The bright β-II star orbits it's larger partner every 10.5 Earth years. While it is distant enough to allow the continued survival of the system's planets1, the tidal forces it exerts wrack Nusakan with every passing. Nusakan is, as a result, tectonically unstable. Quakes are common, and volcanoes speckle the surface of the planet, concentrated most strongly around the planet's equatorial zone. When β-II swings near, the planet groans.
This tidal action and the porous composition of the soil and rock on Nusakan combine to create ground with drainage so excessive that no liquid stands on the surface of the planet. Nusakan is hardly a dry world, however. Humidity is high in the atmosphere, and drizzle and light rain is commonplace. At the poles, vast thin icecaps cover the ground. In the temperate and equatorial zones, however, the water quickly seeps underground into enormous and deep aquifers. Only during the torrential rains brought about by the passing of β-II does enough rain fall to collect for a while in vast, shallow flood planes and flow through the broad ancient dry river ways. Even then, the water is quickly gone again.
The minerals common on Nusakan are strange and rare, when considered at a stellar scale. β-I is classified as an "F0p" star, where the "p" refers to it's classification as chemically "peculiar." Like the star, the planets around it are rich in strontium, chromium, europium and other even rarer and more toxic elements. The water of Nusakan, especially in the concentrated liquid form in the aquifers, is highly acidic and poisonous.
Of course, to sustain human life, you need clean water. The few larger settlements can afford and protect the large purification plants required to make use of water drawn from the underground aquifers. Most settlements, and all independent settlers, make use of atmospheric condensation and evaporation to pull less toxic water from the air and clean it.
Humanity is not alone on Nusakan. Not much lives above ground, but the planet has a rich biosphere, consisting primarily of subterranean fungus, bacteria, and an animal food chain ranging in size from the tiny to the titanic. The xenos are, without exception, inedible to humans and highly toxic. The chemical makeup of the planet, including its highly acidic soil and water, influence the native flora and fauna directly. The mechanisms these creatures have evolved to survive this environment, and to protect themselves from each other, are the subject of intense inquiry and exploitation by a large Terran chemical conglomerate, Aridexion Solutions. Aridexion, or "AS," maintains research facilities on the planet, as well as a well-armed and equipped organization of "harvest teams" who collect specimens.
At most times, the hardest work of these teams is finding native organisms to study. The animal life on Nusakan spends virtually all of its time deep underground. Minor advances in ground-penetrating radar and a sonar-like pulse technology designed to map the aquifers and track animals within it have resulted from their quest to find some means of finding, tracking and capturing or killing specimens.
But the periodic close passes of β-II bring opportunity. Tremors around the world increase. Volcanoes spew fresh lava. The depths churn. Water pools and runs across the surface of the planet. And the creatures of Nusakan rise from the depths to breed and feed. While the mining companies pull up well heads and put their facilities into a defensive, protected state, Aridexion ramps up. The harvest teams are expanded with mercenaries and local security forces. The research facilities switch from long-term studies to emergency "fix and freeze" operations, focused on processing and preserving the huge number of animals and carcasses brought in for their use.
"Mining," per se, takes the form of massive pumps and processing plants that extract metals and other compounds from the slurry brought up from around the edges of the deep aquifers, where metal oxides have condensed. The plants evaporate the water under pressure and heat, pumping steam laden with particulates and toxins into the already poisoned atmosphere. Because the largest and richest aquifers circle the equatorial zone, the majority of these plants pepper that region. The main colonial populace clusters in the more temperate zones, to keep out of the heat, away from the biggest quakes and volcanoes, and out from under more corrosive water vapor clouds created by these massive plants.
Wildcat miners exist too, specializing in specific, lower cost and less dangerous compounds and extraction methods. Both industrial and wildcat mines use a lot of manual labor, because men and environment suites are cheaper than machinery and don't corrode (as fast).
Colonists on Nusakan are numerous, but Nusakan is vast. The surface of the planet is 32% larger than that of Earth. And all of it is dry land. There is a lot of open space in the arid wastes between far flung settlements, even in the more populous temperate zones. This, and the abundant radiation from the system's stars, make solar power the cheapest and most common source of energy. Solar arrays range in size from small personal units to large farms collecting power for factories and towns. In the mountains, where the winds are channeled and constant, wind power comes into play as well.
Humans have colonized Nusakan for generations. But they are not the first race to exploit this planet and its unique resources. Scattered across the planet, especially in the band of rich mineral mining sites around the equator, are the ruined remains of an ancient star-faring civilization. Someone, from somewhere, has been here before. Alien structures exist above ground, or buried under the ever-shifting sands. Above ground, some small clusters exist, but there are no alien "cities," as such. Underground, it's another story.
There are complexes that stretch for miles, both down into the ground and broadly at layers just below the surface. In most cases, these ruins are relatively intact, despite tectonic shifting over a span of time stretching back before Man invented the wheel. Many of these facilities are mining complexes, combining mine faces, living quarters and supporting structures. None have functioning mechanisms to manage atmosphere, temperature or anything else. The deeper one goes, the hotter it gets. In a hurry. And the more damage one is likely to encounter. Collapsed and flooded tunnels are common in the depths.
Many of these complexes have been explored, but many more remain partially discovered, or entirely unfound. These alien outposts have yielded technological treasures, particularly in the material and chemical sciences. Researchers are stationed at many of the sites doing active exploration, trying to learn how the aliens who left these complexes behind built them to last so long, and how they extracted the minerals and chemicals from the soil.
This race, whoever they were, did not go quietly into the dark night of history. Littered across the landscape lie the wrecks of immense vehicles of war. Armored hulks bake in the sun, their weapons and systems decayed beyond function. Like the mines, however, these ruins relics are fonts of technological innovation. Wrecks are picked over as they are revealed. Their remains of their sensitive and advanced components are taken away to research facilities, often off-world, while their armored hulks are salvaged for plating, or turned into shelters whole.
Nusakan is a dangerous, poisonous planet. But its secrets are many and very, very valuable.
1: I took some artistic license here. The actual binary pair at Nusakan are separated by a mere 10 AU, roughly the distance from the Sun to Saturn. Most likely far too close to allow planetary formation around either one.
Images: So far, all images were used without permission of the owner. I've linked to the sites where I found them...click on each image to go there. I'm working on establishing permission to use these images.