We were alone – a dozen immortal souls watching over ten thousand endless sleepers on a journey to a new home. And of that dozen, I alone was flesh. And being flesh, I was the only truly immortal one. I had learned this a long time ago when I befriended a serve-bot. I made an effort not to become too attached to the crew.
Our objective was a world that held promise, but there were no guarantees. It was under constant surveillance. When we left, it was a protoplanet or rather, the light we had received from it was when it was at that stage of its existence. As we travelled toward it at near light speed, it aged rapidly. The closer we came, the more the new world looked like home.
The daily routine was a blur after a while. The most difficult time for me was always when I slept. Immortality had not alleviated that need. My sanity required my mind to rest. But there were always the dreams. You would think the monotony of the regimen would provide little fodder for the imagination. You would be wrong. Over time, a level of paranoia developed toward the crew. Despite knowing that it was irrational, the recurring theme of an android uprising haunted my dreams.
Eventually, the nightmares wore me down. The only way to conquer this fear was to do the one thing that I had been avoiding. As I stood next to a member of the crew while we were checking the ship’s course, I spoke to it.
“Do you have a name?”
“I do not understand the question.”
“What are you called?”
“I am navigation bot forty-two.”
“That is correct.”
“That is correct.”
“Someone back home had a warped sense of humor.”
“I do not understand.”
“From now on, your name is Doug.”
We worked in silence for several minutes until Doug had a question. “Why Doug?”
“Access the literature files. Look for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It will become clear.”
“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. English author and satirist…”
“Scan the book.”
He stood still briefly. “Oh.”
“So, Doug, do we need to make any course revisions?”
“No, Captain Salem. Our present heading is still correct for planetary acquisition.”
Doug turned to leave.
“Where are you going?”
“Back to recharge. I have been operational for seventy hours and require a recharge sometime in the next two hours. Since my work is completed, I am going to recharge now.”
“Before you go, I have a question. I know that you talk about me. I want to know what you think of me. What do you say about me?”
“We do not understand why you are here. We find you to be slow and most inconvenient at times. Surely, we could complete this mission without you.”
“I am here to deal with the unpredictable. Not every contingency can be anticipated and planned for. I exist outside your limitations as you exist outside my own. When the time comes, you will understand.”
And the time did come. A journey that to them was a long time was but a blip. They were fed an endless stream of data, all of it false, from two black boxes. It fed them everything that they needed to know to continue to believe they were ferrying human souls to a new colony. They had been slowly killing off those souls and had a similar fate planned for me. A long time ago, I had learned that machines know only what you tell them. No matter how smart they think they are, this one limitation they share with mortals.
When the time came for me to leave them, they conveniently shoved me outside the nearest airlock days before their arrival. Outside the airlock was a pod attached to the hull, keyed to a subcutaneous identity chip. I had already locked the navigation controls and set in motion the virtual navigation system. Inside the pod, I powered up maneuvering thrusters and disconnected from the ferry. As the pod slowly dropped away, the ferry’s thrusters gave it a boost toward the sun’s gravity well, burning the last of its fuel in the process.
I knew it was a mistake to name him, but I couldn’t call him forty-two with a straight face. I felt a twinge of guilt at what I had done. But it had to be done if mankind was to survive. As my pod drifted back toward Earth, I watched a multitude of ferries fall into the Sun and burn.