[Liberator hangs above Tarl.]
[Cathedral. Vila, Soolin, Blake and Tarrant teleport in. Five armed guards are waiting. Immediately Soolin and Blake draw their guns. The guards exchange looks of mild surprise.]
GUARD: We mean you no harm, strangers. We are to take you to Lord Boorva.
[Soolin studies the guards, then nods and holsters her gun. The others relax.]
BLAKE: Just a moment. [into bracelet] Kyben? Down and safe.
KYBEN: [VO] Not a trap then?
BLAKE: [Sighs] No. Not a trap. [to Tarrant] So far, it looks like I was wrong.
TARRANT: Must be a novel experience for you, then.
BLAKE: I try not to make a habit of them.
VILA: Haven’t done very well so far.
SOOLIN: Not in front of strangers, you three.
GUARD: Please. Accompany us.
[They move off through the cathedral.]
[Earth. Residence One. President Anders enters his office followed by his aide.]
ANDERS: The report on Avon is unsatisfactory. The head of forensic sciences should be able to give me more than the word ‘unknown’ eleven times. Have him replaced. And shot. I want a full analysis and the cause of death by tonight.
[Anders sits down behind his desk, still talking.]
ANDERS: Since the universe is still in one piece I assume Quantum Force was successful.
AIDE: Sir. They’ve called in from Stardust.
ANDERS: Partially successful, then. Their secondary mission was to seize the Liberator, was it not?
AIDE: According to Captain Johnson’s report, Agent Smith and Section Leader Abel were killed in the fighting of YU8, sir. It seems none of the surviving force knew about the secondary mission, and were returned as arranged.
ANDERS: And no doubt this message was only received AFTER the Liberator left the system?
AIDE: [Shrugs helplessly] Sorry sir.
ANDERS: Yes, well, I suppose as there will be another tomorrow, we shall have to settle for stopping Blake then. It also means we’ll have to rely on Kreel and his ilk for the moment. Using the same tactics that have failed continually for last six years...
ANDERS: Nothing. Any further news?
AIDE: Another sixteen demonstrations on the inner worlds. Protests over the new legislation.
ANDERS: Fine. Give the demonstrators five standard time units to disband totally or they will be deemed rebel insurgents by that same legislation and executed immediately.
AIDE: If you’re certain, Mister President.
ANDERS: It worked on the outer worlds, didn’t it?
AIDE: More and more protests are being made every day, sir.
ANDERS: Then double the doses of suppressants in the planetary food rations.
AIDE: Supplies on the outer colonies are running low, sir, it won’t be anything more than a stopgap.
ANDERS: It will be enough.
[Another aide enters.]
ANDERS: What is it now, Rence?
AIDE 2: A new communication from Space Commander Kreel, Mister President.
ANDERS: Ignore it. He’s to remain out there until he breaks down the Alliance.
AIDE 2: Sir, he reports the Liberator is en route to Tarl.
[Anders looks up, surprised.]
ANDERS: Well, now. That IS interesting.
[Cathedral. Boorva stands at a lectern, studying a display screen built into it. The guards escort the crew into the chamber and stand to one side. Boorva does not look up from the screen.]
BOORVA: Back before the beginning of all calendars, when history was naught but a dream, the Gods fought the most terrible and bloody of wars, from which all conflict and violence is merely a dim echo. Their weapons tore holes in the fabric of what is, loosing onto creation a tide of total corruption. The Gods realized their war was not worth such damage, and immediately blocked the breaches they had made in the universe, forming whole worlds of the righteous to stand guard against the horror that lie beyond, waiting to be released. And Tarl, the most powerful and important of the God’s structures, will never sway to any power from this universe or any other.
[Blake starts clapping slowly, unimpressed.]
BLAKE: Utter nonsense.
[Boorva lazily crosses to them.]
BOORVA: Indeed it is. One step from superstitions laid down before the New Calendar, kept only out of tradition and nostalgia for the good old days rather than any genuine belief. It is patently absurd. Just as your arrival here on this planet. I requested Avon and Avon alone.
BLAKE: Avon is unavailable.
BOORVA: Then leave.
TARRANT: Avon is unavailable, Lord Boorva, because he is dead.
BOORVA: And how exactly did the renegade die?
[Vila, Tarrant and Soolin look at Blake, who is focussed on Boorva.]
BOORVA: I don’t believe you. The Avon I knew valued his own life above all else. That he died and any of you survived is a true paradox. Is he really dead? Or has he faked his death merely to escape the rest of you?
VILA: Why would he do that?
BOORVA: From what is heard, you have the Liberator, the most powerful craft in the universe. With your teleports and neutron blasters, cloaking devices and the most deadly missiles created by humanity, all you have done is dwindle your numbers since we last encountered each other.
BLAKE: You’ll notice that there is a sudden drought of Mutoids throughout the Federation.
BOORVA: And the deaths that have been caused because of that? Do you count that a success, outlaw?
BLAKE: My name is Blake.
BOORVA: I know who you are. The son of the great rebel, a boy who is clearly held in more respect by me then your own followers.
TARRANT: Lord Boorva, you requested Avon’s help. In the interests of the Alliance, we’re here to help in any way that we can. So what exactly can we do for you?
BOORVA: Tarrant, is it not?
TARRANT: Yes, Lord Boorva. Del Tarrant.
BOORVA: Well, Tarrant...
[Boorva from now own focuses his attention onto Tarrant rather than the others. Blake folds his arms, trying not to show how annoyed he is.]
BOORVA: As you may or may not be aware, Tarl is the organizing principal of the Rebel Alliance. Hirrial, Khom and Lovis still maintain themselves but their space fleets are unified with that of Tarl and Betafarl.
BLAKE: You run Betafarl now?
BOORVA: My planet is the strongest one of the Alliance, and with Zukan dead its people were leaderless.
TARRANT: Zeeona authorized Boorva’s takeover. It was the first thing we got Orac to do once he was working again. [deep breath] The Alliance has gone well then, Lord Boorva?
BOORVA: It has. Avon’s decision to broadcast the antitoxin formula rendered the Federation’s pacification program useless. They have not the resources for full scale war and so their interests turned inwards to maintain their territory. With you and your comrades distracting them and reducing their forces further, there is a chance of freedom in the galaxy.
VILA: Nice to know it’s all been worth it.
BOORVA: [Ignores Vila] The Federation would require all their might to attack the border systems, and to do
that would leave their own world unguarded. Thus, they have left us be. But if the Alliance was broken by a third party, they would be able to send the bare minimum of ships and troopers and seize control of the border systems.
BLAKE: Obviously. Have you done anything about it?
BOORVA: I have done enough. The warlords have all spoken with me. Told me their secrets. Should Khom or Lovis be attacked, I will know how to defend them, the best strategies and the codes necessary to take over the planet should the leaders perish.
SOOLIN: They trust YOU with that information?
BOORVA: Why should they not? Your ‘civilized’ society runs on mistrust. We ‘primitives’ stay true to our words. Besides, I have neither the means nor the inclination to take over the other worlds. Should I try, I know the other worlds would unite against me. However, it seems I have made a flaw.
VILA: You don’t say.
BOORVA: What’s the problem?
BLAKE: He is. [Boorva glares at him] You’ve made yourself, your planet, so important to the Alliance. If you fell there would be real anarchy.
BOORVA: It is a truth that no man can ever plan for his own death.
SOOLIN: So, who’s trying to kill you?
BOORVA: This is no mere assassination attempt. A full scale attack on Tarl is being prepared as we speak.
VILA: I thought the Alliance could fight off an attack?
BOORVA: From outside the border systems, yes. But this is a threat from within. One of the planets is being used as a base for an attack force. I have evidence that a small Federation force is present, using the native population as shock troops. They intend to destroy us if they cannot defeat us and that leaves the other planets in disarray, ripe for the Federation to attack individually.
TARRANT: Which planet is it?
[Kreel’s ship. He and Banks are standing by the command chair, where the console monitor shows President Anders’s face.]
KREEL: With respect, sir, this opportunity is slipping out of our fingers.
ANDERS: All that can be done is being done, Kreel, and I’d like you not to take that tone with me. The recent Quantum Force Operation took total priority over the run of the mill pursuit ship patrols. All flotillas have been directed to the border systems, but it will be at least two hours before any of them are in range.
KREEL: Well, unless you want us to attack the Liberator directly, there is nothing that can be done.
ANDERS: You have had three months to make an effective fighting force out of the natives, Space Commander – natives whose thirst for blood is apparently insatiable. If they are not yet prepared for combat, then your progress in this is frankly embarrassing.
KREEL: It doesn’t matter how effective or ineffective the troopers are, Mister President. They cannot leave this planet without space craft. My cruiser cannot hold even one battalion and as for the planet hopper...
ANDERS: Why haven’t you got those industrial factories working yet? You have the technicians! You should have produced three pursuit ships by now.
KREEL: I cannot do that without the raw materials, sir, as I have already pointed out.
ANDERS: And as I pointed out, Serrus is rich in minerals and there is adequate mining machinery in the central city. If you had been thinking, Space Commander, you could have resolved this matter on your own.
[Kreel visibly bites down a retort.]
BANKS: Mister President, with all due respect, the important fact is the Liberator could leave the system at any time. What are we to do?
ANDERS: Well, as you’ve managed to let our agent on Tarl be tortured to death, I don’t have enough information to propose an adequate strategy. Monitor any and all communications and if they use their courier ship, blast it out of the sky. I expect the Liberator to still be in the system by the time the first flotilla arrives. Do what is necessary to ensure that. And don’t fail me this time, Kreel. You don’t have much further to fall.
[The screen goes blank.]
KREEL: You know, Banks, I never thought I’d start to miss Servalan.
BANKS: What are we going to do, sir?
KREEL: We’re going to use the one other working ship there is. We’re going to load Sorlai and his best and bravest, put it in that ship and program it to ram the Liberator.
BANKS: You really think that will destroy the craft?
KREEL: Yes. As far as we can tell, the Liberator’s force walls only work against energy. There’s a chance an object of the right mass could penetrate the field and, if aimed correctly should cripple the Liberator. Perhaps even destroy it.
BANKS: But it might still cause the ship to bounce off out of control!
KREEL: So? Either way, the Tarl Strategy collapses. Without Sorlai, these mutants won’t obey anyone. The Federation will have to change tactics and we can get out of here. The only question is whether the Liberator and all aboard survive this encounter.
BANKS: And then what, sir? We could be executed on the spot right now for treason. Or the latest definition of it anyway.
KREEL: Yes. How many have been executed for treason since the new legislation was passed?
BANKS: No idea, sir. Thousands.
KREEL: Yes. And sooner or later – probably sooner the way the Liberator is going – the President is going to run out of people he can afford to kill.
BANKS: You think he’ll reach that point before he gets to us?
KREEL: It would help. In the meantime, we’ll carry on as arranged. I’m going to have to talk to Sorlai. [Coughs] Maybe I should take a space suit this time...
BANKS: You really think we’ll be able to stop the Liberator?
KREEL: [Coldly] What I think, Duty Tracer, is that now we have a mission it is time to return to a more strict regime. Now get out.
BANKS: Sir. Would this be another conversation not to mention?
[Kreel thinks for a moment.]
KREEL: Yes. Yes, it is.
[Cathedral. Boorva and the Liberator crew stand before a circular screen showing the foggy brown planet in space.]
BOORVA: Tarl’s twin world, sharing the same orbit. Serrus was the first planet of the border systems colonized by the Empire. It was then struck by an epidemic, the Phobon Plague, and the colonists fled to the other planets. Many were unable to leave and most of them died from the plague.
SOOLIN: “Most of them”? You mean, some survived?
VILA: There’s no cure to the Phobon plague, everyone knows that.
SOOLIN: Everyone knows the Phobon plague has nothing whatsoever to do with Phobos but they still use the name.
BOORVA: The Serrunites have somehow developed total immunity to the virus. Later, some of the colonists returned to Serrus in the belief the plague had died out. It hadn’t, and they were the ones who died instead. By now, we strongly believe the plague to have died out, but the Serrunites have... changed. Mutated, adapted, whatever word you care to use. They are unpleasant company.
SOOLIN: Define unpleasant.
BOORVA: Their forms would frighten crimos in their sleep, their love of violence would be disturbing to Space Rats.
SOOLIN: [Shrugs] That’s unpleasant.
BOORVA: The plague had no effect on the technology on the planet, and that is how the Serrunites have managed to survive so long. They worked out how to use the communications relay and have been sending threats of death to anyone that picks their signal up. They are jealous of all our food and resources, and would happily slaughter anyone to get it.
BLAKE: But they’re still intelligent enough to realize that the Alliance would eat them for breakfast, so they are targeting Tarl.
BOORVA: Yes. They have been declaring war on us since before I was born, but they have no space craft with which to leave Serrus and the Serrunites acted as a natural deterrent to them getting access to one. No invader would be willing to risk the plague or those creatures to set up a base there. But I believe the Federation has somehow managed it. Too small a force to be detected by our orbital scans but a force nonetheless.
VILA: You’re jumping to conclusions, surely?
BOORVA: The Federation’s major spy on Tarl was caught communicating directly with Sorlai, the potentate of those hybrid creatures. I am certain the Federation intend to use the Serrunites to attack us and destroy the unity of the Alliance. The Serrunites will probably be all wiped out in the fighting, but I don’t need to tell any of you how much that matters to the Federation.
[Boorva presses a control and the swirling symbol lowers, covering the circular screen.]
BLAKE: What exactly do you want us to do?
BOORVA: The Serrunites have focussed their excuse of civilization on Serrus’ single major continent. You have access to high-speed interplanetary missiles. Must I explain further?
[A pause as it sinks in. Vila looks ill.]
VILA: Bomb the planet? From orbit?
BOORVA: Yes. The Federation must be working directly with Sorlai. Destroy Sorlai, and the Serrunites will be helpless. There will be no invasion.
TARRANT: Lord Boorva, you underestimate how powerful those missiles are...
SOOLIN: There’s a chance just one of them could crack Serrus apart.
BOORVA: You must be able to control the strength of the attack.
SOOLIN: Even so, it’d wipe out all life on the planet!
BOORVA: As long as Tarl survives intact, I am quite happy for that to occur.
VILA: You sure you haven’t mixed us up with the Federation? They’re the ones that blow up planets for political reasons, you know!
BOORVA: You CAN do it, though, can you not?
BLAKE: Yes. We can do it all right.
[The others look at Blake, scandalized.]
VILA: [Cautious] Nij, let’s not be hasty now...
TARRANT: Blake, you can’t be serious!
SOOLIN: Think of all the people that will die!
BOORVA: You have killed far more people than there could possibly be on Serrus. All of you outlaws, renegades. How many troopers have you murdered? Your destruction of the Modificiation factories would have killed millions alive and undead. And the new law has killed many, many more. Why should another twenty million lives matter? There are over six billion on Tarl alone.
BLAKE: He has a point.
TARRANT: Lord Boorva...
[Boorva now turns his attention to Blake, ignoring Tarrant.]
BOORVA: You understand the nature of war, do you not... Blake?
BLAKE: I’ve learned something of it.
BOORVA: Yes. The first rule of war is that there will be casualties. Try to save everyone, and you will LOSE everyone. Sacrifices must be made, in this case twenty million mutant cannibals and a Federation death squad. Either they die or the Alliance does.
BLAKE: It will take time to prepare a missile and ensure the aftershocks won’t damage Tarl.
BOORVA: [Smiles] I like you, Blake.
TARRANT: Lord Boorva!
BOORVA: Tarrant, if you are not interested in saving this Alliance then you may go. I was speaking to the man I understood to be your leader.
TARRANT: [Furious] He ISN’T my leader!
BOORVA: Yet you believe he will not obey you? If he is not your follower, you must be his.
[Boorva, suddenly bored, returns to the lectern.]
BOORVA: I suggest you return to your ship. Contact me when this... internal dispute is resolved.
SOOLIN: Yes. We should.
BLAKE: [Into bracelet] Kyben? Teleport.
[The quartet dematerialize.]
- to be continued...