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Virtual Firefly episode 1x20 (act one)
Saturday, February 4, 2006

“War Crimes” (act one): This is the fifth episode of the Virtual Firefly project. Check out our web site at stillflying.net!


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1824    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

EXT. ABOVE TALLTREE – SECONDS LATER

Serenity veers away from town. Another missile rockets toward it but goes wide.

INT. SERENITY – COCKPIT – SAME TIME

Mal and Zoe pound in, joining Wash, who doesn’t look up, instead focusing intently on the controls of the ship.

MAL What the gorram—

WASH Aintiaircraft missile.

MAL What?

WASH Sure wasn’t a duck.

MAL Inara?

WASH I think she got off okay.

ZOE Why would they be shooting at us?

Jayne saunters in.

JAYNE Why not? Everybody else does?

Mal ignores Jayne, taps Wash on the shoulder. He points to something they can both see through the forward port.

MAL Them hills over there? Can you set us down?

JAYNE Set us down? We should be leavin’!

ZOE Can’t leave—

MAL —Inara’s still here.

SHEPHERD BOOK comes in behind them. As he does so, the ship shakes again—inertial dampener, not missile—and he’s forced to grab hold of the doorway.

WASH Captain, the inertial dampener—

MAL (nodding) I know. Going. Which is what we should be doin’.

ZOE So what do we do? Can’t go back and make the delivery like this.

JAYNE I say we leave. Ruttin’ grain we’re ferrying ain’t worth dyin’ over.

MAL We can’t leave Inara behind!

Beat, as everyone, even Wash, looks at him.

BOOK What’s happened?

JAYNE Missiles from town. Somebody don’t like us. Surprise, surprise.

BOOK (to Mal) It has to have been some kind of mistake. Some of these guns are set to fire automatically if they don’t receive the right codes.

JAYNE (to Wash) Why didn’t you give ‘em the code?

WASH Nobody told me about a code!

MAL Never mind about no code. Just set us down. Try not to crash us too badly.

WASH I ever crash us, Captain, it’ll be a work of art.

MAL Ain’t payin’ ya for art.

Wash smiles up.

WASH Ain’t barely payin’ me at all, Captain.

Zoe gives her husband a “Just fly the gorram ship” look.

EXT. HILLS OUTSIDE TALLTREE – DAY – ESTABLISHING

Serenity sets down in a peaceful valley, safe for the moment.

INT. SERENITY – COCKPIT – DAY

Wash fiddles with the comm, as Mal, Zoe, and Jayne gather around.

WASH I think… Almost. Yep, here we go.

An image of GEOFFREY, a nervous-looking man, well-dressed, mid-twenties, fills the comm screen. His image throughout the conversation is riddled with static.

GEOFFREY Am I speaking to the crew of Serenity?

MAL That you are.

GEOFFREY Captain Reynolds, I assume? I must apologize for the rude greeting. Please allow me to introduce myself. I am Patrician Geoffrey Landon.

MAL You shot at us, Geoffrey.

GEOFFREY We didn’t, I can assure you… (beat) There was some… local unpleasantness.

JAYNE He ain’t seen unpleasant. Not ‘til I—

Zoe glares at him.

GEOFFREY (apparently none the wiser) It’s been taken care of, however.

In the image, Geoffrey looks over his shoulder.

MAL What ain’t you tellin’ me?

GEOFFREY Things are quite safe, I can assure you. There won’t be a repeat of the, er, weapons malfunction we experienced earlier.

MAL Ain’t what I’m asking. (beat, no response from Geoffrey) What about Cariss? He’s the man set up the job.

GEOFFREY Patrician Cariss is currently unavailable, but has asked that I discuss business matters with you.

JAYNE Because Patrician Cariss’s dead.

Again, a glare from Zoe.

GEOFFREY Captain, I again sincerely apologize for the unpleasant circumstances of your arrival, but I’d like to conclude our business, if at all possible. You have our grain, and we have your coin.

Geoffrey lets it hang in the air. Mal looks at the crew, then back at the comm.

MAL We launched a shuttle right before we got fired on. You know if it got to where it was headin’ safe?

GEOFFREY I believe it did, but I can’t confirm that at this moment. Because of Talltree’s magnetic patterns, communications can be difficult at times.

ZOE (quietly, to Mal) I’m sure she’s all right, sir.

Mal ignores her.

MAL You want your grain, price has gone up, on account of the danger to me and mine. Gettin’ shot at weren’t no part of no deal I made. I want an extra twenty-five percent. Up front.

WASH (stage whisper) And a new inertial dampener.

MAL And a new inertial dampener. And some other parts. I’ll have a list.

GEOFFREY That may be difficult to arrange—

MAL Someone’s got to eat and it ain’t us.

Geoffrey shifts offscreen for a moment, perhaps conferring with someone.

WASH Actually, it is us.

Zoe gives him her “If you want to have sex soon, you’ll shut up” look.

GEOFFREY I’ll arrange it. As a show of good faith, I’ll come pick you up personally.

JAYNE Yeah, here’s a good plan.

MAL (ignoring Jayne) Best not be any more problems. There’s lots of colonies would pay shiny gold for that grain.

At Mal’s signal, Wash kills the comm.

WASH Isn’t this a farming community? What do they need with grain? BOOK We do seem to be bringing coal to Newcastle.

JAYNE It’s grain, Shepherd. Ain’t coal.

ZOE (ignoring them) I don’t like this.

WASH Maybe we should just eat the grain. Cut out the middle man.

MAL (ignoring Wash) Long’s he’s got the money, everything’s shiny.

EXT. PATRICIANS’ COMPLEX – DAY – ESTABLISHING

The Patricians’ complex, at the top of the hill, is basically a walled fort around an open square. It looks like it could comfortably house perhaps a dozen families, and is beautiful, if a bit run-down, like an aging Roman villa.

Inara’s shuttle sits in the square.

INT. INARA’S SHUTTLE – DAY

Inara opens the door to her shuttle, and is met by IBRAHIM AL-ASJAR, sixties, tall, spare, dark-skinned, wearing a turban and robes.

INARA (bowing) Salaam Aleikum.

IBRAHIM Aleikum Salaam.

INARA (stepping aside) Please, come in.

Ibrahim enters the shuttle and Inara closes the door behind him.

IBRAHIM Your images do not do you justice.

Inara smiles and invites him further into the shuttle.

IBRAHIM (cont’d) I apologize for the delay. As you may have noticed on your flight in, there was some small civil unrest. I trust your journey here was trouble-free?

Inara begins to pour tea for them.

INARA Actually, our vessel appeared to be under fire as I left. Is there any way you could confirm its status for me?

IBRAHIM I can certainly do that, but would you mind waiting? I’m quite anxious to… become acquainted.

INARA (tight smile) Of course.

EXT. SERENITY – DAY

Mal, Jayne, Zoe, Wash, Kaylee and Book are near the open cargo ramp, along with a dozen barrels (some of which are being used as seats). The ramp opens to a broad valley with a single entrance.

A battered SKIFF comes through and touches down at a safe distance. It’s slightly smaller than one of the shuttles, but is unroofed, with rows of seats bolted in (enough to accommodate a dozen). The paint is peeling and it looks as if it’s seen better days.

CAPTAIN CHU, wearing a worn-looking armored vest and riot helmet and armed with a pistol and high-tech billy-club, is behind the wheel. Geoffrey is in the passenger seat, and three GUARDS, attired similarly to CHU, but without helmets, sit in the rear.

Mal and the crew stand up straighter as Geoffrey (carrying a small bag) and his men approach. Everyone’s hands are on their weapons, but no one draws. Chu watches the crew, but the other guards seem more concerned about the surrounding hills.

This fact is not lost on Mal and Zoe, who exchange a look.

GEOFFREY Captain Reynolds. You see I come in good faith. Here is your extra twenty-five percent.

Geoffrey holds out the bag, which Book comes forward to collect. As Book looks at the contents and nods to Mal, Geoffrey takes in the dozen barrels.

GEOFFREY (cont’d) And where is the rest of the grain?

MAL Cargo hold. As a show of good faith, we’ll take this dozen in to meet with Cariss. You’ll have the rest of your grain when I have the rest of my coin.

Geoffrey isn’t enthused by the situation, but knows that Mal has the advantage.

KAYLEE And the parts, Cap’n! Don’t forget the parts!

She moves toward Geoffrey, pulling out a greasy piece of paper to show him.

KAYLEE (cont’d) See, we need some couplers. Now, not the steel ones, ‘cause they vibrate too much. These gotta be ceramic—

Geoffrey looks at the list (and, perhaps Kaylee) with mild distaste.

GEOFFREY I think we can arrange… some of that.

BACK ON THE RAMP

Mal sidles up to Jayne.

MAL Change of plans. I want you to stay here. Watch the ship careful.

Jayne starts to say something, then Zoe looks at him and indicates the nervous-looking guards, who have barely even looked at the crew.

MAL (cont’d) There’s somethin’ they ain’t tellin’ us.

EXT. TALLTREE – DAY

The skiff flies along, never venturing too far from the ground. Chu and Geoffrey are in the front seats, Mal and Zoe immediately behind them. The guards are in the back, with the barrels of grain.

INT. SKIFF – DAY

Mal leans forward, over Geoffrey’s shoulder.

MAL (cont’d) So, Geoffrey… (beat) Why’d you shoot at us?

Geoffrey starts.

Zoe puts her hand on her pistol and looks over her shoulder at the guards. The wind is loud enough that they apparently didn’t hear Mal.

GEOFFREY We didn’t shoot at you.

MAL Somebody sure did. If it wasn’t you, makes me wonder if I shouldn’t be talkin’ to somebody else about the grain.

CHU Patrician Cariss has everything well in hand.

Geoffrey turns around, looking Mal in the eye.

GEOFFREY Honestly? We had a riot among the workers. Quickly suppressed, but at one point, they were able to take over one of our anti-aircraft batteries.

MAL What else ain’t you telling us? Why’s a farming colony so gorram desperate for something you can grow yourself?

GEOFFREY Crop blight.

Geoffrey waves expansively at their surroundings. They are driving past fields, but up close, the grain in the fields appears to be dead or dying.

GEOFFREY (cont’d) Hence our need for the blight-resistant grain you’re carrying. The workers believed we’ve been hoarding grain in the warehouses.

ZOE Have you?

GEOFFREY Yes.

Mal and Zoe exchange a look.

GEOFFREY (cont’d) Without our exports, we haven’t much money, and we have expenses to meet. Debts, equipment to buy, soldiers to pay… the irrigation system must be maintained. Your shipment will have to last us a long time, and must be severely rationed, if we’re to have enough to plant next year’s crop.

MAL (grudgingly) Makes a certain sense, I suppose.

Geoffrey is emboldened by Mal’s vague agreement. He leans closer to Mal, as if they are suddenly friends.

GEOFFREY The workers would not have rationed. Common rabble with no vision of the future. They’d eat tomorrow to starve next year.

ZOE Better’n than starving today.

EXT. TALLTREE TOWN – DAY

On the streets of Talltree, the skiff must go much slower. Many of the buildings it passes are dilapidated shanties, some showing signs of recent damage.

CITIZENS in the drab clothing of farmers and laborers watch the skiff pass by. They look tired, listless and hungry.

INT. SKIFF – DAY

Mal and Zoe look at each other.

ZOE Quite a dangerous-looking lot, sir.

He doesn’t like it any more than she does.

EXT. TALLTREE TOWN – STREETS – DAY

The skiff is forced to stop as a clump of a dozen CITIZENS blocks the road. Three vaguely menacing GUARDS are trying to drive them out of the road.

Geoffrey calls down to the guards.

GEOFFREY Why aren’t these citizens back at work?

GUARD Patrician Cariss wants everyone confined to town until everything’s settled, sir.

ZOE Thought everything was settled already.

Her words are lost as the citizens gather around the skiff, blocking its progress and holding out their hands like beggars. A handful of CHILDREN join the group.

CITIZEN Food! Please!

CHILD Help!

Geoffrey looks past them to the nearest guard.

GEOFFREY Contact Patrician Cariss. We need to get these people back to work.

MAL Ask me, these folk don’t look up for much work.

GEOFFREY On this world, if they don’t work, no one eats.

Another look between Zoe and Mal.

MAL And what exactly is it you do here, Patrician?

Geoffrey ignores him, instead attempting ineffectually to push some of the citizens away from the skiff.

GEOFFREY Shoo! Shoo!

Mal and Zoe each toss a couple coins into the waiting hands.

GEOFFREY Please don’t! You’ll only encourage them!

As the citizens and children shift to get closer to Mal and Zoe, the front of the skiff clears, and Chu accelerates away.

EXT. TALLTREE TOWN— COURTYARD – DAY – ESTABLISHING

The large cobblestone courtyard sits close to the base of the hill. The hillside is lined with three WAREHOUSES, the opposite side with a large, steaming, clanking, pipe-filled IRRIGATION UNIT fifteen feet high and twenty feet across and deep. The other two walls are dotted with smaller buildings, and the center of the courtyard houses an ANTI-AIRCRAFT BATTERY. The entire courtyard his ringed with LAMPPOSTS.

There was clearly a battle here, and recently. Some of the buildings are still smouldering, and the courtyard is strewn with debris. A JALOPY of an armored car is flipped on its back, partially in a new CRATER.

More than a dozen BODIES, rebelling laborers by their attire, are piled by the crater. Three WELL-DRESSED BODIES hang from lampposts.

A half-dozen GUARDS are cleaning the area, carrying a few more bodies to the crater and clearing debris.

A WELL-DRESSED MAN, wearing an outfit reminiscent of an Alliance uniform, looks up at the bodies by the lampposts. We do not see his face.

THE SKIFF

Pulls up and Geoffrey and his guards get off, Mal and Zoe a step behind.

GEOFFREY (cont’d) Patrician Cariss!

Geoffrey has to yell to be heard over the sounds of the irrigation unit. The Well-Dressed Man begins to turn.

GEOFFREY (cont’d) The grain shipment is here!

Mal’s eyes go wide, and his hand drops to his gun. The Well-Dressed Man, Patrician Cariss, is also the Officer from the teaser.

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