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"[Science fiction is] nightmares and visions, always outlined by the barely possible."
- Gregory Benford

Metal Paste  
  A conductive metal that could be easily squirted from a tube.  

In the novel, the Engineer class from the Mote were not just good engineers; they had evolved over thousands of generations to be superlative engineers.

When the human ship arrived in the Mote system, an Engineer was the first Motie to see the ship. Once contacted, the Engineer set about to ready the ship for a journey home.

"Now the alien's making something. I don't understand what's keeping it... It's got the cover off the control panel. It's rewiring things. A moment ago it was squeezing silver toothpaste in a ribbon along the printed circuitry. I'm only telling you what it looks like, of course..."

[The alien Engineer comes aboard the human ship.]

"Captain!" A streamer of blue light glowed at the stern of the alien craft... "Yon ship's underway, Captain," Sinclair reported...

"That thing's on autopilot, would you both agree? But we didn't see him program it."

"We saw him practically rebuild the controls, Captan," Cargill said. "My Lord! Do you think that's how they control..."

"Seems verra inefficient, but the beastie did nae else that could hae been the programming of an autopilot," Sinclair mused. "And twas bloody quick about it, sir. Captain, do ye think it built an autopilot?"

From The Mote in God's Eye, by Larry Niven (w/J. Pournelle).
Published by Simon & Schuster in 1974
Additional resources -

All of the metal in the Mote system had been mined and used. Now, metal was incredibly precious and every bit of it was reused and then reused. Engineer labor was cheap by comparison; it made it practical to launch a ship one way, completely rebuild and reconfigure it for the journey and then rebuild and reconfigure it for landing.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The Mote in God's Eye
  More Ideas and Technology by Larry Niven (w/J. Pournelle)
  Tech news articles related to The Mote in God's Eye
  Tech news articles related to works by Larry Niven (w/J. Pournelle)

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