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"...the space defense initiative drove the USSR bankrupt, and it originated at my house in Tarzana."
- Larry Niven

  Small, square animals that can combine to create a larger entity.  

There were six of the creatures, and they were busily working in a little open glade of the forest. Each of the things looked like a giant centipede, with an oddly geometrical body eight feet long and many square legs set along it. They were carrying slabs of stone along.

A closer look revealed the amazing details of their appearance. Each of these big creatures appeared to be composed of scores of small, living fleshy pink cubes. Each cube was four inches square, and had two twinkling, bright little eyes and a small mouth-opening.

"Why, I never saw anything like these before," Captain Future muttered, stepping forward.

"You haven't seen the half of it yet! " exclaimed Grabo. "They can split themselves up when we start toward 'em. Look at 'em! They're doing it again!"

The weird, geometrical creatures had until now ignored Cm! Newton and the others, diligently resuming their work of carrying away the stone slabs.

But now, as Captain Future approached, the centipede creatures suddenly dropped the slabs and then underwent an incredible transformation.

Their big, geometrical bodies disintegrated. They broke up the tire scores of living cubes of which they were composed. Each cube was revealed to be a separate, living creature. Each had eight tiny claws or legs, one at each corner of its cubical body, as well as its own eyes and mouth and ears.

These hundreds of cube-creatures scurried swiftly together, and joined into a single big figure. The living cubes joined tightly, each to the next, by instantly hooking their tiny claws together.

Silently and quickly as though by magic, the cubical creatures had combined to form a towering, semi-human figure ten feet high. It advanced on square, stocky legs with its massive arms raised menacingly toward the Futuremen...

"Did I dream that or have I been drinking radium highballs?" gasped Otiro. "What the devil are those freakish little cubics?"

"That's a good name for them the Cubics," Captain Future commented. "As to their nature, it seems pretty obvious that they're small animals who have developed to a great degree the faculty of living in a cooperative community. Just like a hive of bees or a colony of beavers, only more so."

Technovelgy from The Face of the Deep, by Edmond Hamilton.
Published by Captain Future in 1942
Additional resources -

Compare to the living metal cubes from The Metal Monster (1920) by Abraham Merritt, and to Stanislaw Lem, who wrote about a shape-forming swarm of tiny metal particles in his 1954 novel The Invincible. See also the Robot Cells (Crystal-Shaped Modules) from 1987 work by Michael P. Kube-McDowell. See also the cube being from The Infinite Enemy (1938) by Jack Williamson.

Also, see composite living from The Day the Aliens Came (1995) by Robert Sheckley.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The Face of the Deep
  More Ideas and Technology by Edmond Hamilton
  Tech news articles related to The Face of the Deep
  Tech news articles related to works by Edmond Hamilton

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