[Space. Above the planet Langsuir is a scattered display of drifting space wrecks. The Phoenix swoops towards the planet, slowing to a crawl as it moves past the derelicts.]
[Phoenix flight deck. Gamren is at the controls. Lora, Avon and Vila are at their stations. Zanto is pacing, clearly more bothered than he wants to admit.]
Blake: Geostationary orbit will be achieved in eight minutes.
Zanto: Eight? Try and improve on that.
Blake: Sorry, Zanto, but the battle debris is proving much denser than anticipated.
[Another hulk drifts past on the main screen.]
Zanto: We’re going to be late.
Gamren: You’re the one that insisted we approach on this vector.
Zanto: I know. And given that Langsuir is twice the size of Earth, I would have thought the wreckage would have been spread far more thinly in orbit – it’s as though they fought the main battle here!
Gamren: How inconsiderate of them.
Vila: Less talking, more piloting, Gamren.
[Space. The Phoenix ducks around a seemingly-undamaged pursuit ship.]
[Phoenix flight deck.]
Lora: Er. Are we sure they’re all wrecks?
Vila: Must be. All the working ships would have been recalled down to the surface – trying to maintain a blockade around the planet’s a lost cause, Orac says.
Lora: Orac says a lot of things.
Orac: Few of which are actually listened to by the occupants of this space craft! This planet was being suppressed by the Federation Pacification Police when the formula to the Pylene 50 antitoxin was released by the rebel alliance. Due to Langsuir’s climate and atmospheric content, much of the local vegetation and produce contain the primary chemical ingredients – the population therefore required only a small adjustment of their intake to become totally immune to the Federation pacification drugs. Approximately 30 per cent of the entire indigenous population were immunized overnight. With their drugs useless, the Federation had to rely on a small military force to engage the natives...
Avon: ...and the planet has been caught in a full-scale conflict ever since. Even the attempts to blockade the planet and trap the resisters on Langsuir have failed.
Vila: Which is why the Federation want to try out their brand new military computer programs for tactical warfare; their new defense network is to be tested here because even if it doesn’t work, they were going to lose control of Langsuir anyway. [to Avon] See? I can pay attention.
Avon: Pay attention to what?
Vila: [frowns] Not sure. Must have slipped my mind.
[Lora laughs at them, but sobers quickly.]
Lora: You sure about this, Zanto?
Zanto: Yeah, I know what I’m doing.
Avon: That must be a novel experience for you.
Zanto: This stratagem has worked before – it helped us reclaim Horizon from the Federation and even got us off Lubus right under their very noses. Thanks to Orac, I’ve got all the details required and I can infiltrate both the Magnetrix Terminal and the Kommisar’s Office in less than an hour.
Lora: It sounds very risky.
Zanto: Lora, the only other way to find out exactly what’s happening down there would be for Orac to tap the Federation computer systems – and those systems are shut down and being reprogrammed. When they get switched back on it will be too late for us to do anything about it, won’t it?
Lora: It doesn’t make it any less dangerous. Can’t one us go with you?
Avon: No. It is time our apprentice psychostrategist earned his status as a proper puppeteer.
Vila: And try saying that when you’re drunk.
Zanto: Oh, I have. I’ll head down on my own while the rest of you can head for the rendezvous with Rothon. Worst comes to the worst, I can always teleport back up here.
Gamren: As long as they don’t get your bracelet.
Zanto: Which is why, oh wondrous light of my life, I’m using this!
[He puts his booted foot up on the console and rolls up his trouser leg – tied around his ankle is a Scorpio teleport bracelet.]
Zanto: Assuming anyone down there is even aware of teleport bracelets, they’ll be more worried about the one on my wrist rather than my ankle. In fact, they probably won’t even look there.
Gamren: Knowing your luck, the entire security force will consist of foot fetishists.
Zanto: Just get us to the coordinates, Gamren. You’re no use to do anything else on this mission.
[Gamren looks at him outraged.]
Zanto: I’m sure by the time we’re finished down there, you’ll have thought up something witty to say.
Gamren: You been taking lessons from Avon in basic hostility?
Avon: I hold evening classes in the sub-hold. Blake – are we at the coordinates?
Blake: We’ll achieve them in another thirty-six seconds.
[Space. The Phoenix draws closer to the planet.]
[Phoenix flight deck.]
Avon: Well now, Zanto. Your big moment.
Gamren: You’re not taking a gun? You’re supposed to be fooling the Kommissar not committing suicide...
Zanto: A single gun isn’t going to do any good down there. It’ll just give them an excuse to shoot me. Besides, think of the psychological threat – a man who chooses to go without a gun is dangerous because it implies he doesn’t need a gun, a simple machine that might jam or malfunction...
Gamren: I ask again: are you actually trying to get yourself killed?
Zanto: Time will tell. Blake?
Blake: Coordinates achieved.
[Zanto crosses to the teleport.]
Lora: How late are we?
Blake: One minute eleven seconds.
Zanto: Could be worse... let’s just hope the patrols are still in that sector.
Vila: All right, Zanto, we’ll stay up here for the next four minutes – if things aren’t working by then, teleport straight back here anyway. Understood?
Zanto: Understood, sir. Ready and waiting.
Avon: Good luck.
Zanto: Oh, Avon. Luck’s for beginners.
[He casually smacks the activator on the side of the teleport bay and dematerializes.]
Vila: You know, if that boy’s ego gets any bigger you could start considering retirement, Avon.
Avon: And what a joyous day that will be. Blake, start the countdown. We move in four minutes.
[Museum. A small, dusty chamber that has clearly not been used in a while. Display cases show old-fashioned objects, cutlery, books, etc. Zanto cautiously emerges from behind an exotic-designed suit of armor and glances around.]
Zanto: Nice to see the Federation showing their usual attitude to culture. Which means there should be a regular patrol in this area. Unless they’re all at the art gallery. What’s more dangerous? Art or history? [shrugs] They’ll destroy both the first chance they get...
[Zanto heads around a corner, past an Egyptian-style sarcophagus and out through a doorway.]
[Concourse. It is a bright, sunny day. There are lots of stone walls and archways, and the signs of recent battles – burns on the walls, graffiti, some Federation logos have been smashed. There is no one around. Zanto stands in the shade of an archway, looking around impatiently. Three masked Federation troopers approach down the end of the concourse, a fourth driving an open-topped transporter. Zanto grins and casually walks into the street towards them.]
[The troopers aim their guns at him. Unfussed, Zanto stops and raises his hands.]
Trooper 1: What are you doing out of the residential compounds?
Zanto: Just visiting the local museums. Is that a crime?
Trooper 1: It is. Central City is under military law. Where are your identification papers?
Zanto: I don’t need identification papers. This is a free planet. The Federation and everyone working for it are just too stupid to realize that.
[One of the troopers swings his rifle, to club Zanto, but he steps out of the way.]
Zanto: So predictable! And so sloppy – my report is not going to be favorable, gentlemen.
Trooper 2: Report?
Zanto: You’ve barely followed official procedure for dealing with insurgents, been easily riled with the most basic of provocation, and you haven’t even asked if I’m alone. No wonder the galaxy’s in such a state. Take me to the Magnetrix Terminal at once. Your superior officer is about to get a detailed review of your many failings.
[The trooper in the transporter raises his own gun.]
Trooper 4: Maybe you had an accident before I arrived.
Zanto: Are you seriously threatening me, trooper? That suggests you don’t have the Federation’s greatest interests at heart – which suggests you might actually be a rebel.
[The other three troopers exchange worried looks.]
Zanto: It confirms, however, you’re stupid enough to think this entire situation is not being monitored. Open fire if you like, trooper. It’s all going onto micro-tape.
[The trooper doesn’t lower his gun.]
Trooper 3: Don’t be a fool, Kell.
Trooper 4: The Federation needs all the troopers it can get. They won’t execute us.
Zanto: [nods] Unless you prove too great a liability. Like shooting an internal investigator. On tape.
Trooper 2: He’s right!
[The second trooper grabs the gun from the fourth. Zanto pats his tunic.]
Zanto: And this is blast proof anyway. [coldly] As I said. Predictable. Now, are you going to do yourself a favor and get yourselves onto my good side by giving me a lift to the Terminal? Or are you going to let an unidentified intruder make his own way there?
[The troopers exchange looks and then lower their guns. Zanto smiles and climbs onto the transporter.]
Zanto: [to himself] Ah, the military mind. So much fun to play with.
[The transporter glides off.]
[Cityscape. The Magnetrix Terminal is a skyscraper looming over the rest of the city, resembling a cross between a vertical stack of plates and a DNA helix.]
[Main computer room. Technicians are checking glowing fibre-optic connections between freestanding banks of machinery. Chief technician Quince is supervising two technicians sliding a tray of circuitry into the workings of a computer and wiring it up. The planet’s Kommisar, a stern-faced skinny woman, and her hulking aide Taine, watch on, unimpressed.]
Quince: There’s no point complaining about the schedule, Kommisar.
Kommisar: There is, however, a point in complaining how far behind it you have fallen, Quince.
Quince: This has never been attempted before, sir. There is no precedent – and we are hardly working in the most ideal of circumstances, are we?
Kommisar: [rolls eyes] If we were, we wouldn’t need a defense network to operate, would we?
Quince: [nods sadly] We live in an imperfect universe.
Taine: You won’t live in it much longer, Quince. How long until all this is fully operational?
Quince: Another two days, perhaps.
Kommisar: Two days? We can’t possibly wait that long – the resistors are already infiltrating central city. If they attack now, we’d be hard-pressed to hold them off. In two days? They’ll be strong enough to seize total control of Langsuir altogether...
Quince: I am well aware of that, Kommisar.
Taine: You could have fooled us!
Quince: While the Movella Program may not be fully active for two days, the Magnetrix link to the Federation should be back online by tomorrow morning. Our isolation will end.
[A trooper enters and crosses to Taine. They talk in the background.]
Quince: Then you can call in all the troops you like.
Kommisar: Much good it will do us, Quince, considering half the planet is blockaded with wreckage from the space battles. Even the dead have their part to play.
Kommisar: Old tactics – use the corpses of both sides as barricades and insulation. The resistors have used the same principle on the space wrecks above us.
Quince: [grimaces] How... distasteful.
Kommisar: But efficient. We let them have eight tenths of Langsuir, concentrating all our forces here while you set up these wretched war computers, but they’re still not content. They will have the independence they crave very soon, and I can’t see any way we can stop them.
Quince: With respect, Kommisar, you are a planetary diplomat, not a soldier.
Kommisar: And the few generals still alive agree with my assessment.
Quince: We shall see what Movella has to say before giving up Langsuir for good.
Kommisar: Oh? Will we? I don’t care for your tone, technician...
Quince: [snorts] What are you going to do about it? Adapt me?
Kommisar: Very amusing, Quince. Get on with your jobs, all of you. While you’re still useful, we can’t afford the luxury of taking you out and shooting you through your ugly faces!
[Taine crosses to her.]
Kommisar: Yes, Taine, what is it?
Taine: A prisoner’s been taken, in the cultural sector. Was caught breaking the curfew and demanded to be taken here to meet you.
Kommisar: What? Why didn’t they just put a plasma charge through his spine?
Taine: Gave the impression he’s some high-ranking inspector.
Kommisar: “Gave the impression”? You mean this man hasn’t even claimed to be an inspector, the troopers brought him here on a hunch? I don’t believe I’m hearing this. I’ll see him in my office.
[The Kommisar and her aide head out into the corridor.]
Taine: You don’t think it could be a genuine inspection?
Kommisar: [rolls eyes] Oh yes, Taine. In the middle of an experiment that revolutionize Federation warfare, on a planet encircled with space debris and smothered in revolting natives, they’ve decided on a spot check. It’s an imposter, of course it is, probably from Raynard’s unit.
Taine: Then why even speak to him?
Kommisar: Because I am bored rigid, Taine. And grinding that liar’s bones to powder inside his flesh will not only prove diverting it will be the undoubted highlight of my tour here.
[Taine smiles and follows her to the lift.]
[Kommisar’s Office. A windowless beige chamber with fibre-optics wires linking the console desk to the hastily-arranged junction on the wall. A technician is checking it over. Zanto stands between two troopers, his manner insolent, arms folded.]
Zanto: Good morning! You must be in charge here – being the Kommisar and everything.
[The Kommisar nods. Taine backhands Zanto.]
Zanto: [wincing] I’m sure you do a lot of hard work here too...
Kommisar: Address me in such familiar terms again and I shall have your spinal column liquefied.
Zanto: You got this job for your people skills, didn’t you, Kommisar?
[Taine rams his pistol into Zanto’s throat.]
[He gently forces the gun away from his throat.]
Kommisar: Who are you?
Zanto: Didn’t you put my face through the pattern recognition computers? Oh no. They’re all offline at the moment. It’s like being in the Stone Age these days, isn’t it?
Kommisar: Why don’t you have any identity papers?
Zanto: I know who I am, Kommisar, I don’t need a written reminder.
Kommisar: If you think you can wander out of the residential compound during curfew without reprisals, your memory is definitely compromised. Tell me who you are.
Zanto: You can call me Tarrant, Kommisar. Dekka Tarrant.
Kommisar: Oh, how imaginative.
Zanto: We do exist, you know. [confidentially] There’s even talk of a D. Tarrant Convention in Lypterium. All of us from across the galaxy, with our amazingly-nay-even-suspiciously-common names...
Kommisar: You won’t be attending.
Zanto: Won’t I, Kommisar?
Taine: Unlikely – given your life expectancy is less than the next ten minutes.
Zanto: Why? Do you know something about my health I don’t?
Kommisar: I know how to end all your health problems for good.
Zanto: You’re wasted in this place, you really are.
Kommisar: And you’re not as stupid as you’re pretending to be.
Zanto: What gave it away?
Kommisar: You’re treating this like a game. An ordinary resister with that attitude would have died long ago. So you think you know something that can stop me turning your cranium inside out with this gun. Tell me what it is or we’ll both regret it.
Kommisar: Yes. The cleaning bills for mopping up prisoners’ brains are... truly exorbitant.
Zanto: So don’t shoot me.
[The Kommisar draws her own gun and aims it at Zanto’s head.]
Kommisar: [furious] SO GIVE ME A REASON NOT TO!
[A long beat. Zanto is unimpressed.]
Zanto: All right, Kommisar, to spare you any more sudden unhealthy surges of adrenaline. I strongly implied to your troops that I’m a high-ranking internal investigator from Federation High Command – and I did that for a very obvious reason.
Taine: To stop them blowing your kneecaps away?
Zanto: [thoughtful] Two very obvious reasons. Come now, Kommisar. You really thought you’d be left in charge of project, the redefinition of military combat, without someone from Federation Security to keep an eye on you?
[The Kommisar glances anxiously at Taine. Zanto, of course, notices.]
Kommisar: I am a loyal Federation officer.
Zanto: It’s amazing how often you hear that. Especially under torture. [smiles] Please, Kommisar, relax. You’re not squeaky-clean and perfect. Welcome to the human race. There’s not a single member of the Federation who hasn’t – how should I put it? – prioritized their own self-interest.
Taine: That sounds like a confession to me, Kommisar.
Kommisar: It does indeed, Taine.
Zanto: The difference between us is that I can say with confidence my crimes aren’t going to be found out. Can either of you say the same?
Kommisar: Langsuir is in chaos. The proper channels and procedures can’t always be followed.
Zanto: Oh, this is slightly more than misfiling stationary, isn’t it, Kommisar?
[They start to look more confident.]
Taine: You don’t know, do you?
Kommisar: And if you die in ignorance...
Zanto: ...you will be joining me soon enough. Once that computer network links back to the Federation, the details of my mission here will be accessed, analyzed – and my suspicions of this entire outpost will be given over to the new military deterrent. I’ve more than enough to have you dubbed a threat. And if you don’t know what will happen to threats... then you’re definitely dying ignorant.
[The Kommisar curses and nods at Taine, who holsters his gun.]
Kommisar: Tell us what you know.
Zanto: It doesn’t sound any better coming from me, Kommisar. Maybe you should think about leaving in that little shuttle of yours while there’s still time.
Taine: [scandalized] What? How did you...
Zanto: [generously] Well, I didn’t know about it. It did seem very likely, though, that an independent woman such as yourself wouldn’t have some means of escape given this planet is on the knife edge of total anarchy. If the network doesn’t work, what would you do?
Kommisar: Stay here and die for the Federation.
Zanto: [impressed] Oh, such loyalty! That’s definitely going in my report. And, another thing, just before we go on, I dropped by one of the museums in the cultural sector...
[Taine looks very alarmed. Again, Zanto notices.]
Zanto: ...and it seems odd that they’re out of limits. Considering how crammed the residential compound is, you could easily have turned those excess buildings into spare accommodation...
Kommisar: Primitive intellectual expressionism like art and history are dangerous concepts.
Zanto: So destroy the exhibits, the buildings can still be used. But you didn’t. Why not? What’s in that sector you want to keep intact? And given these troopers weren’t expecting anyone to break curfew, let alone for me to be in a museum, what were they doing out there?
Taine: This is just guesswork.
Zanto: No. That is simple logic. You’re looting Langsuir Central City of its cultural treasures. Guesswork is me trying to work out just what’s so special that you’d risk staying on this hellhole for, right in the firing line and possibly ending up a target for both sides.
Kommisar: You want a cut, I suppose?
Zanto: Maybe. It all rather depends on whether it’s worth the risk. [frowns] Do you mind if I take a seat? I’ve been standing around for hours...
[The Kommisar nods. Zanto smiles and takes a chair, surreptitiously reaching down to pat the teleport bracelet hidden around his ankle.]
Zanto: Thank you. Much better. Well, Kommisar. What does Langsuir offer the discerning art thief?
[Phoenix flight deck. As before.]
Blake: We’re picking up a signal from Zanto’s communicator.
Gamren: What did I say? Begging for our help, is he?
Lora: He must want us to hear something. Blake, replay the signal.
[The conversation emerges from the communicators.]
Zanto: [vo] ...offer the discerning art thief?
Kommisar: [vo] Very little.
Gamren: [blinks] Well, that interrogation certainly sounds relaxed...
Kommisar: [vo] I have no interest in art per se.
Zanto: [vo] So why ransack all the galleries?
Kommisar: [vo] Do you know who Jan Rarvik was?
[Avon and Vila look up sharply and exchange looks.]
Zanto: [vo] I know the name.
Kommisar: [vo] The Rarvik Collection is here. On Langsuir.
Vila: [to Avon] This can’t be right. We’re never this lucky.
Avon: [nods] True, but there’s a first time for everything.
Gamren: [confused] Who’s Rarvik?
[Gamren glares at him.]
Kommisar: [vo] The transporter carrying them back to Earth was shot down in the war.
Kommisar: The paintings were recovered and the Langsuir Cultural Heritage Core, not realizing what they had, scattered them to art galleries across this planet. We have four of the portraits, collected from across the planet during the initial pacification phase. When the natives immunized themselves, all hell broke loose and the rest of the collection was hidden somewhere on the continent.
Zanto: [scoffs] And you think these righteous art-protectors hid them in museums?
Taine: If you want to hide a tree, put it in a forest.
Zanto: [nods] Clever. But even in these circumstances, you should have checked all the galleries and centres in Central City by now. And as you’re still here, you don’t have the entire collection.
Taine: We have four of them.
Zanto: Three to go, if I remember rightly. And Langsuir is very large place...
Kommisar: We have a pretty good idea where to look.
Zanto: Still haven’t found them, though, have you?
Kommisar: The natives tried to scatter the collection. Our evidence suggests two of them are in the city, while the final one has been secreted in a rebel stronghold out on the plateau.
Zanto: So you’re locating them by a process of elimination?
Kommisar: Exactly. There’s the possibility all three are at the stronghold. We dare not raid until we’re sure.
Zanto: Because the resistance are protecting it?
Taine: No, because the strike will reveal we have an agent in their ranks.
Zanto: [nods] Of course. Standard Pacification Police procedure – infiltrate the enemy ranks before the first shot is fired and then bring them down from within. Commissioner Sleer’s idea, isn’t it?
Taine: Before she went mad and started calling herself Servalan, yes.
Zanto: [cautious] You think she was lying?
Taine: It’s been months since that broadcast. She hasn’t done a thing. The word is she was totally delusional – probably got hit by pacification rays once too often.
Kommisar: She’s probably dead by now.
Zanto: Probably. Where is this “rebel stronghold” you mentioned?
Kommisar: It’s a small community village around some pre-atomic religious temple. It was a tourist destination before the war began. Now, I think we’ve told you enough.
Zanto: You really have. But don’t worry, you have my full support in this venture.
[Phoenix flight deck. Everyone is still listening.]
Zanto: [vo] But what do you intend to do once you have the entire collection? Sell it?
Taine: [vo] Something like that.
Kommisar: [vo] Assuming, of course, it isn’t worth more of us to keep it ourselves.
[Avon switches off the communicator.]
Avon: Orac, cross-check all the data we have on Langsuir. Identify the temple’s location and transmit the coordinates directly into the Blake computer.
Orac: [sighs] If I must.
Avon: Which you do. Blake, plot a course at best speed and check the terrain for a suitable and defendable landing site as close as possible to the coordinates.
[Affronted, Gamren turns to Vila.]
Gamren: Aren’t you going say something?
Vila: [shrugs] Like what? Sounds like the best way to go about things if you ask me. [to Avon] You don’t want to risk using the teleport on the paintings then?
Avon: Do you?
Vila: No, but what if we can’t land close enough to this temple to physically cart them in?
Avon: We’ll worry about the details once we know what those details are.
Lora: [confused] I’m sorry, we’re trying to steal some paintings now?
Vila: You bet your life we are.
Gamren: How is that going to help anyone?
Avon: It could make us the richest individuals in this galaxy.
Lora: Aren’t we rich already? With all those crystals we got of that space station?
Avon: Not rich enough. Until one is rich enough to beyond the reach of the Federation, you’re poor. The only difference is what creature comforts are available in your imprisonment.
Lora: So, you’d be happy to live in a cave as long as you were free?
Avon: No. But with these artwork, at least I’d have something to decorate the cave with.
Gamren: What is so important about some crummy portraits anyway?
Vila: [incredulous] You’re joking, right?
Avon: [calm] You’ve never heard of Jan Rarvik?
Gamren: Of course I have. He was my father.
[A shocked pause.]
Gamren: [rolls eyes] No, not really! So tell us who he was!
Vila: The youth of today. Doesn’t anyone take an interest in recreational larceny any more?
Orac: Coordinates established and laid in.
Blake: New course heading programmed.
Avon: We can discuss it on the way. Get us moving, Blake.
[Space. The Phoenix spins around and heads off through the debris and hulks.]
- to be continued...