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In the end, Cecil Shanks needed more than eight hours to manage paperwork. Gromov spent the time slumbering in the armchair and eating snacks, which Cecil Shanks kept ordering.

Then, they arrived at the Space Lift, where their ways parted. Even though Cecil Shanks insisted on making Gromov's company, the latter preferred to stay alone with his black thoughts.

"That's him! It is him for real. Quick, put your barret on. We don't want to embarrass ourselves. Who? You moron! The Captain Gromov of Space Forces. You've heard about him, right! The man they wanted to execute."

Staring at Gromov like he was a popular idol, the customs department officers did their best to help him.

"Sure, sure, eager to send me away," pondered Gromov wryly. "The world needs to get rid of me."

Hiding his unthankful attitude under a pleasant smile, he did not refuse to take a photo with a young female corporal. She put something in his pocket. Later on, he realized it was a red-framed form from the Customs Office.

It read:

DATE AND SIGNED
Captain, call JAMILLA2036.
I like old movies.

For the first time in his adult life, he experienced a woman making moves on him. More than pleased, he felt awkward. She was slightly above twenty. What the "old movie" line stood for? Does he look like an antic to her?

With stiffened upper body, he walked away, and sighed in relief when the hermetic gateway of the embarking tunnel closed behind him. Then, he approached his new spaceship.

"Not bad!"

In comparison with military vessels, the interior of this one emitted the air of luxury, like a reminiscence of the middle-aged chateau. The previous owner, Luciano, covered walls with wooden plates and hung paintings everywhere.

The scenes depicted historical battles, in which men were dying with swords in their hands, under wild horses with squared teeth. In the sky, angels with luscious females bodies hovered over suffering soldiers.

With the eagerness of vultures, they grabbed poor victims of war and dragged them away, their white wings and semi-transparent gowns in stark contrast to red flesh in open wounds.

Gromov was no stranger to photos of naked models, but now he felt like being trapped in the den of decadence. Shaking his head in disbelief, he unlocked the door of the captain's cabin.

In the middle of the room, there waited a female figure, with legs spread in a heroic pose, with feather wings on her back, wrapped in something that looked like a bedsheet. In front of her, there stood the tripod with a pallet, covered in dried-out paints.

"Who the hell are you?"

Shocked and with the heart beating aloud, Gromov almost believed he had to run to the manifestation of Luciano's ghost.

"Shanks forgot to tell me someone was aboard."

She did not answer, so he examined her closely. When he touched her cold skin, he realized she was a mere doll, although anatomically accurate.

"Charge meee..." Suddenly, the doll opened her eyes and scared him once again.

The fading whispering sounded like begging for mercy. On his lonely journeys, Luciano probably spent his time drawing battles and his artificial companion. After his death, the doll gradually ran out of the batteries.

"The arts must wait!"

Enraged, Gromov grabbed the doll under its chest and put it in the corner together with the tripod, the pallet, and paintbrushes.

To become the absolute master of the spaceship, he had to find the board computer. Finally, Gromov found the dusty terminal on the table. He inserted the hardware key, which he received from Cecil Shanks, inside the proper slot, and logged in as root.

Even though he had a shallow understanding of what he was doing, he had decided to follow the standard procedure of Space Forces, prescribed for taking over the enemy vessels.

With no hesitation, he deleted all user accounts. Then, he created a new one with high-level permission, removed the hardware key, and logged in under his name.

WOULD YOU LIKE TO CUSTOMIZE YOUR PERSONAL SCREEN?

NO

After dismissing all options, he immediately ran to the pre-start protocols.

WOULD YOU LIKE TO RUN SYSTEM CHECKS?

YES

RUN ALL TESTS?

YES

The doll stared at him with helpless and begging eyes from the corner, which greatly disturbed him. Since the progress bar indicated he had more than thirty minutes, he could not help himself. He had a habit of charging everything that needed to be charged at once.

"Ridiculous," he thought while searching for a wireless charging tab. "One of the first things I do as the owner of the space ship is taking care of a sex doll. Wait for a second, lady."

After the work was done, the doll spoke: "Hello, handsome. Do we know each other? Where is my Luciano?"

"Dead," Gromov said grimly. The doll imitated a living creature so flawlessly he almost regretted his tone.

"This is unfortunate," said the doll calmly and glared at Gromov. "Do you have the privilege to command me?"

"No."

"This is unfortunate," repeated the doll, closed her blue eyes, and stop responding.

"Hello?"

After he touched her, she woke up and asked: "Do you have the privilege to command me?"

"Yes?"

"Please authorize your access."

"How?"

"You can use a passphrase or a hardware key. I am sorry, but I cannot satisfy you before that. Thank you for your patience. Do you like to have a summary of my abilities?"

A smirk followed the last sentence as if she could not wait a moment, she would be of fair use.

"Please, do so."

"First of all, I would like to thank you for buying me. I am sure you can make me happy. If I am not enough for your needs, please, do not hesitate to get another model from SEXYSEXYLADIES. I am not jealous. We will be good girls. Do you want to know the latest offer from SEXYSEXYLADIES?"

"No!"

"Perhaps later?"

"Perhaps."

"Alright. I am a luxurious multi-purpose model of a 20 years old woman, designed with special regards to long space travels. Whatever your sexual desires are, I am sure I can satisfy all of them. I can..."

The following list took Gromov slightly aback. After the item "you can whip me, and I'll be begging you to stop," he had enough.

Feeling uncomfortably and slightly aroused, he stopped her: "Please, skip that and continue to the next section if there is any."

"Of course. I can do maintenance work for most types of recent spaceships. You like me to enlist the available types?"

"No."

Gromov guessed his ship is amongst them if Luciano had picked this model.

The doll continued, "I can connect to the board computer and enable you to communicate with it more comfortably. Would you like me to do so?"

"Can you do that?"

"Of course, this spaceship board computer has the security access file to my interface. Oops, sorry. I just checked, and it seems somebody deleted my user account. I need user Sava Gromov to grant me the access."

At first, Gromov was reluctant to give access to the ship system to a doll manufactured by the company involved in erotic accessories. On the other hand, Luciano had done that before and still been able to travel safely. Still, he permitted the doll only the necessary rights.

"Now you've received the privilege to command me," the doll said in a changed voice, full of promises. "Congratulations. May I know your name, my master?"

"Call me Captain Gromov."

The AI of the doll misinterpreted her intentions. While he only did not want to get to familiar with a sex toy, the AI searched its database and came to a different conclusion: "Oh, you like to play the father-daughter game with me, Captain Gromov? I am a naughty girl, sometimes. Would you like to spank me?"

"Naughty my ass," Gromov mumbled.

"No problem. Wait a second. In my accessories, there is a strapon."

"Great! What? That lecherous Luciano!" Gromov cursed the previous owner. Was it even possible to spoil the doll in such a way?

"If you would like to invite a friend, I do not mind," the doll answered. "I can cook dinner for you."

"You can even cook?"

"Sure, I can. My data contains twenty thousand receipts from one hundred cuisines."

Gromov rolled his eyes. What was the purpose of twenty thousand receipts in the spaceship, in which food storage was limited?

Clink! Clink!

"System notice," said the doll abruptly. "The task is finished. Do you want to proceed with further routines?"

"Which are?"

"The sterilisation procedure."

"Ah, this one!"

Under normal conditions, the ship got sterilized before the crew had boarded. Since the inner rooms would be filled with poisonous gas, staying aboard without protective gear was dangerous.

"It's fine. Just exclude the captain's cabin from the list. We can do it later here."

"I understand, Captain Gromov. Unfortunately, you didn't grant me the right to trigger the procedure. You have to do it manually. Sorry for the inconvenience."

"Alright."

Gromov sat down and started the procedure. The moment he pressed the last key, a loud alarm sounded through all inner areas of the ship.

"Security alert! Security alert! The sterilization will begin in ten minutes. I repeat, sterilization procedure will begin in ten minutes. All exposed crew members are required to put the protective gear on! I repeat, all exposed crew members are required to put the protective gear on! From sterilization are excluded: the captain's cabin. I repeat, from sterilization are excluded: the captain's cabin. Counting down. Ten minutes to sterilization. Nine minutes and fifty-nine seconds to sterilization..."

The artificial voice went on. When the countdown reached four minutes, someone suddenly hit the door, violently kicking on it.

"Stop it now! Stop it now! I am here. I beg you. Stop it right now! I am here."

Astonished, Gromov canceled the countdown at once, grabbed some steel bar, and jumped to the cabin's door.

"This is a ghost ship, indeed! Who is behind the door, dammit?"

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About the author

Pavel Morava

Bio: Born in the Czech Republic, Pavel Morava is not a native English speaker. Having been twenty-two years old, he published his first book, which did not become an international bestseller. After a few other attempts, Pavel Morava abandoned the literary career for over twenty years, during which period he has been focusing on processing of plastics, programming, and raising of children.
Recently, with more time at his disposal, he returned to the forgotten ambition, fighting a futile battle with English language, procrastination, and the tendency to give up too early.
Being vivid reader of not Anglo-Saxon origin, Pavel Morava was fortunate enough to experience books from different countries, including Czech, Russian, Polish, Chinese, Swedish, Dutch, Japanese, French, German, and English. Such a vast literary variety heavily influenced his own work, which typically relies on an one-point-of-view narrative, consecutive storytelling, and elimination of unnecessary details.
Web novels and online publishing made him reevaluate his approach to style and building blocks of the text; the result should be, hopefully, lighter, shorter, and more intelligible for reading on electronic devices.

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