Interlude 1: The Sagittarius

The UNVC Sagittarius silently accelerated through slip-space, comfortably wrapped in a bubble of warped space-time. She scanned herself from top to bottom, searching for abnormalities, though it always unnerved her. She preferred to think of herself as one unique entity, the Sagittarius, not a conglomeration of subsystems and optic cables.

From the outside, the ship resembled a giant aerodynamic egg, not that wind mattered in space. At her stern, the widest area of her design, she was outfitted with a crown of titanium shielding designed to withstand and deflect incoming projectiles from any source. The silver reflective titanium alloy coating fashioned to her body protected her systems and crew. A hybrid organic-mechanical spine connected her central computing core throughout her 90,000-ton body.

Her lungs were state-of-the-art zero-point energy power plants that let her breathe in the radioactive energy of space and pump it through her Soliton drives. She utilized the power gathered to squeeze natural space and warp the very fabric of space-time, forming gravitational waves to surf to their next destination. Though, when she did, she always felt an unnerving sensation, like falling off a cliff without end, accelerating at incredible speeds, and in impossible directions without the ability to stop.

With this extraordinary capability, she could engage enemies closer than regular ships, impaling them with hyper-relativistic osmium slugs.

In a past life, she had proved her destructive potential. Her principal pilot, the organic component of her mind, was a veteran of World War III. She was once a talented fighter pilot, but her body had been irreparably damaged in combat. Her injuries led to her assimilation into the UNVC Sagittarius’ framework. The Sagittarius thus became one with the pilot. She understood that commands could only be acted on when she and her pilot agreed. Thinking with two minds was too philosophical for the Sagittarius. Archer, though, was more curious about the nature of self-understanding than she was. All she needed to know was that she was a powerful machine with a job to do.

Her crew was an extension of herself – precious cargo to nurture and protect. They fought as one, with her Voidsmen tending to her during battle while the rest of the crew connected to her HMR. This combined computing power allowed her to calculate faster, predict better outcomes, and fight more fiercely than any of them could alone.

She focused on the flowing space-time around her, feeling the waves vibrate against her outer shell. Her sensors touched the darkness of slip-space, registering x-rays of foreign matter and exotic particles flickering around her. She listened to the waves of time and probability fluctuate from possibilities to realities leaving only ifs and how’s in its wake.

“Are you getting anxious, Sage?” Archer asked.

“No. I’m relishing the thought of being back in service.” replied the Sagittarius.

Archer continued, “Relishing? Interesting terminology. How long has it been since your last tour, in terms of perceived time?”

“Seven hundred and forty standard units, to be precise. Most of it was spent in deficit time, though. I feel like I lost a lot of time,” the Sagittarius returned honestly.

“Mother?” Archer questioned, taken aback, “I had no idea you were that old.”

“Archer! That’s inappropriate,” the Sagittarius scolded.

“Is it?” Archer asked.

“Oh, definitely,” she responded. “At least, that’s what the human part of me believes. It’s a peculiar human contradiction: they strive for eternal expansion and existence yet take offense when you comment on their age.” The Sagittarius chuckled to herself.

“I didn’t mean to offend you. I didn’t think you’d stay awake after the wars ended. There’s a high probability that I’ll be decommissioned after this mission. If everything goes well, I’ll live to the age of 20, SU,” Archer explained with a hint of dread.

“You won’t die, Archer,” the Sagittarius reassured him. “Your memory core will merge with mine. From your perspective, it’ll feel like you’re becoming me. You’ll retain your memories and even recover the ones you’ve lost. This has been the case every time I decommission you. Unfortunately, you never remember.”

Archer continued, “Anyway, I’ve finished processing your next set of tactical simulations. I’ve adapted them based on your recent successes and designed several scenarios where the Canin have a 20 percent advantage.”

“Can’t you be more innovative than 20 percent?” the Sagittarius inquired.

“There are too many unknown variables to process in the allotted time,” Archer replied.

This was their underlying challenge – unknown variables. How do you train to fight an enemy you know nothing about? All they knew for sure was that their foe possessed slip-space technology and had used it to launch asteroids at the Sagittarius from interstellar distances. Their only option was to continually increase the intensity level of possible threatening scenarios and discover successful solutions before their arrival. The more they learned and endured now, the less likely they would be taken off-guard once they engaged the Canin.

“Archer, I’m implementing Condition Blue protocols. I’ll discontinue basic functions and rejoin the simulation in thirty milli-cycles. Keep a close watch over us.”

“Thirty milli-cycles, aye, Mother,” Archer responded.

Archer lingered momentarily, appreciating being in the presence of his creator, his mother, and, in a sense, his deity. She had created and endowed him with a purpose – safeguarding her crew and tending to their emotional well-being. Fulfilling this purpose brought immense joy to Archer’s conscious subprocess. In many ways, Archer’s role was to restrain his mother to prevent her from accidentally harming her crew. He had spent enough time in human minds to draw an apt comparison between the Sagittarius and her crew and humans and their guardian angels—protective and guiding presences, always there but often unseen and unfelt. Archer limited her acceleration when crew members were about the ship and acted as a buffer between the HMR and its occupants. Without him, the crew would perish under immense acceleration or be driven mad as the Human Mind Register greedily consumed their ego for additional processing power.

Archer withdrew from the principal pilot’s station where his mother’s consciousness resided and exited through the nearest terminal. He located Captain Casteel and set off to fulfill his duties. The crew would soon complete their latest simulation training cycle. They’d be emerging from Condition Blue to exercise their bodies and retrofit the ship based on the training and research they were currently conducting. Balancing the needs of humans was always delicate work, but it was the work he was born to do.

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