The American Mission

The American Mission by Matthew Palmer Read Free Book Online

Book: The American Mission by Matthew Palmer Read Free Book Online
Authors: Matthew Palmer
“And what do you do? You’re quite pretty, so I thought at first that you were the woman of the big man with the rifle. But then I saw you treat with the Chief. I wasn’t supposed to look. Mother said it was dangerous. But I did.”
    â€œI’m an engineer and a geologist. It’s my job to find the valuable rocks from among all the others and make a plan for getting them out of the ground.”
    â€œHow is it that you know how to do that?”
    â€œWell . . . first I went to school for a long time and I studied very hard. Once you learn how to tell the rocks apart, then you have to go out and find them. That part takes practice. It’s not as easy as you might think.”
    â€œAre there many girls who do this?” Sifa asked in something approaching awe.
    â€œNot many, no.” Marie well understood what lay behind the question. In village life, there were few roles for women beyond child rearing and domestic chores. Marie was fortunate in that her father, Chief Tsiolo, was unusually enlightened. She knew, however, that she was equally fortunate to be an only child. If her father had had a son, Marie might not have had the opportunities she had had: school, travel, knowledge of the world outside the village.
    â€œHow do you do it? Find the valuable rocks, I mean,” Sifa asked.
    â€œWould you like me to show you?”
    The girl’s beaming smile was an unmistakable answer.
    Marie retrieved her field bag from Sifa’s house. The porters carried the bulk of the gear, including the survey equipment and heavier scientific instruments. In a small backpack that she carried with her on the trail, Marie kept some of the basic tools of the geologist side of her training, including a rock hammer, a powerful magnifying glass, and a selection of chemicals and reagents she could use to run simple field tests.
    Sifa led her down the path toward the river. The path led through a meadow of wildflowers and sawgrass to a broad, flat peninsula covered with sand and rock. The village had been built on an alluvial flood plain at the foot of a volcanic range. The volcanoes were the reason why the soil the villagers farmed was so rich and why it was mixed with a range of igneous and metamorphic rocks. Marie knelt down and picked up an irregularly shaped gray rock about the size of her fist.
    â€œThis is feldspar,” she told Sifa, handing her the rock. “It almost certainly was made in one of the volcanoes upriver, and over the course of millions of years it washed down the mountain and wound up here.”
    â€œIt’s not very pretty,” Sifa said dubiously.
    â€œIt is . . . in its own way.”
    â€œIs it valuable?”
    â€œI’m afraid not.”
    â€œOh. What about this one? It’s quite pretty.” Sifa bent over and picked up a small pink rock that sparkled in the sun. “What is it?”
    â€œIt’s called quartz. It’s a kind of crystal. The crystal itself is clear. The color comes from some very small amounts of metal trapped inside. Different metals make different colors.”
    One rock at a time, Marie taught Sifa some of the basics of geology. She showed her how to use the rock hammer to break open the small stones and how to read the story of the earth that was written inside them. Sifa was an eager student and a quick study. After a little more than an hour of exploring, the teenager found a treasure.
    It was a dull brown rock about the size and shape of a potato. But something seemed special about it, and Sifa brought it to Marie for inspection with undisguised eagerness. Marie agreed that she had found something interesting.
    â€œWatch this.” From her backpack, Marie pulled out a small stone chisel and set it in the middle of the rock. Then she handed the rock hammer to Sifa.
    â€œHit the end of the chisel.”
    Sifa did as she was told.
    â€œHarder.”
    Sifa hit it again, this time with

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