VOUSKIAHO – Shipyards and factory assembly lines all across Empire space are grinding to a halt as production managers and entrepreneurs find themselves unable or unwilling to acquire the rare minerals required for advanced production, specifically megacyte and zydrine. “Historically, we do this to ourselves over and over again,” quoted “Hal”, a factory manager in The Forge region who did not want his identity published. “Mankind discovers a treasure trove of natural resources, devours it all at once, and then curses his own misfortune when he realizes his cup has run dry and that he should have seen it coming a long time ago.”
“When megacyte started trading at 14,000 isk per unit a couple of weeks ago, I threw in the towel on the ship-building business,” Hal explains. “Lately the price has backed off of those highs, but megacyte and zydrine are still my biggest costs by far, and at these levels there’s no way I can compete with the big corporation’s prices, even if my skills match theirs on the assembly line. The companies who are actually selling ships at low prices while maintaining good margins are the ones who can either operate freely in deep space or were smart enough to stockpile the rare stuff long before it started trading at these levels. I did neither, and I missed out on the blueprint copying bandwagon, so I need to find a new line of work.”
The cause of the shortage is twofold. For one, reports from deep-space miners far beyond Empire borders are indicating that megacyte-yielding ores such as bistot and arkonor are becoming increasingly rare and that mining sites once abundant with the ores have been reduced to pebbles. “You can thank the big corporations and their fleets of strip-mining battleships for that,” grumbled an independent freelancer operating in Venal. “They left the rest of us fighting for scraps. Now we’re venturing so far out to get good rocks to mine there that we’re practically right up against the edge of the frontier. And then there’s the chore of getting it back to a station and then ultimately to the marketplace, all without getting blown to bits by the pirates out here.” Asked if she thought the price of megacyte or zydrine was inflated, she angrily replied “Cry me a river about the price of the rare minerals, it doesn’t come close to compensating me for what I have to go through every day to get the stuff. We’re totally left to fend for ourselves out here, and we get zero help from the same people who complain that there isn’t a big enough supply in Empire space. Whatever. Talk to me when you’re willing to do something about the situation instead of just complaining about it.”
The second cause of the shortage is exactly that: The reluctance of the majority of freelance miners to risk venturing deep into unregulated space, at least not without the full financial backing of a parent corporation. “To make the trip worthwhile and efficient, you have to move some pretty expensive hardware out there,” quoted an anonymous Apocalypse captain operating in the Forge. “That means getting it all through blockades. The advantage always goes to the ambushers, especially when they know where you’re going and why you’re there. Sure I could insure everything, but that’s not exactly cheap either. The reward simply isn’t worth the risk. I don’t care if megacyte starts selling at 20k a unit. Sorry, but I worked too hard for this ship just to lose it to pirates.”
Some deep space miners take bitter exception to that kind of reasoning. In one extreme sample of that resentment, eyewitnesses report that a battleship captain of the “Zoners” corporation intentionally self-destructed his ship in front of bewildered corpmates as “a show of complete and utter disgust and contempt for those miners who refuse to leave empire space because they fear hardship in replacing their own ships.” His Megathron was equipped with 7 Miner II lasers and was not insured. The captain was said to put on this “fantastic display of madness” in the hopes that “this act of insanity and complete disregard for possessions will inspire captains who are afraid of losing everything to explore outside of empire space in the hunt for new sources of megacyte.” While many from this school of thought aren’t willing to go to such lengths to prove their point, they all dismiss ship-loss fears as unfounded since Concord offers insurance programs that will cover the vast majority of losses. They are also quick to point out what in their view is the “foolishness” of committing 100 percent of personal assets towards a single ship, and that as a general rule “you shouldn’t be flying anything that you cannot afford to insure.”
In the end, it may be technology that saves the day and jump-starts production lines for the smaller manufacturing corporations. Rumors are being leaked from anonymous sources within state-sponsored research programs about emerging technologies that will enable miners to work more efficiently both inside and out of Empire space. The most promising of these is the “deep core mining” concept, which will supposedly enable trace extractions of rare minerals from common ores that current mining laser technology cannot recover. Mobile refinery technology is also rumored to be in the advanced stages of development, although analysts predict that the technology will require massive amounts of power that existing starship reactors cannot supply, and will most likely be introduced alongside an entirely new class of ships known as “titans”.
Small and midcap corporations are optimistic that the emerging technologies will create new opportunities for them to compete more effectively in the marketplace. “Hey, expansion and contraction are just naturally occurring cycles in the free market,” said Hal. “Things will turn our way soon…I hope.”