"That same year, a G star not that much farther away dimmed as if something had passed across it. Perhaps artificial. Telescopes gave us a strong spectrum for a breathable atmosphere somewhere near the star. There was a burst of gravity waves from the same direction. The United Nations called the hypothetical planet Glory, and it was just too interesting to ignore. They then designated SunSeeker an exploration and colonization vehicle. It got built bigger, to accommodate more cold sleep people for the entire long haul. That's where your orders came from."
"Ah yes. My first cold sleep must've erased some memories. And then we found the Bowl of Heaven." He beckoned to the finger snakes, which came snuggling up. Comfort animals. They purred and murmured and wriggled.
"Yes, that must have been what passed across the face of Excelsius. A momentary lineup. A half Dyson sphere capable of traveling between stars, halfway en route to Glory. Are you wondering how that affects your mission?"
"Not really," Redwing said, though he was. He had long ago learned that the Artilect system liked to be baited a bit. The computer minds liked talking to other, different minds, just like humans with their pets. He really should have warmed up an ordinary house cat to keep him company on this long, careful approaching maneuver to the Glory system.
"Your bargain with the Ice Minds allowed you a colony on the Bowl. We must remark that this negotiation was a major achievement of your captaincy. We could not have managed it."
"I'd never have let you try."
"Touché!—a word appropriate from a sword sport, as I gather from one of those older languages, pre-Anglish."
"You're more like beginner lieutenants here, y'know."
"Sadly, yes. Despite our considerable effort and time spent studying your human culture, carried out while true humans sleep aboard our craft."
"Study all you want, you've got all of human culture and history in your memory banks somewhere. Doesn't replace direct experience. I got to be a captain by hook, crook, and craft."
"True, so. You left more than half your colonists there on the Bowl, revived from cold sleep and not where they had been promised. They were a bit miffed. You pointed out that they were getting a territory many millions of times larger than a simple planet could offer. This helped. You agreed to run ahead of the Bowl, to contact Glory before the Bowl passes nearby. SunSeeker is not a little ship, but it may be less frightening to the Glory folk than a structure bigger than Venus's orbit, inhabited by a trillion highly varied intelligent entities, and bringing its own sun."
"Indeed, the gravitational tugs alone might plunge any outer icy bodies into their system."
Redwing sighed. These conversations were also part of his duties on watch. He had to check on the stability, recall, and mission alignment of the Artilects. Same as keeping an eye on the human crew, too. Under the stresses of long-term starship duty, minds went askew. "Look, I'll keep the Ice Minds informed. You monitor their comms. And I'll handle the Bird Folk, their stewardship of the Bowl and endless questions. Add to that the spotty Sol system comms, too. But I have my mission, and it hasn't changed. Investigate the gravity wave sources, first job up, as we come into the planetary system. Explore Glory, and put a colony there. Live, laugh, dance, and be happy. No chance of getting this ancient flying rig back to home, of course. You and I couldn't manage it. No human expedition has ever flown this far, this long. Through it all, I serve Sol system."
The Artilect said, "You cannot expect us, our collective intelligences, not to vex over the many mysteries."
"True enough. Which ones irk you now?"
"Ah yes, the most strange first. The Glorians sent us a cartoon, a message, not a welcome."
"Yeah, kinda cryptic." He knew how to draw out the Artilect worries.
"They do not give away much of anything about themselves."
"Thing about aliens is, they're alien."
"There are lesser issues, but I gather you do not—as you humans say, always referring to your sports—like showing your cards."
"Not to you, no."
"Yet we might well have insights you do not."
"You're machines. Smart machines, but still machines."