[Liberator teleport room. Kyben is at the console as the others teleport in.]
KYBEN: I take it, it wasn’t a trap?
BLAKE: [heads for exit] No. Not at all. If you’ll excuse me.
TARRANT: Blake, what are you doing?
[Tarrant runs out after Blake.]
KYBEN: [Sighs] Now what’re the arguing about?
VILA: It’s Boorva, he wants us to...
SOOLIN: You can explain it to Kyben on the way, Vila.
SOOLIN: Come on. Quick.
[They hurry out.]
[Liberator flight deck. Blake enters at a run and crosses over to Orac, switching him on.]
ORAC: What is it now?
BLAKE: I need some information about the prototype missiles, specifically how to adapt individual missiles for planetary assault without triggering an earthshock level detonation.
ORAC: Such information can easily be ascertained from the schematics and blueprints already held by Zen and the other computer systems aboard the Liberator.
BLAKE: I don’t care if this is beneath your dignity, Orac, just do it. I am first authority aboard the Liberator now.
ORAC: That is of no concern to me, Blake.
BLAKE: [Rolls his eyes] Why is everyone on this ship so stubborn?
ORAC: There is a noted rebellious element aboard.
[Blake frowns at Orac, then laughs.]
[Kreel and Sorlai are walking through a smoggy alleyway outside the warehouse. Moss and weeds are everywhere. Sorlai is the more relaxed and cheerful of the two.]
SORLAI: Your memory does not seem very good, Space Commander. You wanted our help to destroy the cultists of Tarl and overthrow their Alliance, did you not?
KREEL: Of course. That’s what I’m asking you to do.
SORLAI: Yet, in return you were to teach us the secrets of your army the better for us to succeed.
KREEL: It’s what I have been trying to do for the last seventy-eight days!
SORLAI: You were also to restore all the factories by the sea. The ones that would allow us to build our own spaceships so we can go to Tarl. Believe it or not, Space Commander, it is a very long way away from here. To attack Tarl on foot would be very difficult.
KREEL: I’m aware of that. My men have got one of your hulks working again, you can use that.
SORLAI: A planet hopper with no armaments? You really think we can take the Temples of Chumran with that? Boorva’s stronghold will not be undefended...
KREEL: I’m not asking you to attack Boorva’s temple!
[Sorlai stops and turns to face Kreel.]
SORLAI: Then what exactly ARE you asking us to do, Space Commander?
KREEL: Priorities have changed. Your new target is another space craft, currently in orbit above Tarl.
SORLAI: A space craft? Your own ship is better equipped for that.
KREEL: I don’t need you to destroy the ship. Merely board it and kill those aboard.
SORLAI: What is this "ship"?
KREEL: It’s called the Liberator.
[A long pause. Sorlai stares at Kreel in silence.]
SORLAI: Stupid name. Right. So we take over this "Leebrayta" for you. How does that help us conquer Tarl?
KREEL: It’s called the Odysseus Stratagem...
SORLAI: You said it was called "Leebrayta".
[Kreel sighs and gags abruptly. Sorlai watches as he coughs again.]
KREEL: Right. Let me explain this in as fewer syllables as possible...
[Liberator hangs in space above.]
[Liberator flight deck. All are present, but Blake sits alone in the pit.]
KYBEN: [Aghast] You are joking, aren’t you?
BLAKE: Do I look like I’m joking, Kyben?
SOOLIN: You’re seriously going to carpet bomb that planet?
BLAKE: I said we were capable of doing it – which we are.
VILA: But you’re going to go ahead, aren’t you?
BLAKE: I had Orac check out Boorva’s story... [Tarrant starts to speak] EVEN though I was sure he wasn’t lying to us. The population of Serrus is barely nineteen million, and those are all devolved psychotic cannibals. Whatever their biology did to adapt to Phobon Plague removed their sanity. They’re held in check more by pheromones than reason. Most of the native fauna have gone the same way. You really want to spare a planet of insane mutants?
KYBEN: Who’s to say they’re mutants? Maybe they’re just evolving – like everything is supposed to!
TARRANT: That IS an unpleasant thought.
KYBEN: You can’t go round deciding who gets to live and who gets to die! We didn’t just save the universe so you could annihilate all the bits of it you don’t like!
BLAKE: We have the only source of missiles in the galaxy, Kyben. Did you really think we went to all that trouble with the crystal if we DIDN’T intend to use them?
KYBEN: If you start blowing up planets to solve problems, you’re no better than the Federation!.
BLAKE: As Boorva made quite clear, either we solve the problem or lose the Alliance. Do you want that?
KYBEN: It can’t be worse than outright slaughter!
BLAKE: What about you, Tarrant? You’re so desperate for the Alliance to succeed.
TARRANT: There must be some other way.
BLAKE: Boorva’s intelligent, if he could have handled this problem on his own, he wouldn’t have called for us. The choice is ours. Well?
KYBEN: Fine, Blake, do whatever you want. I’m with Vila.
VILA: [Brightens] Are you?
KYBEN: In leaving this ship at the earliest opportunity! You can’t be trusted with ANY of this technology!
[Blake frowns, clearly hurt.]
BLAKE: I’ve asked Orac and he agrees with the strategy I suggested.
SOOLIN: This will be the same strategy you didn’t discuss with us? Again?
VILA: Come on, Nij, we don’t even know the Federation is even on Serrus! Blowing up a planet when it could just be some deserters, it’s a bit extreme.
TARRANT: Vila’s right. Desertion rate’s increased dramatically.
VILA: How dramatically?
TARRANT: There IS a desertion rate. Before the new laws, there wasn’t one – at least not to speak of.
KYBEN: So there could be civilians down on Serrus as well?
BLAKE: If so, they’d be eaten by the Serrunites. They’re cannibals, aren’t they, Orac?
ORAC: Incorrect. A cannibal is defined as a living being who is capable of eating members of his or her own species through either cultural imperative, prolonged famine or mental instability. As the Serrunites have manifestly developed into a different humanoid form of life, their consumption of human beings is clearly simple carnivorous tendencies rather than outright cannibalism...
[Soolin rips out the key and Orac falls silent.]
SOOLIN: The point is, we can’t do something this big without checking first.
BLAKE: I say we can.
SOOLIN: Say it louder and maybe someone will listen. I’m with the others on this. If you start the missile run without checking, then I’ll leave as well. What about you, Tarrant?
TARRANT: We can’t let the Alliance fall apart. People have died to keep it together.
KYBEN: And many more people have to die before the price becomes too high?
[Tarrant lowers his eyes. Quietly, he joins the others. Blake is pensive.]
BLAKE: You’re all serious, I take it?
BLAKE: All right. And if I check Serrus? Find absolute proof of Federation presence which will destroy this Alliance? If I can prove that this is right thing to do? Will you stay?
VILA: You really need us, Nij? Don’t all those implanted skills make us all redundant?
[Blake rises angrily.]
BLAKE: If it did, surely I would have murdered each and every one of you in your beds by now! Yet I seem to be spending a lot of time keeping you all alive and safe AND fighting a war against the Federation without our resident computer genius and moral absolute! I ask you all to just trust me. And after all we’ve been through, you’re acting like I’m really Kreel in disguise!
VILA: You can’t ask us to trust you if you don’t trust us!
BLAKE: We cannot be split up now! The Federation is weaker than it has been for centuries. Its replacement central control is strained to breaking point, there is no more Mutoid modification, pylene fifty is useless and not even the great masses are prepared to put up with Anders’ rule! This is a time where unity and loyalty are absolutely paramount – because if we miss this chance, like you did when Star One was destroyed, then we will never win. Not in this life time, not in any other. And if I can’t convince you with that, then you simply can’t be convinced at all!
[A pause. Soolin and Kyben look doubtful. Vila folds his arms. Tarrant is still looking at the floor.]
BLAKE: I swear to you, I give you my word: if we do not NEED to destroy Serrus, if there is another option, then I will take it. The question is, can YOU give me your word that if there is no other way, you will stay with me for the missile run? Soolin?
SOOLIN: All right.
BLAKE: Tarrant? [Tarrant nods] Kyben? [Kyben nods] Vila?
VILA: How exactly are we going to check Boorva’s story?
BLAKE: Simple. We’ll go to Serrus for ourselves.
[Cathedral. Blake, Vila and Tarrant stand before Boorva.]
BOORVA: You’re insane, Blake! You actually intend to go to that rathole? I forbid it!
TARRANT: I’m sorry, Lord Boorva, but you have no control over us or our actions.
BOORVA: If you were even remotely sensible you would not need me to tell you not to go. [to Tarrant and Vila] Surely your computers will have told you all about the plagues? About the Serrunites? How they treat humans as walking flesh to feed their hunger?
VILA: The Federation seem to have coped.
BLAKE: We’re not going to destroy a planet and its people on hearsay, Boorva.
BOORVA: My word should be enough.
VILA: I thought you said ‘words were nothing more than words’.
BOORVA: No, that was Chalsa. And even that mental defective would still be intelligent enough to stay away from Serrus. No expedition, not one person who has gone there has ever returned – or survived more than a few hours on its surface.
BLAKE: No expedition, not one person who has gone there had access to a teleport and the most advanced medical technology in the galaxy.
VILA: [Doubtful] Boorva DOES seem to know what he’s talking about...
TARRANT: Shut up, Vila. Lord Boorva, you have no evidence of Federation presence on Serrus...
BOORVA: Does it matter? No excuse is needed to destroy that hell-planet!
BLAKE: Wrong. An excuse is very much needed. Besides, it strikes me that Serrus, the planet of no return, is a very good defensive barrier for Tarl. You’d lose more than you gained.
BOORVA: If you are killed on the surface, I will lose everything. I have no doubt your ship will not function for any except your crew. I will not be able to destroy the Federation presence, or use the ship to defend the border systems when the Federation strike in force.
BLAKE: We’re not giving you access to the Liberator, Boorva.
BOORVA: You underestimate me to that extent, Blake? I do not wish control of your ship. But I demand you leave some of your crew here. When you die on the surface, the others will see your folly and do what is necessary.
VILA: As prisoners?
BOORVA: Of course not. Guests. On Tarl you have no enemies, only allies. It is in our best interests to keep you safe. And if you are right, Blake, then no harm will be done.
[Blake glances at the others.]
TARRANT: Lord Boorva won’t betray us.
BLAKE: All right. Vila?
VILA: He who trusts can never be betrayed, only mistaken. Old Auron saying.
BLAKE: Soolin will mind the Liberator, and Kyben can keep an eye on me. Satisfied?
VILA: You see how easy it is, Nij?
BLAKE: Must you call me that?
VILA: All the other names I can think of are rude.
BLAKE: [Sweetly] Has anyone told you you’re a charming gentlemen, Vila?
VILA: Yes, actually.
BLAKE: Then they were lying. [into bracelet] Soolin, Vila and Tarrant are going to be staying on Tarl for while I’m gone. Bring me up alone, please.
TARRANT: Good luck, Blake.
VILA: Hope the cannibals don’t bite.
[Blake opens his mouth to snap, but teleports before he can speak.]
BOORVA: Well. You now have the free run of this planet, my friends. I would advise, however, you not leave the Chumran temple – at least until I’ve arranged suitable clothes.
VILA: It does look a bit cold out there.
TARRANT: It’s because Tarl and Serrus are twin planets, they have extreme climates.
BOORVA: Yes. Summer and winter here last twenty five years here. But I’m sure you will glad to know that we have a few months before Spring occurs. Then Tarl will become a tropical paradise once more.
TARRANT: Sunshine for a quarter of a century. Not all planets are so lucky.
BOORVA: Not all planets are Tarl. You are welcome to stay here permanently, Tarrant.
TARRANT: Am I?
BOORVA: I apologize for my rudeness earlier, but my people must always be my priority.
VILA: You’d let us stay here? For free?
BOORVA: Of course. Your... companion will not return from Serrus.
VILA: So it IS a trap.
BOORVA: A trap? A trap where I almost begged him not to go into danger? Where I gave him every reason not to go? Where he went into danger of his own free will? Did I threaten him? Blackmail him? No, your companion’s stubborn lack of caution will lead him to death with no help from me. However, it is plainly clear that his death would not greatly distress the two of you.
VILA: [Sighs] After a while you lose enough people that you just stop caring. But who said we cared about Nij? If he does die on Serrus, we’ll have full control of the Liberator.
BOORVA: Then perhaps I should try to convince the two of you of the necessity of destroying Serrus.
VILA: Knew there would be a price.
BOORVA: A small price. Of course, you can leave in your ship and never return. But that ship is a viable target for every Federation craft. The galaxy is becoming a smaller place as the Federation expands. There are fewer choices of where to hide. But if you were not on Liberator, but living in luxury on the seat of the Rebel Alliance...
TARRANT: The Federation will still attempt to attack.
BOORVA: And if the Liberator stays in the border systems, as part of the fleet? The Federation will abandon their plans and concentrate on controlling their own territories. Stability is what they desire. [Smiles] As do we all, to an extent. But I am wasting your valuable time. I shall arrange some attire for you, and then you may go where you wish and do what you want. Should you require anything, the guard will obey your every request.
[Boorva smiles at them and leaves.]
VILA: I think he’s trying to sell us something.
TARRANT: Or maybe get us to sell something. Like our souls.
VILA: He did make it sound nice here.
TARRANT: "Fine words butter no parsnips".
VILA: What does that mean?
TARRANT: Not sure. Probably something about gardening. Just sounded cynical enough.
VILA: You? Cynical? Your more passionate about this Alliance than I am for soma.
TARRANT: The Alliance, yes. I’m just not sure I trust Boorva.
VILA: You’ve changed your tune.
TARRANT: I hadn’t seen him act like that. He’s being more generous to us than he has to be.
VILA: Wouldn’t be too bad settling down here. If it was warmer. And it soon will be. I was planning to go anyway. You could too. Eh? You could settle down on Betafarl like you were going to.
TARRANT: Not much point now.
VILA: None of us are getting younger, Tarrant. And it’s becoming a choice of spending our autumn years dodging plasma bolts or a grave on an artificial planet. [into bracelet] Soolin? Can you teleport me up, please?
SOOLIN: [VO] Is there a problem?
VILA: No. I’ve just decided to pack my things. You should come down here again, it seems like we might actually be welcome for a change.
SOOLIN: [VO] Vila, be sensible about this...
VILA: I asked for teleport, Soolin! [to Tarrant] See you round, Tarrant.
[He teleports out.]
[Liberator flight deck. It is deserted bar Orac.]
ZEN: Cargo bay doors open. Sevener is now launched en route for Serrus.
[Soolin and Vila enter.]
SOOLIN: ... I thought we agreed not to do anything until after this was resolved?
VILA: Ah, but I didn’t agree, did I? Old trick I learned from Avon – he learned most of the good ones from me. Well, the ones I think are good.
SOOLIN: You really think Boorva will make you an honoured guest there for the next twenty five years?
VILA: He could do it if he wants to, and he wants to. The border systems are about the safest place there is in the galaxy now. He said we were all welcome to live on Tarl if we want.
SOOLIN: And presumably the price will be the Liberator joining the Alliance fleet?
VILA: Well, it is already, in a way, isn’t it?
SOOLIN: We’d be effectively giving Boorva control of the most powerful ship in space.
SOOLIN: Vila, he’s a warlord!
VILA: You speak to him, then. He’s welcome to the thing if you ask me. More trouble that it’s been worth, all things considered. No offence, Zen.
VILA: Besides, he won’t have total control of the Liberator. There’ll be you and Tarrant running things. Unless Tarrant throws the towel in, too.
SOOLIN: This is a bit sudden, isn’t it, Vila? Blake isn’t even dead yet.
VILA: I don’t care if he survives. I’m still leaving. I thought you were, too?
SOOLIN: Well, like you said, Vila. You outlived all the others. Your opinion might be worth listening to this time. And I’m going to do what you said.
VILA: [Confused] What’s that?
SOOLIN: I’m going to speak to Boorva in person. You can work the teleport one last time.
VILA: Oh yes, teleport duty. How will my life go on without it?
- to be continued...