“Notice how the ionized particles’ variable charges separate out allowing the operator to select the isotopes to collect effectively separating the grain from the chaff; if you’ll allow me that ancient idiom. Now, if you’ll set your visor’s polarity to one, one, seven…” rambled the auto-instructor drone.
Callista flicked the selector to requested polarity and tried to keep her mouth from going dry. Her pulse was up, she knew, and she tried to focus on her breathing. She was huddled with the other eight students on the jagged veldspar asteroid as the instructor signaled the Covetor-class ORE barge overhead to switch crystals. On one level she understood the training value of this field trip but out here in hard vacuum standing in the middle of a kilometer wide impact crater wearing nothing but the exosuit and a rebreather, she felt exposed and terrified. Outside is where they get you…
“Dalmore!” barked M. Lonizt interrupting the instructor, “is there a problem?” Callista flinched, she’d forgotten they were being monitored from the barge above. Morecy Lonitz, “Mercy” to his friends, was the STIS “Intro to mining 101” as well as her “Intro to astrogeology” instructor. “Your adrenaline just spiked…are we going to have to pull you off again?”
Although she couldn’t hear them she knew the others were snickering at her. Last week she’d passed out when they’d trekked across another asteroid to observe an omber crystal formation. She’d forgotten to play her phobia suppression REM program the night before and she started hyperventilating ten minutes into the walk. She’d played it last night however, and she thought she had things under control but they were probably monitoring her more closely now. She knew they were just looking for an excuse.
Callista opened up her comm, “No sir, I am fine thank you. Please continue.” She tried to keep her voice from quivering and hoped she’d been successful.
“Very well, resuming.” He clicked off and the students turned back to the drill site and the auto-instructor. The squat six legged instructor drone crawled over the small ridge to their side. “As you will see the mining laser polarity and wavelength are set by the mining crystal. Each crystal effectively selecting the ion isotopes desired in that specific run. Now, since we are selecting for Veld embedded in iron silicates, what would be the design parameters for the crystal?”
The students hurried to answer the question…grading was as much a response time test as a correctness test and since they were all competing for one of the limited tier two training posts, every test, every exam was a battle. Callista had anticipated questions of this nature based on the context and the class material so had already brought up the crystal comparison charts. Cross referencing them took virtually no time and thus keyed in her answer within 25 seconds. A green upwards pointing arrow indicated that she’d gotten the answer correct and had been the first one to do so.
“Correct. That configuration is now marketed as Veld-24 but goes by several brand names such as Veld4 Victory, Veldmeld, Veldvision etc.” Now to demonstrate we shall see the same modulated laser but now fitted with the Veld-24 crystal. Go ahead M. Lonitz, you may activate strip number two.”
With a flash the darkness of space was lit by the intense glow of the mining laser emanating from the ship above striking the asteroid. A deep rumble could be felt through her boots. Callista looked through her polarised face plate at the superheated gases being released where the mining laser struck the asteroid. It looked like a barely contained explosion at the base but as the ions tried to escape laterally, the electromagnetic containment fields drew them back up parallel to the beam. As their velocity vectors slowly aligned themselves with the beam she knew that they accelerated back up towards the ship right into the capture and storage units in the belly of the hold. Her vid display filled with statistics on the ions being formed, what percentage were veldspar ore, the energy expended and most importantly yield over time projections. She let the raw data filter in and she relaxed. A nice soothing information bath, yeah, that’s what the doctor ordered. She lost herself in the numbers and let her mind free associate, combining each piece with those from her other classes. Marketing, accounting, processing, metallurgy, politics…each field its own microcosm of knowledge but all interacting in a close web of inputs and outputs. Her breathing returned to normal.
Above, on the barge, Mercy looked at student 231101FG’s vitals seeing them slow curve back into allowable tolerances. Sitting down heavily into his chair, he looked up at the display. You can take the worlder off-world but that doesn’t make her a spacer. He shrugged; well it wasn’t really his problem. Her preliminary test results were top grade and this was without the mnemonic enhancers the rest of the well-off trainees had wetwired. There was no question she was going to ace the first round of knowledge exams. Where she was going to struggle were the piloting classes.
That’s where it would be determined if she was chaff or grain…