Episode Number: 3×03
Written by: The authors of the Shackleton Expanse Campaign Guide
Directed by: Jon Crew
Transmission: 15th July 2023
- 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.”
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?