‘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

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.

Chief Exobiologist’s Log: Stard­ate 9839.3

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”?