Check out our episode here! The Pioneer by Bridget Tyler
Joanna has always dreamed of living amongst the stars, to live on another planet. In 48 hours the International Space Agency ship, Pioneer, will take Joanna and her family to another solar system, to a planet called Tau Ceti e. Joanna is in charge of the shuttle runs and she loves to fly, especially her shuttle nicknamed the Wagon. She, her sister Beth, older brother Teddy, Chris, engineering cadet, Miguel, a medic, and Leela, Marine Corps cadet, Joanna’s best friend and Teddy’s girlfriend, are making a run to the Pioneer orbiting Earth, their cargo are civilians in deep sleep ready for the journey. Not long after docking, the shuttle’s alert blares and the ship starts to buck and lose power. An unexpected solar flare has hit! They need to abandon ship, leaving behind countless people, including her parents because the Pioneer is going to die. Joanna knows every inch of the ship and is able to come up with a rescue plan. As she and Teddy crawl through the ship’s vents, the smoke intensifies and they are separated at the fire-suppression system. The only thing they can do may kill Joanna and will kill Teddy, but it will save everyone else. Joanna overrides the system, making the engine room tear away. Teddy is lost, Joanna's ribs snap in the vacuum pull of the engine room, and as her tether yanks her back to the ship, her heart bursts.
Joanna wakes up in her iso crate, the goo they have to sleep in to survive the space-time travel is frankly disgusting, and they are in orbit over Tau Ceti e. Joanna never fully recovered from the accident, nanomachines in her blood keep her heart beating, her blood pressure is constantly monitored and maintained and she blacks out at high speeds, high altitudes or basically anything a pilot does. She is now a civilian. Her relationships have broken down and she is emotionally distant from her friends and family. Her mother left for 10 months on a project after Teddy’s memorial, her dad disappeared during the day, Beth dove into her own work and Leela took her place as cadet pilot. Joanna tries not to be a jerk but it is all so painful. The landing party piles into the Wagon and Joanna is the first to disembark on to their new world. Finally they have arrived.
Tau Ceti e is beautiful. The Diamond Range mountains sparkle like glitter, the trees are tall and verdant, the grass springy, it’s brighter, more vibrant. It’s a stark contrast to the Wagon. Joanna is helping unload the 3D printers, the only equipment brought from Earth as they print everything from clothes to cabins. It is during the unloading that Joanna meets Private Jay Lim, a marine brought in to replace the four killed during the accident that took Teddy. He seems to be the first person not to treat her with kid gloves, resentment or put her at a distance. After work, Joanna is exploring the area and stumbles across an artificial whiteness that doesn’t belong - the gray-white domes of standard-issue ISA cabins. Upon investigation, she realizes they belong to the Ranger team that discovered Tau Ceti e… but they should have left 5 years ago to explore Wolf c in the Wolf 1061 system… this makes no sense. If they were still here, wouldn’t they be waiting when they landed? Unless they are dead? Instead of heading back to tell the people in charge like her parents, Joanna continues on and finds the Vulcan, the Rangers’ ship. It looks rusted and like Tau Ceti e is eating it alive. Inspecting inside, the ship is empty and appears to have been so for a while. Suddenly Beth appears with Private Lim and Chris after seeing her wander off. The settlement is still in very early stages, if something had happened she wouldn’t have been able to get in touch for help. As they are debating whether their mom knew about any of this and kept it secret, they hear a strange noise, very quiet. Like the wind, but bigger. And they feel eyes on them.
When they get back to the settlement, Joanna’s mom admits she knew about the Vulcan but didn’t see the need to share. Does this mean more information in the survey report has been missed out? Are the ISA keeping a bunch of secrets? Her mom admits the report is complete but not accurate. It’s even more strange that Stage 2 of the E&P plan is initiated after only 7 days. What’s the hurry? Construction now starts in earnest with the settlement being called Pioneer’s Landing. A bit of a montage takes place here, they’re slowly increasing civilian numbers and buildings, Joanna does a lot of dishes and awkwardly flirts with Jay which is cute. Stage 3 of the E&P plan, which is terraforming, isn’t far off. All the work Joanna is able to do, the various duties she performs helps her not feel like a freeloader but she still wants to fly. After constructing the school and testing the Panda animated head computer system, it picks up the Vulcan satellite system. Interesting. Joanna downloads the surface navigation data, she wants to take a closer look into the GPS pings dated 2 weeks after they should have left Tau Ceti e. Stealing one of the Vertical Takeoff and Landing vehicles, Joanna goes to investigate but before she can head out Beth, Chris and Jay appear through the trees and of course they all head out.
The coordinates take them to a narrow ravine cut into the cliffs and there is no sign of the Rangers. While Beth and Chris are collecting samples, Joanna and Jay explore. As they cross the river, Jay pulls out a weapon to “keep it dry.” Its presence is strange though, Joanna distinctly remembers her parents argue about taking weapons. The foliage is thick and there are no signs the Rangers were ever there. Suddenly Joanna’s flex buzzes, picking up a transmission. Odd. It’s coming from an automated beacon and when they reach it, they find three graves. Jay goes to find Beth and Chris while Joanna scans their tags. They belong to Dr. Obasi, Dr. Sousa and Dr. Pasha. No Dr. Brown. The graves have been there for 5 Earth years. Joanna goes to the shuttle for supplies and as she heads back, the ground near a tree gives way and she has the strangest feeling of falling in space again. Or just into a hole. When she snaps back to reality, Joanna is on something soft…It’s an ISA sleeping bag. In a cave. WTF? It seems she has a talent for finding mysterious stuff. Panning her light around she appears to be at a campsite. She finds a personal tablet with location tagged pictures from all over the area. They’re going to have to say something about the Vulcan and the Rangers now. As they are heading back into the shuttle an impossibly loud snap echoes followed by a boom. The Wagon is crashing.
They are able to track the Wagon’s landing but without long range communications yet, they can’t inform Pioneer’s Landing. It’s not far… they have to at least try and help. The crash site is through a dangerous canyon that threatens to rip the shuttle apart. The Wagon is scattered across the site. Searching for survivors they find Chief Penny, Chris’ mom injured. Desperately trying to tend her wounds, Leela’s voice rips through the air “GET OUT OF THE GRASS!” when a tidal wave of grass rolls towards them. Pulling out the laser welder she used on the school construction, Joanna fires it at whatever is attacking them, clever girl. Leela and Miguel are able to rescue them on hover carts from the crashed Wagon. Why can’t they see their attackers? The ground seems to be boiling with them. Joanna runs in the opposite direction, acting as a diversion but there is nowhere to hide. Different colored hands with sharp claws are grabbing for her, they are chameleons! Taking the welding torch out she slices through one holding her shoulder and it cuts into her own flesh. Falling at the roots of a tree, something pulls Joanna into the blackness.
Everything hurts. This is not surprising considering the number of injuries Joanna has incurred in the fight. But where is she? Leela, Miguel, Chris, Jay and Beth are there and Leela explains that the Wagon experienced an unexplained cascading systems failure. The engines couldn’t be ejected as per design so everyone was moved into the cargo hold before separation. Everyone survived the crash. It was after… they were attacked. After their diversion the creatures left them alone but they lost consciousness, waking up here. Someone in black robes had gutted one of the creatures, then there was an intense hum and they woke up there in a vast cave with cabins marked in the Vulcan’s coloring. This was over 10 hours ago. Nothing makes sense. There wasn’t supposed to be intelligent life on Tau Ceti e, the survey report was supposed to be complete, this changes everything. Tensions escalate and Chris runs off into the darkness. They go after him, but encounter robed beings that seem to be emanating light, and one of them is wearing sunglasses. Stepping out from them is Dr. Brown. Dr. Brown introduces the one with sunglasses as Ord, the leader of the Sorrow. Ord saved Dr. Brown after being attacked by the same creatures who also killed the other Rangers. Ord wishes to show them their city, and against their better judgment and the order of Dr. Brown, they go.
They follow Ord and his entourage relying on Ord’s own luminescence to see. Another of the Sorrow offers to share his light, this is Tarn, pouch mate to Ord (his brother to you and me). They are able to see the Sorrow more clearly now. They have transparent skin and what must be bioluminescent blood. When they speak, they sing almost like echolocation. So many questions! Dr. Brown taught him and Ord English and told them of the resettlement mission. There are concerns that the Sorrow will not accept the presence of others on the planet. At this point they leave a tunnel and into an enormous cave and sprawling underground city. As they walk through the streets as aliens on parade, Ord tells them their history. Once the Sorrow lived in the light until the Beasts attacked, they craved the Sorrow’s light. The Sorrow learned to live at night and hide during the day, but they were still hunted. The First who was Followed discovered that these Beasts did not like true darkness so they moved their civilization underground to the Solace. Chris is very affected by the story with the loss of his mother only just happening. Ord comforts him and gifts Chris the knife his own father used everyday as one of the Sorrows growers who risked their lives to help feed the Sorrow. One day he did not come back and this fueled Ord and Tarn. In a quick turn, Ord turns and faces the Sorrow, the crowd surges forward and grabs Joanna spinning her around. She struggles but Dr. Brown tells her not to, this is a great honor.
Ord and The Givers take Joanna to a beautiful chamber lit by the roots of the trees above ground, place her on a dais, and sing to heal her wounds. Amazing! Ord tells her this sort of treatment is normally reserved for the greatest of The Takers, but they're happy to share it with their new friends. They sing again, easing the mourning Jo and her crew feel, then Ord gives an impassioned speech about sacrifice with purpose and how they and their new friends will work together to reclaim their world. Beth leaves in a huff and Joanna follows, telling her she's rude for storming out, but Beth found it offensive that Ord praised the sacrifice that got them there. She watched Joanna's skin grow back for 12 days after the accident, which makes Jo realize she never thought about how Beth felt after the accident and losing their brother. They go back and overhear Dr. Brown saying something about consequences and hoping that the price is worth paying, but then she starts talking about the Sorrow and the Solace groves being sacred. Joanna counters with there being many sacred places on earth that have been destroyed and rebuilt and asks if humanity might be bad for the Sorrow, something that Tarn said. Dr. Brown believes Tarn said that on purpose, which doesn't really answer the question. Jo asks if Dr. Brown approved Tau for E&P which makes her laugh, saying the ISA is foolish. She gives the flex back to Jo with an ominous "understanding is a double edged blade."
They walk in silence, Dr. Brown accompanying them. Leela admits that she and Joanna found out Dr. Brown has sworn loyalty to Ord, that she doesn’t want them there but Ord does. There are a lot of questions about Ord, Dr. Brown, the survey report, the ISA’s plans and what Joanna’s mother knows. Joanna brings up the Planetary Survey Report: Tau Ceti e. In a folder marked Appendix G they find a detailed taxonomy and reference to Lucifossor sapiens which translates to ‘light bearer, underground digger, wise’. So they were sent to Tau Ceti e knowing there are sentient lifeforms. Beth looks further and finds another lifeform redacted from the report, Chorulux phytraptor which translates to Light Dancer plant predator. This is a lot of information to handle and they decide to call it a night though they can’t rest. Joanna and Jay have wonderful flirtatious banter. After this breaks up Joanna goes back to looking at Dr. Brown’s report and finds details of one interaction with the raptors they called “Bob” where it seemed like it was trying to communicate. Dr. Pasha reports she is trying to teach it ASL. Meanwhile Beth has worked something out with potential disastrous consequences, the terraforming calculations did not factor in the redacted information and may lead to ecological collapse if it is not prevented. When they go to find Dr. Brown, the cabin is empty but for a 360 vid. Joanna orders it to playback and they see the Tau vista and a large raptor nicknamed “Sunflower” who seems more curious than dangerous when low humming starts and it changes the Sunflower and it attacks Dr. Pasha and starts to eat him… alive. Dr. Brown walks in then, they explain their finds and Dr. Brown has a strange expression on her face when it is revealed Beth has accidentally created a pathogen that will wipe out the raptors. Pel, Ord’s guard, has overheard the conversation and she tells them she will not allow them to kill the planet.
Leela, Chris and Miguel are already at the Sorrow’s Solace, their flexes smashed and the others follow. Jay doesn’t have a flex to give and the Takers hold a knife at Joanna’s throat, threatening her life for Jay’s flex. Joanna could give them Dr. Brown’s old flex, but if she did, they would lose a lot of important information. Jay tosses them his weapon instead. They are herded into another chamber where Ord is waiting. Pel is challenging Ord. The fight is intense, in one corner Tarn is fighting a trio of Takers and looks to be losing which distracts Ord enough for Pel to take the advantage. If Ord is defeated, it is very likely they will all be killed. They need to escape, so they take their guards by surprise and make a run for it. As Joanna turns to get Tarn, they both see Pel hit Ord across the back with her giant hammer and he doesn’t get back up.
They flee through the tunnels, the tunnels getting darker and darker until they reach a glowing root garden which also acts like a ladder to the nighttime surface, near the crash site. Tarn wants to return regardless of the possibility that Pel may kill him, it is their way, Pel is now Followed. It’s not something they can wholly understand, being taught to not follow an order that they know is wrong, but then they are Tau Ceti e when they know they shouldn’t be. While Joanna is having this conversation Jay and Miguel are inspecting the shuttle, its missing parts. Not from the crash, they have been removed. Who would sabotage their ship? Using the Rangers hotspots located with Dr. Brown’s flex they are able to find a one in the grass that will connect to Pioneer’s Landing. They decide to split, Joanna and Jay will find a flex, Leela who was hurt in the escape and fading fast will stay with Beth, Chris and Miguel at the ship with Tarn. They find the area the Chief’s body was but it along with Jay’s flex are gone. If she had been eaten, wouldn’t there still be… bits? Scouting the cargo pod finds the same thing - nothing. Suddenly Jay spots his flex attached to a raptor, watching them.
Joanna and Jay head back to the others, Leela is looking better having listened to a recording Beth made of Tarn’s healing hum. They explain what happened in the long grass and when they look at the 360 view, they can see the raptor outside. Tarn tells them raptors are only vulnerable at dawn and dusk when they return to their nests. After much discussion they decide it must be confronted in the nest, hopefully it will be asleep and easier. All terrible choices as they have a single knife as an offensive weapon. As they walk through the line they see the grass moving and flickers of motion. Suddenly a thick hum floods the area when a raptor leaps at them but doesn’t attack. They seem to be following the hum to a pair of Givers in the middle of an unnatural clearing. When the clearing is writhing with raptors, the Givers pull out knives and thrust the blades into their own abdomens. When their hums stop, the raptors attack. Takers are in the trees throwing projectiles that whistle into the clearing, ripping the raptors apart. As one of the Takers is about to beat the raptor with the Flex, Joanna plays Tarn’s recorded healing hum which snaps it out of its trance and it is able to defend itself, running off as the clearing turns into a battle ground.
They find the raptor nest down a deep wooded ravine. While exploring the edge, Beth finds some of the parts from the shuttle. There are crystal and metal towers along the ridgeline, that when the sun hits produces a glorious artwork of light which the raptors seem to absorb. They pick their way through the raptors who appear to be in a complete trance and oblivious to their presence. What feels like an eternity they are able to find Jay’s flex and Joanna realizes the raptor is Bob! As Jay removes it Bob wakes up. They all freeze. Joanna makes the ASL for “hello” and Bob responds. Joanna signs nice to meet you and Bob responds, Hello. My name is Bob. CAN WE TAKE A MOMENT TO ABSORB THIS!!
Bob warns them to leave in sign as the others are waking up. Oh shit. Their slow, cautious journey is terrifying and the raptors are freakin’ the scariest carnivorous plants ever, Little Shop of Horrors on acid. Miguel throws crystal shards down to distract the raptors, but one leaps from behind and tackles him, and they both fall and shatter against the rocks below. They are reaching for Joanna but she is able to grab on to the rock face. With effort and the help of a tether, Leela is able to haul her up. They make a run for it to the nearest hotspot. They are able to connect and Joanna tells her mother what is happening and Commander Watson says she’ll stop Stage 3 and come for them. Joanna falls to the ground and they wait which gives her and Leela time to reconcile.
When they get back to Pioneer’s Landing Beth heads straight to the botany team to stop and explain the terraforming issue. They introduce Tarn and recount what has happened. Tarn is uncomfortable, he can’t answer the questions because it is the Followed who should answer them, he sees his world wrapping itself around these aliens and it's confusing. As they are waiting for the shuttle to bring Miguel’s body back, Chris admits that Miguel’s death is his fault. He killed the raptor in the nest after he saw them with her Scout badges and knew they had killed and eaten her and kept her badges. He couldn't not which spurred the attack. Joanna also finds out that her mother isn’t angry with her, you know making first contact, sneaking out etc etc. Her mother admits that Earth’s ecosystem is on the brink of collapse and nothing they are doing on Earth is going to prolong its life. The Earth will die, they had to leave within the next 50 years. The plan was to make first contact and share Tau Ceti e, Commander Watson needs to enter into negotiations with Pel and everyone needs to pray they work. At that point, the Sorrow humming begins. Tarn tells them it’s a welcoming song as the formation approaches. Dr. Brown is in the middle with Ord!.
Ord has a meeting with Jo’s mother, her father, Dr. Brown and Tarn. Jo, Leela and Jay joke about what they're discussing in the meeting, "we're only taking half of your planet, haha" and whether or not they'll be going home. Jo doesn't think so because the ISA knew what was going on the whole time and sent them there anyway. Leela has more faith in the commander and is sure that they'll leave, that the commander will do the right thing. They also talk about how Jay didn't get healed by Tarn and has itchy nanites healing his leg, but Tarn didn't offer to heal him, which is dubious, but Jay's not dying so it's fine. After the meeting is adjourned, it's decided that Ord and the others will join the settlement for dinner. Jo leaves the kitchen to 3d print some serving platters and finds Chris, who's still struggling with what happened with his mom. He said he talked to Dr. Brown in the greenhouse. She was in there, meditating on consequences and staring at the plants that are already beginning to die without stage three, which is when Chris realizes earth is doomed. Back at the settlement, Ord gives a speech about sacrifices and how together, they will do great things. They have dinner after that and dance and everything seems great. Jo and Jay even kiss! but then the Givers start singing a familiar melody and everything feels wrong. One of the Givers walks away, and Jo follows, toward the particle shield, which is down. That Giver is Pel, who Ord mercifully let live after their challenge just to become a sacrifice to bring the raptors to the Landing. Fuck.
The raptors attack. Jo starts the disco celebration so they can be seen. And there's a lot of them. She tries to work out why Ord would do this and then she remembers what Chris said about Dr. Brown's meditation and it clicks. They plan to let loose the raptors as a distraction to steal the Stage Three. She calls Beth to warn her, but she's already started destroying it. 7 of 10 petri dishes down. Good going Beth! Jo runs through the chaos of raptor attacks toward the greenhouse and is met by Leela and Jay. They find Chris too, who also must have worked out what is going on and was on his way to the greenhouse but he's been badly injured. Leela takes him and runs off to get help. Tarn appears then. He and Jo fight about innocent lives being taken, but he counters that the settlers settled on their planet with no invitation, so there would definitely be conflict.
Inside the greenhouse, Ord has a big fucking gun pointed at Beth, demanding she hand over the Stage Three. She refuses, so Dr. Brown stuns her. Jo rushes to help, but there's that big fucking gun again. Jo pleads for them not to release the bacteria. Ord declares that he is Followed and that Beth will inoculate the Sorrow and their solace trees against the bacteria and then they'll go kill all the infected raptors. Sure, that's fine. It'll totally be perfectly fine. Since Ord is Followed, he gets to decide the fate of everything on the planet apparently. Jo shows Dr. Brown the videos of Pasha teaching sign language, but cuts the video and amplifies the volume. It seems that Ord was behind the attack that killed Pasha and the other rangers. Fuck. Dr. Brown sneakily gives Jo the canister of Stage Three and insists that she run, but that doesn't work very well. Ord stabs Jay and possibly kills him, then Jo and Beth run. But they're stopped by Tarn, who knocks Beth out and demands the canister. Jo begs him to do what is right, to not blindly follow Ord. He knocks her out, too, but declares that she's dead. She wakes up later with Leela scanning her, telling her that the Sorrow got away in a Vulcan ship and that the raptors left once the settlers got out their guns. Beth and Chris are fine after being attacked but Jay... isn't. He might die. Leela also reveals that Jo's pacers are gone. Oh that can't be good. (But it is and we've all known it since she got humhealed earlier.)
It finally clicks that she’s been fully humhealed by the Givers when they healed her broken leg AGES AGO! Releasing that her heart is fully functioning it also dawns on her that she can fly. Rushing to the flyers Joanna brings it online and chases after the Sorrow to the raptor nests. Putting the sun at the back of the flyer helps to hide her from the Sorrow’s sensitive eyes Joanna plans her next steps. It looks like the Givers with the petri dish will sacrifice themselves to infect the raptors. Swinging the flyer round Joanna, Ord catches sight of her and the raptors begin to wake up. Joanna is trying to wake the raptors up by disrupting the light but they aren’t running. They’re bloody curious about the flyer which is beyond frustrating, but then they start to notice the Givers. Ord has started firing at the flyer and the boom reverberates against the shields and the noise is scaring the raptors away. The shields can’t hold and the flyer goes down. Ord comes for Joanna, swinging his massive staff. He is one angry dude. In their fight Joanna is able to grab the canister and scrambles from him only for a raptor to save her by attacking Ord. Bob! Bob is back! Their fight is brutal and Joanna uses it to escape, like 10 feet because Tarn and three Takers appear. Joanna begs tarn not to kill their planet like humans have done to Earth, she offers to take the other pioneers and leave. Before Tarn can react to the offer, Ord appears and he is mad. Ord rejects Joanna, Tarn seems more reasonable and willing to listen. Ord grabs for the canister and tries to infect Bob but Joanna throws herself between them. As Ord is about to deal a killing blow, Tarn stabs him through the chest killing him and becoming the new Followed. He tells her she must keep his promise to leave.
Joanna wakes up in medical. She’s been through a lot in the last 48 hours so has some well deserved kissy time with Jay. Jay was pretty badly stabbed by Ord and could end up in braces or a chair. The others come into the room, the Commander wants to see Joanna, Dr. Brown is missing and 84 people were lost in the fight. Joanna tells her mom and the other people in charge about what happened and her promise. They aren’t happy but they’re not mad either. Joanna’s dad says that they “don’t need to steal [their] place in the stars” which gives her hope that they will move on and that her mom will try and convince Central Command that they need to leave. Weeks pass as they rebuild and try and set things into motion. The raptors are kept at bay by the shields and there has been no sign on Tarn or the Sorrow. One morning Joanna, Beth and their dad go to see the raptor nests and the magnificent light show. When they land a raptor knocks on the hull of the flyer and signs Hello. I see you. This is cool because it isn’t Bob, so it means they are teaching each other how to communicate. When they arrive back Tarn has turned up, thankfully by himself to give the humans a 10 days timescale to leave.
A few days later the Commander and Joanna are talking, she is reinstating Joanna as her pilot and they are flying up to the Pioneer, Leela is going back to the Marines and Jay got a promotion to corporal everything is looking up. Until, that is, an incoming transmission from the ISA Prairie. Joanna’s Grandpa’s face appears on screen. He informs them the Earth Restoration Project has gone wrong. Tau is their home now.