[City wall. A large octagonal doorframe is visible in the surface of the crystalline barricade. Unlike the gentle pulse from the walls, the door is constantly backlit by a glare. The crew approach.]
Zanto: Main entrance.
Avon: Whatever created it was probably humanoid.
Gamren: What makes you say that? I don’t see any door handle. How does it open?
Vila: They probably did something gruesome with tentacles.
[Gamren pushes at the door with all her strength.]
Gamren: No opening mechanism. [to Vila] You’re the expert, sir. How do we get in?
[Vila looks the doors over with a fresh eye.]
Vila: Well. I haven’t seen this type before. But if this is crystalline, it might resonate on certain frequencies – like a sonal lock back home. The right noise might open it up, but as to what that noise could be? Well, your guess is almost as good as mine.
Lora: A password?
Gamren: Identification sign?
Zanto: The lattice might work on light as well as sound...
Lora: Pity we don’t know what their language was. We might just have to shout “Hello! Let us in!”
[There is a loud cracking from the door. They all start and look up at the doors.]
Zanto: What did you do?
Lora: You know what I did. I just shouted...
Gamren: The crystal! It’s breaking up!
[A spider web of cracks is spreading out from the seam between doors, then stops.]
Avon: It seems you were both right. The door was set to react to noise, but Lora’s voice was at too-deep a pitch and shattered the receiver, as well as most of the doors.
Zanto: I don’t think we should risk opening the doors, unless we want to risk getting smothered in shards of flying crystal everywhere.
Gamren: So now what? Walk around this city until we find another door?
Lora: Maybe Orac’s worked something out.
Vila: Yeah. He might have sorted out the teleport.
[Vila rubs his head and winces. Lora notices.]
Lora: Are you all right?
Vila: I’ve got a headache. Doesn’t that noise bother you?
Zanto: What noise? The one you heard earlier?
Vila: Not sure. [hisses] It’s like pressure outside my head. The door...
Gamren: Probably some kind of alarm system. Let’s get back to the ship.
Lora: Why isn’t it bothering us?
Vila: I’m very sensitive.
Gamren: You could have fooled me.
[Suddenly Gamren cries out and goes flying to the ground. The others look around, drawing their guns (Avon is unarmed). They are quite alone.]
Avon: What the hell...?
[Vila cries out and falls over, his legs kicked from under him. Zanto spins and fires at the empty air where Vila had been standing. Lora looks frightened.]
Lora: What are you shooting at?
Zanto: Something I can’t see?
Avon: Yes. Zanto may be right. If the life here operates on different frequencies...
[Struck in the stomach, Avon back flips into the dust.]
Vila: They’re invisible! We’re under attack by invisible monsters!
Gamren: That’s just not fair!
[Something knocks her from behind. Zanto helps Gamren up.]
Zanto: We don’t have time for this! Back to Phoenix! Run!
[They all scramble away from the city wall. Avon is slammed down, face-first. Vila and Lora help him up and they all run. Lora is struck and stumbles but managed to keep running.]
[Phoenix corridor. Avon, Gamren and Lora race in through the open airlock, breathless.]
Lora: This planet is supposed to be dead!
Gamren: Well, it obviously isn’t!
[Zanto and Vila run into the airlock. As Zanto passes through the doorway, Vila cries out and is yanked backwards out of sight.]
[Avon slams his hand on the hatch control and the doors slide shut.]
Zanto: Open the door!
Avon: We can’t risk the Phoenix being compromised!
Lora: No, I think you’ll find we can!
[Lora goes for the control, but Avon wrestles her away.]
Avon: Listen! Open the hatch and you could kill all of us!
Lora: But Vila...
Avon: [brutal] Might already be dead. And sacrificing our lives won’t bring him back.
Gamren: He’s got a point. First thing’s first. We need to find out what’s going on out there.
[Outside Phoenix. Vila lies sprawled in the dust, alive and conscious and terrified. He looks around, seemingly alone on the plain. Cautiously, he tries to sit up but is slammed down again.]
Vila: [panicking] Easy! Take it easy!
[A discordant, barely-coherent voice howls over the wind.]
Vila: [wincing] My head! What are you?
Nreeshi: YOU... DANGER...
Vila: Me? I’m not dangerous! I’m totally harmless! I don’t hurt anyone, me.
Nreeshi: YOU AND YOUR KIND...
Vila: We’re just visitors! Passing through! I promise you, I give you my word, let me get inside and we’ll leave and never come back! I swear!
[The voice is clear enough now to sound impatient.]
Nreeshi: YOU ARE ALL... IN... DANGER!!
Vila: Well. Yes. That’s par for the course, really. Why do I get the feeling this is a warning rather than a threat? A bunch of invisible aliens who build cities out of crystal... [frowns] what would you be scared of?
Nreeshi: DANGER! DANGER!
Vila: [grimaces] That was a rhetorical question! Gah!
[Like a puppet, he is yanked to his feet by one arm. He is spun around. Black smoke is coiling around the Phoenix’s landing ramp and support struts. The smoke gets thicker and darker.]
Nreeshi: DANGER COMES!!
[Phoenix Flight deck. The crew run in.]
Zanto: Blake! Activate all detectors, I want a full scan around the Phoenix. Find Vila!
[The screen lights up, showing Vila running and stumbling across the plain.]
Blake: Vila is at coordinates 72 by 11 by 01.
Zanto: [relieved] He’s still alive.
Avon: Obviously. Where is he headed?
Blake: If he maintains current direction? Back to the settlement.
Gamren: Why run there?
Zanto: He may not be going there of his own accord. Those things are invisible, remember.
Gamren: [rubs stomach] I don’t need reminding.
Avon: Orac. What do you make of the situation?
Orac: It is most interesting. It appears the dominant life form on this planet has mastered the art of complete camouflage by use of ultra-etheric manipulation.
Avon: You mean those creatures are vibrating the molecular structure of their own living cells?
Lora: Is that what’s causing the interference and static you told us about?
Orac: There is a high probability.
Avon: [nodding] And that might in turn might explain that noise Vila could hear, those creatures communicating with each other.
Zanto: At a range normal humans can’t hear, like some wild animals?
Orac: Yes. The pitch of vibration is raised to the point they would be inaudible.
Lora: How is this helping us get Vila back?
Avon: If I’m right, this could be vital information. Those creatures out there are in hiding – they have made themselves totally invisible and inaudible, undetectable. This planet isn’t abandoned, it’s still heavily populated.
Gamren: But who are they hiding from? Us? The Federation?
Zanto: If the creatures in that city are invisible, it’s possible there enemies might be as well...
Lora: Orac, now you know more about the interference, is it possible we can recalibrate the teleport to filter it out?
Orac: It is theoretically possible, but highly unlikely.
Blake: Alert! Unidentified atmospheric conditions are occurring outside the Phoenix!
[On the screen, the black smoke starts to rise up and blot out the landscape.]
Gamren: Some kind of dust storm?
Blake: All the signs are it was artificially induced.
Lora: A smokescreen?
Avon: Blake, analyze that smoke and give me a direct print out!
Gamren: Whatever it is, it’s totally enveloping us.
Zanto: Don’t panic, Gamren. We’re air-tight, remember?
[Outside. The outer airlock is lost in the broiling clouds of black smoke.]
[Phoenix corridor. The smoke begins to curve around the edges of the hatches.]
[Flight deck. Avon stands at Vila’s console. Data scrolls up the screen.]
Avon: The substance is a finely-balanced mixture of organophosphates and non-persistent agents...
Zanto: [realizing] Nerve gas?
Orac: Quite so. The “smoke” as you call it is in fact a specially-designed to block enzymes and neurotransmission in organic nervous systems, and has been modified to be absorbed through the skin as well as the respiratory system.
Gamren: Is this some kind of weapons testing area?
Avon: More likely a frontal assault on the invisible creatures themselves.
[Phoenix corridor. The passage is now swimming in the black smoke.]
[Flight deck. Everyone is concentrating on Orac as the smoke drifts in through the doorway.]
Avon: The gas is being used by the enemy they’re hiding from, which can presumably tell us more about their physiognomy, can’t it Orac?
Lora: [coughs] What’s that? [coughs] Smell?
[They notice the increasing amounts of gas and cough all the more.]
Zanto: It’s gotten into the ship!
Avon: Blake! Use the [coughing] ventilators! Cleanse the... [coughs] atmosphere...
[Zanto coughs violently and sags, before collapsing into the smoke drifting along the floor. There is the sound of the air conditioning powering up. Lora collapses in her chair. Avon and Gamren head for the door off the flight deck. It slides open and another thick cloud of black smoke washes over them. They topple and collapse as the deck floods with smoke.]
Blake: The nerve agent is too intricate for routine filtration programs to eliminate. Orac, I need your help.
Orac: I have already calculated a solution but I feel that it will not be necessary.
[Phoenix corridor. The smoke starts to die down. The hatch stiffly jerks open to reveal darkness. The blackness spreads, swallowing up the corridor. The guttural whispers from before are heard.]
[Phoenix flight deck. The smoke is clearing rapidly. The room gets darker as shadows spread out across the walls and the whispering gets louder and louder. Words become discernible.]
Taihyr: ...you feel fear... do not... it is not necessary... you are all... unharmed.
[On the floor, the crew are recovering consciousness, but only their eyes can move.]
Taihyr: ...the black smoke... the gas... it renders complete metabolic paralysis... you are fortunate we used such a small dose... so we can control its effects... the surface immobility will pass shortly...
Gamren: [croaks] Who... who are...
Taihyr: I am... Taihyr... we are... you would call us... shadow people? We are of this world... just as you are not of this world... you came here in this ship... why? Our world is nothing to you... our star is dying and there is nothing left for you to take...
Zanto: [groans] Travelers... just curious... the city...
Taihyr: Ah... the city of silence... we were watching you... we watched you arrive... you approached the city... we watched you attack the city...
[The crew are recovering rapidly. Lora manages to sit up.]
Lora: Not attack. Didn’t mean anything.
Taihyr: Unintentional? Interesting... your voices cracked the crystal walls... you can be useful to us...
Gamren: Can we?
Taihyr: We communicate as best we can... your voices stronger than ours could be...
Lora: You created that nerve gas. Can’t you build a loudhailer or something?
Taihyr: “Loud... hailer?” No... why build when we can take what we need?
Zanto: Is that your way of saying we’re prisoners?
Taihyr: You live thanks to our mercy. You repay that mercy and we rescue your companion from the city.
Avon: As I thought. Two races at war. Both invisible.
Taihyr: The city-dwellers... the light people... they chose to lose their shapes. We were forced to do so... we cannot allow them the advantage... we stop light itself from refracting...
Orac: Fascinating! What is the cause of the conflict between your races?
[The area around Orac gets darker.]
Taihyr: Machine... a mind of metal... is your voice a weapon, metal mind?
Gamren: The way Orac uses words? Definitely.
Taihyr: Ally yourselves with us... the shadow people... we save your friend... you save us...
Lora: Save you? From what? You’re the one gassing the plains.
Taihyr: Weapons of defense... not enough to stop our enemies... they intend to destroy us all.
Taihyr: The new sun.
[Suddenly a blinding light fills the flight deck. Taihyr screams and chokes off. The light dims and shadows dart across the flight deck walls. There are more flashes and then the illumination steadies, though slightly brighter than normal.]
Gamren: [groans] Now what the hell is going on?
Vila: [vo] Well, for a start, you owe me two heroic rescues!
[Vila enters the flight deck.]
Lora: Vila! You’re all right!
Vila: [surly] No thanks to you lot. Good thing the invisible people out there are friendly. They dragged me off before the nerve gas could kill me. And when the smoke managed to get inside the ship, they were nice enough to come to save you when I asked.
[Avon looks around. Vila seems to be on his own.]
Avon: So, you invited them aboard the ship, did you?
Vila: [nods] Trust me, you won’t even notice they’re here.
Zanto: The shadow creatures certainly noticed them. What happened?
Vila: Yeah. The people from the city had a kind of concentrated laser beam. Only thing that works on the shadow things, apparently.
Nreeshi: YOUR CREW ARE ALL SECURE, VILA?
Vila: Yes, they’re all right. We got here just in time. [to others] That’s Nreeshi. He... or maybe she... is the one that does all the talking.
Nreeshi: THERE MAY BE OTHER ENEMIES ABOARD YOUR VESSEL. THEY WILL STRIKE YOU DOWN WHEN YOU ARE UNAWARES. LEAVE THE VESSEL WHILE WE CLEANSE IT.
Vila: Sounds sensible to me.
Lora: [horrified] They’re talking about murder!
Vila: What do you think the shadows were going to do to you? Now, I’m the one in charge and I say we should go with Nreeshi. I trust these invisible folk as much as I’d trust our dear, respected friend Servalan. And I want you all to do the same. [firmly] Understood?
[Avon half-smiles. They all nod.]
Vila: So. Nreeshi? Where to?
Nreeshi: OUR CITY WILL SHELTER YOU FROM FURTHER ATTACKS.
[Zanto scoops up Orac and they start to head out.]
Zanto: Do you think they’ll charge for cleaning out the Phoenix?
Avon: Without a doubt. Let’s just hope they leave the ship intact.
Nreeshi: OUR WEAPONS ONLY HARM GROWING THINGS. YOUR VESSEL IS IN NO DANGER.
Gamren: But we are.
Nreeshi: WHICH IS WHY YOU WILL BE IN THE CITY UNTIL THE DANGER HAS PASSED.
Vila: [brightly] See? There’s no arguing with them, is there? [less cheerful] No arguing at all.
[They head out.]
[Plain. The crew are moving towards the city. Glowing patches of light follow them. The crew direct their attention to the light-being walking alongside Avon and Gamren.]
Vila: Very kind of you, making yourself a bit more visible so we know where to look.
Nreeshi: THE PROCESS IS SIMPLE. THE SPEED OF MOLECULAR VIBRATION IS MERELY REDUCED.
Lora: Can you, you know, stop it completely? Become visible?
Nreeshi: NO. WE NEED LIGHT. THIS PROCESS IS IRREVERSIBLE.
Zanto: So you turned yourselves into miniature suns when the real one burned out?
Nreeshi: MANY AEONS AGO. WE NEED LIGHT AND HEAT. WE ADAPTED OUR BODIES TO PROVIDE BOTH. AS THE WORLD DIED, WE BUILT THESE CITIES OF CRYSTAL THAT FOCUS OUR ENERGIES TO KEEP ALIVE THE LAST REMAINING PLANTS AND ANIMALS.
[They reach the gate. There are lots of cracks.]
Lora: Sorry about that.
Nreeshi: DAMAGE WAS UNINTENDED. WE HAVE CREATED A SUITABLE HABITAT FOR YOU TO STAY. IT IS REINFORCED AGAINST YOUR VOICES.
Avon: Lead on.
Nreeshi: VERY WELL.
[One glowing shape, completely separate from all the others moves into the city. The crew are all surprised they were addressing the wrong alien. With self-conscious looks from everyone bar Avon, they follow the aliens into the city. Shadows on nearby boulders start to spread, whispering louder.]
- to be continued...