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Colonization Missions

Posted by: Narayanan Ramachandran, Freelance Consultant <Info Msg Rep>

Colonization projects are pursued and sponsored by hypercorps, scientific institutions, governments, and even powerful (and insanely rich) individuals. Divided as transhumanity may be, many factions are actively involved in or preparing for one colonization project or another. These can range from hypercorp indentures hoping to establish a new life for themselves to brinkers literally pushing the boundaries of isolation even further to ambitious mercurials attempting to create their own society, and everything in-between. The Planetary Consortium seeks to claim the galaxy for their own one colony at a time, while the autonomists try to prevent exactly that from happening. Terraforming hypercorps research new ways to turn a piece of rock into a habitable environment, hackers and rogue scientists seek places to experiment in safety and isolation, and crime syndicates set up secret bases to do god-knows-what. Rich oligarchs stake out their own private fiefdoms, while those concerned about transhumanity’s collective future spread out to the stars just to make our species harder to extinguish. The five Pandora gates within the solar system serve as a choke-point for these efforts, giving definite advantages to certain actors and impeding others. The Pathfinder Colonization Initiative is the juggernaut, founding new colonies on a monthly—and soon to be weekly—basis and maintaining an infrastructure on Mars to support the dozens that have already been established. In the race for new lebensraum, the Morningstar Constellation and the Titanians lag behind the Consortium, followed by the autonomists, numerous hypercorps, and other factions. Among the most under-represented are the LLA and the ultra-paranoid Jovian Republic, each maintaining nothing in the way of extrasolar colonies.

Where to start

Colonization missions mean two things—someone before you had all the fun exploring the unknown, then someone else decided to set up a permanent camp. While preparation is essential, the actual planning, creation, or acquisition of gear and other resources differs from one project—and also from one sponsor—to another. While the Consortium has access to almost every possible resource you can think of, acquiring the components and nanofab blueprints for certain colony necessities can be a challenge for the Love and Rage anarchist collective controlling the Fissure gate. Likewise, the Consortium and hypercorps have a seemingly inexhaustible supply of indentures to employ as near slave labor simply by promising a body and a home, whereas the autonomist and others rely on finding intrepid individuals willing to set aside everything they know and step boldly into the unknown.

Filling the Roster

Once a colonization project is approved, the sponsors select the cadre of first-generation colonists. Depending on the colony’s future purpose and the resources allocated to the colony, selection processes range from thorough evaluation of required skill sets and psychological profiling to downloading random indentures into cheap synthmorphs and throwing them through the gate to lay the groundwork. Vacant scientific, managerial, or even therapeutic positions or missing skill sets are bought, programmed, requisitioned, or even confiscated and added to the roster, given adequate funding. The final mission selection typically consists of a variety of scientists, technicians, engineers, manual laborers, and security experts, accompanied by a small team of doctors and psychologists. An average firstgen colonization crew runs between twenty to sixty people, not counting any indentures or AI brought onboard for simple manual labor and administrative tasks. Given the extensive (and lucrative) media coverage, aesthetics as well as social and rhetoric skills are given higher priority in many Consortium- or hypercorp-sponsored projects.

Laying the Founding

Despite nanofabrication, minifac capabilities, and automated habitat construction options, erecting and maintaining a colony is hard work. To stabilize a habitat or fortify an initial complex of shelters as quickly as possible, colonists rely heavily on construction drones and robots controlled by AI, infomorphs, and manual laborers sleeved in synthmorphs, worker pods, or other morphs more fit for the particular exoplanet environment. The first priorities for any new colony are shelter, security, sensors, and communication. Pre-fabbed or auto-erecting habitats provide limited living and work space until larger facilities can be constructed. Pioneering colonists can expect their quarters to be cramped and crowded at best. As the colony grows, new additions are tacked on in an organic fashion, though any extra space these might provide is often occupied by secondary waves of colonists. Security and sensors both keep an eye on the safety of the colony and nearby gate, while recording as much data on the exoplanet as possible for long-term study. Where possible, satnets and mesh routers are put into place so that colonists may constantly keep in contact and monitor their new environment.

Supply Chain and Logistics

Though colonies become more independent over time, few are self sufficient. To ensure a colony’s survival, a well-coordinated supply chain needs to be set up to source, coordinate, and distribute whatever goods, minerals, equipment, technology, or other resources are needed. In a worst-case scenario, a colony’s logistics must be prepared for a communication breakdown or gate malfunction isolating them from the basecamp on the other side for an extended period. Despite mapping missiles and surface scans identifying available natural resources, many colonies have to improvise with what they brought with them through the gate and send out scouting parties to hopefully find local resources identical to or similar enough to elements known to transhumanity. Managing the local logistics associated with local mining, farming and harvesting, or even chemical processing is another challenge for which a colony needs to be prepared and equipped. While most settlements are centered in the gate’s immediate vicinity, special circumstances might favor a colony to be erected further away. Archeological sites located around the ruins of an unknown alien culture or mining camps erected nearby significant natural deposits often become permanent colonies and outposts from which transhumanity expands further. When supplying remote colonies, a semi-permanent base is erected close to the gate as a logistics and supply hub. Loading and transportation equipment is used repeatedly for each supply run to the colony and then secured for storage until the next delivery, or left with the colony in case of deliveries inward from the gate. Transportation mostly consists of all-terrain ground vehicles or skimmers, in rare occurrences a small spaceport is established for colonies on nearby moons or asteroids. As of yet, no (known) colony has become big enough to warrant the construction of a space elevator.

Running a Colony

Once a colony survives the initial labor pains, don’t assume its existence will get any easier. Keeping a colony alive can be as difficult as establishing it, maybe even more so. Over time, colonies can be afflicted with all manner of crises. Gate malfunctions may cut them off from their home base for indefinite periods of time, leaving them without critical supplies. Tensions between people living in stressed, cramped conditions may erupt into civil disturbances or violence. Sudden environmental changes like volcano breakouts or tectonic shifts could threaten their very existence.

Sustainability

With the exception of a few colonies specifically tailored for synthmorphs, most colonies have at least some biomorphs who are dependent on the habitat’s life support functions; should it fail, they would be in extreme danger. For this reason, and given the many indentures found in colony populations, many colonies have high percentages of synthmorphed personnel. This also has the benefit of reducing the supplies the colony requires. Those who do sleeve in biomorphs often choose biomods that are less resource-intensive and customized for close quarters living. Nevertheless, many colonies seek to create sustainable living for biomorphs to limit supply needs and to be better prepared for emergencies. Greenhouses and faux-flesh carniculture vats are common, and when possible local sources of water are tapped (often by harvesting and melting ice). Even in hypercorp colonies, community makers are common, and cornucopia machines are often pre-loaded with major blueprint libraries and less restricted than within the inner system, in order to fulfill the colony’s early needs. Energy sources range from solar cells to nuclear batteries and fusion reactors, often in combination and with backups. Some colonies use power plants that take advantage of abundant local fossil fuel supplies.

Security

Depending on the sponsor’s resources or the colony’s expected profitability, security might vary from a few hunter-killer drones to a platoon of combat morphs and an AI-controlled military satellite network. Besides protecting the colony itself, guarding supply convoys between the settlement and the gate is the second main task of security forces. Security teams also specialize in guarding long-range expeditions for matters like resource surveying, scientific studies, and xenoarcheological digs. Protecting a colony from outside threats isn’t the only thing security is on hand for, of course. Mining colonies and other settlements with large numbers of indentures often boast additional physical security to act as a police force, keep the labor force in check, and prevent internal strife and dissent among the population. Most sponsors subcontract out security operations to hypercorps or freelancers that specialize in these services. This work can be tricky, as security contractors often find themselves embroiled in disputes between workers and management or between hypercorps fighting over resources or property. In Pathfinder/Consortium-linked colonies, security forces and colonial regimes are expected to abide by Consortium laws. In others, local laws or simple frontier justice may apply. Autonomist outposts are, of course, self-policing.

Psychological Effects

Living in a smelly, overcrowded tin can on a snowball circling an alien sun for months on end can be stressful for everyone involved. Add in the fact that you are light years from the nearest other transhumans, connected only by a device that everyone fears and few trust, and maintaining a positive attitude can be a challenge. Add in the social fault lines inherent in indentured servitude and similar hierarchical relationships and cultural divisions, and it is not uncommon to see tensions between different colonist sub-groupings come to a boil. Various colonial initiatives seek to remedy these problems with regular psych profiling and counseling as well as offering numerous media diversions, especially VR. They also often turn their heads to less savory reliefs, such as recreational drugs, prostitution, and gambling. The costs of gate transfers usually inhibit options like rotating staff or mandatory vacations. A few strict colonies employ more controlling measures, such as mandatory psychosurgery sessions, implants, or drug regimens.

Productivity

Though some colonies are established purely to beachhead transhuman expansion and grow new population centers on extrasolar worlds, the majority of them are founded with additional purposes in mind and are effectively support bases for resource exploitation, archeological digs, scientific labs, and similar projects. This means that the colony is not only dependent on that project’s success, but that it is answerable to whoever sponsored it. If a colony becomes too expensive, doesn’t meet production quotas, or threatens to become ungovernable, there is a very real chance that the plug will be pulled. There are already dozens of failed or deliberately abandoned colony attempts, leaving behind littered traces of transhuman settlements on various exoplanets. A few of these have been resettled by other sponsors, but many remain unused. The primary drawback to answering to remote bosses, of course, is that those in charge usually know very little about the colony’s actual conditions. Sometimes this is deliberate, through careful management of information sent back home by colonial administrators. In practice, this means that orders suddenly come through the gate that are exceptionally inconvenient or otherwise problematic to the colonists. No one likes being told they have to double their resource extraction in the middle of an ice planet’s blizzard season, or hearing that their water supply will be rationed until their mother hypercorp gets around to sending a new water filtration plant through, or receiving orders to delay a project critical to the colony’s well-being in order to pamper an oligarch’s nephew who is visiting the colony for an adventurous lark. These sorts of disconnected priorities and interests between colonists and remote sponsors are a leading source of unrest, sabotage, and even outright revolt.

Colonial Media

While exploration gatecrashing missions draw an impressive amount of consumer media interest, there is just as much public attraction to the lives and daily circumstances of extrasolar colonists. Many colonies contract with media hypercorps that chronicle the fate of the colony in high rez detail in serialized installments. Embedded journalists produce local news reports that are periodically distributed back to the solar system and even back out to other extrasolar colonies. The gate corps are known to use AIs to review, edit, and censor these reports, however. A select few colonies are in effect reality experience shows, with key colonists X-casting their lives, all bundled and sold as an entertainment package to audiences back in the solar system. Many colonies are a calculated investment risk for their hypercorp sponsors, so it is no surprise that they go to great lengths to make colonial affairs seem exotic, dramatic, and just dangerous enough to be adventurous and thrilling but not scary. Among the Consortium media, in fact, expensive ad campaigns extol the virtues and glamor of being a colonist, co-sponsored by the Pathfinder Colonization Initiative. Those who buy the hype and sign up are usually in for a shock when they end up assigned to some backwater mining camp on the thirtieth ice moon of a nondescript gas giant.

Sidebar: Debriefing the Dead

<Please tell me your name. >Kyla Free Aster. <And your birthday? >December 27, 1983. <Where were you born? >Chicago. Lived there most of my life. <In the city itself or the suburbs? >City. Rogers Park, with all those lakefront liberals. <laughs> I still managed to be to the left of them! <Do you remember what you did during the Fall, Ms. Aster? >The Fall? Like Autumn? Well, I— <No, the Fall of Earth. >I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean. I remember the war, of course. Did something happen to the Earth? <Can you tell me how you ended up with the group of gatecrashers on Skoyz, Ms. Aster? >No, like I told them, I’m not sure what happened. I remember some, some sort of machine landing on my shoulders, but then— <This happened on Skoyz? >No, no, I was in Chicago. I was headed home, there were alarms. And then somebody’s robot landed on my head. After that, well, everything’s a bit fuzzy. Somehow I ended up in, um, Skoyz, I guess, with that group of people. The gatecrashers, as you call them. <According to the first-in team, there were four of them when they stepped in to the gate and five when they stepped out. They said you just appeared in the middle of them, stepped through the gate like you were one of them, but then claim to remember nothing. >I, uh, yeah, I don’t know. I’m not sure what’s happening, really. This whole gate thing is new to me. Look, I’m a bit concerned. Did something happen to the Earth? <Yes, Ms. Aster, it was lost. Ruined and left to the machines. We call it the Fall. That was 10 years ago. According to our records, you never made it off the planet. >What … what are you saying? Are you saying that I—that I died on Earth? During this war? <That seems to be the case, yes. Ms. Aster, perhaps you can tell me one thing? >I—yes? <Where did you get that body? >This body? Is something wrong with it? <There’s nothing wrong with it, but it is most definitely not yours. >I’ve never resleeved. I—I thought something felt weird. But it’s all been so confusing. Wait. W-whose body is it? <Funny that you should ask that, Ms. Aster. It’s mine.

Sidebar: Memo to all Proxies regarding "Lost Colonies"

Last year we initiated a new project to catalog information on “lost” extrasolar colonies. Rumors of various lost colonies had been circulating for years, with Firewall being aware of several actual incidents of disconnection, both accidental and intentional. The reconnection with the Synergists brought even more attention to this phenomenon. The various gate corps have kept most such situations under wraps, for fear of bringing negative light on extrasolar exploration and colonization. Our archives now contain correlated and verified information on all known lost colony situations, which our scanners will consistently update. There are some things that all proxies should know. First, there are indeed multiple accounts of wormhole connections no longer being able to be made to established colonies. At current count, we are aware of fourteen such incidents; there may well be more. It is highly possible that many, if not most, of these colonies are still operational, and that a link may someday be re-established. The manner in which these connections were lost seems almost entirely to be based in anomalous gate behavior. There is no indication of the cut-offs being due to some sort of threat or hostile intent—or at least a consistent one. Aside from Synergy, there have been three other colonies to which contact was temporarily lost but later regained. For one, the address simply began working again, and the colonists were rescued despite some casualties from severe stress and hunger-related health issues. For the second, contact was accidentally re-established via an excursion through another remote extrasolar gate. In the third incident, however, contact was re-established via the original gate, only to find the settlement intact but completely abandoned. The colony’s mesh was intentionally wiped, and there is no evidence of what became of the several hundred colonists there. On top of these incidents, we are aware of several other colonies labeled as lost that were, in fact, intentionally cut off. One was a Pathfinder colony that underwent an autonomist revolt. When an initial attempt to pacify and reclaim the colony met with stiff resistance, Pathfinder instead opted to lock the colony out. Pathfinder forbids any wormhole connections to be made to this colony via any gate under their control. Their intention seems to be to starve and weaken the colony to seize it at a later time. The final two incidents are more disturbing and of more direct interest to Firewall. According to the records of both affairs, routine contact with each colony suddenly became anomalous. When the situations were investigated further, evidence of widespread TITAN and/or exsurgent activity was noted. Following protocols, contact was immediately withdrawn (though in one case, a nuke was shoved through right before the gate was closed). These addresses are now restricted. For further details on these incidents, please check our archives.

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