[Space. The Phoenix hangs in orbit above Gauda Prime.]
Gamren: [vo] You know, call me sentimental if you like...
[Flight deck. Gamren stands, arms folded, looking at the scanner which shows the planet. Avon is tinkering with a probe and the connections between Orac and the console. Lora is trying not to get in the way as she rewires a console.]
Gamren: ...but it feels good to be back.
Avon: Enjoy the sensation while you can. We’re not staying.
Gamren: I know that.
Avon: I wasn’t sure that fact had penetrated the aura of nostalgia around you.
Gamren: You can’t be nostalgic for what you don’t know. [sighs] I never realized how beautiful it was.
[Avon and Lora glance at the scanner image.]
Avon: I try not to comment on other people’s aesthetics.
Lora: Still looks ugly to me. The colours... it’s like a big bruise. A big bruised bit of fruit with flies buzzing around it. [frowns] Well, the first time I saw it, anyway.
Gamren: Those would have been the gunships of the blockade.
Lora: All gone now.
Gamren: Yes. Gauda Prime has a penal code again, a law-abiding world of the Terran Federation. At least, that’s what everyone thinks.
Lora: One world done, and lots more to go.
Gamren: Rather like this flight computer. Come on, Avon, haven’t you finished yet?
Avon: If I had, I would have mentioned it. The basic mainframe has been updated as much as possible, but I can’t activate it without the memory wafers Vila has been tinkering with all the time we’ve been travelling.
Gamren: Yes, I’m confused about that. What does Vila know about computers anyway?
Avon: Even less than he knows about running a resistance group.
Lora: He said he wanted to make sure the computer had a personality.
Avon: [mock understanding] Ah. A priority task, we can all agree.
Gamren: There are five of us on the ship, not including Orac, and he wants someone else to talk to? Should we be insulted our company isn’t good enough?
Avon: Insulted? Perhaps. Surprised? Definitely not. After the Liberator and Scorpio, Vila seems to believe any artificial intelligence should have personality quirks and endearing eccentricities. Because such qualities were vital in stopping those ships from being destroyed.
Lora: [frowns] But they were destroyed.
Avon: So they were. It seems Vila’s argument falls apart even under the most feeble of scrutiny.
Lora: [hurt] My scrutiny isn’t feeble. It’s better than your manners, any day.
Avon: Why don’t you go off shift and let Zanto take over the difficult job of getting in my way?
Lora: Never send a boy to do a woman’s job.
Gamren: Unless you don’t like the boy.
Lora: Yeah, that’s always a proviso...
[The communicator chimes.]
Vila: [vo] Phoenix? You receiving?
[Avon answers it.]
Avon: Yes, Vila. We hear you. Believe it or not, for once your interruption is most welcome.
Vila: [vo] I don’t like the sound of that.
Avon: Nor do I. Are you ready to come up?
Soolin: [vo] We both are.
[Avon pauses for a moment, as though taken aback at hearing Soolin’s voice.]
Avon: Then use the recall buttons on your bracelets. Teleport duty is a thing of the past.
Vila: [vo] I know that, I just thought it was polite.
[The lights dim and Vila and Soolin materialize in the teleport bay.]
Vila: [to Soolin] Welcome aboard the Phoenix.
[Soolin looks around.]
Soolin: It’ll do.
[Gamren and Lora approach. Avon stays where he is.]
Gamren: Well, you’re looking a lot better now you’re up and about. [holds out hand] Gamren Vanda, pilot.
[Soolin looks at the extended hand then shakes it.]
Soolin: Soolin, gunfighter.
Gamren: Don’t you have a surname?
Soolin: Not anymore.
[Gamren glances at Vila who mouths “Leave it”, grimacing. She nods. Soolin turns to see what Gamren was nodding at. Vila smiles innocently.]
Vila: But you haven’t met the rest of Restal’s Four-And-Three-Quarters. This is Lora Mezin.
[Lora gives a little wave.]
Lora: Hello, Soolin.
Lora: Ex-Federation technician, but don’t hold that against me.
Soolin: Not at all. One of my best friends used to be in the Federation.
Lora: [brightly] Oh, really?
[Seeing the conversation is drifting towards Tarrant and another of Soolin’s dead loved ones, Vila hastily guides her across to the console and away from Avon.]
Vila: Zanto, the one I mentioned earlier, he’s asleep in his quarters but here’s a blast from the past.
Soolin: Orac? [to Vila] Am I meant to be impressed?
Orac: After many years of first-hand experience of my unique abilities, Soolin, I would have thought such a reaction would be quite expected.
Soolin: I see you’re still trying to overcome your shyness and low self-esteem.
Orac: My personality matrix contains no such flaws!
Vila: [to Soolin] He’s still getting the hang of sarcasm, too. [to Orac] Why can’t you be pleased to see her?
Orac: The use of the word “see” in regards to my detector network is very crude and indeed borderline inaccurate, whereas I have been aware of Soolin’s condition and survival for the last twenty-nine days. Why would a basic restatement of pre-existing information lead to any kind of emotional response?
Vila: I thought you liked her!
Orac: I do not “like” anyone. Soolin did not pester me with absurd irrelevances, a respectful attitude that you would all do well to emulate in future...
Soolin: [patiently] That’s enough, Orac. We don’t want to get too emotional.
Vila: No. And we have to get going. Orac, plot a course for Mantobac Alpha, standard by seven.
Gamren: What’s happening at Mantobac Alpha?
Soolin: A conference. The rebel alliance is having its second general meeting.
Vila: [to himself] Let’s hope it goes better than the first.
[Space. The Phoenix spin and hurtles off into space.]
[Flight deck. Zanto enters, yawning. Everyone else is sitting down at consoles.]
Zanto: What’s happening? Why aren’t we at GP?
Gamren: Been and gone, Zanto. We’re on our way to a summit meeting in the middle of nowhere.
Zanto: Meeting? What about?
Soolin: The Federation, naturally enough. Their pacification program’s ended and they’ve gone as far as they can now Pylene-50 is useless. If they want to get any further, they’re going to have to fight for it and that means taking us on with everything they’ve got.
Zanto: [to Vila] And this news doesn’t disturb you?
Vila: Course it does. But it’s not much of a surprise, is it? Of course the Federation are going to strike back. But we’ve got the border systems on our side, all that’s left of Zukan’s empire, plus the rebel groups that Blake had got on side to help with Gauda Prime.
Avon: It’s not enough.
[Soolin glances at Avon, as it is the first time he’s spoken. He does not make eye contact.]
Zanto: I hate to agree with Avon, but he’s right. At best we’ll put up a good fight, but they can still crush us with sheer weight of numbers.
Soolin: Not necessarily. Part of the conference is organizing our response. The rest is a sales pitch to an independent warlord with his own private battle fleet. From what I heard back on GP, it should be able to tip the balance into our favor.
Lora: What’s the warlord’s name?
Soolin: [shrugs] Keer, that’s all I know.
Vila: Keer. Sounds nasty.
Gamren: Any information on him, Orac?
Orac: Very little. No visual images are stored on record. Jorgan Keer is first mentioned in routine Federation dispatches some fifteen years ago. He bought out the manufacturing industries of the independent shipyards throughout sector eight. As these industries were almost for the exclusive of non-aligned planets, the Federation had no real interest. During the galactic war, Keer assumed complete executive authority which he has yet to relinquish. The shipyards and the neighboring worlds, now known colloquially as the Consortium of Trau, have resisted all offers to join the Federation since the restoration of the empire some five years ago.
Lora: So... he’s neutral.
Avon: No one’s neutral, they merely require more provocation than most to admit their leanings.
Gamren: Alright, so which way is he going to lean? The Federation?
Vila: They did make him rich, in a roundabout sort of way.
Zanto: On the other hand, they’re hardly likely to leave him alone.
Lora: They have so far.
Zanto: Because the shipyards were never Federation territory. The pacification program was only concerned with reclaiming territories that had broken free. Now the program is ended this so-called consortium is a viable target like everywhere else.
Vila: Not quite so viable. He has got a space fleet, about the only thing that can match the Federation.
Lora: Which means if he doesn’t sign up, we are completely... completely...
Lora: Yeah. That’s the word I was looking for.
Zanto: It all depends on who’s doing the selling, doesn’t it?
Vila: It’s not going to be just us there trying to convince him.
Gamen: Who then?
Vila: Boorva of Tarl. And, er, Kella and her people.
Lora: Who’s Kella?
Zanto: The leader of the largest anti-Federation guerilla army not already working for Blake.
Gamren: So we’ve got to convince her to join as well? This gets better and better.
Soolin: There’s the leader of the Malconian colonies, the president of Untar Major. They’re already committed and their say carries a lot of wait in these outer territories.
Gamren: [mutters] Let’s hope so.
[Avon looks at Vila.]
Avon: You seem very confident. Don’t you remember the disasters whenever we worked with outsiders?
Vila: On those occasions you were in charge.
Soolin: [firmly] There’s no point in arguing. The conference is going ahead with or without consent. If we don’t attend, then Blake’s movement on GP will be totally undermined. The rebellion may not have much of a chance if we attend, but it won’t have any chance if we don’t.
[A bleak silence.]
Gamren: Orac? How long until we reach Mantobac?
Orac: At present course and speed, eleven hours and forty-one minutes.
Vila: We should get some rest while we can. You too, Zanto. I’ll have first watch.
[Zanto gives a sloppy salute.]
[The others rise and head for the exit door.]
Gamren: Why do you get all the luck, Zanto? I never get extra hours to sleep.
Zanto: It’s because I lead a blameless life and don’t spend my time complaining.
Lora: Oooh, satire. That’s new.
[Soolin watches as Avon leaves. He doesn’t seem to be aware she’s present.]
[Corridor. The foursome head down the corridor.]
Zanto: I thought we were just going to go back to Gauda Prime and settle down while the reformations are carried out. Now we’re off to an alliance conference organizing a brand new galactic war!
Lora: At least life’s never dull around here.
Gamren: I prefer dull and long to interesting and short. You think this conference thing can work?
Zanto: Perhaps. I don’t know enough of the factors, but something like that needs a leader.
[Gamren glares at Avon’s back.]
Gamren: It might have been easier if we still had Blake around.
[Avon doesn’t turn around, but continues walking.]
Avon: Quite. Then again, maybe we’d be throwing our lives away anyway alongside him.
[Avon steps through a doorway and out of sight. The trio remain.]
Gamren: We should really make him morale officer. We really should.
[They go their separate ways.]
[Flight deck. Soolin turns to Vila.]
Soolin: They’re not worried you’ll fall asleep.
Vila: You can sleep when you’re dead. And I’m not doing that any time soon.
Soolin: [understanding] Bad dreams.
Vila: The worst. Anyway, did you get the data file?
[With a flourish, Soolin holds up a small chip in her hand.]
Soolin: As you said, I secured it the day you left. You didn’t say what was on it.
Vila: I didn’t think you needed to be told.
[She hands it to him. He studies it thoughtfully.]
Soolin: What happened to Blake? What really happened?
Vila: Yes. All the security recordings from Blake’s silo. The only copies in existence.
Soolin: I’m surprised you didn’t destroy them.
Vila: I thought about it often enough. But so much of Blake’s life was a lie. Seemed a bit mean to keep his death a secret as well. [shrugs] I don’t know. All that’s for certain is this could tear the rebellion apart, finding out what Avon did...
Soolin: Your crew know the truth.
Vila: Not my fault. Servalan spilled the beans. But she’s not going to tell anyone else.
Soolin: [nods] Dayna would be proud of you, you know.
Vila: [sighs] Big consolation.
[Vila hands the file back.]
Vila: You should hang onto this until I work out the best place to hide it.
Vila: [frowns] Hide it inside Orac? It’d rattle, give the game away.
Soolin: No, I mean, get Orac to record the data and then destroy the original.
Vila: Too obvious. I want this somewhere Avon will at least take some effort to find.
Soolin: I’ll leave you to contemplate it alone, then. Is there a spare cabin I can use?
Vila: Take your pick.
[Soolin turns and leaves. Vila considers the files.]
Vila: Any ideas, Orac?
Orac: Is that a serious question? Of the many possible courses of actions I could conceivably recommend to you, I believe priority should be given to the flight computer personality program you have yet to complete.
Vila: I’ll need your help for that, Orac.
Orac: Then state your requirements. I have wasted more than enough of my inexpressible valuable time acting as a surrogate pilot of this ship.
Vila: All right. Let’s do this.
[Space. The Phoenix moves past a moon.]
[Avon’s cabin. Avon lies on the bed, hands behind his head, staring at the ceiling. There is a knock at the door panel. Avon does not take his eyes from the ceiling.]
Avon: [sighs] As no one else aboard this cruiser would show basic courtesy, there seems little point asking who it is. You may enter, Soolin. I can’t stop you.
[The door slides back. Soolin enters.]
Soolin: No welcome back?
Avon: Vila made it clear I was “not to bother you”. And who am I to disobey our glorious commander?
Soolin: You’d prefer to still be in charge.
Avon: Being subordinate to Vila of all people is not something I appreciate.
Soolin: I’m surprised you’re still here if it’s such torture.
Avon: I’m glad I remain unpredictable if nothing else.
Soolin: But why stay?
[Avon glares at her.]
Avon: I stay because until the war is won, until the Federation is destroyed, there can be no safety, no security... no peace.
Soolin: I could almost think you’d turned idealist.
Avon: [getting annoyed] Idealism has nothing to do with it. I will not live on the run, Soolin, I will not be hunted and I will not rest content with what the Federation has done.
Soolin: Are you trying to make it up to us for what you did?
[Avon sits up on the bed and looks directly at her. His manner is cold and aggressive.]
Avon: What I did? And what was that, Soolin?
Soolin: You lead us to Gauda Prime, Avon. You said you’d found Blake, that we would be strong and united and that we would finally be able to destroy the Federation...
Avon: [flat] I promised you nothing.
Soolin: And you delivered it in abundance. You dragged us around the galaxy, singing Blake’s praises and trying to copy him – not, incidentally, doing a very good job of it – and when you finally met your idol you let some daylight through him with an assault rifle. Tell me, Avon, does that sound like the actions of a sane man?
Avon: I can hardly be blamed if you were all foolish enough to follow me.
Soolin: Oh, we were foolish all right. Just what did we achieve on Scorpio? Nothing. A pile of corpses across the star systems, a perpetual air of defeat, and an alliance that’s held together by sheer luck. It might not be much, but Vila’s succeeded at more in the last few weeks than you ever did.
Avon: Fortune always favors the fool.
Soolin: The fool didn’t lead us to our deaths.
Avon: Our deaths? We’re still alive.
Soolin: Dayna isn’t. Nor Tarrant.
Avon: Ah well. [lies back] You know as well as I the reckless young man had run his course, ending as he was always likely to. His loss, I’m sure, can be endured.
Soolin: And Dayna? Is it as easy to forget her?
Avon: [quietly] No. And I don’t intend to. [composed] But regret is part of being alive.
Soolin: You don’t need to tell me that.
Avon: No. I don’t. It all affirms my point – winning is the only safety. There’s no other way.
Soolin: No. And maybe you should accept that you can’t go on like this and still expect to win.
[Avon gives a bitter, humorless laugh.]
Avon: I am well aware of my rapidly-declining faculties and mental degeneration, Soolin. Perhaps I should have known better than trusting a proven megalomaniac like Zukan. But what is your excuse to do the same thing? Why did you all assume I was able to take of myself, let alone the rest of you after Zukan destroyed everything on Xenon?
Soolin: Perhaps because we knew we couldn’t survive separately. We’ve made too many enemies.
Avon: Very rational. [sighs] I’ve reached the end of the line, Soolin. The bounty hunter is dead, the miracle worker that could take our tattered lives and reweave them into bold successes... is gone. You can comfort yourself he’s been replaced by a whining, successful thief. You can reassure all the poor deluded fools following him will profit for their loyalty. But don’t pretend victory is inevitable now I am finished.
[Soolin nods, turns and opens the door. Then she stops and looks back at Avon.]
Soolin: [thoughtful] Who was it who said all paranoia starts out as arrogance?
[She turns and leaves. Avon watches her go, then bursts out laughing.]
[Space. The Phoenix moves through space. Elsewhere is a gleaming, exotic-looking cruiser marked out in gold, silver and black similar to the design Cancer used. This is the Quicksilver.]
Keer: [vo] Communications. I want a secure channel relayed to Federation pursuit unit command, top priority, transmission code 6021.
[Quicksilver flight deck. A large glass-walled office overlooking a massive hangar-type space where technicians move urgently back and forth around machinery. Keer, a short man in dark casual clothes and a graying beard, is sprawled in a chair by a desk-console. A large semi-circular screen is built into the far wall of his office, which he faces. It remains blank. He drums his fingers impatiently.]
Keer: No, no, please. Take all the time you need.
[The screen lights up with a stern-faced woman in a Federation officer’s uniform.]
Officer: Keer. What do you have to report?
Keer: What? No pleasantries?
Officer: No. Make your report.
Keer: Given what I am offering on a plate, my friend, some basic civility would be kind.
Officer: And that offer would be?
[Keer sighs melodramatically.]
Keer: The alliance of unaligned planets is having an emergency meeting on the planet Mantobac Alpha.
Officer: Mantobac Alpha? That’s four sectors away! The meeting will have been concluded by the time the fleet reaches that planet...
Keer: [eyes wide] Really? I hadn’t thought of that! Come now, Commander, you must have some flotilla nearby.
Officer: Mantobac is a large planet and the conference site is very small. The nearest pursuit ship would have been spotted long before it could locate the best target to fire plasma bolts...
Keer: Well, if you want to give up, don’t let me stop you – though I had considered the problems. Once I gain access to their base, I’ll send an initial contact beam relayed through my ship to the interceptor, containing all the coordinates they’ll need for planetary assault. Once they get a second confirmation signal, you can send in your troops to destroy the rebels.
[A thoughtful pause.]
Officer: A feasible strategy.
Keer: [grins] Oh yes. Of course, I can rely on an executive order from your good self that you won’t start firing the moment you get the location of the base? I want some time to make a very dignified and subtle withdrawal before the plasma bolts start flying.
[The officer smiles wickedly.]
Officer: The Federation always takes care of its allies, Keer. Your assistance in destroying this ragtag collection of criminals and barbarians will not be forgotten – or go unrewarded.
Keer: Don’t thank me. Not yet, not until we’ve disposed of these insurgent elements and the Federation rule of law is finally free of this... [thinks for a moment] “menace”.
Officer: Very sensible, Keer. You have made a wise choice.
Keer: Oh, I know I have. The Consortium of Trau never picks a losing side.
[The officer becomes more business like, having grown bored with the conversation.]
Officer: The Federation patrol will be dispatched to the Mantobac system immediately. They should make planet-fall approximately in approximately thirteen hours. Pursuit unit command out.
[The screen instantly turns blank. Keer looks crestfallen, then cackles heartily.]
Keer: Oh, this is going to be so much fun...
- to be continued...