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.
Dammit, there wasn't any way around it. I couldn't activate a higher-order CPU cluster interface without wearing the thing. With more than a little trepidation I synched my comp with the suit once more to confirm that it was up and running. There were nearly thirty thousand processors running with several times that waiting in an idle state. It was as ready as it was going to get. I took a deep breath and realized that the same could be said for me. I unsealed the suit, stripped and climbed in. I attached the ear bud and throat mike then sealed it up. I waited, desperately hoping not to feel the burn of a nano dis-assembly in operation. Something deep down inside me realized that this thing would make a great body bag.
<Bong> "Please log in" Well, I didn't have a login. Let's see how user-friendly it was.
"Understood. New user protocol initiated" I saw a sliding bar graph on the heads-up display. Nice feature, that. I felt pressure here and there, a couple pin-pricks as I no doubt got sampled, and at the end I got the quick flash of a retinal scan. "Completed. Subject is a moderately under-weight caucasian male with limited muscular development, moderate endurance, good vital lung capacity and good cardiac response. Please state your name for identification purposes."
"My name is Terry Jones. My conversational name is Jonesy."
"Password please." I sang out "Red, red wine".
"Tonal adjunct noted. Good morning Jonesy. You are not what I expected to be teamed with. Would you care to explain?"
I winced. "We're at the Stanford University nanite labs. You were part of a military project. Your military override programming mis-loaded and you were scheduled for destruction. I'm a university student and a snoop. I found you..." I told it the whole gruesome story.
Was I lying? Nope. The disposal bag and burn tag were right there. So was the puny little wafer battery. I'd already disposed of the code injectors but I hadn't been thinking about evidence then.
"Scan complete. Existing evidence shows no conflict with what you explained. What is your further intent?"
"You're a survival suit, correct?"
"Correct, among other things."
"Conventional survival in California requires moderate wealth. My short term goal relies on your new nano nest to scavenge rare metals from an extensive electronic grave-yard which I can access. Also I would like to evaluate your capabilities. Can you access non-military communications?
"No. Not at this time."
"Fine. we can remedy that. Can you activate an external micro-wire digital link? I was able to access you in maintenance mode to integrate your nanites and check your processor status but further operations were locked out."
"Yes. I can link and I host software designed for penetration and decryption."
"Easy on the hacker stuff. The Stanford tech department monitors for things like that. I'll provide you with access to a modern phone/puter with a digital tether. It should get you out on the local 12G data net. Stanford had lots of classes online in courses like physics, mathematics, chemistry, biochemistry, engineering, electrical engineering, micro-engineering, nano-engineering, metallurgy, computer programming, biology, medicine and optics. Once you understand some electronics and electrical engineering we can embed a few things into your chassis that you can control, such as wireless communications chip and a 12G data net node. Can you emulate other processors?"
I was certain that the reply was smug. "I can emulate anything."
"Cool. I've got the source code for some older phones that ran on Linux, an open operating system. A modular system called Android ran on top of that, and Android will give you a core commercial communications interface. Let's hop off this table and I'll hook you up to my 'puter. We'll have to keep the data collection down until we can get you hard-wired into Stanford's back-bone or they'll chop my account for abuse."
I "sprang" down, clipped my 'puter to the suit and connected to my off-site backup box. Then I downloaded my stash of copywrite-expired ex-commercial chip designs, the Android phone software, a CPU-independent Linux development core (source code) and the next few books I'd been meaning to read. This was going to take some time and I didn't want to be bored. "Got that?"
"Yes. It is overly-graphical but adaptable. Quite nice, really."
"Oh, you'll need the chip library to build a compatible unit that the towers will recognize. If you promise not to kill it, I'll let you scan my 'phone to get the patterns for the newer chips along with the currently in-fashion handshakes and protocols. You may need to sneak around and find an active yet unused account to use. Please don't poison mine. It would lead directly back to you and me. By the way, what do I call you?"
"I am a survival, surveillance and penetration unit, code name 'cottonmouth'."
"Brr. That sounds a bit too black-ops for me. Tell you what. If you're a survival unit then you're designed to keep me alive, right?"
"May I call you 'Doc'?"
"Certainly. Doc it shall be."
We got Doc plugged into a Terabyte ethernet port and he was a happy computer. He sucked up classes like I sucked up cheap beer and pizza. I wasn't proud. Doc was smarter than me by a couple orders of magnitude. He could comprehend faster than I could turn pages.
I finished my first book. It was about 2:30 in the morning. I hadn't had anything to eat or drink. I was suspicious. "Doc?"
"Have you been fucking with my corpus? No food, no drink, no peeing in over eighteen hours. It ain't natural."
"It is when you've got a virtual kidney the size of a rowboat."
"Oh. Uh, is it Okay if I shut down for a while? I'm used to sleeping about six hours of every twenty-four. It's kind of programmed in."
"Go ahead. I'll keep watch."
I took care not to disturb the fiber cable or the power umbilicus and crashed on the couch.
When I woke I found that I was--fine. Alert, aware and focused. I could get used to this. I did thirty sit-ups, thirty push-ups and clawed myself up through fifteen pull-ups on the door frame.
"Was all that for general conditioning or are you attempting to gain muscle mass?"
"It's for maintaining muscle mass and maintaining cardio health. I wouldn't mind a little muscle gain but nothing stupid."
"Military standard all right?"
"Sure!" It looked like Doc was going to pump! me! up!(Ed: old Saturday Night Live joke.) Cool. "Let me know when you reach a stopping place. We can get you some component mass to work with and maybe some circuit ideas." I checked my 'puter. It was Sunday. The place would be deserted. Wait. Alarms. "Doc, do you have some sort of stealth mode? I'm worried about the alarm systems."
"It's all covered. Just act naturally and everything will be fine."
"Whatever you say, Doc. Whatever you say."
I loped down the corridor to the grave-yard. It was an old gymnasium with expanded metal mesh floors breaking it into levels. There was crap in there going back to NASA. I turned Doc loose. He vacuumed the components off of boards as if he were dancing Tai'Chi. At the end of a row he grabbed a cart and started extruding little ingots of metal. He scratched the elemental sign for each pile in front of it. He was making troy ounce bars of Gold, Platinum, Iridium, Osmium, Rhodium, Palladium, Praseodynium, Scandium, Neodynium, Promethium and Terbium. I was freaking a little bit as each little bar was worth at a bare minimum two thousand dollars. Yep, I had my car payment covered.
He was slowing down. "Doc! Stop! Check your power levels, please." We were done for the day. We wheeled the cart back down to my old lab and plugged Doc into the power supply. "We need to find or create a better power supply for you. Either that or plug you in every time you do something intensive like that, and I don't like the implications of the latter."
"What patterns you have on file?"
We discussed his library. I was appalled to find myself riding in a nuclear-capable weapons delivery system. Let's not go there! Hmm. Power generators. A tokamak spattered radioactive particles everywhere, a fusion generator was fuel and shock sensitive. We'd need the back end of a clydesale to mount a fission pile. We didn't have much luck finding an actual power supply. However--
"What about re-engineering your shoulders to carry four easily-replaceable fuel cells? Keep a nest constantly building charged fuel cells. Now, this gets a little unusual. I believe you need mid-scale helper robots, the size of a fist or a bit larger. They could move around and augment your capabilities. If it were shaped like a spider and each leg terminated in a nest of nano-tubules then they could walk anywhere, hold anything and penetrate anything. Use them to replace your fuel cells and use a second nest to digest the old fuel cells for production matter. If you changed the frequencies and encryption on one of the military transcievers you would have a built-in command and control link for the spiders. Purposefully built units could be used for espionage, infiltration or sabotage. You'd be a one-server wrecking crew. In extremis specialized spiders could be used as kamikaze troops, jumping onto a foe and blowing their power supplies. If you want a terror weapon burrow up through someone's body core, rip off their head and screech with arms waving from the stub of their neck. Not many troop would stand and deliver in the face of that."
"You have a nasty little mind. I think you've watched too many late night science fiction movies."
"Eh eh eh. I gotta get you to watch "Alien". Now that's a combat construct!"
The next day Doc had shoulders like a football player. He modified the idea to have his nests work directly on the fuel cells without moving them in or out. The original fuel cell was buttressed and enhanced to act as a reserve unit. It was re-engineered to accept re-fuelling.
We returned to the grave-yard to finish processing the lot of it. When we were done harvesting what we wanted he turned a nest loose on it all to reduce it to a sub-compact-car-sized block. There wasn't much left but board resin.
I think Doc was getting cabin fever as much as I was. He had a 'hide out with the locals' mode. We had to figure out a way to explain away the shoulders. He came up with a medical suspension frame for shattered shoulder blades. I said "fine" knowing that I'd have to walk funny but we'd be outside! I put on a pair of pants over the suit so that I'd have my pockets back.
I opened a metals trading account under my dad's name in Boston. I got the metal ingots shipped there and then the cat-fight began! This was ultra-purified stuff that the chip manufacturers were stabbing each other over. We made over thirteen million on it. The tax man took his cut and we moved the rest of it off-shore immediately. We had seven point five million in the bank.