S I X T Y - T W O








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Right on! The cannon ball with Pikkard's name on it that landed just as Pieter and Ero were struggling on top of the popup, with Captain Pikkard trying to pull them part--disassembled the Argo, of course, sending the Cybernauts, Captain, and oars and boards flying as before into the bone-chilling water of the Sound.

They were not due another ship to sail in, on two counts: they had chosen termination, and the cannon shot had connected, sending them into oblivion, since they weren't allotted another replacement. And without a ship they couldn't swim all the way to Trial Island, nor would the rules permit them to borrow one either.

In any case, it looked hopeless for them. The Black Ship's crew immediately plunged into the water, turning into sharks which headed immediately to pick off the Cybernauts, one by one, including poor Horace, who had been knocked into the water and couldn't get his soggy wet wings to fly properly.

This time Captain Wolvewoeld himself jumped in, turning into a Great White (fitting his personality like a glove), just to deal personally with Captain Pikkard.

A bell sounded, and a couple buzzers that blasted the whole scene of havoc and carnage so loudly all the sharks were momentarily stunned. A popup appeared on Captain Wolvewoeld's lower jaw, just as he was about to gulp down Captain Pikkard whole.

"Termination completed. All weapons must be fired with shots remaining. Does Questor wish to fire remaining shot in cannon? Press spacebar once if Questor wishes remaining ball Fired. Press twice to Hold remaining shot for any future games."

Staring into the very mouth of his imminent, painful demise, the quick-witted Captain Pikkard thought awfully fast. He had no idea where the cannon had landed after his ship was blown apart. Surely, it wouldn't hurt anything now! If he said to Hold, what did that mean? They would never again be in position to use it anyway. There would be no future games--this was it--it was all or nothing, and they had, clearly, won nothing and had completely failed!

Not thinking it mattered in the least now, Captain Pikkard said, "Fire," pressing the spacebar once.

The popup buzzed again. "Will Questor direct Firing, or will it be fired at random? Press spacebar once for Directed Fire, and twice for Random Fire."

Captain Pikkard was in a frenzied state of mind by this time. He couldn't bear the situtation, hanging by the teeth of the Great White and being asked the most ridiculous questions! Without even thinking, or being able to think about it, he cried, "Oh, Random!" And he hit the spacebar twice.

A final message from the popup:

"Does Questor prefer ship to be temporarily restored for the firing? If affirmative, press spacebar once, negative, twice."

The captain hit the spacebar, thinking at least he and his beloved crew could get a last glimpse of their ship before they were all "terminated"! The Argo V sprang back into existence, in all its beauty--so very real, it made Captain Pikkard want to reach out and climb aboard. But he was given no such opportunity.

The cannon was already set in place, and a ball was fired immediately, at random.

The Quest was terminated immediately after the last cannon shot, sparing the agonizing deaths of Captain Pikkard and Captain Wolvewoeld his dinner, simultaneously.

The Black Ship, as a deadly, zero-sum-game-playing virus independent of Wally's original programming, remained in existence--but it had been cookied. Once back on board the Black Ship, all restored to their human shapes, more or less, they were celebrating their resounding victory over the Argo V and its Captain and crew when the White Ship's belated cannon ball, which was a Wraparound, interrupted the drunken festivities centered on a huge keg of tequila seasoned with with a traditional worm--albeit a fat, man-faced one, the last transmogrification of a former very corrupt and grovelling state legislator, Foxy Benedict.

The ball, after taking the Black Ship and its crew and captain out, continued, right through the cyberspace envelope enclosing the Game and into the surrounding host. This was none other than an Alien Entity, the last of its kind, the one with the vampire spirit-form that had sucked the faith out of a whole twin world, leaving a lifeless, dead and toxic sea full of rotting fish, not to mention the bodies of most every human being it could get its fangs into. The result was the implosion that creates a Black Hole, since the star-stone's titantic energies now turned inward, pulling everything in, including all light.

Thanks to Captain Pikkard and his faith-based crew, the Carbuncle had finally met its match, or rather, its opposite. They had not listened to Pieter or compromised themselves in the least. They had remained true to the original Quest--and the Prize, the Golden Fleece, was theirs. But what was it? They had not actually won it--it had not even come within their sight or grasp, and they had never reached Trial Island where they thought the Fleece was to be found. Yet that wasn't necessary. It had been won for them, the full price paid for it, long, long before they had come into existence. It was theirs, simply by amazing grace, won for them on the Cross of Yeshua, not because they earned it by being champions on a long, dangerous quest facing great dangers on sea and land, along with fights with many deadly enemies. No, they had been accounted champions, simply because they had not abandoned faith. They had been faithful, in other words--faithful to the end, whether they had foreseen or guessed the exact end or not. Success, then, was theirs--but not by anything they had achieved, as no man, except Yeshua in their stead, could possibly be successful in a struggle with the Arch-Enemy of Faith, the Vampire and its Star-Stone.

Only one Cybernaut, Pieter the turncoat, did not share in the Prize awarded, ultimately, to Captain Pikkard and his crew--as he showed up at the Black Ship's victory party to join the celebrating pirates, his body reduced to a playing card's dimensions. He did not seem to notice that or even care--he was so at home in his true element, feeling very pleased with himself too, and accepting the camaraderie of his fellow pirates until the moment that the tardy but right on time Wraparound put a sudden end to his new and promising career as Judas's brother.

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