(What if Gwent from "Infernal Machine" had been successful in keeping Commander Koenig and Dr. Russell as its companions?)
The moon was but a memory.
Their last human connection, Professor Victor Bergman, had gone back to Alpha after a tearful goodbye that left both remaining human beings drained and edgy. They had loaded the fuel core and Gwent, feeling magnificently energized, now moved at an incredible speed away from the moonbase, across the vast galaxy.
They did not know where they were going and, for now, the machine, - their master - desired not to tell them. However, it did allow Commander Koenig and Dr. Russell to view a map of winking stars as they journeyed. Gwent told them to study outer-space and draw their own conclusions.
"My friends." Gwent announced, "Remove your cumbersome spacesuits. I have more comfortable clothes awaiting you in your sleeping area. Relax." it said.
"Generous to a fault, Gwent." Koenig murmured, quietly sarcastic.
Slowly, he and Helena walked to where the original companion had rested and did, indeed, see robes - much like what Companion wore - laying at the foot of his, now their, bed. How this was done, where the robes were made and delivered, they were not sure but aggressively questioning Gwent now, when both were melancholy and aggravated, would only succeed in angering the apparatus.
The possibility of Gwent turning the green "discipline light" on them again was not appealing. Helena was sure the light was capable of causing internal injuries and she told John to avoid it as much as possible. For himself, Koenig did not care but he did not want Helena subjected to that agony again, especially now that Gwent was virtually omnipotent.
The machine had been wise when selecting his companions, knowing both would not want to see the other harmed - and would do what it took to prevent physical injury.
Koenig hated feeling so helpless but what was the alternative? If he incurred the wrath of Gwent, carelessly saying the wrong words, he might be killed. Helena would be left alone with their cruel master and Koenig could not endure the thought of what she might be subjected to by the machine in his absence. Or worse, Gwent might take her from him in revenge, snuff out her life without a second thought … How could he go on without her, knowing he was responsible for ending her life?
Helena was similarly stymied. If anything happened to John and the stubborn Gwent refused to aid him, she would be his only source of medical aid and camaraderie. And, knowing John's temperament, there could be a time when he would not be able to curb what he said. It might be up to her to quiet him, make the Commander see sense, and force him to hold onto what they had (as well as hold his tongue), as restricted as it was, for dear life. Helena honestly did not know what she would do if Gwent took him away from her.
"Once you have dressed, my friends, I encourage you to explore your new home and eat. I have a well stocked pantry. Anything you could ever want. Oh, and to keep you entertained there are also games, music and any number of fine books." Then, attempting to sound like the perfect host, it said: "Be happy. You have a new life now!"
As the days passed they talked with Gwent and, despite their circumstances, Koenig did find the great ship interesting. It and the original companion had numerous experiences, had traveled the universe, and Gwent spoke of the many alien races they had met. Gwent even mentioned the Kaldorians, with whom the Alphans were acquainted, and it told him they were well on their journey to Earth despite the minor hiccup with Commission Simmonds.
Helena could almost smile at the rapport John and Gwent were developing. Almost. Sometimes she felt it was a men's club, like it often was with John and Victor, and she was not welcome. A silly notion but, when they became wrapped up in one of their deep philosophical conversations or played a game together, like chess, she found herself wandering the ship with little to do.
Then, several days into their captivity, Helena discovered a sealed room. She asked Gwent to open it for her and the machine wordlessly did as she requested. Inside, she found clay and a potters wheel, probably a hobby of Companion's. It reminded her of those early college days, before her studies in medicine were all consuming, when Helena also dabbled in the arts - creating pots, cups and dishes with her bare hands.
Now that she no longer had patients (but one) it would be a nice diversion.
Often, in the days that followed, Koenig stood at the door and watched her. He marveled at the way her firm hands and slender fingers molded the clay. He complimented Helena and wished he could be as artistic. "I can admire beauty." he told her, "I just can't create it."
"One day I will give you a lesson." she said and smile at him.
Koenig soon found himself thinking less about her artistic talent and more about the woman herself, appraising her softness and beauty, and wanting her badly. As it was on Alpha, they initially attempted to keep their relationship at arms length. It was bad enough that Gwent could hear everything they said, they did not want it to also hear them during the height of passion.
Yet, two weeks into their captivity, the couple could no longer pull back from one another. They slept in the same bed, barely touching, and when Helena had a nightmare, causing her to cry in her sleep, Koenig awoke and tried to sooth her. Then, before either knew what they were doing, the couple were engaged in a hungry kiss. An emotional floodgate had opened and they needed each other. They began to pull at one another's clothing but, as predicted, Gwent heard the new sounds and was curious.
"Is anyone hurt?" he asked.
"No," Koenig said, breathing heavily and breaking from her, speaking over Helena's shoulder to the voice surrounding them. "Dr. Russell had a nightmare …"
"Both of your respirations, temperatures and heart rates have increased. Was it a shared nightmare?" Gwent wondered.
The following day, Koenig spoke to Gwent of a special necessity, a privacy he and Helena needed to share that Gwent could have no part in.
"For what purpose?" Gwent wanted to know, suspicious.
"You remember what you said … that Dr. Russell was my companion?"
"Yes. And she is suitable?"
"More than suitable but …" Koenig tried hard to keep the conversation polite. "There are certain things men and women do together that require … time alone."
"Are you speaking of intimacy, Commander?"
"Between a man and a woman? Procreation?"
"I suppose you could say that."
Helena had listened in and she decided that while tact had its place Gwent might need a lesson in the male-female dynamic. She said, "Making love just to make love. A physical demonstration of closeness." she said. "It's an emotional part of what makes us humans."
"You also desire this, Dr. Russell?" Gwent asked.
She looked at Koenig, longing evident, as she said, "Yes, I do."
Koenig's eyes looked into hers, asking tender questions not fit for the ears of their current company. They did not need to be said. She knew what he was asking, what he was declaring, and her hands held his in understanding.
"I see." Gwent pondered, "Agreed then. I shall turn my consciousness off for four hours each evening. You may sleep during this period or become intimate. If you need more time then you may simply ask. However, do not take advantage of my generosity, dear companions, or we will have words."
The couple could have argued that it was not always as simple as that, and they might have even wondered if Gwent was being sincere, but neither wanted to press their advantage. Besides, what would Gwent gain by lying about such a thing? As a machine it had the understanding of a sex act but could not fully comprehend the magnitude of what it entailed. Nor did it appreciate the deeply emotional and pleasurable aspect the physical activity provided.
Love-making would be more than a diversion for them, a way to forget the machine they would live in for the rest of their lives, it would bond John Koenig and Helena Russell forever.
They held back on Alpha, a little frightened about how such a step might affect their work and lives, what they shared with the other members of their Alphan community. There had always been a fear that if a love affair did not work, if they were somehow mismatched and made a mistake, their union would make life on Alpha hell for not just themselves but their people. They were, after all, imperfect individuals and the Commander's legendary outbursts, the way he often wore his emotions on his black sleeve, could cause unfathomable problems.
Little did they know that most on Alpha already suspected they were having a love affair and those who did not often wondered why they were waiting. The command couple were obviously in love. That crackle of chemistry was too noticeable to hide.
But now their past did not matter.
Their first night together was bliss.
Helena always suspected John Koenig would be a good lover but his patience, kindness and generosity was astonishing. Also, his passion, the way he touched her, and the way he wanted to be touched, was both exciting and - she had to admit - a little frightening. John's kisses were soft but intense as they moved along her warm body. His words were surprisingly tender and affectionate. It was as if he was teaching as well as learning from her.
Then later, as they rested in each others arms, as she looked up at him, as he slept, Helena regretted they had waited for so long. She reached up and touched his cheek. "I love you." she whispered. It did not matter that he did not hear her. They were perfect together.
Perhaps Gwent knew this - and that is why he insisted she stay. Helena alone would keep John Koenig satisfied and happy. She would prevent him from being sullen and moody. Their love would allow the Commander to carry on and serve his master, Gwent, for many years to come.
It did trouble Helena that she was there, on the craft, as nothing more than Koenig's companion, that her own achievements meant little or naught to Gwent, but it was enough to know that John Koenig thought her intelligent, beautiful and complete. She was all he desired and, despite her demotion to "alternate companion" Helena felt she could adapt and contribute, as she had on Alpha, to their new life and whatever came there way.
And soon, as their nights grew more fiery, and their love became all consuming, Helena was faced with a dilemma, one she shared with Koenig during those few hours Gwent had promised to give them privacy. It was something they did not want or need to share with their master. For now, they would keep it to themselves. Gwent would find out soon enough and, in the interim, it was a secret that was truly their own. Quietly, John and Helena would marvel at their accomplishment, as fearful a prospect as it was, and pray for her good health - and a normalcy long absent from either of their lives.
Meanwhile, Helena promised Koenig, she would be careful and if there was a problem she would let him know right away.
Seven months into their voyage Gwent called to Dr. Russell: "I have noticed a significant weight gain on your part but little variation in your normal eating pattern. Perhaps a bit more dairy products but otherwise nothing noteworthy. Is this normal for a human female?"
"More often than we would like to admit." she told Gwent, hand-sewing a small garment. "But it is normal."
"I can recommend an exercise program if you feel the need, Doctor."
"Perhaps later, Gwent." she said, not elaborating.
It had been a year since Gwent kidnapped them. Their secret was kept for nearly eight months but then Helena's pains began and there was no way to disguise her gasps and cries.
Gwent was again alerted. "Koenig! What is wrong with the woman?"
He was at her bedside, mopping her brow and speaking soothing words. "Nothing." Koenig said, "Helena is … She's preparing to give birth."
"Birth?" Gwent sounded perplexed, "Progeny?"
"Yes." Koenig added, "Procreation. Remember?"
"Why did you not tell me?" Gwent did not sound angry but hurt.
"It was private."
"John!" Helena cried, grasping his arm.
"The pain she is experiencing. Is this normal?"
Koenig gulped slightly, "I think so. I'm not sure. I've never … She's in labor. But it's her first … it's my first …"
"You should never have put her in this type of jeopardy, Commander."
As he watched Helena, saw her distress, Koenig could almost agree with Gwent. What if this was not normal? Could Helena talk him through an abnormal delivery? What if something was fatally wrong? What if Helena was .. dying?
Had their nights together, their voracious appetite, destroyed her? Koenig could feel the tears sting his eyes as he watched her ease out of a contraction. "I'm sorry." he whispered into her ear. "Helena." He kissed her temple.
"No." she whispered in return and smiled, "Our baby will be …" but she could not continue the thought. Another pain gripped her and this time she pushed.
"Commander!" Gwent called, "Koenig, what is happening!"
The cry of a baby greeted the question.
"Is … is the off-spring born?"
Koenig said nothing at first, helping Helena, cleaning both she and the baby, making sure all was well, that he had done all Helena told him to do, before replying: "Our baby is born. It's a boy …" He looked down to where Helena held their son in her arms, "Mother and child are doing well." He kneeled by the bed, proud and fatigued. "Father not so much." he admitted and reached forward to gently touch the baby's sweet, plump face, the shock of dark hair on its head. Already a hand reached out and grasped his father's finger.
"He's flawless." Helena whispered, exhausted but very happy.
Koenig kissed her cheek, "So are you."
"What is required?" Gwent demanded, "Doctor, what will the child need? What must I provide?"
Looking from a preoccupied Koenig, who could not take his eyes off his newborn son, Helena said: "A lullaby would be nice."
She could almost hear the great ship whirring, not quite understanding the request but also not wanting to admit it did not comprehend. She pictured Gwent reaching into its computer memory banks, researching the word "lullaby" and eventually coming to its own conclusion.
A click was heard … and soon Brahms Lullaby played softly over the great ship's speakers.
"We have a baby." Gwent said, his tone awed.
The couple looked up at the same time, staggered by what they had heard.
Gwent had already claimed their child as his own.
(to be continued)