Hi. I'm Terry Jones, Jonesy to everyone but my mom. I work here at Stanford as an undergrad in the nanite design and implementation labs. We not only figure out applications for nano-technology but implement those ideas as elegantly as we can, thereby keeping the costs down.
I was on the team that created the first nano-disassemblers that wouldn't try to tear down you, me, the dog and the lab. The key was in creating several different types of nano-bots that would work in concert. Some would take direction from a macro computer that would take orders from the outside world (I/O bots), some would command the actual dis-assemblers (Sergeants) and some would provide feedback to the I/O bots (Intel bots). Then the various soldier bots that performed the desired actions were built by factory bots. They were little hives talking in FORTH, an old computer language developed to control radio-telescopes. The hives could reproduce and form nests. The whole shebang would be controlled by a (hopefully) intelligent user at the controls that could then create anything that they had a pattern for. Since a nest could take things apart and record their patterns as well as salvage the matter the original thing was made of it was a nice little system. It did require a pretty bad-ass computer to operate though.
As usual I was wandering around in places that I shouldn't be. If you're walking around in dress shoes and a lab coat carrying a clip-board you belonged. Trust me. It's social engineering at its finest and it works in big labs everywhere.
I heard over the grape-vine that there was a big show planned in the military (budgeted) wing. I shoulder-surfed my way in with a couple of guys I vaguely knew and proceeded to look around. The stars of the show seemed to be several high-tech-looking coveralls supported over nano-isolation pads. The pads are designed to provide a light vacuum to catch any nanites falling off of a work in progress and disable them. We didn't want rogue nanites escaping the lab on someone's shoes. They might decide that concrete would look better as pure crystallized silicon. (Sure, it WOULD work better, but how would you break it up and get rid of it when you want to change something?)
I wandered around the lab, checking out the equipment in each room. I found some very expensive fuel cells on one bench. This was not an under-funded project! Some guy in an Air Force uniform was waving around a nanite isolation test-tube talking about some sort of secondary activation phase. I eyed the way he was swinging that tube around with dis-favor. If he shattered that thing Many Bad Things (tm) could happen. I continued snooping.
I found a stack of binders, obviously made for the presentation as they were identical and had no coffee-cup rings on them. I picked up a binder and started reading. These were nanite-supported survival suits. Each suit was controlled by a near-sentient computer and possesed a complete set of artificial sensors, muscles and nerves. According to the comparison with a trained athelete these things could dance on wine-glasses or out-run a cheetah. I admired the documentation. I admired the suits even more.
In one closet I found a two-foot by three-foot zippered bag with a destruction order tag attached to the handle. Being the curious bastard that I am I swung it down from the shelf and unzipped it. It had one of the suits in it! Accompanying the suit was a note stating the reason for the destruction order. The suit's processor core had a software mis-load of the military override routines. I didn't think that a mis-load of the overrides on a military project was such a bad thing! Hmm. It was already marked for destruction. If I was snarky enough they'd never notice that it was gone. They'd just be missing a confirmation signature for the thing's pickup.
I re-packaged it and put it on a rolling stainless steel lab table. From there I cruised over to the other room where I'd seen the fuel cells and filched one. On a nearby table I spotted a stack of pre-packaged ear-buds and throat mikes. I couldn't see why in the world they'd be there unless they had something to do with the project. A mike, an ear-bud and the fuel cell went under the suit carrier. I threw a couple of beat-up lab binders on top of the pile for camouflage and headed towards the door, keeping my head down.
I made my way through the lab complex until I reached our old research facilities. They had been de-commissioned over a year ago but I still had access. I used the place as my home-away-from-home.
I unzipped the carrier and hung the suit on our old coat rack. It had a mottled camouflage surface effect that tended to shift and make me queasy. I grabbed a soda from my little fridge and settled down to scan the lab binders.
Well. This thing was really something! Without a doubt it was the best piece of nano-technology integration that I'd ever heard of. It truly was a survival suit, capable of withstanding several atmospheres of pressure and it would be quite happy in vacuum. The heads-up display would give internal and external statistics. It was equipped with sub-millimeter radar and a suite of radio transcievers. Regrettably they were all military in nature. They were encrypted and frequency trunking.
The documentation referred to the base of the spine where it had a port for the fuel cell. I laid the suit out and examined it. There was a little wafer cell in the receptacle. I removed that and attempted to insert the full-sized fuel cell. The suit double-pinged while I was feverishly working on getting that damned thing to seat. Finally I heard a high-pitched whine that scaled down in volume and faded out. <snap> There. I got it mounted. I pressed the activation button on the fuel cell and closed the trap door. I was exasperated. That was some piss-poor engineering!
The skin melted away leaving a black composite musculature. Slowly the skin re-formed. It was a pleasant dark green. Since that nasty camo was gone I believed that the thing had undergone a power-down reset and reboot.
I turned it over onto its back and unsealed the front. Within a saw a dusting of what appeared to be fine hairs. Curious, I picked one up with a probe and put it under the 'scope. It was darkly metallic, segmented and had a gripper at each end. I recognized a micro-code injector for fiber-based ultra-computers such as the suit hosted. I assumed that these were the override patches that "didn't take". I carefully vacuumed all of them up with a little micro-vac and flashed the filter into ash using the lab nano incinerator.
The notes went on to illustrate where various ports and receptacles were located. As this unit was scheduled for destruction it had never been innoculated with its nanite nest. I could fix that! I had a lab storage chest humming away in the corner with four nests in it, unprogrammed and ready to go. I read the activation sequence in the lab manual once more, then fired up my comp, hooked up a micro-wire clip to the suit and established a maintenance link. Once in synch I coded in the protocol key for the nest I was going to use, confirmed the key and poured the contents of the nanite support phial into the proper port.
It was getting late. I broke connection and plugged the suit into a lab-grade power supply to back-charge the fuel cell. I headed home for the night. Tomorrow I'd do some more reading to see what this thing was capable of. I wanted to get the CPU cluster up and talk to it. It was still booting when I turned out the light and locked the lab door behind me.
I had a Kool-Aid and microwaved some frozen noodle-and-beef glop for dinner, then went to bed. Grad students aren't paid a lot, even successful ones that helped on a breakthrough project. Universities are fickle beasts.
In the morning I went out for my morning run, dodging all the other cardio-freaks out for their share of early morning pain. Soon I was done, or done in, and headed home for a shower and change. I had some ideas about the suit that I wanted to pursue. Hopefully it had some patterns loaded into it to facilitate its function as a survival suit. I wondered what patterns were there and how much precursor mass was available in the suit to work with. I had access to the campus electronics grave yard A nano dis-assembler hive would be in pig heaven in there. If the processor cluster was smart enough it could harvest chip and component patterns as it went.
I was thinking of attempting to have the suit run an emulator for an older CPU. Then it could host a pre-generated Linux OS. With luck I could introduce it to an Android SDK. (SDK stands for System Developer's Kit) With a little tab-a-to-slot-b work it would have all the commercial (read non-military) connectivity it needed or I wanted!
Hopefully I could engineer a bit of cash out of this opportunity. Harvesting the rare earths out of some of those old boards in the grave yard could prove quite lucrative. I couldn't get too anxious yet. I had to finish reading those lab notes to try and determine just what I was getting into.
.... There is more of this story ...