Below, you’ll find Chapter Three 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 3 – Safety Training
“I think you’re ready for an ore-sled,” Silver announced.
Sterra’s Gift had been decelerating on hard burn for forty hours leaving two days before they would arrive at the Descartes asteroid belt.
“Really?” Priloe asked. He’d been ready for days, but knew better than to show impatience. Silver was implacable in her belief that skills needed to be honed before moving on to something new. She’d even used one of his more impatient moments to teach him the meaning of the word implacable.
“Your speed with the grav-sled isn’t perfect, but when you take your time, you neither waste material nor do you damage the equipment,” she said. “For most, loading ore is like a three-legged stool…”
Priloe laughed. It was an analogy Silver overused and her slight grin gave away that she knew it. The basic idea was that you could only excel at two of the three qualities Big Pete wanted – speed, no-damage or no-waste. According to Silver, Liam was all about speed and no-waste but had become proficient at repairs due to his proclivity at damaging vehicles. Priloe made conscious decisions to go slower, keep his equipment pristine and waste at a minimum.
Silver continued her lecture. “An ore-sled’s main function is to move containers of ore. Initially, this seems an easy task and it is for the most part. Ultimately, however, the same problems as we’ve run into with the grav-sled exist with an ore-sled. If you want to go fast, you’ll likely cause damage. On a claim like we run on Descartes there are a multitude of uses for an ore-sled. For many stans, Liam used his own as personal transportation as much as he did to move material.”
“He owned a sled?” Priloe asked.
She smiled at him. “He did. Liam and his best friend, Nick, resurrected an old sled from the scrap heap and used some of the credits he’d earned to repair it. I should have recognized back then that he was no miner at heart. His ore-sled was faster by twice than just about any other in our mining colony.”
“What’s first?” Priloe rubbed his hands together, itching to get going.
“Safety training. Unlike grav-sleds, ore-sleds operate detached from the mining claim. That means if you mess it up, you could be sailing out into the deep-dark. Do you know what stops a sled that’s run out of power and is sailing out into the deep-dark?”
Priloe recognized that he was playing the straight-man for a joke, but couldn’t see where she was going, so he played along. “No, what?”
“Not a darn thing, Priloe. If you lose power you’ll just keep sailing on forever, or until you run into another asteroid. You know what the biggest danger on a mining claim is?”
“Sailing off into the deep dark?” Priloe guessed.
“No. Running out of O2. Without oxygen you’ve minutes to live. My point is, you’re at a disadvantage not having grown up in a spacer community. From the moment a spacer child is born, safety is drilled into their heads. It is a way of life and you need to come up to speed so that you’ll be safe.”
“You make it sound dangerous,” he said.
“Yes!” She looked at him as if he’d figured out the meaning of life. “Life on a mining colony is more dangerous than living planet-side. But, if you pay attention to common sense safety precautions, your life-expectancy goes up substantially. I’ve queued a series of safety simulations. Once you’ve passed, we’ll get on to flying a sled.”
Priloe sighed. He’d known that flight training had been too much to hope for. There was always something between him and the ore-sled. He slumped in his chair and opened the first section titled “Mining Safety Training for Beginners.”
“So, what did you think of safety training?” Silver asked. They’d made a habit of eating their final meal of the day together in the narrow mess.
Priloe had spent the entire day working on safety training. It hadn’t all been bad. The simulator was mostly role-playing in an immersive environment. Each section of the training began with Priloe placed in a new environment – sometimes on a space station, sometimes in a ship, and other times deep in a mine. The trick to survival always seemed to be the same. Make sure you had O2 first, communication next and if you didn’t have one of those, finding what you were missing became the task at hand.
“I didn’t know there were so many ways to die.” Priloe felt depressed. He’d died in the simulations more often than he could count.
“I’ll tell you a secret,” Silver said. “That’s the lesson. Everyone who takes safety training dies. The AI sees to it. Whoever designed it wanted us to know that humans are fragile and space is inhospitable.”
“I almost miss Nannandry. At least there, I just needed to stay away from the things that wanted to eat me,” Priloe said, staring at the mealbar he had little interest in.
“I’m glad you’re taking this to heart, Priloe. I’d hate to lose you. There are two big differences between those simulations and real life, though,” Silver said. “Care to guess what they are?”
Priloe shook his head, still depressed.
“First, your friends and family always have your back, just like you have theirs. If you see someone doing something unsafe, speak up.”
Priloe nodded, it seemed a reasonable point.
Silver continued, “Second, your AI looks for dangerous situations. The simulations aren’t realistic in that all the issues you ran into today would have been predicted by your AI and many could have been avoided. Those that were unavoidable would have been diagnosed and solutions presented.”
“That’s something, at least.” Her words made him feel some better and he helped Milenette up into his arms, taking just as much comfort from his little sister’s warmth.
“Yes. Now get some sleep, because tomorrow you fly.”