Well, not quite an RTS, but close. Anyway, I asked myself, if you can take a Desktop CM through a gate, and if you had enough blueprints, couldn't you go from that to a colony? Sure, but that would take forever.
It goes a lot faster if you take an entire vehicle that turns into a one-stop nanofabrication shop. I thought back to playing Command & Conquer as a young'un, and then this idea was born.
I'll try to post it here, but it's wordy as heck and is best viewed as a Google Document, the way I wrote it. Please, feel free to comment - the google doc has anyone allowed to leave comments!
Greetings and salutations! This exosolar installation was constructed by for the use and well-being of all sapient creatures. Constructed entirely from open-source blueprints and almost entirely from local resources, this installation is here for the use of all, whether you need simply to stop over and replenish your supplies or wish to settle permanently. This installation’s presence constitutes a claim on this place by , who release the claim for the use of all, without restriction save that they not themselves impose restrictions on others who also require the use of this place.
~Repeating broadcast message.
Originally conceived of as a means for gatecrashers to rapidly establish an outpost on exosolar worlds, the Seed Outpost came into its own as the brainchild of a team of Argonaut and Autonomist gatecrasher-engineers. It can be considered the ultimate outgrowth of the concept of the GEV and the Mobile Base put together, and used to begin a true settlement.
The SCO was designed and released into the open-source distribution channels of the Solar System and beyond with the best of intentions. Where those intentions lead is a question for those who behold them; obviously the Jovians and the Planetary Consortium will say that they lead straight to Hell. The premise is simple: Upon reaching a resource-rich gate destination which has a suitable environment and abundance of resources, the SCO may be deployed to construct a habitat. It isn’t perfect - it doesn’t handle truly exotic locales well, and without sapient oversight (which is highly recommended,) the AIs overseeing construction tend to be very conservative, as they lack genuine sapient problem-solving capability. Its usefulness in a microgravity environment is exceptionally limited, and the SCO has yet to be adapted to handle submarine environments with any real aplomb. Despite those limitations, they are exceedingly popular, as the destinations they are best at working in are those transhumans tend to be drawn to the most: Terrestrial planets with some kind of non-corrosive, non-superpressurized atmosphere.
The Argonauts who unveiled the SCO also posted a strong request: that those who use the SCO to establish exosolar habitats not deny the habitats they construct to others, especially others in need. In theory, as anyone should be able to use an SCO to carve a livable niche for themselves anywhere there are suitable materials, they should be easily able to lodge and provide for the traveller, the gatehopper, the wanderer, the lost, and the needy, up to and including equipping them with the seed of additional SCOs; the idea being to pay it forward.
In practice, the SCO is not significantly different from automated factories which every hypercorp and gatecrashing collective use to boot-strap a colony’s industrial base; the difference is in the fact that the Seed-Constructing Outpost begins from one vehicle, well within the reach and financial or reputation resources of a successful gatecrashing operation; and once established, an SCO can build the seeds of new SCOs, which any gatehoppers to come along can take with them.
Owing to its similarity to “Seed AI,” the chosen name for the SCV is often not used in favor of its acronym, a few backronyms from the acronym, or other names entirely: Self-Constructing Vehicle, Settlement Construction Vehicle, Mobile Construction Vehicle (MCV,) Mobile Construction Yard (MCY,) Gateway Outpost Vehicle (GOV,) Colony Construction Vehicle (CCV,) Outpost Construction Vehicle (OCV,) and innumerable other variations.
Normally, the SCV looks rather akin to an upscaled Mobile Base: a boxy vehicle with large, smart material tires, and a truck-like cab that’s cozy for two and homey for one. They aren’t typically equipped with metallic hydrogen rockets, but the smart material construction and its incredible innate nanofabrication facility is more than capable of adapting them, should it become necessary. It is also capable, should the need arise, of compressing down and stretching out to pass through a wormhole only large enough to permit an average metahuman, though doing so requires half an hour to compress and another half an hour to decompress and resume normal operations, and makes steering almost impossible.
Unlike the mobile base, however, the SCV does not unfold into a pre-packaged shelter which can be erected in two hours and moved into immediately. The Seed Construction Vehicle is navigated into an appropriate location: ideally somewhere with a perfectly flat grade and a subsurface strata which is rich in materials that may be used in construction. The SCV then inflates a dome around itself and begins cannibalizing itself to build the framework of a large, industrial nanofabrication structure, big enough to construct vehicles. This installation is nearly completely permanent and known as a Seed Construction Yard, and depending on the suitability of the location and local environs, can take anywhere from forty-eight hours to a solid week to complete, with the lower end only being possible if the site was prepared beforehand by heavy earthmoving equipment. It can be re-packed, if necessary, but at this essentially involves the SCY cannibalizing itself to build a new SCV, there will inevitably be losses in the amount of material available along the way. Unpacking and repacking twice is iffy - three times and you’ll probably wind up scrambling to find more materials to feed the next SCY you build.
The SCV is powered by heavy nuclear batteries borrowed from the Mobile Base, but the three-year operational duration is only sufficient for mobile operations: the nuclear batteries lack sufficient power output to power the industrial nanofabrication system constantly, and the regular batteries charging off them will be quickly depleted by full operations, slowing manufacturing to a crawl. The SCV has enough sensors and on-board running AIs to give an estimation of whether a site is a good one to establish a base, both in terms of locality and the entire planet. These tend to be very conservative, and SCVs have been successfully used in locations which the onboard AI gave a failing grade to, with a little transhuman cleverness and ingenuity. On the flip side, however, if the SCV tells you it can build an outpost somewhere, barring catastrophe that no amount of sensors can predict, it will be able to, even if you set it to automatic and crash through the gate to somewhere else.
Constructing a new outpost from an SCV isn’t a guaranteed thing, nor is it as simple as playing a real-time strategy game. It’s not entirely dissimilar, either. The SCY contains blueprints for some of the most powerful open-source construction, habitat planning, and related field AIs in existence. They are still hobbled, non-sapient AIs, and it is highly recommended that any construction being undertaken be done with transhuman supervision.
One starts out with the Seed Construction Yard. When fully erected, transhumans can live in the management section of the SCY, albeit in cramped conditions. It contains bunks for ten, nanofabrication and recycling facilities (obviously,) and two ego bridges. It’s not exactly the most comfortable of quarters, though; most who bring an SCY and plan to stay the duration typically also bring a Mobile Base to establish next to it to live in while the SCY is doing its thing. The SCY also contains a portable solarchive on virtually any subject imaginable, updated as of the last time the SCV was in contact with civilization.
The first step after unfolding the SCY, assuming they haven’t been done beforehand, is to launch a satnet-in-a-can, and scout missile, constructing them if need be. With the information available from the satnet, the SCY will be able to make better judgements and predictions about the site’s near-and-far prospects. It will also be able to begin calculating the potential sites to construct further buildings.
After initial mapping is complete, the first item on the agenda is usually to establish a steady power source, though of course, an actual transhuman overseer can override this, if for instance, they brought a fusion generator on a truck they intend to hook up to the SCY. Depending on the local conditions and the materials available, this can take the form of erecting solar panels, wind turbines, tidal harnesses, hydroelectric, geothermal, hydrocarbon or other fuel-based steam turbine generation, or fusion generators, though it is seldom fusion generators, unless those constructing the SCY brought the radioactives feedstock with them or the gate happened to be in close proximity to a vein of exposed uranium.
It isn’t perfect, of course. Some environments are simply so difficult to extract power from that an SCY cannot establish power generation; Corse, for instance, would be a nightmare environment to try to establish an SCY without some provision for power. If the AI tells you it cannot locate a viable and exploitable source of power capable of generating sufficient energy and you do not already have your own plan to provide power generation, pack up and leave.
Establishing power generation requires building basic automated construction equipment; while a swarm of nanobots unleashed into an environment are capable of doing the job, from that sort of start it would take forever. The SCY builds robots to level the grade install what foundations are required (if any,) to lay, elevate, or bury conduits as appropriate, and to shovel resources into its recycling center, again, as appropriate. This is typically a careful balancing act between the resources available (remaining feedstock and locally-sourced materials,) the power generation available (on full batteries the SCY can go for two days, maybe two and a half if life support is turned off, but when its batteries are wholly exhausted, it takes the nuclear batteries a week to recharge,) and time.
As mentioned previously, the automatic construction AI tend to be very conservative. They’re very bad at correcting failures, especially self-destructive failures, so they overbuild everything to ensure they don’t have any. Setting up solar arrays sufficient to power the industrial processes can be done automatically within the two-and-a-half days allowance for batteries without life support (counting solar arrays coming online early,) but anything else, from establishing a wind farm to a geothermal plant, will take at least three cycles of two and a half days of uptime followed by a week’s downtime to recharge. Anything involving radioactive materials will take at least four months to build in this manner, with or without transhuman intervention, so if you’re planning to use a fusion or fission generator (you lunatic, if you’re using a fission reactor,) you’d be best served to bring a pre-built reactor on a truck, with plenty of fuel at the stand-by.
Most SCOs that are going to fail, fail while attempting to get their power generation up. A less-than-ept user (one might say, inept,) might decide to erect an inappropriate power generation system to the environment, or might direct the construction units to build less conservatively, believing the environment to be more benign than it is. With transhumans to provide expertise and, if necessary, labor, however, an SCY can set up power generation in places that the AI will give a failing grade to. Once power generation is set-up and reliable, though, half the battle is won. The other half is resources.
Your average Terrestrial world is not made of abundant heavy metals simply lying around on the surface - and if it is, the environmental conditions probably exceed the parameters the SCO was designed for. While you can build superstructure out of very lightweight-but-strong materials feeding off your feedstock and use any old local material to feed the recycler enough to build walls and windows and the like (or just use three times as much as whatever to make walls you can be pretty sure won’t just fall down,) you’re going to need to start building resource extraction faculties.
And other heavy construction equipment.
There are simple economies of scale at work when building an outpost. Robots and robotic armatures can certainly cover an SCYs hull in solar panels and build a solar farm in an adjacent or nearby adjacent area, but when you need to build a building down the road - particularly if there isn’t a road yet - you’re going to have an awfully slow time of things if you have the small, multipurpose robots that built the solar farm carry the materials overland. Fortunately, the SCY is equipped to build a number of heavier earthmovers, from graders and levelers to pressers, pavers, and more. Most of these essentially take the form of robotic, automated forms of heavy earthmoving equipment that was already extant in early 21st century, and which are still used in one form or another today on terrestrial worlds. Roads and wheeled vehicles remain the simplest way to establish a transit infrastructure faster than automated rovers rolling over natural terrain, and can often take the form of simply packing the local material into a hardened path, though paving vehicles using onboard recycling and nanofabrication systems to scoop up the local materials and convert it into a much harder and denser form is usually on the short agenda, as wheeled and tracked vehicles move much more quickly over concrete or some analogue of concrete than they do over even a packed regolith road, after all. And they don’t form ruts in concrete, at least not on any short timescale.
But that only covers the basic infrastructure - laying down roads and conduits is all well and good, but that alone does not a colony make. That’s where the OCT and RCT come in, depending on the distance from the SCY. An Outpost Construction Truck is basically an enormous flat-bed, multi-wheeled (eight or more wheels, depending on the local gravity) articulated lorry, with a crane and robot storage where a cabin would be. (Though it is possible to order a version which moves the crane behind the cabin and omits the robot storage, for transhuman-supervised-and-assisted construction.) The OCT is intended to convey a module which can be deployed at a prepared location (even if the robots it carries have to dismount and prepare the location while it waits,) be dropped off once the site is ready, and depart, leaving the robots and the payload to deploy a dome and construct the building or infrastructure it deployed. For very large constructions, multiple OCTs or multiple trips with multiple payloads may be required.
The OCT is intended for use in the SCY’s near environs, which can be anything from next door to down the road a few days’ travel. For anything further - things that must be built, but which are so far away that you shouldn’t count on getting the truck back any time soon, an RCT is usually deployed instead.
The RCT is a lot like the original SCV - a large truck designed to travel to a remote location, inflate a dome around itself and cannibalize itself to construct an installation. It takes a lot of resources to build an RCT, far more than to build an OCT once and use it to build forever afterwards, at least until it is no longer needed or some mishap results in it being broken. But the OCT has advantages in that it’s typically much larger and, like the original SCV, can build and unfold into an industrial unit with its own nanofabrication facilities. These are typically used to create remote locations to extract resources or harness conditions not available at the location the SCY is set up at, which is typically within eyesight of the Pandora Gate. Often this takes the form of a robotic mine-head for resource extraction, though sometimes it means tapping natural energy resources which are too remote to be part of the initial colony set-up but which are too rich to ignore, such as setting up a wind farm in a high craggy area, a geothermal site of rich potential but which requires significantly more effort to tap than capping a local geyser, or a brightly sunlit plane leeward of a mountain which is perfect for a super-sized solar farm sufficient to power industrial processes for quite some time. Once an SCY is deploying OCTs, the outpost is probably stable, though many either never get that far, or never determine a need to deploy a remote facility.
Add it all up, and what does it sum up to? An outpost. Once power generation has gone beyond immediate urgency and the resources to create structures have been located and exploited, you have an outpost. Typically, this involves at least one dormitory structure capable of housing twelve transhumans in humanoid biomorphs in rooms with two bunks each (though alternate configurations are easily available,) a field laboratory, a biomedical structure with two healing vats, ego bridges, and other medical necessities, power generation sufficient to the task of supplying everything required and surplus to charge batteries, and everything a group of transhumans needs to live. Depending on the local conditions, the whims of those directing the SCO’s construction and the availability of resources, these structures can take the form of earth-sheltered structures with ramp and ladder access, trailer-like prefabricated units erected on stilts, contiguous, large building, or more, though the AIs responsible for suggesting construction options will as always be very conservative. If left to its own devices, or if rubber-stamped, the AI will build earth-sheltered structures (or structures tunneled into rock, if on rock,) unless flooding is a concern, in which case it will use stilts. All the structures it builds will be properly envirosealed buildings with airlocks, they will be made out of smart matter if at all possible, and will always be equipped with nanohives equipped to repair the structures and repel hostile nanoscale incursions. The hulls will be at least half again as thick as it calculates a requirement for, the windows transparent alumina or diamond and small, if extant at all (the AI will tend to prefer exterior flat-coat cameras with interior displays where it calculates a requirement for exterior visibility at all,) and the interiors somewhat cramped. The user can, of course, alter some or all of these parameters - telling the AI to build the dormitory structures for one person per room, to expand the floor-space to give more room, to use larger windows or use materials less sturdy than the AI called for (such as some form of silica glass,) etcetera. While the AI will give appraisals of the risk factors involved in altering its plans, it will not be all doom and gloom about everything - so that when it does give a gloomy risk appraisal about an alteration (such as using silica glass in lieu of diamond or transparant alumina windows,) it is heeded.
When an outpost is built to the point it no longer requires (or can replace) the SCV’s original nuclear batteries, the SCY can reconstruct the SCV in full and continue on. Some outposts are left like this - supervised only to the point that the AI can handle setting up a way-station outpost for future gate travellers, then the SCV is reconstructed and the gatecrashing group moves on. If this happens, or if the outpost is abandoned after some time of use, then the overseeing AIs will put the outpost into a dormant mode, for the least energy used. The environments in the pressurized buildings will be vacated, and the buildings themselves filled with inert gasses such as argon, while the human-tolerable atmosphere within is instead held in tanks. Feedstuck surplusses sufficient to continue construction at a later date will be accumulated, and then the resourcing operations will go into a similar energy-saving mode, filled with argon. The lights will be kept on, and if the gate opens again, the outpost will start up again, preparing to re-fill its buildings for transhuman habitation.
What does one do with an SCO? It’s not something one simply fires-and-forgets, usually, though some gatehopping groups will set an SCV on auto and then crash the gate again, intending to return in a few months to find a base-camp already settled. It even sometimes works.
Ideally, one sets up an SCO where they intend to build a colony, or at least a permanent research outpost. It’s sheer overkill for a temporary camp of any sort. A fully-constructed SCO has permanent living arrangements for at least a dozen transhumans and the ability to rapidly construct many more. It has motor pools, factories, resource extraction operations, and either has, or is readily capable of, bootstrapping to a full industrial base. This doesn’t happen overnight, though. With full availability of energy production and resources, it takes about a month to set up the outpost to the point that it is self-sufficiently maintaining living quarters, life-maintaining infrastructure, entertainment faculties, a motor pool, facilities for the maintenance and repair (or construction,) of synthmorphs, medical facilities, etcetera. These facilities and their build order can be reprioritized with transhuman oversight (a group all wearing synthmorphs probably places a very low priority on biomorph life support and living quarters, but wants to get that machine shop up ASAP,) but in theory, any Seed-Constructed Outpost in a good location should be capable of sustaining transhuman life indefinitely, and growing their endeavors. Building an outpost from an SCO, some would note derisively, is significantly slower than building one by sending resources through the gate from Sol - this is true, but it missed the point. If you have an SCV and a blue box, you can go anywhere connected to the gate network and of a suitable environment, and build. A Gatehopping group can easily use these to leave behind settlements that they or future gatehoppers can use to take rest, a collective of autonomists could depart the system with a small convoy of vehicles and set up a sprawling habitat, and even the Ultimates appreciate its self-sufficient nature, though they turn up their noses at the altruistic intentions behind its concept.
The SCV comes pre-loaded with, as previously mentioned, a massive SolArchive database, and open-source blueprints for just about everything one can imagine. The one thing is most definitely does not contain the blueprints for is a blue box, and the Solarchives it brings with it are likewise devoid of information pertaining to the Pandora Gates. While there’s nothing stopping gatecrashers who take an SCV along from installing those, it’s a really bad idea, for the same reasons first-in teams are prohibited from taking a blue box. They were equipped with, after much hand-wringing, blueprints for weapon systems, both small arms and heavy emplacements, as well as armored vehicles and combat synthmorphs. Ideally, these would not be necessary, but with the proliferation of exhumans, TITANs, unknown potential aliens, and the simple possibility of some hypercorporate or extropian strike group looking to lay an exclusive claim to a world where an SCO has already been established and inhabited, it was decided to equip it with a suitable library, as there would really be no stopping anyone of ill intent from simply uploading their own blueprints, and cracking any pre-programmed limitations.
Thus, it is possible to use an SCV to set up a walled military encampment, though no military AIs or programs have been provided - setting up automated defenses, at least, will require intent and expertise. Still, the notion behind it usually works - to set up an outpost which can be used by all in need, whether gatehoppers or gatecrashers finding themselves on a world already settled, expecting to find uncharted terrain and walking in to find the locals have already cooked them a hot meal.
Only if everything goes just right!
Let’s say everything goes right: You get a planet with ready access to energy, either close to the local star, with abundant hydrocarbon lakes to tap, or whatever. You have ready access to suitable building materials and may even have cheated by bringing along a fusion generator on a truck and/or a flatbed full of extra feedstock.
Assuming ready availability of exploitable energy and materials, and that the default AI is left to conservatively manage the engineering projects in question according to default parameters, and that you have ten transhuman gatecrashers in relatively normal biomorphs (anything from flats to furies,) this is an ideal timeline to go from the SCV engaging its parking brake for the last time until you can officially call your outpost founded.
This timeline assumes that a group of at least ten transhuman gatecrashers in biomorphs are on-hand to provide labor. Even transhumans unskilled in the required arts of civic planning and engineering design are still able to follow instructions and give oversight with the appropriate libraries at their disposal. Without transhuman oversight, without adequate power, without adequate input materials, without everything going right, this timeline is going to be shot to hell and you could be looking at twice these times or more.
This is, in other words, a “Quick, Murphy isn’t looking!” timetable. When Murphy looks back, however, these timescales rapidly tend to revise upwards. But assuming nothing catastrophic happens, the AI and a good team of gatecrashers should be able to put the outpost up one way or another.
Without heavy earthmoving equipment already on-site, there’s little a group of gatecrashers can do to speed the process of the SCV’s conversion into the SCY. They have little to do for about two days except stand by and watch as the SCV’s smart material chassis forms into rudimentary grades and levels to clear a site, then inflates a dome. This time would be well-spent either conducting whatever sort of surveys they came equipped to conduct (such as deploying a satnet-in-a-can and mapping rocket, conducting some scientific surveys of the planet, or else playing with the gate and probing new addresses.) When the dome is erected, however, the simple labor they are capable of providing will be able to speed construction by about two days. (Assuming eight hour work-days. If ten synthmorphs were to work around the clock, they could shave another day off this, but not more than that. A lot of this time is simply waiting for the SCV to nano-cannibalize itself into construction materials.)
At the end of this time, an SCY the size of a rather impressively large garage will have been constructed. It will largely resemble three quonset huts attached side-by-side, with the middle much larger than the other two.
With the aid of robotic labor constructed from feedstock by the SCY, solar power sufficient to take up the load of full industrial operations can be installed a half-day before the SCY’s vast banks of batteries deplete and need to be recharged by the nuclear batteries. These solar panels have been applied first to the roof of the SCY, and then built in an external field nearby. The conservative option is the tried-and-true field of solar panels, but if transhuman operators decide the local conditions can take it, advanced tree-type solar panels that maximize surface area exposed to sunlight can be deployed.
At this stage, the gatecrashers are living out of their GEV, mobile base, and/or in the SCY’s admin section.
Assuming power was established without complications, the next week will be a balancing act of using the remaining resources to build more resource-gathering robots to gather more resources to build more robots. Assuming this went well, by the end of the week, the SCY should be operating a fleet of multi-purpose robots capable of constructing in the immediate vicinity and harvesting the resources which are immediately available. By this point, most of the non-exotic feedstock brought on the SCY should be exhausted, unless the gatecrashing group came with extra on another truck or two. Fortunately, the robots should be shoveling matter into the recyclers as fast as they can disassemble it into new feedstock, and so by the end of seven days, adequate resources will be available to begin expanding.
The hopeful timeline includes the construction and deployment of one RCT, which is expected to travel elsewhere to build a resource center.
With the construction of the first Outpost Construction Truck, construction can begin in earnest. The truck will roll out of the SCY with a payload module on its bed. Assuming that the AI has been given the go-ahead to build earth-sheltered structures, the robots will have been spending the last two days excavating sites to constructed within; these shallow pits are usually about as deep as an average splicer is tall. The OCT will crane the structure payload into the pits, and offload construction robots. in the pit, an inflatable dome will be expanded to shelter the construction area from the elements, and an installation will begin construction.
By this milestone, there will be the clear lay-out of the colony-to-come, consisting of packed roads of local dirt, regolith, or what-have-you. These roads will connect the nascent construction sites and the SCY.
More than merely a space to lay one’s head when tired, these dormitories are put together for the long-term occupation of transhumans, though if the AI is left to its own devices they will tend to be rather cramped. Each dorm room sleeps two, usually in bunk beds or a single, larger bed (if requested,) and contains two closets and footlockers for personal equipment, a table with two chairs, and is fully equipped with modern mesh amenities. They are typically arranged around a common area, which contains Makers for provisions, a few Desktop CMs, a table, and an extensive library of ways for gatecrashers to amuse themselves. Other amenities include a shower, which if water is available will hopefully be a water shower, otherwise it may simply involve standing in a swarm of cleaner nanites for a while. Underneath the floor, of course, will be the power and information infrastructure, while the tankage (if available) will be above, even if the the local conditions do not call for or require water as radiation shielding. Above this reinforced dome structure will be a mound of local materials, usually with a shallow ramp leading back up to surface level.
Another OCT has likely been built by this time, or possibly another RCT.
By now, the nascent outpost no longer has to rely upon the healing vats in the GEV/Crasher Truck they brought, assuming they brought one. (If they didn’t, they might have wanted to prioritize this ahead of the garage.) Erected with two healing vats, ego bridges, auto-medic units and bots, and a nanosurgery suite, this clinic-sized biomedical facility offers most of the faculty you could ask for from any outpost’s medical suite. It’s still a far cry from being a proper body bank or clone lab, but as long as you arrive with your brain intact and alive, it can put you back together. Any worse damage than that, and you’re probably getting sleeved in a synthmorph for a while.
Not only a space to store robots and vehicles, the garage is a full-service machine shop for all your mechanical engineering needs. It features ego bridges for handling synthmorphs, nanofabrication units the equal of those in the SCY, able to construct anything from small robots and synthmorphs up to large vehicles, and produce large, bulky pieces to be used to construct even larger structures on-site. Once the first garage is online and its feedstock being supplied, the industrial capacity of an outpost slightly more than doubles, as the garage does not have to incorporate the admin/life-support wing of the SCY, and is a somewhat larger facility.
While a mobile lab can literally fit in your pocket and provides a level of information that most who know how to use it will find to be expediently useful in the field, early 21st-century laboratory experiments were capable of achieving more exacting results. Quite simply, the mobile lab tells you something is unusual; you need a proper laboratory to do any real Science to that something. It should surprise exactly no-one to learn that the Argonauts packed the Seed-Constructed Outpost with all the open-source scientific knowledge and information at their disposal; not merely libraries, but also in the form of blueprints for laboratory equipment and procedures.
The field lab is highly reconfigurable. In its default state, it essentially consists of a versatile chemistry lab, complete with beakers, bunsen burners, analysis equipment and all the rest - even Argonauts fall victim to the memetics of their profession, after all. The default state is not terribly useful, but a skilled scientist can still use it to run chemical experiments - or a layman can use it to get his feet wet with some educational programmes that he’d have a fairly hard time doing more damage to himself with than the biomedical facility can repair. Alternative defaults include an astronomy lab and an atmospheric/seismographics laboratory.
Where the field lab shines, though, is in its reconfigurability. Selecting from one of a number of pre-sets, it can be reconfigured robotically in under a day to perform more detailed, exacting scientific experiments in virtually any field imaginable, and a true Argonaut in command of the field lab can reconfigure it to perform experiments that nobody has procedures for because nobody’s done them before now.
The completion of construction of the first community center is usually the signal that says “this outpost is in a good spot and can stand the test of time.” The community center is an open-plan structure, either an earth-sheltered dome, a building on the surface, a structure erected on stilts, or what-have-you, that has no designated purpose. Some community centers are designated as meeting halls, with a large table and chairs for everyone furnished, along with makers to provide for group meals. Some are designated as leisure centers, with exercise machines, memory foam blob-chairs, display screens, simulspace entertainment pastimes, makers for snacks, and more. Some take the form of designated gymnasiums, with a sporting arena (basketball is popular in higher gravities, kickboxing is popular in lower ones,) exercise machines all around, showers, and the like. The uses that Scum and Anarchists put them up to are best left as an imagination exercise to the imaginer.
The SCO does not do well underwater, full stop. The best it can manage is shallow coastal waters, and even then it tends to build above the high tide line, sinking struts down into the water. In short, it could handle the Caribbean or Phillipines of Earth, or a similar exosolar environment, but the far more likely environment of full-ocean worlds, or near-full ocean worlds, will likely stymie it, even if they have an Earthlike environment and climate. Europa or Ceres is just not in the cards.
The SCO is perfectly capable of erecting structures suitable for a trace atmosphere, but unless the local environment happens to incorporate sufficient quantities of water ice trapped and prevented from sublimating somehow, you’re going to be relying on tanked air and water you brought in yourself, and if you didn’t bring enough, there’s nothing the SCO can do to generate air from nothing. This may not be a problem, however, if everyone is wearing a synthmorph or a biomorph which is fully tolerant of vacuum! Those who adopt the vacuum-tolerant lifestyle will argue that one can live a full and rich life without an atmosphere, especially if sleeved in a synthmorph which does not require any regular replenishment of chemical reservoirs alternative to those of normal human-derived life-cycles.
At the very least, however, most outposts constructed on non-atmospheric worlds and without sufficient provided atmosphere to maintain a livable atmosphere in their constructions are usually built in such a way that those who come upon them in their own vacsuits can replenish their reservoirs from a cache of supplies (that hopefully will not be emptied entirely when you find it,) and get some med-modules attached to their suits if need be; and of course, can nanofabricate vehicles or equipment if they need it. A GEV, crasher truck, or even a go-cycle will go a long way towards improving a lost gatehopper’s chances, even if it needs to fill up on atmosphere at another stop.
Establishing an outpost in microgravity has its own challenges, and its own benefits. It shares the challenges of a non-atmospheric environment, and if you didn’t emerge on an icy comet or asteroid, you’re not getting any atmosphere. The maximum amount of resources it can use is the size of the body the Pandora Gate is locate on: if it’s small, there’s not going to be much it can do. If it’s huge, though, the SCO is capable of tunneling in a beehive habitat. Reaction mass will likely be an issue, however, unless hydrogen is present in sufficient quantities to form into metallic hydrogen, so even if the body it emerges upon is in the vicinity of other bodies, harvesting them for resources may not be within the capabilities of the SCO.
The SCV is likely capable of operating in any gravity anyone who can ride in it is capable of operating in. However, it’s not going to have an easy time of it; assume that it can operate normally up to 2g, but add 20% to the time it needs to build anything per 0.2g above 1.2, as it is must build very sturdily. At anything above 2g, it will not be able to erect inflatable domes to provide a stable nanofabrication environment - this includes the dome required to construct the SCY from the SCV. It's not impossible to operate above 2g, but it's definitely pushing beyond the programmed parameters.
Whether aquatic, as on Europa, or atmospheric as like Venus, the SCO cannot be easily (if at all) deployed in environments of significant ambient pressure. It operates ideally in pressures of one atmosphere or less, preferably less, though it can operate relatively normally up to 3 atmospheres. Anything over 1.5 atmospheres, however, will greatly slow construction that relies on inflating domes to create stable nanofabrication environments, especially if the gravity approaches anything like 1g. At anything above 3 atmospheres, instead of inflating domes, rigid fabrication areas will have to be constructed, slowing the work down considerably - expect most operations to take twice as long.
Anything above 3 atmospheres, and you’re operating outside of the conditions the Argonauts designed the SCO for. They won’t guarantee that it won’t work, especially if someone clever and well-educated is running the system, but they won’t guarantee that it will work, either, not even if you have a fork of the entirety of the Argonauts engineering department running the show. Realistically, if the environment would be risky or dangerous to step out of your GEV in, don’t expect the SCO to work, and do expect an impressive implosion if you try to make it set up.
While you can build an SCV - or more likely, have it modify itself - with the Extreme Pressure Adaptation trait, this doesn’t mean that the SCY it’s intended to unfold into, or any of the designs it’s intended to produce, will have. Though this can be modified in on-the-fly, as it were, the engineering AI will be extremely conservative in doing so - you’re more likely to get bunkers than buildings, and you can forget keeping to the optimistic timetable. It will not even be able to construct the SCY in pressures above 5 atmospheres without unfolding part-way, constructing pressure-tolerant robots, and harvesting much more material.
As with most modern technology, an SCV is more than capable of laughing in the face of arctic blasts that regularly imperiled the lives of human scientists and their equipment as late as the mid-21st century. Extreme cold is not an issue, as the SCV’s internal workings (especially its nuclear batteries) produce and circulate enough heat to keep the vehicle operating well above the temperature at which its smart material construction would begin to lock up. In short, you could drive an SCV onto the surface of Corse or Nótt and set up shop. Additional environmental measures will need to be taken in the construction of additional buildings, largely in the form of additional insulation and heating, but these are well within the capabilities of the SCV to handle.
Extremes of heat, on the other hand, are another matter entirely. Nanites are individually very, very minute - but they have an incredible surface-area to mass ratio. They tend to vaporize in instants if exposed to extreme heat. As a famous science-fiction author once put it, if you dump a pile of nanites on your kitchen counter, you can smack it with a hammer all day without doing more than negligible damage to the nanobots, but ruin your counter. If you take a hot pizza stone out of your oven and lay it atop the pile, you’ll sterilize it and only scorch your countertop. Consider the implications, then, of attempting to use smart materials - which are essentially materials with nanohives embedded within them - on a planetary body subject to extremes of heat.
In practical terms, an SCV (And GEV/Crasher Truck/Go-Cycle,) can withstand temperatures of up to about 200 degrees centigrade and keep working. You could push it up to 250 C, if you were desperate, but that definitely exceeds normal operating parameters. It is possible, as with all vehicles, to get an SCV built with the extreme heat modification to handle temperatures of up to 500 C, but deploying it anywhere such temperature protection is called for is, generally speaking, a bad idea. In short, you could deploy on one Mercury, but you’ll have to borrow it into the ground or else go to extreme measures to withstand the day-time sun. Venus is right out without extensive modifications, to the SCV, the SCY you intend to construct with it, the robots it uses, and all the buildings you intend to put up.
Building your ideal exosolar base.
So, you’ve explored the gate network, found an out-of-the-way planet with abundant minerals, no native wildlife to complicate matters (such complications are beyond the scope of this document, and likely up to the GM’s sadistic imagination,) a nice low gravity and thin atmosphere to make construction easy. You’ve followed the default construction program for a month and have a nice little base with power generation exceeding your usage, have a Seed Construction Yard, a nice dormitory, medical facility, machine shop, laboratory, and gymnasium of your own.
Now what? Well, that’s up to you. You can have your SCY build a new SCV, return your nuclear batteries to you, and head off back into the gate network, but perhaps you’d rather stay a while and build a nice home.
Largely, this is a matter between you and your GM, depending on how much base-building you want to do. If your GM has let you get this far, he probably has at least the outline of an adventure involving your nascent colony set up, whether it’s your Gate suddenly sprouting a couple of exhuman Juggernauts or a band of Ultimates who like everything about your colony except you.
Some baselines, however, can be useful. For instance, one can safely assume that relatively light, habitable structures, similar to the buildings described above in the example timeline, can be erected in four days, fully autonomously. (Transhuman oversight/labor can reduce this time, by as much as half, as the AIs will always be conservative in their operations.) Adverse conditions up to the maximum of what an SCO can be modified to withstand (think the surface of Mercury or Venus,) can greatly expand this time, easily quadrupling it or more. There’s a damn good reason the only people who live on the surface of venus are desperate indentures. Less-adverse but still adverse conditions can increase the time required by 20% up to double. You can safely assume that any habitable the AI recommends the plans to build will be at least as durable as a GEV; Armor 15, DUR 200. Larger buildings, with higher Durability ratings, take proportionally longer to construct - 1 day per 100 DUR is a good rule of thumb. Constructing a building’s seed takes about a day in the SCY or other industrial facility; the SCY can build one at a time, garages can build 2, even larger industrial centers could theoretically build more simultaneously. An SCT takes twice as long to build an OCT payload, but the SCT counts as two seeds, which is good since a building takes 1 seed per 400 DUR.
An SCO could certainly, for instance, devise a building as large and hardened as a Destroyer, but it would take at least five seeds, and 20 days to construct. Actually building a destroyer, on the other hand, requires a lot of resources and materials that most outposts won’t have easy access to. Save building your own space navy for when you have an industrial infrastructure and several colonies.
That’s probably all you need to know to get started and going nuts. Before you know it, you’re going to be building super-heavy walls with gun turrets and battlements and mortar batteries, exchanging mass driver and seeker barrages with exhumans and Ultimates and desperately trying to make more room for the wounded refugees streaming in from the gate network.
Or maybe you’ll just come across and SCO and take the opportunity to modify your GEV into an infantry fighting vehicle before moving on. Either way, have fun.