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Matter of Life and Halitotis

Authors: Amanda "Washuu" Palumbo
Categories: Comedy, John/Helena
Show Year: Y1
Rating: 1
Date: 2004
Alpha's Italian Special impacts Koenig with expanding, rippling effect on others.
Average Rating: 4.0/5 (based on 4 reviews)

Chapter 1

"Hey John, what do you think we'll find?"

Koenig eased his environmental suit's faceplate shut, and hit the exit control. His stomach had been rumbling the entire flight over to Moonbase Alpha's facsimile. "Hopefully a pack of Rolaids, or Rollin Hands," he grumbled.

Carter nodded knowingly. "Let me guess; you ate before departure?"

"Yeah-one of the cafeteria staff took pity on me and sent someone up with a tray."

They sidestepped the detritus littering Embarkation Point One, Koenig for once not entirely focused upon the mission at hand. Mission Impossible, he reflected, eyeing thankfully dead wires hanging from exposed ceiling sections. Guess Gorski had commanded this base too, arose the unbidden thought as he kicked crumbled remnants of gypsum ceiling paneling. Only he'd be cheap enough to use this fragile crap.

"What the hell blew through here, Commander? Decompression tornado?" Alan balanced atop a fallen support column, scuttled over, then jumped down, not really expecting an answer. This place reminded him of a bloody graveyard, and with the obvious case of bad gas fogging his chief's face plate the short trip here, the Commander would want to check out Medical first.

"Nah, Operation Exodus. Did Lunar Commission force you to sit through those awful 'orientation' Alpha videos? You're a section head-surely you were tied to a chair to endure "How to Successfully Mount Operation Exodus".

"Yeah, right after "Zero-G Stuffed Suit Tanks: How to Hold It In". Were you given the "Italian Special"?

Koenig glanced sharply at the captain, then did a double-take upon seeing Alan slide across a beam like a surfer in Hawaii. "I thought you were an astronaut, not food detective."

"Yep, the "Italian Special", alright. It did a number on me last month! Thought you'd've picked up on the scuttlebutt, or I'd have warned you." They came upon a travel tube station, muscled the doors open, but quickly nixed the notion to traverse the rails in case a stray short sent a car barreling down their way.

"Well, it's kicking my 'butt' right now," Koenig complained.

"Uh-oh; don't mind if I dispense with regs and walk a bit ahead of you now, " Carter joked.

"Sure, you can laugh. What was in that anyway?"

"Well, according to Deepak, garlic's their most successful crop."

"Hunh, that alone wouldn't account for the sour stomach."

"Well, you wouldn't believe the extent of our cook staff's recycling! I'd dated one of the sous chefs-she's a real looker, but the bird showed up several times reeking not only of garlic, but whatever yeast the vats are producing too! A real shame, " Carter recalled, grimacing. "Choriza was real passionate."

"Most chefs are," Koenig agreed. "But if you don't mind, let's stop talking about food, and concentrate on our dead-in-the-water base here."

Alan waved dismissively, unable to suppress a grin. After a muffled burp sounded over his suit radio, he surreptitiously lengthened his gait. Or did that gaseous anomaly originate elsewhere?

Carter halted in his tracks, causing Koenig to overreach in the barely perceptible gravity, and shoot past the pilot. Prepared to deliver a scathing remark, he aborted at the sight of a wrecked Eagle approximately a kilometer outside Main Mission's windows.

Koenig approached the large panes hesitantly, Helena's words reverberating in his mind. Regina said you and Alan had died; crashed on her moon. Was Alan aware of this?

He pivoted to face the living Carter. "You know what's probably waiting out there?"

"Yeah; let's do it." The younger man swung round reluctantly. He'd heard, alright; Dr. Russell had rung his commlock to warn him just in case. His 'wife' had become a widow in short order. Not a pretty thought; hope the honeymoon was at least worth it.

Hell, she'd started him thinking. He'd encountered plenty of willing girls, awed by his aeronautical status--something he'd never understood, but was grateful for. But Regina? He knew love when he saw it, thanks to some happily married landlubber friends, and of course the Commander and Dr. Russell.

Though from the looks of things, those two would take a long time getting down to business! Even longer if the man approached the doctor before that offal left his system. Ah well; if Commander Koenig wasn't after her, he'd consider taking a shot-even if she *was* waaaaaaay out of his league.

"Good man," Koenig complimented, touching his motionless friend on the shoulder as he passed. What was Alan worried about? Their EV gear prevented his indigestion from escaping his suit. Unless he'd wolfed down something far more virulent than overly spiced Tofu Oreganata...

Alan's senses reeled at the slack face beneath the faceplate identical to his Commander's. Recoiling, he looked up at his companion, seeking assurance, only to find Koenig scowling at whatever he saw.

John shot Alan a telling look, but witnessing his companion's reaction, smiled tightly. "Let's get our Eagle and tow this module back, " he ordered.

"Ah...yeah..." Carter responded uncertainly. Koenig grabbed the Aussie's arm, propelling the discomfited younger man out of the cockpit before the distraught pilot caught a glimpse of his own corpse.

Chapter 2

Koenig paced outside Alpha's morgue, attempting to ignore the fact that Helena presently was slicing him up-version or no, the thought exacerbated his nausea. Maybe while he was here, he could ask her to pump his own stomach? Surely she kept a stocked medi-kit in the room?

He sighed, immediately regretting the action. Ugh! Mustering his courage, and motivated by the pungent aroma wafting up his nostrils, he aimed his commlock at the sealed panel. The door retracted smoothly. He stood in the frame, mesmerized by the face bathed in sickly greenish illumination. Or was that pallor normal for someone dead five years?

Koenig studiously avoided labeling that stranger himself; to do so would invite melancholy of the type he could ill afford. He had a community depending on him to see them all safely settled somewhere, and by God, he would! Frowning, he approached the frightening tableau, noting his brooding friend and love standing over the other commander.

Mercifully, Helena registered his approach, and moved swiftly to draw the sheets draped over the autopsied bodies up to cover the horrifyingly familiar visages. She also stepped sideways to block Koenig's view of the slick instruments lying discarded atop the surgical cart. Normally serene jade eyes had darkened to opaque mossy pools. John wanted to reach out to caress her cheek, stroke her hair, but remained uncertain as to his touch's reception.

He envied the iron composure she evinced; maybe if they continued in each other's company he'd gain a measure of hers through osmosis? A low gurgle from his lower regions shattered the deathly silence. Embarrassed, he looked away, until a chortle escaped from Helena.

"Oh, John..." Helena began, then dissolved into cathartic laughter. Stripping off her gloves to expertly slingshot them across the room into a biohazard receptacle, she moved to the head of the autopsy tables. Switching off the bright lamps, she shook her head to dispel threatening hysterics. Breathing deeply, she reported levelly, "They died five years ago instantly in that crash." Her luminous eyes roamed his face, and then lowered to the shrouded corpses.

"Let's get out of here. C'mon Doc-I'll spring for a bowl of soup."

Helena nodded, walking to the exit at his side. "That would be lovely."

Once outside in the corridor, she wrinkled her petite nose. "John, the ventilation system's malfunctioning; there's a terrible odor out here."

John rolled his eyes, grateful for the area's low lighting. He slowed his stride until his cheeks no longer burned from mortification. "Ahhhhh, Helena? I apologize, but I'd better return to Main Mission to review topography. We have to assemble and outfit a recon crew ASAP."

The tall physician glanced over her shoulder, bemused at her colleague's sudden shift in plans.

"If that's what you need; shall I send a tray up? I'll bet you haven't eaten since breakfast."

"Actually, I have-" Koenig broke off, struggling to contain a rising bubble of gas. He would not belch in front of the woman he intended to court. Waving, he walked up to her, slung his arm briefly round her waist in a semi-hug, and then departed quickly before her astute perusal diagnosed his problem. With any luck, he could run in to Med Center, escape with a remedy before she arrived.

Chapter 3

"Didn't we just leave this party?" Alan quipped as Koenig flopped into his pilot's bucket seat, glided within reach of the console instrumentation and buckled his restraining harness in one fluid movement.

John cocked his head, a bark of laughter escaping as he reflexively checked readouts. Finally, the liftoff clearance scrolled across his screen. Flashing a thumbs-up at his co-pilot, he jabbed the controls that fired the smoking thrusters. Pulling on the welded bars resembling a steering wheel, he gained altitude quickly while Alan studied the coordinates to Earth uploaded to Eagle One's onboard computer.

Once enroute, they relaxed, swapping lousy restaurant stories, sharing nostalgia for a life forever lost. "No McKroc's ", Carter lamented.

"No pizzerias!" Koenig grinned at his co-pilot's jaundiced scrutiny.

"Feeling better, are we, Sir? Amazing what Dr. Russell can do."

"Noooo, not in this case. I wasn't about to inflict my indigestion upon her; saved that for Mathias!"

"Bet ol' Maximum Bob appreciated that, heh." Carter chuckled.

"Yeah-oh, I'd walked into my office right after, and this heavy aroma hit me real hard. Helena had ordered lunch sent in, and wouldn't you know it was the same stuff as earlier?"

"No! What did you do? Depressurize, then vent the room? We have a command conference scheduled in forty-eight hours, you know."

Koenig held up a quelling hand. "Let's get through Phase One first, Bucko."

A tinkle of feminine laughter interrupted their banter. Both pilots craned their necks up and around to find Helena leaning against the door frame. "Here's that million dollar question: 'are we there yet'?"

Koenig and Carter shared her mirth, including her in the discussion as she settled cross-legged on the short plank dividing the cockpit seats.

John regarded her through darkening eyes as she laid a gentle hand on his arm to emphasize a point here and there. He smiled contentedly as golden strands of hair brushed his ear when she swiveled to reply to Alan. They enjoyed a halcyon interlude; the three of them having shared so many missions off base, easy camaraderie was instantaneous.

Though in John's case, the oasis was charged with sparks of desire as he repressed the urge to cede Eagle control to Alan, herd Helena out into the passage module, command-lock the door and kiss her senseless.

He mentally congratulated himself for donning a flight suit this run; the burgeoning tightening in his groin area would be impossible to miss. Bad enough he'd provided fodder for Alan's quirky sense of humor this morning; worse still the fact that Carter had sensed his attraction to Helena two months ago, and wasted no time in making it an issue-between them, on long flights.

As it was, his frustration at being constantly sidetracked from pursuing a real relationship with Helena was fast approaching a breaking point. Couldn't one--just one lousy week elapse minus a stream of mini-crises all requiring his attention?!

He smiled up at her when she turned back to him, amusement brightening her countenance. This time he did reach out, tucking a swathe of hair behind her ear. Long fingers slid under flaxen tresses, cupping the back of her head before reluctantly withdrawing.

Her answering, molten look nearly drowned his good intentions; this was definitely neither time nor the place to demonstrate his craving for this responsive woman.

An unsubtle cough reminded both of Alan's presence. Helena colored slightly; John's gaze lovingly observed her suffused, high cheekbones. She gracefully arose to exit the cramped confines, reminding John of a beautiful, slender swan taking graceful flight from a silvery lake in some misty, wooded area.

Flickering yellow and red lights framing the left side of the console's tiny video screen returned Koenig's attention to the odd picture outside his viewport. Peering out, he marveled at both the sight, and thought of deceleration into Earth's atmosphere. He exchanged an awed look with Carter, then returned to anticipating descent through beckoning stratospheric tendrils.

Smiling wolfishly, Carter offered, "Shall we give the lady a joyride?"

Don't I wish, the still-erect Commander yearned silently. Aloud, he negated, "Her equilibrium's good, but I don't think she appreciates our style of free flight."

"Damn, and I was looking forward to reacquainting myself with storm dodging."

Koenig's lips quirked, then his expression sobered. "According to weather maps, only clouds from drifting ash provide protection from Sol. I have to say this is not the sort of homecoming I'd ever thought we'd face." His section heads and he had speculated about Earth's condition post-Breakaway, calculated the odds their meandering lunar ark held the sole remnants of the Human race.

Helena's grim overview of Life Support's stats rapidly curtailed that line of query; Jackie Crawford's birth would have to remain anomalous until either they settled in some system, or a drastic overhaul and updating of their base could be effected.

Typically, the Aussie exhibited his optimism despite incoming stats. "Yeah, but it's Earth." Whistling merrily, Carter eagerly leaned forward, deliberately ignoring instrumentation. With Koenig's blessing, he'd cheerfully assumed control of their baby to take them in on manual. However, with Dr. Russell in back, there wasn't a chance in hell the Commander would permit his usual aerial acrobatics.

Koenig shifted under inflexible, yellow straps, stretching cramping leg muscles. He didn't have the heart to discredit Alan's rosy view; the planet below with its odd ochre pallor would diminish his friend's enthusiasm quickly once they landed. Tossing a forced smile, he rested a hand on the horizontal row of faded and smudged white buttons, preparing to key in a landing sequence. OK, Earth, we're back; expiate our sins and allow us to move back, he pleaded mentally.

Not normally a praying man, a few fervent words of longing were sent out mentally to whatever deity had safeguarded their journey thus far as the Eagle dropped through the stratosphere, ice crystals pinging on exterior metal girders. Palest yellow troposphere yielded to sallow skies, and Koenig wished to God the blackened, pitted terrain rising up to meet them was anywhere but their planet of birth. Tears of despair glinted in the cerulean eyes that once mirrored Earth's Caribbean seas.

Chapter 4

Helena Russell adjusted the straps of her portable scanner with a tug, glancing up when a shadow fell over the gleaming white case. Smiling beneath the veil of hair, she schooled her features to professional neutrality, then straightened to meet John's reddened gaze.

He'd seen the data alright, coupled with a pilot's bird's eye view of the devastation they were poised to confront. She'd monitored incoming data, but hadn't the heart to bring up external cameras. Sighing, she nodded at John's unspoken question and moved to stand by the exit.

"Alan, you accompany Helena--remember: we're not to be seen by the locals until we've a better idea what's going on." An odd sound emanated from the region of his stomach, and esophageal reflux audibly reminded him Mathias' gas meds were waning. He didn't add to his instructions.

Helena bit her cheek, but remained silent; discretion was oft the better treatment with John.

Alan merely tendered an evil grin while leaning across the doctor's bow to toggle the exit switch.

Helena shakily sank onto the offered chair opposite her incomprehensible hostess. The older manifestation of herself leaned forward to remark earnestly, "I married, you know."

A smile softened her tense features. "I know-John Koenig."

The other woman's hands fluttered agitatedly. "He's here-in our part of the valley! How is he?"

Helena rose with her odd twin, dissembling. "This meeting, your presence is similar to-"

"-yes, yes, our favorite movie, "Brigadoon". Hand slashing dismissively, she repeated impatiently, "How is he?" Stabbing a stained, broken-nailed finger at the younger woman, Russell added, "At this point, you've yet to tell him you love him, but are aware of every breath he draws."

Helena stared; how could she deny this to a fully articulated id manifestation that would shred every attempt to alter the subject? Shrugging, she replied, "He has a bad case of gas. Our cafeteria had the dreaded "Italian Special" on the menu.

Earthbound Russell stared incredulously. "You love this man, yet allowed him to eat that?! I'll bet you sent a tray of that garbage up to his office didn't you?" she accused. "Ohhhh, if you can't take better care of our John, I really need to intervene here! Pass me your medical kit, " she snapped imperiously, scrambling to her feet.

Helena's jaw dropped; the other glared contemptuously, as her shock abated sufficiently for her to rise. Already at the gauzy curtain filtering the exit's opening, the worn doctor stated, "My time is obviously up with you here. But I can't rest in peace until I see John in better health. I know what's coming, and you're evidently not up to coping. Smarten up my dear, and enjoy this man while you can. Tonight even, but certainly not within my hearing!"

Russell's doppelganger parted the filmy barrier, then froze. Her John, the younger one's John; no difference--her beloved in any continuum stood a mere two meters from her home-their former home-after nearly six years of absence. She never thought to see him in the flesh again!

Despite recollection that his case of bad gas could return in a noxious cloud at any moment, she simply could not abide another second apart from this man!!

Treading softly toward John, steeling olfactory nerves, she captured that vibrant blue gaze. In his eyes, Earth bloomed anew; the pervasive gloom no longer held sway. Closing the distance, she stopped inches from his chest, those arms that once held her so tightly. The body that had covered hers eagerly nightly-her husband had been insatiable; a hunger she'd equally shared. "John..."

His name, simultaneously a plea and uncomprehending cry, touched the quiet, astonished man before her. His eyes widened at the naked emotion revitalizing tired features, the face upturned for...he allowed his own love to surpass barriers held firmly in check for just this moment, and bent to touch her mouth with his own.

Big mistake; Koenig relaxed into the kiss, his muscles releasing that trapped gas bubble plaguing him since leaving the Eagle. He gently, but firmly withdrew his lips, seeking to seal the opening, but too late-a muted, but horrendously malodorous breath of garlic enveloped the tiny space separating their mouths, noses, and Helena's gleaming green eyes rolled up into the back of her head. "I think it was worth it, " she breathed, arching backward.

John stiffened, clutching the woman who now sagged against him, frantically seeking his own, unafflicted Helena...

Paul, Sahn and David had met up with Carter, and ran to support their lonely friend upon learning from a gasping Sahn a younger, more vital Helena had rolled into town alongside a living, virile John. They arrived, breathless, in time to witness the death of their beloved physician.

However, upon reverently transferring her body clutched so tightly against Koenig's to their entwined arms, they coughed, battling a sudden case of dry heaves. "Sahn, " Morrow grated, "Has Victor been inserting an extra Y-chromosome into our garlic strains again?!"

"Not this time," she defended thickly.

"Then what--?"

Koenig watched Kano, Tanya and Sahn hoist Helena's prone form, racked with guilt. "No," he stated, voice laden with grief. "My breath-my sour stomach, our cafeteria..." he trailed off, unable to continue.

After discreetly donning a transparent oxygen mask, the younger Dr. Russell moved swiftly to her commander, hand outstretched, despite eyes tearing at the irritating garlicky fumes. Or were onions a component of the dish too?

Moments later, the heavily bearded Morrow emerged from the hut they'd brought the deceased woman to. "You can't stay here, " he warned in a tone that made Carter, John, and the living Helena close rank. Your breath and that of all the other Alphans who've ingested that bloody Tofu Oreganata would kill us all! Go back; I'll not permit you to land here and pollute our remaining atmosphere."

Paul suddenly lunged forward, white robes tangling round bare, profusely hairy ankles, as he wrestled Alan's stun gun from its holster. Carter backpedaled immediately, temporarily immobilized by the body order assailing his nostrils.

Reviving quickly, he countered, "Don't listen to him Commander!! They can move to the other side of the valley where I don't have to smell this Moses-dressing turncoat!"

A stiff, aging Victor Bergman arrived on the scene, shuffling painfully forward. Resting a quelling hand upon John's forearm, the professor advised kindly, "Your breath is truly bad, and symptoms will only intensify from here on in. Return home to your Alpha, where your relief can only be achieved through your own med-centre. I'd suggest commandeering some parsley from hydroponics first, though."

Koenig lowered his head in defeat; his halitosis had robbed his people of an opportunity to at the very least practice this month's Operation Exodus drill, the potentially fastest section denied the current prize-a 10 oz. bottle of wine.

Bergman, correctly determining the cause of John's uncharacteristic capitulation, soothed, "It's not your fault; you need to return to Alpha anyway before our moon collides with yours to restore time to its proper stream-and your stomach to its pre-assaulted condition."

Koenig's dark-haired head rose quickly. A smile broke across his seamed features as the pallid sun behind them penetrated the clouds to shine briefly upon the displaced and assembled Alphans. "You're right. Besides, I never could properly relieve myself away from home. Victor, take good care."

Bergman nimbly ducked John's attempt at a hug, protesting, "Weak stomach, you know."

Aboard the Eagle carrying them swiftly home, John lifted a knee up, balancing a booted heel upon the fraying seat. He looked across the short row to a preoccupied Russell. She'd dosed him to the hilt immediately upon return to the ship, but hadn't banished him to the cockpit. So he'd elected to remain aft, near his contemporary.

He lifted an eyebrow, wondering if she'd forgiven him the death of her other self. God knew he hadn't. But he reached over with an arm to offer whatever comfort she might glean from his presence.

Russell started at the touch, then leaned in, head tucking under his chin. Until she recalled the meds had yet to kick in. Sitting up slowly so he wouldn't misconstrue her action, she cautioned, "Much as I love you John, some things will temporarily divide us."

John stared, elated. "You love me-I'd hoped, but...I love you too-am absolutely nuts about you, Doctor Russell. "So, will you stay with me?" Uh,oh-he'd best slow down, else risk frightening her off. But today's events were yet another tangible reminder of how infrequently opportunities for happiness occurred, how fragile their existence remained.

Helena's thoughts mirrored his own, though a large part of her remained entombed with her doppelganger on the dwindling planet below. After a lengthy silence, she gazed across the seat's partition to a sweating John Koenig. "Yes-'til gas and undigested garlic do us part, " she quipped.

Copyright (c) 2004. Reprinted with permission.
Space:1999 is (c) 1976 by Carlton International Media.
All stories are the property of their respective authors.

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