[A dingy warehouse, clearly in some state of disrepair and long since abandoned. A Federation trooper steps from behind a heap of crates, carrying a long rifle. The trooper moves silently down an aisle, cautiously looking right and left. On an upper gantry, another trooper steps out of the shadows. The troopers silently acknowledge each other. Three more troopers join the other two. They confer silently and move forward through the warehouse. Suddenly there is a shout. Ten stocky, wild-looking figures in ragged outfits clutching identical rifles suddenly burst out from under cover and open fire on the troopers. There is a blue crackle and one falls, but the remaining troopers raise their rifles and open fire. All bar two of the attackers are immediately felled, and the survivors are gunned down from behind by the last trooper on a gantry. Immediately a siren sounds briefly and bright lights snap on, filling the warehouse with light. A slow, mocking clap begins as Kreel emerges from the shadows accompanied by a stocky, greasy-looking warrior dressed in slightly grander rags than the others.]
KREEL: Well done, all. Your scout party managed to take down a grand total of one aggressor before the entire force was wiped out.
SORLAI: This is a training ground, Space Commander. They are here to learn. If they knew it all already, training would not be needed.
[Kreel grimaces at the smell of Sorlai. The troopers are helping the attackers upright.]
KREEL: I don’t dispute that, Sorlai. But your warriors are a bunch of cutthroats. They are not soldiers. They have no discipline or eagerness to learn.
SORLAI: You lost one of your men in this session, Space Commander.
KREEL: Yes, it only took three days of training for you to aim the plasma rifles the right way round.
[Hissing with displeasure, Sorlai leads Kreel over to one corner.]
SORLAI: Your President chose you for this task, Space Commander. It would be best for all concerned if you completed it.
KREEL: Your army of violent savages barely numbers fifty. You cannot take over a whole planet with such a force, and that is a fact.
SORLAI: We do not need to take over Tarl, merely its major temple.
KREEL: Even that would be beyond your riff-raff.
SORLAI: At the moment. They are many things and they are not many others. But they are always eager to learn how to kill. And now the Federation lacks its vampires, and its “Ee-hess-dee” are gone with the missiles and your magic potions, we are all you have to work with.
KREEL: That IS a depressing concept.
SORLAI: It is true. We need each other, Commander. The operation will continue.
[Sorlai leans close to emphasize this, and Kreel gags.]
KREEL: Maybe if ALL of your warriors turned up for training we might get somewhere.
[He moves off. Sorlai frowns.]
SORLAI: I hadn’t thought of that. Where are you going?
KREEL: For some fresh air. There must be some on this planet!
[Liberator hangs in space.]
KYBEN: [VO] So, let me just get this clear in my mind...
[Liberator Flight Deck. Everyone bar Blake sits in the pit. Orac is switched on.]
KYBEN: Avon convinced the five most powerful non-aligned planets to join forces into an Alliance against the Federation. And because the Federation use Pylene 50 rather than plasma rifles, if the border systems were all immune to Pylene 50, they'd be able to fight off the invasion?
VILA: That's right. [counts on fingers] Betafarl, Khom, Hirriel, Lovis and Tarl.
SOOLIN: All the leaders agreed at a cease-fire of hostilities and then focusing their attention against the Federation.
KYBEN: It can't have been easy.
VILA: It wasn't. Turned out the President of Betafarl wanted to take over the galaxy first, so he tricked us and nearly killed us all.
KYBEN: Did you kill him?
SOOLIN: No. His ship exploded before we could do anything.
KYBEN: Well, it must have worked, all the border systems are still free.
BLAKE: It only worked because Avon released the formula to the antitoxin. Pylene 50 is useless, which is why the Federation is changing tactics. The border systems are low priority at the moment.
TARRANT: The Alliance was made and it's still in effect!
[Blake and Kyben are slightly surprised by the passion in Tarrant's voice.]
TARRANT: It's only thanks to Zeeona that the whole thing didn't collapse - she contacted Betafarl and managed to sort the mess out before she... [calmer] before she died. Betafarl placed itself under the temporary control of Tarl and the Alliance held.
KYBEN: Who's Zeeona?
SOOLIN: [Carefully] Zukan's daughter. She was... she was a great help.
VILA: Tarrant's right, the Alliance only held itself together because she convinced Betafarl to participate without its warlord. Would be nice to assume the Rebel Alliance could cope without us, but obviously that's too much to expect. Nothing lasts any time at all nowadays.
[Vila directs the comment up at Blake, who doesn’t react.]
BLAKE: Have you finished decoding the message, Orac?
ORAC: Of course I have. It is simply a request to go to Tarl and a series of specific ident signals to ensure the Alliance ships do not attack the Liberator. Once the signals are used, we will be escorted to Tarl directly and a meeting with His Lordship Chumran Boorva.
BLAKE: You're sure this isn't a trap?
TARRANT: It won't be.
BLAKE: How can you be so sure?
TARRANT: Never mind that, just take it from me. Boorva has nothing to gain by betraying us! Besides, the Liberator is more than a match for any of Betafarl raiding ships.
KYBEN: He’s right, Tarrant, there’s no reason to...
TARRANT: It is NOT a trap! We made something with that Alliance that lasted! It HAS lasted! Too many people died for it not to!
SOOLIN: [Quickly] Either way, what do you think of it, Orac?
ORAC: All relevant data confirms that there are no Federation ships within six million spacials of the border systems and the area has been clear of Federation involvement for the last three weeks.
BLAKE: So, if it is a trap, they’ve been lying in wait for months.
TARRANT: Why trap us? They could have attacked the ship the moment we finished dropping off the troopers or any moment since then? It’s not a trap. Zen, set course for the planet Tarl, direct flight, speed standard by eight.
[Blake opens his mouth to speak.]
TARRANT: No countermands. [Sweetly] You can trust me, can’t you, Blake?
BLAKE: Of course. It’s not like you’ve ever jumped to the wrong conclusion and caused a bloodbath because you didn’t think things through, is it?
[Tarrant looks dangerously annoyed. Kyben raises her voice.]
KYBEN: This is getting us nowhere! We’re all on this ship together, and it’s bad enough we’ve got the whole of the Federation against us without you all trying to kill each other in a bloodlust fever. We’re going to Tarl but if there’s the slightest sign of a pursuit ship when we get there, we turn back as fast as we can. All of us. Agreed? [Beat] Agreed?!
[Slightly shame faced, Tarrant nods. Blake does to. Soolin and Vila both nod. Kyben takes a deep breath.]
KYBEN: Now, if you’ll all excuse me, I stopped being on watch three hours ago, and I’d like a chance to rest for the first time since we saved the entire universe.
[Kyben turns and strides out. The others watch her go.]
ZEN: Information. Course computed. New heading set for the planet Tarl. Estimated time of arrival, one hour thirty two minutes.
[Serrus. The mist hangs over the weed-ridden city. Kreel’s pursuit ship can be seen parked at the outskirts.]
[Kreel’s ship. Duty Tracer Banks sits at his station, uniform scruffy and unbuttoned, next to an unfinished game of Galactic Monopoly. Data is scrolling down the monitor screen as a mechanical voice intones the information.]
COMPUTER: ...dubbed Serrus by the surviving inhabitants who developed an immunity to the Phobon Plague. Their immunity has been unable to be reproduced by scientific investigation teams, leading to the Federation deciding to allow the plague warning beacon to continue to function. Recent data suggests further mutation in the natives but no further study has been carried out. Topographical notes: mercury swamps have been located at the equator, and unusual orbit has caused seasons lasting no less than twenty-five years with a mean temperature of 86 degrees during winter. Meteor showers are common due to the thinning of the atmosphere, particularly over the major continent...
[Kreel enters the flight deck wreathed in steamy air. He sneezes twice. Banks switches off the computer and rises.]
BANKS: Welcome back, Space Commander. How did the training session go?
KREEL: Pointless! Like it always is! Whatever is happening to these primitives is clearly removing their brain power – half of them forgot to turn up for training!
BANKS: Lack of discipline, there.
KREEL: Discipline? Banks, this planet is supposed to be a dictatorship! They can’t even get that right! [Coughs] And the stench! This has to be the least appealing planet I’ve ever been to! None of the natives even understand what hygiene is, let alone practice it...
BANKS: Starting to wish you were back on Zircona, sir?
KREEL: Anywhere would be better than there! ANYWHERE! [Coughs] Banks. Has Space Command responded to the communique yet?
BANKS: Nothing on any channels, Commander. [indicates the board] Another game?
[With a sigh, Kreel sits down beside Banks.]
KREEL: Three months we’ve been stuck here. Two of the men are already dead from the stench. Three of them are showing signs of plague.
BANKS: All atmospheric tests agree that the plague burned out sixty years ago, sir.
KREEL: Or it mutated. Like everything else on this miserable rock. And what are we doing? Playing Galactic Monopoly! We aren’t helping maintain the structure of the Federation by marinating in our own filth down here. [sighs] Whatever information the President had, it’s wrong. [pause] Get the game ready, man! I’m on a winning streak.
[Banks adjusts the game. Kreel picks up his playing disc and regards it sadly.]
KREEL: We should be doing this for real. Out there, in the stars. Not forgotten and abandoned...
BANKS: We’re not abandoned here, sir. The Tarl strategy has the twin aims of destroying the Rebel Alliance and capturing the Liberator...
KREEL: The Liberator, Banks, hasn’t been sighted in the border systems! Ever!
[A communicator chimes.]
KREEL: Get that, Banks. Probably more of the men have collapsed.
[Banks picks up a headset and listens to it.]
BANKS: Pursuit One receiving? Yes? Confirmed? Right. [lowers headset] The Liberator’s been sighted entering this border system.
[Kreel nods philosophically.]
KREEL: Mention this conversation again and I’ll have you shot as a deserter. [rises] Right, you know what to do, we’ve discussed it enough times. I’ll round up the men, you send the signal to Federation High Command.
[The Liberator moves past a moon.]
[Kyben’s room. She sits on her bed, hugging her knees to her chest, looking at nothing in particular. The door chimes. Kyben wearily rises to her feet and opens the door. Soolin is standing there.]
KYBEN: Hello, Soolin. What can I do for you?
SOOLIN: We’ve entered the border systems. The reception committee is as friendly as promised and we’ll be in orbit in the next ten minutes. I thought you’d like to know.
KYBEN: You could have used the intercom for that.
SOOLIN: I’ve had worse excuses to leave the flight deck.
KYBEN: They haven’t started arguing again, have they?
SOOLIN: No. Just glaring at each other a lot. I’m not sure if it’s an improvement.
KYBEN: You want me to shout at them again?
SOOLIN: No. But you were very good at it.
KYBEN: You get to be when you’re a mother of a family.
SOOLIN: I’ve heard it said.
[Kyben nods, not quite trusting herself to speak.]
SOOLIN: I know what it’s like, Kyben. To lose everything.
KYBEN: [Wipes eyes] I miss them so much, I... I should have... died with them.
SOOLIN: Avon thought otherwise. And he’s... he never was sentimental. You can do a lot more alive than you can dead.
KYBEN: Like you, you mean?
SOOLIN: Yes. Every single creature involved in the death of my family is dead. Every last one. And I killed them all.
KYBEN: Did it make it better? At all?
SOOLIN: I don’t know. I can’t remember much before my family was killed.
KYBEN: And if I do the same, kill the man who killed my family, what then?
SOOLIN: Worry about it after he’s dead. You’re a medic. You’ve got something else to focus on.
KYBEN: Saving lives rather than taking them.
SOOLIN: You think Space Commander Kreel deserves to live?
KYBEN: Does anyone deserve to die? Really?
[Soolin shrugs, clearly uncomfortable with the conversation.]
SOOLIN: You tell me! Does Kreel deserve to live after what he’s done?
KYBEN: Suppose not. So, what are we going to do about Tarl?
[Liberator teleport room. Blake is putting on a teleport bracelet. He, Tarrant, Vila and Soolin wear gun belts. Tarrant is setting coordinates on the console.]
BLAKE: Those escort ships are keeping their distance at the moment but there’s no guarantee they’ll stay that way. All the battle computers are online, the neutron blasters are ready for instant use, as is the force wall. If any of those ships does anything remotely threatening, bring us up immediately. Or get Orac to do it if necessary.
KYBEN: Do you all have to go down there?
SOOLIN: We came to an agreement.
VILA: Yeah, Kyben, we all trust you not to run out on us.
KYBEN: But you don’t trust Blake to maroon you down there?
BLAKE: It seems not.
VILA: Fair’s fair, Nij, you don’t trust us not to maroon you there either.
SOOLIN: Besides which, Boorva will be more reasonable if he’s talking to people he knows. Since Dayna and Avon are dead, it has to be Tarrant, Vila or me.
TARRANT: We decided to go all together. Strength in numbers.
KYBEN: Why not use the Sevener?
BLAKE: Boorva already knows about the teleport and will probably be expecting it. This way we have the Sevener as a back up plan. He might not know about us having access two spacecraft.
KYBEN: What actually does Boorva want? Do any of us know yet?
BLAKE: No idea. Whatever it is, it’s hampering an Alliance that’s run itself fine for the last year and doesn’t involve the Federation, at least not directly.
TARRANT: It’s best you let me do the talking down there.
BLAKE: And why, might I ask, is that?
TARRANT: Avon and I were the ones that contacted each Warlord. Out of the four of us, I’m the one he knows best and the one he’s most likely to trust. Right. Coordinates set according to Orac’s sums.
[Tarrant rises to join the others.]
BLAKE: Meaning we will be exactly where they’re expecting us. Perfect if it’s a trap.
TARRANT: [Angry] Blake, try using your intelligence. It’s NOT a trap!
BLAKE: Then you won’t mind me using you as a human shield, since we’re all in such perfect safety?
KYBEN: Don’t start, you two!
[Vila, Soolin, Blake and Tarrant move into the transmission area. Kyben sits behind the console.]
KYBEN: Good luck.
BLAKE: We’ll probably need it.
[Tarrant glares at him.]
KYBEN: Play nicely today.
[Kyben activates the teleport and the others dematerialize.]
- to be continued...