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Short story. I think in a magazine (Analog or IASFM or the like). Circa late 70s or early 80s.

There's a teenaged boy who is woken every year for one day, I guess his birthday. He interacts with the living crew (sexual tension, fights, etc.) When he tries to stay with the crew, the ship's robots drag him back to his animation pod. The living crew can't overcome the robots.

At the end, we learn that the previous generation (which died out, I guess they couldn't procreate) was somehow flawed. And that his animation buddies are the good seed. And he was only awoken to see how messed up the previous crew was. (I didn't like the message of the story as not triumphant...but felt it was well crafted.)

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This sounds like "Birthdays" by Fred Saberhagen (Galaxy, March 1976).

The protagonist, Bart, is shown 24 cribs by the computer, observes the machines taking care of them, and allowed to pick one of the babies up. He then goes back to sleep for a year:

The machines labored ceaselessly, patting, changing, feeding, washing, wiping up. Twice they dispensed cups of soup-like stuff for Bart to drink. There were no clocks to watch but he was certain that he had been in the nursery for hours. At last, one of the machines took him lightly by the arm and pointed back down the corridor whence he had come.

When he had closed himself into his little plastic-walled bedroom the Ship's voice said: "You will be given a substantial breakfast when you wake again. That will be one standard year from now."

The original children are sterile, and unable to have children. And they find out they were not born of the best genetic material:

"There's further evidence." She paused. "I said all the human seeds and eggs were coded as to type and potential? There's some indication in the available records that all of us now alive—except you, we don’t know where you came from—were conceived from materials not considered of the highest quality. Not that we have any grave genetic defects, of course, no seriously defective material would have been placed aboard. But—not the best. This suggests to me that all the best material was somehow destroyed, and also that there may not be much material left."

After 68 years the last of this generation dies, and he is shown a new generation that he will help raise for landing in 20 years. The computer implies that the entire previous generation has been part of Bart's training.

"We will arrive in less than twenty standard years within a system of planets probably suitable for colonization. From now on you will be awakened increasingly often. You will serve the first generation of colonists as parent. Like them, you have first-rate genetic potential, and perhaps you will remain in some position of leadership when they mature. Today begins your apprenticeship in this role; your elementary preparation for it, a course in the basics of human psychology, was completed yesterday."

You can read the story at the Internet Archive.

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  • I think that's it. Somehow the story sticks in my mind...even now as I age, I start to think I'm one of the flawed ones! Nov 14, 2023 at 4:20
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    Embarrassing, but I find now, from a Google search that the question has been asked at least once previously on this site...maybe twice...and a couple times on other forums. Oops...we are not a forum...are a Yahoo Answers site. Don't tell the moderators I deviated from the prime directive. ;-) Nov 14, 2023 at 4:20
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    @Postasaguest Don't feel embarrassed about it being answered here already; finding matches here if you don't know the correct name is hit-or-miss at best. It probably didn't even suggest it as a similar question when you were typing it in (exactly this has happened to me).
    – DavidW
    Nov 14, 2023 at 4:38

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