Sunday, September 26, 2010

"Goetia," Patience, pt. 7, 444 words

(The best protection against claim-jumping is that it's horribly impractical. Only megacorporations like StarGen can even make it out here to dump a mining package, never mind the additional investment of time, resources, and effort that would have to go into sending down bots designed to disable someone else's mining facility. By the same token, an entrenched mining platform has the nanoalchemy colonies on hand to feed as much of the asteroid's mass as necessary into powering easily-assembled defensive laser arrays. Any incoming assault drone would drain its power reserves and be destroyed well before the mining platform ran out of reaction mass, and if the assault was ever comprehensive enough to outlast the platform, every usable particle of the asteroid would already have been spent in its defense. Anything else effective would just fragment too much of the asteroid's mass, creating the same end result. Claim-jumping is a losing game, especially with so many other asteroids out there waiting to be grabbed and the Trojans in Jupiter's L4 and L5 as yet untouched.)

While The Sanity Box (nee Tin Can) works out the elemental composition of the asteroid, Sitri fires up her personal printer and begins tapping into what little remains of the alchemy tanks. Lightweight alloys, improbably pure elements, and high-tensile polymers feed into the printer's input and are shaved, shaped, spun, and sliced into a sophisticated piece of electronics that would put StarGen's “good-enough” mining package to shame. Sitri boots her PAN out of quiescence while the smooth black ovoid of her drone is spun out and packed with kilometers of wound microcircuitry and an elaborate suite of fabbing tools. Finally, a seed colony of alchemy nanites is decanted from the tanks and packed into Sitri's drone while she uploads a weak AI with very detailed instructions.

The nanites are a marvel of engineering, but by God they're dumb. They can perform atomic alchemy, changing one element to another at a great expense of energy. This energy is provided from direct cracking of the atoms involved, a certain percentage sacrificed for quanta of energy while others are reassembled into a new configuration. It's fission at the most intimate level. Large colonies with sufficient instruction could actually generate anti-matter out of the mess, and use that for a much more efficient “conversion” process, but this colony is not that big – yet. Nanoalchemy is most energy efficient when working in the realm of elements smaller than iron on the periodic table, with the energy requirements climbing faster the higher your target atomic number. It's why the optimal load for an alchemy tank is a large matter block of trans-ferrous elements.

No comments: