Below, you’ll find Chapter Two of the Life of a Miner short story. If you’re interested in reading the chapters as they’re released, please subscribed to my newsletter.
Chapter 2 – Educator
“You’re getting better,” Silver encouraged. “Big Pete is particular about his piles, though. Let the AI help you choose where to drop your loads.”
“But it’s so much slower if I do that,” Priloe retorted. He’d been virtually moving piles of rocks for over three days and he felt his pile was good enough.
“Ahh, but Big Pete has a reason for everything. Not just because he likes to be in charge. Since you feel you’ve mastered piling it up, it’s time to learn how to load the containers,” she said, smiling indulgently.
Priloe recognized the look but was so bored with moving the virtual rocks he was willing to put up with whatever lesson she had in store for him. “Sweet. Am I going to fly the ore sled now?”
“Not yet. We won’t get to that until the last couple of days.”
Silver flicked a new scene onto the holographic screen at the engineering station at the back of the bridge. There were six rectangular shipping containers lined up on the irregular surface of the simulated asteroid. Priloe recognized the grav-sled he’d been practicing with sitting next to them and a big pile of ore that he suspected resembled his last best effort.
“Liam can load six containers in forty-two minutes with zero collateral,” Silver explained. Priloe had learned that collateral damage meant running the grav-sled into something. The AI kept track of every tiny dent, ding and scratch and tallied it at the end of each session. The first day he’d caused more than fourteen thousand credits in collateral. Silver coached him to seek to cut that number by half each time he practiced. On the third day he’d reduced his collateral to under thirty credits and every once in a while, he even made it to zero.
“That sounds hard,” he admitted.
“You’ll need to use the sled to place the pre-sift machine in front of each container, then you load them from the bottom. The pre-sift has an inverted gravity generator and will pull the material from your scoop.”
“I just need to dump the material under the machine?” Priloe asked.
“Yes. I’ll give you a hint though. There’s a trick Liam developed to get his time to where it is. I won’t show it to you until tomorrow,” she said.
Priloe virtually jumped on the ore sled, picked up the pre-sift machine and tried sliding it into place. He overshot and the machine tumbled into the container. He rolled his eyes, watching as the collateral on the session jumped to a hundred fifty credits. Worse, by the time he finally recovered the machine from the container, that tally had exceeded five thousand, not to mention shutting down the session as the equipment became completely unusable.
“I have to reset,” he called over his shoulder to Silver who was playing a game with Milenette.
“Go ahead, dear, it’s harder than it sounds,” she said.
His second go-round wasn’t nearly as bad, although the simulation stopped at ninety minutes. At least he’d only racked up a fifteen hundred credit collateral. For a second try, it didn’t seem bad to him.
“What do you think of my second session?” he asked as the three of them sat at the small mess table in the middle of the ship.
“You’ve a lot of patience for the training, Priloe. Many young men such as yourself, wouldn’t put up with it,” she said as she inspected details on a reading pad. “And that’s not bad at all for a second try. I’d like you to put it aside for the afternoon. We need our exercise and I was thinking we might play podway.”
“Podball in a hallway. It hones our zero-g skills, gives us exercise, and it’s fun. Milenette and I will be on the girls’ team and you’ll be on the boys’,” she said. “The rules are simple. The AI gives us paths we have to stay in. As we get better, the paths cross more often. Your HUD will display your path, but beware every time you touch the end of the hallway it will be a different path.”
“That sounds eeasy,” Priloe said, stretching the sound of the e out.
“Contact with another player costs you points. Touching the end wall gives you points. We play for five minute periods. Ready?”
“Do I get grav-boots like with podball?”
He grimaced. “That sounds hard.”
“It is.” Silver took a breath and shouted, “Go!”
Priloe’s HUD showed a straight path from him to the door of the bridge just as the gravity shifted to zero-g. The entire hallway was bathed in a translucent blue light and he pushed off and cruised to the door, only bouncing between the ceiling and the deck twice along the way. As he turned he saw that the starboard side of the hallway had been removed from his path and that Silver and Milenette had reached the aft end of the hallway.
He pushed off and watched in dismay as he drifted exactly in the direction of the wrong side of the hallway. Worse yet, he was on a collision course with Silver and Milenette. He made his decision quickly, choosing to lose points for contact with the wall instead of contact with another player. He pulled his knees into his chest and sprung outward, clipping the wall at what he believed was just the right moment. His points dropped from ten to nine as he cartwheeled around the girls and it took every bit of wriggling he possessed to zero out his sideways velocity as he contacted the portside bulkhead.
Forty-five minutes later, Silver finally called it quits, restoring normal gravity and allowing the ship to re-enter hard-burn. The three of them sat at the table laughing as they recounted the events of the game.
“That was fun,” he said. “Is that why you like being an educator?”
“If learning isn’t fun, people don’t remember their lessons very well,” she said, smiling. “Now, showers for both of you and then off to bed. We’ve a big day tomorrow, I’m going to show you Liam’s trick and you’re going to see if you can get your load-time under an hour.”
“But I won’t be able to, will I?”
Silver smiled mischievously. “Why do you say that?”
Priloe was a master at reading people and knew he was right. “Because I haven’t stacked the ore correctly, and it won’t work otherwise, will it?”
“I guess you’ll find out.”
“Maybe you could show me how to stack it better,” he said with a sigh.
“You’re unusually perceptive for someone so young,” Silver said.
“It used to be our lives depended on it,” Priloe answered. “You’d be good on the grift, you know.”
“I’m not sure if that’s a compliment.”
“It is. You’re patient. You give hints along the way but it always seems like it’s my idea.”
“Busted,” Silver said. “So now you really know what it means to be an educator.”