by Shaqui Le Vesconte
Imagine that you are standing on the edge of a cliff. There are a number of alternative futures. You could take a pace forward and plunge to your death. The cliff could crumble under your feet with the same result. A gust of wind could carry you over. But the probability is that you would turn round and walk away again. If you hadn't gone near the cliff in the first place, you wouldn't have had to face any of the inherent dangers...
The edge between what was, and what might have been...
Let us explore those alternatives... the inherent dangers of a decision made, or not... a life taken, or given back... of possibilities and flipsides... heads, tails or coin edge?
ORAC could predict events which have not yet taken place, but could it also Observe Random Alternative Consequences?
Alternative the First: Dorian's 7
With the destruction of the Liberator and the marooning of its crew on the artificial planet Terminal, things looked pretty bleak for Avon and his associates. Little did they know a rescue - of sorts - was always on its way.
Dorian is another intriguing character, brought in to resolve one dilemma while introducing another to the Liberator crew. From what we see between the end of the episode Terminal, and the start of Rescue, little time has elapsed - possibly only hours. Dorian knew where the Liberator was heading, perhaps even before the crew themselves realised. It is made obvious he had been observing them for some time, so why only now - considering his desire to have a working teleportation system, some (presumably) three years after Liberator had been discovered - did he decide to 'acquire' them? He could not have known in advance that the Liberator faced destruction - or did he, during those keen observations, plot the craft's course through the fluid space enzymes and realise what was going to happen? He knew enough about the planet Terminal to realise that was Liberator's destination, so perhaps he took off in Scorpio in the hope he could get knowledge of the ship's system before it disintegrated. Certainly his opening dialogue with Slave suggests something along those lines.
And into the bargain, knowing his current 'creature' is approaching the limit of his transferred corruption, he realises that the crew, with the telepathic binding of Cally, can perhaps create a greater gestalt with which to continue his existence. But what if it hadn't quite happened that way?
Let us first examine Dorian. He is in excess of two hundred years old (actor Geoffrey Burridge was in his early thirties at the time) so 230-something seems a reasonable assumption. This would mean he was born not long into the New Calendar, and his parents and/or family may have seen something of the transition into this period in Federation history. One makes the assumption, given his penchant for the locality of the planet Xenon, outside even the expanded Federation space of Blake's time, he was born or bought up on one of the Outer Worlds, so perhaps his family moved there as the Federation expanded - either with it, or to avoid it?
Xenon was inhabited - was it possible he lived here, and was part of this colony? This seems unlikely, given the Hommiks 'reverted to primitive tribalism hundreds of years ago' but the Seska retained technology up to twenty years before Dorian's death. This might explain how he was able to initially exploit the caves into an underground base. The episode Rescue implies he did it alone, with only the odd 'partner' or 'companion' to assist, but the alliance with the Seska gives a greater raison d'etre for the base's existence. A further extrapolation, beyond just bringing them nutrients from Onus 2 for their hydroponics, may be that Dorian provided (or promised) a means for the Seska to survive, instead of just rescuing the Hommik 'daughters (that) are left to die on the hillside' - perhaps he (or a male 'companion') was to replace their seminal stocks which had been irradiated by a nucleic blaster? After all, we see no 'male' or even child Seska and it is difficult to believe they planned to continue in this way, although Pella's plan seemed to be for abandoning Xenon altogether. But we digress...
If he was not native to Xenon, then what we are told implies strongly that Dorian was originally an explorer, perhaps a geologist, which explains why he and his original partner were in the caves. What happened in there we can only speculate, based on what Dorian reveals, but it seems likely the 'element' may have been some form of alien parasite, beyond what we or even Dorian understood, perhaps one that fed on human (or non-human) needs and emotions? It made no sense to kill both, to be starved for another long stretch of time so it kept one, and bound both. Whether Dorian was initially aware of this is also speculation. Did he try to get help, only to find when he returned his trapped partner would take on his pain, and give back his expended energies? How quickly did he realise, and succumb to the narcotic of limitless time and appetite? He never aged and as long as he were able to return - something he had evidently pre-programmed into Scorpio some time before - was able to cleanse himself of any vice, any madness in that room, to his imprisoned colleague. However, the curve of all that age and corruption is exponential, too much for any one life to bear. His original partner was close to death, and he needed someone to replace him. Presumably Dorian had to bring each new person to the room before the old one died, otherwise - as we saw - all the transferred corruption returned, with his inevitable death. In light of this, one has to wonder if he always 'kept one in', making Soolin's presence obvious in hindsight, beyond just being a 'companion'.
Having established his longevity, and presumably the makings of a base, which even with the assistance of the Seska, must have taken decades. We know Dorian returned at least once to Federation space, where he met Ensor - perhaps he trained under him, which is where he gained the knowledge to create Slave. Perhaps he had other expert help, gained covertly as part of his 'salvage' cover. Perhaps, like his partner, once they outlived their usefulness, they were shown the room, and became useful in another way.
Dorian required more replacements - in fact, he already had one in the readily expendable Soolin. But would Avon and the others have been more use to him alive? He obviously had the technological information he sought in Orac, as despite claiming not to know who created it, Dorian recognised it in Scorpio - note his smile and almost sensual caress of its frame as he picks it up. In Avon, he had an acknowledged expert in computers and resisting the Federation - but also a dangerous ally. If Dorian knew so much about the crew of the Liberator, he could not not know how much a rival Avon would be. He would have to be leashed in some way. Quite possibly Tarrant and Dayna, the only other fighters, as well. Vila could be easily manipulated and his talents kept under control. Which brings us to the alternate juncture with what we know happened, and what might have been.
Despite his arrogance and vastly superior experience, Dorian did not mind playing himself down - look at his cover as salvage operator - although admittedly he may already have played one for some time in the local sectors anyway. It would have been a useful way to acquire technology and keep abreast of developments without raising too much suspicion. The question might be, how long could he keep up that pretence before Avon or the others suspected the truth? Soolin could possibly have an 'accident' to explain her disappearance as she replaced the creature. Could Dorian retain that lowly masquerade as 'salvage operator', yet allow Avon (and perhaps Tarrant), to boss him around while subverting their 'leadership' to his own needs?
Even Tarrant, in dialogue cut from the transmitted episode but retained in the novel, notes to Avon upon arriving on Xenon, "Why do I get the feeling he's been in complete control of everything we've done right from the beginning?"
And in answering just a few of Avon's questions about how he knew Ensor, Dorian gives away he is not entirely what he seems. Instead of continuing to threaten Avon with his own gun, Dorian could have put it away and given his usual disarming smile to show he really means they are still most welcome on his base. He could spin some story that he is older than he looks (without revealing an exact figure) and had sought assistance for other technologies. Avon need not believe him, but here was a powerful, if equally dangerous, ally too. An alliance of convenience, which Avon was no stranger to.
Initially at least, Avon's noting that the Xenon Base was outside the Federation and could be useful would mean there was no need to fight for time. The crew could, after the stressful events of the third season, relax. Dorian had already showed himself not to be the laid-back fool, by the security door to Scorpio's flight bay, and the threat of this - assuming Tarrant still gets Vila to examine the lock - would be a means of assuring his staying alive, without twisting it into outright domination. He might even, with the expertise used to repair Orac, find a way of preventing it from determining the password. With that in mind, Dorian might also have to find a way of stopping Orac revealing too much about how to create a workable teleport with which Avon might be able to get on board Scorpio, in spite of wanting that knowledge himself. Safeguards had already been built into Slave, and knowing how Orac worked might mean Dorian did not use Tarial Cells, preventing any override. Having said that, Orac was capable of overriding Zen, which was built outside the Federation - does this mean it could do that to computers without them, or did Zen possess a similar component? Regardless, Dorian would have a similar security system somewhere in Slave or Scorpio, as he must know the possibility of a double-cross from Avon or the others, if he was as keen an observationist of them as was implied.
So for a short while, Dorian has sway over them; Avon - by possessing a superior and technological blackmail, Tarrant - for similar reasons, plus also we don't think Dorian is unfit and wouldn't allow himself to be brow-beaten by his bullying bluster. Dayna might even, as with the now deceased Soolin, be swayed by his flirtatious charm. And Vila would be no object at all. He may even retain Pella and the other few Seska as allies - he would presumably be used to them being able to access the base via telekinesis. Together with Pella, we have an interesting new crew dynamic. It is doubtful Dorian would allow any of them to fly Scorpio without him on board, so for the most part Avon and the others would be grounded on Xenon Base - prisoners in an admittedly gilded cage. Perhaps Tarrant, Dayna and Vila would be happy to accept this for a period while they sized up their new associate. Avon may go along with it on the surface too, although one can see a new antagonism with Dorian. Unlike Blake, Dorian is no idealist but the few verbal sword-crossings they have bring to mind their character conflicts. Here is someone Avon could perhaps understand, similar in outlook (personal gain) and technical know-how gained over decades. Certainly enough to give Avon's superiority complex a pounding. We know he has trust issues, but Avon shows a grudging respect for what Dorian achieved, even if he could not submit to being led. Dorian might realise this, and allow Avon - within the previously outlined limits - to still run things. And if things get a little out of hand, he can always revert back to his original intention, and show them the room...
The fly in Dorian's ointment, which would prevent this being a long-term association, was the sudden expansion of the Federation using Pylene 50. Even he cannot ignore that. He wouldn't want the Federation on Xenon any more - perhaps even more so with the cave holding him captive - than Avon. An even uneasier alliance is forged, and Dorian could see his own foresightedness in keeping them alive. They have survived against the Federation in their own ways for years, admittedly with a superior ship and armaments, but the experience is there. Would he join in Avon's crusade against the Federation? Certainly in preventing their approach to Xenon although, as Vila comments, it would be a couple of years before they are a threat.
But suppose the Federation's expansion was relentless. An advance ship arrives and perhaps discovers the Base. Avon and his crew would be recognised immediately, so perhaps Dorian would hide them for a while - they might be a useful bargaining tool in negotiations, should Dorian be threatened. At some point, with his enigmatic replies, he might be brought before Commissioner Sleer (aka Servalan) and she might be astute enough to go through records and find out he has been around a long time.
""I might share that secret with you," Dorian might attempt a deal, "in return for my life."
And what makes you think your life is worth that?" Even Servalan must be tempted by the idea of eternal youth, without dropping her guard.
"Because in a room below this base, of which only I know the existence, is that secret - and something else of significantly more value." And making sure only Servalan should see this, and none of her guards, Dorian lets her take him - at gunpoint naturally - down the long staircase. And at the bottom...
Servalan smiles as she finds Avon and the others. Dorian raises an eyebrow, smiles enigmatically, "Didn't I say there was added value?"
Servalan motions with her pistol that he should join them. "What's to stop me from killing you all here, now? No-one would ever know."
Dorian doesn't move to join the others, but with a slight press of his heel releases the mechanism revealing the hidden room beneath them. An eerie blue light illuminates them all.
"Because if you do, you'll never find out how I... remain so eternally young." A disarming grin.
Servalan may remain unconvinced, but still motions for all of them to go down the staircase into the chamber. This time Dorian does not resist.
In the swirling mists, Avon, Servalan and the others see the foul creature that had once been Soolin approach. She is hideous, grotesquely aged and warped by Dorian's corruption, but still recognisable. Servalan raises her pistol to shoot it but the room pulses with blue life, and she, Avon and the others are brought to their knees. Dorian relieves Servalan of her pistol. He holds all the cards. She, like Cally, is bound to the others in a different way, a vital contrasting way. The gestalt will be even stronger through Avon and Servalan's love/hate relationship. As Dorian backs up the staircase, Avon, Servalan, Tarrant, Dayna and Vila are drawn to the Soolin creature, merge with it, become one gestalt being. Dorian feels his weariness being drawn away, his torture wounds from the troopers fading. He is young again, full of life. All that is left are the empty discarded uniforms of those he betrayed, as the new creature retreats into the depths once more. He pulls an identcard from one, and finds it is Sleer's. Perhaps even in death she can be useful.
The troopers level their weapons at Dorian as he reappears on the base control room, but he shows them her card. "Sleer has met with an unfortunate accident." One trooper fires point-blank at Dorian's chest. He reels, staggers... and stands upright. Far below, he feels what was once Soolin absorb his death, herself dying. Dorian grins. "Perhaps you might have an accident if you don't leave too." Almost imperceptibly he flicks a switch he prepared some time ago, and an invisible force wall surrounds the circular console. Another trooper regains his senses and fires, the charge flashing off the energy barrier. Unflinching, Dorian just watches as they shoot uselessly at him, until inhuman terror seizes them and they retreat back to their ship.
"Orac?" Dorian looks at the flashing box at his side, "Time to show them the error of their ways. If they can't play nice... "
"Understood," the computer responds. "Overriding flight controls. Launch systems aborted."
The ship is midway through lifting off, a launch it never completes. It sways, banks at crippling speed, flips on its back, and crashes in flames on the surface of Xenon. Dorian watches impassively on the monitor as the fire dies away. Then he flexes and stretches like a cat after a long sleep, or a good feed. He has been revitalised by the gestalt like never before. He looks down at the bloodied uniform and the unblemished skin beneath.
"Time for a change... " he muses, as he flicks idly through his wardrobe for new clothing, "and then perhaps some entertainment. What do you say, Orac?"
The computer does not respond, as Dorian hefts it up and carries it to Scorpio. Sets a general course back into Federation space.
"Well, if you can't be a good conversationalist, at least make yourself useful, and send a report back to Space Command indicating Xenon is unsuitable for colonisation or mining exploitation. And show that the crash, which killed Sleer and all aboard, was caused by sudden intense electrical storms, which make further landings... inadvisable."
"That would require falsification of the ship's onboard systems prior to its crash."
"And something you are more then capable of. Don't quibble." Dorian caresses the frame sensually. "So while you set about that little task, I hear that Freedom City has officially opened again. Shall we see? I'm in the mood for a celebration with decent company."
And with a laugh, he orders Slave to finalise a course, and lies down on a bunk to consider how best to find the limits of his newly-enhanced pleasure threshold once there...
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