Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

I watch the spheres orbit about one another as they spin within the space defined by the delimiter field. Fractal printers are fascinating. I find their intricate revolutions calming.
“What do you think it is, Derry?”
Gia’s always trying to predict what’s next.
“I have no idea, young being. What do you think it is?”
She grins delightedly. Rocking back and forth on the dampers of her work boots, she points to the delimiter field.
“It’s taller than it is wide. Makes me think it’s an established tree or something like that. Can’t be fauna, because it didn’t put a constraint wire down before starting.”
“Aren’t trees mandated to start as saplings?”
She purses her lips, then shrugs and whispers up her infoscreen. Being polite, she says the query out loud.
“Tree printing size law.”
The screen flashes a single line of text back to her. Looking across at me, she nods.
“Saplings without exception, so it’s not a tree, and not fauna.”
Today’s game is getting interesting.
“Some sort of bush or shrub? Something with berries?”
Gia whispers up another couple of laws, then shakes her head.
“Seedlings only.”
Natan enters the printbay, feathers rippling in the final stages of preening.
“Hello, you two. Guessed it yet?”
Gia stares at me, a look of revelation dawning on her face.
“Fungus! You’re printing a Plutochrome!”
The two of them share a knowing look. I sit there, waiting for someone to give me details.
Natan catches my expression. With a slight bow, they explain.
“Apologies, Leader Being. I received permission to print one of my world’s adaptive organisms. As it’s going to be dropped in the Salantium Marshes, I also received permission to print a mature specimen.”
I nod.
“What’s a Plutochrome, Natan?”
“An environment-salvaging toadstool appearing like a giant member of the earthly Russula class. A distinctive red cap sits above a metallic stipe from which the common name is derived.”
That’s part of the name explained.
“What about the ‘Pluto’ bit?”
Natan nods: “Before our races established relations, your decision to develop a base on Pluto caught us by surprise. We’d been there observing Earth for two of your decades. We levelled and abandoned our outpost, but part of our garden regrew. When you humans saw them, the name ‘Plutochrome’ arose.”
Gia leans in.
“So we’re using the wrong name. It came from your homeworld. What do you call it there?”
Natan coughs a quiet, surprised squawk.
“We have names for every variety, which are distinguished by cap colour and aroma. Unfortunately, the diversity of both fall outside human perceptive ranges. What I got permission to print-revive is a second-year growth Sholtri.”
The three of us watch it take shape. Once complete, a burgundy cap looks like heavy curtains have been cut to size and thrown over the top of a metre-tall stretch of reflective purple-grey stalk. Metallic shades shimmer in the unvarying light.
“That’s beautiful.” Gia breathes.
Natan dons a curious mask that covers both beak and proboscis-horn.
“One breath of the spores would turn you into a small crop of Sholtri within a week. Best leave now. I need to get this into a drop canister before it can sporulate.”
Gia nudges me as we leave.
“Do you think we’ll ever be able to print intelligent beings?”
“I’ve no doubt we would if we could, but the seat of consciousness is proving to be a difficult thing to locate. Besides, some plants exhibit advanced behaviours. Maybe we’re doing it already, but don’t know it?”
She looks startled.
“Hadn’t thought of that.”