I knew he was already onboard, but it was still jarring to see G-5 in the pilot seat, one foot on the copilot’s armrest and the other on the edge of the console, face buried in a reader. He looked up as I floated to the locker.
“About time,” he said, and turned his attention back to the reader.
“What’s got your attention there, G-5?”
“I wish you wouldn’t call me that.” That’s not exactly what he said, but close enough. Being a throwback, he uses what he calls “the F-bomb” as a noun, verb, adjective, and adverb — often more than once per sentence. We agreed to clean up our language about a century ago, but he slept right through that. I’m not going to get vulgar for the sake of accuracy here.
“It’s a little easier than great-great-great-great-great-grandfather.” I shooed him out of my seat. “You stowed?”
“Yeah yeah.” He scooted over, still reading.
G-5 is hard to describe to anyone who doesn’t have a throwback in their own family, starting with his age. Depending on which metric you use, he’s age sixty (experiential), seventy (medical), or 197 (chronological). The medics said he’s got a good thirty years of full-function left, now that they’ve overhauled him, then maybe ten or twenty of slow decline before something critical gives out. His speech is late-21st, he’ll wear suits like a teenager, and his shaven head makes him look ageless. Not long after he thawed, some of my friends made the mistake of taking him to a bar and using his F-bombs as the basis of a drinking game — we were all nearly comatose in an hour.
He looked up from his reader. “Your gram isn’t exactly a fount of data. We’re doing an ‘ice run,’ she says. What does that mean?”
“It means we’re going Out, finding and processing an iceball, and taking it to Mars orbit.” I pulled up the revised flight plan from Control, OK’ed it, and the pilot tug hooked up and took us out.
“Out. How far out?”
“All the way. Kuiper Belt, anyway.”
For the first time, he looked alarmed. “That’s gonna take a while?”
“Five years. But we’ll be in cryo for four of that.”
“Five years?” He scrambled to stand and the reader floated free. Like anything on a space freighter, it immediately used puffs of air to send it toward the nearest magclasp. “I can’t waste five more years! I’m outta here!” He kicked toward the airlock.
“Too late,” I said. “We’re already underway. They won’t let us go back unless someone needs immediate medassist.”
“That could be arranged.” He gave me a grim look. “Your gram did this to get rid of me, didn’t she?”
I shrugged. He could be right. G-5 was the founder and technically the owner of ECF, the family business he built from several bankrupt railroad and freight companies after the Crash of 2074. But so far, he was the only throwback to wake up to find his company thriving. Legal minds and computers were overheating, trying to untangle the implications. He went into cryo 135 years ago, partly because of pancreatic cancer and partly to escape an ex-wife who had left him after his first fortune evaporated, and insisted that she was entitled to a large share of the second.
He woke to find a cure and his company still around, but much changed. His great-great-grandson (gram’s dad) expanded off-planet, and that quickly became ECF’s primary business. Heedless of both technical and social changes, G-5 wanted to take up the reins and run the company again — and gram wasn’t exactly ready to let a relic from the past push her aside.
G-5 poked his head into the airlock, maybe to see if I was lying about being underway. “She could’ve told me.” He shrugged. “I could’ve gotten laid.”
“If you’d known, you wouldn’t be on board, I guess. As for the other… your grad student friend didn’t give you a send-off?”
“Eh. She got what she wanted. Dissertation written and accepted. No more need for the throwback.” He retrieved his reader from the magclasp and took the co-pilot chair.
“Yeah. Seems to be my luck in women. I run out of what they want, and bye-bye!” He laughed and stowed the reader. “At least this one won’t be back lookin’ for more later on.”
“What were you reading about?”
“The ship. Operations, troubleshooting protocols, that kind of thing. Might be good to know about.” He paused. “You know, this might not be so bad. Looks like I’ll need a prybar to get your gram out of the driver’s seat. I need some time to figure out what kind of leverage I’ll need. And how much. Besides, this trip will give me some front-line experience that I bet she don’t have herself.”
“Huh. Good luck with that. You remember what comes after the pilot turns us loose?”
“Yeah. Deploy the solar sail, slingshot maneuver, then we go popsicle for a couple years.”
“Oh, come on. Frozen treat on a stick? They don’t have those now?” He shook his head. “And they think I’m the throwback? Eh. Let’s get to work. The sooner we get under way, the sooner I can get my company back. And if that don’t work, maybe I can bring the popsicle back to you benighted heathens.”
The Epic Ancestral Power Struggle was on. And I was caught in the middle.