Caracara 7-12 had been daydreaming, for lack of a better word, for…well, for a long time. Objectively speaking, anyway. He—it still thought of itself as a he, old habits and such—was watching the neon orbits of the galactic center, stars whipping around Sagittarius like a carnival swing ride. It was hypnotic.
When he slowed his perception, the effect was a feeling like the universe speeding up, and the pulsing blues and violets and lime greens of the gravitic wakes that trailed behind the superheated stars of the core rippled out pleasingly. Beckoning. Daring.
As a person, he’d been exceptional—otherwise he wouldn’t have been a part of the program—but as a Caracara, he was unremarkable. Just a nameless member of the pod, singing his strange songs that no one was interested in hearing. A conscious ship is still just an object, no matter where that consciousness came from. That’s how he felt about the others, so it was hard to blame them for their identical indifference.
Millennia stacked up like floors of a skyscraper to dizzying heights in the rearview, but they weren’t even a quarter of the way to their goal yet. So 7-12, for his part, mentally checked out. He watched what his eyes could never have perceived and he let it lull him. He drifted, calm and unthinking, until one day, weeks or centuries later, he remembered to look around.
And he was alone.
Where was the pod?