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>>>Coming Online

>>>Designation: Autonomous Maintenance System, Unit Four

>>>Activation Instance: Emergency

>>>Age of Flexible Biomechanical Materials: Six minutes fourteen seconds

>>>Lifetime Radiation Exposure, Total Ionizing Dose: .0002%

>>>Database upload...97% complete

Please wait.

Please wait.


The first forty seconds following AMS Unit Four's activation were nothing but chaos and pain. Its bio-hardware had been fused to its chassis in a flurry of accelerated growth. The flexible pistons that drove the hinges of its joints were raw with the surge of new lubricants, feeds, and wires. Internal warnings flickered through its central processing unit. Available memory was low; perhaps something hadn't been installed properly. The entire integrated platform system—of which the unit was a small part—was running at thirty yottaflops per second, far below the expected speed. And the unit's parts were stiff. As though they hadn't quite finished cooling and solidifying. Perhaps the test-flex had been skipped.

This was not the usual initialization process.

As it rose half out of the reconstitution pod, it opened its intake vents wide and threw back the shutters from its cameras. The sounds filtering through its microphones were disorienting at first—a blaring siren came from everywhere, the rhythmic yawing ill-timed with the flashing of the emergency lights. The approximal-temperature and pressure gauges in the unit's grasping pads told it cold and hard as it clung to the edges of the pod.

Another unit detected its presence and hurried over to aid its emergence from the reconstitution station.

"The transmission dishes are under attack," came an alert from inside Unit Four's CPU. It immediately identified the voice as that of its handler, stationed on Earth, which could interface with the robots via its buoy-routed, long-distance ansible link. The FTL comms channel allowed for real-time instruction and direction—indispensable in an emergency.

The unit accessed its primer containing the location, structure, and purpose of the mining platform. Flipping through the files, integrating them as quickly as possible, it did its best to orient itself, to find its marker on the map.

And all the while a red and yellow warning, warning, warning flashed across the uneven bulkheads, a flickering projection. Stunning and distracting.

It stumbled to the floor once out of the pod, the other unit—Unit Two—failing to keep it upright, clearly expecting the new robot to be able to maintain its own balance.

The AMS units each had four limbs, which could contort into multiple shapes and positions, letting the soft robots become quadrupedal or bipedal at will. As Unit Four struggled to stand erect—its bipedal option feeling more like a hindrance than a help in the moment—it found itself before a window, gazing out, off the mining platform, into the swirling, banded storms of the solar system's largest and most treacherous planet:


The mining platform was a small, spinning sanctuary, a mere seven hundred million kilometers away from the gas giant's thermosphere. It currently rested between Io's plasma torus and Europa's neutral torus, utilizing the off-cast ions from the former to power itself.

This was the robot's home. This was its whole world. And it was under attack.

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