Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

The metallic grey blob shot across the cavern and landed with a wet ‘splat’ in the circular tub of turquoise gel. The conical lid had an aperture the exact size to admit the blob, and a length of cone precisely calculated to prevent any gel splashing out.

“What the hell is that?” Walt pointed at the assembly through the glass.

“That is the first 9-Cronin Adsee in the Kuiper Belt, Mister Thrumyn.”

Walt turned to face the willow-thin, native born woman who had spoken: “In plain terms, Miss-” he paused to pointedly read her name tag, “Hayvers. Preferably non-technical English.”

She smiled: “It is the most advanced Autonomous Digital Synthesis Engine – ADSE – ‘Adsee’ – outside of the laboratories of Mars. A ‘Cronin’ is an abstract unit of capability and performance, allowing the many different styles and types of chemputer – chemical synthesis computers – to be compared easily.”

“Thank you. Now why is it occupying an entire Class-One processing cavern in my headquarters asteroid?”

“That is better demonstrated that explained, Mister Thrumyn.”

Walt turned his attention to the tub. Inside, the blob seemed to spinning, or maybe see-sawing incredibly fast, he couldn’t be sure. But it wasn’t a blob. He saw shining flakes spurt into the gel from one side, a glittering stream that disappeared into the blob that now seemed to have a blurry shape visible within its frenetic movement.

Three more streams of material were shot into the mass, then the sides of the tub turned opaque and a hatch snapped shut over the top of the cone. From within the tub, flashes of intense light showed up every fine gap in the closures. Then the hatch over the cone aperture opened and bright beam of energy shot into the tub.

“Intense heat. That and a near-weightless environment allows the Adsee to do, in minutes, a growth assembly that would take a week on a planet.” She nodded toward the cone, which was lifting.

Walt gasped as a silver-grey drone lifted from the tub, oriented itself to the local ‘up’, then exited through the slot opposite.

“Belt mining has always been fraught with danger. Drones have lowered the fatalities, but replacing lost drones was difficult to keep pace with. Switching to modular assemblies with common Power and Control units allows us to keep up with that. In the event of an incident, the P&C unit will, if possible, rotate the drone so it takes the impact. Usually, the function module survives and we can just mate another P&C unit with it. As you can see, P&C units are something we can make in under half an hour. The cavern size is necessary because those drones are eight metres across.”

Walt drifted slowly across the viewing chamber, face pale, eyes wide: “Oh.”

Miss Hayvers tilted her head: “Anything else?”

Eyes fixed upon the device in the chamber, as another blob landed in it, his reply was barely louder than a whisper: “No, that’s fine, Miss. I’ll just wait and watch, if that’s okay.”

She shook her head and exited the room, while Walt watched the machine that ‘grew’ spaceships do its thing, experiencing a wonder he hadn’t felt since childhood.

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