Surveyor T93

A screenplay by Steve Pemberton

Copyright Notice

© 2001 Steve Pemberton. You may make verbatim copies of this screenplay in any medium, without obligation to me. You may not sell it, or include it with anything that is being sold, although you may charge a reasonable fee to cover any costs you incur in copying and distribution. You may not create derivative works from it. Primarily, this means that you may not create motion pictures that are based on it. If you put a copy somewhere that is accessible to a large number of people, I would appreciate it if you mention that the original is available at my website,

Please contact me if you want to do something that is not permitted by this copyright notice, and we'll see if we can come to an agreement.


Lieutenant Kiwan

Ensign Aref


Station controller

Scene 1

Inside a modern-looking, high-tech spaceship. (All the interior shots in this scene are on the ship's bridge.) It has a crew of two, but is designed for long missions, and so is relatively large and comfortable.

Close-up of computer outlet - possibly a hologram of a disembodied head, like Holly in Red Dwarf. Faint whirrings of machinery. The characters are all formal, concentrating on procedures, until noted otherwise. They are in zero gravity in this scene, but are strapped into their seats. They are drifting about slightly. Displays here and there showing 3D graphs.

ComputerPre-launch checks all completed successfully.
Mid shot of Kiwan, sitting in her seat, turning to look at computer. Close-up. Kiwan presses a green button in the arm of her chair, which lights up. Back to midshot of her.
KiwanStation, this is Lieutenant Kiwan aboard Surveyor T93, mission code W Alpha 49, requesting permission to launch.
Two-shot of Kiwan and Aref. Kiwan listens attentively for Station's response. Aref is looking off to one side at something offscreen.
Station(voice only. Slight radio crackle and distortion. Could be the same actor as the computer, to suggest that this, too, is a computer) Roger T93. You are cleared for launch. (slight pause) Have a good trip.
Shot showing Aref and the computer. He turns to look at the computer.
KiwanRoger Station.
ArefComputer, take us out.
Exterior shot of the surveyor (right side view) in its dock. The dock is simply a rectangular hollow in the hull of the station. Possibly an airlock in the far wall. The surveyor is held in place by a set of clamps set into the floor and ceiling. These withdraw slightly and the surveyor starts to move forward slowly. The camera tracks with it. Cut this shot when the surveyor is (partly) outside the station hull and some of the starfield is visible.
Surveyor interior. Two shot of Kiwan and Aref. The spectrum of the background noise is different (more active?), and it is slightly louder.
Kiwan(turning to Aref, suddenly remembering) Oh, Aref, we need to do a gravity check.
Aref unbuckles himself and pushes out of his seat.
Front view of surveyor travelling. The camera tracks with it, thereby revealing more and more of the station. (Illustration.) At some point during the next 3 lines, cut to a shot of the surveyor from above (just for a bit of variety), from slightly further back than the previous pullback shot. Far "below" is another large ship. (Illustration.)
StationSurveyor T93, please proceed to jump corridor seventeen.
KiwanRoger Station. Corridor seventeen. Computer?
Surveyor interior. Three-quarter view of the seats and some of the back of the cabin. Aref is drifting from the back of the cabin towards his seat. He grabs the headrest and swings himself around to sit in it. He straps himself in.
Aref(as he does this) Everything's tied down back there.
Kiwan(nods and turns to the computer outlet) OK computer, switch on the gravity.
From somewhere behind them, there is a sound of something hitting the floor (a thud rather than a crash). On the sound, cut to a close-up of Aref, wincing. Then a two shot of Kiwan and Aref. She turns to look at him.
Kiwan(calmly) You were saying?
Aref(sheepish, reaching to unbuckle himself) I'll go and look.
ComputerWe have reached our allocated jump corridor.
As the computer says "our," cut to a side close-up of Kiwan, who turns to look at the computer.
KiwanLater, Aref.
Slight pause. Cut to two shot in middle of pause. She looks expectantly at Aref, waiting for him to give the order. He does not.
KiwanComputer, begin jump sequence.
ComputerAcknowledge. Jump will occur in ten seconds.
As the computer says "ten," another component appears in the background noise, and gets louder as the countdown progresses. Close-up of Aref. He looks nervous.
Computer...nine... eight... seven... (continues under following dialogue)
KiwanDon't look so worried.
As Kiwan speaks, Aref turns to look at her. Two shot of them. Kiwan is looking at him.
KiwanThis is the safest part of the flight.
Aref(not reassured) I know.
Exterior shot of surveyor with station in background. zero.
The ship shimmers slightly. The background changes completely in a frame or two. The starfield is different, and the light is coming from a different angle.

Scene 2

Location as before. The surveyor is on the edge of a star system. This star, which the ship is pointing towards, is noticeably brighter than the others. The planets, if they are visible at all, are not distinguishable from stars at this distance. There is a faint haze surrounding the star and filling maybe two-thirds of the screen; this is the Oort cloud.
KiwanOK, what's this star system got for us, then?
Aref(reading from a display) One sun, spectral class G zero, about five billion years old. Five rocky planets, four gas giants, an asteroid belt, and numerous satellites and comets.
KiwanQuite a menagerie. Any artificial radio signals?
Aref(looking at another display) That's one thing it hasn't got. Ah... hold on - (he presses a couple of buttons) No. Just background noise, across the whole spectrum.
KiwanNo intelligent life, then.
ArefProbably not.
KiwanAre any of the planets within the sun's habitable band?
Aref presses another couple of buttons.
ArefYes - two, three and four.
KiwanThat's an easy decision, then. (turning to the computer) Computer, take us to look at the third planet.
ComputerAcknowledge. Estimated journey time is forty-five hours. Please confirm.
Exterior shot of surveyor beginning to move.

Scene 3

Exterior shot of surveyor approaching Earth. The ship is well within the Moon's orbit, so we don't have to show it. (This would be too much of a giveaway.)
Ship interior, on the bridge. Shot showing Kiwan's and Aref's seats. Aref is sitting in his, while Kiwan's is unoccupied. Aref is looking at a display. Apparently remembering something, he looks at another display nearby. Realising that they have nearly reached their destination, he presses a button on the armrest of his seat and looks expectantly towards the computer outlet.
Kiwan(Voice-over, slight distortion. A little distracted.) What is it, Aref?
Aref(uncertain, puzzled) Uh, I'm not getting a picture, Kiwan. Where are you?
Kiwan(as thought surprised that he was expecting any other answer) My cabin. (Pause. Realising.) Oh - I switched it off while I was changing. Hold on -
There is a click from the voice channel, and a small hologram of Kiwan (waist up) appears near the computer outlet. She is wearing the same clothing as the last time we saw her, but her skin is a totally different colour. Her eyes have also changed colour to match.
Close-up of Aref's reaction. He smiles and murmurs approval. (Kiwan's new colour is one that their culture considers sexy for women.) This shot lingers.
Kiwan(offscreen, nonchalant) Anyway, you were saying?
Aref blinks in surprise.
Shot showing both Kiwan and Aref.
ArefUm, yeah. We'll be making planetfall in... (he looks at the display for a moment and then back to Kiwan) just over two hours.
Kiwan(coy) Two hours? You'd better come to my cabin right away then. Oh, and switch off the gravity - planetfall can be a bit bumpy.
Aref(teasing) Of course you realise it's completely against regulations.
Kiwan(feigning surprise) Really? (looks thoughtful for a moment) Well, I won't tell anybody if you don't.
She presses a button that is out of view and her hologram disappears.

Scene 4

Exterior shot of surveyor heading towards Earth. The planet is noticeably larger in the frame than before. A harsh alarm sound starts a few seconds towards the end of this shot.
Interior shot of surveyor's bridge. The alarm continues over this shot. The gravity is still off, and Kiwan and Aref are at the back of the bridge, struggling towards their seats. They are naked. (Morph targets ahoy!) The door at the back of the bridge that leads to the rest of the ship is open. Kiwan grabs the back of her seat.
Kiwan(shouting over the alarm) Computer! Status! And shut off the alarm!
The alarm stops.
ComputerWe are receiving a distress signal from a surveyor-class spacecraft.
Kiwan and Aref look flummoxed.
ArefAnother surveyor? Out here?
KiwanComputer, where's the signal coming from?
ComputerFrom the planet that we are approaching.
ArefBut this is an unexplored system. Right, computer?
ComputerThere is no record of any previous survey of this star system.
KiwanAre you sure it's one of ours?
ComputerNinety-eight point six percent certain. However, the ship's ID does not match any currently on file.
Aref(softly) Weird...
KiwanOK computer, set a course to pick them up and let them know we're on our way.
ComputerThat is not possible. The signal ceased before its position could be precisely established.
Kiwan(mutters) Damn. (thoughtful) OK... we're heading for the planet anyway. Put us into a polar orbit and broadcast a message to let them know we heard them.

Scene 5

Exterior shots of surveyor flying over different types of scenery. They are in a polar orbit, so the scenery varies a lot from one shot to the next. Kiwan and Aref continue to talk in voice-over. Interior shots in here every so often. In the side shots, the ship is always going from the left of the screen to the right. In the top shots, it's going from the bottom of the screen to the top. Some of these shots at sunset or night.
Side view in thin clouds. (Bye bye CPU!) (Illustration.)
Top view flying over sea.
Shadow passing over desert. Small creature looks up in fright and runs away?
Ice floes.
Flying over some low, bare islands. Kiwan and Aref looking at their instruments.
ComputerWe have detected something that may be an artefact.
Kiwan(looking up from whatever she was doing) On screen.
The screen shows an expanse of water. In the distance is Stonehenge, surrounded by water. A flashing red box appears around this, and it expands to fill most of the screen.
KiwanWhat is it?
ArefI'd guess it's a monument, or a religious temple.
KiwanHow old is it, computer?
ComputerThe stone has been exposed to the atmosphere for twenty thousand years, plus or minus two thousand.
ArefThat'd make it the oldest artefact in this sector.
Aref(turning to Kiwan) What do you reckon, then? Was this a mother-world?
KiwanI still don't think it was ever even inhabited. [Need to say something about that earlier, possibly when they're flying over scenery.] No civilisation leaves behind just one artefact. Whoever built this must have been passing through on their way to somewhere else.
ArefThey must've been spacefarers, then.
Kiwan nods.
ArefSo how do you explain the primitive construction?
KiwanThere are several advanced species with religions that retain primitive characteristics. The way they construct their temples could easily be one of them.
ArefBut you're assuming that it is a temple. We don't know that.
KiwanComputer, do we have any record of similar artefacts on other planets?
ComputerThere are artefacts like this on Sigma Capulanus Two, dated to eighteen thousand years, and on New Babbulkund, dated to eighteen point five thousand years. Survey classified them both as temples, but there are no primary sources to confirm this.
ArefBut this one is older, right? So it must be the original.
KiwanOlder, yes, but not necessarily original. And besides, there's a ten percent error in our measurement, so it could be the same age as the others.
ArefWell, it's the only sign of civilisation we've found on this planet. We might as well take a closer look.
Kiwan(resigned) OK. Got that, computer?
External shot of surveyor moving towards monument. Alarm starts over this shot (different from the one in Scene 4 for the distress signal). Internal shot. Kiwan and Aref look startled.
ComputerWarning - strong manoeuvre imminent.
Back to external shot. The ship dives as an energy beam streaks past it. Back to internal shot. Kiwan and Aref look shaken, but are unhurt.
KiwanWhat happened?
ComputerA plasma weapon near the monument was fired at us. We avoided it. (slight pause) Suggest we retreat beyond its estimated effective range.
External shot of surveyor turning around and beginning to move.
Kiwan(voice-over) Computer, was there any warning of that?
ComputerNothing received on any known broadcast channel.
ArefDid anything like this happen at the other monuments you mentioned?
ComputerThere is no record of it.
KiwanSo the weapon system probably wasn't installed by whoever built the monument.
ArefOr they just didn't like the look of us. (slight stress on "us" - i.e. us as opposed to anyone else)
KiwanHuh. (That's supposed to be a sound like a laugh, but which shows she thinks the remark wasn't funny.)

Scene 6

Night. Aref is alone in his cabin, listening to music and reading. There is a bell-like sound offscreen. Aref looks up from his reading and turns towards the source of the sound, which looks something like the computer outlet on the bridge. There is a hologram of Kiwan there, standing in the corridor outside. She is looking around, waiting for him to answer. He makes a "quietening" motion with his hand. The music becomes quieter.
The door opens, to show Kiwan standing on the other side of it. She steps in, and the door closes behind her.
KiwanHello. (awkward pause) I've... been thinking... well... you know our tour of duty is almost over.
Aref nods.
KiwanI don't want... (shakes head) When it finishes, I've decided to ask for a reassignment.
Reaction shot of Aref. He is slack-jawed with astonishment.
KiwanI'm sorry.
ArefSorry? We'll probably never see each other again. (looks away briefly, then back at her) Is that what you want?
ArefThen why?
KiwanI've been in Survey for twelve years. It doesn't have any more challenges.
ArefDon't you love me anymore, then?
KiwanYes, of course I do, but...
Aref(looking down) Just not enough to want to stay.
He looks up. Kiwan nods reluctantly. They both look close to tears. She holds her arms out to him and he steps forward to embrace her. He begins to cry.
Kiwan(whispers) I'm sorry, Aref. There's no other way.
The alarm from Scene 4 starts abruptly. Both of them tense and look towards the door.
Kiwan(muttering) Damn computer. Got no tact, has it? (letting go of Aref) We'll have to finish this discussion later. (turns away) Door.
The door opens and Kiwan steps through. Aref stays where he is. She turns back to him. He raises a hand to his eyes to brush away some of the tears and steps forward.

Scene 7

Bridge. Kiwan and Aref arrive from the rear, looking flustered.
ComputerWe are receiving a distress signal from a Surveyor-class vessel.
KiwanThe same one as before?
ComputerYes. The vessel is within visual range.
The screen shows an expanse of water with an island in the middle. A ship, similar to T93, rests on it. Its design has some subtle difference that isn't obvious from this distance. T93 is moving towards it, so it gradually gets bigger.
KiwanIs it operational?
ComputerNo. The only detectable radiation is from the distress beacon.
KiwanThen we're probably too late. But open a broadcast channel.
KiwanCalling Surveyor-class vessel in distress. This is Lieutenant Kiwan of the Galactic Survey Ship T93. We're coming to your assistance.
Pause. She waits for their reply, but hears nothing.
KiwanComputer, put that on a loop and let me know if they reply.
Exterior of Surveyor nudging into place next to stricken ship. Back inside, it is on the screen in close-up. Parts of it are badly damaged and there is some wreckage scattered around on the island.
KiwanIt must've been here a while to look like that. (pointing to a deep gouge on the hull) Is that a plasma burn?
ArefI think so. Maybe they had a disagreement with the monument as well.
Kiwan(shrugging) Computer, send out a probe.
Exterior shot of small probe detaching from Surveyor and moving towards wreck. It stops outside the bulb at the front, on the starboard side. A section of the hull slides away (airlock) and the probe moves inside.
Back inside Surveyor. The screen is showing the view from the probe's camera as it moves through the wreck. It is in the corridor just after the airlock.
KiwanProbe, head for the bridge.
The probe beeps to acknowledge. It reaches a T-junction and turns right. It continues along this corridor, which ends in another airlock. There is a pause, and this airlock opens. The probe passes through, onto the bridge. The probe heads towards the two seats. It passes them and turns round to look at them. Each seat is occupied by a leathery corpse.
Kiwan/Aref(gasps of surprise and shock)
ComputerThese individuals have been dead for some time. All the crew are now accounted for. Do you wish to search the rest of the vessel?
KiwanUh... yes. Let us know if you find anything else.
They turn away from the screen and look to each other.
KiwanI know what you're thinking. We couldn't have found them any earlier. I think they were dead long before we picked up the signal in orbit.
ArefHow long do you think they've been here?
KiwanImpossible to say. The air's sterile, so the corpses wouldn't decay.
ArefThe computer said there's no record of that ship, or any expedition to this star system.
Kiwan nods.
ArefComputer, how far back do those records go?
ComputerTwo thousand, seven hundred and twenty-one standard years.
KiwanLook... I may as well tell you what I know. There've been other derelicts like this found, ships that weren't in the records. I've seen one myself. Some of them have been dated - unofficially. They vary from three thousand years old to over ten thousand.
ArefSo we've been surveying for four times longer than we have records?
Kiwan nods.
ArefWhere have all those records gone, then? Has someone hidden them, or destroyed them?
KiwanIt seems unlikely. I think they've just been lost, or become corrupted. Computer memory lasts longer than human, but it fades all the same.
ArefSo - shall I tell Station about what we've found?
Kiwan(shaking her head) No.
KiwanWhat's the point? No-one there can see the significance of these wrecks. Or they can't face it.
ArefWhat is the significance?
KiwanWe've been surveying so long that we're starting to go over the same ground. And we don't realise that.
ArefLook - why are we surveying the galaxy?
KiwanTo gather data on habitable planets. Or so they tell us in training. But that doesn't change much over ten thousand years. We must be searching for something on one of those planets.
ArefWhat, though?
KiwanThat's just the point - we've forgotten what we're searching for. Or even that we're searching at all. And that's the real reason I want to leave Survey, not because I'm tired of you or anything like that. There's nothing for anyone to do here anymore. By forgetting our past, we've forfeited our future.

The End!