CAST OF CHARACTERS: The crew is unisex and all parts are interchangeable for men or women.
CHAZ STANDARD, Captain . . . . . A leader and a politician. Believes that any action is better than no action.
MARTIN ROBY, Executive Officer . . . . . Cautious but intelligent -- a survivor.
DELL BROUSSARD, Navigator . . . . . Adventurer; brash glory-hound.
SANDY MELKONIS, Communications . . . . . Tech Intellectual; a romantic.
CLEAVE HUNTER, Mining Engineer . . . . . High-strung; came along to make his
JAY FAUST, Engine Tech . . . . . A worker. Unimaginative.
FADE IN: EXTREME CLOSEUPS OF FLICKERING INSTRUMENT PANELS: Readouts and digital displays pulse eerily with the technology of the distant future. Wherever we are, it seems to be chill, dark, and sterile. Electronic machinery chuckles softly to itself. Abruptly we hear a BEEPING SIGNAL, and the machinery begins to awaken. Circuits close, lights blink on. CAMERA ANGLES GRADUALLY WIDEN, revealing more and more of the machinery, banks of panels, fluttering gauges, until we reveal:
HYPERSLEEP VAULT: A stainless steel room with no windows, the walls packed with instrumentation. The lights are dim and the air is frigid. Occupying most of the floor space are rows of horizontal FREEZER COMPARTMENTS, looking for all the world like meat lockers. FOOM! FOOM! FOOM! With explosions of escaping gas, the lids on the freezers pop open. Slowly, groggily, six nude men sit up.
ROBY: Oh... God... am I cold...
BROUSSARD: Is that you, Roby?
ROBY: I feel like shit...
BROUSSARD: Yeah, it's you all right.
Now they are yawning, stretching, and shivering.
FAUST (groans): Ohh... I must be alive, I feel dead.
BROUSSARD: You look dead.
MELKONIS: The vampires rise from their graves.
This draws a few woozy chuckles.
BROUSSARD (shakes his fist in the air triumphantly): We made it!
HUNTER (not fully awake): Is it over?
STANDARD: It's over, Hunter.
HUNTER (yawning): Boy, that's terrific.
STANDARD (looking around with a grin): Well, how does it feel to be rich men?
This draws a LAUGH.
STANDARD: Okay! Everybody topside! Let's get our pants on and get to our posts!
The men begin to swing out of the freezers.
MELKONIS: Somebody get the cat.
Roby picks a limp cat out of a freezer.
CONTROL ROOM: This is a fantastic circular room, jammed with instrumentation. There are no windows, but above head level the room is ringed by viewscreens, all blank for the moment. There are seats for four men. Each chair faces a console and is surrounded by a dazzling array of technology. STANDARD, ROBY, BROUSSARD, and MELKONIS are entering and finding their seats.
BROUSSARD: I'm going to buy a cattle ranch.
ROBY (putting down the cat): Cattle ranch!
BROUSSARD: I'm not kidding. You can get one if you have the credit. Look just like real cows, too.
STANDARD: All right, tycoons, let's stop spending our credit and start worrying about the job at hand.
ROBY: Right. Fire up all systems.
They begin to throw switches, lighting up their consoles. The control room starts to come to life. All around the room, colored lights flicker and chase each other across glowing screens. The room fills with the hum and chatter of machinery.
STANDARD: Sandy, you want to give us some
MELKONIS: Feast your eyes.
Melkonis reaches to his console and presses a bank of switches. The strip of viewscreens flickers into life. On each screen, we see BLACKNESS SPECKLED WITH STARS.
BROUSSARD (after a pause): Where's Irth?
STANDARD: Sandy, scan the whole sky.
Melkonis hits buttons. On the screens the images all begin to pan. CAMERA MOVES IN ON ONE OF THE SCREENS, with its moving image of a starfield.
OUTER SPACE: CLOSE SHOT OF A PANNING TV CAMERA. This camera is remote controlled, turning silently on its base. CAMERA BEGINS TO PULL BACK, revealing that the TV camera is mounted on the HULL OF SOME KIND OF CRAFT. When the pullback is finished, WE SEE THE FULL LENGTH OF THE STARSHIP "SNARK," hanging in the depths of interstellar space, against a background of glimmering stars.
BRIDGE / ROBY: Where are we?
STANDARD: Sandy, contact traffic control.
Melkonis switches on his radio unit.
MELKONIS: This is deep space commercial vessel SNARK, registration number E180246, calling Antarctica air traffic control. Do you read me? Over.
There is only the HISS OF STATIC.
BROUSSARD (staring at a screen): I don't recognize that constellation.
STANDARD: Dell, plot our location.
Broussard goes into action, punching buttons, lighting up all his instruments.
BROUSSARD: I got it. Oh boy.
STANDARD: Where the hell are we?
BROUSSARD: Just short of Zeta II Reticuli. We haven't even reached the outer rim yet.
ROBY: What the hell?
Standard picks up a microphone.
STANDARD: This is Chaz speaking. Sorry, but we are not home. Our present location seems to be only halfway to Irth. Remain at your posts and stand by. That is all.
ROBY: Chaz, I've got something here on my security alert. A high priority from the computer...
STANDARD: Let's hear it.
ROBY (punches buttons): Computer, you have signalled a priority three message. What is the message?
COMPUTER (a mechanical voice): I have interrupted the course of the voyage.
ROBY: What? Why?
COMPUTER: I am programmed to do so if certain conditions arise.
STANDARD: Computer, this is Captain Standard. What conditions are you talking about?
COMPUTER: I have intercepted a transmission of unknown origin.
STANDARD: A transmission?
COMPUTER: A voice transmission.
MELKONIS: Out here?
The men exchange glances.
COMPUTER: I have recorded the transmission.
STANDARD: Play it for us, please.
Over the speakers, we hear a hum, a crackle, static... THEN A STRANGE, UNEARTHLY VOICE FILLS THE ROOM, SPEAKING AN ALIEN LANGUAGE. The bizarre voice speaks a long sentence, then falls silent. The men all stare at each other in amazement.
STANDARD: Computer, what language was that?
ROBY: Unknown! What do you mean?
COMPUTER: It is none of the 678 dialects spoken by technological man.
There is a pause, then EVERYBODY STARTS TALKING AT THE SAME TIME.
STANDARD (silencing them): Just hold it, hold it! (glares around the room) Computer: have you attempted to analyze the transmission?
COMPUTER: Yes. There are two points of salient interest. Number one: it is highly systematized, indicating intelligent origin. Number two: certain sounds are inconsistent with the human palate.
ROBY: Oh my God.
STANDARD: Well, it's finally happened.
MELKONIS: First contact...
STANDARD: Sandy, can you home in on that beam?
MELKONIS: What's the frequency?
STANDARD: Computer, what's the frequency of the transmission?
COMPUTER: 65330 dash 99. (Melkonis punches buttons)
MELKONIS: I've got it. It's coming from ascension 6 minutes 32 seconds, declination -39 degrees 2 seconds.
STANDARD: Dell -- show me that on a screen.
BROUSSARD: I'll give it to you on number four.
Broussard punches buttons. One of the viewscreens flickers, and a small dot of light becomes visible in the corner of the screen.
BROUSSARD (CONT'D): That's it. Let me straighten it out.
He twists a knob, moving the image on the screen till the dot is in the center.
STANDARD: Can you get it a little closer?
BROUSSARD: That's what I'm going to do.
He hits a button. The screen flashes and a PLANET APPEARS.
BROUSSARD (CONT'D): Planetoid. Diameter, 120 kilometers.
MELKONIS: It's tiny!
STANDARD: Any rotation?
BROUSSARD: Yeah. Two hours.
BROUSSARD: Point eight six. We can walk on it.
STANDARD: Martin, get the others up to the lounge.
MULTI-PURPOSE ROOM: The entire crew -- STANDARD, ROBY, BROUSSARD, MELKONIS, HUNTER, and FAUST -- are all seated around a table, with Standard at the head.
MELKONIS: If it's an S.O.S., we're morally obligated to investigate.
HUNTER: I don't know. Seems to me we came on this trip to make some credit, not to go off on some kind of side trip.
BROUSSARD (excited): Forget the credit; what we have here is a chance to be the first men to contact a nonhuman intelligence.
ROBY: If there is some kind of alien intelligence down on that planetoid, it'd be a serious mistake for us to blunder in unequipped.
BROUSSARD: Hell, we're equipped --
ROBY: Hell, no! We don't know what's down there on that piece of rock! It might be dangerous! What we should do is get on the radio to the exploration authorities... and let them deal with it.
STANDARD: Except it will take 75 years to get a reply back. Don't forget how far we are from the Colonies, Martin.
BROUSSARD: There are no commercial lanes out here. Face it, we're out of range.
MELKONIS: Men have waited centuries to contact another form of intelligent life in the universe. This is an opportunity which may never come again.
ROBY: Look --
STANDARD: You're overruled, Martin. Gentlemen -- let's go.
BRIDGE: The men are strapping in, but this time it is with grim determination.
STANDARD: Dell, I want greater magnification. More surface detail. I want to see what this place looks like.
BROUSSARD: I'll see what I can do.
He jabs his controls. The image on the screen ZOOMS DOWN TOWARD THE PLANET; but all detail quickly vanishes into a featureless grey haze.
STANDARD: It's out of focus.
ROBY: No -- that's atmosphere. Cloud layer.
MELKONIS: My God, it's stormy for a piece of rock that size!
ROBY: Just a second. (punches buttons) Those aren't water vapor clouds; they have no moisture content.
STANDARD: Put ship in atmospheric mode.