‘The Shadow Beneath’ Part One

Episode Num­ber: 108

Writ­ten by: Jon Crew

Direct­ed by: Jon Crew

Trans­mis­sion: 28th Decem­ber 2020

Guest Stars:

  • Ensign Saurik: Vul­can offi­cer in Stel­lar Cartography

Chief Exobiologist’s Log: Star­date 9907.4

It’s been a week since we found a third sys­tem in the Black Clus­ter, quite an event­ful week. The ship is con­stant­ly shak­en and buf­fet­ed by solar winds from the cen­tral star, for now just called BC-03. Mr Kheled told me Lyonesse is safe, as long as the shields are up, but that he’s always busy keep­ing the helm on course. Mr Lock also explained that it’s due to a very active coro­na, caus­ing fre­quent flares and mass ejec­tions, but to me and most of the crew it means hav­ing beau­ti­ful shim­mer­ing lights all across the win­dows. These have been a wel­come change from the weird blues and greens of the nebula.

It looks like we’re not the only ones attract­ed here by the stel­lar dis­plays. An entire cos­mo­zoan ecosys­tem seems to be thriv­ing here. We’ve cat­a­logued sev­er­al entire­ly new species so far, and the crew is intrigued by the mys­tery of these “space whales”. Are they feed­ing on the par­ti­cles emit­ted by the star? Or is it for a stage of their life­cy­cle? We fol­lowed a large pod of what appeared to be most­ly young adults, but we have observed no young hatch­lings so far. Some of the largest “whales” in the pod have exhib­it­ed very inter­est­ing behav­iour, seem­ing­ly play­ing in Lyonesse’s wake, and being curi­ous about us. Could it be a sign of intelligence?

And does the sin­gle plan­et in the sys­tem have any role in the ecosys­tem? From ini­tial scans it looks com­plete­ly cov­ered in deep water, with no land mass­es emerg­ing, and Mr Lock cat­a­logued it as Class L. We’ve also observed evi­dence of algal blooms and ani­mal life in the sea, and I can’t wait to get down there for some hands-on sampling.

Plot: Lyonesse’s obser­va­tions of the bio­me of “space whales” feed­ing off stel­lar winds at BC-03 are inter­rupt­ed by a local hunter, and the dis­cov­ery that the whales them­selves are sentient.

The ‘A’ Plot: Lyonesse is cruis­ing through the aster­oid belts of BC-03, observ­ing the huge swarms of cos­mo­zoa feed­ing off the radi­a­tion of the star itself. Charged par­ti­cles are impact­ing the ship’s shields in spec­tac­u­lar riots of colour. Dr Vale is lead­ing the exo­bi­ol­o­gy study teams.

While they are observ­ing the social behav­iour of the immense “space whales” with­in their pods, Ensign Lock notes the rapid approach of a small­er crea­ture. As they watch, this indi­vid­ual – of a sim­i­lar species to the whales but around a quar­ter of the size – plunges into the mid­dle of the pod they are observ­ing, caus­ing its mem­bers to sep­a­rate and head off in dif­fer­ent direc­tions. As the attack­er returns to chase one of the younger whales now sep­a­rat­ed from its par­ent, Lock iden­ti­fies what appears to be an arti­fi­cial struc­ture attached to its back.

Next they observe what looks like a ship-to-ship bat­tle, as the whales and the attack­er exchange direct­ed blasts of ener­gy. It appears that the attack­er’s move­ment is arti­fi­cial­ly enhanced, and there is some kind of impulse propul­sion sys­tem attached to the struc­ture on its back.

Con­clud­ing that the struc­ture is a cab­in of some kind hold­ing pow­er, weapons and a pilot, they attempt to com­mu­ni­cate. Although they are suc­cess­ful in open­ing a chan­nel, they only get a brief image of a shiny, black-skinned humanoid, and a mes­sage trans­lat­ed as “not now, i’m busy! The crew mon­i­tors the con­flict, but does not inter­fere, watch­ing as the attack­er is dri­ven off by the pod members.

Debate over pur­su­ing the attack­er is inter­rupt­ed by the sci­ence team’s appraisal that the whales them­selves appear to be sen­tient. Cap­tain Masu­da decides to pri­ori­tise their research for the moment.

Mov­ing into close orbit, they begin the inves­ti­ga­tion of BC-03a with sen­sors and prob­les, not­ing an abun­dance of life with­in the world-span­ning ocean. Spot­ting large forms mov­ing amongst the shoals of small­er fish, they spec­u­late that the oceans play a part in the whales’ life cycle.

This is con­firmed very quick­ly, as sen­sors pick up a pod of whales con­verg­ing on one loca­tion in orbit. A dis­tur­bance makes itself appar­ent in the sur­face waters below this spot short­ly after­wards, and they are able to observe as a young whale bursts from the waters and ris­es through the air. A pack of the small­er preda­tor species moves into low orbit and begins div­ing attacks on the young whale, but it makes it to the safe­ty of the orbit­ing adults.

The ‘B’ Plot: When the sci­ence team gain evi­dence that the whales appear to behave in a sen­tient man­ner, Capt. Masu­da decides they should try to make contact.

Vale pro­pos­es a more con­trolled ver­sion of the tech­nique devised to talk to the sil­i­con-cloud crea­ture. Ensign Saurik, a Vul­can from Stel­lar Catog­ra­phy, would mind­meld with Astan, so that they can com­bine their empath­ic and tele­path­ic pow­ers. In this case, they would use the heavy shut­tle Guin­e­vere, fit­ted with emer­gency med­ical facil­i­ties, allow­ing Vale to close­ly mon­i­tor the meld, while they get clos­er to the whales.

After the young whale escapes the sharks as it leaves the ocean, the crew decides to try their tech­nique on the orbit­ing pod. Astan, Saurik and Vale fol­low the pod in Guin­e­vere, try­ing to get close enough while Saurik ini­ti­ates the mind meld with Astan.

They man­age to con­tact the last of the whales as they move away, and Astan is able to get it to pay atten­tion. It takes a cou­ple of min­utes to con­vince it that they are worth talk­ing to, but then it agrees to a prop­er meet­ing, and pass­es on knowl­edge of the whales’ own bio­lu­mi­nes­cence-based language.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, Astan is so over­whelmed by the infor­ma­tion load, that it over­writes his abil­i­ty to speak vocally…

Obser­va­tions: The mind-meld­ed Vulcan/Deltan gestalt tech­nique first seen in ‘Dark­ness’ is used again, with less than suc­cess­ful results. Giv­en that repeat­ed mind-melds tend to leave trace effects on both par­tic­i­pants, it’s pos­si­ble that both Astan and Saurik may see per­son­al­i­ty shifts in future episodes.

Dia­logue: The mys­te­ri­ous pilot when con­tact­ed: “Not now, I’m busy!”

Ref­er­ences: BC-03 is a K‑class star with only one plan­et, and a huge aster­oid belt. Strong radi­a­tion bathes the entire sys­tem and inter­acts colour­ful­ly with Lyonesse’s shields. The sys­tem appears to be a feed­ing ground for a num­ber of species of cos­mo­zoa, includ­ing gor­ma­gan­ders and space­go­ing ana­logues of whales and orcas.

BC-03b is a Class‑L water world, with no land mass­es and much of the ocean bot­tom lying sev­er­al miles deep. Although there are a lot of odd chem­i­cals in both the water and atmos­phere, life is abun­dant in the seas.

The “space whales”, 600 metre long whale-like crea­tures capa­ble of low warp speeds that feed off solar radi­a­tion, appear to use the sole plan­et as a spawn­ing ground or nurs­ery, as young indi­vid­u­als can be found with­in its world-span­ning ocean. When big enough, the young rise from the waters to low orbit, where they join a wait­ing pod of adults. The whales them­selves appear to be sen­tient, using light pat­terns to com­mu­ni­cate with each other.

The orca-like preda­tors (nick­named “space sharks”) are much small­er (around 50 metres long) and hunt in packs, using vari­a­tions on tac­tics used by Earth wolves, to sep­a­rate weak or young whales from their pods. They appear to be more cun­ning than sentient.

Anoth­er of Lyonesse’s shut­tles is intro­duced, a heavy shut­tle called Guin­e­vere, and fit­ted out as an mobile med­ical cen­tre. An aquat­ic shut­tle is men­tioned in dia­logue, but not seen.

Ques­tions: Who was the humanoid attack­ing the whales, and what species were they from? And what was going on with his “mount”?