The Qofuari Conundrum

Epis­ode Num­ber: 3×03

Writ­ten by: The authors of the Shack­leton Expanse Cam­paign Guide

Dir­ec­ted by: Jon Crew

Trans­mis­sion: 15th July 2023

Guest Stars:

  • Lilong: Cap­tain of a Qofuari mer­chant vessel.
  • Fal­loo: First mate on Lilong’s vessel.
  • Ensigns Rensor & Merek: Juni­or sci­ence officers assigned to Zeph­t’s mission.

With Lex­ing­ton back in Space­dock, under­go­ing yet more struc­tur­al repairs, we are forced to make use of civil­ian ves­sels, sta­tion run­abouts and lifts from oth­er star­ships to carry on our work. Sev­er­al teams are car­ry­ing out a sur­vey of the FGC-651218 sys­tem in shuttle­craft, hav­ing been dropped off by Thun­der­child. Pre­lim­in­ary sur­veys indic­ated the pres­ence of a pre-warp civil­isa­tion on the 4th plan­et, so all teams have been reminded of the Prime Directive…

Cap­tain’s Log: Stard­ate, 49101.5

Plot: Stran­ded on a sup­posedly prim­it­ive world after a shuttle­craft acci­dent, Zepht, Quinn and Azon­an make an unusu­al dis­cov­ery about the natives.

The ‘A’ Plot: With Lex­ing­ton in dock for extens­ive repairs, Cap­tain Kon­in decides that his officers will have to carry out their explor­a­tion mis­sion by oth­er means, includ­ing using shuttle­craft and run­abouts. Lt Cdrs Zepht, Azon­an, and Quinn, along with a num­ber of oth­er sur­vey teams, are fer­ried to the FGC-651218 sys­tem by Thun­der­child, which goes on to carry out its own more mil­it­ary mis­sion. The three officers, accom­pan­ied by two juni­or sci­ence officers, take the shuttle­craft Robin­son Cru­soe, mod­i­fied with extra sensor equip­ment, to sur­vey the fourth world, home to a civil­isa­tion roughly equi­val­ent to Earth’s Age of Sail.

Since they can­not land for a closer look, the ship circles the plan­et at a low alti­tude, using high-res­ol­u­tion sensors to record everything they see. Zepht assists the two juni­or officers with the sys­tems, Quinn mon­it­ors their sur­round­ings for trouble, and Azon­an, whose primary task is keep­ing the sensors work­ing, passes the time watch­ing the live feeds of the nat­ives going about their busi­ness. They are a sea­far­ing spe­cies, and their ships are very sim­il­ar to Earth galle­ons, with hun­dreds oper­at­ing trade routes around the archipela­goes that dot the ocean.

Quinn spots a devel­op­ing atmo­spher­ic storm and brings it to the atten­tion of the sci­ence team, who begin watch­ing to see how the nat­ives respond. It becomes clear that the storm is not a nor­mal atmo­spher­ic occur­rence, as it builds incred­ibly fast, reach­ing the size and fero­city of a hur­ricane in a num­ber of minutes. Sus­pect­ing some kind of arti­fi­cial ori­gin, Zepht orders Quinn to take them into the atmo­sphere for a closer look.

As Cru­soe gets closer to the eye of the storm, the fero­city of the winds increases expo­nen­tially, then sensors pick up a strong grav­it­a­tion­al source approach­ing rap­idly. Quinn veers to one side as a power­ful, spin­ning vor­tex whips past. The shuttle shakes viol­ently as it passes, hull plat­ing is ripped off, and sev­er­al sys­tems over­load and burn out. Quinn man­ages to get the ves­sel under con­trol, but it is los­ing power and he is forced to look for some­where to land.

As the ves­sel des­cends towards an unin­hab­ited island off the main trade routes, Zepht ana­lyses the sensor data regard­ing the object, con­clud­ing that it may have been a minute frag­ment of a cos­mic string, a power­ful loc­al­ised grav­it­a­tion­al anom­aly. Quinn brings the shuttle in for a rough land­ing between what appear to be two hardened lava flows, hid­den from the sea. While the Cru­soe is dam­aged, it remains intact, its pas­sen­gers suf­fer­ing scattered bruises and one of the ensigns a head injury.

While the rest of the crew attend to the injur­ies, Azon­an exits the craft to check the dam­age, noti­cing that the storm has almost com­pletely abated. He finds the plates on the star­board hull of the ves­sel have buckled as if they were made of tis­sue, with the sub­space coils in the star­board nacelle totally exposed – and deformed. The under­side of the Cru­soe is dam­aged from the land­ing, but this is minor. Fur­ther invest­ig­a­tion shows that nearly every sys­tem depend­ent on sub­space manip­u­la­tion, includ­ing com­mu­nic­at­ors, sensors and com­puter sys­tems, has burnt out due to over­loads in the wiring.

Report­ing that they appear to have been dam­aged by the extreme sub­space stresses pro­duced by the cos­mic string frag­ment, he believes that he can repair them, but that he needs rare mater­i­als. The good news is that these can often be found in min­er­als around vol­ca­noes, so he, Quinn and Zepht pre­pare for a pro­spect­ing exped­i­tion. They clam­ber up across the bar­ren lava flows, and then into the thick jungle dom­in­at­ing the interi­or of the island, work­ing towards the low vol­cano beyond.

Then they become aware of voices nearby, which appear to be arguing. Zeph­t’s curi­os­ity gets the bet­ter of him, and they creep closer, dis­cov­er­ing a group of nat­ives gath­er­ing fruit and ber­ries from around a clear­ing. As they work, two of them seem to be hav­ing a com­plex dis­cus­sion, but with the uni­ver­sal trans­lat­ors dam­aged by the string frag­ment, it is not pos­sible to know what this is about. Zepht believes their dis­cus­sion is unre­lated to their work, and may even be philo­soph­ic­al. Even­tu­ally, the loc­als fill their bas­kets and leave, head­ing towards one of the beaches along the side of the island.

As the away team con­tin­ues up onto the tree­less slopes above, they have to pause for a couple of hours, keep­ing out of sight of the four-masted sail­ing ves­sel lying off the coast. By the time the loc­als have fin­ished load­ing their ship and depar­ted, it’s too dark to begin hunt­ing for Azon­an’s min­er­als, so they’re forced to camp out overnight. They then spend two days pro­spect­ing for the right sub­stances, before they can return to the shuttle.

Unfor­tu­nately, as they emerge from the tree cov­er, they see that anoth­er ship (a cata­maran this time) has arrived at the island, and its boats are drawn up on the beach near the hid­den shuttle. While they are able to avoid being seen as they get closer, they real­ise that the sail­ors have already found the shuttle. The loc­als are examin­ing the ves­sel in detail, and the hid­den watch­ers real­ise that they seem to be work­ing out what the dif­fer­ent parts do.

Sud­denly, the loc­als’ lead­er comes to a decision and organ­ises search parties, appar­ently to find the occu­pants of the shuttle. Oth­ers appear to be des­ig­nated to find out how to get into the ves­sel. One of the search­ers dis­cov­ers Azon­an with little dif­fi­culty, appar­ently after work­ing out where the most likely hid­ing place would be. As the sail­ors don’t seem to be hos­tile, Zepht and Quinn join them, doing their best to indic­ate they are friendly and unarmed.

They are led back down to the shuttle and the lead­er of the sail­ors begins a speech. While Zepht has star­ted to fig­ure out some of their lan­guage, his under­stand­ing is lim­ited due to the lack of the uni­ver­sal trans­lat­or. This does­n’t seem to be a prob­lem how­ever: the nat­ive lead­er seems to be deci­pher­ing Stand­ard quite rap­idly. Zepht is astoun­ded by his abil­ity in this area.

The lead­er reveals he is Fal­loo, the first mate of a mer­chant ves­sel com­manded by Lilong. His party was sent ashore to gath­er fruit for the next stage of their jour­ney. He also indic­ates that his people call them­selves the Qofuari, and that their world is named Lila­fas. Then he stuns them by ask­ing if they need assist­ance return­ing to their “home­world in the stars”.

When Zepht asks them why they think they come from the stars, Fal­loo points out that they’re obvi­ously not from this world, that they must there­fore be from anoth­er world. It would be fool­ish to assume that oth­er stars are any­thing oth­er than suns like their own, so it makes sense they have worlds and inhab­it­ants. Then he pro­ceeds to out­line how they might have trav­elled so far, touch­ing on con­cepts like air­tight space­craft, warp drive and sub­space, although sev­er­al of his land­ing party inter­rupt by offer­ing their own soph­ist­ic­ated hyphotheses. He even spec­u­lates as to how the recent storm was caused by some kind of loc­al­ised worm­hole and might have dam­aged their equipment.

The Qofuari offer assist­ance in repair­ing their ves­sel, and it becomes clear that they under­stand a lot more about its oper­a­tion than should be pos­sible in a world with their level of tech­no­logy. As they provide man­power to help Azon­an work over the next few hours, it becomes clear that Qofuari brains are very com­plex, cap­able of build­ing com­plex the­or­ies of the world, then extra­pol­at­ing tech­no­lo­gies based on those the­or­ies. In short, they have developed the­or­et­ic­al know­ledge equal to that of the most advanced Fed­er­a­tion insti­tute, but no prac­tic­al exper­i­ence with it.

Once the shuttle­craft is fixed, and respond­ing well to Azon­an’s lim­ited abil­ity to test it, the Qofuari stage a large feast on the beach for their new friends, ask­ing noth­ing in return. Their cap­tain comes ashore, and while he has little interest in the out­siders, he wel­comes them and wishes them luck for their return. Even­tu­ally, the Cru­soe lifts off, return­ing to orbit to await recov­ery by Thun­der­child, while its crew debate wheth­er they’ve just ruined their careers by break­ing the prime dir­ect­ive, since the Qofuari are tech­nic­ally warp-capable…

Obser­va­tions: Lt Cdr Azon­an again shows his love for Earth’s Age of Sail, com­par­ing the Qofuari sail­ing tech­niques to his his­tor­ic­al knowledge.

FGC-651218 is an orange dwarf star, with eight plan­ets. The fourth, known to its inhab­it­ants as Lila­fas, is effect­ively a class M water world, with its land mass broken up into a series of archipela­goes sur­round­ing a large cent­ral sea.

The Qofuari resemble human-sized otters, but with six limbs, two of which have oppos­able digits, and can rear up to human height. Their brains are cap­able of pro­cessing mul­tiple hypo­theses sim­ul­tan­eously, allow­ing them to visu­al­ise con­cepts and tech­no­lo­gies far bey­ond their own level of devel­op­ment. Their soci­ety is organ­ised in large clans, claim­ing sov­er­eignty over mul­tiple islands, and their prac­tic­al tech­no­logy is frozen at roughly the equi­val­ent of Earth’s 17th century.

Dia­logue: Fal­loo demon­strates his capa­city for deduc­tion: “Maybe we can help you return to your home­world in the stars.”

Ref­er­ences: A cos­mic string frag­ment was encountered by the U.S.S. Enter­prise NCC-1701‑D on stard­ate 44356.9.

Col­on­el Morok’s squad­ron of battle­cruis­ers launches a series of raids against Romu­lan bor­der out­posts, an incid­ent referred to in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s “Hip­po­crat­ic Oath”.

Ques­tions: Is there more to the Qofuari than it appears?