Training grounds.
kitten   November 25, 2002

A continuation of this bit of nonsense, in a different format.

. . . .

INT. CELL

Night, or at least a facsimile thereof. The interior of a sort of makeshift cell aboard the ship, dusty blue light.

CLOSE-UP on ANGELA, sleeping lightly, on the temperfoam mattress in the corner, clad in a dark blue coverall.

PULL BACK, the resonating thud of a solenoid lock as before. The door is barely open when ANGELA is on her feet, tensed and ready. Even through the coverall, her svelte menace is apparent.

In the doorway, backlit by the corridor light, stands the APPRENTICE. He's no longer wearing his off-the-shelf blazer, but now looks crisp and professional in a military-style uniform.

APPRENTICE
Good evening.
The APPRENTICE steps inside the cell and closes the distance between him and ANGELA. Her surprise is evident, though she's trying to conceal it.
ANGELA
You. You're the one that brought me here, aren't you?

APPRENTICE
That's right. I'm Lieutenant Phipps. If you'll come with me, there's someone who wishes to speak with you.

He starts towards the door.

ANGELA hesitates, but it doesn't look as though she has any choice. She follows him out the door Enters the corridor, two guards taking flanking positions alongside her and PHIPPS. Their guns aren't exactly pointed at her, but they aren't exactly pointed away, either.

PHIPPS
This way.

INT. CORRIDOR - NIGHT

PHIPPS leads ANGELA down the corridor, which is lined with the same basic duraluminum plating that was in her cell, dimly lit for the night-cycle. It's an industrial look, with rivets along the panels, and ANGELA is paying close attention to the badging on the walls, particularly near intersections, trying to get a feel for the layout. The cramped and low corridor confirms to her she is on a spacecraft - little space appears to be wasted.

ANGELA (vaguely conversationally)
I've never seen a uniform like yours. You military?

PHIPPS
In a manner of speaking.

ANGELA
You were with my target before. You were his apprentice.

PHIPPS
Do you always assume things are as they appear?

ANGELA
Unless there's reason to believe otherwise.

PHIPPS
There's always a reason to believe otherwise.

He stops at a doorway, presses his thumb to a panel next to it, and the door sighs open. PHIPPS and ANGELA enter the room; the guards remain outside.


INT. STATEROOM

It's a conference room of sorts, small but not unreasonably so. As far as it goes, it's actually somewhat luxurious, in a sterile sort of way. There's even potted plants in the corners.
Along the circumference of the conference table are computer terminals. A few portable tablets are stacked against the far wall on top of low, metallic cabinet. A man is seated at one of the terminals, his profile lit by the CRT glow.

PHIPPS
Sir?
The man at the computer terminal swivells in his seat and faces us - it is the ASP who greeted ANGELA upon her initial arrival. He, too, is dressed in a military uniform, though vaguely more relaxed than PHIPPS, the same casual confidence inspired by the knowledge that he is in charge. The Asp ring still adorns his right hand.
He stands and approaches ANGELA.
ASP
Ah, I see you're feeling better. Excellent.
(to PHIPPS) Thank you, Lieutenant. You are dismissed.

PHIPPS (hasty)
Sir, may I remind you that she is --

ASP
You are dismissed, Lieutenant.

His voice is severe; PHIPPS backs off.
PHIPPS
Sir.

PHIPPS nods and leaves the room, the door clicking shut behind him.

ANGELA is standing, not giving away anything, waiting.

ASP
I doubt, Angela, given what we know about you thus far, that you're one to waste time with social niceties. However, permit me to play host.
ANGELA remains silent. The ASP wends his way to a small console at the far end of the room, where he extracts two white cups.
ASP
May I offer you some coffee? Or some tea? I prefer tea, myself.
Without waiting for her response - not that she had planned to give one - he fills the cups with steaming liquid from an urn atop the console. It is indeed tea, and he places one cup on the table in front of ANGELA.
ASP
Please. Have a seat.
The ASP sits, a few seats away. So does ANGELA. She ignores her tea.
ASP (sipping his tea)
Black. I ask for Darjeeling, but never seem to get it.

ANGELA
Who are you?

The ASP sets aside his cup for the moment.
ASP
Who do you think I am?

ANGELA
You're an Asp.

ASP (zero sarcasm)
That's well observed.

ANGELA
This your spaceship?

ASP
Space station, actually. We're almost two hundred miles above the Earth. And yes, it is mine - or rather, I am in command of it. Captain Logan Winter, and welcome aboard the Ring.

ANGELA
Feel like telling me why I'm here? Or how I was brought here?

WINTER
The two questions are part of the same answer, Angela. It wasn't easy to track you down, and it was more difficult still to capture you. Alive, anyway.

WINTER taps his computer terminal significantly.
WINTER
We've been watching you for quite a while.

ANGELA
We?

WINTER
Perhaps you've wondered, at some point, exactly where Asps such as myself are brought into the light? The ability is genetic, but latent until nurtured.

ANGELA
I never gave it much thought. What's this got to do with me?

WINTER
Patience, Angela. When I say we've been watching you, I mean myself, and others like me, of which there are many aboard the Ring.

ANGELA
You mean other Asps.

WINTER
Just so.

ANGELA
How many?

WINTER
The Ring compliments a crew of a little over four hundred. Most of them are Asps.

ANGELA is taking this in, and it's starting to wear down her carefully emotionless mask.
ANGELA
What about that guy? The lieutenant. Phipps.

WINTER
Yes.

ANGELA
But I saw him. He was an apprentice, to a molecular architect.

WINTER
The details are not for you to know, yet. But Lieutenant Phipps served his mission well. We needed the architect out of the way, and we wanted you.

ANGELA
You contracted me?

WINTER
That's correct. You took out the architect, and Phipps was able to take you.

ANGELA (a little more quiet than usual)
Because he's an Asp.

A beat.
You're telling me that this place, Ring, is where Asps are trained? Developed, whatever?

WINTER
You catch up quickly.

ANGELA
You still haven't answered my question. Why am I here?

WINTER
Really, Angela, I'm surprised you haven't put this together yet. I said the ability was latent before it was lit, not nonexistent.

ANGELA reacts, slightly, a mixture of denial and intrigue. Then it's gone.
WINTER
That's right.

ANGELA
No. I don't know what you think I am, but I can't be. I've never had --

WINTER
Had what? The advanced sensory perception is there, Angela, whether it's been brought out in you or not. In such a raw and unlit state as within you, I've heard it described as a sort of disconnection to reality, like watching a play. Forgive me for being vague, but I was selected early. I can't remember what it's like to not sense beyond.

ANGELA (distant)
Disconnected from reality.

WINTER
Sound familiar at all?

ANGELA gathers her thoughts a moment.
ANGELA
When I'm on my contracts.. that's when it happens. It's like I'm watching, not doing, and I'm not in control. But it's what makes me good at what I do.

WINTER
No doubt it is.

ANGELA
You're saying I'm.. one of you?

WINTER brushes a hand vaguely through his white hair.
WINTER
I'm saying we suspect you could be. That's what we're here to find out.

ANGELA
How?

WINTER stands, an unhurried motion, and walks to regard the small viewport. Stars drift slowly by.
WINTER
I understand you've had some navigation experience?

ANGELA
Class III rated on anything from light to bulk cruisers or frigates. My last job, before I started contracting.

WINTER
Let's start with that, then.

He walks back to the table, retrieves his tea, and sips at it before continuing.
WINTER
You're the navigator on a light cruiser out of Proxima. Your ship has fallen under attack, and the damage is heavy. You've managed to evade further detection for the moment, behind the penumbra of Proxima itself, but this won't last long. Your options are limited - try to leave the penumbra and your plasma signature shows up on the enemy sensor sweeps. What do you do?
ANGELA considers a moment.
ANGELA
I'd try to keep the star between us and him, obviously.

WINTER
Of course. And as fate would have it, this means your only destination port can be Bravo sector's Tanaka Station. Try to leave any other way, or chart a different destination, and you come out from behind the star.

ANGELA
So? We go to Tanaka Station.

WINTER
To further complicate matters, in our situation, the route from Proxima to Bravo sector means travelling through a multiple gravity-well cluster, about three parsecs square.

ANGELA
I've dealt with worse. I can chart through that.

A brief smile crosses WINTER's face.
WINTER
Good. Then that's what I want you to do.
ANGELA almost scoffs.
ANGELA
That's it?

WINTER
That's it. Proxima to Tanaka, through the cluster.

WINTER pulls a tablet from the top of the stack, and - still sipping his tea - uses his thumbs to enter something into it. He hands the tablet to ANGELA, who gives it a cursory glance.
WINTER
The relative coordinates are here. You may begin whenever you wish.

ANGELA
Fine by me.

She swivels round in her chair to face the nearest terminal, and keys it up.

Or tries to. The screen remains dark. She taps a few keys, pokes uncertainly at the screen.

WINTER
Something wrong?

ANGELA
Think this terminal is down.

WINTER crosses the room to the cabinet, speaking as he does so.
WINTER
Ah. I did forget to mention one other aspect.
He removes a small stack of blank paper from the cabinet and locks it again. The paper he puts on the table in front of ANGELA, and removes a genuine antique ballpoint from his pocket, which he puts next to the paper.
ANGELA
What the hell's this?

WINTER
In this scenario, your navigational computers are too heavily damaged to use.

ANGELA is incredulous.
ANGELA
You can't be serious.

WINTER
I'll be back in four hours.

WINTER walks to the door, pausing as it opens, and speaks over his shoulder.
WINTER
Good luck.
He leaves, the door snapping shut behind him.

ANGELA's gaze is empty as she regards the blank paper, the smooth ballpoint, the stubbornly dark computer screen. Her mouth is slightly open as though she wants to say something, but nobody is present to hear.

CLOSE-UP on the ballpoint, ANGELA's slender fingers reaching for it.

SLOW PULL-BACK, as ANGELA nudges the pen around on the table a moment, clicks it a few times, and finally picks it up. Considering for a moment, then beginning to write - equations, graphs, her now-cold tea forgotten.

INT. CORRIDOR

WINTER is standing outside the stateroom, pressing his thumb to the panel to lock it. His first officer, COMMANDER RIGGS, walks by. He's slightly younger than WINTER, his hair neatly combed, smooth features, uniform crisp. He stops.

RIGGS
Captain.
WINTER looks up.
WINTER
Hello, Commander.

RIGGS
Go well?

WINTER allows another slight smile.
WINTER
We'll see. She's careful.

RIGGS
Gave her that new one of yours?

WINTER (mildly)
You're better at this than you like to admit, Kyle.

RIGGS
That's the whole idea, sir.

WINTER
So it is. But of course, you're right. The Tanaka test.

He seems a bit distant, thoughtful maybe.
RIGGS
Seems unfair, you ask me.
They begin walking down the corridor. The day-cycle is beginning to emerge.
RIGGS
You think she'll be able to do it?
WINTER pauses in his walk, and gives a glance back at the stateroom's door.
WINTER
No.
He and RIGGS begin walking again.
WINTER
But I want to see how hard she'll try.

FADE OUT.