Mary was a little scatterbrained when she found it, but that had been intentional, not to mention lucrative.
She worked in the mines on a planet with the interminable name OGLE-2013-BLG-0341L B b; for whatever reason the naming rights were tangled in a legal dispute which left a situation where the planet could be mined only as long as it retained its unpronounceable moniker. Unofficially, everyone took to calling it the Ice Tray, which indeed was what it looked like from orbit: a cold white expanse with neat rectangular open-pit mines cutting straight across its surface. Some people put a lot of importance on names. Not Mary. She was teased relentlessly as a child for her unfashionable and outdated name. Mary—it was hopelessly pre-twenty-second century.
But then she passed the frag test. No one teased her after that.
Now she spent her days on the Ice Tray mining organometallic compounds some 3,000 lightyears from the home system. The environment was hostile as hell—freezing, dim, and prone to volcanism and gale-force winds, often coupled together. That’s where the Plats came in.
The Platforms were humanoid in shape, but mechanical at heart. They could have been any shape, with any number of limbs or any form of mobility, but familiarity flattens the learning curve and leads to less breakage. From the relative comfort and safety of the habitat, a miner could mentally link to a Plat and control it as if wearing it as a suit. One might think an AI could have managed this sort of thing by now, but the breakthrough was perpetually just over the horizon.
In any case, Mary was unusually gifted. She could frag. Mental fragmentation was an innate ability, like curling your tongue or being left-handed, that allowed Mary to control multiple Plats simultaneously—dozens, in fact. She could be in many places at once. Pay was based on productivity—tender by tonnage—and she was making a killing. And so, everyone on the Ice Tray noticed very quickly when her output came to a sudden halt. All over the mine, her Plats toppled over, abandoned and stupefied, as her fragmented mind was violently pulled into focus on a single unit. It had uncovered not metallocenes or mixed cuprates or metal carbonyls, but something never before observed. Something living that hadn’t come from Earth.
And it appeared displeased with the sudden disturbance.