Posted by: Narayanan Ramachandran, Freelance Consultant <Info Msg Rep> Resource extraction missions are the most straightforward of gatecrashing ops. Aimed at generating maximum output/proﬁt with minimal input, exploitation ops break out the sledgehammers, shovels, and drills once scouting teams and surveyors conﬁrm the existence of natural resources.
Whenever an exploration mission detects traces of exploitable resources, and the conditions for mining seem optimal, a survey team is sent in to assess the claim and look for others. These surveyors are often contractors from a hypercorp focusing on such operations, though some larger corps use in-house teams. Extrasolar surveyors are usually experienced with working in alien environments and the ﬁne details of through-gate operations. They also usually specialize in a particular ﬁeld; ﬁnding helium-3 requires a different skill set from locating precious metals. Survey teams investigate natural formations and geology utilizing a variety of scanning systems. Their main tools include hyperspectral satellite imagery and similar remote sensing tools, magnetometers to search for magnetic anomalies in the exoplanet’s magnetic ﬁeld, Geiger counters to detect radioactivity (particularly for uranium), geochemical surveys of soil and regolith, and a wide range of exploratory geophysics techniques to detect mineral deposits. Some scanners will run into problems depending on local geology, either with conditions interfering with remote scans or the inability to positively resolve what is being scanned. In these cases, more direct physical sampling and surveying is called for. Sampling is a balance between time, equipment, and storage capacity. If a team has enough time and equipment, they can do a detailed analysis. A team in a hostile environment might just be able take a dozen scoops of soil and a few rocks prior to hustling back to the gate. The goal of these teams is to identify resource-rich areas, map out deposits for exploitation, and generate speciﬁc plans for drilling and mining. A good team will not just ﬁnd the best deposits, but will come back with a thorough plan for how to extract the resources in a quick and efficient manner.
Any selection of personnel and equipment to be transported to and operated on the other side depends on the speciﬁc resource(s) being targeted. The degree of automated technological support is higher on exploitation missions than on colonization or exploration missions. Mining mission parameters are clearly deﬁned and allow a much more detailed and customized selection of tools and equipment. Depending on remote conditions and various economic factors, ores and other resources may be processed on site or may be shunted in raw material form back through the gate for reﬁning. The two primary concerns of exploitation mission sponsors are sustained operability and a secure transportation chain. Though every hypercorp is planning for the long run, the quicker they get their ROI (return-on-investment), the better, which in this case means the quicker and cheaper the method of exploitation, the better.
Mining operations require a combination of expert personnel and non-skilled manual laborers. Trained scientists and surveyors are needed to analyze the data gathered from scans, mineral probes, and other means of on-site prospecting. Though hypercorps sometimes entrust a mining operation’s science tasks and even administration to a cadre of AIs customized for this purpose, most still beneﬁt from the transhuman factor and management. When discovering unknown materials or material compositions, analyzing contradicting or unidentifiable scan results, or dealing with disgruntled staff, the limits of AI programming become obvious. The transhuman mind still possesses an advantage over pure synthetic intelligence when it comes to the illusion of synthetic intuition. The necessary transhuman element, however, does not always equal a physical presence. For cost, as much as for security and administration reasons, infomorphs are preferred by the hypercorps as scientific, lab, and bureaucratic personnel. Physical labor is almost always handled by indentures given cheap or utilitarian robotic shells, though it is just as common to see drone networks controlled by AI or infomorphs. Sometimes a single skilled foreman will oversee and coordinate an entire workforce of unskilled indentures or bots. Physical on-site security is minimal and mainly directed against outside threats and acts of internal sabotage. In larger camps, they may be relegated to keeping the peace among the personnel, which often boils down to keeping the sex workers, alcoholics, and drug abusers in line.
For obvious reasons (ecologic impact, disregard for health or security regulations, etc.) exploitation missions are the least glamorous of all gatecrashing ops. Security surveillance replaces any media coverage common with colonization or lottery gatecrashing, as hypercorps don’t want details on their major revenue streams broadcast over the mesh, alerting the competition and other vultures. After the initial discovery of an extrasolar resource ﬁnd, many sponsors go to great lengths to keep their exploitation endeavors hidden from prying eyes, whether by PC-sanctioned media censorship, unsanctioned information sabotage, or even more drastic actions. Due to the limited and tightly-controlled mission budgets for resource extraction gigs, low operating costs are favored over quality of equipment, personnel, or security. As service tenders and bidding models from third-party service providers are used to keep the costs for outsourced equipment, (mobile) facilities, or the (indentured) workforce as low as possible, many missions sooner or later must deal with data leaks or the theft of the yield generated. Inexplicable “shrinkage,” organized smuggling, and data theft are common problems. Most often an inside source is involved, whether motivated by greed, anti-corporate or extremist ideals, or blackmailed by a criminal organization. As transportation security and surveillance is mostly directed against outside threats, identifying an inside source becomes more difficult (and costly) the more parties and stopovers are involved in the entire supply chain.
Short vs Long Term
While mining outposts are often similar to other colonies, fundamental differences often exist between the two. Colonies are intended for long-term duration and are usually established with growth models in mind. They also tend to make the best use of the exoplanet’s ecosystem to support its population’s needs for food and energy. Mining camps, however, are almost always established on a temporary basis, even for long-term extraction operations. Compared to colonies, they are brutal—sometimes reckless—operations set up for maximum output quota with little or no regard at all for the exoplanet’s ecosystem or environment (with the exception of some autonomist mining operations, which aim for minimal impact). It is also not uncommon for mining operations to expose their own crews to toxic chemicals, bio-agents, or radiation, all of which are considered justifiable for a short period of time (though long-term projects require adequate shielding or other protection for the transhuman workforce). Though most mining contracts provide basic medical packages and followup treatments, mutations, neuropathy, and other health problems are common among experienced miners.
After a deposit has run dry, surveyors are brought in one ﬁnal time to perform a last thorough scan before the operation is disbanded. Depending on the costs associated with a complete disassembly of the base and equipment, the installation might be broken down and transported back through the gate, destroyed to prevent unauthorized use, or simply abandoned and left behind in case none of the former options are considered feasible. This last option is the most common for mining outposts in toxic and unstable environments, but sometimes operational bases and surrounding habitats are simply left behind to avoid the costs of taking them down again. Remaining facilities are then shut down electronically and sealed manually/mechanically.
Sidebar: Resource Extraction: Major Interests
Undertaking a project like extracting two tons of gallium from thirty-eight tons of ore typically requires the sort of resources and backing that the hypercorps excel in. Though some anarchist syndicates and Titanian microcorps pursue extrasolar resource exploitation projects (and often admittedly in a manner more sensitive to the exoplanet’s environment and ecosystems, at least by nano-ecologist standards), various inner system and Extropian hypercorps are the true heavyweights in this ﬁeld. Fa Jing is the biggest of the prospecting giants, along with Pathﬁnder, Tolstoj Mining Concern, and M-5. These hypercorps handle all aspects of mining operations, from surveying and extraction to reﬁning and transportation. Numerous other hypercorps specialize in particular functions. ExoTrek and Geomatic are the prospecting and survey experts, the latter holding an exclusive contract on all ops via the Discord Gate. Though hundreds of corps focus on different types of extraction operations, Iberon is at the top of the heap, with KDRX and Black Crow currently on the upswing. Omnicorp, GazPro, and Vitachem are the go-to corps for various reﬁning and processing facilities. ComEx and TWA are the two biggest shipping interests. In addition, there are the buyers and sellers that may never leave the solar system but deﬁnitely affect the industry. Starware, Gorgon, and Tri-Cor are all in the metals market, while Prosperity Group and ChevEx buy large-chain organics. On the supplier side, Zbrny continues to sell mining equipment to various parties, though few will discuss the details of these negotiations. Competing with them is the ambitious DigGud, who not only make mining, drilling, and digging equipment but also sensors and transportation options. TerraGenesis is a major provider of the soil sampling and satellite imaging systems upon which prospecting gatecrashers often rely.
Sidebar: New Recruit
<Welcome to your orientation, Gema. I’m Sgt. Bartumeu and I’ll be leading you through an overview of what we do here, how we do things and what you’ll be doing. I see you’ve done plenty of merc work in the past? >Yes, sir, I contracted with Gorgon for just over a dozen remote gate ops. <Excellent. That’s a ﬁne outﬁt, but we’ll be doing things a bit differently. You’ll be running security, but let’s be clear, this is not a military outﬁt, it’s a surveying concern. We don’t do exploration, we don’t do colonies. We trek out into the alien wilderness and look for resources to harvest. Our customers are hypercorps, governments, organizations, and individuals, all of whom think they’ve found something interesting. They hire us to take a closer look, verify the worth of exploiting it, and come up with a plan for doing so. Oh, and see if we can ﬁnd anything else worth digging up while we’re out there. Our teams are composed of scientists, navigators, scouts, transportation, surveyors, and security—that’s you—to protect everyone else. >Will this be previously-explored territory or new ground, sir? <In most cases, it’s been mapped and scouted only once by the ﬁrst-in teams. Sometimes we’ll get gigs in areas that have been more thoroughly traversed. >What are we looking for? <Depends on what our clients are looking for. Trace metals turn us a good proﬁt. Tantalite ore, for example, you just can’t ﬁnd much of that stuff. Funny, when I lived on Earth, iridium and osmium were so rare, but with all those asteroid miners it isn’t the amazing ﬁnd it used to be. Now we keep an eye out for some of the old standards: gold, uranium, wolfram/tungsten, silver, and so on. Helium-3 has a good market, and hydrocarbons are always popular. On the hydrocarbon side, we look for the big molecules. Methane’s pretty easy to come by, so making other hydrocarbons is possible. We just have to ﬁnd stuff that is cheaper to extract than it is to make. The break point is generally around octane, but it can really depend on the hazards involved and how remote it is. The bean counters ﬁgure that out. >That all seems straightforward. <It is, but every so often we get asked to go after something weird—or something weird ﬁnds us. >Something weird, sir? <Yeah. We don’t get called in for alien artifacts or ruins—other corps handle that side of the biz. But sometimes we’ll be contracted to review the possibilities for harvesting organics. Exolife biomasses. Plant life. Weird goo with strange properties. There was even a job where we assessed some large growths of potential non-organic life. We haven’t stumbled on the Holy Grail yet, though. >Holy grail, sir? <Computronium. Matter optimized for computation. That, my friend, is the ultimate treasure hunt.