DIS: S1E03: “Context is for Kings”

In which Burnham faces her reputation, pieces together a puzzle, and remembers what optimism feels like. 

So Georgiou is dead, as is the Shenzhou, and Commander Burnham is in prison for mutiny. That was a neat show. Oh wait, there’s more? This inciting incident will serve as a low point from which our hero will experience a redemption arc? Tell me more! It’s been six months since trial, and Burnham is being transferred to a new work colony after the last batch of prison labor got vaporized in an accident. It’s a far cry from gardening in New Zealand, and from gratuitously overpaying dilithium miners for hard menial labor that’s being phased out.

Even in the future you can’t keep bugs off the windshield.

Evidently, Starfleet prisoners get different uniforms than gen-pop. Burnham is also infamous, and is getting the blame for starting the war. Fortunately, some warp-dwelling species shows up on the hull of the transport shuttle (which appears to be built along the same lines as the old Constitution-class shuttles, just with higher production value) and their pilot heads out in an EVA suit to shoo them away. They eat electricity and disrupt power grids. Evidently, the Federation has figured out some way to deal with these trivially, but for now they’re eating the ship and the pilot just fell off the shuttle and out of the warp stream. All the prisoners are in their seats trying to escape and not die, but the shuttle is then rescued by a full starship, NCC-1031, USS Discovery. We’ve arrived. And incidentally, the theme song, staring with a classic theme, mixing it up with energetic chaos, and finishing with more classic, pretty well describes the story arc so far.

Burnham and the other prisoners are escorted into the shuttle bay into their brand new starship. They are greeted by security chief Commander Landry, and she is not impressed with the haul. Burnham is apparently Starfleet’s very first mutineer. The Discoveryis a science vessel, denoted by silver uniform trimmings. The fact that it is also full of resting security with black Deltas also suggests that it’s high-security, DARPA-type science.

In the mess hall, Burnham sees Kayla, one of her former crewmates and now the bearer of some optical cybernetics. Nobody seems interested in letting her sit with them, but she handily defends herself from her fellow prisoners with Vulcan martial arts. Something to ponder – are these used during the Ponn Farr and related combat rituals, or do Vulcans get too illogical to use them properly during those times? Burnham gets taken to see the captain, and who should be sitting there but Soru. Well, probably Soru. Haven’t yet seen enough of his species to be able to tell them apart.

Feel free to compare and contrast with the status of the war in the alternate timeline.

The Captain is in his ready room, contemplating the stars and with a map of the war effort up. He’s keeping it in darkness not to be overly dramatic but because he needs dim light in order to heal his eyes naturally from a war injury. He’s just enjoying the added bonus of seeming dramatic. This is Captain Gabriel Lorca, and among his quirks are fortune cookies, an old family business before “hunger, need and want disappeared.” Keep in mind that this is still a society that uses prison slave labor for life-threatening jobs.

Burnham’s arrival on the Discovery is mysterious – a no-notice transfer, a course change, and the Discovery right there to pick up her shuttle in a moment of crisis. Walker also has a tribble on his desk. A single tribble. He’s also working on something that requires people with knowledge of quantum physics, and since he hates waste he’s going to offer her the job. Well, ‘offer’ isn’t the right word. She’s either working on that or confined to quarters, with a roommate who has ‘special needs’ that would have otherwise precluded one. Cadet Sylvia Tilly is allergic to polyester and silence.

The Discovery has Black Alerts, which come with some weird (gravity?) effects and which are security clearance-coded and which Cadet Tilly can’t discuss, at least until Burnham is briefed. They do, at least, have replicators enough for clothes at this point, although they’re evidently slow enough that they come with vocal alerts when the cooking is done.

Soru is first officer, for his actions during the battle. He gets to be XO on a ship that can accommodate 300 different science projects, which makes it a prize in the fleet. He won’t talk about Discovery’s primary mission either, though. He’s just there to get some closure and guide her to Engineering. Engineering, meanwhile, is also under secure lockdown, with breathprint identification. This is unusual for Starfleet as well. Also unusual is that Captain Lorca assigned her to do something and evidently didn’t fill out any of the proper paperwork or inform any of her shift commanders so that she’s wandering aimlessly around Engineering. The chief engineer gives her some work to do and sends her on her way. Hours later, the chief is chatting with a buddy on another ship making other breakthroughs when Burnham informs him she needs more information in order to do her job properly. The code she’s working on includes not just quantum physics but biochemistry. And evidently, programming code hasn’t changed too much in two hundred years.

The Discovery has a doorway to Narnia.

Burnham can’t keep out of trouble. She steals her roommate’s breathprint scan (seems way less secure than a multifactor) and breaks into the secure engineering room to find a forest. From the engineer’s conversation earlier about ‘growing your own’ I assume these trees grow dilithium.

Lorca has bad news. The USS Glenn, with the Chief Engineer Stamens’ friend on it. All hands are lost, and they’re to recover the ‘project’ from a shielded room that inhibits transport. The Discovery’s ‘project room’ is, by inference, not shielded despite being above-top-secret. Lorca orders Stamens to take Burnham with him, and uses Soru to get a dig in as a response to having his orders questioned.

After some awkwardness at high warp, the shuttle arrives at the Glenn, and rather than just explain what they’re up to, Stamens spends a lot of time relating his own backstory as an astromycologist for, as far as I can tell, no reason other than that if he has to talk to Burnham he wants to make damn sure it’s about himself. Oh, he has a point – he blames her for Starfleet picking up him and his buddy and using their research for defense projects. He’s having a rough day.

As a side note, it strikes me as slightly odd that two sister ships with the same mission would be named on drastically different schema – one for a value and one, presumably, for a person. John Glenn, most likely, and while that’s not too far, conceptually, from Discovery it’s just a tad odd to me.

It’s been quite a day for entomology.

All the power is out on the Glenn and there are bits of corpse everywhere, heavily mutilated by ‘helical trauma’. These are correlated with spiral markings on the hull. We are meant to relate this to Tilly’s terror at the Black Alert and attendant strange spatial distortions. They’ve also found a bat’leth, and if the Klingons know about ‘the device’ very bad times are ahead. The Klingons are also all dead, but after the initial accident. Something mutilated them, too. Probably whatever was skittering around the hallways. One Klingon is still alive, and not making hostile moves. Evidently he was trying to avoid the attentions of… a monsterbug.

It’s hard to say whether it’s resistant to phaser pulses, they’re not really standing ther ground against a bug that can rip through reinforced hull long enough to focus fire. They get everything they can from engineering and Burnham distracts the monsterbug long enough for her team to escape. She’s crawling through the jeffries tubes to escape and reciting Alice in Wonderland as she drops through and into the shuttle.

Burnham has been requested by Lorca. The other prisoners are leaving and Burnham wants to join them. Soru has mixed feelings about this – her loss as an officer is necessary but regrettable. Unsurprisingly, Lorca wants her to stay, but she declines. She’s sussed out that this experiment is a biological weapon explicitly forbidden by the Geneva conventions, including the ones from 2155. He thought a criminal who was going to ‘wage unsanctioned war’ and has therefore proven that she has little use for overly restrictive rules. He has, of course, misjudged her reasons. He seems to think otherwise, and takes them to the engineering test bay with a site-to-site. It is here that he shows off their spores. He knows she broke in, and he shows off the actual experiment – mycillium spores that can be used as a propulsion system. The Glenn was able to do 90 light years in 1.3 seconds. Which is 2 billion C. Bear in mind that Voyager‘s top speed is something like 2,000C and subspace communication is something like 50,000C, maximum.

Lorca insists that this is how you win a war the Starfleet way. Not by building a better bomb, but by leveraging technology that will also, once the war is over, make for a better peacetime civilization. That’s the kind of Star Trek I’m here for, even if they’re basically flying using midichlorians. Also, the underlying technology sounds like what you might use to make Iconian Gateways. Either way, the Discovery has a new crewmember, who evidently is going to be around long enough to make friends and we won’t have to suffer through a whole bunch of standoffishness with Tilly.

Sadly for that sense of optimism, Lorca has saved the monsterbug for his Trophy Room and will probably do terrible things with it.

Did we miss something awesome?