Excerpt from Circle Unbroken (Coming in August)

(From Chapter Four)

“Good morning, Mr. Conner,” she said, smiling.

“Good morning, Sheila,” Philip answered. “We have guests today. This is Laira’s sister, Kaili, and her partner, Jeff MacKenzie. Sheila is one of our geologists. Why don’t you tell them what you are doing, Sheila?”

“I’m very sorry about your grandmother,” Sheila said to Kaili. “She was a wonderful woman to work for. We all liked her a lot.” Kaili smiled at her.

“Thank you,” Kaili replied. “Grandmother was a wonderful person. And I am sure she has taught Laira to be just as good as she was.” Sheila turned back to her computer.

“We use high resolution density scans to find the most concentrated veins of ore,” she explained. “The scanners are mounted on trucks, and moved to the area we want to look at. Right now, I am looking at this area here.” She pointed to a position marked with a red dot on the map of the mine pit displayed on a tablet standing next to her computer. She tapped a few keys, and the computer’s monitor changed to a video feed.  It showed a section of rock wall. “That’s the camera mounted on the truck. Let me get you a better view.” She tapped the communication panel on her desk. “Roy?”

“Here. What can I do for you, Sheila?” came a voice over the speaker.

“We have visitors in the control room. Can you pull the camera back so they can see what you’re doing out there?”

“Sure,” Roy replied. The camera picture shook and tilted for a bit, then stabilized. Now, it showed a truck bed with a machine that looked like a long tube mounted on it. As they watched, the tube slowly turned so that one end was almost touching the rock wall.

“That’s the density scanner,” Sheila said. “He’s moving it into position at the spot I want to look at.” She tapped her keyboard again, and the monitor switched to the scan screen. It went blank for a few seconds, and then displayed a bright blue background with colored blobs in spots. Superimposed on the picture was a grid with numbers. Sheila turned slightly in her chair and rolled it aside a few inches to give them a better view.

“That’s the inside of the rock wall,” the geologist said. “We program the coordinates you see on the grid into the machine, so we know where we are looking. The ores are always denser than the surrounding rocks, so this density scanner lets us see where our best place to excavate is. The blue is the base rock of the pit wall. The red you see here.” She pointed to the spots on the screen. “And here, are copper veins. These look pretty good, so we’ll save that location as a mining spot.” Jeff and Kaili nodded at her explanation.

“Impressive,” Kaili said. “What are the other colors?”

“Other types of rock, sometimes other minerals. Usually not enough to worry about mining. We’re mostly concerned with the copper here.”

“It’s faster, safer, and better with the scanner,” Philip said. “Used to be, we’d go out and blast a small part of the wall, then collect samples to be tested for the ores. Now, we can do it without the blasting, and we only mine where the ore is. And, we can see a much better picture of how much ore there really is. Sometimes, it starts out looking good, but tapers off as you go deeper.” He turned back to the desk. “Thanks, Sheila.”

“You’re welcome,” the woman said. “Nice to meet you both.” Kaili and Jeff thanked her, and turned back to Philip.

“The rest of the stuff here is pretty much just watching the operations, monitoring equipment, and making sure we are up and running at peak efficiency. If you are ready, why don’t we go on down to the pit and see things up close?” Kaili and Jeff nodded, and Philip led them out of the control room and toward the back of the building. Just inside the outer door was a rack of hard hats. Some were white, some yellow, and some orange.  Philip handed each of them one of the orange hard hats.

“Orange for the visitors,” he said. “Everyone has to wear one, or you don’t get to go down into the pit. We take every precaution, and dig as safely as we can, but sometimes stuff gets knocked loose. The orange lets the workmen know you are not part of the crew. There are just a few things you need to know. We use all the latest technology and practice safety first, but it’s still dangerous out there. We are digging into the planet’s surface, and no matter how careful you are, there is always the danger of a slide. So, we ask all visitors not to touch anything, or disturb people who are actively working. If they are not, most of the guys and gals are happy to answer questions, and talk about the mine. We’re all pretty proud of what we do here. I’ll try to explain what’s going on as we go, but feel free to ask if you have questions.” They walked out into the bright sunshine again. Philip led the way to a small, open truck with large, deeply treaded tires. He climbed in the driver’s side, and Kaili got in next to him. Jeff swung up into the rear seat. Philip started the engine, and they drove toward the mine pit.

The truck bounced over the hard-packed, rutted ground. The large tires helped some, but Jeff was glad the ride was a short one. They approached the edge of the mine pit, and Philip stopped the truck next to a sloping access road that led down into the mine itself. The ore transports rumbled past in a steady in and out stream, one going by every few minutes. Philip climbed out of his seat, and Kaili and Jeff followed. He walked over to the edge of the pit and stopped. They were looking down into the mine itself. Jeff whistled.

“Impressive,” Jeff said. “How big is it?” He had to almost shout over the noise of transports and other operations. Philip stood between them and pointed across the open pit.

“We’re about three kilometers wide,” he said over the noise. “And close to one and a half deep. You can see how the layers are excavated on steps. That keeps the incidence of slides down, and helps keep any that do occur from running all the way down. The flat areas are the benches. The access roads run along there, and the actual extraction on the ore is on the walls. See those big metal monsters along that one?”

“I see them,” Kaili responded.

“Those are our laser drills. Before those, you’d go out along the wall, drill holes in a pre-determined pattern, and fill them with explosive charges. The explosion would fracture the rock and then the dozers would come in and load the stuff into the transports. Now, we use the one set of lasers to super heat the natural moisture in the rock until it fractures, and then another set does the actual cutting of the ore out of the wall. With the help of the density scans, it’s much more productive, and less damaging to the surrounding environment. We have about…”

His talk was cut off by the sound of another vehicle racing up the access road. It was identical to the one they rode in, and was bouncing wildly as it sped up to them. The driver slammed the brakes, and the small truck skidded to a halt. A tall, thin man in coveralls and a yellow hard hat jumped out and ran up to them.

“Mr. Conner!” he called. His face was streaked with dirt and several of the knuckles in his hand were bleeding. “There’s been a slide on Bench 1402! We got a couple guys trapped down there!” Philip ran for his truck, with Jeff and Kaili right behind him. They scrambled in, and Philip turned the truck down the access road into the pit.

“Circle Unbroken”, a science fiction novel, will be on pre-sale in e-book and paperback from August 2 through August 17, and will be released on August 18.


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