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At about 01h09m into Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Kirk and McCoy enter a region of the Dilithium mines at Rura Penthe where people are applying some kind of lasers to rock surfaces.

What are those miners supposed to be doing exactly? It doesn't look like they're cutting the rocks.

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    They're cutting the rocks.
    – Valorum
    Jan 28 at 22:17
  • Oh! they're inside the mine. Those lasers are drills. But funfact: klingons, as a matter of honor, do not take prisoners of any species. Even romulans[who they stab or shoot on sight] Being said McCoy and Kirk were likely issued drills
    – Gork Skoal
    Jan 29 at 1:48
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    @GorkSkoal sad fact: Klingons can justify whatever they want including take prisoners. Worf may not accept that but he's naive. And Kirk realizes you're probably better off dead even if you do manage to be taken prisoner. Jan 29 at 2:56
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    Theirs a lot of problems with Undiscovered country as far as klingon Culture goes. and also "quotes.net/mquote/90865" and if I had the energy at the moment I'd look up where that was reinforced in Ds9, outside of Woof. Basically the implication is that both: more trouble than it's worth. And that by the erra Chancelor Gorrkon that "even in this..decadant erra" it's not honerable to do so. Something most klingons would rather die than do.
    – Gork Skoal
    Jan 29 at 8:01
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    @PaulD.Waite: Not fair :-( Obviously they were performing some kind of mining-related activity. The question is what kind of mining activity.
    – einpoklum
    Jan 30 at 14:55

2 Answers 2

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According to the screenplay, they're digging dilithium crystals out of the rock.

113 INSIDE THE MINE

Everyone is issued a DRILL and a LIGHT HELMET. As BEAMS ricochet about, they start digging DILITHIUM crystals out of the rock and putting them on a flatbed shuttle. Kirk and Bones and the Brute do likewise, all under the watchful eye of fur-clad KLINGON GUARDS.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) - screenplay

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The "drill" appears to be attuned to disintegrate the rock, yet leave the valuable dilithium crystals intact.

They shuffled behind the others into the dim mine; the cold increased to brutal intensity, seeming to emanate from frozen rock walls that glittered dully with embedded crystal. Jim waited, shivering, as he was issued a drill and a light helmet by one of the Klingon guards, who then shoved him toward the wall. Jim watched the miner next to him for a few seconds, then imitated him: drill the rock, pull the crystal free, set it on the flatbed shuttle. Nearby, Martia - or the alien who claimed to be Martia - was already hard at work.

"I'll be," McCoy whispered at his elbow, gaping wide-eyed at the gleaming rock. "Do you have any idea what all this dilithium must be worth?" The sudden proximity of a guard encouraged him to get busy. The work was far less brutal than the cold, and it helped warm him. Jim burned his way into the rock with the drill, then tugged at the dilithium until it came free. The trick was to keep the jagged crystal from cutting his numbed hands by letting the drill remove most of the rock beforehand. Beside him, McCoy cursed as he struggled to extract a crystal by hand. Jim reached out to help him and was promptly struck on the back by one of the guards.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country - Official Novelisation

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