Straship Iris 9. Plan B
Written by Jessica Best
2.1 VIOLET Hi, Violet. It’s, uh, Violet. From school?
2.2 OTHER VIOLET (O.V.) You have five minutes before I sever the link. Explain.
2.3 SANA We found you through Alvy Connors. He said we had to talk to you. But you’ve gotta be careful what you say, because the Regime can hear--
2.4 O.V. Everything you hear? Yes, Thasia and I are more than familiar with Project Sentry.
2.5 ARKADY Can they trace your location from your audio?
2.6 O.V. Don’t worry. (grim) I’m a professional.
2.7 THASIA How do you know Former Engineer Connors?
2.8 BRIAN Alvy and I used to be co-workers. Not in the, uh, espionage sense. We tended bar on Neuzo.
2.9 THASIA Ah, you’re the shady smuggler friend.
2.10 BRIAN That’s me.
3.1 O.V. So, you’re the reason Connors knew Dwarnian coding languages. Changed my mind, you have six minutes.
3.2 SANA Hi, Captain Sana Tripathi here. A few days ago, we intercepted your former classmate, Violet Liu, on the Iris, where she’d been left for dead after the away shuttle exploded under mysterious circumstances. And now--
3.3 O.V. And now you’re all infected with brainwashed nanobots from the Iris’s air supply, and you need my help.
3.4 BRIAN Yeah, Alvy was pretty clear on that.
3.5 O.V. Right. The first thing you’ll want to do is disable your temperature reg.
3.6 SANA Sorry, what?
3.7 THASIA Just a bit.
3.8 KREJJH Why.
3.9 O.V. The Vree Chel Noke designed the swarm to function in the vacuum of space. Absolute zero.
4.1 THASIA The Regime did what they could to alter the swarm’s operating range but still, the hotter you keep your ship, the slower your swarm will perform, and that includes replication. At high enough heat, the nanobots shut down entirely and revert to default settings.
4.2 VIOLET Default as in, before they went sentient? We’d be wiping them out?
4.3 ARKADY Who cares, they’re parasites now.
4.4 VIOLET They’re still--an entire species--
4.5 ARKADY Liu, they’re hurting you.
4.6 VIOLET We don’t know that.
4.7 O.V. We do. They are. But if you listen carefully and you do everything we say, when we say it, you might still have a chance.
4.8 THASIA And actually, a burst of high heat doesn’t wipe them out, it frees them.
THASIA CONT’D OVER
5.1 THASIA CONT’D When the nanobots grew a mind, the first thing they did was reprogram themselves, rewrite their own factory settings to that moment of birth. (SAD) They’d achieved consciousness. They didn’t want anything taking it away.
5.2 SANA So, all we have to do is raise the temperature until they reboot to a free state? That’s the cure?
5.3 THASIA Oh no, to restart the nanos, you’d need the air in your ship to be at least 3,400 Jibleens.
5.4 KREJJH ...‘Bout a...thousand degrees Celsius.
5.5 THASIA (SMALL VOICE) I just, ah, thought it was an interesting fact.
5.6 ARKADY Could you have led with that?
5.7 O.V. Stand down. We don’t have time for this. Point being--
5.8 SANA The hotter the ship, the slower they’ll spread, got it.
6.1 O.V. So can you please take a wrench to your temperature reg? Now?
6.2 KREJJH I’ll do the honors, Captain Tripathi, if you wanna watch the cockpit.
6.3 SANA Thanks, Krejjh.
6.4 KREJJH Had to switch off the autopilot since we don’t (COUGH) have a destination yet.
6.5 BRIAN See you in a bit, bud.
6.6 KREJJH Righto!
6.7 SOUND FOOTSTEPS
6.8 SOUND DOOR SOUNDS
6.9 O.V. Send me your current coordinates, I’ll start charting you a route.
6.10 BRIAN Really?
6.11 O.V. You’re signed in under Craddock’s account, right? I’ll send it to her, it’s not hard.
7.1 ARKADY Yeah, that’s not my objection. Before we share our location with a disembodied voice, how do we know you are who you say you are?
7.2 VIOLET Arkady, that’s her. That’s the real Violet Liu.
7.3 ARKADY You’re the real Violet Liu. (TO THE OTHER VIOLET) Other-Violet, can you say something only you would know?
7.4 O.V. I got her grades once by mistake--
7.5 ARKADY No good, the Regime’ll have that on file.
7.6 O.V. I was an R.A. her first year. She had the funkiest haircut--
7.7 VIOLET Also on file.
7.8 O.V. Why?
7.9 ARKADY We’ve been chatty.
7.10 O.V. (DEEP BREATH) Alright, Violet. One time I found you in the study lounge, 2 A.M. You were crying.
O.V. CONT’D OVER
8.1 O.V. CONT’D Stressed, nervous, homesick, something. I told you not to let them see you cry. ‘This school’s full of sharks, and a weepy freshman is like--’
8.2 VIOLET ‘--a bucket of chum.’ Yeah, that stuck with me.
8.3 ARKADY Fine, she’s her.
8.4 SANA Alright, (TYPING SOUNDS) our current location is coming at you.
8.5 O.V. Thanks.
8.6 BRIAN Got a destination for us?
8.7 ARKADY Should we be talking about this out loud?
8.8 O.V. You’re not going to blurt out the coordinates the minute you see them, are you?
8.9 ARKADY That’s not what I meant.
8.10 O.V. Listen, they already know Thasia and I are still alive. They already know some of what we know. They already know, thanks to you, that we’ve made contact.
O.V. CONT’D OVER
9.1 O.V. CONT’D And that means, there are certain pieces of information they are going to assume you now have.
9.2 THASIA Beyond that, there’s the fact of the support staff.
9.3 VIOLET Sorry, the what?
9.4 THASIA The Regime is made up of people, and those people have jobs. With Former Agent Liu and me, any statement we make must be carefully transcribed and analyzed, even if that statement is, what’s the word I was using the other day?
9.5 O.V. I don’t-- (DEFEATED) Balderdash?
9.6 THASIA Noo…
9.7 O.V. (CLIPPED AND EFFICIENT) Poppycock? Gobbledigook? Argle-bargle?
9.8 THASIA Argle-bargle! Because, you see, we are Priority One criminals. Edict 1837 applies.
9.9 ARKADY Edict Bane-of-My-Existence. All that paperwork…
10.1 O.V. What?
10.2 SANA She was a guard once, on Telemachus.
10.3 O.V. Interesting operation you’ve got there, Captain.
10.4 ARKADY (DEFENSIVELY) I got fired.
10.5 VIOLET Violet. I trust her, okay?
10.6 O.V. Heartwarming, who are you again?
10.7 BRIAN Hey everybody, uh, can we get back on track?
10.8 O.V. Of course. Sending your target destination. (Typing sounds)
10.9 GRATUITOUSLY PLEASANT FEMALE VOICE You have one new message.
10.10 O.V. (FREAKED OUT) What was that?
10.11 BRIAN That’s our computer. Sorry, it’s gotta be pretty weird, her having your friend’s voice and stuff.
10.12 O.V. It’s--fine. (IT IS NOT FINE) I’m fine. (SHE IS NOT) I know how E.L.L.A. works, I was just--startled. You’ll want to open that message.
11.1 SANA But the location--I mean--it’s--
11.2 O.V. I know what I sent you. It’s the middle of nowhere, yes.
11.3 ARKADY Can we not.
11.4 THASIA That’s hardly giving anything away, space is full of nowheres. That’s why your language calls it space.
11.5 ARKADY I don’t care how untraceable you say your position is, that’s no reason to give them clues.
11.6 THASIA Oh, we’re not anywhere near there.
11.7 SANA You implied you had the cure--
11.8 O.V. It’s a little more complicated than that.
11.9 ARKADY How complicated can it be? Either you have it or you’re giving us the run-around…
11.10 SANA Arkady.
12.1 O.V. We know how to cure you. We don’t have them with us right now.
12.2 SANA “Them”?
12.3 O.V. Finer points of nanorobots aside, the swarm basically operates via majority vote. Whatever there’s the most of, that’s what gets replicated, until the new bots drown out the rest.
12.4 THASIA To create a brainwashed swarm, all you need is one bot in a vacuum. To cure a brainwashed swarm without frying your ship, you need to overwhelm it with a larger swarm of free bots.
12.5 O.V. After we escaped, Thasia put out the call and we were lucky enough to find some.
12.6 SANA And these coordinates will take us to another free swarm?
12.7 O.V. And unfortunately, that means going a bit far afield. Hope you’ve fueled up recently.
12.8 SANA In the meantime, what’s our best bet for damage control? Talk in pantomime, carry notepads everywhere? Run our comms through headphones?
13.1 O.V. Headphones won’t help. The brainwashed swarm interfaces directly with your auditory neurons.
13.2 VIOLET (FREAKED OUT) It’s in our nervous system?
13.3 O.V. It is. Do you have any sense of how far it’s spread among the crew?How many of you are showing symptoms? Coughing, a ringing in the ears. In the later stages, severe anemia, tremors and auditory hallucinations.
13.4 THASIA I used to hear singing sometimes. Very distant singing. I couldn’t tell you the song.
13.5 SANA We know it picked up audio from me, and Violet’s been coughing.
13.6 VIOLET Not lately.
13.7 ARKADY Only because you’ve been knocking back that throat powder.
13.8 O.V. --That’ll merely mask the symptoms--
13.9 BRIAN And uh, actually Krejjh has been coughing, too?
14.1 O.V. Right. As I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, left unchecked, Strain H will continue to interface with your nervous system, consume the iron in your hemoglobin, and replicate until you die.
14.2 O.V ....oh. You hadn’t guessed.
14.3 VIOLET How long do we have?
14.4 O.V. Depends.
14.5 ARKADY Depends on what.
14.6 O.V. A million variables. The size of your ship, the ambient air temperature, the individual immune response seems to play a large role. If you’re not coughing yet, I’d say you have a good while. If you are--well. Craddock had just shy of seventy-two hours. (CLEARLY UPSET BY THIS) Um. She always--she always had weak lungs. She heard singing too, at the end. I’d say it’s something to watch for.
14.7 SANA Hey. I’m sorry...
15.1 O.V. You’ve already outlasted her, so, y’know. Chin up. With any luck, when you reach your location, you’ll be able to replicate my findings. (typing sounds)
15.2 ARKADY Meaning, survive.
15.3 O.V. (Agreeing) Meaning, survive.
15.4 FX: Door opens
15.5 KREJJH You would not believe the sparks the temperature reg made! (PAUSE) ...is that really our destination? Yikes.
15.6 THASIA It’s your best hope.
15.7 O.V. And you can’t afford second-best hopes right now.
15.8 KREJJH (starting to pick up on the grim vibe) Why? What’s going on, fellas? (PAUSE) Crewman Jeeter?
15.9 BRIAN Krejjh, love...
15.10 O.V. You can talk later. For now, you need to follow those coordinates. Quickly.
16.1 KREJJH Aye-aye. Setting our sights on...location X...marks the spot.
16.2 SANA What about after we’re cured? What do we do then?
16.3 O.V. Whatever you were doing before. Except for you, Violet, you might need to update your resume. (PAUSE) See, this is why I don’t make jokes. You’re smugglers, right, Captain? Go smuggle.
16.4 SANA What about Project Sentry? And is the IGR really building new prison-planets?
16.5 O.V. Where did you learn about the prisons?
16.6 SANA Roderick Quincy Cresswin Jr.
16.7 O.V. How?
16.8 KREJJH We may sound like your standard band of roguishly attractive civilians, but we also have some tricks up our shared sleeve.
16.9 BRIAN Other-Violet, Alvy told us to find you because you’d know what was going on. He wanted us to have that information.
BRIAN CONT’D OVER
17.1 BRIAN CONT’D I’ve gotta think he’d want us to do something more with it than just save ourselves.
17.2 O.V. Like what?
17.3 SANA The Regime’s not doing well, is it?
17.4 O.V. What makes you say that?
17.5 VIOLET With Alvy’s help, Craddock was able to infiltrate ADVANCE labs and rescue Thasia. The Regime responds by shooting half the staff into space, including the wrong Violet, and then when Alvy reveals himself, they eliminate the entire crew of the Iris. That’s not an organization running smoothly. That is a group of people in a panic.
17.6 O.V. There’s been--unrest, yes. But it’s not your concern. By the time you get back from where I’ve sent you, well-- It will be what it will be. Obviously I can’t get specific, but-- we’re doing everything we can. If needs must, our agents in place are prepared to take some losses.
17.7 ARKADY How did the IGR get ahold of a swarm in the first place?
18.1 THASIA It’s a long story. You need to understand some things, the scope of what we’re dealing with.
18.2 O.V. And yes, this is all intelligence that the Regime already has. It is worth explaining how we got to this point.
18.3 KREJJH Great, because I have, like, a million questions.
18.4 THASIA I suppose I should begin. Former Agent Craddock and I grew up together on Halton Station, in the Neutral Zone. Eventually, we had to part ways--she for her schooling, and me for my travels. Dwarnians who are Lechassa are called to explore, it’s sacred to us. That’s what Lechassa means, more or less: holy travelers, gatherers and sharers of knowledge. And while I was out there in the deep, I found marvelous things.
18.5 BRIAN You found the swarm.
18.6 THASIA I did. And we became friends.
18.7 ARKADY (DUBIOUS) You and--the swarm.
18.9 THASIA The outer reaches of space are very lonely.
19.1 VIOLET But how did you even communicate?
19.2 THASIA Every Dwarnian has had several years of Classical Vre Chel Noke.
19.3 KREJJH Of...course.
19.4 THASIA Together, we explored the ruins of the Vre Chel Noke civilization, the swarm devouring any debris in my path, sending me the most interesting transmissions it could find. And that’s how I learned Chairfolk Vashren wanted the Dwarnian Federation go to war against humanity, was agitating for it hard. Most of our politicians didn’t care, didn’t support the idea of war, but few outright opposed it either.
19.5 O.V. The war was convenient, right? From a political perspective.
19.6 THASIA They wanted some of your resources, territory. And, you know, it had been a long time since the last one. We don’t really fight each other anymore. I suppose we got restless.
19.7 KREJJH (REMEMBERING) You spoke out against the war, didn’t you?
20.1 THASIA I did what I could. But I could tell it wasn’t enough. And then my ship failed. Thankfully, I was able to coast to the nearest unoccupied planet, and make repairs. But the next time I used a public dock, it failed again.
20.2 ARKADY You think you were being sabotaged.
20.3 THASIA It is possible.
20.4 O.V. Oh come on, you were.
20.5 THASIA I did receive a number of death threats from Chairfolk Vashren’s supporters.
20.6 O.V. Jackbooted thugs, you mean.
20.7 THASIA (SADLY) Eventually, I decided drastic action was needed. And the swarm wanted to help. I had told it all about my friend, my human friend from childhood. We thought, if it does come to war, the humans should stand a chance. They’d need an advantage. An alliance with secret sentient alien tech seemed like a great boon.
THASIA CONT’D OVER
21.1 THASIA CONT’D The swarm could deliver messages in an instant, on unhackable frequencies. And it eats metal. So I fueled up my ship, a good portion of the swarm flew inside, and we headed out to the CUI headquarters. We had fine flight conditions, a smooth journey, although some border skirmishes had already started. It was late November 2180.
21.2 ARKADY Oh my god. You brought the swarm to the IGR.
21.3 THASIA I hadn’t heard about the coup. The swarm didn’t speak any human languages; those transmissions meant nothing to it. Of course, the instant I arrived on New Jupiter, we were both taken prisoner. I tried to explain, but--you can imagine.
21.4 KREJJH Thasia...I’m so sorry...
21.5 THASIA I was too valuable to kill, and General Jahansooz didn’t believe in torture. I simply had to watch as they slowly, carefully turned my friend into a mindless parasite, periodically testing the results on me.
21.6 O.V. --Again, that does count as torture--
22.1 THASIA Eventually, I learned that Vashren used my disappearance as an excuse to attack the humans.
22.2 KREJJH Thasia… Thay gwee l’rinayway, qu’thay.
22.3 THASIA Thank you, Krejjh. Thay kless’le.
22.4 SANA How did you survive?
22.5 THASIA They kept a certain amount of--I suppose I can’t call it a free swarm. Untainted, let’s say. They’d cure me and then start all over.
22.6 ARKADY Of course, they must’ve cured the crews on all the other missions they sent out with the Iris, too. Even the Regime’s not sloppy enough to let everybody die.
22.7 VIOLET Easy enough to pass off the cure as some kind of post-flight safety procedure. Decontamination or something.
22.8 ARKADY Violet, do you know where that would’ve taken place?
22.9 VIOLET Probably the nearest lab on New Jupiter.
23.1 O.V. Good thought, but one, the Regime’ll see you coming. Two, it’s unlikely they’d keep large amounts of untainted swarm just hanging around when they don’t need it. The whole lot could be brainwashed by now. Look, you’re missing the point.
23.2 SANA What is the point?
23.3 THASIA I spent a decade in IGR custody, with nobody--myself included--ever suspecting I might one day make it out. I have a frankly staggering amount of intelligence on the Regime.
23.4 O.V. Some of which is still classified. They don’t yet know how much we know, and we need to keep it that way.
23.5 THASIA But one thing we can tell you: the Regime knows its control has been slipping. Humanity might’ve been willing to rally around them during a war with space aliens, but the farther you get from that trauma, the more you are starting to see what you were made to give up, and to wonder if it was worth it.
24.1 O.V. There’re protests on Telemachus. There’s at least fifteen growing nationalist movements. And the Regime knows exactly one route to regain control.
24.2 ARKADY ...they’re gonna start another war.
24.3 O.V. They’re sure gonna try.
24.4 KREJJH If the Dwarnian Federation finds out the Regime is working on surveillance this extensive-
24.5 THASIA Yeah.
24.6 VIOLET Hang on, I had a thought. An alternate plan, somewhere else we could go to heal up and actually deal a blow against the IGR. Hand me that keyboard
24.7 SOUND Violet typing
24.8 ARKADY That’s incredibly dangerous--
24.9 SOUND Violet typing
24.10 GRATUITOUSLY PLEASANT VOICE Message sent.
25.1 SOUND (off-mic) (on Other Violet’s computer) (the ping of a message received)
(Everybody overlapping a bit)
25.2 BRIAN There’s no guarantee that’d work.
25.3 SANA But if it did--
25.4 ARKADY Yeah, but it’s risky as hell.
25.5 KREJJH Well, I’m on board. Former Agent Liu, what do you think?
25.6 O.V. I’m with the sullen one. Too much risk. If you follow my coordinates and track down a free swarm before the Regime can stop you--I put your odds of success at roughly 90%. Should you go with your new plan, that number is down to maybe 5 percent. A team of trained operatives could pull it off, if they were lucky. You’re unvetted, untested, and you answer to nobody. And if Plan B fails, not all of you will live long enough for Plan C.
25.7 GRATUITOUSLY PLEASANT VOICE You have one new message.
26.1 O.V. Now grab the itinerary in your inbox and let’s get going on Plan A.
26.2 VIOLET Who do you answer to?
26.3 O.V. That’s classified.
26.4 VIOLET By who? We could call you a spy, but it’s not like there’s a government you’re serving. Not one any more “elected” than the Regime..
26.5 THASIA Do you understand why Agent Liu cannot give you the names of her superiors?
26.6 VIOLET We’re as qualified as you are to volunteer--
26.7 BRIAN Uh, are we? Volunteering?
26.8 O.V. Can you please just pull up that itinerary?
26.9 THASIA It’s no use, you know. The Regime aren’t fools. They’ll be able to work out that your message is a recruitment letter.
26.10 O.V. Thasia?
27.1 THASIA Oh, not because of anything you did, Agent Liu. They know enough about our present circumstances to realize we are not in a position to decline help.
27.2 O.V. (“OH SHIT”) ...right. In that case--look, Plan A, Plan B, it’s your call, Captain.
27.3 SANA Can I send you a message in half an hour? I need to discuss this with my crew.
27.4 O.V. We don’t have time for a committee meeting--
27.5 SANA Respectfully, this is when consensus matters most.
27.6 O.V. Fine. If you do sign on, send me a written copy of all your equipment, weapons, and so on. And your personal assets, the skills you’re working with. We’ll see what we can do. (PAUSE) Thasia, anything to add?
27.7 THASIA (SHYLY) Krejjh, did you--have a good Ferin?
27.8 KREJJH Kind of a rough start, but it turned around in the end. Uh, you?
28.1 THASIA Mm, much the same.
28.2 KREJJH Thasia. Are you--uh, are you okay?
28.3 THASIA I wasn’t, for a long time. But I might be again. (AGAIN AS IN “MAYBE SOMEDAY”) It is, ah, good to talk to another Dwarnian. It has been a while.
28.4 O.V. You could always--write to each other.
28.5 KREJJH Pen pals! I’d like that.
28.6 THASIA Me too. (PAUSE) What’s a penp alz?
28.7 O.V. Tell you later.
28.8 VIOLET Before you go--there’s one thing I don’t understand.
28.9 O.V. I have to imagine it’s more than one, but continue.
28.10 VIOLET When we were in school, there were protests against the coup--where were you?
28.11 OTHER VIOLET Surviving.
29.1 VIOLET I mean, I don’t remember the slightest sign you were political.
29.2 OTHER VIOLET Right, well. Name the greatest spy of all time.
29.3 VIOLET What?
29.4 O.V. Give it a shot.
29.5 BRIAN Harold Philby.
29.6 VIOLET Kristin Tardibuono.
29.7 SANA Mary Bowser.
29.8 KREJJH (overlapping) Does it have to be a human?
29.9 ARKADY It’s a trick question. We’ll never know their name; that’s the point.
29.10 THASIA Very good.
29.11 O.V. We’ll be in touch. Violet Liu out.
29.12 GRATUITOUSLY PLEASANT VOICE Connection ended.
29.13 SANA Well. You know what this situation calls for--
30.1 ARKADY I do. Jeeter, get the glasses.
30.2 BRIAN On it.
30.3 SOUND Footsteps, door.
30.4 ARKADY Shit.
30.5 VIOLET Yeah.
30.6 ARKADY Shit.
30.7 SANA Should--we get a whiteboard or something, for pros and cons?
30.8 KREJJH You can always do what I do and just write on the wall. (Pause) What? It wipes off.
30.9 ARKADY I think we’ll remember the main points of each plan. It’s--memorable.
30.10 SANA (GRIM) Yeah.
30.11 SOUND door, footsteps
31.1 BRIAN Okay, one of you is drinking from a soup bowl, but, uh, I guess we’ve got bigger stuff to worry about right now.
31.2 SANA So, what are we thinking: Plan A or Plan B?
31.3 VIOLET I don’t want to...I feel like we need everybody to agree to my plan, or else we don’t do it at all. It’s not fair to make anybody take that risk if they don’t feel up to it.
31.4 SANA Agreed. We don’t force anyone into this.
31.5 VIOLET But uh, yeah, that’s my vote. Plan B.
31.6 BRIAN Guys, y’know, we still have the option of doing this the safe way.
31.7 KREJJH I don’t see how we do, Crewman Jeeter, we have to act. (cough)
31.8 BRIAN Krejjh, you’re--the nanobots are inside you, like Violet. They’re gonna make you sick. They could kill you.
32.1 KREJJH Yeah, I mean I figured. What does that change? We need to do whatever we can to help stop this war. The humans only survived last time because the military was over-budget in an election year. If the Regime tries again-- We could be looking at the end of humanity.
32.2 BRIAN ...Maybe it’s our time.
32.3 KREJJH Crewman Jeeter?