Never fond of impulsive decisions, Gromov evaluated Heinrich Schubert once again. He had mixed feelings when recollecting the encounters with the lieutenant.
That man brought a disaster on his head, got beaten by Akane Anbi, and what was worse, he seemed to fall for her in an unhealthy manner, acting like a shy boy who never had seen a girl before.
“Seriously, this is Akane we are talking about, not exactly some unapproachable Ice Queen,” Gromov pondered. Akane was an easy-going kitten. Still, Heinrich Schubert preferred watching her instead of following the lead of more courageous Captain Chi.
Ignoring unsubtle hints, Heinrich insisted on stalking rather than talking. Even Gromov and Andrey Jerzinski noticed that; and the former was not the most sensitive observer when it came to love affairs.
“I wonder why Andrey had sided with him,” Gromov shook his head. “A few points for our pale Casanova, then. But most importantly, his family background is of crucial importance here.”
Until his final outburst, in which Steiner was not able to constrain himself anymore, the colonel treated Heinrich Schubert with a certain respect. From this, Gromov concluded that the lieutenant’s family had been influential in the military or political circles. Hence, Heinrich Schubert, despite his flaws, could become an optimal candidate for dealing with stolen documents.
“Doll, have you gotten through?”
“Not yet, Captain Gromov.”
Doll acted strangely. Instead of revealing her female assets, she started buttoning up her white shirt and abandoning the usual alluring smile.
“Whatever you are up to,” thought Gromov, “do not stop now. Nobody needs to see that I bought a den of sin.”
“The line has been established,” she announced. “Switching to the HMV.”
“The residence of Schuberts.”
The square flat platform, located in the middle of the captain’s cabin, lit up and showed a flickering cube of light, reaching up to two meters. From the hazy mist, a figure of old fashioned butler materialized.
“Cool!” Uriah screamed in wild excitement. “The previous captain was classy. He knew what to buy. Do you see the resolution, sir?”
“Thank you for the reminder.”
Without further ceremony, Gromov stood up and pushed the bed with protesting Uriah out of the cabin. “You’ll stay here… And stop giving me the upset looks, you smartass. Schubert doesn’t need to know your face or name.”
Meanwhile, the butler inspected his surrounding. He was an elderly man with white hair and bushy eyebrows. The grey uniform he wore was spotless with shining silver buttons. Nevertheless, the noble and poker face twitched a little when he saw Doll.
“Young lady, I am Stephan, an artificial servant of venerable Schuberts. May I know what business do you have with my masters?”
Like two dogs with no particular liking for each other, the artificial existences exchanged stern looks.
“It’s the opposite, actually.”
Straightening her posture, Doll did not falter and spoke up frostily: “I am calling on behalf of respected Captain Gromov, an ex-Space Forces officer, now the supreme commander of this freight spaceship. We were urged four times to contact Lieutenant Heinrich Schubert.”
While Gromov wondered when he became a supreme commander, the butler turned his eyes towards him.
“Are you Captain Gromov, sir?”
Under the scrutinizing stare, Gromov hardly resisted to re-check his t-shirt. For lunch, he had spaghetti with tomato sauce, so he was afraid there were a few stains left under his chin.
“Very well, sir. Wait a while, please. I’ll notify the young master.”
“Very kind of you.”
A plebeian to the core, Gromov found the butler’s speech hilarious. For a moment, he amused himself imagining the unlikely scenario in which young Heinrich was introducing Akane Anbi to his parents: “Mom and dad, meet the girl who broke my nose. Her hobby is brawling and karaoke.”
“Captain Gromov, it’s really you!”
In the HMV area, a new figure emerged from the greyish background. In a suit of vanilla color with a red handkerchief tucked in the front pocket,
Heinrich Schubert stretched his hand to greet Gromov. The latter observed the virtual limb, not certain how to continue. In the end, he simply pretended a handshake.
“Nice to meet you, Heinrich. Are you fine?”
The lieutenant’s skin, pale in the usual vampiric shade, was blushing feverishly.
“Oh, I’m just thrilled to see you again, sir. You look so ordinary now. I mean, you were more imposing in the uniform.”
“Really? And what about you? Ready to attend a ball?”
“No. Why would you think that, sir?”
“Why indeed! Is it your usual attire? A suit with a fancy handkerchief, polished shoes on your feet?”
Heinrich laughed awkwardly, “Lately, I’ve been somewhat involved in politics. Giving interviews and similar.”
“I see. Did Steiner kick you out?”
“Colonel Steiner?” Heinrich looked puzzled. “Ah, you mean that scene? No, don’t worry, sir. Colonel Steiner didn’t undertake any actions against me or the others.”
“So Steiner is still in charge? As expected.”
Embarrassed, Heinrich shook his head. “Not for long, sir. Not for long. Colonel Steiner situated himself in a very delicate position. Since he was not satisfied with the result of the Special Committee, he officially required simulations for our last battle. Rather an imprudent course of action given the circumstances.”
“He wanted me to prove incompetent?”
Sudden doubt stabbed Gromov. What if the simulation shows that I was wrong? In hindsight, I could have managed things better.
“It terribly backfired for him,” said Heinrich. “No matter how hard our technicians tried, the result remained the same—total annihilation on our side. In fact, even though your tactics performed better, no one could have explained why we had succeeded. It was a miracle.”
“We were lucky, I guess.”
“Not only that, sir. There is no one in the Space Forces who would doubt your superior conduct of the battle. Of course, we suspect that the software failed to take into account the above-average skills of participating pilots. I mean, not like myself, but the cream from different military bases gathered in the SF summit.”
“Aha,” Gromov said dryly. “Remember, Heinrich. The only difference I made was ignoring Steiner’s orders. Not something a soldier should be proud of.”
“If you say so, sir. But what about Lieutenant Anbi?”
“What’s with her?”
“Her stellar achievement led to the destruction of the last Q-Field Generator.”
“That’s true,” Gromov admitted. “Akane was an exceptional pilot, the best we had, but by a very narrowed definition. There was something weird about her physique; she could stand more than anyone else. But once again, Space Forces do not need individualists like her or me. Or incompetent fools like Colonel Steiner, for the matter. This is why I am calling, anyway.”
“I am all ears, sir. You may not know, but Colonel Steiner was the old family’s friend. However, after the death of Major Milano, he cannot count on us anymore.”
“If I am not mistaken, Milano was your uncle. How come?”
“He married my father’s sister. Uncle was reluctant to have me under his command, but Colonel Steiner let me stay to please my father.”
Heinrich Schubert grinned suddenly. “You met him before, sir. Do you remember the Space Marshall from the Special Committee? It was him. Heinrich Schubert, Sr.”
“Like father, like son,” Gromov uttered, not impressed at all. “Apparently, he forgot to introduce himself when we met. The blatant nepotism aside, how would you characterize your father, Heinrich? What about corruption?”
[Nepotism: favoring relatives or friends. Pavel Morava’s remark.]
Not very happy with the question, Heinrich frowned.
“Corruption? Do you imply my father is corrupted?”
“You tell me, Heinrich. I am of very humble origin, actually. I have no idea how the rich conduct business. Would your father sell pilots and gunners for profit? Because I have a piece of evidence that some high-ranking officers did so.”
Gromov paused and went on, sneering, “What is it, Heinrich? Should not you be more disturbed by my revelation?”
As soon as Heinrich realized that Gromov was not attacking his father, he hesitated: “This… I am sorry, sir. I cannot say you surprised me entirely. But as far as I know, my father has never been involved in such shady business. He is a man of honor. I mean, he could have helped me several times, pulling strings behind the scene, but not this level of corruption.”
Feeling equally uncomfortably, Gromov continued: “In the evidence I have, the name of your father is not mentioned. But you can imagine that the aftermath will be rather severe. The heads will be rolling.”
“Is it so bad, sir?”
“Pretty much. Look, Heinrich, I am not a lawyer or a politician, but the evidence is detailed, involving highly confidential materials. Do you want it?”
“What? Me? Are you serious?”
“Heinrich, I repeat once again. Do you want it?”
Gromov carefully observed the lieutenant. After the first shock, the young man seemed excited: “Do you trust me that much, sir?”
“Heinrich, this is not about trust. There is dynamite in my hands. Do you want the dynamite? Think twice before you agree. I am not offering you a favor. On the contrary, if you decide to use it, you may be blown away, you and everybody else involved.”
Heinrich smiled: “My father told me you had very unusual thinking processes, Captain Gromov. Do you realize that the dynamite you are talking about has the price of gold for certain people? Have you ever heard of the #OneForOne movements?”
“Nothing to my liking.”
“When you reacted this way when they had told you about them, my father found laughable. You know I am one of them.”
“Aren’t you surprised, sir?”
“Why? Miriam B was very clear that the movement had information from insiders. There were not that many survivors, don’t you think? When you furiously opposed Colonel Steiner, you seemed like you meant your business. Were you their informer, Heinrich?”
“I was the one who had established the movement,” Heinrich admitted. “Quite a few politicians from the opposition were rather keen on shielding it. My father was not aware of my contribution. But he rather approved your attitude, even though he found it a bit extreme. Even if you do disagree, someone has to do it, don’t you think?”
“Not at all! I am not convinced that any nation needs such a circus. Allow me to repeat my question, Heinrich. Do you want it? If you say yes, I will transfer those files to you, delete them, and disappear into Space.”
“Keep my name out of it. Do not search for my sources. And for Heaven’s sake, do not cripple the national security just to win a few brownie points with the opposition.”
Heinrich nodded enthusiastically. “Rest assured, sir. I will not disappoint you. You and I, we are both men who priorities responsibility for personal profits. I cannot but tip my hat to your humbleness. Not everyone would give up on such an opportunity.”
For a moment, Gromov thought Schubert was mocking him. Gromov’s only intentions were to get rid of troublesome materials, especially when these materials were obtained illegally.
A mere fool would think that incoming scandal might improve the SF policy of life backups and corresponding tactical decisions.
“Is it so? I’ll be counting on you, then,” Gromov said solemnly, feeling like an imposter.
“I fully understand why you did not want to take actions yourself, sir.”
“It is too obvious, sir.”
“Well, allow me to explain…”
Gromov knew what the young lieutenant had to think. Yes, he was lazy, comfortable, avoiding troubles, nothing to be proud of.
But Heinrich deduced otherwise.
“Acting like that,” he said, “you can save all these lives without being accused that you plan some revenge on Space Forces. Disregarding your own achievements, you are always the example. Sir, I hope I will never disappoint you. How would Captain Gromov act? That’s how I will ask myself in any predicament.”
“Really?” asked Gromov with raised eyebrows.
This is the most absurd assertion I’ve ever heard, Gromov thought silently. On the other hand, why to break his bubble? Still, walking in my shoes may only jeopardize Heinrich’s career. Should not I warm him to choose a more conventional idol? Is not being me a receipt for a disaster?
To prevent another misunderstanding, Gromov redirected the conversation, asking for the others who had participated in the battle.
“They are all doing fine. The cadet, Jamal, was hospitalized and released from the hospital afterward. Several drifting crews were rescued, including Captain Chi. And now we are waiting for the revival of our fallen sisters and brothers. However, it takes some time because the capacity of backup facilities reached its limit. Fortunately, the Plantarians keep a low profile now, probably because they have not enough vessels to continue the war. After all, they have always been dependent on sources they took from us.”
“And what about my second wing, C3?”
Embarrassed, Gromov realized he forgot the name again.
“That’s her. Is she fine?”
“Yes. She got promoted recently.”
Never overly proficient in small talks, Gromov had no more topics to discuss, so he intended to finish their gettogether. Seeing that, Heinrich Schubert raised his hand like an obedient pupil.
“May I ask you a personal question, sir?” he asked, blushing.
“What is it?”
Here we go, Gromov thought. Now we are going to talk about Akane, I presume. What he thinks I am? Doctor Love? If you want to chase the girl, go for it. Do you need my permission?
But poor Heinrich just stood there and no words left his mouth. Finally, he said, “I do not want to be nosy, sir. After all, everyone has the right to indulge himself in anything he likes. Let conventional morals go to hell, so to speak. No judgments, right?”
So it is not about Akane? Did not Andrey suggest that Heinrich was interested in men? If so, who am I to meddle in his situation?
“Whatever question it is,” Gromov urged the lieutenant. “Spit it out, Heinrich. I am not an expert on these things, but we are both adults, so do not worry.”
“Okay, then.” Heinrich pointed his finger at Doll, staying beside the virtual platform. “You are the first man I know who bought himself an android for sex. How is she? If you compare her with a normal woman, how does it feel? They told me that those new models do not differ from living people? Is it true? They say she can do anything, even the most perverted fantasies. I mean, not exactly perverted; let’s say there is something unconventional on man’s mind, and he wants her to comply? Are there any limits?”
There was an awkward silence. Gromov felt that his cheeks are burning red, with blood pulsing through the popped veins.
“Heinrich,” he growled, “I did not buy Doll for sex. She has been assigned to maintenance and administrative tasks.”
“Of course, sir. I am sure you would never… Still, since you have it, you may perhaps… As you say before, we are both adults, so…”
Gromov glared at the blabbering lieutenant. “Doll, be so kind and send all files from the folder Classified to this man. Then, delete the folder. As for your last question, Heinrich, I had no opportunity to compare Doll with a real woman, but I am sure that she will gladly answer anything about all possible practices one can use her for. In the case, you decide to buy one, then…”
“Then what? Sir, I certainly had no intention to buy one for myself. I was just curious.”
“…then do not forget to follow my referral link,” concluded Gromov. “Now excuse me. I will take my leave. My forehead needs to meet some wall repeatedly. Goodbye, Heinrich, and enjoy your talking with Doll. O tempora! O mores!”
[O tempora! O mores! (Latin) – Oh, the times! Oh, the customs! Pavel Morava’s remark.]
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.