After a short fight, Gromov subdued his opponent. The man did not resist much. He was so small and weak that Gromov thought his black passenger was a strayed child.
"Please, do not hurt me!" begged the creature, cautiously eyeing the clenched fist hovering over his head.
"I don't remember buying this ship with living accessories? Are you an alien?"
The thing under him hardly resembled a human. Malnourished with an unhealthy complexion, the man felt fragile. His limbs were devoid of flesh, and his skin was almost transparent with the network of bluish veins beneath. Grey eyes, partially hidden behind untrimmed yellow hair, bulged in terror.
"Don't hurt me. Let me go!"
The resisting body attracted the attention of the doll. She spoke up, "Captain Gromov, allow me to remind you that it is illegal to force human beings into sexual practices without their consent."
"Thank you and shut up," exclaimed Gromov, mildly amused. "Now, my ugly friend, we will talk. The rule is simple. You won't respond, and I'll break your bone. We can start with your fingers."
"You cannot do that!"
"Why not? This ship belongs to me, and I can dispose of your body effortlessly."
"Heroes don't do such things."
"I beg your pardon?"
"You are Captain Sava Gromov, aren't you? You are a hero. Heroes do not break fingers."
The naivety with which the creature believed in his goodwill enraged Gromov. Irritated, he lowered his head to listening ears and growled, "I've sent the woman who thought I was the finest man in the world to her death. My best and only friend I ever had died with her. It took me mere five minutes to shake it off and continue my mission."
With such unpleasant memories, Gromov twisted the left hand of his captive and went on until the screams of pain became unbearable.
"Trust me, you bastard. I suck in playing the hero part."
"I'll speak. Just stop it. Please, please."
"Speak now!" With no intent to release the pressure, Gromov asked, "What is your name?"
"Stop kidding me! One more lie, and your arm is gone."
"No, I swear this is my name! Uriah Uriah! They call me UU. I have the ID card in my pocket. Please, please."
Gromov checked the ID card. To his horror, some parents did name their son in such an outrageous manner.
"Are you a ghost of this ship, Uriah? Is this ship dysfunctional because of you?"
"I have no idea what you are talking about!"
"Do you want me to kill you right now?" Gromov asked. "You are ugly and have the name of a mediocre rock band. I'll kill you to shorten your suffering."
"Are you serious?"
"Yep. You are ugly..."
"Not that. Will you kill me?"
"Probably not," said Gromov finally. "Don't worry. I will call the police and let them take you. Satisfied?"
For some reason, mentioning the police terrified Uriah more than previous threats. "You cannot do that," he insisted. "I beg you not to call them. I admit I was tweaking the audit protocols to deter people from buying the ship. Those so-called security experts! A bunch of expensive monkeys if you ask me."
"They did not expect someone who messed with their diagnostics," Gromov grunted. However, he agreed with Uriah. The rundown company of Mr. Cecil Shanks could have hardly afforded a top-notch security agency. "Congratulations on becoming phantom of my ship, you misfit. I'll call the police now."
"You cannot call them. As soon as you notify the police, the DOZOR will know where my location is. I am on the DOZOR's wanted list."
"The DOZOR?" With the reminiscence of Annabella Corbin, Gromov concluded that another simpleton believing in conspiracy theory had appeared.
"DOZOR is a myth!"
"They want you to think that," replied Uriah, and since he encountered the topic very dear to his heart, he became unstoppable.
Judging from Uriah's speech, the DOZOR had everything that a secret and unscrupulous state organization should have had. Its agents, glorified by teenage fantasy, possessed licenses to kill, which might impress youngsters, but Gromov abhorred stories in which the killers impersonated main characters. Contrary to that, Uriah thought that cold-blooded murderers in tuxedos were cool.
A few minutes later, when Uriah picturesquely described a limousine full of black-suited gorillas, which followed him on the street, Gromov had enough.
"I should have torn off his tongue before I'd started to questioning him," he thought. "He could have written his part instead."
Still, Gromov tried to find any sense in Uriah's speech. It turned out that Uriah considered himself a famous hacker. The word "famous" represented about thousand of followers who visited his pages called "Under UU surveillance."
There, Uriah Uriah, surrounded by the other script kiddies, boasted about how he had hacked several institutions and browsed their documents freely. Unfortunately, his unconvinced followers want him to provide real evidence.
In vain, he explained he was a good guy with no intention to spread classified documents. Unfortunately, their persistence left Uriah with no other choice than to break into the Ministery of Defense's network.
At this point, Gromov could not resist and asked: "Why Defence?"
"Because it is the common sense they are protected the best. I wanted to show Lazy Gee and the others my true skills."
Gromov did not inquire who Lazy Gee was and nodded. However, he doubted Uriah's logic. Why should the MoD be better protected when compared to other state institutions? Since when had the Defense so good reputation among hackers? Wasn't there a handful of scandals related to leakage of top-secret information in recent history?
Uriah knew them as well, and after searching in the hackers' community, he found the description of one old penetration. After probing several network addresses, he encountered one unpatched computer and dived in.
After retrieving a few unimportant folders, which should make Lazy Gee shut up, he started to explore his further possibilities hoping he might become famous. He even managed to create an administrator account for himself using social engineering.
"I made one IT technician think I was a girl and so into him. Are you curious about how I..."
Fortunately, Gromov stopped Uriah before he could start explaining all his smartness. At the same time, he began to understand that no mysterious DOZOR was necessary to put Uriah in prison. He kept digging his own grave diligently.
Feeling invincible, the self-proclaimed hacker explored the Ministry of Defense's net, gathering and uploading tons of folders into his personal cloud.
"So many dirty secrets," Uriah continued afterward. "At that moment, I knew they would get me eventually. So I'd prepared a script, which would send everything to newspapers and opposition once I got caught. One of my clicks - and boom! If I went down, the government would go down with me."
More than by Uriah's capability, Gromov was impressed by his shamelessness, with which he would not hesitate to cause a significant state crisis to avoid his well-deserved punishment.
Gromov did not blame Uriah much, though. The youngster was no hacking ace, and if an "expert" of his caliber was able to get through the MoD's security, anyone else could as well.
"Then, the day of my fall had come," Uriah continued solemnly, closing up the inevitable tragedy. "Do you know why so many SF pilots have died recently?"
"There is corruption, awful corruption, Captain. The top brass receives money to send pilots to their deaths. The military complex pays them to do that. With each fighter lost, the new one is ordered. I have all the necessary evidence."
Gromov could not speak more indifferently. Omnipresent corruption was everywhere. The lobbyists occupied the Ministry of Defense every day and offered indirect or direct incentives to replace the old equipment with new ones.
The private corporation sponsored by public money presented the ultimate proof that the system could not be enhanced, at least, not for the private sectors. The profit was theirs; the losses belonged to the state.
Gromov had no idea how to deal with the young idealist. So he released Uriah and sat down in the chair while contemplating the possibilities.
The simplest and safest solution was to call the police. On the other hand, Uriah Uriah, exposed to many dramas dealing with espionage, expected Gromov to turn in the compromising material to media outlets, reveal the bad guys, and shine like the hero who has nothing better to do than to save the day.
If rotten oranges step out to let rotten apples step in, what is the difference? Since when the society recruits politicians from selfless monks and nuns?
As Uriah failed to find any excitement or rightful horror on the Gromov's face, he kept sulking: "Do you understand, Captain? They have been giving your superiors millions to let you pilots die."
Gromov stayed unfazed. "I guess that explains why Steiner-like officers remain in command. Whatever I can think of Colonel Steiner, I doubt he is cunning enough to have money for his idiocy. If so, I should apologize to him. After your explanation, I may understand why his higher-ups do not rush to get rid of him."
"You don't trust me!"
"On the contrary, Uriah, I trust you. I am positive that you have the proofs, and you are speaking the truth."
"Why am I not taking immediate action? Not saving my unfortunate fellow pilots and gunners from clutches of the corporate hydra?"
"Exactly! I may be a misfit, but they are brave warriors, fighting Plantarians and criminals."
"Plantarians aside, some may argue that Space Forces enforce an unjust policy of the Advanced Nations within the Solar System."
"What? Aren't you a patriot?"
Rolling his eyes, Gromov did not bother to explain himself since people who played the patriot card usually did not recruit from the most knowledgable cream of society.
Very few citizens of the Advanced Nations recognized the harsh truth; the rest of the Solar System intensely disliked the Good force of Galaxy, presented by one-sided proclamation of the POTAN.
[ Pavel Morava's remark: POTAN stands for the President Of The Advanced Nations.]
Since the day the head of his planet publicly declared absolute disrespect for interplanetary law while threatening the Solar System's disobedient members by twisting their arms, Gromov could not shake off the everlasting embarrassment.
It felt like being on the wrong side of history when listening to the state official who spoke like an unscrupulous gangster. Fortunately for Gromov, the Plantarians appeared and offered his troubled conscience temporary relief.
"Uriah," he said afterward. "Our planet has been committing serious war crimes since the very beginning of its colonization. Unless you want to be surprised unpleasantly, I urge you not to draw the moral judgment upon us."
"But you are a hero," rebutted Uriah. "Heroes do not think that way."
"I told you before I suck in playing the hero part. So hide your disappointed face. One more disdainful look my way, and you are off from this spaceship."
Uriah's expression immediately changed.
"You won't turn me in, then?"
"Is there an arrest warrant on your person?"
"So far as I know, there is none."
"As expected," Gromov muttered sarcastically, "the DOZOR doesn't issue the warrants; they kill suspects at sight. Glorious bastards they are!"
"The agents were after me," Uriah insisted. "Men in black tuxedoes in the limousine."
"Sure, sure! I trust you because a limousine is the best car for tailing someone. Very inconspicuous!"
"Okay, perhaps I exaggerated a little. I was scared, alright. But I outwitted them when I sneaked inside this spaceship. Do you want to know how I hacked the entry door of the Space Lift? It was quite smart. I wanted to write a blog post about it, but I knew they were monitoring my account."
"Oh, spare me!" Gromov facepalmed. "No need to hear that twice. Just listen to me, Uriah. I can understand why you may want to avoid the police, and if you want me to become your culprit, you have to delete all your online presence. No more Under UU Surveillance. Is it clear?"
"Sure. What else, sir?"
"You will give me a copy of all downloaded data. I will handle them at my consideration after you erase your cloud folder and all possible backups, including any nasty scripts."
"What about my safety?"
"Your safety? There is no arrest warrant issued."
"But DOZOR is after me."
"In that case, you can stay on board. This ship's destination is the Rusty Asteroids, the den of pirates and outlaws. A quite fitting place for infamous hacker UU, don't you think?"
If Gromov hoped that the name would deter Uriah from coming along, he was sorely mistaken. On the contrary, Uriah got excited and fantasized about space adventures, acting more like a child than an adult.
"Haha, if Lazy Gee knew I was going to conquer the Universe with famous Captain Sava Gromov, he would die of envy."
Uriah started performing such weird tribal dance to relieve his excitement.
Gromov watched him in utter despair.
"I've changed my mind," he grunted finally, "I'm calling the police."
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.