Things That Make Things
| Amelia Meyer
Lake Orion, MI
"...This is the beginning of a new era for mankind. The era of man's cosmic existence..."
The voice cuts off as I put Lavernge into park and turn her ignition off. A massive building, covered in blue glass and white steel, looms over us as I get out of my yellow car. I immediately wrinkle my nose; the neighboring property is an active landfill, and even with the prevailing winds blowing towards the dump, it is uncomfortably ripe. I grab my backpack and enter the building with haste.
Ashe looks up from their tablet and smiles when they see me. "Good morning, hun. How are you?"
"Frankly terrified, but excited." I glance around the expansive two-story lobby, my eyes catching on dozens of displays and demo components and processes. "This place is..."
"Overwhelming?" my friend offers after a bit to fill my silence.
I shake my head. "No. Amazing!"
I start at a sudden voice behind me. "I'm certainly glad you like it. Ashley, Moira? I'm Fred Valentina, one of the technical account managers here at Spitfire Aerospace."
Ashe stands, her tablet vanishing somehow into her tote bag, and a business card materializes in her hand. "Fred, Ashley Garcia. CEO of The Luminiferous Motor Company. I believe we spoke on the phone a few days ago, about soliciting a bid from you for production lines. This is Moira McIntyre, founder and chief aeroframe designer."
I try to smile and fumble in my backpack for my cards, before finding one and handing it to Fred. Upside down. Of course. I feel my cheeks burning already.
Fred smiles gently as he hands each of us his card. "Not sure if you celebrate--we do, in our way--but happy Sputnik Day!"
I perk up. "Indeed! Sixty-seven years ago!"
Fred leads us through a dizzying labyrinth of offices, bullpens, 3D and 2D printers, plotters, and a server room before directing us into a small conference room, apparently called "S.6B".
"You can set your things down here. Would you like anything to drink?"
I shake my head, as does Ashe.
Fred introduces us to the others already seated in the room. "Ashley, Moira, this person to your right is Jim Llewellyn, one of our project managers." A stout man with silver hair and years etched into his face stands. We shake hands and exchange cards as Fred continues.
"Next over is our head of process design, Stephanie Horland." A tiny, slim woman with brilliantly orange hair waves from her wheelchair and slides her cards across the table to us.
"And last, but certainly not least, our head of controls Molly McGuire." A husky, tall woman with long braids of salt and pepper stands and smiles, shaking our hands firmly with calloused fingers, taking our cards and giving us hers. A black and silver pin at her lapel indicating her pronouns catches my eye, and her smile widens when I deliberately reach up to touch my own.
Suitably introduced, we sit down and Ashe mysteriously and suddenly has a stack of presentation binders in their hand. They hand me half to pass to my right, as they pass the remainder around to their left and begin the presentation.
"These are our preliminary combined bid packages for the production lines for the GLAIVE propulsion and Gamma aeroframe systems. Our goal is to produce ten GLAIVEs per day, and two Gammas per week.
"We own in full the former sites of GM Global Propulsion Systems, GM Pontiac Metal Center, and GM Orion Assembly. Pending vendor acceptance, we propose the following retooling and retrofits:
"The former Pontiac Metal Center will continue as a stamping plant, for the titanium and stainless steel panels and structural members of the aeroframe. Some machining, coating, and finishing stages should be present here as well; ideally, all parts exiting this plant are ready for assembly.
"Building C of the former GPS will be converted into a casting and machining center for the GLAIVE parts, as well as final assembly of the engines. If needed, final assembly can be done at the former parts warehouse to the northeast of the property; this building is also slated to be a production center for a different system at some point, but those plans are flexible.
"Orion Assembly will be gutted and retooled for final assembly of the Gamma aircraft. It would be useful if we can reopen the rail link between the Pontiac campus and Orion Assembly to move sub-assemblies from Pontiac to Lake Orion.
"Finished aircraft will be loaded onto rail for transport to other customers, or onto truck for transport to Oakland County International Airport, where TLMC-run flights will be based.
"Liquid hydrogen and oxygen for in-process engine testing will be available shortly, from the combined fuel, heat, and power plant we are onlining next month at the Pontiac campus.
"The rest of our requirements and thoughts should be in the bid package, and of course the system math data files will be shared shortly once Janais activates your account on the file-sharing system.
"Any questions at this time?"
Molly leans back in her chair and stretches. Oh, wow, she is pretty. Shit. She clears her throat and says "Well, this is definitely one of the better bid packages I have seen in a long time. The immediate question I have is, do you have any preferences for brands or technologies? Robots, PLCs, drives, vision, and so on?"
Ashe looks at me and I stammer "Uh, well, no. Not really. We are interested in whatever is cost-effective, performant, preferably with US-based distribution and stores, and ideally that the local workforce has some familiarity with to minimize training needs. In short, we bow to your expertise."
"Well, we do have an excellent partnership with a company just up the road that does bespoke automation training, as well as some other things that might end up being of interest," Molly replies, then continues, thinking aloud to herself as much as talking to any of us, "Seems like ABB would probably be the right choice for the most part for robots, and they pair nicely with Siemens PLCs, drives, CNC controllers, HMIs...Profinet for all the I/O...Yeah, I think we can do this!"
We discuss the myriad aspects of the project for several hours until there are no more immediate questions. Stephanie and Jim excuse themselves, while Fred and Molly take us on a tour of the building.
"Roughly half of this site is office space and prototyping, as you have seen. The other half..." Fred pauses dramatically as he proudly swings open a door for us, leading to a second-story platform overlooking a vast industrial shop with several production lines in varying states of assembly and testing.
"...is our production and runoff area." Molly finishes, standing just behind me. Her voice is quiet and full of gravel. "We use this space to build customers' production lines and get them running and debugged, then we tear 'em down and ship the lines to their final plant and reassemble them for production."
The shop is amazing. The mixed scents of cutting fluid, chain lube, and welding float through the air. I am awash in the sounds of impact drivers, servos whining, pneumatics hissing and clunking, welding crackle. The floor below is a study in organized chaos, a riotous skeletal system of blue and white steel columns and beams punctuated by yellow safety rails and keep-outs, strewn by the nervous system of gleaming EMT conduit, encircled by the circulatory system of brown and yellow air lines. Yellow and blue robots dance in a careful orchestration of Production! It is thrilling to be here, even at an arm's length.
Molly is beaming as I turn to her, completely forgetting Fred and Ashe even exist. "Can..." I begin.
"Of course. Do you have eyes and ears and toes?" Molly asks, referring to the personal protective equipment I would need on the floor, safety glasses, hearing protection, and safety-toed shoes.
"I do, actually. Aluminum alloy cups on my shoes, and eyes and ears here in my bag," I eagerly reply, fishing around for the latter as I speak.
Fred chuckles and suggests to Ashe that they go work on the remaining contractual work.
Molly takes me down a flight of stairs to a large double door emblazoned with placards.
"ENTRANCE TO AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY"
"This Protective Equipment MUST BE WORN ON THIS SITE: SAFETY GLASSES, HEARING PROTECTION, SAFETY SHOES, HARD HATS, HI-VIS VEST"
"ABSOLUTELY NO RECORDING OR PHOTOGRAPHY PERMITTED"
"ALL VISITORS MUST BE ESCORTED AT ALL TIMES"
Molly hands me a hard hat and a brilliant yellow vest and dons her own PPE, then waves her badge past the reader at the door. The doors swing toward us and I am greeted by the most wonderful sight. Production!
She tours me through the areas I am permitted to see, pointing out various automation equipment and contextualizing much of what is going on in the current line to what the Gamma and GLAIVE will need.
As we walk, a periodic, deep thrumming begins to resound in my chest, sweeping up through my feet from the concrete. I turn to her and raise an eyebrow and she grins behind her glasses and gestures. We round a corner and I am transfixed by the immense machine before me.
Through white-spattered viewports, I can see what appears to be an enormous face mill carving chips the size of my hand off a workpiece, though the part was obscured by the deluge of flood coolant. I glance at Molly. She deftly dances across the aisle, looking both ways to avoid forktrucks, then gestures for me to do the same.
I reach her just as the mill begins another pass. The thrumming of the cutter engaging is nearly overwhelming; I can feel my heartbeat adjusting to match its rhythm. Over it, I can just barely hear the thudding tinkle of the chips bouncing off the inside of the machine's protective enclosure.
Molly ducks into a squat for a moment, then returns, now holding a beautiful spiral chunk of metal, blue from heat and curled into geometric perfection. She hands it to me, and I nearly throw it, not expecting it to be as light as it is.
She pulls close to me and shouts past my ear, projecting over the noise and earplugs "Billet titanium grade five! Two-hundred-fifty millimeter facing cutter with sixty fast-feed inserts! Spindle speed about ninety rip-ems, almost nineteen-hundred millimeters per minute feed rate. Depth of cut over three millimeters!"
My jaw practically falls open. I shout back "What, nearly forty-five kilowatts on the spindle!?"
Molly beams. "Actually she will go up to one-fifty!"
I toss the chip back onto the chip conveyor and smile. I like this company, and I look forward to doing work with them.
I meet Ashe back in the lobby and we walk out to our cars. They look at me and sigh. "You made up your mind already."
"It's OK, hun. I like them too, and all the paperwork checks out. I just hope their pricing is reasonable."
Months and many, many meetings later, Ashe, Kian, and I are in a conference room in Building C, looking over Spitfire's quotation.
After a hour of discussion, I lean back and say "Well, here is how I see it. On technical merits, Spitfire's proposal is not only the most comprehensive but the closest to the Takt time we asked for, and is designed for expandability in the future. I like them as a partner organization as well, and from what I have seen of their partner for quality systems and training, they have their shit together too.
"Are they the cheapest? Hardly, though honestly they are nowhere near as high as I was sort of expecting. And they are only about fifteen percent higher than the next quote, which only runs at a third of our requested Takt time.
"So, yeah, I like Spitfire. Can we afford them, Ashe?"
They shrug and run their ringed fingers through their teal hair. "Yes, we can, though only with the sales of LH2 and LOx to Airgas and Praxair. Good work, by the way, Kian. I was hesitant when you told me your plans for that plant of yours, but the op-ex you are saving us on heating, power, and the revenue stream from the fuel production more than offsets the hoops we had to go through to get the SMR permitted."
Kian smiles. She is justifiably proud of the three small modular reactors she set up as a standalone company on premises, which each generates around 300MW of electrical power, but around a gigawatt of thermal power. Through some clever engineering, some of this heat is siphoned off to run the Pontiac campus' centralized heating system. A large amount of the remainder is used in a very clever arrangement for high-temperature steam electrolysis, making the hydrogen and oxygen we will need to run the Gamma from basically nothing, meaning the vast majority of our system will be oil-neutral. And, when we are not making fuel, the power goes to run both our operations on campus, and exported to DTE for distribution into the local grid.
For myself, I cannot enter the SMR building at all. Something gets into my brain about the radiation and my legs lock up.
Ashe continues, "So, while I personally would be happier with KUKA's quote, if you say Spitfire, we can do Spitfire."
The next year or so is a hectic frenzy of contractors and construction and permits with three cities and so many decisions.
But now, the day after Yuri's Night 2026, Spitfire has handed over the keys to three gorgeous new production lines. One builds GLAIVEs, four a day as designed. One stamps titanium and stainless steel into body panels and structural members. And one wondrous machine in Lake Orion, that one takes all those parts from Pontiac and other vendors, and builds my birds. Two Gammas a week. Right on schedule.
For now, they mostly get sold to charter and freight airlines; a three-passenger suborbital plane has a lot of attraction, especially burning clean hydrogen, and freight companies have taken note because 2500kg payload is nothing to sneeze at, transported across the world in less than two hours.
And many are lining up to buy our GLAIVEs as standalone engines.
But my fingers itch for the stick in my hands and the next phase of this adventure to begin.