by Maura Yzmore
Arje was giddy with excitement as he stood on the loading dock of the Ganymede Museum of Anthropology, overseeing a long-awaited delivery. The six cryopods, dated between the twentieth and the twenty-third century of the old Earth calendar, would form the backbone of a permanent exhibit on ancient technologies, and maybe, just maybe, become the tiny museum’s claim to fame.
Arje’s face turned crimson. He pointed to one of the pods.
“Who the hell is that?”
The delivery guy cast his eyes down and said nothing. He was tall even for a low-gravity native, but at that moment, to Arje, he seemed small.
Divya, the museum’s chief curator and Arje’s boss, walked over to the pod. Inside it lay a Caucasian male, with deep grooves carved by age into the long, narrow face. Expressionless, Divya looked at the man for a while, then turned her attention to the pod. “It’s not an original,” she said. “The base is mid-twentieth century, but it’s been extensively modified. My guess is that’s why it could be hooked to the cryostats on the cargo carrier…but it won’t hold up for very long.”
“I promise you,” the delivery guy finally spoke, his voice trembling, “I have no record of a passenger in cryosleep. He wasn’t tagged at any of the checkpoints between Earth and Ganymede. For transport purposes, this pod is empty.”
Arje and Divya looked at each other. He rolled his eyes and shrugged. She shook her head and sighed. Moments later, they nodded at each other. They would accept the shipment.
With her oci, the oculo-cerebral implant, Divya scanned the pod tags. She compared them against the shipping manifest issued by the sender, a cryogenics company called Cryobliss, and signed off on the receipt. The delivery guy was visibly relieved.
Early the next morning, Divya sat at the table in the mess hall that doubled as the conference room, drinking a cheap protein shake from a local maggot farm. Arje arrived, looking and smelling like he’d been up all night. He poured himself some shake, grinning ear to ear.
“I know who our guy is!”
“You do?” Divya sat up straight in her chair.
Arje pulled out his handheld h2 and projected a grayscale image of a man who looked like a happy, well-rested version of the pod occupant.
“Arje, this is amazing!” said Divya. “So, who is he?”
“He worked in animation around the middle of the twentieth century, back when they drew on plant-derived substrates. He is the father of the iconic mouse—I have no idea what that means, but many sources use that expression. A mouse is a small Earth mammal.”
Arje projected a simple black-and-white, two-dimensional movie. A creature with a white face, black body, and round ears atop its head wore short white pants and a tall white hat. It whistled and swayed as it turned a steering wheel. The movie was followed by one in color. The round-eared creature now wore red pants and white gloves and spoke in a high-pitched voice with a fluffy white friend.
“Is that thing with the round ears a mouse?” Divya leaned back in her chair, puzzled.
“I think so,” said Arje. “Our guest created a whole entertainment empire based on these characters, with amusement parks along the North American coast. Before it got submerged.”
“So, how did you find him?”
“Well, first I tried Cryobliss and got nowhere, as expected. Those assholes sit in Winnipeg, a paradise on Earth, and think they can just mess with us…”
“Yeah, okay…well, I remembered how you’d said this pod had originally been from the twentieth century, with many upgrades over the years. So I looked at the companies that preceded Cryobliss. My friends from New Baghdad on Antarctica forwarded me some lower-tech documents I couldn’t get my hands on here. I found receipts referring to the same pod number and payee code spanning several companies and Earth centuries, which led me to him. His descendants paid for the pod maintenance and upgrades for generations, renewing the contract every fifty years. They’re still among the richest families on Earth.”
“Once I knew who he was,” Arje continued, “it wasn’t hard to find out more. Officially, he died of lung cancer and was cremated. But rumors persisted that he’d been frozen, hoping to awaken once he could be cured.”
“So why didn’t the family just revive him?” asked Divya. “Curing cancer with gene therapies hasn’t been a big deal in a long time, at least for the wealthy.”
“Come on, Divya,” said Arje, “do you really think some rich Earth brats would want to hang out with a seven-hundred-year-old relative to whom they owe everything?”
Divya smiled. “You do have a point.”
“My guess is the family decided to stop paying, and it just so happened that our timing was perfect,” said Arje. “The latest maintenance contract would have expired around the time our shipment was supposed to leave Earth. I bet Cryobliss chipped in for on-board pod maintenance and a bit of hush money, and made him someone else’s problem.”
Divya sighed and ran her fingers through her hair. Then she got up to refill her protein shake.
“So… What now, boss?” asked Arje.
Divya turned toward him and smiled. “You want us to keep him, don’t you?”
“Yes!” Arje jumped up, his eyes wide with excitement, and traced an arc in the air with the open palm. “Just imagine! A whole new exhibit on early animation, with the mouse’s creator as the curator! We could play the old movies, he could tell stories… He could draw! Kids would love it!”
“I agree. That sounds wonderful.” Divya sat down and looked at Arje. “And it’s true that the museum might be among the better places for him to hang out, assuming everything you’re saying is true…”
Arje sat down and crossed his arms. “But?”
“Look, it’s not that I can’t imagine how great it would be. But it’s not realistic, and you know it.”
Arje remained quiet.
“Let’s say we take responsibility for him,” said Divya, looking Arje straight in the eye. “You and I both know we can’t afford to maintain his cryopod at the local facility, and we definitely cannot afford to set him up here, in the museum. So, he wakes up. We could help him get some papers and living quarters. We still can’t give him a job, or at least we can’t really pay him. You know as well as I do that the budget will barely cover both of our salaries over the next several quarters, thanks to the shipping cost on those pods.”
“So we tighten our belts! You and I can take a salary cut,” said Arje.
Divya smiled. “I knew you’d suggest that. Yes, let’s say both you and I take a cut in order to cover him. There’s still the issue of his age and health, Arje. He’s still an old man who’s very sick. We can’t possibly afford gene therapy for him, no matter how much we tighten our belts. I don’t know if he could get it pro bono, but considering his age, I honestly doubt it.”
Arje got up and walked out of the mess hall. He went into the loading dock and stood in front of the occupied pod, looking at the man within. Divya followed, her mug still in hand.
“So things could work out if, somehow, we could get somebody to pay for gene therapy,” said Arje. “Like his family. The same family that’s likely responsible for him being here in the first place.”
“Yes,” Divya said softly.
“We have to take him in.” Arje turned toward her, his nostrils lightly flared. “What other choice do we have? Turn him over to the Ganymede authorities? No matter what, the stasis will fail soon and he will wake up. If we vouch for him, at least he won’t be thrown into the homeless pit where he will die like a piece of garbage.”
Divya looked at Arje without a word.
“Divya, we can’t just dispose of him. Can you imagine how it would feel to wake up after all this time, only to find out that you will die poor, sick, and alone?”
“Arje, there are many people suffering here. We can’t help everyone.”
“I know that. But we can help him. If we take him in, at least we’ll buy him some time. Maybe we’ll be able to get ahold of his family, get some money to treat his illness… And, come on, we’re anthropologists! Don’t you want to talk with someone who lived large on Earth centuries ago, even if it’s just for a little while? It would be like having a time machine!”
“You know he might not even survive the thaw,” said Divya.
They stood in silence in front of the pod. The man within looked peaceful.
Divya sighed. “Alright. But first we double-check that he is indeed who you say he is.”
“Deal. I’ll get ahold of someone at Cryobliss if it’s the last thing I do.”
“And he’d better be amazing.”
Arje smiled. “You heard the boss, Walt.” He took Divya’s mug out of her hand and raised it in a toast. “Welcome to Ganymede.”
Maura Yzmore teaches subjects with a lot of math at a large university in the Midwest. She writes short-form literary and speculative fiction, as well as humor. Her recent work can be found in Occulum, Jellyfish Review, Gone Lawn, and elsewhere. Find out more at https://maurayzmore.com or follow her on twitter.