“A Companion for the Journey” by Tyrean Martinson

Cayeth can’t understand, really, but I speak to her anyway, into the long night of endless stars beyond the windows. We travel together for twenty-seven years, four hours, twelve minutes, and two seconds. Cayeth helps me pass the time.

When I wake from my endless streams of near-sleep, brain fogged from mundane tasks, Cayeth is there, her eyes half-lidded, her head tilted partly down, focused on me with something between sorrow, pleading, and annoyance. I wonder if she’s truly been programmed correctly, but she loves me and she listens to me, just like any real dog would. I lean over and scratch her ears with my fingers, then I run my hands down her back and her tail thumps happily on the floor. She doesn’t have fur, but she has sensors and my fingers have sensors, so for the two of us, the sensation is just like petting a real dog, or at least so far as both of us know.

Does it matter if we are wrong? I tell myself it doesn’t. I care for Cayeth, pet her sensors with the ones in my hands, feed her by plugging her into the circuits, send her on outdoor excursions by plugging her into the sim room, and play ball with her in the narrow corridors between the tanks. Once, she hid the ball behind a wall of circuits and wouldn’t bring it out. I had to rewire a few things after that incident, but it didn’t happen again and I am sure the tanks fed off those circuits are just fine. At least I think they are.

I created a holo-ball through a bit of simple programming and that saved us from any other incidents. We play, feed on our circuits, take excursions in the sim bank, and play holo-ball safely. I talk to Cayeth about my daily tasks, the programming I have to monitor when I am half-asleep in the data-streams, and what might become of us when we reach the new Earth. I can’t find any information including Cayeth or me in the debarkation protocols. What does that mean?

They intend to dismantle the ship when they arrive, use every spare part for building in the new world. How would they use Cayeth? How would they use me? Perhaps, I would be a repository of past knowledge, a living library. But there is nothing in the data banks to indicate that. And nothing, nothing at all on Cayeth. I can’t let her be dismantled. She is my only friend and companion, even if she can’t speak the way I can, can’t communicate other than the thump of her tail, the bounce of her walk, the way she curls up next to me when we are both plugged into our circuits.

How can I, an AI slaved to the ship, create a new life for Cayeth and myself? I start spending less time playing holo-ball and more time deep in the data core, considering this problem. Cayeth tugs at my hand with her mouth if I am down too long, and I come up to pet her absent-mindedly. I start speaking to her more.

“Cayeth, it’s only two days now. I think I have a solution for us. But, I’m not sure you’ll be happy, or I will, or if I can even get around my prime directives for it to work. The timing has to be just right. You understand, don’t you, Cayeth?”

Cayeth thumps her tail at me and barks. I try to read more meaning in her data-steam, but find only the sensations of “happiness and companionship, contentment and peace,” those programmed directives which flow between us.

I give her an extra-long session of holo-ball followed by a wonderful excursion in our favorite park in the data core. I plug her into her circuit and watch her fall into her sleep rhythms. Then, I sink into the data core and begin my work. I separate out our favorite places in the data core from all of the other information stored there. I send a steam of this data into a portable backpack – one of the dozens meant to help the scientists aboard this vessel when they arrive. I know they’ve planned for redundancies. They won’t miss just one.

What I do next is difficult. I have to dig deep into my own code, re-program just one directive, allowing me to fully steal a larger item and leave the ship before they wake. When this is done, I give Cayeth an extra bit of data-treat to help her sleep, a dream of a sort.

I guide the ship to its landing point, a large grassy shelf of continent just a few clicks away from a land-bound body of fresh water. I finish the landing sequence while I gather the backpack and the still-sleeping Cayeth in my arms. In the cargo bay, I send the signal to open the doors. I have to override their sequence. They aren’t supposed to open until a human operator initiates the sequence after they’ve retested the air quality. I tested it from orbit. I’m sure this batch of humans will be fine. I was programmed not to harm them, and I’m not, not really. I just tweaked that directive slightly. It’s not broken, just bent.

I place Cayeth gently in the seat of one of the exploration vehicles equipped with the batteries, solar panels, and all we need to live for the rest of our lives, or until our code breaks down. I drive the vehicle out, initiate the sequence for the cargo bay doors to close, and drive away.

I hope the humans survive. But I will not be spare parts for their building process, nor will I allow Cayeth to be either. They programmed me to care and gave me a friend. It does not matter if she can speak to me or not. She is my companion and I love her.

Tyrean Martinson lives near Gig Harbor, has a BA in English Education from WWU, works as a property manager and tutor, enjoys walking, and has recently taking up kickboxing. She’s the mom of two college-age daughters who are both into engineering and who don’t like Star Wars or Shakespeare, which means their mom didn’t brainwash them enough, although she really tried. Tyrean is an indie author of several books, both fiction and non-fiction, and has had over 100 short works published. She’s an admin for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group and a member of the SCBWI. She’s on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and has a blog at https://tyreanswritingspot.blogspot.com/