something just right for this kind of situation, when you really want to get back at someone good. It's what they used to call a 'practical joke,' where the object is to make fun of someone. This particular one is ancient, but it might just work. Now you all listen up..."
He spoke quickly, with real animation. The rest listened, at first with confusion, then with alertness and enthusiasm. When he had finished, he looked around at all of them. "Now, do you think you can do it? You've really got to laugh as if it's the funniest thing you've ever heard. Okay?"
"Fine with me," said Jenna.
"Absolutely," added Cally. Again, Gan just nodded. Vila tried to imagine the big man laughing hysterically, but his mind boggled at the thought.
"What about you, Blake?" asked Jenna. "Will you be able to keep it up?"
"Of course I can," replied the rebel leader. "But I don't understand. That joke makes no sense at all."
"That's the whole point of it!" Vila exclaimed. "It's not supposed to make any sense. Just laugh anyhow. I guarantee it'll drive Avon wild! At least try, Blake. You owe it to the rest of us."
"Well, all right. It had better work, that's all. Now how do we set it up?"
Vila was startled. Here was Blake asking him what to do. He relished the thought. When it came to comedy, Vila Restal was king.
"Okay," he ordered, "I'll start telling you jokes, like I'm rehearsing my act. You laugh at all of them, even if they're not funny- -which, of course, they will be. After Avon gets here, I'll tell a few more, and you laugh even harder at 'em. Then, I'll announce my closer, and tell this one."
He glared at them, as if to emphasize his instructions. "That's when you all fall around the deck laughing. When Avon doesn't get it, I'll repeat the punch line, again and again. Each time, you just laugh even harder, as if it's the funniest thing you've ever heard. Finally, when we're all weak from laughing, we'll just walk off the deck and leave him behind steaming. Blake, you might tell him to work on his sense of humor, since he can't understand a joke that even you get." Vila beamed.
The others nodded. "That's a great plan, Vila," said Jenna. "But we'd better be careful. We don't want him to kill us, after all."
"Talk about die laughing," said Gan. The others started at the aptness of the remark. They weren't used to Gan saying anything intelligent at all.
"Good, Vila. I approve," said Blake. "Get started."
The thief stood up. "Good evening, ladies and Mutoids. Gosh, my cabin on the Liberator is so small, the Space Rats are round- shouldered." At this point, Zen played a recorded rim- shot. Vila went on: "I wouldn't say Commander Servalan's hair is too short, but if she gets it clipped again, she won't have any eyelashes left." Another computerized rim- shot.
As Vila went on and on, the rest of the crew sat stone- faced. Except for Blake. He was chortling from the first hackneyed sorry excuse for a joke to the last. Even Cally, with her complete ignorance of human ways, found Vila's routine to be less funny than an evening with Travis.
But not Blake. He was eating it all up and coming back for seconds. And thirds. And fourths. His odd, almost pained- sounding laughter echoed forlornly through the cavernous flight deck.
As bad joke followed bad joke, Jenna, for one, was thankful for Gan's limiter. The big man seemed in anguish, clutching his head like it were a bomb about to go off. I hope this is over soon, she thought. I never dreamed I'd be praying for Avon to show up.
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