[Space. Servalan’s ship drifts away from the planet.]
[Flight deck. The pilot sits at the main console. The mutoid corpses are dumped nearby.]
Pilot: [into a head-mike] What do you mean, the Councilor can’t be contacted? This is a top-priority emergency for his direct attention – it’s more important than some backward warlords with pink hair! Look, I have vital information about Commissioner...
[The screen suddenly changes from the Federation logo to static.]
Pilot: Hello? Hello? HQ, are you receiving me?
[Another chirp. A text message appears. “VERY UNWISE, CAPTAIN. CHOOSE YOUR NEXT ACTION WITH CARE – IT MIGHT BE THE LAST THING YOU DO.” The pilot swallows, unnerved, then runs out.]
[Forest. Servalan is walking, carrying Orac.]
Servalan: Well, Orac?
Orac: “Well” is not a question.
Servalan: [rolls eyes] Update me on the situation.
Orac: Using the security codes and access passwords you have given me, I have overridden the communication system of your cruiser. I can confirm that Captain Ateno has not been able to contact Councilor Meston, despite his best efforts.
Servalan: The communication will have been logged. Suspicion will have been raised.
Orac: Indeed. However, as your pilot is now fleeing the cruiser in the escape pod, the suspicion will be directed onto him. Your true identity has not yet been compromised.
Servalan: However, my ship is now abandoned in orbit and out of reach.
Orac: I would have thought that is obvious.
Servalan: And do you have a strategy to collect it?
Orac: Greater priority is the patrol approaching this position...
[She looks up. Black-clad, helmeted Federation troopers are moving through the trees.]
Captain: Identify yourself.
Servalan: I am Commissioner Sleer of the Pacification Program. I am investigating possible terrorist activity on Gauda Prime.
[The Captain lifts his helmet to reveal his face.]
Captain: “Possible”? Haven’t the reports reached Central yet?
Servalan: Obviously not. What would these reports have contained?
Captain: There is a rebel infestation on Gauda Prime, Commissioner. They were using the a nearby silo as a base for their activities.
Servalan: Ah. The use of the past tense. Can I take it then, these rebels have been eliminated?
[The Captain doesn’t want to answer. He notices Orac.]
Captain: What is that object you’re carrying, Commissioner?
Servalan: I asked you a question, Captain.
Captain: I know. Please answer mine.
Servalan: I have never been known to take insubordination lightly.
Captain: [grins] There’s no law on this planet, ma’am.
[Servalan lets out a controlled sigh of frustration.]
Servalan: This is an experimental navigation device for location positions. A very crude and temperamental one at that. As you must be aware, it’s very easy to lose one’s way given the terrain on this world. Now, perhaps you could answer my question?
Captain: Of course, Commissioner. But it’s a long story, best told indoors. It’s not safe to stay outdoors at night. These woods are full of bounty hunters and the scum they’re after. We’ve taken control on the silo and are using it as our base of operations.
Servalan: Then the rebels have been destroyed?
Captain: Not exactly.
Servalan: [losing patience] Then what exactly?
Captain: As I said, Commissioner, long story. [harshly] If you would be so kind as to follow us back to the transporter?
Servalan: [just as harsh] I would be delighted.
[They head off. The troopers follow.]
[Corridor. Zanto and another man, Ravelo, are walking through their complex.]
Zanto: No alerts, no emergencies, no declarations of war, nothing. There is no reason why the Commissioner would flee the planet like that.
Ravelo: We don’t know that. Maybe she remembered that she left the fusion reactor on back at HQ or something?
Zanto: [sarcastic] Oh yes, Ravelo! That’s bound to be the reason!
Ravelo: All right, Zanto, so I don’t know the answer! Try and contain your amazement for a moment. The Commissioner must have come here for Scorpio. Maybe a visual examination was all she needed?
Zanto: [thinking] She’s been on Scorpio’s tail for a while, hasn’t she?
Ravelo: Not sure. All the files we had on the independents were back in the silo.
Zanto: Which we wiped after abandoning. Awkward.
Ravelo: [nods] Pretty inconvenient.
Zanto: I do not like this, Ravelo. Things are delicate enough at the moment and now we have a complete unknown to factor into everything.
Ravelo: Not a complete unknown.
Zanto: [confused] Eh? [gets it] Oh yes. Our new fearless leader.
Ravelo: Well, he’s our new leader, at least.
Zanto: And as such deserves a modicum of respect.
Ravelo: I gave a modicum. Two modicums, even. One of them in this very conversation. You’re nitpicking again. The point is, our glorious and beloved guide of the endless cause knows Sleer of old. You want infomation? Go talk to them.
Zanto: Maybe I will.
Ravelo: [walking off] Sooner you than me, Zanto.
Zanto: Story of your life, Ravelo. Story of your damned life.
[Skyline. It is dusk. A large flyer is gliding through the air. In the cockpit, Servalan and the Captain sit behind the driver. Orac is on Servalan’s lap.]
Captain: You’re travelling alone?
Servalan: I have a team aboard my ship.
Captain: Which is now in orbit, leaving you behind. Why is that?
Servalan: Need to know, Captain. [smiles] And you do not need to know.
Captain: Maybe I should be the judge of that, Commissioner.
Servalan: There are... connections, Captain. Security connections.
[The Captain is slightly intimidated.]
Servalan: Perhaps you can begin that long story you mentioned.
Servalan: Your reluctance to explain is not creating a good impression. I can be very sympathetic, however. You captured this rebel base, obviously. Either you killed all the rebels, took them prisoner or else they escaped. Something suggests the latter.
Captain: We were taken by surprise.
Servalan: A common lament. What happened?
Captain: What do you know of this planet, Commissioner?
Servalan: [shrugs] A frontier planet, an agricultural world with vast – but now, sadly exhausted – mineral resources. The penal code has been suspended, but the natives now wish for law and order to be restored. Hence the clean-up crews removing the criminal element.
Captain: Yes. Once the sweeps began, most of the criminals retreated into these dense forest plantations. As such, several bounty hunting organizations set up all over the continent. Thanks to the nature of this planet, hardly any of them attempted to secure their reputations with Federation security.
Servalan: Does it matter as long as the job gets done?
Captain: There was substantial evidence that the rebels were using the sweeps as some kind of recruitment drive. Several officers went into the field undercover as fake criminals, the idea being they would be captured and able to report on the true nature of the different organizers.
Servalan: Surely very risky for them.
Captain: It was ensured there were premiums offered to bring them back alive. Greed ensured we lost no agents in the operation itself. One of the agents confirmed a rebel operation in the silo, and demanded emergency assault and extraction. We had no time to properly prepare an attack and went in nearly blind. We were detected almost the moment we arrived; they were far more organized than we’d been lead to believe.
Servalan: What happened next?
Captain: We stormed the silo. Managed to slaughter a few rebels and located the agent in one of the tracking galleries – then we were bush-wacked from behind. There were dozens of them, hiding in secret panels, gas attacks, armed to the teeth. Only a handful of us got out of the silo alive. By the time our reinforcements arrived, the base was deserted and deactivated. All they left were the bodies of my men.
Servalan: Not unreasonable, as excuses go. You deprived the rebels of their location, ended their subversive activities and sent them running. There is one thing you haven’t explained, however.
Servalan: Why did your agent summon you without properly warning you of the base’s defenses? What caused such a panic you had to strike immediately?
Captain: It wasn’t just any rebel outpost, Commissioner. It was the rebel outpost.
Servalan: What do you mean?
Captain: When the agent discovered who was in charge, she raised the alarm.
Servalan: And who, pray tell, was in charge?
Captain: You might have heard of him. [looks at her] His name is Blake.
[Servalan is speechless.]
[Space. A small bullet-shaped escape capsule drifts away from Servalan’s ship and down towards Gauda Prime.]
[Inside the capsule, the pilot grips the chair rest as it shudders. An alarm goes off.]
Pilot: Today is not turning out to be a good day.
[A screen activates, showing two gunships approaching.]
Pilot: Oh no. No, no, no, no, no!
[Security room. Gamren is studying a display. Two gunships are closing in on the escape capsule. She shakes her head in disbelief.]
Gamren: What the hell is he doing? Who launches a life capsule through a gunship blockade? [yells at screen] There are quicker and less painless ways to commit suicide, you know! [sighs] Insane. Totally insane.
[Capsule. The pilot is fiddling with a control panel.]
Pilot: Distress signal... emergency propulsion... come on... come on...
[Space. The gunship fires. There is an explosion and the capsule spins through space.]
[Capsule. The pilot cries. Smoke and explosions.]
[Security room. Gamren crosses to a communicator.]
Zanto: [vo] Zanto here. What is it, Gamren?
Gamren: Commissioner Sleer’s ship – a life capsule’s been launched right into the blockade. The gunships are already using it for target practice. You’ll probably need to factor this into your strategies, I’m sure.
[Office. Zanto is speaking into an identical communicator. At a desk sits an obscured figure who speaks in a sulky, bitter voice.]
Zanto: [sighs] Gamren, please, I can only fake so much laughter every day.
Gamren: [vo] Yeah. Sure. Look, I can’t be certain, but there’s only one life sign. I presume it’s Sleer aboard the capsule, and if gets to the ground in one piece it should land in Port Dunbar. Should we organize a collection team?
Zanto: I’ll ask. [turns around] Well... sir?
Leader: [vo] No.
Zanto: There’s a strong possibility that Sleer is on board, sir, and the Federation forces haven’t so much as tried to contact the ship...
Leader: [vo] Then it’s a trap, isn’t it?
[We see the leader for the first time. It’s Vila. He’s seen better days – and worse.]
Vila: So, just this once, Zanto, just for a change, let’s break the habit of a life time and not dive into it face first. Understand?
[Space. Two gunships swoop towards the life capsule. They fire. An explosion.]
[Space. Two gunships swoop towards the life capsule. They fire. An explosion.]
[Inside the capsule, the pilot screams as something explodes in his face.]
[The capsule tumbles silently into the atmosphere.]
[Office. Zanto is still by the communicator.]
Zanto: What’s happening, Gamren?
Gamren: [vo] Capsule’s more or less intact. Heading down into Plantation Four.
Zanto: What about the occupant? Are they still alive?
Gamren: [vo] Um. No idea, sir. Too much electromagnetic static to tell.
Vila: Ignore it.
Gamren: [vo-caustic] Right, sir.
Vila: I dare say the Federation forces here are already mounting a rescue attempt – let’s stay out of their way for once.
Zanto: It’s a strategy we’ve seen a lot of this last week, sir.
Vila: A week in which we weren’t massacred by masked troopers, Zanto. Somehow that gives this plan an edge, the way it always ends with us not being shot dead. I don’t see anyone else coming up with a plan that reliable – you, least of all.
Zanto: I was only Blake’s advisor, sir. I wasn’t in charge of planning.
Vila: Maybe you should have been. Blake might still be around.
[Zanto sighs, having heard all this before.]
Zanto: Sir, I understand you encountered Sleer on several occasions.
Zanto: You must know something about her. Why would she come here and leave within minutes, park in orbit and then jettison a life capsule back down to the surface?
Vila: [shrugs] Women. They’re a mystery. Sleer’s worse than most. But I know this – now she’s on GP, it’s the best place for us not to be. She’s more dangerous than that squad of troopers squatting in your old silo, that’s for sure.
Zanto: [patiently] We can’t abandon the planet, sir, we’ve discussed this before. Apart from anything else, we don’t have access to an escape vessel any more.
Vila: You’re the psychostrategist, Zanto. Work it out yourself!
[Vila tops up his drink, calming down.]
Vila: Anything else?
Zanto: Your friend, sir. According to Narril, she’s out of the coma.
[Vila looks up sharply.]
Vila: Is she awake?
Zanto: Drifting in and out. Don’t worry, sir. Narril kept her distance and there are no weapons to hand. Your instructions were very clear.
Vila: Damn right they were. [rises] I’m heading down to the surgical unit. Keep an eye out on what the Federation are doing and do some more work in finding us a way off this planet that doesn’t involve plasma bullets and body-bags.
[Vila hurries out, still talking.]
Vila: Cause that’s the only option Servalan will give us...
[Zanto is shocked.]
[The tracking gallery of Blake’s former base. There are signs of a battle; smoke damage and burns on the walls. A Federation trooper is operating Klyn’s desk. Servalan sweeps in from stage right, still holding Orac. The Captain and troopers accompany her. The trooper looks up and takes off the helmet, revealing herself to be a young woman.]
Captain: What is it, trooper?
Lora: The ranger scope’s picked up a battle in upper orbit. The gunships opened fire on an escape pod from the cruiser.
Servalan: [amused] How brutal of them.
Captain: An escape pod? [to Servalan] Your crew are fleeing your ship?
Servalan: Yes. [chuckles] Unsuccessfully, it appears.
Lora: Just the one capsule, sir. Took in some damage but it’s already in the atmosphere. Coming down on the other side of the plantation.
Servalan: Ignore it, Captain. That is a direct order.
Lora: But the person inside might...
Captain: [quickly] Leave it, trooper.
[Servalan smiles, pleased to be obeyed.]
Captain: In the meantime, Commissioner. We have an office for you to use during your stay – the best technology available in this pit, anyway. I’ll just run the standards security checks and then we can discuss the operation in greater detail.
Servalan: [disgusted] You doubt my credentials, Captain?
Captain: On Gauda Prime, Commissioner, it pays to be overcautious.
Servalan: I can assure you, I am no rebel.
Captain: Of course not. [to guards] Take her through.
[Servalan is escorted out the left-hand corridors. The Captain turns to Lora.]
Captain: [sotto] Plot the landing site of that capsule and get a recovery team over there immediately. The weather’s getting worse and we don’t want the bounty hunters getting there first...
Lora: Everyone’s still out on patrol, Captain.
Captain: Then you do it! Show some initiative for once, trooper!
[He storms off in the direction Servalan took. Lora shakes her head in despair.]
[Deva’s old office. The wall computer has exploded outwards. Servalan places Orac on the desk, aware of the two troopers watching her from the doorway. The Captain arrives.]
Captain: As you can see, Commissioner. Too much equipment and security for a usual bounty hunter den. And there’s nothing left on this planet for ordinary criminals except being captured or killed. A rebel stronghold.
Servalan: Which you have now taken over.
Captain: Much good it’s done us. The main computer systems self-destructed during the evacuation. It’s taken us three days just to get the detectors working again.
Servalan: Very efficient. [sits] Perhaps you can explain what happened in more detail.
[The Captain scowls, as she is now sitting behind the desk and he has nowhere to sit.]
Captain: You know all the salient facts already, Commissioner.
Servalan: Please don’t presume, Captain. Roj Blake was sentenced to life imprisonment on Cygnus Alpha many years ago. Officially, he’s still there. Unofficially, of course, he escaped and lead a terrorist campaign across the galaxy until he perished during the Galactic War.
Captain: War’s a bad time for fact checking, ma’am. We all know that. It seems he survived eventually and made a new start on this planet, away from Federation jurisdiction.
Servalan: You know what Blake looks like, of course.
Captain: More or less. Time changes people.
Servalan: Not enough, if he was still organizing political crime sprees. Did you actually see Blake yourself, Captain, with your own eyes?
Captain: No, Commissioner. My agent was captured by a bounty hunter matching Blake’s description, who identified himself as Roj Blake. She was brought to this base for identity checks and basic medical attention. She made contact with the base administrator, revealed Blake’s true identity and discovered it was well-known. The administrator and everyone else here was either a rebel or rebel sympathizer.
Servalan: And they trusted your agent when the first thing she did was betray the rebellion’s greatest hero? She sounded a rather poor choice for recruitment.
Captain: Not entirely sure of that myself, ma’am. As far as I can tell it was a kind of testing, to see how a prospective rebel would react around Blake and the idea of his betrayal. [mock angry] “You evil man, you used to mean something but now you’re as bad as the others!” That sort of thing. Blake was impressed, apparently, and had her join the operation.
Servalan: And she summoned you in right away.
Captain: Capturing Blake, Commissioner, would be guaranteed promotion for every single member of my unit. If there is a direct way to go from a lowly sub-commander to a place in Space Command, then capturing the most notorious rebel in the galaxy is it – wouldn’t you agree?
Servalan: Always, of course, assuming it wasn’t some random deluded rebel simply impersonating Blake. It has been known, after all. What happened to this agent of yours?
Captain: Agent Arlen was killed in the battle, Commissioner. We were tracking her homing beacon into that main tracking gallery outside, [points] but she was already dead.
Servalan: She revealed her true identity too soon, I suppose?
Captain: Unknown. [frowns] All the signs are she had taken the rebels prisoner and disarmed them.
Servalan: And how did she die? Killed with their bare hands?
Captain: Yes. She was found with a broken neck.
Servalan: [rolls eyes] How tragic! So no one actually saw Blake here, at least no one that is still alive.
Captain: No, Commissioner.
Servalan: Which, alas, begs the question of where exactly this “Blake” and his fellow criminals are now...
Captain: Some kind of secondary fall-back position. They are still on this planet, quite probably still in this continent. The terrain is perfect to hide any number of encampments in those woods. However, we have no further information as to their whereabouts.
Servalan: I get the oddest feeling that that will soon change...
[Smiling at him, Servalan pats Orac affectionately.]
- to be continued...