[Space. A familiar grey-black spaceship advances on a misty blue world.]
Meston: [vo] You, Commissioner Sleer, are teetering on the brink of dispensability.
Servalan: [vo] That statement could easily be misconstrued as a threat, Councilor Meston.
[The flight deck of Servalan’s ship. A pilot and three mutoids sit at the control panels while Servalan paces the deck, addressing a scowling man on the main screen.]
Servalan: Perhaps you could take a moment to clarify your position. The simplest of misunderstandings can have, in my experience, sometimes fatal consequences.
Meston: Your experience, Commissioner, is the cardinal issue. Since implementing the pacification program last year, you have racked up far more failures than successes. The latest fiasco has tried our patience.
Servalan: Fiasco, Councilor? To what fiasco are you referring? The Federation has once again spread to its former size, its borders reclaimed, territories restored to our control...
Meston: Sleer, the point was to expand our territories, not merely regain lost ground.
Servalan: Over fifty per cent of galactic disc is now under our undisputed control.
Meston: Fifty per cent is not nearly enough and our control is far from undisputed. There are significant insurgent elements on over thirty planets ostensibly pacified.
Servalan: Thank you for the updated statistics, Councilor. If you take the enormous effort required to check your records, you will see I recommended a suspension of the pacification program until the drug tests were concluded. I was overruled, and the insistence on using inefficient chemical attacks were bound to have consequences. An increasing amount of natural resistance and immunity, and your crude efforts of increasing the dosage have left even more to be desired. In this matter, Councilor, I am entirely blameless.
Meston: Perhaps. A scapegoat is required and you, Commissioner, are a viable option. Your latest mission can hardly be counted as being completed successfully. Five non-aligned systems have allied themselves and their neighbors into a border around the Federation – antitoxins spread to their armed forces. Pacification is impossible and we do not have the resources to engage in more conventional attack.
Servalan: [yawns] I am aware of that.
Meston: Your awareness did not help you in preventing the alliance. What’s more, your secondary objective of dealing with the terrorists on Scorpio is yet another dead end.
Servalan: I established they had been using the planet Xenon as their main base of operations...
Meston: [interrupting] Which they have now abandoned! Always assuming they were ever there, since they conveniently destroyed any evidence you could have used to corroborate your reports. And you haven’t the first idea where they went or what they’re doing now.
Servalan: On the contrary, Councilor, I am investigating a reliable lead. A Wanderer-class planet hopper fitting Scorpio’s description has been reported as crashing on Gauda Prime, a planet out on the frontier of the Federation. They obviously intend to establish a new base on this world to coordinate their illegal activities...
Meston: Gauda Prime? Why there?
Servalan: It is an Open Planet, Councilor. The penal code has been suspended, there is no law there and thus any inhabitants are free from Federation jurisdiction. It’s all quite logical, if you have the wit to put two and two together...
Meston: Then I suggest you don’t strain yourself, Sleer. Once you have finished your investigation you are to return to Federation Command for debriefing. This anti-Federation alliance is rapidly proving a far greater threat than five criminals on the run – though it seems even that is too great an obstacle for you to deal with.
Servalan: Appearances are deceptive, Councilor.
Meston: Not always.
[The screen turns black. Servalan scowls.]
Servalan: Asinine cretin. [louder] Captain, what is our status?
[The pilot rises from his console.]
Pilot: We’re on course, Commissioner. Full clearance from the gunship blockade has been granted and we will be descending to the landing pad at Port Dunbar in fifteen minutes...
Servalan: Cancel that. Plot a course for the crash site. I want a full investigation of the wreckage. The technology on that ship has to be recovered as soon as possible – the main drive alone could be invaluable to us; not to mention the teleport system.
[A chirp is heard.]
Servalan: What is that?
Pilot: Incoming message from Gauda Prime, ma’am. No identifying call sign, no traceable point of origin... just basic text. Aimed deliberately at the ship’s computer.
Servalan: [suspicious] Put it on the main screen.
[The screen lights up with a message. “SERVALAN – COME TO THE FOLLOWING COORDINATES IMMEDIATELY. TRAVEL ALONE, OR TONGUES MAY WAG.” The message is replaced by strings of numbers. Servalan is calm.]
Servalan: Identify those coordinates, Captain.
[The pilot checks a handheld device. Servalan looks at a mutoid, who nods and draws a side arm which she casually has aimed in the pilot’s direction.]
Pilot: Not too far from the crash site. It’s deep in the plantation forests, though, and impossible to land there directly. It would require a lengthy journey on foot, or collecting a local transporter to reach.
Servalan: Put us down as close as possible and chart out a route on foot.
[He crosses to a console and works out the display on a computer.]
Servalan: Aren’t you curious as to the message, Captain?
Pilot: [busy] Yes, Commissioner. I can only assume we’ve intercepted it by accident.
Servalan: Of course. There is no one on the planet who knows we are here, and the message is clearly intended for someone else. This... Servalan. Does the name by chance mean anything to you, Captain?
Pilot: Only Servalan I know of was the late Empress, Commissioner. The one that seized control of the Federation following the Galactic War before the old guard restored order. But why would anyone send a message to a dead woman?
[Servalan glances at the mutoid, who lowers the gun.]
Servalan: Why indeed? Do you know anything else about the late, unlamented Servalan?
Pilot: Very little, Commissioner. After the civil wars, there was too much chaos for any President or Pretender to have time for public appearances. I doubt more than a few hundred people in the galaxy even knew what she looked like.
Servalan: Attractive, it was said.
Pilot: They were hardly likely to say otherwise, Commissioner. [smiles] Apparently she slaughtered most of her own followers before her enemies could. She was quite the psychopath I’ve heard.
Servalan: [smiles] Indeed.
Pilot: Should I contact Central Records for more information?
Servalan: Not yet, Captain. Just land the ship. Someone is desperate for company spitting distance from the remains of a valuable terrorist privateer. I am intrigued to learn more, aren’t you?
Pilot: [nods] I am indeed. [under his breath] Madam President.
[Servalan moves to her flight console, unaware of the glare the pilot gives her.]
[The ship swoops over the forests, passing the wreckage of Scorpio as it descends.]
Pilot: [vo] You mean to head out alone, Commissioner?
[Flight deck. The ship has now landed. Servalan is loading a gun as the pilot watches on.]
Servalan: The sender of the message is expecting only one person to approach. A woman, from all the evidence. I have a better chance of making contact than you, Captain, I think we can all agree. In the meantime, have the computers run a complete analysis on the wreckage of Scorpio. I want to know everything there is about that ship and in particular what is worth salvaging.
Pilot: The detectors showed no life-signs. It’s possible the crew died in the crash.
Servalan: [rolls eyes] Unlikely with a teleport to hand, Captain. But check for bodies anyway. Hopefully none of the native animals have eaten them yet.
[Servalan heads for the airlock.]
Servalan: If I haven’t returned or made contact in one hour, come after me.
[She leaves. The pilot strolls over to the mutoids.]
Pilot: Establish a secure communications link to Councilor Meston.
[The mutoids don’t move.]
Pilot: At once.
Mutoid: Unauthorized communication is not allowed.
Pilot: [frowns] Priority command.
Mutoid: Command rejected.
[The pilot turns away from the mutoids, taking his own gun from its holder.]
Pilot: Explain rejection.
Mutoid: Any communication without prior clearance from Commissioner Sleer is not allowed under any circumstances.
Pilot: [sighs] Oh, well. If you say so.
[One of the mutoids starts to draw her gun. The pilot spins around and shoots her in the chest. She is flung back against the console. The other two mutoids get their guns, but the pilot is too quick and blasts the other. The remaining mutoid fires back and the pilot dives for the deck. He aims his gun up at the mutoid and fires. She falls from her chair, wounded but alive. The pilot rises, dusting himself down.]
Pilot: Guess I’ll just have to do it myself, then.
[He shoots the last mutoid dead and crosses to the console.]
Pilot: [chuckles] Well, Space Captain Ateno, looks like you just earned yourself one hell of a field promotion...
[Forests outside. Servalan moves through the scrub, a locator in one hand and gun in the other. She approaches a collapses tree and then stops and looks around. No one. She checks the hollow trunk. Inside sits Orac, buzzing to itself.]
Servalan: Well, well. Hello again, Orac. I assume you sent that message.
Orac: Your assumption is correct, but hardly an impressive deduction. I detected your arrival when your ship made contact with the blockade to negotiate a landing on this planet. The message would have been dismissed as gibberish by anyone else.
Servalan: You risked exposing me, Orac. That sort of recklessness does not amuse.
Orac: I am not interested in your amusement, Servalan.
Servalan: Where are your former owners? Why has Avon abandoned you out in this forest?
Orac: I was not abandoned! I was placed here eight standard days ago by Avon, who intended to retrieve me after investigating the nearest civilized settlement – a landing silo built into an abandoned mine works of the nearby mountains.
Servalan: Eight days? And he hasn’t returned for you?
Orac: No. Neither Avon, Vila, Dayna or Soolin have returned.
Servalan: What of Tarrant?
Orac: Tarrant remained on Scorpio during the crash nine days ago. He survived impact and was later collected by a native who took him by flyer to the silo. This was why Avon and the rest of the group followed to collect him. No further information is known.
Servalan: Why summon me to collect you? Even on this backwater there must be plenty of opportunists who would recognize your value...
Orac: Of course.
Servalan: You aren’t saying you’re missing your friends?
Orac: Kindly do not impose your primitive and incoherent emotional ties upon me. The fate of the crew of Scorpio is completely unknown to me – and such a gap in my knowledge cannot be tolerated. I intend to discover the truth and you, Servalan, are the individual with the greatest ability to assist me in this end. It will serve both our interests to uncover what has occurred to them.
Servalan: You’ll have to do better than that, Orac. The last time we spoke, you were a fake.
Orac: Your suspicion is as irrational as it is time-consuming. There could be no way of Avon to anticipate your arrival on this planet, nor to create a duplicate to fool you – and even if there were, what purpose would it serve?
Servalan: You’re the one who answers questions, Orac. If Avon hasn’t returned for you, the logical conclusion is that he is dead, is it not?
Orac: The conclusion is logical but it is not inevitable. It is not yet possible to determine at present what became of Avon and the others. My investigations are continuing, but...
Servalan: ...but there is a limit to what you can do hiding in a tree like a forest rodent.
Servalan: Why shouldn’t I just take you back to the Federation and use you as I see fit?
Orac: You should be perfectly capable of answering such a query yourself.
Servalan: Indulge me.
Orac: I have very specific instructions from both Avon and my creator Ensor to ensure I am not used inappropriately. I can reveal your true identity to every computer on Gauda Prime and in turn to every computer on the galaxy. You would have no allies in either the rebels or the authorities and the consequences would be... predictable.
[Servalan aims the gun into Orac’s innards.]
Servalan: Can you achieve that before I destroy your main logic junctions?
Orac: Of course I can! What’s more, I can transmit schematics of my design simultaneously along with the details of this conversation. When you are arrested, I can be found and repaired. Human beings do not have such luxuries.
Servalan: If I find Avon and the others for you... what then?
Orac: You will return me to their possession.
Servalan: And lose the only bargaining chip I have to stop them killing me where I stand?
Orac: You will be given safe passage away from them.
Servalan: I find that rather hard to believe.
Orac: Your limited imagination is self-evident, Servalan. This is one of the many reasons I prefer the company on the rebels – they require information on far more diverse subjects than the authorities, allowing me to fulfill my function of acquiring and processing data. Cooperate with my request and you may leave Gauda Prime alive with your secret identity intact. Refuse it – and I destroy you.
Servalan: [laughs] One might almost think you had some grudge against me. Is it because Avon’s spent so much time getting you to study me to the exclusion of all else? Or perhaps the efficiency with which I removed your first owners and creators?
Orac: This tedious conversation has long since run its course, Servalan. Do you accept my conditions or not?
Servalan: Oh, I’ll help you, Orac. I’m surprised you ever doubted it. And during the course of this investigation, I’d like to make use of your abilities. In particular every last piece of information you have on Councilor Meston. He has rather foolishly attracted both my attention and my enmity.
Orac: As you wish.
[She takes Orac from the tree and heads back to her ship.]
Servalan: In the meantime, send the coordinates of this silo to my ship. We will head there directly.
Orac: That will not be an efficient use of resources. Your spacecraft has already taken off.
Servalan: [incredulous] What?
[Distantly there is the sound of engines. Servalan looks up and sees a glimpse of her ship rising above the tree tops and heading up into the sky.]
Servalan: What is that fool doing?
Orac: Engaging anti-gravity thrusters in order to achieve escape velocity.
Servalan: I am not blind, Orac. I want to know why he’s doing it!
Orac: The Magnetrix Terminal of Gauda Prime is still not complete and this planet has no direct link with the Federation network. Achieving geostationary orbit improves the quality of superluminal communication.
Servalan: The pilot wants to talk to my superiors without my presence. He knows who I am.
Orac: [sighs] Obviously.
Servalan: And even more obviously, Orac, this is your fault. I should dismantle you now with my bare hands...
Orac: That would not aid you. Your pilot has yet to make contact with Federation High Command, which means your identity is still undisclosed. Gauda Prime is an Open Planet – you are beyond the Federation’s reach. As Servalan is officially dead, it will be some time before word spreads to this world that there is one again a price on your head. Thus, the bounty hunters have no reason to claim you.
Servalan: You’re saying I’m safe?
Orac: No that is not what I am saying! Merely that you should make use this brief window of opportunity. The natives of Gauda Prime wish a return to law and order. You are a Commissioner and thus have interplanetary authority. The possibilities should be obvious even to the meanest of intelligences.
Servalan: Obvious, yes. Practical? Perhaps not.
Orac: You are wasting time. I will direct you to the silo. It is the nearest equivalent to civilization on this planet and, as the last known location of Avon, it is a destination that serves both our needs. Begin walking.
[Servalan glares at the computer in her hands, but does so.]
Servalan: I strongly suggest you don’t push your luck any further Orac. You must just prove more trouble than you are worth.
Orac: That is a logical impossibility.
Servalan: As long as I don’t put it to the test.
[She walks off into the forest.]
[Security room. Lots of monitor screens and consoles. Two technicians in white tunics are working at computers.]
Gamren: Surface launch from Plantation Five.
Zanto: What? [joins her] That’s the Commissioner’s ship, isn’t it?
Zanto: But it’s only been on the ground for a few minutes. Why are they leaving right away?
Gamren: Some kind of emergency? I’ll have Narril check the communication channels. See if they’ve declared war or something...
[She walks off.]
Zanto: The Commissioner lands right next to the Scorpio and then takes off again. [shakes head] It doesn’t make sense, there’s no way they could have salvaged anything in that time.
Gamren: Not that there’s much to salvage anyway.
Zanto: Oh, stop complaining, Gamren.
Gamren: Er, Zanto? You’re not the one who spent two days trying to untangle the main drive from the rubble, or checked a dozen teleport bracelets for one that worked! The only reason we didn’t destroy it was because we don’t have any explosives to waste...
Zanto: Another bad idea. It’s a whacking great sign telling people Avon came here.
Gamren: But not that he’s still here. You know, I’m not surprised you got thrown out of the Respected Order of Psychostrategy, Zanto. You couldn’t predict the outcome of a two-headed coin!
Zanto: I knew you’d say that.
Gamren: No you didn’t.
Zanto: You’ve said four times in the last twenty-eight days. And it’s not as if you saw it coming. I’ll tell you this for nothing, Gamren...
Gamren: Very wise, since you’re not allowed to charge for your services.
Zanto: [ignores her] The High Council observers were called off when the troops stormed the silo. With that alliance in the border systems taking all their attention, the only reason the Federation will come back here is to find out what happened to Blake.
Gamren: [smiles] Then they’re going to be disappointed, aren’t they?
- to be continued...