Today was about The Job. It was always about The Job. You could wax philosophical about the state of relations between the Empires. You could talk about that strange star on the holoreels. You could moan about the unjust advantages capsuleers obliviously flaunted over those with just a single body, a single life. But it really just came down to isk. To get isk, you had to do The Job.
Currently The Job was both lucrative and immensely frustrating. Jen was snugly inside her corporation-issued Resource Extrication and Exploitation Platform. The C-REEP, or just the Creeper, as most of her fellow contractors called them. The name was fitting for the device. Jen was working as a contractor on a high-risk planetary exploitation deployment, and the chosen device to conduct said exploitation was a modular exosuit. The base of the platform was a simple pressure and temperature regulated suit. Kind of like a diving suit or a space suit. What made it the Creeper was the vast array of alternate configurations and attachments. Drill arms, filament nets, extended legs for swampy or boggy terrain, jets, thrusters, pretty much any adaptation was available for whatever planet, biome, and problem a contractor could end up in.
Jen was in a wormhole, on the surface of a temperate planet, at the shoreline of one of the continents, and most specifically she was in a hellish marsh with unsteady muck a meter below the surface of the brackish water. Her suit had various attachments for surviving in this hellhole. Extra long legs with widened feet provided some stability. Pods on her back and chest could deploy airbags to pull her to the surface if the legs failed to find proper purchase or a sinkhole. The atmosphere was breathable, but the local wildlife included flying creatures with vicious temprements. The horrors ranged in size from a gnat to a demonic meter long assortment of chitin, wings, stingers, and barbs. So the suit was enclosed. The legs, pods, and breathing apparatus festooned on the suit, combined with the muck, dirt, and dead insects all over the thing gave the appearance of a three meter tall psychotic hunchback on stilts. Creeper was just about the right name for the device.
Jen was “prospecting”. The planetary scanners could tell you where life was and in what quantity, but to make real money, you had to find the right collections of proteins and biomass inside those life-forms. And then you had to figure out how to extract it. A filtration plant to skim the water? A trapping system to harvest swarms of bugs? A livestock pen to grow some exotic and valuable semi-mammalians full of just the right organs and proteins to produce a gene therapy at half the cost? This required manual labor and ground knowledge to figure out, and Jen was doing it today. That was The Job.
The bulk of The Job boiled down to scooping up interesting samples of water, muck, insects (live and dead), and any other interesting specimens. Recordings and observations were made for each specimen. Jen had a small exploration rover that could conceivably do everything she was doing by foot faster and with greater detail, but the swarms of insects and lack of open space in the marsh made maneuvering and keeping the intake vents clear such a hassle that she just parked it before each day’s expedition and worked in a “safe” radius around the vehicle and the attendant patch of land. Eventually she would need to switch over to even more exotic additions to her Creeper suit to get to the places too far to reach from a suitable landing spot.
As she investigated a particularly spectacular fungal growth on a fallen tree-thing, she mused about how she ended up on The Job. Planetary exploitation was a time-honored human tradition, older than space travel, and definitely older than humanity’s time in the New Eden cluster. The Great Collapse following the explosion of the Eve Gate had caused most records of humanity’s pre-New Eden days to vanish, but she assumed some version of The Job always existed regardless of time or the constellations above a planet. All life consumes other life, and humans just made the best tools to do it.
This particular job, The Job, was one in a series of Jobs Jen had conducted. She had started on her home planet, improving water waste reclamation systems as an intern for the Quafe Corporation. Fully packed planets always needed more beverages, and fixing your local supply of water was easier than ferrying water in from off-planet. Mass and fuel and all that. The internship led to a real job that paid money. Unfortunately, Jen ran into a difference in understanding of proper workplace etiquette with a planetary manager. This misunderstanding led to a disagreement with the Citizenship and Residency Administration of the planet, so she hopped ship when a capsuleer outfit had come looking for someone to run planetary exploitation operations on less inhabited and less lecherous orbital bodies. The bastards could enjoy their beverages made of reclaimed sewage, and Jen moved on to more interesting puzzles.
The money working for capsuleers was good, even if the work conditions were highly variable. Jen began a series of contracts that took her through various areas of space. As she moved out of Empire space, she began to pay more attention to where her clients were planning on setting up shop. The planets were never the problem. Getting to them was the issue. While transports were relatively safe in Empire space, the risk of competing capsuleers targeting your transport for fun or profit increased the further outside of the Empires one traveled. The self-fashioned capsuleer alliances were welcome to their wars, but they had clones waiting for them when diplomacy came in the form of blaster charges.
So after a few harrowing experiences and one too many trips aboard a Sisters of Eve humanitarian cruiser, Jen did a little research. It turned out that while wormholes were isolated, and came with a lot problems and challenges once on-planet, the trips were surprisingly safe. Instead of dozens of jumps through pirate or capsuleer space, the wormhole explorers often ran supplies through empire space. They just waited for the right hole to open, and a dozen fraught jumps through hostile space in a slow industrial transport turned into two or three jumps in a cloaked and protected frigate or blockade runner. Capsuleers that avoided getting blown up was a welcome concept, and Jen signed up. It didn’t hurt that the planets were figurative gold mines too.
There were downsides. News was on a delay. Entertainment was much harder to come by. The length and scope of a contract was much more fluid. The contract may suddenly change hands, although there was none of the planetary bombardment found in the Border Zones of low security Empire space. You simply found out you had a new boss, or your boss stopped calling and you started broadcasting for anyone to give you a lift off-planet. Jen was sure her contract accounted for ample provisions of food, water, backup machinery, and life support systems. One capsuleer conflict had left her and her crew on a planet without outside contact for almost year.
The money was good, though, and Jen got to see truly new planets. All these stars had only been accessible for the last few years, since Seyllin. So each planet was a brand new frontier to learn and experiment upon. And make a profit from. The scientist in Jen thrilled at the discovery. The capitalist in Jen smugly watched her back account grow.
As Jen mused, she dug into the fallen tree-thing, trying to gather some decent samples of the fungal growth and the biological strata it grew upon. Her motorized cutting blade had just about sectioned a decent sample, when her Creeper’s visor was suddenly coated in a spray of creamy purple-white slime. She sighed, put down the blade, and used a gauntleted had to wipe away the goo. Inside the stump she had pierced… something. A giant larva? A fungal-insectoid breeding sack? Jen didn’t know, but it was leaking the creamy slime down the log, over the outer growth and into the water. Removing a sample container from the Creeper, she began to collect a sample. She thought back to her conversation with her current client.
“I have no idea what you will find down there. The scans are off the charts. I just need someone to turn those scans into isk. You’ll get your share, but I won’t promise it’ll be clean or easy.”
The Job never was.