[Station tunnel. Avon lies sprawled on the floor. There is blood on his temple. Chebadir and the surviving savages stand over him, wheezing and growling. Jav reaches down and rubs some blood on his hand before sucking it.]
Hurn: Why wait for him to recover? Strip the flesh from his bones now! If we are to die, let us perish with a full meal inside us!
Jav: Hurn’s right. Look at him. Thin, yes... but the taste is sweet! Juicy!
Hurn: The marrow will be just as rich and warm!
[Avon’s eyes open but he does not move.]
Avon: Do I get a say in any of this?
Chebadir: Food never does.
Avon: What are you?
Chebadir: Human. Like you. Once.
Avon: I’ll take your word for it.
Hurn: Live in this hell long enough and say that again!
Jav: We do what is needed to survive.
Avon: The fact you enjoy it is clearly a side benefit.
Chebadir: [angry] You know nothing!
[Avon sits up, groggy but unafraid.]
Avon: I know enough. You’ve been here a long time, haven’t you? Ever since Gauda Prime was declared open and strip mined, drained to the dregs. You must all have become very rich very, very quickly.
Chebadir: Indeed. There are enough gemstones and rocks on this platform to buy our own worlds – but they are useless. We have been trapped for decades, cut off from the universe outside, forsaken and betrayed and alone! Food is all that matters now!
Hurn: He is strong, muscular!
Jav: No doubt chewy and succulent!
Chebadir: You will make a delicious final meal. Your ship is gone, your friends have left you here, doomed to die as we are. You want a say in this, flesh-meat? Yes – you can choose to die with us. Or die for us.
[Avon notices his discarded clip-gun lying nearby.]
Avon: They’re both such enticing options. But I believe there is an alternative.
Chebadir: All this talk makes me hungry...
[Chebadir lunges at Avon, who snatches it up and aims at her face.]
Avon: I wouldn’t do that if I were you!
Chebadir: You think death frightens me! [sneers] Go on then, stranger. Look me in the eye. Pull the trigger. Strike me down and end my life.
[Avon adjusts his aim. He still doesn’t fire.]
Avon: As I said, there is an alternative. I can give you all the lives you lost.
Chebadir: We are not what we once were – but we are never fools.
Avon: You have also been out of touch with the rest of the galaxy for decades. You have no idea of the technical advances that have been made in that time. Intergalactic drives, quasi-organic germanium circuitry... and rejuvenation technology. I can give you back the years you’ve wasted on this hulk.
Hurn: What good is youth? We have only days left before the station breaks up.
Avon: Time enough for me to repair your communicator grid and call for help.
Jav: No help is coming.
Avon: Remember your stockpile of wealth. Believe me, we can get someone’s attention.
[The savages exchange looks.]
Hurn: Why not? After all, you cannot kill us all.
Avon: I’ve done worse – and to people I care about.
Chebadir: Perhaps. Perhaps not.
[She holds up the ammo clip. Avon’s face falls. He pulls the trigger. Nothing.]
Avon: [smiles] I’m impressed. Not that my expectations were high to start with. But I’m impressed even so.
[He gets to his feet.]
Avon: Shall we begin?
[Space. The cruiser is now clear of the station and heading into free space. Three pursuit ships are visible, getting larger and closer. Vila watches on.]
Vila: [dist-sotto] It’s getting cold.
Zanto: [listens to headphones] They’re hailing us.
Gamren: What do they say?
Zanto: The usual. This is a restricted area, this is a stolen vessel, reduce velocity, prepare to be boarded and if we fail to comply they blast us. That sort of thing.
Lora: The second pursuit ship’s coming in from astern. They’re opening fire!
Gamren: [hopeful] Laser charges?
Lora: [sighs] Nope. Plasma bolts, launched and running.
Zanto: [brightly] All right, Gamren. Over to you.
[Gamren rolls her eyes and begins adjusting controls.]
[Space. The cruiser swerves to the left. The plasma bolt scrapes past with a shower of sparks as the cruiser swerves back onto course again. The second bolt hurtles closer...]
[Flight deck. The room rocks with impact. Several control panels blow out and smoke fills the room as the crew struggle to regain their balance.]
Zanto: What’s the damage?
Gamren: Superficial, but we won’t survive another hit.
Lora: Why didn’t the force wall deflect the bolt?
Orac: All defensive systems are running at thirteen per cent less than normal functioning due to the ongoing repairs and modifications...
Zanto: We know, Orac, so just shut up!
[On the screen, the pursuit ships grow larger.]
Lora: We can’t outrun them.
Lora: And we can’t turn around and shoot back.
Lora: And even with a partial force field around us, a direct strike from a plasma bolt and what’s left of us will be a challenge for future archaeologists to even discover.
Zanto: Not good.
Gamren: You noticed that, huh?
[Zanto begins to reset controls furiously.]
Lora: Plasma bolt launched and running...
Lora: Fifty seconds, maybe less.
[Zanto ducks under the flight console, wrenches open a panel and starts to brutally rip free the wires within. Gamren crouches down beside him.]
[Space. The plasma bolt hurtles away from the pursuit ship, getting larger and larger.]
[Flight deck. Zanto finishes under the console.]
Gamren: On a scale of one to ten, just how dead are we?
Zanto: My money’s on “zero.” Orac, set all drives on to maximum power.
Orac: That course of action is hardly advisable...
Zanto: I’m not asking you to advise it, I’m asking you to do it! I’ve destroyed the safety overrides. Send us into a flat spin and we can escape this pincer movement.
Lora: That bolt’s getting very close...
Gamren: He gave you an order, Orac!
Orac: The photonic systems are unchecked and when used in real time, the risks of destabilization are increased! I must caution you against this!
Lora: Impact in fifteen seconds!
Zanto: Caution noted – now do it!
[The engine whirr grows louder.]
Orac: Very well, but this course of action is extremely fool––––––
[The whirr explodes into a deafening roar. All three are slammed back into their seats. The image shimmers and repeats, superimposed over itself several times. Time itself is buckling under the acceleration.]
[Space. Rainbow hues engulf the cruiser as it suddenly hurtles off into space, spinning like a dart as it corkscrews off into infinity.]
[Flight deck. Everything is happening super fast yet in slow motion simultaneously. Explosions rip through the console as the crew are slammed back into their chairs. The engine roar gets louder and higher in pitch until it shrieks into silence. Zanto is suddenly flung from his chair onto the deck, breathless and exhausted.]
Servalan: [vo] The time has come – but then, we always knew it would.
[Dazed, Zanto looks up. Servalan is standing over him, amused at his plight.]
Servalan: Sooner or later, Zanto, the past always catches up with the present. This is what has to be.
[Zanto shakes his head in groggy horror.]
Zanto: You’re dead. Vila. He killed you. Dead.
Servalan: Do you like my dress, Zanto? It’s a masterpiece, don’t you think? You should have paid closer attention. You really should.
[Smiling, she reaches out to stroke his hand. He flinches away violently.]
Zanto: No. No, no, no!
Gamren: [vo] Zanto! Wake up!
[Servalan’s hand shakes Zanto and he grabs the wrist. It is Gamren’s wrist.]
Zanto: Leave me alone!
Gamren: [sweetly] Let go of me, Zanto or die wishing that you had.
[Zanto looks around. Gamren is crouched over him. There is smoke drifting around the room. Lora is nearby, waving it away. He takes this in.]
Zanto: Gamren. [blinks] Sorry.
[He lets go. She straightens up.]
Zanto: What happened?
Gamren: We survived your plan. You’re getting better at these.
Orac: I beg to differ. The chances of us ever returning to our original point in time were five hundred and fifty three billion to one against. By rights, this ship and all its contents should have been totally dispersed in negative hyperspace...
Lora: But it didn’t, did it? And we’re alive.
Gamren: True. [smiles] What was your plan, Orac? Try to negotiate with the plasma bolt? This is why the organics are the ones in charge...
Orac: I would have ascertained a viable stratagem in due course.
Gamren: One that got rid of the pursuit ships as well? Check the detector recordings...
[She punches a sequence into a control panel. The screen shows the three pursuit ships flying in formation, when they suddenly shrink into the distance. Two of the ships suddenly seem to crash into each other and explode in a massive fireball. The remaining ship, afire, spins off out of frame.]
Lora: How did that happen?
Gamren: Who cares – it worked.
Lora: The displacement slipstream must have sucked them together...
Gamren: [firmly] I say again “who cares – it worked”.
[She turns and regards the damage to the flight deck.]
Lora: What a mess.
Gamren: It’s worse than it looks.
Lora: All right, but what it lacks in quality it makes up for in quantity.
Orac: The mere fact this ship survived a parabolic curve is miraculous. We could very easily have overtaken ourselves – or, just as possibly, crashed into ourselves – while simultaneously being turned inside out.
Gamren: [rolls eyes] We get it! It was risky!
Orac: It was positively suicidal.
Zanto: We must have been right in the eye of the storm.
Lora: [blinks] Eye of Storm. How’s that for a name?
Gamren: [shakes head] Too long. Anyway, more importantly, where are we now?
Zanto: [checks display] Behind the station. On the other side of the system.
Lora: I thought we were back were we were.
Orac: Only in purely temporal terms. Given the universe is constantly expanding and very human concept of “distance” is an illusion of perspective, we were bound to arrive in a different location from our starting point.
Gamren: Good news is that the last pursuit ship – assuming it’s still in one piece – is a couple of billion miles away looking in the wrong direction. We can scoop up Vila in peace. He’s only been out there for a few minutes, he should be fine.
Zanto: Orac, navigate us back to him.
Orac: You are quite capable of such a task yourselves. My assistance will not change the fact that Vila’s situation is terminal and...
Zanto: Orac! Do as you are instructed!
Lora: Yeah. Your advice hasn’t been particularly reliable tonight. You’ve lead us to a den of cannibals in a space station that pursuit ships were going to use as target practice and then insisted we shouldn’t do the only thing to save all our lives.
Orac: [snorts] If you are not prepared to accept the wisdom of a superior intelligence, then I refuse to be held accountable for the consequences. Interception course plotted.
[Space. The cruiser swoops down towards the station.]
[Flight deck. The trio are tidying away the damage.]
Lora: At this rate we’ll be able to get Avon back as well.
Gamren: All us came through the fire intact for once.
Zanto: Like the phoenix.
Lora: The what?
Zanto: It’s a legendary bird from ancient Earth, it supposedly had an extraordinarily-long life span. After five centuries or so, it set its nest on fire and the flames burn it to ashes... leaving a brand new, regenerated bird behind. It doesn’t just survive, it comes out better than it was to start with.
Gamren: [thoughtful] Phoenix.
Gamren: Good name for a ship that.
[Zanto stares at her, not sure if she’s serious. She grins. He does too.]
Lora: [to herself] I still prefer Eye of Storm...
[Space. The cruiser passes the turning station.]
[Command centre. Avon is moving frantically from machine to machine. The whirring of mechanisms is louder and unstable. The savages watch on.]
Chebadir: [suspicious] You are hastening the collapse!
Jav: [shrugs] What does it matter as long as we are not here when it happens?
Hurn: [to Avon] Even if you give us back our years, you cannot undo the nightmares we have suffered – they are agonies worse than you could ever imagine!
Avon: [mutters] It’s always nice to know there’s someone worse off than yourself. [louder] There must have been other ships before mine. Didn’t they ever offer the chance of escape?
Chebadir: No. Hurn tried to use the station defenses to attract their attention – and destroyed three in the attempt. The last was a passenger liner. Their escape pods docked with the station, five hundred passengers.
Jav: [evil smirk] They have... sustained us, ever since.
[Avon pauses in his work for a moment.]
Avon: How did you overpower five hundred passengers?
Chebadir: The atmospheric systems. We changed the mixture of the air, increased carbon dioxide. They fell asleep and did not awake. There was no resistance.
Jav: [proudly] I thought of that!
[Avon flips a row of switches, then helps himself to some of the stones in a shelf. In the background, the air conditioning goes into overdrive.]
Avon: Thank you for that. I now know how to put you all out of your misery.
Hurn: What have you done?
Chebadir: [rolls eyes] What do you think he’s done, Hurn? [to Avon] Reverse it!
[He takes a teleport bracelet from his pocket.]
Avon: Or what? You’ll eat me?
Hurn: Or I shall open your skull and caress your final memories with my tongue!
Avon: That won’t help you reverse the flow.
[Jav starts to flip switches, but to no avail. Everyone is finding it hard to breathe.]
Jav: You will die with us!
Avon: I think not.
[He presses a button on the bracelet. Instantly, Avon is shrouded in red/green static and quickly fades away, leaving a static-filled silhouette that Hurn flies through as he tries to grab the escaping prisoner. He hits the floor hard and tries to get up, gasping for air.]
Chebadir: [gasps] This isn’t fair!
[She sways and staggers, clawing at her throat.]
Chebadir: [wheezes] I’m still hungry...
[She topples to the floor. All the savages slump, lifelessly as the air conditioning rages around them. Hurn’s clawing hands finally go limp.]
Orac: Alert. The bio-energy store of the teleport system has been activated.
Gamren: And that means?
[The lights on the flight deck dim into a deep blue as a shimmering curtain of red light descends over the teleport bay. A silhouette forms on the platform, then turns into Avon. The curtain disperses and the lights return to normal as Avon sways drunkenly and then crashes face-first onto the ground, looking unwell.]
Gamren: [mildly] So that’s how it works.
[Avon sits up, clearly dazed and groggy. Zanto and Gamren have their guns drawn.]
Lora: What’s wrong?
Avon: [ill] The transfer stress was worse than I expected... the systems still need calibration. Fortunately the emergency recall circuit worked on the first attempt. [nods to their guns] Though I expected a friendlier reception.
Gamren: You expected wrong.
Zanto: Though, for what it’s worth – welcome to the Phoenix.
Avon: [frowns] Phoenix?
Lora: We named the ship.
Avon: No doubt Vila has already christened the hull with a bottle of soma...
[Avon gets to his feet, then frowns and looks around.]
Avon: [suspicious] Where is Vila?
[Long pause. The others look sheepish.]
[Space. Vila is slowly spinning loosely.]
- to be continued...