Windows of Opportunities

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This book is about two astronauts from a distant future. So distant that everything is different in it. It’s so utterly different that it’s very much familiar. In the far-off future, as one may expect, the word “okay” will finally be wiped out of all vocabularies. They will stop using it ever since! Indeed, why would anybody use this unnecessary word given that the good has finally triumphed over the evil! And it certainly will! There will be so little left of the latter that it will be deliberately grown in special pots so as not to forget what it looks like and what it is for. Evil will be so rare, and therefore so valuable, that everyone will want to grow a few of it to sell it later when it becomes even rarer and dearer.

Meanwhile our astronauts move in completely outer space, carrying out missions for the System, keeping in mind their own interests and their flight safety at the same time. With every step they make they are threatened by cosmic dangers. But our friends always overcome them only to face some others, because they know where to look for them. But they never lose their hearts. That’s all because they studied well, helped the elders, did not harass the younger, helped the younger and did not harass the elders. They also helped the younger ones not to harass the older ones, and vice versa! To make it more pleasant for them to help each other, the System helps them too. The system helps everyone, even if it’s not asked for it. Because the System knows, the System remembers! And so well and so systematically everybody helps each other, that it just smokes everywhere! Astronomers mistake that smoke for nebulae, scattered in the Universe in cosmic disorder.

The name of the younger astronaut is Hans. He’s recently graduated from the Academy of Navigators. He, like any young man, has a boss, a captain, whom Hans calls sir, because of the higher rank and age of his superior. The captain is rather a positive character! He is so positive that everything negative is attracted to him! However, he is good and he is kind somewhere out there, in another galaxy. But Hans is not as naive as one might think, (sometimes one needs to think, you know). The brave astronaughty boys also have robots, all kinds of other things and what not on their ship! And if you, dear reader, have reached this line, may I congratulate you on your good senses and wish you a cheerful mood to go on reading!


— What The Heck is this, Hans, why have we stopped?

— Probably the Russians, sir!

— What kind of Russians can do that? We are in another galaxy! What is it in your hands? What sort of pathetic space junk?

— I do not know, sir, it crashed into the board of the ship, we are losing air!

— Give it to me! There it is! Quite strange! It is in our language: “As the Secretary General of the United Nations organization, blah-blah-blah, I’m sending greetings on behalf of the people of our planet…"… So, we’ve got the greetings from their planet, hooray! Another greeting like that, Hans, and we’re getting home no longer!

— Yes, sir!

— Come on, do something, we are returning to the base.

— May I use this golden disk to patch the hole, sir?

— That’s the best thing you can do with it, Hans! And shove their greeting there too!

— There are funny drawings on the back of the disk, sir!

— No time to laugh, Hans! We’ll rejoice when we reach the base.

— Shall I request boarding with repair, sir?

— I wonder, how could one be that smart, Hans!


— Your password is incorrect, enter your password.

— Hans, What The Head! I can’t enter the damned password into the system.

— You changed it yesterday, sir!

— Did I? What for?

— I don’t know, sir, probably it has expired. Or you were in the mood for changing passwords.

— Was I? And how am I going to operate the ship now?

— We will request support from the base!

— You’re out of your mind, Hans, we are in another galaxy!

— Then I’ll drive the ship, sir!

— But you don’t have access to the accelerator, and without that we will be stuck in space for thousands of years!

— Try to recall the password, sir!

— I’ve already tried it! “Genitals123” is not working.

— This is your old password, sir.

— When we return to the base, I’ll resign to hell and to its mother, if, of course, we ever return…

— Try “Genitals234”.

— It worked! You’re a genius. I declare gratitude to you for your extraordinary resourcefulness! With an entry into the register of the System!

— Serving the System, sir!

— How did you find out my passwords?

— I peeped, sir!

— Good boy!


— What The Helix, Hans! We’re flying the wrong way!

— I’ll correct the course in a minute, sir!

— Hans, have you got a girlfriend?

— Yes, sir!

— Is she waiting for you?

— I believe so, sir!

— How do you know?

— I text with her!

— You’re out of your mind, Hans! We are in another galaxy! It takes light millions of years to get there! The same for the information!

— Sorry, sir, my avatar corresponds with her. Rather, with her avatar.

— Your avatar communicates with her avatar?

— Yes, sir!

— Directly or through hyperspace?

— Directly through hyperspace, sir!

— When your avatars have children, will you call one of their avatars by my name?

— Sure, sir!


— Hans, have you ever got lonely?

— Sometimes it happens, sir!

— And what do you do then?

— I read the charters!

— The charters?

— Yes, sir!

— You Read the Funny Manuals?

— Yes, sir!

— And does it help?

— Yes, sir!

— But how? How can this crap possibly help? I mean, in your case.

— I think about all those people who wrote those instructions for us, who thought about us so that we are not lost somewhere in the void, that is, they took care of us, and I console myself that I am not alone in the Universe.

— You do? Give me one of your charters! If there’s nothing else available…

— Not at the moment, sir!

Not flying

— Hans, do you know where we are heading?

— Sure, sir!

— Where?

— Sector X14Y457!

— Where is it?

— In the system AW87Z478!

— Are you sure there is no error?

— Yes, sir!

— What?

— No, sir!

— Why is this light flashing then?

— We’ve got a failure, sir!

— So, we’re not flying anywhere, are we?

— No, sir!

— That is, if we were flying, then it would be to sector X14Y… What was there in the end?

— 457, sir!

— In the system AW and so on.

— Yes, sir!

— But at this very moment we are not flying at all!

— Not really, sir!

— When will we resume flying?

— I reckon, after we handle an incident, sir!

— Have we got an incident?

— Yes, sir! With the handle!

— We need to handle an incident with a handle?

— Yes, sir!

— Why, have we got an incident?

— You hung your cap on the switch handle for the emergency shutdown of the accelerator, sir!

— And?

— And it has shut down, sir!

— So why are you giving me all that shit? Put the ship control to manual mode, unblock the protection locker, lock the detection blocker, disarm the alarm system and prepare for the transition to Y-space!

— Yes, sir.

— And you know what?

— What, sir!

— Tie the handle of that switch to… to this pipe or something!

— Will do, sir!


— Hans?

— Yes, sir!

— Are you sleeping?

— Yes, sir!

— Am I?

— So are you, sir!

— How are we talking then?

— Through the subconsciousness reading system!

— But why do I see your ass all the time?

— I daren’t know, sir, probably it’s also in your subconsciousness.

— Hans!

— Yes, sir!

— Either you remove your ass from my subconsciousness straight away, or I’ll hit that ass of yours with my knee!

— Hans!

— Yes, sir!

— Where are you?

— I’m next to you, sir!

— In my subconsciousness?

— No, in the next bunk, sir!

— Hans, you’d better return your ass to my subconsciousness!

— But why, sir?

— Who knows what kind of crap is on your mind! At least you’ll be in sight!

— Will do, sir


— Hans, have you ever seen the aliens?

— No, sir, we were told at the Academy that the aliens do not exist.

— You were? What’s that swaying in the corner of the window?

— It’s a talisman, a mascot, Mickey Mouse, for luck, sir.

— Why is it green then?

— Probably it is sun-bleached, sir.

— Are you nuts? We are in another galaxy, there is no Sun around!

— Sorry, sir, It may have faded due to space radiation.

— So, you are saying that this thing brings luck?

— Yes, sir!

— We are here, you and I, in the damn ship, at the damn edge of the Universe, being exposed to damn radiation along with your damn mascot? And you call it luck?

— Probably that is required for our mission, sir!

— Get this crap off the glass! This is an order, Hans!


— Hans, why are we wobbling like that?

— We entered the turbulence zone, sir!

— What turbulence zone, are you crazy? We are in another galaxy! In airless space!

— Probably the intrigues of the Russians, sir!

— Impossible for the same reason! Have you refueled at the base?

— I have… most likely, I mean, sir…

— Well, while you were goofing with that… cheerful refueller, flamingo legs, button nose, mouth to ears… Have you loaded the fuel in?

— I think so, yes, sir…

— How much, what brand?

— I don’t remember exactly, sir, let me check the data…

— To hell with your data! Turn off the engines Immediately, signal an alarm to the base while there is still some energy left: we’ve got a hole in the board, we were attacked by the Russians, or some other shit happened! They won’t fly to rescue the assholes who forgot to refuel! It’s your luck we are still not far away from the base.

— No, sir!

— What?

— Yes, sir!

— And change that dreamy face of yours! Next time I will do the refueling, not you!

— Sorry, sir!


— Hans! What mode should we fly now in?

— In the second, sir!

— So why are we flying in the third then?

— Sorry, sir, I thought we might arrive a little earlier…

— You thought, didn’t you? And may I ask you why?

— Well, the guys from the Academy will be there, we haven’t seen each other for a long time, I thought, sir…

— You thought indeed! Why haven’t you thought that you have a commander? Why haven’t you thought that we’ll need to report fuel usage? Why haven’t you thought that the engine might overheat?

— Sir, but we’ve saved some fuel due to the solar wind.

— Solar wind my ass! We are in another galaxy! There is no Sun in this place whatsoever!

— Sorry, sir, we used the Kruger moment…

— Don’t pretend to be smart, Hans! And always remember you have a commander to make the decisions for you! Turn on the fourth mode! Signal to the base: an emergency, due to some solar wind, fart or shit, do I need to think about everything for you?

— Yes, sir!


— Hans, where did all orders go?

— I sorted them out into folders, sir!

— You’re out of your mind, Hans! I had a system!

— Serving the System, sir!

— I also serve the System, Hans! I’m talking about another system!

— There is only one System, there will never be another System, sir!

— Don’t recite the Anthem to me, Hans, I know it by heart, same as you! How can I distinguish important orders from unimportant ones now?

— All orders are important, sir…

— Of course, they are, it’s from the same song, Hans, but not all are equally important! There is a sequence, there are priorities…

— Yes, sir.

— And you destroyed it all!

— No, sir, only sorted them!

— Sort them back, Hans! No, wait, looks like the same number of new orders have arrived already.

— Yes, sir!

— Why are they sending them in such behemothian quantities?

— I daren’t know, sir!

— But you look as if you know!

— We loaded the wrong container, sir!

— So why are you fooling with me! Back to the base! Instead of sorting out all sorts of crap, you’d better think of excuses! It was you who had signed the invoice!

— I’ve already thought of everything, sir!

— What?

— There was your name in it, sir, I’ve signed them for you!


— Hans, why is your finger bandaged like that? Have you cut yourself?

— No, sir, this is for a memo!

— For what memo? Couldn’t you set a reminder in the alarm system?

— The system isn’t working, sir.

— Do you mean, it kicked the bucket?

— Yes, sir!

— But why didn’t you report it properly?

— I tried to fix the leak first, sir!

— Are we leaking?

— Yes, sir!

— But why didn’t you turn on an emergency system, a pump, a generator?

— We no longer have the emergency system!

— We don’t? What happened to it?

— It was blown off by a meteorite.

— But have you reported to the base that we had an accident?

— No, sir, I haven’t!

— Why not?

— Our transmitter is not working! Besides, we are in another galaxy. The signal does not pass! Nothing is operational!

— And you’ve bandaged your finger for a memo?

— Yes, sir!

— In order not to forget about something else, perhaps, something important?

— Yes, sir!

— I wonder what that could be? What sort of mess can possibly happen to me yet?

— Your birthday, sir!


— Sir!

— Not now, Hans, it is very urgent!

— But, Sir!

— Another minute, Hans, I’m almost finished!

— Sir!

— What is it, Hans? Can’t you see I’m busy!

— Sir! We’ve got a stork in the nozzle!

— Hans, are you out of your mind? How can a stork possibly get into the nozzle? We are in another galaxy! What sort of crap do they teach you in the academies! Don’t you understand? Nothing can fly into the nozzle! On the contrary, a hot plasma under very high pressure gets out of the nozzle! Got it? Repeat!

— Hot plasma under very high pressure gets out of the nozzle, sir!

— Good! So, what happened?

— We have a stork in the nozzle!

— Here you go again! Where is the stork?

— In the nozzle, sir! This is the code word, sir!

— Code word! What code word? What? Reverse the engine at once! Stop! Don’t reverse the engine! You can’t, when there is a stork in the nozzle, or we croak out! Send a signal to the base immediately! We have a stork in the nozzle! Just tell them right away that this is a code word so that they don’t laugh like wild horses there. This is a serious matter!

— Will do, sir!


— Hans, what have you got on your screen?

— A conference, sir!

— A conference? Rubbish! How is it possible? We are in another galaxy! Moreover, in the very ass of that galaxy, a signal needs millions of years to hit that ass and be smeared over it evenly like mustard…

— They teleported the conference, sir, time-corrected of course, at the previous jump, along with all possible questions and answers to them.

— And what is the topic? Safety of flights?

— Yes, sir.

— Well, come on, let’s start with the questions… All possible ones… What should we do if the ship gets into an asteroid belt?

— Not relevant to the topic, no answer, sir.

— Just as I thought! And what should we do when a ship enters a gas nebula?

— Now, sir, let me find out… Strange, there is nothing about that either!

— What is there then?

— Classification of emergency events, the procedure for preparing the ship for emergency evacuation, the procedure for emergency shutdown of the engines, the sequence of leaving the ship…

— I see! Hans, we are in the ass of the Universe, and we are told to leave the ship in case of any malfunction! Probably, so that we, with our stupid remains lying in uncomfortable positions and emitting a cosmic stench, do not trouble the brightest minds of the Supreme Commission.

— Quite so, sir!


— Hans, we will have an intern onboard with us, a trainee. Just teleported…

— A trainee, sir?

— Yes, please welcome trainee Lisa. Anthropomorphic servitor, third class, the latest model.

— Is she a robot, sir?

Lisa (with a smile). It’s politically incorrect to call anthropomorphic servitors robots. I am a functional analogue of a team member, my efficiency ratio is 65 to 170, and my efficiency factor is 90-60-90. I am waiting for your instructions, sir!

— Not bad, not bad, Lisa, do get used to it gradually, I will soon need a report on fuel consumption for the last 4 years with corrections for space curvature and the effect of Kruger acceleration.

Lisa. — It’s already done! On your desktop, sir.

— Good, and please compare our expense with that of ships of the same class performing similar missions.

Lisa. — Added to the report, sir!

— Hans, got the drift?

(Hans is chatting with Lisa, they are laughing).

— Hans, are you alright, can you lend me your ear?

— Who, I? Yes, sir, of course we are all right. To my mind…

— Hans, according to the report, we should now have 982.4 units of fuel on board, resource 97. And what is the fuel meter reading? Hans, can you hear me?

— Oh, sir? Sorry, have you asked something?

— I did ask how much fuel we have?

— Fuel, sir?

— Fuel, Hans! F.U.E.L. How much?

— 90 to 60, I believe…

— Are you crazy?! Infatuated or something? She’s a robot, Hans! A robot!

— But, sir, it’s politically incorrect to call anthropomorphic servitors robots…

— Liza, go to the cargo hold and perform the first category maintenance there! Hans, What The Femme! Do we really need problems with an anthropomorphic broad on board?

— Sorry sir, she looks so much like my girlfriend…

— Hans, at your age, everyone looks like your girlfriend, everyone who moves… When she’s finished cleaning, I’ll send her off for an upgrade to a second-class servitor with the best recommendations. May she serve somewhere far away from here…

— Should I help her in the cargo hold, sir?

— What for? With her coefficients of utility and efficiency, you would only interfere with her! There is more important work for you!

— What work, sir?

— Recalculate the fuel report!

— Sir, so we won’t have an intern anymore?

— Nope! Unless they’ve designed a crocomorphic servitor specially for you, but I doubt it…


— Hans, we seem to be losing air! I can’t breathe!

— I’m doing the airing, sir!

— You’re out of your mind, Hans! We are in another galaxy! How can you do the airing in an airless space?

— Well, I’m bleeding the air out, sir. After a while, the air cylinders will open, and the pressure will be restored!

— But why are you doing this?

— Stinking beetles, sir! I don’t understand where they came from! Especially as we are in another galaxy as you rightly say!

— These stinkers are from our galaxy, that is, they bear the smell of our homeland, like it or not, Hans!

— Yes, sir, but how? How did they get here?

— You don’t need to know, Hans!

— Serving the System, sir!

— Carry on, Hans!


— Hans, what are you doing there? What’s on your screen?

— Corresponding with my girlfriend, sir!

— Hans, you’re out of your mind! We are in another galaxy! The signal will be traveling from here for a million years!

— I’m using hyperspace, sir.

— And how? We did not enter hyperspace! Well, come on, tell me how are you doing that? That’s an order!

— With a rescue buoy, sir.

— You sent a rescue buoy into hyperspace as a repeater?

— Yes, sir.

— But where did you learn this, this is not in the manual!

— At the Academy, sir. In a practical lesson. Everyone was laughing then, sir. It is so simple!

— Do you know why you can’t use a life buoy for this?

— No sir…

— You see, you don’t know, but you still use it!

— But we have two, sir…

— There were two, Hans, but not anymore!

— And where did the second go, sir?

— You don’t need to know that, Hans! But what you need to do is to order a new buoy! Have it teleported during the next session! The lifeboat buoy on the ship is an important safety feature, Hans.

— Yes, sir! Should I write that the old one broke, sir?

— In no case! Buoys don’t break! This will be the first time in buoy history. We do not need that kind of fame!

— Then what should be indicated as the reason why we need a new one?

— The truth, Hans, the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth…

— Should I write that the buoy was lost in hyperspace, sir?

— Yep! During the flight safety training that I successfully conducted and which you completed with honors! It was carried away by a meteorite! Or a Russian Sputnik wandering in space in a search of vodka! Whichever you prefer… On second thought, do not write about vodka yet!

— Yes, sir! Serving the System, sir!

— And I congratulate you on that!


— Permission to ask, Sir?

— What have you got, Hans?

— Have you ever been to other planets?

— Of course, Hans!

— In our System?

— What do you mean in our System? There is only one System, and there will never be another one! Have you forgotten the Anthem?

— No, sir, but there are planets so far away, to which the light travels millions of years…

— All planets and all stars in the System belong to the System! There is only one, and there will be no other one!

— But there may be some dissenting, I mean, underdeveloped planets, sir, who do not know about the System…

— Everyone and everything belong to the System and everything is the System, whether they know or don’t know, whether they want or don’t want! Who cares what they know or want? Damn whims! Today they do want, tomorrow they do not want, the day after tomorrow they will have a new bawler leader and they will start pumping rights!

— But it may happen, sir!

— Certainly, it may, Hans!

— They may be plotting something, sir, some mean conspiracy against the System…

— To surpass the System in deviousness, Hans? Are you out of your mind?

— And what about the Russians, sir?

— What Russians?

— Are they also part of the System?

— Of course, Hans! It’s Russian part.

— But their trickery is incomparable, sir!

— Exactly, Hans, it’s unrivaled through and through! With nothing!

— But if they are so shrewd, sir, they might be craftier than the System?

— As part of the System, they cannot transcend the System, Hans. What nonsense do they teach you in academies! Refresh the Hymn in your memory, there are answers to all questions in it, and report back in 20 minutes!

— Yes, sir!


— Sir, we are approaching some planet, the information on the screen gives the probability of life on this planet over 86%.

— So what?

— I mean… Maybe we can fly in and see, sir?

— What’s the idea?

— Well, there may be interesting species of animals or plants…

— As well as dangerous viruses that cause incurable diseases, Hans!

— Yes, sir, but there may be a human civilization!

— Here you are again! For all civilizations, history develops in the same way: first fratricide, then prostitution, slavery, human sacrifice, the invention of the wheel, writing, gunpowder, paper money… Many civilizations do not live long enough to see the invention of the wheel…

— I’m sorry sir, but what about architecture, literature, painting, music…

— Hans, this is all tied to the traditions of a particular civilization! It will be incomprehensible to you, and it will appear ferocious and ugly! You will only waste time and fuel! “Look for matches among similarities”!

— But still, sir!

— Mind! Our mission is not biological, historical or social!

— Yes, sir!

— Watch the screens, Hans!

— Yes, sir! But look, here on the screen, we are surveying the planet! What a funny fluffy character is running. So cute with long ears! Its tail glimpses…

— Sure! And there is another character after it, even more remarkable: shaggy, with teeth and claws. It is about to catch up! Jumped! Ugh! Turn it off immediately! Any more questions?

— This is horrible, sir!

— I told you, let’s fly on!


— Permission to speak, sir?

— Come on, Hans, what have you got?

— We are flying and flying again…

— Of course, we’re flying, what else can we do in another galaxy…

— But we’re flying somewhere, sir?

— Of course, somewhere! Everyone is flying somewhere, even not knowing about it — the Universe is expanding!

— That’s not what I meant, sir. We probably have a mission, an assignment…

— Of course, we do, Hans! We have it inscribed in a specially sealed envelope, in classified file, in closed access. It’s top secret!

— Can we open it, sir, and see?

— And what do you wish to see exactly?

— Like, where we are flying…

— What’s the difference, Hans? It’s the same everywhere! Galaxies, stars, nebulae. Besides, the envelope cannot be opened just like that without a reason.

— It cannot, sir?

— Of course, it can’t! It will self-destruct! We’ll be stuck in space during the whole trial, while they’ll investigate why we violated the instructions! And we’ll be either destroyed for a crime of the first category like spying and treason, or we will manage to shake off our accusations. In which case another sealed envelope will be teleported to us — exactly the same as the one we’ve tried to open! This envelope can neither be opened voluntarily nor destroyed.

— Have you tried, sir?

— Sure, I have, that is… Leave the talk!

— Serving the System, sir!

— Go on with that!


— Hans, look! Why do I see a snake? Am I dreaming or what? It looks like I see it in front of my eyes!

— But sir, I can also see it!

— What can you see?

— A snake, sir, I guess, it is a green mamba, very poisonous and agile! I wonder how could it sneak here?

— What The Heap! Checkup if it’s on the list of experiments; it might have crawled out of the vivarium!

— We don’t have a vivarium on the ship now! I mean, on this mission, sir.

— Where did it come from then?

— Maybe it was teleported to us instead of some zoo by mistake, or it crawled into the transfer device by itself, sir!

— You’re out of your gourd, Hans! We are in another galaxy! We haven’t entered the zone of possibilities for at least four weeks!

— In other words, it is hungry, sir! So, it may be aggressive. If I were you, sir, I wouldn’t be waving my arms like that… It’s pretty close to you…

— What The Helm! That’s the last thing I was dreaming about: to be bitten by a snake in space! Do something, Hans! After all, you’re a biologist!

— In a jiff, sir. We’ll have to cool the room to eight degrees.

— What for?

— This will reduce its activity, sir. And then I’ll carry it to the cargo hold. I think I saw mice there.

— Have we got mice, too?

— Could be, sir, but don’t you worry, the snake will gulp them all down. And when we come by the zone of possibilities, we may teleport it somewhere.

— Good idea, Hans. I think I even know where!

— Where, sir?

— You don’t need to know yet! It will be a surprise to the host…


— Sir, sir, let me ask you something, ask you something?

— What is it, what is it, Hans?

— I have everything doubling-doubling, in my eyes, my eyes and everywhere-everywhere!

— Like doubling? Doubling?

— That’s right, that’s right!

— What did you eat today? What did you eat?

— I reckon, the same as you, as you, sir!

— What did I eat, did I eat, Hans?

— Same as me, as me, sir!

— Hans! We entered the Singer-Singer resonance, resonance, urgently come on, come on, write a message, a message to the center! To the center! We have a problem, resonance-resonance, everything doubles, doubles, more pathos-pathos and words in reverse, esrever ni. Repeat eevveerryy lleetteerr ttwwiiccee! Let them teleport us immediately somewhere, somewhere or elsewhere, preferably closer to the sea and beer, before we get out of the zone of opportunity! The ship can explode to hell any minute! Don’t write to them about the beer, and the sea either! Now substitute “hell” with “uncharted horizons” and send!

— It seems to have stopped, sir!

— Don’t wait for it to repeat, to repeat, Hans-Hans! It may come back, come back any minute, any minute!

— Serving the System, sir!

— You can say that again!


— Hans, I think I’ve seen this nebula in reverse before.

— I don’t quite dig it, sir!

— Well, yesterday it was like that, but today, it is as if it was turned from left to right…

— I’m afraid you’re right, sir!

— What happened?

— We passed that nebula, we now have it on the other side, sir.

— What? But how did it happen, Hans? Did you slip through the rabbit hole? You can’t go there! It is strictly forbidden!

— Yes, sir, but we’re on our way back already.

— But how did you get there?

— Due to a spider, sir!

— What spider?

— I let it out for a sec so that it could catch the fruit flies. Remember that experiment we did last week? The flies almost all survived, and some even got out of the container.

— Hans, but they were infected with a virus.

— True sir, that’s why I released a spider on them, I thought it would be easier to catch the spider after it had caught the flies…

— Now you have to set a bird on it…

— A bird, sir?

— Well, yes, and let a cat after a bird, a dog for a cat, a cow for a dog… Have you never heard this children’s song?

— Never heard it, sir!

— I see! Each time to solve a smaller problem a bigger problem is created. It looks like it’s a common practice now.

— Quite so, sir! But what are we to do with our spider and flies?

— Your spider and your flies, Hans! Put on your spacesuit, lower the temperature inside the ship to minus 20, bleed the air out, turn off gravity, we will fly like birds in the compartments and catch your damn flies and the damn spider!

— We’ll make it, sir!

— Hold on! I need to put on my spacesuit, too!


— Sir, permission to ask a question?

— What have you got, Hans?

— What if we meet the Russians?

— The Russians?

— Well, yes, sir, what are we going to do? They’ve never explained that to us at the Academy, only said to put it off for later!

— We will pretend to be Russians too, Hans!

— Can we do that, sir?

— Well, we’ll push each other, saw the air around with our hands! Drink vodka right from a bottleneck! Play balalaikas! Lead a bear on a leash…

— Do you think that’ll be convincing enough?

— Yep!

— But, sir, we haven’t got any vodka, I’ve just checked! There are no balalaikas and no bear either.

— None left? Strange, I thought I’d ordered some… Is that all?

— But, sir, what if they talk to us? We don’t speak Russian!

— We’ll use an interpreter!

— You mean, the Russians will talk to the Russians through an interpreter?

— Yep! What’s a big deal? They do that all the time! If that doesn’t convince them, we can say that we are deaf and dumb Russians! That is, don’t drink vodka!

— How can we say that we are deaf and dumb if we are deaf and dumb? And how do we hear the answer?

— Through the interpreter, Hans, through the interpreter… As for the answer… Why do we need any answer?

— I’ll go find an interpreter, sir!

— Why all the haste?

— They’re on our course, sir!

— Put the lights out, turn off the engine, Hans! We’ll pretend we are an abandoned ship! And they won’t notice us!

— Too late, sir, they’ve already noticed!

— How do you know?

— They are all around our screens with their wide smiles, waving vodka in their hands! Oh, look they have a bear with them too!

— I wish I dropped dead!


— What’s in the message, Hans?

— Spaceship “Trailblazer-60/90” on our course, sir. Crew consists of Sheila Rodriguez and Milla Schneider. They’re greeting us warmly, sir, and inviting on board for a friendly visit.

— Don’t rush to answer, Hans! It could be a trap. You know we mustn’t leave the ship. Have they sent their photos?

— Sure, sir. They are cute…

— Not bad, not bad at all, if only these are their photos, Hans…

— Perhaps instead of visiting them, we can invite them to our den, that is, to our ship, sir?

— And this could be, on their part, a “Trojan horse” ploy. In this case, “Trojan mares” ploy. In space, this concern is especially acute, what I’m trying to say, the need for vigilance and caution comes to the fore. We’re in a different galaxy, you know, Hans, not just somewhere!

— So, what should I answer, sir?

— That’s the question, Hans! To be or not to be there! The classic situation of fifty-fifty. What would you do in this case? What were you taught at the Academy?

— Follow the charter, sir!

— What does the charter read Hans?

— “Report the problem to the base, transfer the decision to the higher command, monitor the situation and wait for orders”.

— You are right, well done!

— Serving the System, sir!

— And the System is proud of you, Hans! But we’ll go further and use this opportunity for a surprise training! I am giving an introduction: we will test a decision-making model with faulty communication! In other words, we will model a situation when it is impossible to convey the decision to the higher level and receive instructions from them.

— Haven’t got you, sir.

— I say, turn off the transmitter, shut off the engines, Hans! Let’s visit the chicks! Go fetch some champagne! I believe there are some bottles left!

— Yes, sir! But who will guard the ship?

— Have we run out of robots, Hans? Put our Navigator in charge! That’s part of the drill too.

— Will do, sir!


— There’s a complaint on you, sir!

— A complaint? To who?

— To the Flight Control Center, to the base, sir!

— How did you find out about it?

— I’ve got access to the files! By chance, of course…

— Ha! What are they complaining about? And who is that blotter?

— I guess it came from a ship that wanted to outrun us into the corridor of opportunity. It had some kind of special mission. Their lady commander said…

— What The Hent! I told her that we had an emergency! According to the flight rules, a ship with an emergency has a higher priority to pass, and, in any case, the Flight Control Center decides on the priority!

— They claim, sir, that our contingency was in doubt, and that we did not wait for the Center’s decision, slipping into the corridor first…

— Of course, we didn’t wait! In the event of emergency, the decision is made by the captain, without waiting for a command from the Center! It’s a shame I can’t answer them as we haven’t received any formal complaints, have we? Otherwise I would tell everyone how they climbed with their “special mission”, creating that very emergency! But, that’s bollocks, we will fight back…

— Already done sir!

— Have you deleted the complaint?

— On the contrary, I’ve multiplied it on their behalf… The FCC spam filter has removed it, I believe, forever, sir!

— I haven’t heard any of that!

— Serving the System, sir!

— Keep up the good work, Hans!


— Oh my! What’s that Hans?

— That weird ship again, it says, we are tailing after them.

— Are we?

— Yes, sir, they say we are going after them!

— You mean they say we are following them, Hans?

— No, sir, we must be going in the same direction as they are.

— What The Heel! Tell them it may be in their imagination, but we aren’t!

— They are insisting, they are as stubborn as mules, sir!

— Those dumb idiots! Make it clear to them that we are a universal cargo ship, as they might have guessed themselves. We are not pursuing anyone or anything, except for the accomplishment of an important mission on behalf of the System. Write it in many words. The more, the better! Let them read! Shove them the Universal Declaration on the Movement of Ships in Space.

— But It’s huge!

— So let them read it from cover to cover and bug off!

— Done, sir!

— Any response?

— They don’t believe us! They are infuriated that we are following them.

— Tell them that if it’s so important to them, we can overtake them. But let them slow down, I’m not going to waste my fuel on their stupid fantasies!

— I’ve relayed that, sir.

— So, what is it now?

— Nothing so far, sir! Here’s a new message: they don’t want to be trailing under our tail.

— What is it they want?

— They say they don’t want us to chase them. And they don’t wish to lag behind us either.

— But they will have to! Prepare for the jump! Try to make something fall off their ship when we jump, like their stupid antenna of their damn transmitter.

— Yes, sir!

— Not yet, hold on! Transmit a signal to the base: dangerous maneuvering of the ship ahead, incomprehensible signals received, possible illness of the crew… Report their coordinates and a malfunction of their transmitter. We needed to make a jump to avoid an emergency. Do mark urgent and confidential.

— Already sent, sir, but their transmitter is still working!

— Perhaps not after our gambol, Hans! Now everything depends on you!

— Yes, sir! Serving the System, sir!


— Sir, there is a ship looking like ours on the course!

— It does not surprise me, there are a lot of them flying, it’s a popular model!

— Yes, but it is unmanned. Uninhabited automatic flight!

— This is also in the order of things.

— But it’s amazing, sir, that they are flying where we are. I wonder why they had to send us if the robots can accomplish this mission?

— What amazes you more: us being sent, or that the mission can be performed by the robots?

— Rather the first, sir.

— You see, Hans, this is a far-reaching subject. Of course, robots can complete almost every mission. But if they do it all the world will become completely… how would you put it…

— Deterministic, sir?

— That’s it! Deterministic! We bring an element of randomness into it. A surprise, you know! Therefore, we are still needed. For the same reason many living organisms have two sexes. If they had just one, then the rate of evolution would be determined only by mutations, the probability of which is rather small. And when there are two sexes, a female can meet with one male or another, or with no male at all. The variability increases many times…

— Males also fight for the female, sir!

— Of course, they do. Thus, the strongest, the fittest, the bravest, the most cunning or the smartest win! Accordingly, the evolution is directional and not chaotic. Robots are the same story. If only robots remained in the world, they would have no need to develop at all. But we introduce some irregularity into the system and problems to be solved. This creates the reason and the drive. Consequently, the System receives the necessary development!

— Serving the System, sir! But why does it need to be developed at all? Why not let it stay in the current state that is perfect as we know it?

— That’s another good question! I believe it needs the development, so it is prepared for the next surprise.

— So, we need to surprise it so that it is ready for the next surprise?

— Yep! If it ever stops the development, it will start to degrade, Hans! By the way, there’s an indicator flashing…

— Sorry, sir, we’ve deviated from the course!

— Fix it and send the robots “space hello”, as required by the flights protocol.

— Done, sir!

— Have they responded?

— I think they’re trying to pull a joke, sir! Their answer is: “It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change” Leon C. Megginson…

— This is on our agenda, Hans! I hope they didn’t overhear our conversation…


— Anything new, Hans?

— It’s Police, sir!

— Police?

— Yes, sir, they demand we let them into our cargo hold!

— If they so demand — we will comply, but ask them first to hand over their credentials and the search warrant.

— Already requested, sir!

— Well done! What’s their comeback?

— They say they have the right for a secret investigation, and they don’t have to show us anything.

— Then tactic number one!

— Number one, sir?

— Yes, we are washed off! This is not the police! They are swindlers! So we might report to the base if required. Meanwhile, ask them for a copy of the assignment. Write to them that we are on a special mission, that’s why the cargo hold is sealed. They cannot be aboard without Special permission from the Council. Mention that we have requested legal support and expect to receive it within 10 minutes. This is a bluff, of course, as we are in another galaxy, but we will play for time, and let them think over an answer. Turn on the accelerator! While it stabilizes, we will prepare for the jump. Also let’s put something heavy in the transfer device just in case. I thought we had a faulty buoy or something.

— Why, sir?

— Tactic number two, Hans! This is not taught at the Academy!

— What good might it do?

— If they still try to get on board through the TD and don’t check the volume, as they usually do, then the first thing to meet them here will be this very buoy and any other rubbish that we can find for the good of the System!

— Serving the System, sir!

— No time for that now, Hans! Go look for trash in the cargo hold and we wash off!


— Sir, right on the course is Big Dipper!

— Impossible, Hans, we are in another galaxy!

— Sorry, sir, it is the Ursa Major spaceship and it is in distress!

— We don’t serve the poor and we aren’t a rescue mission either, Hans!

— But still, sir, maybe something terrible has happened to them?

— Request a surveillance! Beggars can’t be choosers, especially the proud ones! Let’s see what we can see!

— Nothing special, sir. It is empty everywhere!

— Look again, look in their cargo hold, look where they never look usually.

— Nothing, sir! Maybe they were already helped, everyone was evacuated, but the distress signal was not turned off in a rush?

— Request the remote control and turn it off!

— It’s turned on again!

— I’m going to check it myself now! Here it is empty, so it’s here, and there, but here one can easily see some kind of crap lying in a nook!

— Let me look at it, sir!

— We are already looking, Hans, moreover, we are already seeing.

— But what is it?

— Some kind of crap, Hans, I can’t define it more precisely yet… Moreover, this is the crappiest crap I’ve ever seen! I don’t like this crap at all, Hans, and we will not ever attempt to save this crap from its desperate loneliness, because we will be the next in line for the rescue mission! It would be more rewarding to save the whole of humanity at once, Hans, rather than some incomprehensible crap! Signal to the base: the Ursa Major ship was found; they were sending a signal of disaster. Some holy crap was found during inspection… Wipe out the latter and put “an unknown hiding object that is not in the catalog of objects that we are aware of”. Check it up just in case… “Most of all it reminds us”… What does it remind you of, Hans?

— Fishtail, sir?

— What kind of fish is that, Hans? It looks more like a squid… You’re a biologist by specialization, are you not?

— Cephalopod, definitely, sir! But how can it survive without water?

— It has sent a signal of distress for a reason, Hans!

— Maybe it’s giant Gryllotalpidae, sir? A mole cricket?

— An insect?

— Well, yes, that is, well, yes, sir!

— Possibly-maybe! In my opinion, with no signs of life, Hans! Or it may be hiding in the ambush to hunt for the rescuers.

— I totally agree with you, sir! Should we bang it? Just in case?

— Why bother? What if it appears to be a “professor in paleontology” or something, even if it has got into distress and chewed on a couple of crew members, it’s not for you and me to judge… They may have an experiment of a kind. Send a signal to the base now — let them rack their brains over it!

— Or is it still better to destroy it, sir?

— Don’t try to be a hero! What if it scatters around with some bloody spores… shitty spores that is? Let them destroy it if need be, that’s their business, and our business is to fly on, Hans, and do it quickly! Who knows what’s on its mind and where it is now? We might only be watching its projection, while the thing itself is hiding! Freeze our transfer device to keep it on the safe side… And sent an invitation to the Ursa for a virtual meeting with their crew and a permission to get onboard with a rescue mission if needed…

— But you’ve just said we were not going there, sir!

— That’s right, Hans! But that creature on Ursa doesn’t know this yet. Full steam ahead, and as far away from here as possible!

Harvest Festival

— Get ready, Hans! We are entering the window of opportunity!

— Readiness level one, sir! I confirm!

— What’s that on your screen, Hans?

— It’s on our front camera, sir! Toroidal galaxy or nebula, sir!

— I would say it looks like a fanny, Hans! What a miracle! As soon as the window of opportunity opened, somebody’s butt appeared in it!

— An interesting pattern, sir!

— You bet! Now send to space galactic greetings, as required by the Rules!

— Done!

— Is there any answer?

— No, nothing, sir! But, there’s some kind of modulation received, probably local music…

— Try to come closer to that planet, it’s most likely from there!

— Looks like it, sir!

— Can you imagine, Hans, we are in the galaxy called the Ass of the World! Nevertheless, they are having fun in it!

— Yes, sir, they are probably dancing!

— Harvest Festival, Hans, or some other crap!

— Possible, sir!

— See, Hans, what a joy! Have you ever dreamt of getting into the Ass of the World for a Harvest Festival!

— Never dared dream about it, sir!

— And yet, we did it!

— Shall we start a rain there! As an experiment?

— Come on, Hans, downpour, and let’s get out from here! We don’t need to come to any contact with them! If we are not lost, of course…

— It’s forbidden by the Rules of the Flights, sir!

— True, but to send them a shower is acceptable!

— What should I put as the reason for the interference in the form, sir?

— Security, Hans, of course, our security! You never know what kind of boomerangs they can throw at us…

— It’s raining, sir! For three days running now! I wish it was raining beer, sir!

— Good things keep on coming! Do throw them a lightning bolt a couple of times! Show them we also know how to have fun! Did you say “beer” or is it in my imagination?

— I did, sir!

— Don’t forget to transfer some to us! We can’t waste the opportunity!

— To celebrate their harvest, sir?

— Exactly!


— Hans, why have all the stars disappeared?

— Turbulence, sir?

— Don’t be silly, Hans, what kind of turbulence? We are in another galaxy, moreover, in airless space.

— Then this is most likely the machinations of the Russians, sir!

— Come on, Hans! To pinch all the stars in the sky is too much even for the Russians! What’s on your space sensor?

— Gas nebula, sir!

— So the lenses are closed, Hans, and we can’t see anything. Check our heat shield!

— Already done, sir!

— How much do we have?

— 20—30 minutes, sir…

— We can get overheated, Hans! Did you send a signal to the base?

— Doesn’t work, sir!

— Turn the ship over!

— No change, sir, the sensors got stuck, the lenses don’t open, as if we were diving into some sticky goo…

— Anything can be, Hans… Just anything can be… In that case, the main thing is not to panic. But if you do, make sure you’re the first to panic, Hans! With a proper subordination!

— Serving the system, sir!

— That’s it! I never thought that I would have to work as a sewer…

— What did you say, sir?

— Nothing, do not pay attention, let’s spin a little and don’t lose our speed… Move slowly! Someone has sprayed some crap on our way, a lot of crap… And some very crappy crap… But we can make it, Hans, we will definitely emerge out and wash the ship after. Now with all the shit outside the ship the most important thing is not to shit inside, so the System may be proud of us again!

— Serving the System, sir!

— Exactly! And turn off your imagination for now!


— Hans!

— Yes, sir!

— You know, I’ve been flying with you for a whole year!

— Yes, sir, one might say, it is an anniversary!

— That’s it! We could celebrate it somehow…

— Like invite someone, sir?

— Well, that’s not likely to work, Hans. We’re in another galaxy!

— Then do something special! For example, decorate the ship with garlands!

— Not allowed by the rules, Hans. Reduces safety!

— Well, cook something delicious then.

— For that we need ingredients, Hans? What special dish can be concocted of porridge No. 1 and porridge No. 2? Porridge number 3, even if you mix them all? What wingdings did you do at the Academy when the year ended?

— Better not to recall, sir! Moreover, since we are in another galaxy… Once the guys and I went…

— Set aside for now, Hans! Look, something has materialized in the transfer device!

— It’s wrapped in colorful paper, sir! And tied with a ribbon.

— Here, you see, Hans! The System remembers you, the System is always with you!

— Serving the System, sir!

— Open it carefully, try not to damage the paper!

— Oh, it’s a book, sir: Guidelines for Conducting a Safety Flight on an Airplane!

— Just as I thought! I wonder where they’ve dug out this vintage thing!

— Some of your friends, sir?

— Or yours, Hans. We’ll find out one day. I have an idea! Look which ship has a similar anniversary and teleport this book to them! Let them have some fun too!

— Will do, sir!

Upside down

— Hans, why are we hanging upside down like flies?

— The induced gravity subsystem is malfunctioning, sir. The field concentration point has moved. I’ll fix it in a minute, sir!

— Only gradually, Hans! We do not need to land on our heads!

— Land on our heads? What does this mean, sir?

— Kick the sand head over heels. That’s what the acrobats say in a circus when they are out of luck!

— Did you work in the circus before, sir?

— I am working there now! Together with you! I can imagine what is happening on our ship now in “places that are not as remote as they are secluded”!

— The Doppel-Fackelmann system should have prevented leaks, sir!

— You know, Hans, there’s one thing in the Universe that I don’t have full confidence in, and that’s exactly the Doppel-Fackelmann system. So, check it out anyway! In the name of the System!

— Serving the System, sir!

— Sure, you are, but put on a protective suit first. It is always better to serve the System in a protective suit than without it.


— Sir, our rating has been lowered!

— It has? Those shysters! For what?

— We did not let the White Senators’ mission pass ahead of us into the previous window of opportunity!

— The mission of the Wight Senators?

— I said White, sir!

— It’s almost the same, Hans, you shouldn’t have rushed there.

— But it was your order, sir!

— You shouldn’t have rushed there following my order, Hans…

— Yes, sir!

— It’s a nuisance, Hans! What is our rating now?

— The penultimate, sir!

— I’m impressed you know this word, Hans. So below us there are only automatic stations and scavengers?

— Yes, sir!

— Can you meddle it one step up with your brain and pliers?

— No, access is denied as to a navigator of the mission with a low rating.

— And when might our penalty be lifted, Hans?

— I dare not know, sir, I’m afraid not before the end of the mission, sir!

— This is a big Fuggy nuisance, Hans! We can be queuing for weeks; the place is cramped!

— Yes, sir! Shall we inform the base that we are carrying a short-lived cargo?

— As if it could help!

— But our cargo may fall into decay, sir!

— Anything but that Hans! Or as straight as die we will be moved from the penultimate rating to the ultimate, that is, the last one! Who needs rotten stuff? In other words, junk! This is a much more serious matter, Hans…

— Do you really mean it, sir?

— Yes, Hans, this is a crucial matter!

— I’m close to despair, we’re in a hopeless scrape, sir!

— Not yet, don’t panic, Hans! Pull your socks up and urgently start texting through a closed channel…

— Sorry, sir, the closed channel is closed for us!

— Then on an open channel, it’s even better… It will open their eyes! The wider — the better. Transmit this “code word TWOPENGUINS” three times in a row?

— Two penguins, sir?

— No space, capital letters and with the words “code word” and our number!

— Done, sir!

— Look at the rating!

— It’s growing sir, it’s higher than at the start of the mission. It is higher than that of the senators! It’s incredible!

— Prepare to jump, we jump first!

— Warming up, sir! And what does this code word TWOPENGUINS really mean!

— I have no idea, Hans! This is something that is never taught at the Academy!

— If truth be told, never, sir!

— But it’s worked!

— Yes, sir!

— Hooray, Hans, except one thing, I still have to take the rap for both of us!


— Sir!

— What have you got, Hans?

— This is from our passenger!

— We have no passenger, Hans, we dropped her off at the base two days ago.

— Yes, sir! She’s left something with us, sir!

— What exactly?

— Some object, a kind of mascot.

— Is it valuable?

— She says, it’s dear to her like her heirloom, but no, sir, it’s not valuable!

— Was her cabin cleaned?

— Yes, sir, automatically! The robot-cleaner has processed one part and expunged the other…

— If I take it right, her forgotten crap must be flying somewhere now.

— Disassembled into atoms, sir. As an ionized gas cloud.

— Send her a picture of some nebula. No, wait, I have a better idea. When do we jump?

— In 15 minutes, sir.

— To another galaxy?

— Yes, sir! Where else?

— The signal does not get there, does it?

— No, sir, we’ll not receive it until the next window…

— Good!

— Sir, I dare report…

— Go ahead, break the news!

— There is a small chance that this lady’s talisman is still somewhere here! The Janitor says he hasn’t processed it yet! He was being tested for compliance, sir.

— Hans, we will not rummage through the trash, it’s even worse than looking for a needle in a haystack.

— In a haystack, sir?

— Do you know why it’s so hard to find a needle in a haystack? Not because it’s so small, Hans, but because it’s so cheap! No one will bother looking for a needle there! Who needs to count needles! A diamond of the same weight will be searched and found for sure!

— A diamond, sir?

— Don’t you know what a diamond is?

— No, sir! Never heard of it!

— And have not seen one either?

— On my honor, I have not seen one, sir!

— But you know what a haystack, hay or a needle is?

— No, sir, I have no idea!

— That is, you haven’t got the slightest idea what I was talking about?

— No, sir!

— At least you are an honest man, Hans! Kudos for that!

— Kudos, sir?

— Ah, forget it! Warm up the engine, we are jumping in 10 minutes!

— Yes, sir! Clear for action one, sir!


— Hans, what’s up? You look pathetic!

— No, not at all, sir! Yes, you are right, I’m a little sad, sir!

— Are you? Why’s that?

— I can’t figure it myself, sir!

— Hans, you know there is a sure remedy for sadness!

— I know, sir, it is to learn a charter by heart! But this is an old-hat joke, sir! We used to be told so at the Academy.

— That’s right, Hans, but at the Academy weren’t you also taught that to be sad is the worst thing in the world?

— We were never sad at the Academy!

— Even in the Flight Safety classes?

— Especially in them, sir! We did this… Once…

— Now you do look cheerful again, Hans.

— Yes, a little. Maybe we should keep some pets, like a fish or a cat?

— You’re out of your mind, Hans! What kind of sentimentality is that? Is there not enough work for you at the vivarium? Moreover, it is forbidden to keep animals on board the ship.

— No, I didn’t mean real, I mean artificial! Even translucent. I will find some corner for them. Models with the second level of intelligence.

— Like yours?

— You are kidding me, sir!

— Nearly!

— May I have some animals, sir?

— Come on, but not many. Mind you, animals may be artificial, but the problems associated with them could be real.

— I don’t quite understand you, sir!

— Affection, jealousy, attachment, excitement…

— I can handle them all, sir!

— Can you? But I think about myself now! I’ve just imagined them: transparent as ghosts, messing underfoot, or worst of all, talking to me…

— I can make them invisible to you, sir.

— Do you mean, you will have animal sprites in your head that are invisible to me?

— Yes, sir!

— Go ahead! One more, one less! I thought you don’t have room for more, but if there is still some space left — go for it definitely or indefinitely! Have you cheered up?

— Yes, sir!

— Then turn your attention on, there are several minutes left before the communication session begins.


— Sir, there is a package delivered in the transfer device!

— Look what there is this time!

— It is the Order of the Empire! Your reward, sir! It reads that it is for the extraordinary courage shown while rescuing the Nightwalker spaceship last year.

— This is probably the one we’ve pushed through the window of opportunity. They didn’t want to go and offered fierce resistance.

— Yes, sir! You’ve received the Order for “Outstanding Contribution to System Security”.

— Serving the System, Hans!

— Serving the System along with you, sir!

— It is a great honor, Hans, for me and for the ship too! You must call me “sir’ from now on!

— But this is how I’m used to calling you, “sir’, sir!

— “Sir-sir”, that might be too much, Hans. One word “sir’ is enough. Otherwise I will have to call you Hans-Hans!

— Yes, sir! Sir…

— Hans, as I’ve said, you don’t need to repeat “sir’ twice.

— Yes, sir, but look, the box has disappeared and your order has also vanished!

— What The Fume, Hans!

— The fume has disappeared too, sir! Look, here is the holographic message instead: the physical order has been removed due to the policy of economy and modesty. Your title and nomination are retained, but without appropriate treatment and display rights. This is a new rule of the System!

— Serving the System, Hans!

— Serving the System with you, sir!

— It’s even more convenient, Hans, because the order can get lost, sting me with its pin, catch on, damage or scratch something with daily wear. I take it as a safety hazard precaution, Hans!

— Will you suggest these considerations to the High Council, or would you prefer me to do it, sir?

— Be my guest! I will see if you receive the Order “for the outstanding contribution to the security of the System”, which will also disappear without a trace in outer space… Do not forget to point out my efficient and careful leadership!

— Will do, sir!

— It’s a shame I didn’t get any shots taken wearing it.

— I did sir. I’ll print your portrait and embed a copy of the order in it. The order will come out of the plane. You will like it, sir!

— You are a true friend, Hans! I wonder who made the proposal for economy and modesty… I’ve got some clues though…

— I’m at a loss what to say, sir.

— I thought so, Hans! But don’t rush next time. Time must always be considered! Timing is everything in our business!

— Sorry, I don’t quite understand you, sir!

— Never mind! Take it to the left, we need to bypass that overfield.

— Yes, sir!


— Sir, may I ask a question?

— Come on, Hans, just be brief!

— How did you become the captain?

— How did I become a captain? Or how did I become the captain of this ship? See, these are two questions!

— Probably the first, sir!

— At first I became a navigator like you. You don’t want me to tell you how I did that, do you?

— No, sir!

— Then I entered the School of Captains…

— You went back to school, sir?

— Indeed, we were joking when we were young that after the Academy of Navigators you need to go to the School of Captains, and in order to become an Admiral, you probably should go to the Kindergarten… And everybody laughed like hippos!

— This is really very funny, sir!

— You bet! We thought so, too, but it’s not as funny as that, Hans, and you will know why one day!

— Then I had been serving for several years on a large ship as an assistant captain, and then they gave me some kind of jalopy, a pathetic ruin with a robot navigator. What a bore he was! But gradually we’ve got used to each other! Sometimes he even sends me his greetings! He’s quite old for a robot, dodges mandatory upgrades… What’s flashing on your screen?

— Some small objects on the course, like asteroids, sir!

— Have we entered the field of gravity of some star?

— There is no star around on the indicator, sir!

— Instant acceleration, Hans!

— Why, sir?

— Don’t ask idiotic questions, do it! I’ll chart a course

and you take the console, you will be the captain for a few minutes! Just don’t press anything in a hurry!

— Yes, sir, I’ll be careful!

— Seems we have slipped through!

— What was that, sir?

— We flew straight to the event horizon of the black hole. A little more, we would not be able to escape and would be smeared over this very horizon…

— I can’t understand how it happened sir…

— Mark in the log: unidentifiable black hole in the square, put the coordinates, let them figure it out! Be careful, Hans! Do you know what is the main difference between a navigator and a captain?

— I daren’t know sir

— The captain can always say to the navigator: “Be careful!”


— Hans, what’s that on your food tray?

— Common radish, sir!

— Real radish? Where did you get it? We are in another galaxy!

— It grew up in the greenhouse, in the laboratory, sir!

— You’re out of your mind, Hans! There can be any sort of viruses there!

— Not in a separate container, sir! I put it away from the rest. It is absolutely lovely!

— Have you tried it?

— Not yet, but the analyzer gives a complete match to the standard of the species Raphanus sativus.

— Be careful with it, there are at least three days of flight to the nearest window of opportunity. What should I do with you if something goes wrong?

— I took all the precautions, sir!

— I can imagine! So, how does it taste?

— In my opinion, it is not any different from porridge number one, only more water. Crunchy… It’s funny, sir.

— No wonder, it’s tasteless, it’s from the greenhouse. There is nothing in it but water.

— I added organic fertilizers, sir.

— More reason for me to worry, Hans! Don’t eat more than one!

— I probably won’t, sir. Porridge with flavor modifiers is much better in my opinion.

— Let me spread it with the taste of pamplemousse. Have you ever seen a pamplemousse?

— Is it like a cow with big horns, sir?

— Don’t confuse moose and pamplemousse, Hans. Pamplemousse is fruit, in my opinion.

— And how do you like it with that taste?

— Only the devil knows what it is or may be!

— I tend to agree with you, sir? Do we have a moose-flavored additive?

— Follow the course, Hans!

— Yes, sir!


— Sir, we’ve got mosquitoes!

— Mosquitoes, onboard?

— Yes sir. I seem to have seen one!

— You seemed or you saw?

— I saw, sir! And heard, sir, it was buzzing right above my ear…

— This may be very serious, Hans, who knows what shit they can transmit! We don’t need to drop sick with some cosmic fever in another galaxy!

— This may be very serious, sir!

— I said it first, Hans! Where do you think they came from?

— Cargo bay or the Russians, sir!

— Where do we get the Russians from?

— Mosquitoes, sir, from Siberia!

— This is very serious, Hans, they must be hungry!

— Hungry, sir, and opposed to us, I know, these Russians…

— Leave agitation aside, give me the temperature and humidity in the compartments!

— On the screen, sir!

— I don’t like the parameters there, Hans, but the mosquitos can be anywhere now: they fly, you know!

— That’s for sure, sir, they fly and buzz all night, they don’t let you sleep, these Russian snarling and squeaking mosquitoes, they are clearly plotting something!

— Did a mosquito bite you?

— Not yet, sir, I resisted their evil propaganda!

— Give a good blow through all compartments, lower the temperature — they should be sucked into the filter! We’ll have to chill out, Hans! Send a message to the center, tell them we have got unprecedented complications, details after the elimination of the incident!

— Aren’t we making an elephant out of a fly, sir?

— Do we have flies as well?

— Only in the laboratory, not too many!

— Count them all, Hans! They may be related to the mosquitoes!

— Sir!

— Yes, Hans!

— We have a toad in the laboratory!

— I don’t understand how it may help!

— But they are antagonists, sir, the toads eat them!

— Mosquitoes or flies?

— Both species, sir!

— Hans, go negotiate with the toad! What I’m saying… Incite it to catch mosquitoes for us!

— I’ll fetch it right now, sir!

— What have you got now?

— It thinks, sir!

— “It thinks”! Can your toad think?

— Yes sir!

— And how do you know?

— It sits silently and pouts!

— Am I dreaming?

— No, sir, it’s an ex…

— Tell your toad again, more persistently!

— It refuses most strongly, sir! It also insists that it be mentioned in all conversations as “she”.

— Why?

— She says…

— Wait, wait, wait, can your toad speak as well? Is she an enchanted princess?

— Princess, sir?

— Haven’t you read fairy tales?

— I didn’t read that one, sir! The toad said that she’s fine in the laboratory, but it’s cold and dry where we are! She will be uncomfortable with us! She is happy to be left alone in the warmth and dampness…

— Hans, I’m at my wit’s end! Or you have gone crazy! If you had a talk with the toad and heard the answers, tell her it’s an order!

— I’ve already told her!

— What did she say?

— She isn’t going to obey your orders, she is an independent toad, well-known and respectful in her circles. She has a high self-esteem and the second level of intelligence…

— Ah, that’s it, she’s a toad with intelligence… So, stop feeding her!

— Impossible, sir, she will complain to the institute that sent her, we’ll be in trouble!

— Damn her! Go dress warmly! Lower the temperature! Offer your toad a sock, a handkerchief, or something to keep it, that is, her warm.

— Don’t worry about her, sir, if anything, she’ll go into hibernation and…

— To hell with her, I’m fed up! Turn on the air evacuation, I am going to catch mosquitoes myself and, perhaps, eat them, to be on the safe side! There were my wings someplace…

— Your wings sir?

— No time for you now, Hans!

— I’m eager to help you, sir!

— No, just sit on your ass and watch the toad! Install 24/7 surveillance around her! These could be links in the same chain… Trust me! You never know what to expect from toads, mosquitoes and the Russians… This could be the beginning of a big conspiracy, Hans, but we are aware, alert and are already acting!

Quantum principle

— Sir, we are to be in square AGZ6835YB the day after tomorrow!

— Sure, Hans, we will!

— Yes, but sir, we need to be in square QGAPU364F concurrently!

— So what, Hans? It’s almost the same distance to them, we can manage!

— I’m afraid we can’t, sir, they are in different galaxies, we cannot be in both of them simultaneously!

— You mean, in two days we must be in two different places at the same time?

— Exactly, sir!

— I wonder, who planned the route?

— I’m afraid you did, sir!

— And who is responsible for the navigation and in addition the junior in rank?

— I guess it is me, sir!

— That is, we both are to blame! See, we’ve already split the problem in half! Not bad for a start!

— It hardly helps, sir! Maybe we can send a message and cancel one of the missions?

— Impossible, Hans, we are in another galaxy. The signal will go there for thousands of years.

— How are we going to do the trick, sir?

— We will apply the quantum principle!

— How’s that, sir?

— We will be in both places at the same time with a 50% probability!

— Great idea, sir! But I don’t quite understand how to implement it!

— What is it that you don’t understand, Hans?

— Which half do we fly with this quantum principle to?

— Hans, we are not flying at all, but flying with a probability of 50%, and in different directions!

— That is, sir?

— That is, we are not flying at all! If it’s easier for you to comprehend. Imagine that we fly to one place, others will look for us, and they will find us for sure, and they will also find out that we weren’t intending to fly to them at all. Is that so, Hans?

— Yes, sir!

— And they will also find out that we flew to others.

— Just so, sir!

— Respectively, we will offend them by showing that they are not important to us, but those others are! What are we getting as a result?

— What, sir?

— A lot of mess, actually! We will cause a competition between them on who is more important. Somebody will inevitably complain to the High Council, we’ll get troubles, prosecutions, and so forth. Do we need all that, Hans?

— We don’t, sir!

— That’s why I announce two days’ urgent work to troubleshoot the navigation system! Mark this in the journal and send the message to the base!

— But the navigation system is alright, sir!

— There you’re again! Who brought us into this jungle of the Universe? Who forced us to choose between two squares of space in the middle of the third square of space, who failed to warn us about an error in navigation? It’s all this blasted system!

— Serving the System, sir!

— You’d better, Hans! Mind you, in two days we may come up with something better…


— Sir, we are running out of fuel!

— What is there on the course?

— In half an hour from us, there’s the “Caravanserai 14” base.

— Request boarding and refueling!

— There’s no access, sir. They have run out of fuel! In an hour of flight, there is “Caravanserai 15”!

— Request a refueling and landing!

— They don’t accept anybody; they are on quarantine!

— Plague on both their Serais, Hans, on we go!

— Next is the base “Berlogovo 13”! As the name suggests, they are the Russians, sir!

— Request their rates and affiliation!

— Pytchpytchshlimazlbesamemucho…

— What The Hemp is that?

— That’s their answer, sir!

— Blast! Request again!

— The same answer, sir!

— Probably everyone is drunk as shit. They look ridiculous and disgraceful there, Hans, I am telling you, this is the Russian base!

— What’s to be done, sir? We need to refuel, otherwise we will not reach the destination!

— No fear! We’ll have to smile from ear to ear, drink vodka and shout Russian songs about their homeland and Cheburashka.

— Who’s Cheburashka, sir?

— Nobody knows for sure, Hans! It’s a small bear cub sort of creature with big round ears. Every Russian likes it so much, that may die for it.

— Does it bite?

— Bites haven’t been reported yet, its mouth is too small, but it has a friend, a crocodile, that one may bite for sure!

— Those Russians, Sir.

— Those Russians definitely, Hans! Where were you born?

— On the Isle of Consent, sir!

— Oh, Consent! That’s your luck, Hans! You can tell them a story about your consent, I trust you can cope.

— Only with your help, sir!

— And some aspirin that we pocket!

— There might be Russian girls there, sir!

— Definitely, what are the Russians without their girls! Try not to drink too much: girls and vodka are, as you say, antagonists!

— No, sir, I’ll try not to!

— Do you mind if I say I was born on the Island of Consent too? We are in fact twin brothers, apart from the fact that our fathers are different and so are our mothers! Besides, I am a bit older and am your “nachalnik”. Russians love stories like that, full of complex logic and ardor.

— I don’t mind that at all, sir! What is “nachalnik”?

— Your boss! Remember, Hans, girls cannot refuse anything to those who were born on the Isle of Consent! They must consent, otherwise, they will break our ancient traditions, wake up the spirits of our ancestors, cause earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and such disasters in enormous proportions. Tell them everything that your imagination is capable of…

— We’ve got no other choice now but to fly, sir, I can feel it in my bones!

— I count on all the endurance and courage you are capable of, Hans! We mustn’t lose our faces in front of the Russian girls!

— Serving the system, sir!

— Off we fly!


— Hans, what were you doing just now? I couldn’t get through to you!

— Virtual reality, sir, full immersion!

— Perhaps it is, but you’ve screamed like crazy, knocked on the wall, jumped like a monkey…

— Those blasted pirates, sir! They took me prisoner, demanded a ransom, but I fought back, sir! I even grabbed a treasure of gold coins and escaped with the princess…

— Of course, with the princess, Hans! I realize that this is your free time and you’re out to have fun, but you hit the wall so hard that I had to surround you with a field of anti-impact, otherwise you would have broken both arms and legs!

— Thank you, sir, at first it really hurt, but then the pain completely disappeared, and I put them to rout! I thought it was because of my superpower!

— No, Hans, that was due to my field, I took pity on your fists, and I also worried about the dashboard which you were approaching!

— I can’t figure, sir, how could this have happened. I’ve started with the field, but, apparently, I got out of it…

— Jumped out, Hans, jumped out! It seems to me that I have never seen such jumps and antics! If it wasn’t for another galaxy, I would have called a robot doctor to help you out or something…

— Thank you, sir, that you didn’t.

— What about the princess?

— Ah, damn! I covered her with a barrel!

— Hans, what sort of a girl likes to be covered with a barrel! Is it to keep her from running away from you?

— No, sir, burning embers flew at us, and she had a lace dress. She must have gotten completely wet, now she’s frightened, doesn’t know what is happening, she’s freezing, she is terrified, sir, she needs to be saved!

— Hans, she does not exist, she is neither cold nor hot, she is in your imagination! And don’t look at me like that! Alright, go finish the game! There’s no use of you here anyway while you are so excited! We are flying in automatic mode! And take that damn wet dress off her and help the girl to find you… a couple of times!

— Can you handle it without me, sir?

— No sweat, I can cope, Hans, but I’ll turn on the field around you to the maximum! Your time is still 3 hours 58 minutes! If I need you earlier — I know how to wake you up!

— How, sir?

— You don’t want to know!


— Sir, it is your boss, with his lecture, sir!

— Well, yes, there he is in his bright image, Hans! We’ll have to listen!

— I have been longing to ask…

— You may ask now, Hans, just hurry up, he has already started speaking!

— Do you understand what he is saying?

— What sort of question is that, Hans? He speaks the same language as you and me, normally you are to comprehend every word he says.

— I can understand every word, sir, each one individually, but I just can’t grasp the meaning…

— Don’t you get that “it is necessary to promote flight safety in every possible way, but the effectiveness of mission planning is the key to our success, and our task, among other things, is”…

— No, I got that, sir!

— So, what is it then, Hans?

— But he will be mumbling it for 3 hours!

— To be exact 3 hours 23 minutes, Hans!

— Without a lunch break, sir!

— Why does it surprise you? The robot is speaking for him in his own voice!

— Who writes the text?

— Nobody does, Hans! The text is compiled by the System automatically!

— But why, sir!

— For you to listen!

— Don’t they understand that we aren’t listening to them?

— They understand it all! Moreover, they understand that we understand that they understand!

— That we don’t watch or listen, sir?

— We’re listening alright, Hans! That is why you are so bored. We are stewing in our own juice while they just add some spices to it. But your brain catches everything! The incoming voice for this is modulated in a special way. We are sure to answer test questions at the end, so don’t get too distracted.

— You mean to say that I can remember that “it is necessary to promote flight safety in every possible way, and the effectiveness of mission planning is the key to their success, and our task, among other things, is”… ah, damn it!

— That’s right, Hans, exactly, and, word for word!

— Are we doomed forever? Will this stuff get stuck in my head and keep buzzing just like it is now: “it is necessary to promote flight safety in every possible way”…

— Of course not! What’s the matter with you, Hans! Some kind of panic attack stained with misanthropy! You will soon forget most of this crap! So will I, fortunately! It will lower into your subconsciousness in the form of a set of instincts. You should realize this, you are a biologist by specialization…

— I beg your pardon, sir! Serving the system, sir!

— Come on, Hans, our life is meaningless unless we can have some fun in every way, even during this lecture. So, let’s have some fun and take it easy!


— Sir, I’m itching to ask you!

— What have you got this time, Hans?

— I’ve read somewhere about the planes of the old days…

— A good beginning!

— The trick was such: if the landing meters failed, the pilots poured water into a glass and landed the plane along the slope made by water!

— It’s very stimulating, Hans. But in our case it won’t help: as in zero gravity, water will fly around the cabin in drops of different forms and sizes, and if an artificial gravity is turned on, then it could be directed to any point. And how do you determine which is which: the top or the bottom? So, it’s entertaining, but useless! The same peculiar method may be used to determine air pressure in the ship with a condom!

— Gee! How is it done, sir?

— You’ll have to inflate it, Hans, and watch its size.

— The size is marked on the package, sir!

— Not inflated size, Hans, I’ll show you the gag if you find the thing on the ship! What’s the matter with you, Hans? You’ve frozen still strangely!

— Our ship, sir!

— Not again! What about it?

— It’s working so far, sir, but I’m worried about what may happen if the engine breaks down?

— What an evil thought, Hans! Didn’t you check the engines before takeoff?

— Of course, I did, sir, but still, what if it happens?

— We’ll fly on the second, Hans, as long as we have enough fuel.

— And if, say, the fuel runs out, sir?

— Why The Fuzz might it happen to us, Hans? Didn’t you check the fuel containers before takeoff?

— Of course, I did, sir, but still, what will happen?

— We will switch to another container, Hans, we have several!

— And if, for example, the battery, control system, field generation system break?

— Everything is reserved on the ship, Hans!

— Not anymore, sir!

— What?!

— Our engine has failed, the fuel is critically low, generator number two does not work, the control system is malfunctioning, I switched to a reserve one!

— Why didn’t you report all that properly?

— I didn’t know where to start, sir!

— Relay to the base immediately: we have a combined problem of the highest category, switch the running engine to the first mode, prepare rescue buoys… All attention to the radar! Request an emergency boarding with repair at the nearest stations! Don’t expect many will eagerly accept us!

— Why, sir?

— Because of your stupid questions, Hans!


— Sir, we were removed from the upgrade program!

— What The Fundamental injustice! Why is that?

— In the accompanying appendix it is written that only ships with a gender balance of at least 35% are eligible for the upgrade!

— What The Furious bullshit, Hans! And even more Facinorous!

— I completely agree with you, sir! This means that we’ve been wasting our extra work in recent months!

— So I say: there is no shit worse and sadder in this dirty world!

— We were almost the first on the list! We might surely make it if we could only improve our gender balance, sir!

— I am following your thoughts, Hans!

— But I can’t think of anything!

— Try again, Hans, all hope is with you!

— But we can’t really change our gender balance, particularly, as we are in another galaxy…

— Here you are very wrong, Hans!

— But how, sir?

— We’ll sign you up for gender reassignment surgery! I think this will be enough to satisfy the criteria!

— But that’s impossible, sir! I’ve got a girlfriend!

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