Star Trek canon just retconned a crucial piece of starship technology
How do you cloak a starship? One of Star Trek: Prodigy’s advisers breaks down that Chimerium cloaking device.
Stealth tech in Star Trek has always been unreliable for the people in the starships and reliably awesome for the audience. First introduced in the Romulan-centric ‘60s episode “Balance of Terror,” starships with cloaking devices are pretty much invisible, and therefore a giant pain-in-the-neck for the ethical members of the Federation, who mostly lack cloaking tech.
But now, there’s a new type of cloaking technology in the Star Trek universe, and it's powered by a mysterious variety of crystals called “Chimerium.” The funny thing is, though, Chimerium isn’t new at all. It originates in Star Trek novels and has recently made its way into the Trek canon.
To figure it all out, we caught up with one of the advisers for Star Trek: Prodigy — Trek novelist David Mack — who filled us in on the origin of Chimerium and how it fits in with what you think you knew about cloaking technology. Spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Prodigy, Episode 7, “First Con-tact.”
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE SCI-FI MOVIE? Tell us now for a chance to get paid to write an article for Inverse.
What is Chimerium?
In the latest episode of Prodigy, “First Con-tact,” Dal and the crew of the Protostar encounter Dal’s adoptive mother, a Ferengi thief who is actually trying to rip off Dal, too. But the game-changing thing here is something that has been brewing in Prodigy for a while, the idea that certain kinds of cloaking devices can be powered by Chimerium crystals.
The crystals that Dal and everybody were being forced to mine by the Diviner in the very first episode are, in fact, Chimerium crystals, used primarily by the Diviner to cloak his entire penal colony. In terms of the onscreen Trek canon, Chimerium has been newly introduced by Prodigy, but it’s not a new concept.
The literary origin of Chimerium
Before Prodigy, Chimerium debuted in a series of books called Star Trek: S.C.E, which stands for Starfleet Corps of Engineers. In the novella Invincible — written by David Mack and Keith R. A. DeCandido — the substance of Chimerium first appeared because as Mack puts it, “I needed an objective for the laborers.”
His idea was that Chimerium is “a substance that is useful for blocking and/or reflecting sensors.” The name as you might have guessed comes from “chimera,” something that has been made of other elements. In Mack’s conception of Chimerium, the crystal is a mineral compound of various elements.
How Chimerium became canon for Prodigy
The incorporation of this non-canon crystal into the actual visual canon of Trek was pretty organic. Mack explains it like this:
“Early in the development of Star Trek: Prodigy, when the Hageman brothers were still developing its detailed final proposal for Alex Kurtzman, they hired me as an expert Star Trek consultant. The Hagemans described to me the setting and purpose of the mining operation on the planetoid Tars Lamora. They wanted the Protostar to be hidden inside the planetoid, and for their bad guy, the Diviner, to have been searching there for the ship over a period of many years, possibly even decades.
Because sensors in the Star Trek universe should easily have been able to find a starship no matter how deeply it was buried inside the planetoid, I suggested to the Hagemans that it might be a good idea if the planetoid were rich with a compound that blocks sensors. That would explain why the Diviner was forced to resort to such brute-force search methods, while also giving him a valuable resource he could trade to finance his ongoing search. The Hagemans thought that sounded like a good idea and asked me to recommend such a compound. I immediately suggested Chimerium, a substance that seemed custom-made for their story needs, and they agreed that it felt like a good fit.”
How is Chimerium different from “regular” cloaking?
In Prodigy’s newest episode, “First Con-tact,” Dal and the crew not only lose the chance to get a Chimerium cloaking device but also lose their entire supply of Chimerium too. Naturally, the young crew of the Protostar was pretty pumped about the possibility of having a cloaking device jacked into their ship, mostly because it would help keep them safe. But if you were wondering if Chimerium has always been required to power cloaking devices in Star Trek canon, the answer is no. The specific type of “Chimerium cloak” is new to Star Trek: Prodigy, and we actually saw the Diviner use it in the second episode of the series.
Other than the fact that it uses these specific crystals, how is this kind of cloaking device different from the ones we’ve seen in Trek before? Mack says the biggest difference is that Chimerium “is like a natural stealth,” because it doesn’t literally make the ship “invisible.”
“The types of cloaking devices we usually see used by Klingons and Romulans use an artificially generated energy field to bend both visible light and sensor beams, rendering their spacecraft literally invisible and also hiding them from sensors,” Mack explains. “Chimerium is a mineral compound that blocks, bends, or reflects sensor beams.”
So, this means that if someone were to look out the window, a ship using a Chimerium cloak would probably be visible to the naked eye. But if you were trying to look for that ship with sensors or other kinds of scanning equipment, you wouldn’t find anything. What Prodigy has done is canonized tech from Star Trek novels, which allows starships to hide in plain sight.
Considering how cool this kind of technology is within the framework of the endlessly enthralling Star Trek starship canon, it would be shocking if this tech was limited only to Prodigy. We should probably be on the lookout for Chimerium in other upcoming Trek shows, assuming, of course, we even know how to find it.
Star Trek: Prodigy streams on Paramount+