The Pandora Gate

Posted by: Sagan Harris, argonaut <Info Msg Rep>
The gate on Saturn's moon Pandora was the first to be discovered and the first to be activated and used after extensive study. In terms of activity, it remains the gate most dedicated to extrasolar exploration and research.

Pandora

Pandora is an undistinguished moon of ice and rock. It is small as far as moons go, measuring out to roughly 100 × 80 × 65 km, with an average diameter of about 80 km. Surface gravity is a whopping 0.0034 g, making it an effective microgravity environment.
With the exception of the Gateway settlement, the nearby Pohl Research Labs, and the distant spaceport, stationed 50 kilometers away, it remains largely uninhabited and is off-limits to unauthorized personnel. A watchful defensive network provided by Gorgon Defense Systems monitors all spaceborne approaches and any signs of intrusion on the moon itself.

Gatekeeper

When the Pandora Gate was first discovered by a Titanian-sponsored survey and research team, the Titanian Commonwealth was the first authority to step forward and claim stewardship. Establishing a microcorp to safeguard and study the mysterious find, the Titanians were careful to invite other governments, hypercorps, and autonomists to investigate the artifact. Though some of the solar system powers were wary of leaving the Titanians in control of what could be a dangerous weapon—or worse, some lingering trick of the TITANs—this discovery was made just shortly after the Fall and most of these entities were busy consolidating their power and establishing their positions in the solar system’s new ecosystem. For their part, the Titanian Commonwealth’s Plurality made it clear their stated goal was to study and understand the Pandora Gate on behalf of all of transhumanity.
Once the gate’s secrets were unlocked, true to their word the Titanians shared this knowledge of how to use the gates with the rest of the solar system (enabling the argonauts and others to create open source gate control interfaces). Once gate exploration began and the potential value of the gate as a tool for colonization, resource exploitation, research, and more became apparent, many of the other powers in the solar system placed heavy pressure on the Commonwealth to surrender its sole control. As a gesture of good faith, the microcorp that had been given stewardship of the gate was transformed into Gatekeeper, an independent hypercorp. Though the Titanians still hold a major (but non-controlling) stake, many of the others who participated in researching the gate (or funding the research) are also shareholders. These include the argonauts, several hypercorps (notably ExoTech and Nimbus, among others), a few individual wealthy investors, and the Planetary Consortium itself. Several autonomist research collectives are also nominal shareholders. Though the Consortium and others still balked at the level of Titanian influence, these concerns were mitigated as other gates were discovered.
Gatekeeper’s agenda continues to be exploration and pursuit of new knowledge on behalf of transhumanity. To this end, they offer grant programs, discounts, and other incentives to research groups and other non-governmental and non-hypercorp entities. They work closely with the argonauts to ensure that knowledge gained is shared with the public at large, and in fact a select group of argonauts serve as science advisors to Gatekeeper’s Executive Board. To fund its costs and operations, Gatekeeper also leases gate time to hypercorps and other powers. As part of its commitment to accessibility, Gatekeeper also opens its gate complex to tourism and media interests, making it a popular destination for both physical and virtual fans of gatecrashing. What Gatekeeper is perhaps most known for, however, is its lottery system of offering gatecrashing team slots to the poor and desperate throughout the solar system, paying the egocasting and resleeving costs of winners to bring them to Pandora.

Gatekeeper Economics

For the most part, Gatekeeper adheres to Titanian economics, though it also still keeps one foot in the transitional economy of the inner system. What this means is that, for the most part, Gatekeeper and the Gateway habitat eschew the use of actual currency in day-to-day operations. Like much of the outer system, participation is voluntary and rewarded with @-rep.
Like other Titanian microcorps, however, Gatekeeper also benefits from investments of social money issued by the Plurality itself. Unlike other currencies, social money is purely used as an investment tool for public works. Measured in kroner, these investments come from the social money accounts of individual Titanians and various microcorps, many of which take an active role in various types of transgate operations. In practice, this means that the Titanians still have a rather large effect on Gatekeeper’s direction and activities. The easiest way to get a gate mission pushed through Gatekeeper’s bureaucracy is to get a Titanian investor or microcorp behind the project.
Because Gatekeeper deals with so many hypercorps and other entities entrenched in the transitional economy of the inner system, it works with several banks that specialize in converting credits to either kroner (social money) or reputation network favors. Several of these maintain a presence on the Gateway settlement to simplify cross-economy transactions. For gatecrashers, Gatekeeper’s economic fluidity is the best of both worlds. Gatecrashers are rewarded in kroner (and sometimes @-rep) for their missions, which is perfect for autonomists. Non-autonomists, however, can easily convert this kroner reward to cold hard credits at one of the aforementioned banks.

Gateway

The massive Gateway complex forms two large semi-circles around the Pandora Gate enclosure itself. Despite strict security measures, it retains an open and inviting atmosphere, in stark contrast to similar gate facilities elsewhere. The outer ring of the habitat houses offices, museums, and educational centers open to the public. Many of the entertainment options are geared towards informing the public about the details of gatecrashing missions, the history and function of the Pandora gates, and experiences with various exoplanetary environments and xenolife.
One quarter of the habitat, colloquially known as the Crash Course, features outlets geared exclusively towards gatecrashers and other off-duty gate workers. Gatecrashers rarely have use for money or rep on the other side of the gate and, with the dangers involved, many are looking for enjoyable ways to blow off steam and reap the rewards of their work. Tourists are frowned upon in this quarter, and entoptic advisories do their best to steer them away. The Crash Course is an excellent place to find quality second-hand gear, as many gatecrashers return from missions with equipment they barely used. Similar to Pathfinder City, the ExploreNet social network is gaining traction here, enabling gatecrashers to judge each other based on e-rep scores.
Gateway operates according to Titanian Commonwealth economics. The Titanian kroner is used for the exchange of goods and services between microcorps and some hypercorps, and is sometimes awarded by Gatekeeper, the Plurality, or other microcorps for other efforts on the public’s behalf. Basic living amenities are available to all, and reputation is relied on for most other information, goods, and services needs. Some vendors will make exchanges in credits under the table, to satisfy the needs of visitors from the inner system or Extropia, though Gatekeeper frowns on this practice. The settlement’s small but thriving black market also operates on credits, though various operators also offer conversions at exorbitant exchange rates.
The inner half-circle of the Gateway complex features sections that are off-limits to visitors: massive storage facilities, transportation hubs, quarantine zones, staging areas, and defensive emplacements, all hidden behind layers of secrecy and security. While the surrounding habitat is relatively open and relaxed, behind these walls everything is all business.
Both areas of the habitat also extend below ground, into a large beehive warren of caves in Pandora’s porous subsurface. A train system serves the complex itself and also connects it to the Pohl Research Labs and spaceport.

The Gate Room

Beyond multiple and redundant layers of security, at the very center of the Gateway complex, is the gate room itself. The structure enclosing the Pandora Gate is ten meters tall, twice the height of the impressive gate itself. Two airlocks separate the sealed room from the rest of the structure, while polymer alloy walls that are over a meter thick provide solid protection for anything just shy of a nuclear strike. Aside from the gate itself, nothing in the room remains in a fixed position. Everything is modular and mobile, so that the equipment and infrastructure can be quickly adapted to the specific needs of each mission type. For exploration missions, for example, probes, sensor stations, decontamination rigs, and defensive batteries are rolled in. These can easily be switched out for the supply trains, cargo drones and carriers, and personnel movers necessary for colony
logistics missions.
Unique among the gates of the solar system, Gatekeeper maintains a heavily-shielded and secure observation deck from which tourists and VIPs can directly observe gate mission proceedings. Data from the sensors and probes—and sometimes the gatecrashers themselves—is piped through a feed directly to the viewers here. This deck is only open for select missions and times, and the waiting list for access is quite long. Access to this deck is also granted for various media projects that provide coverage of gate missions and ongoing gatecrashing x-casts and specials.

Gate Ops

Following its initial charter mission, Gatekeeper’s primary focus is on exploration missions, with over a third of its gate operations devoted to sending gatecrashers into the unknown. In fact, a major part of this effort is the compilation of an extrasolar index, cataloging known systems and worlds. To fulfill the personnel needs for these missions, Gatekeeper employs a steady stream of freelance gatecrashers. Periodically, it bolsters these ranks with a new slew of lottery winners, bringing the desperate from across the system to give them a shot at striking it rich—or die trying.
Research and xenoarcheology missions run a close second to exploration ops, as Gatekeeper and their numerous scientific compatriots seek out data that will enable a richer understanding of the universe. Much of this work is directed towards developing new models of star system and planetary formation and evolution of life. Knowledge gained is immediately turned around for practical use on exploration runs, allowing a more nuanced grasp of what planets are most likely to harbor life or be ripe for colonization or resource extraction. These latter missions are rarely handled by Gatekeeper directly, and are instead outsourced to hypercorps, Titanian microcorps, or even interested autonomist syndicates.
Though Gatekeeper does sell off a significant chunk of gate operation time to hypercorp partners, it seeks to make the Pandora Gate a resource for everyone, and so a substantial amount of mission time is rewarded to outer system autonomists as well. This has the additional benefit of keeping Gatekeeper and the Titanian Commonwealth in good standing with their immediate allies and neighbors.

Media

Though Pathfinder and the Martian Gate are gaining ground as a media attraction, Gateway is still the crowd pleaser when it comes to newsfeeds, research specials, x-casts, and reality shows. The sheer number of exploration missions still launched from here plays a major role in this, as media consumers are far more attracted towards new alien vistas and the travails of gatecrashers than more staid colonization and research projects. Gatekeeper broadcasts recorded feeds of many first-link and first-in exploration missions via various outlets. The Gatekeeper media machine does its best to draw romantic comparisons between gatecrashers and the noble explorers from history, or even sometimes to the popular heroes of mainstream media properties. Though the reality of gatecrashing is often quite mundane, Gatekeeper splices this material up with actions cuts from previous missions, commentary, and even dramatized simulations.

Pohl Research Labs

Named for the first scientist to die on a gatecrashing mission (though Pohl continues to gatecrash to this day, and is one of the most experienced gatecrashers on Pandora), these research labs are dedicated to studying a wide range of extrasolar phenomena, from planetary geosciences to astrobiology to exotic physics. Primarily operated by Gatekeeper, the argonauts have their own wing and several cooperative hypercorps and autonomist groups also have dedicated subsections. Scientists from across the solar system vie for opportunities to get a posting to study or do research here. The site’s mesh network holds some of the most impressive archives and data banks on planetary sciences, astronomical evaluations, xenogenetics, and xenoarcheological studies. The highly-secure vaults buried underneath the labs hold the largest collection of xenoarcheological artifacts and relics collected so far.

Sidebar: Lost in Neverwhere

Jokingly referred to by some as Pandora’s own moon, Lost in Neverwhere is a scum barge that has taken up semi-permanent residence in Pandoran orbit. Considered by some to be the true gateway to Gateway, Lost in Neverwhere is an ideal starting point for gatecrashers looking to load up on black market gear or items that are otherwise hard to find on Pandora itself. It is also the premier market for auctioning off goods found in extrasolar systems, some of which were carefully smuggled past Gatekeeper’s own customs and quarantine procedures.
Though a substantial amount of these are in fact counterfeits manufactured by the scum themselves for gullible tourists, trade remains brisk. XP-casts from gatecrashers are also a strong commodity here. For gatecrashers, the barge is also an excellent place to meet with paranoid clients, pick up off-the-record work or dangerous missions, or score some entertainment options that Gateway cannot provide. A regular shuttle service operates between the Lost in Neverwhere and Gateway’s spaceport, though the barge also has excellent egocasting and resleeving facilities and an interesting variety of customized morphs to select from.

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