“She’s a beaut ain’t she, boy?”
“Don’ make ’em like that anymore.”
“Uh-huh, if you say so, Gramps.”
“Had me one, back in the day.”
“Can we go now?”
“Hold onto yer britches, boy, we got us plenty o’ time. We can stay and visit a spell.”
“Visit what? This ole junker piece o’ shit?”
“Watch yer mouth, young ’un. Yore ma would beat the tar outta me if’n she heard ya say shit like that.”
Alex smiled. He’d finally gotten a rise out of the old man.
“It’s simple, Dr. Martinez. Fill his mind with things familiar, old memories, things he cared about,” the Head of Innercranial Functionality had extorted him. Why the fuck him? He hated being on MedDeck, hated the smells, the rank musty scent of time passing, bodies suspended in a stasis waiting on a miracle
“Wait, Gramps, don’t touch those,” Alex dove to restrain the wizened form who’d advanced faster than Alex thought possible at ten metagrav. “Please, Gramps. We’re only allowed to look. You know the rules.”
The man was known as Gramps—only that—with no clear reason for it other than his long standing in the community and obvious rank. Some thought he held the key, some magic bit of knowledge, as he appeared to recognize the bizarre images in the video feed that had sprung unbidden onto the monitors.
“Do you know what it is, Gramps?”
The old man nodded happily. “V8.”
“V8.” What the…?
“Lotta horses under the hood.”
Gods of Aten, here we go again. ‘Horses’ for crying out loud. And what the fuck are they? Where was he getting this stuff?
Gramps sidled sideways and slyly winked at Alex, “We could, ya know…”
“What, Gramps? If you know how this thing works, tell me, please. It might be important.”
“Important, oh yes, boy. Bigger than that. Better than.”
“Better than what?” Alex could barely keep the exasperation out of his voice. If he weren’t careful, the old man’s brain would shut down again, an endless repeating cycle of hope, despair and gods-be-damned ‘functionality’.
“Allow him to explore within the image, Dr. Martinez. Remember. Form follows function. If we can get him to recognize the form, then there is hope we shall ultimately discern its functionality. If we do that, perhaps…”
Gramps tilted his head and grinned wickedly. “We could drive it, son. Would you like that?”
“Do what? Drive?”
“Uh-huh.” Gramps tottered toward the artifact, then stopped abruptly.
“What now, Gramps?”
“Somethin’…” he hesitated.
“It’s all right, you’re doing great, Gramps.”
“Great,” he grumbled, cautiously reaching toward the hologram, then quickly withdrawing as if stung. “Shit, boy, that t’ain’t gonna cut the mustard.”
Mustard. That had a ring of hope. His belly growled. He watched the old man circle the relic, shedding sanity until rheumy eyes brightened, the grin coming slow and easy.
Gramps held out his hand.
“Whatcha want now?” Alex allowed irritation to creep in, too weary, too weak to deal.
“Gimme the keys, boy. It’s time to drive us home.”