The Traveler and the Goddess
Beyond the orbit of Mars there was nobody but Asra and the goddess who lived in her spaceship. (And a few dozen robots but this isn’t their story.)
The goddess was the spaceship, the spaceship the goddess. The company, in the inscrutable ingenuity of their engineering oracles, hadn’t designed the spaceship as a complex device that could be controlled by an AI, but rather as an AI that ran on hardware that happened to have a secondary function as a spaceship.
There were redundancies, of course. In the event of Asra’s death the spaceship would be able to function at something between 83 and 115% percent of effectiveness depending on the task.
In the event of the AI failing, well, though.
(Asra called the spaceship “ship” when speaking to her. It was “goddess” only in the privacy of her thoughts. Not because she thought the AI superhuman in any but the commonplace senses. She was just keenly aware of whose continued existence depended on whose inhuman goals, flaws, and whims.)
This isn’t to say that the spaceship wasn’t designed to keep Asra alive; the company had built a life support system much beyond the state of the art, a serious dent on various budgets that could not be justified by the scientific goals of the mission and had at best a questionable link with the proto-industrial prospecting ones.
No. The spaceship carried and kept Asra alive because humans-in-space were back in fashion and the political goodwill was worth the hassle. Asra had been selected carefully to be a slight mismatch, trained but not too much, and sent on a mission she wasn’t a hundred percent behind.
It was a smashing success. She was imperfect in a world where every key worker was cyborgized and fine-tuned deep into the uncanny valley. She had the same doubts, sometimes, the mission’s critics had. She was a genius but not an extension of the ship’s AI. She was mostly beloved and grudgingly admired by many who didn’t.
A few years after leaving Earth orbit the company’s sociological engines ran a few hundred million simulations and recommended extending the mission a few years more. The psychologists, knowing what their bosses would choose to do anyway, announced it would work best if Asra weren’t told of this.
Tantalizing scientific clues were re-prioritized as too urgent and important to leave for a future mission. Marvels of meta-engineering were called from algorithmic depths to allow ship and human to stay for longer than had been planned to and move to places they hadn’t been planned to be.
Asra had gone from celebrity to hero even before reaching Jupiter. Now she was something else — something even more valuable to the company and to the web of interests grown around them — as she darted around the Jovian system, her return home first delayed by exploration and then by a cascade of problems to surmount, not all of them deliberately introduced by the company.
She knew what was happening. She pretended not to. Lying to people home had always been easy; she had the company’s help with that, and they had a century of experience. Lying to the company itself was much harder – she suspected she succeeded at most half as much as she thought she had, but the same could be said about their success rate lying to her.
Lying to the goddess was entirely different. The goddess’ mind, not free from error, was much less prone to lying to itself than a human’s, and people lying to themselves was how most lies worked. Through her sensors around and inside her, the goddess knew every aspect of Asra’s world. She was the world, and she wanted to keep her out there, further from home than anybody had ever been, until people back home got bored.
Probably die an heroic death for one last dividend to the company’s investment.
So Asra lied with her words and her body, planned furiously, and tricked the goddess whenever she could. Even in her lucid dreams she was scared but trusting in the right amounts, and if the neural implants picked something else the goddess didn’t say.