To Each as They Need

short Science Fiction story
To Each as They Need
Nick was the captain of a space repair shuttle. He was a bit overweight, but it never bothered him. However, his caring artificial intelligence insisted, "Body mass index exceeds recommended levels," and forced Nick to follow a diet. Endless workouts and terrible food - Nick patiently followed the System's recommendations, but everything changed when a stranger in purple approached him in a cafe. And who would have thought that someone else's life would be at stake because of this meeting?
Part One, Irritable
Captain Nick Shugarin hated showering. On Earth or the station, cool water flowed over the skin, washing away sweat and fatigue. Gradually, you increase the temperature, the body relaxes, and at this moment, you turn off the hot water and turn on the cold water full blast. Brrr! That's a shower! It invigorates you so much that you want to return to the gym! But in space? A small towel, water from a packet, and liquid soap. After a run and such primitive conditions, it's a salvation, but Nick only dreamed of freshness.
For the tenth day now, he had exhausted himself to the limit. He would crawl out of the gym if it were possible to crawl in weightlessness. If he could lie down, he would flop onto the bed without strength. But in weightlessness, he could just breathe, wiping the skin with a towel moistened with water and liquid soap. He was wiping and hoped that four hours of training a day would not only maintain muscle tone but also burn those hated kilograms, because of which the witch Helen has been speaking with an opposing voice for the fourth month: "Body mass index exceeds recommended levels".
A year ago, Nick didn't consider Helen's voice to be hostile, and she only became a witch later. Before, he called her Helenka, a combat partner, and in moments of special disposition - a smarty. AI treated the affectionate nicknames with all the inherent programmatic coquetry, whispered, "Nick, we're at work", added a mixture to the intonation, and attached holographic notes with sweet nonsense like "to my beloved captain" to the synthesized lunch.
Everything went off track four months ago, although Nick didn't notice the sabotage immediately. First, lunch portions decreased, and then weekly chocolate bars were replaced by lemon jelly. Captain Sugar held back because the System knows best. It knows his health indicators, how to change his diet, and how to balance his workload. It knows when he needs rest and when to take the next order.
Nick always followed the System: in school, in the academy, and at the spaceport. He even transferred to a repair vessel because his psychological tests showed he works better alone.
"Introverted, closed-off, avoids large groups," was in the System's conclusion. "Remote work recommended."
Nick jokingly referred to himself as a roving freelancer. He enjoyed traveling between stations, repairing transport ships and passenger vessels, communicating with Helen (a female AI image also recommended by the System), and sometimes chatting with former colleagues. Everything was great until Helen became a witch, though.
Following the chocolate bars, lemon jelly disappeared. Morning milk porridge transformed into slimy, watery oatmeal, and physical workloads increased, as did Nick's waistline, which he now found repulsive to look at.
"Body mass index exceeds recommended levels," Helen repeated endlessly, and in response to Nick's timid requests to synthesize dessert, she would say, "Not recommended." He was ashamed of his weakness, ashamed that he was willing to compromise for sweets in front of the insensitive machine. But more than anything, Nick was ashamed of the moment he broke down. This happened eighty-three days ago, a month after Helen banned chocolate from his diet. Nick clung to Bright for refueling and rest recommended by the System. He walked around the station, enjoying gravity, slept lying on a bed instead of swaying in a bag, and took a real shower. And with all his might, he tried not to look into the windows of cafes and shops, preferring food recommended by the System. Then, he saw it: a new coffee shop that wasn't on Bright a month ago.
Nick stood frozen, mesmerized by the irresistible aroma of fresh baking, spiced with cinnamon and cream. Cinnabon - the blue and white sign appeared to emerge from a carefree childhood, those happy days on Earth when he and his mother walked in the park and peeked into their favorite café. His mother would always take pieces from his bun, and Nick protested with a smile: "It's not recommended for you!" He didn't understand then that he was unconsciously teasing his mother's diabetes. Later, he realized that diseases win out because patients don't take them seriously or follow the recommendations. His mother tried every way to bypass these recommendations.
She died incredibly young; everyone around sighed and shook their heads, while young cadet Shugarin learned about his disrupted exchange of substances. Bad inheritance is not a sentence but a diagnosis, and Nick has figured out how to maintain his health. It's just a matter of following the recommendations. So simple! He was taught this in his early classes, but only after his mother's death did Nick realize how important the basic societal postulate was.
He finished the academy, worked for two years at the spaceport, and never even considered bypassing the System during all this time. However, 83 days ago, Captain Nick Shugarin broke away.
The aroma of pastries pulled towards the display, and advertising slogans encouraged: "Cream cheese synthesized according to an ancient recipe!", "Natural cinnamon bark! Direct deliveries from Earth". And the last one deprived Nick of the remnants of willpower: "Cinnabon fights depression. Recommended by the System*". What was hidden under the asterisk, Nick did not read. The next moment, he was already standing at the synthesizer, pointing his finger at the menu. The hologram of a tiny pastry spun temptingly over the screen, like a graduate in front of a selfie-drone, trying to take the most seductive poses. Nick chose classic cream cheese, pecan pie, and a cup of cappuccino, and took a metal plate out of his pocket - a health chip, which Helen loaded updated recommendations onto every morning. He pressed the plate to the reader and his finger to the DNA sensor and swallowed the saliva that filled his mouth.
"Not recommended," the synthesizer reported indifferently.
Nick stood still, staring at the still-swaying bread roll. Not recommended?! But he's working out in the gym, walking, and sleeping eight hours at night plus an hour during the day! He hasn't eaten sweets for a month! Surely he's earned just one tiny roll?!
"Not recommended," repeated the synthesizer.
Nick hit the screen with his fist in frustration. The heartless machine transformed the hologram of the bread roll to a chocolate muffin. "Milk chocolate synthesized with added natural coffee," the synthesizer sneered.
Nick groaned with frustration.
"May I have a moment of your time?" asked a voice from behind.
Nick turned around. A scrawny girl in a short lilac dress fluttered her green eyes and nodded, inviting Nick to follow. After casting a nasty look at the beat-up car, Nick followed the stranger.
The girl stopped at a window display advertising Cinnabon, pulled up her skirt, and timidly looked Nick in the eye.
"Do you love avocado?"
Passersby were strolling down the station's main corridor, the artificial light creating an illusion of sunlight, and the aroma of cinnamon buns was making his head spin.
"No, I don't," Nick grumbled.
Probably more gruffly than necessary, but the words "not recommended" were still ringing in his ears, and the advertising slogan on the window mockingly announced that "Cinnabon fights depression." So far, Cinnabon was only making the depression worse.
"I don't like Cinnabon," whispered the girl, looking around fearfully. "But I adore avocado. I just have an allergy to it."
"So what?" - Nick wanted to grumble, but then it dawned on him what the stranger was proposing. Barter. This trick was what killed Mom. How often would she trade healthy food for sweets and pastries? Consider her beloved chocolate ice cream, which she couldn't do without for a week. She ignored recommendations while diabetes gradually destroyed her vessels until it finally defeated her body, hitting her kidneys with the final blow.
"Just this once," the girl whispered. "I'll take an antihistamine, and you can run an extra hour at the gym."
The aroma of pastries, meanwhile, seemed to intensify. "Just this once," the stranger's words echoed in his head. "Recommended by the System," the advertising slogan nagged. Nick never read what was hidden behind the asterisk. That day, he broke the System's recommendations for the first time.
Conscience plagued him for a week. Nick worked hard in the gym, mopping the running track afterward. He lost three kilograms and stepped on board the boat in high spirits, promising himself that what happened on the Bright wouldn't happen again. Helen brought lemon jelly back to the diet, and Nick became even more cheerful. Soon, he'll restore his former shape and then perhaps convince Helen to replace the jelly with chocolates.
Almost three months have passed. Nick's elevated mood was melting away like a cursed lemon jelly, his disrupted metabolism seemed to hold excess pounds, and his body mass index remained higher than recommended. Gym workouts were tiring and draining, Nick realized he was lazy and not giving it his all, but he could do nothing about it. He was seeing a stranger in a lilac dress more and more in his dreams, although he couldn't remember her face or name. The girl appeared as a blonde, brunette, tall or short. Only the lilac dress and a plate with Cinnabon which she offered to Nick remained unchanged. Upon waking up, he scolded himself for not exchanging contact with the girl on Bright. And visiting the station, he wandered around the café looking for the stranger in lilac and afraid to admit to himself that he was ready for barter again.
Nick was angry at Helen, angry at the System, and even rude to clients, which had never happened before.
"Your communication rating is lower than recommended," read the notes from the intellectual witch. "Work quality is always high. Try to be more polite to customers, smile and explain the reason for the breakdown."
One day, hovering over the table with a jar of colorful cabbage puree, Nick couldn't take it anymore:
"I can't smile when I have to eat this crap!"
He pushed the jar away, it gently bumped against the soft upholstery, and a drop of colorless puree spun around the compartment.
"Listen, Helen," Nick tried to make his voice sound friendly, "tell me, battle partner, how can I get a recommendation for a full-fledged dessert?"
But it was not so complicated after all. Intensified workouts, an even stricter diet, drinking more and sleeping more. And then according to Helen's calculations, Nick will lose four kilograms in ten days. The body mass index will still be higher than recommended, but there will be room for one cinnamon roll in the diet.

Nick worked out like a cursed man. He spent four hours in the gym instead of the recommended three, drank water like a parched camel that found an oasis, left his dinner for the enemy, and refused lemon jelly. He only couldn't follow the last recommendation—a full eight hours of sleep. He couldn't fall asleep for a long time because of his growling, hungry stomach, and then in his sleep, he chased a girl in lilac trying to grab a dish with a cinnamon bun.
Then, on the tenth day, Nick rubbed his body with the hated towel, dampened with water and liquid soap, and looked in the mirror at his obviously emaciated physiognomy. This was his day! Helen would recommend a cinnamon roll, but Nick wouldn't use the spaceship synthesizer. No, he would move to Bright, which was lucky enough to drift nearby, and go to the cafe where they synthesize cinnamon buns according to an old recipe.
"Coat your life with icing," Nick finished his water rituals and swam to the dining compartment. Helen synthesized a recommended protein shake in an airtight glass. Nick planted his feet on the table, enjoying the pressure of his lower back against the wall, and sucked a milky goo with a vanilla flavor through a straw. Meanwhile, Helenka, his beloved intellectual, studied health indicators.
"Great news, Captain!" reported the combat partner. Nick eagerly looked through the porthole at a station similar to a bagel, the Bright. "You lost three kilograms, four hundred fifty grams. Another three days of training..."
A cup of vanilla jelly flew against the wall, and milk droplets burst through the straw and spun in the compartment. Nick punched on the porthole and bounced off, banging his back on the table. Why the hell was he spilling all over the place in the gym? What was the point of eating all that junk? Why did he even agree to this damn job! He would be sitting now at the spaceport on Earth, where you can always get a roll in exchange for mashed avocado.
"Your pulse is higher than recommended," the witch spoke monotonously. "And we have a new order, repairing the transporter on the way to the Bright."
Order! Nick pushed away from the table, heading to the lounge compartment. All he wanted now was to escape from Helen's ubiquitous voice.
"New message received, captain. Sender - Lilac Stranger. Looks like spam. Delete?"
"No!" Nick braked, leaning his palms against the wall.
A Lilac Stranger? It surely couldn't be a coincidence!
He pushed off and slid to the lounge compartment even faster.
How did the girl from his dreams know his personal account? Did she sneak a look while he was buying avocados?
In the locker for personal items lay a palm-sized device. "One new message," the green text flickered. Nick clicked on the screen and, in the next moment, smiled in satisfaction.
"How about the avocado?" the Lilac Stranger asked.
Part Two, Worried
Captain Sergei Böfrajt sipped on tomato juice, observing the rotating doughnut of the station through the illuminator. He loved moments like this: work done, a three-day vacation ahead, peace, star-gazing, and the enchanting dance of the Bright. Everything was perfect except for one annoying fact: Captain Böfrajt was completing his last flight, and his life was coming to an end.
Seventy-five was a great age, respectable as they say. Sergei's peers were already retired; he often saw their holograms with their children and grandchildren. Thirty to forty years of carefree old age - that's the minimum a typical man could expect. However, Captain Böfrajt did not fall into that category.
Recently (or maybe it was eons ago?), there were two joys in his life: flights and Lyudmila. And five years ago, he lost both. First, his wife left, fading away like a beacon from a reconnaissance satellite hidden by camouflage. She disappeared like the tail of a comet receding from the sunlight. Sergei was left alone and was struck again at his wife's funeral. His heart, a miserable muscle lump dependent on our thoughts and emotions, could not take it and sent Sergei to the hospital bed.
"Take care of yourself, Bö," insisted John, his best friend since first grade and family therapist. "Rest, mourn Lyudmila, but never go back to space."
The diagnosis was scarier than a sentence: ischemic heart disease. Relaxation and a strict diet were recommended. Flights sadly were not.
Thus, Sergei lost his second joy.
A month has passed. Ex-Captain Böfrajt faded away, spending his days with his сommunicator, flipping through holograms and remembering the life and those two joys that once made his heartbeat. Alas, now the muscle lump knocked, submitting only to the running blood remedies, his face was covered with stubble, the food synthesizer was deteriorating, as were the piled-up dishes next to him, and Sergei seemed to have melted into the couch. Without flights and Lyudmila, life somehow lost its meaning.
Twice a week, John came in, gave the command to the cleaner, opened the windows, pushed Sergei into the shower, and sighed, examining his friend's health indicators.
"Come on, Bö," he asked, "with such an attitude, you're digging your own grave."
Half a year passed before John brought back the joy of life to the former captain.
"Promise," he insisted, settling Sergei at the table, "no passenger flights. Only cargo transport. Only within one station. And don't step within the range of the Earth network!"
His friend suggested exploiting the shortage that the Ministry of Development and Well-being threatened to fix - beyond the Earth network, chips for health were still used. The restriction was purely technical, as within one cluster, data was transmitted almost instantly, and one could get the patient's complete medical history through DNA. However, the exchange of information between clusters was still not established. That's why space travelers and those working outside Earth were given chips. The System's recommendations were stored on them, and upon arrival at the station, chip owners visited a doctor who downloaded the data into the cluster network.
"Once the synchronization happens," John explained, "the information about your heart attack will be in the cluster blockchain. And from there, you can't delete it. It's simply impossible. So we must not let this information get into the blockchain."
The scheme was complex, almost unbreakable, if not for one significant detail — two days ago, a new therapist was recommended to the Bright station.
"Guess who?" John smiled. "I don't really have anything to lose. If you sign a waiver and don't kill anyone, the worst that can happen to me is termination, given that I'm already a pensioner... Just promise me, Bö, no passenger flights. And don't approach the Earth's cluster. Otherwise, the data will be synchronized, and our scheme will be revealed."
A month after, with a new health chip, Sergei set off for the Broght, and since one month more, John deleted Sergei's heart problems from the chip and uploaded an updated medical history to Bright's blockchain. Thus, Sergei Böfrajt, the former captain, became active again. His heart was beating at the same exciting rhythm, stubble shaved off on time, the synthesizer remained clean, dishes were processed, and the stars outside the window twinkled, giving Sergei joy.
Captain Böfrajt forbade the ship's AI to collect data on his health and instead underwent a full examination by a therapist once a month, with John manually entering the information into Bright's blockchain. This method was considered outdated but was not yet on the list of discouraged practices. However, everything changed four years later when the Ministry of Development and Well-being finally reached the synchronization of clusters, and the school friends' affair was revealed.
John was dismissed and sent to Earth, and Sergei was ordered to come to Bright and leave the captain's position. He was finishing his last flight, understanding that he would not last long without the joy necessary to him. And then, on approach to the station, the ship broke down, as if it felt how vital these last space hours were for Sergei.
The AI contacted the repair base, and the nearest shuttle was already rushing to help. "Captain Nick Shugarin," the order card read. "Overall rating - 4.3. Work quality - 5. Communication - 3.5."
Future former captain Böfrajt sipped tomato juice, observing the rotating Bright doughnut through the illuminator. A small jolt - and the information that the repair shuttle had docked appeared on the screen. Sergei sighed sadly, pushed off the wall, and headed for the gate hatch, but a sharp pain pierced his chest. His fingers relaxed, the glass tilted, slipped from his hands, and floated through the compartment, leaving a trail of red dots reminiscent of blood droplets.
Part Three, Disheartened
While Helen scanned the transport ship's damages, Nick circled the lunch compartment, waiting for a message from the Lilac Stranger. The girl had been silent for two hours now.
"Engine problems," Helen concluded, displaying the scan data on his communicator. "Repair will take no less than four hours. Should I contact the transport ship's captain to discuss payment?"
Before Nick could reply, a notification popped up on the screen.
"Incoming message from the Lilac Stranger," Helen commented.
"I'll be on the Bright for another hour. Then, I have an urgent mission on the Nine. I'll be back in a week. Will we have time to meet today?"
As they were only half an hour away from Bright, and the transporter repair could wait, Nick sent a message to Lilac Stranger: 'I'll make it. Wait for me at the first meeting place.'
Then he ordered Helen: "Detach yourself! We're flying to Bright, then do a job."
"But this will lower your rating!" Helen protested.
However, Nick's rating was the last thing on his mind.

Sergei was swaying at the porthole, unable to speak or move. Pain squeezed his chest, ebbing and then sharply striking. Sweat stood out on his forehead, bits of vomit mixed with the still-floating tomato juice.
Beyond the porthole, distant stars flickered, and the spinning doughnut of the Bright generated gravity where according to the laws of space, it couldn't exist. Physics is an amazing science, with which you can calculate the incredible, predict, construct, and bring it to life. Physics operates on data, miracles are not within its domain, but Sergei was now thirsty for a miracle.
Turns out, it's scary to die, even when life loses its last joy. Sergei knew what would happen to his career after returning to Bright, he understood that the inevitable depression would stick him to the couch again. But now he was ready to challenge himself, fight, and find new meaning. Now he desperately wanted to live.

Perhaps the AI of the transport ship would have called the emergency and sent an SOS signal to the nearest ships. The computer would undoubtedly have calculated that only the captain of the repair shuttle, detached only five minutes ago, could save Sergei in time. However, the AI did not scan Böfrajt's health indicators, as the settings prohibited these. Therefore, the shuttle flew towards the station, and its captain, Nick Schugarin, put on headphones and sports fasteners and ran on the treadmill, anticipating the long-awaited sweet reunion.
Part Four, Conclusive
Over the last year, Nick's body mass index dropped to the recommended level. He would meet the Lilac Stranger only once every three months, not more often, and their dates followed the same pattern: exchanging long-awaited gifts (avocado on a cinnamon bun), a walk through the artificially lit corridor of the Bright, chit-chat about work, music, and other nonsense, and parting until their next meeting.
Helen has not yet returned the weekly chocolates to her diet, and Nick followed the recommendations because he knew that without a good diet plan, the bad exchange of substances could turn into diabetes. However, lately, a new emotional factor has appeared in the formula for health preservation. One cinnamon bun gave such a positive charge that Nick has been working out in the gym like a madman for three months.
And after all, a little excess never killed anybody.

February 2019.

Anna Orehova

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My books
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Six months ago, Nika lost her hearing. She went through hell and high water to return to her familiar world and got into an experimental program. Now, thanks to a pair of nondescript earrings, Nika can hear again.

She is invited along on a business trip to fairyland Barcelona. Nika is drinking in Catalonian sights and the world that is, once again, full of sounds. Yet she is unaware that the innovative solution is the target of a hunt.

Industrial espionage, theft, and murder, this is a far cry from Nika's expectations of the trip. Where to run? Who to trust in a strange land? And what to do if the only thing you can hear is the sounds of your own death?
Overheard Murder
Winner of the «Russian Detective» 2022 and Rock&Book 2022 awards.
An unprecedented event in Istanbul! During the marketing course, the world’s largest advertising agency announced that the best student would get a position at the London office.

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First Interplanetary Detective
Four years ago, at the Earth, the Gates appeared: foreign arches leading to other planets. Aliens are now walking our streets, and it’s easier to go to another planet than to visit a friend.

Alice works as an interplanetary courier, delivering packages, traveling, and enjoying her life. But once upon a time, she gets a message saying her friend from the planet Irbug is in danger. She can’t call that friend. The only link between the planets is couriers, so Alice doesn’t hesitate to hurry to help — only to find out that she’s been deceived into getting to a crime scene. Her friend is suspected of murder, and Alice is risking arrest for illegal entrance to the planet.

Who sent the message? What does artificial intelligence have to do with it? Why did the victim need a сrypt, and why is the developed Irbug civilization so afraid of technologies? To save her friend and avoid jail, Alice would have to answer these questions and expose the murderer.

Translation to English is in progress.
Effect of the Gates
The science fiction detective Effect of the Gates is a finalist of the national prize Russian Rhymes, Russian Word, 2019.

The novel’s action takes place in our time, but the world is different from what we’re used to. Four years ago, the Gates that led to other planets appeared on the Earth. The people are still not used to the world being upside down, but a new shock has arrived: at one of the neighboring planets, a supervolcano erupted, and crowds of refugees rushed to Earth.

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Translation to English is in progress.
Gates Are Closing
Debt to society, justice, mission… what if all these things are taken to the extreme? Debt turns into an unmanageable load, Justice creates inequality, and Mission becomes a whim.

Such a society doesn’t care about your dreams or desires. It doesn’t care where you have a goal. Society only needs the gears to keep turning in a single rhythm. Carry out your function, follow the scenario, and never think about anything bigger. Get in a rut, from birth to a dignified death. Nobody cares whether your life in between will be dignified, too.

This is the kind of world that Alice gets into. Her beloved is locked on another planet, and the disappearing Gates cut them from one another. Will she be able to forgive the betrayal of Earth? Will she be able to choose between mission and debt? Will she find justice?

In the final book of the Interplanetary Detective series, Alice will have to go on a dangerous trip, make a deal with the terrorists, and find out what the Gates really are.

Translation to English is in progress.
New story is coming
Would you like to know when the new story will be published? Leave your email, and I'll send you a notification.