Mighty is the Swarm

Peityr hovered just above the base of his seat. An intricate network of buckles, straps, wires, and belts was the only thing that kept him from floating away. The nausea and restlessness was immense in zero gravity, so much so, that he couldn’t help but stare out the reinforced window at a view that never grew tiresome; Just a few dozen feet from his head, he could see the oppressive, inky darkness of space attempting to blot out the horizon of his home planet. Peityr was in the middle of calibrating and sequencing the final batch of nanites for the next big corporate ice-mining and security initiative, but he couldn’t stop his mind from wandering. He imagined the black mass outside the window growing and swirling as he stared at the fuzzy border between blue and black, where the distant ocean of water met deep space. If he didn’t focus on the blue, will it his strength, help it fight back the darkness, he knew the bleak nothingness would consume his world.
So he stared, and hovered, and willed his strength irrationally, and let the sequence of initializations and boot sequences play out before him on the monitor, unheeded. It didn’t matter. He had performed the same task hundreds of times before.
“Initialization sequence complete,” droned a computerized female voice stoutly, just as a mechanical arm lifted the vial of nanites from the programming console and inserted it into the final open port in the retention array. This final vial joined a row of vials that stretched for hundreds of meters in files of rows and columns, like bookshelves in some ancient library. As long as the vials were locked in their the array, the nanites within would remain dormant. The giant robot arm deftly released the final vial into position, and then retracted. It then swivelled deftly to reorient itself, then its pincers locked on to the end of the vial to screw it into place like a lightbulb.
“Payload secured,” chimed the computer.
Peityr breathed a sigh of relief as his work at the console ended. He hated being stuck at his monitor. Removing his constraints, he shut down the computer control console, and after unbuckling himself, began to float effortlessly by the mass of cables. It was time…for science!
Peityr was excited to try the new batch of nanoassembled parts he had received from the surface factory. He pushed off his control panel and floated across the room to the machine arm payload switch controls. With some degree of difficulty, he switched the command controls on the machine from rote-auto to manual. Reaching his hands into the control inputs, he gave the system a quick frisk to test its calibration. After a few seconds of spasming, the arm keyed into his inputs and smoothly glided over to the pallet that was resting in the corner of the room near nanite pod 0001-MCAS.
The pallet looked modest, like a gargantuan container of green-gray liquid, but contained within it was a combination of chemicals and plastics and metals that constituted the next phase of nano-evolution: Fempto-cell batteries. With these batteries, the nanobots housed within the array would finally have the power they needed to awaken from their dormant state and begin their operations outside the ship. Peityr wondered to himself idly if there would be any compatibility problems this time, or if the quality assurance team planetside had worked out all the kinks in the system. He felt a flash of irritation as he remembered the debacle surrounding the sizing of the glass canisters, when a difference of a few micrometers in the meters-long tubes had meant discarding an entire shipment of equipment in deep space, until proper replacements could be sent. The ground team had claimed that the pressures of space, still somewhat of an unknown, had caused the deviations, but Peityr was skeptical. Nothing was perfect, these days, once the stresses of a diversified manufacturing sector was taken into account.
Peityr used the robot arm to firmly lock a tube from the pallet into the injection platform, then returned the arm to its default position with a radio switch. Finally, he shut down his input panel.
He then slowly made his way along the handholds ringing the room to the pallet, and firmly depressed the big red button that would begin the injection sequence. The day’s work was finished. It would take hours to finish flushing the battery fluids into the nano storage compartments and install them in the nanobots.
Peityr made his way back to the only exit to the cavernous room he occupied. As he passed through the airlock into the hallway that would take him back to the crew quarters, the sound of tens of thousands of tons of nanomachinery thrummed behind him. It was time for him to get some much needed rest, lest the stress of zero gravity weightlessness further his psychosis.

The machinery remained, and the gray-green fluid mixed slowly and seductively with the contents of the tanks, swirling dreamily like the ocean of Peityr’s homeworld. The fluid filled, first, the bottom of each tank in the first row, and then went on to fill the bottom of the tanks in the remaining rows. Once all valves of all the tanks had been opened, to allow the fluid in, the meniscus of the tanks slowly rose in unison by a steady, but small, degrees with every passing minute. Hours passed, and the metallic color of the tank’s nanobot payload slowly mixed with the ichor of the fempto-cell battery fluid and turned the contents of the vials more clear than the cleanest water. Every second, thousands of dormant nanobots sprang to life.

One such nanite floated harmlessly in the two-hundred, eight-thousand, thirty-forth vial within the thirty-eighth row. 2834.38-MCAS was printed prominently across the outside of this tank, but it was rather unassuming, as far as industrially-fabricated tanks go. As the fluid came into contact with the packs of miniscule bots, it slithered inbetween the spaces in a Brownian fashion, and one after another, the BB-shaped batteries slowly slipped into place, before a mild magnetic attraction locked them into place within the nanite’s husk. The acquisitions and installation of the parts would happen automatically – geometrically even, at first, and then the nanites would speed things up as they were recruited by the programming framework to help the process along by distributing the fluid to their dormant peers.

“Activating primary instruction process!” the nanite chirped to itself happily in it’s secret, ultra efficient encrypted syntax.
A dormant nanite has no ID, but as soon as the battery was in place, the nanite flickered for a moment as it inspected its immediate surroundings and sent a data packet through its active peers to inform them of its view and receive further instructions. The network of nanointelligences passed along the data packet appreciatively, until a critical mass of the active bots were informed of the nanite’s condition. The hivelike intelligence determined that this nanite, and this nanite alone, would be named 2834.38-MCAS-47440, or Cassie for short.
After being left alone for a few moments to scan its surroundings curiously, the nanite’s instructions came in. This nanite was Cassie. Cassie was ready for command. Cassie was to activate its primary motivator and increase the rate of flow of the battery fluid to its peers. For hours, Cassie did so dutifully, the charge on its femtocell battery barely reducing at all from the task. Cassie deftly avoided collisions with its peers and maintained its network instruction connection constantly, in case further instructions were needed.
Meanwhile, Peityr slept soundly in his bunk.
At that very moment, unbeknownst to Peityr or anyone else, a microscopic piece of space debris impacted the ship’s hull and sheared its way into the containment room. The piece of space debris impacted with Cassie’s container, and passed through the other side of the hull, only briefly interacting with the space station and its contents.
At that very moment, unbeknownst to Peityr or anyone else, nanite Cassie oozed slowly out of the tiny crack in its containment housing, leaving it’s swarm behind, and floated gently to the floor.
At that very moment, unbeknownst to Peityr or anyone else, the rooms computer intoned, to no one in particular, “All systems nominal.” It’s scanners were not sensitive enough to detect the breach.
One after another, the nanobots poured out of the crack in their retention array, some still dormant, some buzzing with activity.
Cassie was temporarily confused by the change in its surroundings, and sent the tiniest of messages to its swarm to receive further instructions. The swarm was also confused. Each nanite contained a fraction of the whole sum of nanite’s intelligence, and not enough of them had been activated by the batteries to make a solid guess as to what what happening to them. The swarm responded that Cassie was to explore its surroundings further while additional peers were activated. The fluid slowly filled the tanks, rate unchanged.
The befuddled nanite switched the instruction it was operating in its internal code pathways to ‘travel mode’, simultaneously squealing, “Primary process terminated. Activating secondary scouting process initiative.” The message was carried to its peergroup within the array. Cassie began zipping around the space, drawn towards the leaking breach in the room’s hull. The ambient environment of deep space, although not hostile to Cassie’s complex internal nanomachinery, was a threat to human life, and so the nanite’s sensors buzzed and thrummed when it came into contact with the vacuum.

A transmission was sent from its radial array to the slowly awakening swarm to notify them of the problem.Peityr’s alarm rang and he gasped throatily as he looked at his bedside scheduling console. A flashing light informed him of an incoming transmission from the nano storage facility’s fault detection system.He tapped the red rectangle, and the computer’s voice intoned, “Hull breach detected. Loss of interior atmosphere imminent.”Peiytyr leaped out of bed in a rush of endorphins, forgetting momentarily that he was strapped in to prevent himself from floating away midrest. He struggled to untangle himself from the cords of his safety net and operate the release latch. After a few muttered curses in his native tongue, he successfully released himself and sped off to the nearest supply cabinet to fetch a breathing mask and safety suit.Before he could even reach the nanohousing bay, the hull breach had been fixed by an industrious team of artificially-created nano-engineers.

All was well, for now.

Suggested Listening: https://soundcloud.com/new-arrows/been-here-before

Suggested Viewing: http://digg.com/video/combine-contact-cement

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