To prove that he wasn't lying, Hayden went out of his way to invite a few veteran miners to join them. When they instructed Fang Zhao on how to determine mineral quality, they were able to dig out large ores at will, but the spots they pointed out to Fang Zhao never yielded big pieces.
The miners turned beet red. They wanted to explain themselves, but they didn't know how. They finally knew how Hayden had felt.
Standing to his side, Hayden couldn't help but tell Fang Zhao, "Your luck is... truly terrible."
Even Kevin Lin, who had been observing the process all along, shook his head in resignation. He was angry and amused at the same time. Fang Zhao's luck was so bad that he didn't know what to say.
Now Hayden and the veteran miners didn't dare suggest spots for Fang Zhao any more. After passing on their knowledge, they shut up and stood to one side.
"Really, as long as you remember what we taught you, you'll definitely be able to dig out a bigger piece of ore than Andre on S3," Hayden reassured Fang Zhao.
But Fang Zhao wasn't as devastated as the others thought he was. All he did was study the wall in front of him carefully. He was surrounded by other miners who were digging. The ore they dug out and rock debris kept being shipped out via conveyor belt.
Fang Zhao kept inspecting the wall and replaying the excavation strategies Hayden and the old miners had taught him in his head. He also had a very special feeling.
Mines generated strange energy fields. Ordinary people who spent significant amounts of time in mines typically suffered physically. That was why miners wore protective clothing. After all, they spent most of their days inside the mine.
Many types of excavation machinery didn't function properly in the mines, likely due to these invisible energy fields. This phenomenon occured in 90 percent of mines. There were excavation devices resistant to the energy fields, but they were too expensive. Maintenance was also costly. Places that were ranked on the bottom end of the development order drafted by the global alliance, like Baiji, would never deploy those types of machines. Also, the conscription system provided plenty of manual labor. They didn't need the machines.
Fang Zhao had read a few books about power ores. The discovery of power ores had marked a quantum leap in technological development. It had ushered in the era of immigration to foreign planets and the beginning of space exploration.
Every power ore released an energy field. The strength of the energy field depended on the quality and size of the ore.
Despite wearing protective clothing, Fang Zhao could still feel the invisible energy fields that surrounded him. This was something the others couldn't detect.
A normal person shouldn't have been able to feel the energy field so acutely while wearing protective clothing under regular circumstances. That was what the professional manuals said. But a select few were able to feel instinctively what regular people couldn't, even if they were sealed in a room insulated from all energy fields.
Fang Zhao analyzed his own circumstances. He was a bit different from those "select few" as well. Those folks had a vague sense of the presence of energy fields, but Fang Zhao could feel them clearly—and the more he tuned into them, the more he could distinguish the individual fields and their respective size and strength. The energy fields indicated the size of the power ores and their distance.
Hayden and company watched Fang Zhao pause at a spot, examine the mineral quality, and nod to himself. This minor celebrity seemed a quick learner. The spot he had picked looked like a likely source of large power ores, but given his track record, they decided to shut up until Fang Zhao actually dug out something.
Fang Zhao started chiseling, Hayden and company craned their necks.
As pieces of rock debris dislodged, the wall revealed an edge whose texture stood out.
Hayden and the others cautioned Fang Zhao, worried that he might chisel too hard.
Hayden rushed over to take a closer look. He excitedly declared, "Indeed, it's an ore! Check out its edge. It's definitely not a small rock. It's gotta be a big one!"
"Really? Let me take a look." The veteran miners rushed over as well.
The miners were even more excited than Fang Zhao.
The miners surrounded Fang Zhao and offered up instructions. "It's probably a big piece. Dig it out quickly. Use some finesse and take your time. One bit at a time. It's OK if you take more time, but you have to make sure it's intact. If it's broken up, that will affect its pricing."
Five minutes later, a power ore nearly 20 centimeters long and about as thick as the size of a human wrist was dislodged. It came with useless gangue that obscured the actual ore, but all the excavated ore would be sent to a central location and processed together. The miners didn't have to clean it up.
One of the veteran miners inspected the ore and nodded his head in approval. "Indeed, it's intact."
"Hey, we finally dug out a big one!"
Hayden and company finally breathed a sigh of relief now that this minor celebrity had finally landed a big piece of ore.
"Let me take a look." A curious Kevin Lin picked up the ore and started playing around with it. It was a bit heavy. It took some effort to hold it with one hand. "Not bad, not bad. It's just a bit smaller than the one Andre dug out. Let's press forward. Who knows, maybe we'll dig out a bigger one that will break his record," Kevin Lin said as he returned the rock to Fang Zhao.
"Hurry up and mark it. This will count as part of your service record," Hayden urged.
Every miner marked every ore they excavated with a custom-made spray-paint gun. The number would be automatically scanned when it was stored so a tally could be kept for each miner.
Fang Zhao pulled out a small spray-paint gun from his pocket and branded the rock he had just dislodged. The imprint he left was his army serial number.
Fang Zhao was just about to place the rock on the conveyer belt after marking it when he heard Kevin Lin blurt out, "Wait! What's the hurry? Let's take a picture. This is the first big piece you have dug out so far. Come on, strike a pose. Don't be serious all the time. Smile."
After taking the picture, Kevin Lin instructed Fang Zhao to set the rock aside first. He wanted to accumulate a few more rocks so they could take another photo.
Fang Zhao was a different person after digging out the first rock. He followed up with three large ores, each larger than the other. The fourth piece stood out in particular. It was clearly larger than the one featured on S3.
"That's a shame. If only you had excavated such a big piece on your first try during the live broadcast." Kevin Lin knew that even if Fang Zhao dug out a bigger rock now, it wouldn't make a big splash unless it was a superbig piece.
But if they could shed Fang Zhao's image as the worst miner of the five, another live broadcast was worth a shot.
Seeing that Fang Zhao was on a roll, Kevin Lin and Fang Zhao decided to go live again.
"We'll be fine as long as you keep up your momentum. Hold on. Hayden, can you gather the four pieces that Fang Zhao dug out already? I'll do a close-up."
Fans scrambled to tune in when they saw that S5 had gone live again.
"Fang Zhao's going live again?"
"Did he finally dig out a big ore?"
"That must be the case. Otherwise they wouldn't go live."
The first shot after the live broadcast resumed was the four rocks that Fang Zhao had dug out.
"Wow, those are mighty big pieces!"
"They're bigger than the one Andre dug out."
"So they staged four pieces and said he dug them out, but who knows? Maybe someone else did the work and is letting him take credit."
"The ores are marked."
"Just because they are marked doesn't mean that he dug them out."
As far as the viewers were concerned, ores that weren't dug out live didn't count.
"Look, he's about to dig again."
"Ha—he actually had the gumption to go live. It must be because someone scouted a prime location for him. I wouldn't be surprised if he digs out a giant rock."
Meanwhile, Kevin Lin was manning the camera in the mine. He was quite nervous. Finishing with such a meager pile wouldn't fly on the first day of their mining broadcast. Having seen Fang Zhao dig out four ores in a row, he didn't want to give up just yet.
Hayden and the veteran miners were also watching nervously. Their gazes were glued to Fang Zhao as they gauged the mineral quality of the wall where Fang Zhao was digging.
Fang Zhao paced for a bit and stopped.
The veteran miners frowned. They thought Fang Zhao had picked a spot five meters ahead. Judging from the mineral quality, it was a likely source of big ores, but Fang Zhao checked out the spot and came back.
"The mineral quality there... doesn't look like it will yield big ores."
"It's not too bad. Maybe there will be a few small pieces, definitely not a big piece," one of the miners mumbled.
Kevin Lin hesitated before deciding not to speak. He heard what the veteran miner had said and knew the comment was intended for him, but considering that the miners were a poorer judge of mineral quality than Fang Zhao, he decided to believe Fang Zhao for now. He didn't end the live broadcast or interrupt Fang Zhao.
The miners exchanged glances and let out an imaginary sigh. Forget it. If they won't accept the favor, there is no point in saying any more. They had said what they could. If Fang Zhao came up empty during the live broadcast again, they had an excuse when they briefed their superiors.
It was the sound of striking gold. An experienced miner could tell from the sound alone whether any ore was present.
The miners wore an expression of disbelief.
The camera zoomed in as Fang Zhao dislodged a large rock from the wall.
There was no sign of power ore, not even an inkling. The mineral quality in the spot was different from what the regular miners preferred. When experienced miners came across a similar spot, it was as if they had dodged a landmine. They would mark the location and steer clear of it.
Embarrassment all around again.
Kevin Lin didn't know what to think. Does this kid have bad live TV karma? Lord knows how many viewers are cracking up right now.
He started brainstorming for explanations for his boss, anticipating a likely dressing down from the First Frontline editor-in-chief.
But standing before the camera, Fang Zhao didn't avoid the spot because of the apparently poor mineral quality. Instead, he wiped the opening a few times.
A few small pieces of debris fell off, and Fang Zhao saw a small corner exposed.
Fang Zhao decided to stick with that spot, as he felt the energy field increase in strength. The energy field was the strongest there and the closest, even though the mineral quality seemed suspect.
The veteran miners approached to take a closer look. They thought it was gangue again but didn't speak up. Gangue was useless. If Fang Zhao dug out gangue again during a live broadcast, it would be a bit embarrassing to bring it up.
Fang Zhao picked up his pickaxe and chiseled away again, digging out the small piece and chipping away the clutter around it before examining it up close with a flashlight.
The irregularly shaped rock was about the size of half a pinky finger. It had a bright metallic texture but it looked a bit different from ordinary metal.
"What kind of mineral is this?" Fang Zhao asked.
One of the veteran miners shook his head. "Metallic mineral? But it doesn't look like it." He had never seen this type of mineral before.
"Use the device in your waist pocket to find out. It can analyze mineral quality," Hayden reminded Fang Zhao.
Fang Zhao removed a palm-sized device from his pocket. He opened the lid of the device to reveal a small cavity.
The size of the hole was big enough to contain the small rock that Fang Zhao had dug out, so he didn't chip at it again.
When he saw Fang Zhao press the "test" button, Hayden blurted out, "No, you haven't switched modes yet. The default mode is energy detection, not mineral content analysis."
Before Hayden finished his sentence, he could hear the device beep. This was the sound the device made when it was analyzing the quality of an energy ore. The beeping was accompanied by a bar on the tiny screen on top of the device.
The surrounding crowd went silent as their eyes became fixated on the small display.
The beeping increased in frequency, as did the surrounding heartbeats.
Power ores of the same size were classified into several grades based on the amount of the energy they could supply, in accordance to a classification system devised by the Academy of Science. Most power ores excavated on Baiji in the past had been ranked grade A− or below. Samples collected from various locations had never been rated higher than A−, but now, with Hayden and the veteran miners watching on, the barometer on the screen exceeded the A− mark and kept going.
As the onlookers held their breath, the beeping of the device became even crisper.
As the barometer finally stopped at "A," the beeping halted as well, signaling the end of the test.
The miners working nearby had long dropped their tasks on hand. They were quite familiar with the beeping sound of the mineral analysis device and its rhythm. They could tell from the pace of its beeping what kind of rock the device was examining. The beeping they had just heard was much faster than what they were accustomed to.
What did this mean?
Edmund sat on top of a hill near the mine, frowning and absorbed in deep thought.
Hayden, the "temp," wasn't experienced enough. That was why the base leadership had assigned scouting duties to several experienced veteran miners as well. That was also why everyone had been so confident. A whole team of veteran miners hadall thought the spot would yield big pieces of power ore, so he had believed it too.
But could you blame Fang Zhao for failing to land any big rocks?
Edmund knew that even if that was what he thought, even if he believed that Fang Zhao's luck was the problem, the base leadership would only accuse lowly staffers like Hayden and company of lack of effort, inexperience, incompetence, and poor judgment. It would not be PC to accuse Fang Zhao just yet. Otherwise he would quit or stop his fundraising efforts. The base would be in an even tougher spot.
Edmund sat on a piece of rock and gazed at the sky. I really wanna transfer into a civilian post. I can't stay here any longer.
Apart from that…
His head drooped. Edmund glanced at the document he was writing. Two hours had only yielded 27 words. There was an unspoken rule that officers of his rank had to churn out at least 10,000 words in their applications for a civilian post.
He excelled at leading a platoon and wiping out the enemy, and he was a competent miner, but when it came to paperwork... that was a major headache.
After building the mood for an hour, recalling countless battles big and small and his achievements since arriving on Baiji base, Edmund was about to pour his heart into some 800 or 1,000 words when he heard a strange piercing yell.
It sounded like the painful, frantic yelp of someone under threat after enduring a major shock. "Boss!"
The sudden yelp interrupted Edmund's mood and sent his hand shaking. He accidentally deleted the 27 words he had eked out after two hours of labored brainstorming.
So be it if he had deleted his work. It was only 27 words, and his lost work could be restored, but the mood he had worked so hard to cultivate had been eviscerated by the strange yell.
Edmund sat there, his demeanor resembling a furious beast. His eyes were bloodshot, and every hair on his body perked up.
But even an Edmund in that kind of state didn't scare off an emotional Hayden, who only calmed down slightly when Edmund grabbed him by the collar and lifted him up.
Hayden glanced at the ballistic Edmund, his teeth clattering. "B-b-b-boss?"
Edmund's facial muscles twitched as he struggled to contain his anger. However, he knew Hayden wouldn't have abruptly interrupted him if it wasn't something urgent.
"Something go down with our little celebrity?" That was the only reason Edmund could think of. Celebrities were a major hassle.
"Yes, something went down." Hayden nodded with a blank look before recovering his senses. "No, no. Boss, the minor celebrity dug out a grade A power ore."
Edmund released Hayden from his grip. "Oh, heaven's sake. It's just a…"
Hayden had just landed on his feet and had barely recovered his breath when Edmund grabbed his collar and lifted him up again.
"What. Did. You. Just. Say?" The question came out in bits and pieces, like squeezing a nearly empty tube of toothpaste.
"I said that… that minor celebrity… He dug out a piece of… grade A…"
"Grade A? Are you sure it's grade A?" Edmund's high-pitched voice was shaking toward the end of the question. "Not A−? It's a full-on A?"
"That's what the testing device said," Hayden responded.
Hayden finally landed on his feet again and was desperately catching his breath.
Nearby, Edmund took deep breaths, his nostrils looking like they were spewing fire.
Taking in Edmund's reaction, Hayden could empathize with how his boss was feeling.
The development order of the various foreign planets devised by the global alliance was based on the grade of the energy ores they produced. The higher quality its power ore, the higher a planet's military base was ranked and the more resources it would be allocated.
Baiji had quite a low ranking. At their current pace of development, Baiji might not meet the requirements for mass human migration some 100 years later. Edmund wouldn't gain much from staying on Baiji. That was why he wanted to switch to a civilian gig.
But if Baiji produced grade A power ores, and a significant number of them at that, then Baiji's ranking within the global alliance's development order would take a major leap.
Edmund took a deep breath and charged toward the mine where Fang Zhao was working. There were two things he needed to ascertain immediately: first, that the power ore was definitely grade A, and second, how many similar rocks could be excavated.
As for his transfer application? Tsk, who cared?