Peace and quiet had a way of evading Bob, like scattering minnows in the shallows of a mountain lake. Donut mining was supposed to be peaceful. Serene. Boring, even. Just what Bob needed.
"What was that?" Bob threw down his zapper and twisted around in the confined space of the mining tunnel.
Boom. BOOM. CRASH!
"Ooooh, snap!" Bob sprinted down the solid rock tunnel of the asteroid towards the connection to home base. Coming into the main structure he rounded the first bend at full speed and rebounded off the wall as he headed towards command and control. "Please be small ones, please be small ones," Bob intoned to himself as he dove into his chair and started furiously reconfiguring home base. Talking to himself in stressful situations was a habit Bob had long ago gotten himself into.
"Mining support off. Boost the shields. Entertainment system off. Boost the shields some more. Cleaning support off. Bring up sensors. Alrighty then. What's hitting us?"
Bob scrutinized the sensor display. "...ice? ICE? I ran all the way out here because of some snapping ice?" Bob lay back against his chair and let his heavy breathing start to slow. Ice wasn't so bad. Even at minimal standby energy, the shields could deal with good quantities of ice indefinitely. Ice was just an annoyance, causing a big booming noise when it hit the shields. There was some way to make it so that the noise was absorbed, but Bob had never bothered to sit and take the time to figure out just how to do it. Despite the enormous amount of material out in the asteroid fields, space itself was, quite literally, astronomically bigger. That added up to rarely encountering stray objects in practice.
"Wait a minute, what was the crash, then?" Bob turned back to the sensors. Ice, ice, and more ice. He was in the middle of his own mini hail-storm. The shields continued to make various levels of pings, pops, and booms as ice of various sizes impacted the shields, vaporizing into individuals molecules and dispersing. Something didn't add up. At low levels shields would let through large masses. Metal would diffract them entirely. Rocks would get their outer layers stripped, but they'd make it through. Something got through. Digging into system status, Bob found no indicators of problems.
Which was very, very bad. A large impact that the system couldn't pinpoint meant one of two things. Either something was actively deceiving the sensors that liberally coated the entire exterior surface of the roughly 500 meter diameter asteroid, or the sensor package he bought was seriously flawed. Neither option was good news.
Bob slapped the combat button and headed over to the weapons locker. "Warning: Combat mode initiated," home base broadcasted. Bob's suit automatically snapped closed his helmet as it entered combat mode. From the weapons locker, Bob pulled the only functioning rifle and then headed down to the launch bay. Passing by the storage room Bob suddenly paused. Backtracking a few steps, he pulled a sack of flour from the storage room and balanced it on one shoulder while continuing to carry the rifle in the other hand.
The door of the shuttle pod in the launch bay attached directly to the lower airlock. Bob popped the airlock hatch, jumped in the pod, and launched, the doors hissing shut as he went.
Chunks of ice slapped the pods shields as Bob entered a standard asteroid-mapping orbital route and settled in to watch the pod's focused mining sensor re-map the exterior of the asteroid. A focused mining sensor was orders of magnitudes more powerful and accurate than the cheap perimeter sensors blanketing the asteroid itself. Of course, it was also so big, expensive, and worked on a tightly-focused beam. It may take a few dozen orbits, but eventually the mining sensor would find what impacted the station. Bob just hoped that he wouldn't have to crawl the station compartment by compartment, commando-style, looking for intruders. Despite his affinity for war movies, Bob was no soldier.
Kabloop! The sensors squawked. "Phew," Bob sighed. It was just a melon-sized chuck of rock that had apparently been embedded in some of the ice. The outer ice and a few inches of rock had been vaporized as it passed through the shields, and then impacted in a slight dip right between four perimeter sensors.
Bob's face reddened. "Why that lousy, cheating dough-eater. These sensors aren't even worth a crispy dozen!" Bob took a few deep breaths and then closed his eyes and tried to enjoy the gentle push of reduced inertial forces as the pod zipped around the asteroid, completing the mapping sequence. Bob liked the feeling. It reminded him of riding in a small boat in gentle waves on a lake. His parents had loved that lake.
"Hey! That reminds me!" Bob, said excitedly as he grabbed the sack of flour from the restraining harness in the co-pilot's seat. "Let's see if Kelsey was right!" He opened the dispersal bay chute and dumped the entire contents of the sack in. Then Bob popped the glove box, shoved the gloves aside, and reached for the spices.
"What? Oh no. I never refilled them. Nutmeg, emptyish. Cinnamon, completely empty." And on and on it went. Out of the 18 spices and extracts that were supposed to be stocked, the only one that had any decent amount left was the red pepper flakes. "Pepper flakes? Why did it have to be pepper flakes?" Bob moaned. Every donut he had ever tried to zap from pepper flakes had been an utter disaster. But what choice did he have? Trying new donut zapping combinations was a long-shot at best. Most miners stuck to the tried-and-true recipes. But what if, what IF he could do it? No new donut types had been discovered for over a year. Some were beginning to say that all available types had been discovered. Of the 142 discovered types, only three were still secret. And each secret was worth a fortune.
Bob closed his eyes and dumped the entire bottle of flakes into the chute. "What the heck, it can't be worse than the Devil's Doo." Bob shuddered. Just thinking about the scorched pile of nastiness that had been the result of his first-ever pepper-flake-influenced zap recipe was bad enough. His squad mates had given him no end of grief over it -- it had taken over a day to flush the charred smell from the training squad's dorm base. At least he had learned his lesson. New zap trials get materialized in a hazardous containment unit so they can be scanned and analyzed BEFORE being presented to unsuspecting olfactory senses. It was a simple practice that had saved his sanity and his senses more than once since then.
"I hope Kelsey was right about this," Bob said as he ejected the pepper flakey flour out with a "thwump" towards the incoming ice storm. As the mixture left the dispersal aperture, it started spreading out like crazy powdery buckshot from a shotgun. It raced outwards against the incoming storm spreading in a cloud punctured by incoming ice chunks. Bob waited until it was nearly two kilometers out, and then launched a zap collector missile which closed the gap in about four seconds and then exploded in a dazzling spherical display of blue energy, which expanded several hundred meters in diameter and then collapsed in on itself suddenly.
"Well, lets get that dough cooking." Bob said to himself as he went to pick up the results of the zap experiment.
Donut creation is at the same time one of the simplest and yet one of the most mysteriously complex processes in a donut miner's life.
At first glance, it seems trivially simple. Zap some material to create some dough. Cook the dough to get donuts. Sell the donuts!
When you start digging into the details, the mystery deepens. Zapper cores, the part that initiates the zap bubble reaction, are not a human technology. Despite countless hours of study by armies of interested researchers from across the globe, no one has yet figured out the principles of what causes the zapper cores to work. The behavior of them is well mapped out, though. Commercial zappers, the external apparatus that humans make to control the reaction, come in several sizes and styles, but they all use the same zapper core at the center. A usable zapper causes the core to extend a zapping bubble through some type of material, and then lets the zap bubble collapse, gathering any material in its path and converting it to what most miners simply referred to as "dough" -- a very dense, malleable material that resembles bread dough in many respects.
Unfortunately, you can't just zap any set of material and end up with usable dough. Most combinations of everyday materials result in an unusable lump of solid, super-dense material. To get the right combinations of ingredients, you need to follow the Triple-F Principle: Fundamental, Flavor, and Filler.
Fundamentals are the most important, and hardest to obtain ingredient: A heavy metal. Heavy in the atomic sense. Any metal with an atomic weight greater than or equal to platinum. Miners are searching primarily for fundamentals, as they are much harder to obtain than the other materials.
"Home base" is almost always shortened to "hub" by miners. Everything revolves around home base. Ships know their home base and will auto-pilot there if the crew becomes unresponsive. All the comforts of home, well the portable ones anyway, are at home base. Home base generates breathable air, drinkable water, heat, and electricity. It is a machine shop, a kitchen, a fortress, a bedroom, and a workplace all in one. The AI included in a home base is an invaluable tool, a trusted assistant, and to many miners a close friend. A miner always brings his hub to his rock.
That's where trouble tends to happen as well.
Bob docked to home base and trudged down the hall with a shiny, angular dough-container. "Seems promising," Bob said to no one in particular.
He brought the container up to the donut oven and let the machinery grab it and slide it into the slot that was obviously created to accept it. The container slid in with a soft his and then stopped as it locked in place with a satisfying ker-chunk.
"Okaaay, what've we got?" Bob asked as he looked to see what the oven's success prediction. "Whoah! 17 percent!?!? 17.4 percent!" Bob cheered and did a little dance, and then said "Kelsie's not going to believe this. Hub, store the oven's current readings in a safe place and take a visual shot of the reading display and prep a happy-gram for Kelsie."
Home base did as it was asked, and then prompted Bob "What would you like to say to Kelsie?"
"Hey Kelsie, check out this oven reading! 17.4 percent success prediction on a NON-recipe mix! You'll never guess the flavor I used, either. I'll give you a hint: I'm definitely battle-suiting up for this one." Bob grinned, and then hit send.
Bob hummed as he activated his battlesuit. The highest success prediction he had ever heard of for someone trying to find a new recipe was 3.9 percent. While certainly not a recipe-level number (known recipes had prediction rates of 99.9% or more), he had obviously come very close. Just a matter of time and experimentation! He was onto the first new recipe in ages!
Bob activated his battlesuit - a bit of overkill, but having had to smell a failed pepper-flake creation before, he wanted all the protection he could get, even if it was mostly a symbolic gesture. As the battlesuit sealed and hummed to life, he set the oven to bake one experimental donut on standard settings and switched it on.
The oven exploded.