"Captain! Sir! Captain! Sir!"
"What is it now, Uriah? Will we suffocate in a few hours again?"
One of the main reasons why Gromov had bought the freight ship was that the space travels took time. After twenty years of living in the SF barracks, tired of constant drills and reports, Gromov planned to indulge himself in doing sweet nothing.
But the paradise he intended to dwell in had a snake with the name of Uriah Uriah. The ex-hacker, despite his worsening health conditions, insisted on being useful, so Gromov assigned him the task of monitoring the ship's status.
This function, rather formal as everything was controlled by computers, required Uriah to analyze series of values related to the life-supporting system.
Since their fluctuation often reached out of soft tolerance limits, Uriah tended to panic regularly. Furthermore, his Holy Book became the manual and the boldly printed sentence:
ALL MALFUNCTIONS HAVE TO BE REPORTED TO RESPONSIBLE PERSON
"I told you, Uriah, you should rest more. If we were to die because the ship systems collapse, you would prefer to die in sleep, right? Moreover, the situation is grim even without your intervention."
With unhappy expression, Gromov nodded towards a chessboard, placed on the desk between him and Doll. "Truly grim, indeed. I am going to lose in twenty moves. Can you imagine something more humiliating than being defeated by a sex android?"
"Captain Gromov," Doll chimed in with something that he considered a smug smile. "Despite my warning, you have picked the hardest difficulty. Humans have no chance of winning against my computing capacity."
Uriah laughed, "Sir, you should give up. It is scientifically proven that humans cannot beat computers in chess."
Gromov glared at him. "Scientifically prove my ass, Uriah. Humor me. So what is the reason for our horrible death today? For your information, Doll increased the warning limits of the oxygen level, so we do not need to breathe scarcely anymore."
"Hahaha. Seriously, sir, I would expect an ex-military person to pay more attention to critical details."
Uriah, feeling insulted in his best intentions, started sulking.
"All SF mechanics ignore those fluctuations," Gromov explained. "Trust me on this, Uriah. No ship is able to meet all requirements in those damned manuals. They are written to cover hides of the manufacturers, not to give you proper guidelines."
Uriah scoffed, "Do not blame me if you will end up dying horribly, sir."
"The dead blame no one. So much for the logical fallacy in your statement. Enough, Uriah. What was the great news you needed to tell me?"
Uriah's face lit up. "It is the SOS signal, sir! Save our souls! The disaster! People in need! We have to hurry up!"
"People usually do not yell the word disaster with such delighted faces, Uriah. Are you happy about that or what? Anyway, this is an endless space, not a sea. Chances we could hear or save anyone are close to zero. You were probably daydreaming."
With gleeful expression, Uriah could not possibly let go of his opportunity to win over Gromov. After so many humiliations, he grasped the chance to pay back: "Allow me to prove you wrong, sir. May I…"
Not waiting for the approval, Uriah squeezed himself behind the desk and got access to the ship system. In the next moment, a male voice, recorded in a loop, start talking. "Doctor K. Zhutra, the captain of the spaceship speaking. This is a distress signal. Our ship has been heavily damaged by an explosion. Three members of the crew died; two survived. The ship is registered with the Advanced Nations under the code number FF54A123BB. Our coordinates…"
"Captain, we should change the course immediately," Uriah insisted.
"Hold it," Gromov's heavy hand pushed Uriah back to the chair. "You won, and I was wrong. Satisfied?
There was no mistake. The signal existed, and what was worse, the coordinates and date matched their position. In space, no ship was under an obligation to help the unfortunate victims of a catastrophe. The hostile environment typically killed all life sooner than the help was available, but now, under such coincidence, even Gromov felt the urge to react.
However, the timing made him suspicious. With the Rusty Asteroids inglorious reputation, one had to proceed carefully. "Have you ever heard of Sirens, Uriah?"
"No, sir. Is it some military technology? The only Sirens I know of are half-human monsters that lure sailors into perishing."
"Correct. One point for your teachers. Now tell me, how do we evaluate whether this signal is the Siren's singing or not?"
"Are you serious, sir? Sirens are mythological monsters, sir. They do not know how to use radio, obviously."
Gromov facepalmed. "Remind me not to waste metaphors on you. Better safe than sorry. To translate this figure of speech for you…"
"I am not that dumb, sir! I understand," Uriah replied angrily. "You think the calling is a trap, right? It is your fault to express simple things in a complicated manner. Why would anyone attack us? We are not so special."
"Not so special? Do you mean that having no golden bars aboard makes us uninteresting? Our cargo consists of spare parts that are of crucial importance for people living throughout this area. They may desire our treasures very much."
"So what if they are space pirates!" Uriah slammed his tiny, malnourished fist to the table. "They will regret messing with us!"
Gromov rolled his eyes: "Sure, sure. Since we have no weapons, we can throw rude words at them; and in the worst case, we can equip kitchen knives and cut their throats under cover of the night, donned in our spacesuits. Hurray!"
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.