[Space. The cruiser approaches the space station.]
Gamren: [vo] What’s a space station doing out on the frontier?
Avon: [vo] Revolving slowly upon its axis, I’d say. The question is how has it fallen into such a state of decay and disrepair. Orac?
[Flight deck. Avon has joined the others at the main screen.]
Orac: What you are currently observing is a basic class-C space wheel of a design pioneered some 35 years ago. All the data I have correlated shows it was constructed by one of the various independent mining companies that harvested Gauda Prime – the station’s construction was a useful expenditure for financial records and created a way station for the mining ship transferring their cargo from the Open Planet.
Vila: Cheap and nasty. Why’d it get abandoned?
Orac: One of the outer levels has been partially destroyed – this sector of space was one of the battle zones in the Galactic War. The mining company was unwilling and unable to repair the station which they then wrote off before going into voluntary liquidation. The station is now classed on astronavigational charts as stellar debris.
Lora: So it’s in better condition than it looks?
Orac: Detector scans indicate that the majority of mechanical systems still operational.
Zanto: What’s the atmosphere like?
Orac: Far more convivial than aboard this ship.
Zanto: Oh, har-har. That wasn’t what I meant.
Orac: The oxygen levels are at an acceptable standard. While the nitrogen content is higher than is generally recommended, it is quite suitable for humanoid life.
Gamren: And there will be technology there we can salvage to build the stabilizer?
Orac: [flatly] Is that a serious question? Why would I recommend this course of action if it did not provide the requested result? Such illogical behavior is quite anathema to me.
Vila: Pity we don’t have the teleport working. We’ll have to dock.
Avon: We’ll have to match rotation first. That station’s still turning.
Vila: [sighs] I am aware of that, Avon.
Avon: I didn’t want to chance it. Orac, take us into dock. Ease us to the best position of stability and print out a layout of the station with the route to central command.
Gamren: [sneers] Oh, and use bright colours too. Us idiots could get confused.
Avon: You heard her, Orac.
Orac: I must protest that this is an increasing unwelcome misuse of my abilities. You should have prioritized the modification of the ship’s flight computers until those machines were capable of taking on such a task. I am a superior system!
Lora: If you’re so good, why aren’t you doing what you’re told like a proper computer?
Orac: I am more than a mere computer.
Gamren: Prove it. Dock us already.
[Orac fumes. Everyone takes their chairs – Vila at Servalan’s desk; Lora, Zanto and Gamren at the forward consoles and Avon at the table with the teleport components. On the screen, the spinning station grows larger and larger.]
[Space. The cruiser slides at a ninety degree angle up to the revolving space station. Its drives hum and the space station seems to slow to a halt. The cruiser slides up against the space station, docking with the central hub at the heart of the wheel. Further away, we see the station is still turning, and clamped to its middle is the cruiser, now spinning as well.]
[Corridor. Everyone is heading up the corridor towards the airlock doors. All bar Avon are now holding Scorpio clip-guns. Lora is unimpressed.]
Lora: Why do we have to use these guns? What’s wrong with para-rifles?
Vila: These are much better, Lora. Top of the range.
Lora: [doubtful] Really.
Vila: Oh yes. Argentium casing, laser-sight-guided, recoil-proof, they fire underwater... [to himself] Though we never did get round to testing that bit...
Gamren: We don’t have many ammunition clips left though, so don’t get trigger-happy.
Lora: As if. I still don’t see why we have to be armed at all, though. No one’s going to be aboard anyway!
Avon: I’ll take your gun if you like.
Vila: Oh no. You’re learning the joys of pacifism from now on.
[Vila crosses to the airlock doors and they slide open to reveal another set of doors.]
Vila: This type of hatch needs a laser trigger key to open the door. Still, shouldn’t be too difficult to find the right charge to trip the mechanism...
[He sets to work on the main locking panel with his tools.]
Vila: Right. Everyone know the bits and pieces we’re looking for?
[She waves a colourful printout ruefully.]
Gamren: We’ve all got the list. I just hope you know what you’re doing.
Zanto: Does anyone?
Avon: I have had my moments.
Gamren: Which were few and far between!
[There is a shower of sparks and the airlock doors slide back to reveal a metal tunnel beyond. Vila looks smugly at the others, pockets his tools, draws his gun and leads them down the tunnel and into the station.]
[Space. The station turns, sinister and silent.]
[Station tunnel. The crew head down to a junction.]
Lora: What a dump. Hard to believe anything’s still working.
Zanto: Won’t be for much longer. You can smell the gravitational motors starting to burn out. I’d give this place a week at most before it falls apart.
Gamren: A week? An hour sounds too confident if you ask me.
Zanto: No one did, Gamren.
Gamren: Their loss!
[Avon pauses by a bank of machinery and starts to strip it. Vila pauses.]
Vila: Careful, Avon. We don’t want to take anything vital, not while we’re inside.
[Avon rolls his eyes but continues to work.]
Avon: Most of the parts are in this sub-calibrator. The rest will be in the command centre, and probably the rest of the back-ups we need to get the teleport functioning.
Vila: See? I knew things would sort themselves out. Onwards and upwards. Avon, take that stuff back to... whatever it is we’re going to call the ship... and get Lora to help you put it together.
Avon: I do not need her help.
Lora: Two pairs of hands are better than one.
Avon: You’re a fool to trust her on the ship unsupervised.
Vila: You’ll be there, Avon. You can supervise her. And Lora, you can supervise Avon.
Lora: Oh, great. I was really hoping to spend the day with this jerk.
Vila: It’s team-building. We’ve all go to learn to work together. And Blake always got us to harmonize and bond by sending us into investigate mysterious deserted space wrecks.
Zanto: [impressed] And it worked?
Vila: [shrugs] More or less.
Avon: Mostly less.
[Avon stacks up the components in Lora’s arms until she sags under the weight and then they turn and head back up the corridor.]
Avon: If you were really worried about me being alone on the ship, Vila, you should have told Orac to restrict my authority.
Lora: He did.
Avon: [eyes widen] What?
Lora: He did, just after we wired Orac into the mainframe.
[She walks off. Avon glares at Vila. Vila waves mockingly. Avon turns and stalks after Lora back towards the airlock. Vila turns to the others.]
Gamren: This way to the command centre, then.
Vila: Lead on. Lead on.
[They do so. A shadowy figure watches them from the gloom, and scuttles after them.]
[Sub Control room. A flickering screen shows the trio in the corridor. The image changes to show Servalan’s ship docked to the side of the station. Three figures watch from the shadows, barely lit by the flickering screens. Their voices are old and scratchy, two men (Hurn and Jav) and a woman (Chebadir).]
Chebadir: Perfect. It’s exactly what we need.
Hurn: We needed it aeons ago! Not days before the gravity motors finally fail...
Jav: It is a way off this death trap. It is enough. Can we fly their ship?
Chebadir: The flight computer will fly it for us. The manual functions are basic enough.
Hurn: And how are we going to capture the ship?
Chebadir: I have a plan.
Hurn: You always have a plan.
Chebadir: Whereas your methods destroyed the last two chances we had of escape. We do it my way, this time. Because time is running out for us all.
[Central Command. With some effort, Zanto and Vila heave back a sliding door towards a large circular room full of humming, blinking machinery. Gamren follows them inside as they examine the machinery.]
Zanto: Aquarius? Torus? Capricorn?
Vila: No. Water, bulls and goats aren’t going to impress people. At least scorpions sounded a bit exotic. What was the name of that shuttle we used, anyway? The one from Blake’s silo?
Gamren: The Orliander.
Vila: Orliander... what does it mean?
Zanto: Small colorful insect on GP, a kind of ladybird.
Vila: The Ladybird... doesn’t really strike the right note, does it?
Gamren: [annoyed] Servalan’s ship must have had its own designation to start with.
Zanto: Yeah. Celestial Queen.
Vila: I know.
Zanto: Since we’re doing everything in the name of freedom, why not that?
Vila: Freedom? A ship called Freedom? It’d get too confusing. We need something more... counter-intuitive.
[Vila opens an inspection hatch and, checking his print out, starts taking out circuits and components, shoving them into his pockets. Gamren helps. Zanto wanders off.]
Gamren: So. What’s the plan?
Vila: Get this stuff back to the ship, stop it blowing up, pick a name for it. That pretty much covers it. Why do you ask?
Gamren: I mean, once we’ve got the ship painted, repaired and named. What then?
Vila: I don’t know. Head back to Gauda Prime, see what Soolin and the others are up to. Take it from there.
Gamren: So we’re still fighting Blake’s fight, then?
Vila: We don’t have a choice.
Gamren: And if we did? What would you do if we were free?
Vila: Dunno. Find a quiet corner of the galaxy. Grow some Caron berries – they make terrific wine. Of course, I’d need some slaves to weed the vineyard...
Gamren: Aren’t we against slavery?
Vila: [sighs] Just my luck. I never asked, Gamren. How did you get into the rebellion?
Gamren: [shrugs] I was already a criminal and Blake made me an offer to help him on Gauda Prime.
[Vila finishes stripping the machine and turns to face her.]
Vila: You think you could be a little more vague on that score?
Gamren: Well, it’s not as impressive as helping him steal an alien spaceship to escape Cygnus Alpha, the planet of no escape and lead a galactic crusade for four years.
Vila: [interrupts] That wasn’t me.
Gamren: [confused] No?
Vila: No. I was the one who he rescued from Cygnus Alpha after he’d stolen the alien spaceship. It was Avon who did that.
Gamren: Heh. Urban legends. Always better than the real thing.
Vila: So what happened to you?
Gamren: I got a commission at the FSA. They thought I was pilot material – specially the pilots they can afford to lose on the front lines. Fighting Liberator, fighting alien, fighting a civil war. I was put in a file marked expendable.
Vila: And then you found out about it.
Gamren: And I told the rest of the FSA. Caused my own mini-rebellion. I was sure they wouldn’t be able to do anything – we were all too valuable to just shoot us. They’d spent a lot of time and money training us to fly and they needed us.
Vila: So what happened?
Gamren: They didn’t shoot us. They sent us to Meloria.
Gamren: You know it?
Vila: [bleak] Cygnus Alpha was the planet of no escape. Meloria’s the planet of lost souls. They sent me there once. The best in the business took it in turns to zap my frontal lobes until I became a proper little citizen. When it didn’t take, they just getting zapping me for the fun of it. Then they got bored and deported me to Cygnus Alpha. More fun than just taking me out the back and shooting me.
Gamren: Well, we were all sent there for total rehabilitation, mind orientation, brainwashing, you name it. Over two thousand recruits to have their pasts removed and an artificial fairy tale implanted instead. The same thing they did to Blake.
Vila: He rescued you?
Gamren: More or less. He was leading an attack on Meloria, “putting a stop to obscenities worse than death”. Managed to take out one of the rehabilitation centres, but by then the Federation had Pylene 50. Only about seventy of us got off Meloria alive and un-adapted. And I was with him ever since.
Vila: Because what he was doing was right? Or because you had nowhere else to go?
Gamren: Does it matter?
Vila: Probably not.
Zanto: [vo] Vila! Gamren! Over here!
[They move through to the next section of the centre. Zanto has prized open a hatch to reveal a display stack of glittering burgundy crystals.]
Gamren: What is it?
Gamren: Secret compartment? Smuggler’s stash? Who knows? The important thing is that there’s no one to dispute ownership of what’s inside.
Vila: You know, I’m beginning to like this cold, damp tomb...
[Vila takes a crystal and studies it.]
Vila: Looks like high-quality kacothis diamonds to me...
Gamren: This station was set up by one of the GP mining companies. They kept some of the merchandise here, obviously – which means they’re genuine.
Zanto: [thoughtful] Left here all this time, gaining value every passing year. Quite a clever piece of capital investment when you think about it.
Vila: Probably worth a couple of billion on the open market alone...
Gamren: There’s more to life than money, you know.
Zanto: [skeptical] Really?
Vila: Well, it’s what people say. Let’s not take the chance.
Gamren: Spoken like a true professional thief. Shall we look for some more?
Vila: Why not? The rebellion still owes me five years’ back-pay...
[They move on, unaware a figure is watching them from the doorway.]
[Flight deck. Avon holds together a stack of components while Lora uses a laser spanner to fuse them together. She makes conversation.]
Lora: You had any ideas for naming the ship?
Avon: If I had, would anyone listen?
Lora: You never know.
Avon: No. I never do. [deep breath] However, they will all want something inspiring and unimaginative – the Falcon, perhaps? Raider? Avenger? Liberator II?
Lora: What would you call it?
Avon: Vila’s Carte Blanche. It sums things up rather well.
[Lora finishes the work and stands back. Avon checks it over.]
Lora: But what would you call it if you were in charge?
Lora: Entropy? Bit gloomy, isn’t it?
Avon: But factual – nothing last forever and change is inevitable. Something we should all bear in mind now the Federation’s expansion has run aground. The pause is only temporary and soon the status quo will change once again. The only question is if it will be to their advantage or to ours.
Lora: Yes. Very clever. You could call the ship We’re All Dead Anyway In A Hundred Years and get the exact same result. Why not something a bit more positive? Something to cheer people up instead of depressing them?
Avon: Why should I care about depressing other people?
Lora: No idea, but as you go out of your way to do it there must be some reason!
Avon: Not one you’d be able to grasp.
Lora: Have you always been like this?
Avon: Like what?
Lora: Poisonous and cynical with a bad word for everyone in the universe and superiority complex big enough to need its own dressing room.
[A long pause.]
Avon: [honest] Yes.
Lora: And it’s really helped your life so far, acting like this, behaving like that?
[Avon doesn’t reply.]
Lora: You know what the definition of insanity is, Avon?
Avon: Doing the same thing, over and over– and expecting different results each time.
Lora: Yes. Maybe you should rethink your approach.
Avon: Maybe you should refrain from commenting on things you know nothing about.
Lora: [to herself] What would we have to talk about then?!
[Command Centre. Gamren, checking her list, opens a panel in the wall and extracts some more circuit boards. Zanto is stuffing the crystals into a bag while Vila continues to examine one with an eye glass, lost in dreams.]
Vila: Think of it! Just a few of these crystals could keep me supplied with all the wine, women and song I could possibly need for the rest of my natural life. I could even pay those slaves I need for the vineyards...
Zanto: Then they wouldn’t be slaves.
Vila: So what’s the problem?
[Gamren closes the panel and steps back. A nasty crunch. She freezes.]
Gamren: What was that noise?
Vila: [bleak] Noise?
[They all look down. Gamren’s boot has crunched a bone into the deck. She gingerly lifts her foot and they look down at it. Zanto picks it up distastefully.]
Zanto: It’s bone.
Vila: A bone? What’s it doing in a control room? Skeleton staff?
Zanto: [swallows] There are teeth marks in it.
Vila: So, it’s someone’s lunch, that’s all. Maybe they were having spare ribs.
Gamren: It would have to be a very big animal.
Vila: There are plenty of big animals that make tasty snacks, I’ve heard.
Vila: It’s a human, isn’t it?
Zanto: Yes. A human femur.
Gamren: How long’s it been there?
Zanto: A while. But not thirty years.
Vila: It’s at times like this I’m glad I’m a vegetarian. Who wants to make a run for it?
Gamren: Count me in. [to Zanto] Why do you never come up with smart ideas like that?
[Zanto stares at the bone in his hand.]
Zanto: We did get Orac to check there was no life aboard, didn’t we?
[They start to look around, worriedly.]
Vila: I don’t remember asking him that exact question, no.
Gamren: He should have mentioned it anyway!
Vila: That’s Orac for you. I think we should leave now.
Zanto: We have got what we’ve come for. And more besides.
Gamren: Maybe we should leave those crystals.
Zanto: You’re joking.
Gamren: If there are people on board this station and they eat human beings, they’re not going to be very friendly to start with. If they find out we’re stealing their precious jewelry...
Zanto: Who says it’s precious to them? These are just pretty rocks, here and now. Them having these crystals aren’t going to make them any less hungry or doomed. I say we get out of here now, before Avon and Lora end up strangling each other.
Gamren: And what about the people here?
Zanto: The possibly-long-dead insane cannibal people? What about them?
Gamren: We’re going to leave them?
Zanto: Very probably.
Gamren: That’s not what Blake would have done. [to Vila] Is it?
Vila: [guiltily] No. But... look. Let’s get back to the ship and get Orac to scan this place properly. We can take it from there. Maybe give this lot a lift or... something.
Gamren: Sounds reasonable.
Zanto: Reason always does.
[The figure has emerged from the shadows and its moving towards them. One robed arm holds a heavy-duty looking blaster. It fires, there is a white-red beam of light that impales Zanto in the shoulder and he screams and falls. The others dive back. Gamren draws her gun and fires at the figure, who retreats. Vila shoots at the figure, who fires back and slams a control before ducking through the doorway. Vila fires again, but the doors all slide shut, sealing them in. Gamren crouches by Zanto while Vila checks the door.]
Gamren: How bad is it?
Zanto: [pained and weak] At least you didn’t ask if I was all right. Can’t stand stupid questions like that...
Gamren: [angry] How bad?
Zanto: [groans] Not too much. My arm feels like every nerve just exploded.
[Gamren rolls him onto his side.]
Gamren: Basic energy charge. Cauterized the wound. You’re lucky.
Zanto: No. [sobs] Lucky would have been him missing me.
Vila: No. Lucky would be the three of us getting out here before they sealed the control centre off! [grimly] They’ve shut off everything – doors, panels, air vents, you name it.
Gamren: [alarmed] But if they’ve shut off the air vents...
Vila: [swallows] Then we suffocate.
Vila: [swallows] Then we suffocate.
- to be continued...