Note: A longer version of When The Chips Are Down was written
and performed in 1985. This is the shorter version written for Amongst
The Best of Shockwave Live! Vol. 3 in 1990 and can be heard on the
second side of that Shockwave
Distribution Tape. When The Chips Are Down is one of the
Shockwave radio plays that deals with ethical issues. Others include
You, The Jury; The Secret Life of Wally Mitter; and You're
Riding The Shockwave.
CAPTAIN: PREPARE FOR LAUNCH! Are we ready?
CREWMAN: No, Captain! That's what I've been trying to tell you. I don't know anything about these new computers and...
CAPTAIN: Hmm, navigation only eh? Send up a computer technician!
PFC JR: Private First Class Floppy Junior, reporting. SIR!
CAPTAIN: Are you familiar with this computer, PFC Junior.
PFC JR: No problem, SIR!
CAPTAIN: I like your style, PFC Junior. You're no Apple polisher.
PFC JR: Thank you, SIR!
CAPTAIN: (officiously, as into a mike) This is The Captain of the good ship, Lollipop. On behalf of myself and the crew I'd like to welcome aboard all the passengers headed for the asylum planet Bedlam, and hope there you can receive the treatment which has failed on Earth. Normally this trip takes seven generations, but that won't do you much good, so this ship has been chosen to try out the first faster than light drive. The trip is expected to take less than two years, but this being the first run, no one knows for sure. We are about to take off. Please fasten your seat belts and extinguish all smoking material. Make sure all your trays are secured and your seats are in an upright position. Thank you. Have a nice day. (to CREWMAN, sounding VERY Captainlike) Is Navigation ready?
CREWMAN: (dubiously) Well, yes, but...
CAPTAIN: (More Captainlike) Do we have clearance for launch?
PFC JR: Yes SIR!
CAPTAIN: (getting more excited) Ship to ground fuel lines disengaged?
CREWMAN: Well, it looks ok from here, but...
CAPTAIN: Anti-physics perambulator synchronized?
PFC JR: Probably, SIR!
CAPTAIN: Is the little green light on?
CAPTAIN: (Dramatically) Push the button, Max!
CREWMAN: (anticlimactically) Who?
CAPTAIN: (exasperated) Just do it, ok?
CAPTAIN: (Pause) We're launched?
CREWMAN: Yes, but...
CAPTAIN: That's it?
PFC JR: Yes sir, we're already out of the solar system and completely cut off from Earth.
CAPTAIN: Ok, turn off the seat belt sign and start serving lunch.
CAPTAIN: Pfeh. Why is everything important so boring?
JASON: What did you expect, a parade?
CAPTAIN: Yes, now that you mention it. That would be just great. Can you arrange it? Who are you?
JASON: Jason Reignboughs, playwright, conceptual artist, before dinner speaker, and inventor of the Pot 'O Gold Drive, at your service.
CAPTAIN: What are you doing here?
JASON: Philosophers have been trying to answer that question for thousands of years. But that's not important now.
CAPTAIN: Oy! I hate having to work with volunteers. Still, one must make do. You! Where did you go through basic, soldier?
PFC JR: Frostbite Falls Junior High School, Sir! Basic, Fortran, Cobol, Pascal, and Advanced Video Game Technique, Sir!
CAPTAIN: And you?
CREWMAN: I read a lot.
CAPTAIN: You mean, you're not part of the crew, either?
CREWMAN: No, that's what I've been trying to tell you. I worked for Nominal Semiconductor, the company that manufactures the chips all the computers use. They didn't test them, but sold them to the government anyway. I blew the whistle, but instead of getting a medal for telling the truth the matter was mostly hushed up and they're shipping me off to Bedlam to keep me quiet.
CAPTAIN: Great. What's you're story? Are you one of the loonies or are you part of the crew.
PFC JR: I think I'm part of the crew, sir. I volunteered for this mission, and spent thousands of training hours playing Nintendo, Sega, Atari,and lots of Saturday morning cartoons; but I didn't recieve orders, as such, I just got a letter telling me to come here. I hope I'm part of the team. SIR!
CAPTAIN: Impressive qualifications. Say, did I ever tell you that I scored less than negative 110,000 on Ms. Dada?
PFC JR & CREWMAN: (impressed) Wow!
JASON: Well, I once scored exactly zero on Dada Knows Best.
CAPTAIN & PFC JR & CREWMAN: Wow!!
CAPTAIN: And you invented the Pot 'O Gold Drive?
JASON: Oh yes! I wanted to go off into the sunset with something memorable. Hence the Pot 'O Gold Drive at the end of the Reignbough's career. This trial run could be dangerous, so I got volunteered.
CAPTAIN: And you named it The Lollipop because it's a good ship?
JASON: No, it's called The Lollipop because they were suckers to use it.
CAPTAIN: You're crazy!
JASON: Thank you, you're not so normal yourself.
CAPTAIN: Thank you... but I can't run a ship with a crew full of conceptual artists.
JASON: I could.
CAPTAIN: For how long.
JASON: Good point.
CAPTAIN: I need responsible crew members.
JASON: I resent that! I'm responsible... just kinda weird.
CAPTAIN: Weird is fine, but I need to know who's going to run the ship.
MMPI: I'm sure I can help.
CAPTAIN: Why are you here?
MMPI: Philosophers have been trying to answer that question for thousands of years. But that's not important now. I'm Magnum Mnemonic, Private Investigator. Determining degrees of sanity is my business. You may call me MMPI.
JASON: Question Authority!
MMPI: That's right, I'm the question authority.
CAPTAIN: Good. I'm going to send these so-called crew members up to you one at a time for testing. Start with Jason.
JASON: (sarcastically) Thanks.
CAPTAIN: C'mon, crew!
(Captain, Crewman, PFC Jr. Exit)
MMPI: All these questions are 'agree' or 'disagree,' though you may answer 'yes' or 'no,' if you prefer.
MMPI: NOT YET! *ahem* Now, the first question. Sometimes my cereal talks to me.
JASON: It does? Isn't it supposed to?
MMPI: NO NO NO! That's a QUESTION! For YOU! Let's try another one, shall we?
MMPI: *sigh* All right, here we go. Sometimes I think I'm a secret messenger of god.
JASON: I get it! This is a test to see if I can keep a secret! If I say 'no' either god hasn't chosen me as a secret messenger, or I'm lying. If I say 'yes' than I'm either crazy or undeserving of god's trust! Now that's subtle!
MMPI: Alllll right. Let's try the direct approach. Why do they think you're crazy?
JASON: I told them. Of course, they didn't believe me. They never do. But then I invented the Pot 'O Gold Drive. That through them for a loop.
MMPI: How did you develop a faster than light drive?
JASON: Well, I was sitting around, one day, ruminating on the concept that light is merely the absense of darkness. Take away all the dark, and what is left isŠ Light! So it occurred to me... faster than light drives are merely the absense of NON-faster than light drives. Eliminate all the drives which will send a ship at speeds slower or equal to the speed of light, and what is left is.. faster!
MMPI: And that worked?
JASON: Ipso facto QB VII.
MMPI: (let this sink in) I'm done with you. NEXT!
JASON: Ah, I thought he might send you up next. Allow me to introduce Abbott Ann Costello...
ANN: (wait for laugh) Two Hearts!
JASON: ...the Non-sequetarian.
ANN: My hovercraft is full of eels!
MMPI: (hopelessly) Oh, this is going to be fun. I can tell. Let's get on with it. (in question asking voice) I usually like artichokes.
ANN: Hearts and flowers for Algernon.
MMPI: (getting annoyed) That counts as a 'yes.' (pause) Sometimes the streets only go one way.
ANN: Anchors aweigh down south in Dixie where my cup runneth overtime. And Timbuck, too!
MMPI: (seething) Uh huh. I have the patience of an impatient rock.
ANN: That's a mighty fine line, but no man is an island, though some women are inland and some are in Finland. Can you loan me five?
MMPI: (losing patience) NOW LOOK! You're not making my job any easier! I want a straight response from you, and I want it now! Do you hear me?
ANN: All right, all right. I won't take you're silly test, but I do have a 'good news/bad news' joke for you.
MMPI: Just peachy, but I'll bite. What's the good news?
ANN: (like you believe it) God is coming!
MMPI: I've heard this one before. The bad news is that she's black, right?
ANN: No. They're athiests.
MMPI: (pause) NEXT!
(Ann leaves, Arthur enters)
MMPI: Hello. And what's your name?
ARTHUR: Arthur R.R.. Asimov.
MMPI: And why do they think you're crazy?
ARTHUR: I write science fiction for a living.
MMPI: (wait for laughter to die down) NEXT!
(Jason and Captain and Crewman come back)
MMPI: What are you doing here?
JASON: Philosophers have been...
MMPI: NEVER MIND!
CREWMAN: Everybody else took the written test. The computer is crunching the data now.
MMPI: I wish you hadn't done that.
CAPTAIN: Why not?
MMPI: All the computers on board use chips were made by Nominal Semiconductor. They might work just fine, but there's no way of knowing.
CREWMAN: Aaargh! I knew it! We might be doomed! Even worse, we might not!
CAPTAIN: So test everyone yourself.
MMPI: Oh, that won't help. My tests are based on computer projections. Besides, I'm not sure I'm part of the crew either. I never got official notice, but there were these men in black...
CAPTAIN: But that means...
JASON: Who tests the testers?
CAPTAIN: Hey! Who's going to run the ship? This is serious... isn't it?
JASON: We can get there on autopilot, if we have to. The question is, will they believe us on Bedlam. Their computers use the same untested chips, but they don't know about the possibility they might be unreliable.
MMPI: And they use the same standardized test I use. They'll lock us all up for sure.
CAPTAIN: But, but, but...
MMPI: We should go back, and be tested properly.
JASON: Did you ever consider the possibility that not wanting to be tested for sanity is a test for intelligence.
MMPI: Oh, I don't know about that...
CREWMAN: And we can't be sure that any new test will be more reveiling. Govenment scandals are reliable. Like, f'rinstance, the scandal involving this ship. They'll just ship us all out again, tests or no. And we won't be part of the crew.
CAPTAIN: So what do we do?
JASON: We can't go forward, and we can't go back... so let's go somewhere else. It's a big universe out there.
CAPTAIN: Hmmm... We have enough people to start a colony...
MMPI: What about people who don't want to go?
CAPTAIN: They can return in the lifeboats. It'll take a while, but some people prefer to know what's at the end of a journey.
MMPI: I'll make an announcement and explain the situation. (exits)
JASON: And I'll boil some water. (exits)
CREWMAN: Are you talking to me?
CAPTAIN: The job is yours if you want it.
CREWMAN: Yes... sir.
CAPTAIN: Good. Turn the ship hard a port and head off, oh, thataway.
CREWMAN: Yes SIR! (both exit)