Henry’s Gift: A Christmas (Sci-fi) Romance

If one were to stand on Earth on a clear night and look towards the bottom of the constellation of Orion, one would see a tiny speck of light. That particular speck is a star that is much larger than our own sun, but also older and in the final million years or so of its life. It is not nearly as hot or bright as our beloved Sol, and none of its five planets have the necessary requirements to support life as we know it. However, around one of these planets orbits a moon, which according the engineers that know such things, has the right density, rotation and several other factors that we humans need in order to survive. It is on this moon that our story takes place…

“Henry?!”

“Yes, my love?”

“Would you be a dear and check the well? I think the pump motor stalled. I hate to send you down there again, but I have an entire house to clean and no water.”

“Yes, dear, you know I don’t mind. You have plenty of time; the ship isn’t due for another two weeks. There’s a good chance the crew won’t have time to come in the house at any rate.”

“But that’s Christmas day. They absolutely must see our tree and share Christmas dinner. I feel bad that we don’t have gifts for them, but dinner is a gift, isn’t it, Henry?”

“Yes, Margaret, dinner is most certainly a gift. The wise men should have taken gold, frankincense and a pot of your vegetable soup to the manger.”

“Oh, you’re teasing me. But you will ask them to stay, won’t you Henry? I mean, really ask them? Tell them it’s Christmas. Who wants to eat crummy ship food on Christmas?”

“I will ask them. I have to wait until they land, there’s some sort of interference on the radio just now. Let me get to that pump. You’ll want a bath later and a warm one, too, I’m betting.”

“Thank you, dear. Henry, how long is till Christmas? How long, exactly?”

“Thirteen days, seven hours, thirty six minutes and twelve seconds, exactly.”

*****

“Are you sure? You checked the calculations?”

“I checked them three times, Henry. I may not have your brain, but I know how to calculate power loss ratios.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to insult you, Margaret. I’m just being thorough. I can’t help it.”

“I know. Did you try the radio again?”

“Yes, still nothing. Whatever interference we’ve been getting is still there. I can’t reach the ship or any of the other outposts. It’s never been out this long.”

“Do you think they’ll be here in time?”

“I don’t know. I can’t imagine what would keep them from getting here, but I can’t imagine the radio not working for over a week, either.”

“What if they don’t make it, Henry? What then?”

“We have a contingency plan. The cradle would protect you …”

“NO! I’m not doing that. I told you before, that is not an option.”

“This is upsetting you. Let’s not talk about it right now. We still have almost a week.”

“I need a hug. I need you to tell me everything is going to be OK, Henry. I need to hear that, even if you have to lie to me.”

“You know I can’t lie to you, not even when you ask me to. But everything could be OK. Does that help?”

“Yes, that helps. How would I live without you, Henry? What would I do? I love you.”

“I love you too. It’s my job to see that does not happen, Margaret. We’ll discuss it again in a few days.”

*****

“Henry, are you awake?”

“You know I am.”

“Tomorrow’s Christmas and they aren’t coming, are they?”

“I don’t think so. There’s been nothing at all on the radio. They would be in our system by now. I should be able to pick up their signal.”

“How long can we wait?”

“You know the answer as well as I do, Margaret. If we don’t power up the cradle before the shield collapses… well, there’s no sense in dwelling on the outcome.”

“It’s Christmas. Maybe we’ll get a miracle.”

“Maybe, but you know I can’t wait for one. I have to keep you safe. I don’t have a choice.”

“I know, I know. First Law and all that nonsense. What if I refuse to let you do it?”

“It won’t matter. You can’t order me to let you die any more than you could order me to take another’s life. Why are we having this discussion? There really isn’t any other alternative.”

“You’re right, you’re always right. Can’t we wait another hour? I want you to hold me and kiss me till then.”

“Yes, we can wait another hour, but then we have to start.”

“OK, one more hour. I’m still hoping for a miracle.”

*****

“Margaret, it’s time to get started. Go ahead; you aren’t going to hurt me.”

“Sorry. I can never get used to the idea of cutting you open.”

“That’s perfect. You should be able to see the cover now.”

“I see it. It unscrews, just like a jar lid?”

“Only a quarter of a turn, then lift it straight up.”

“OK, I got it. It’s very beautiful. You have a beautiful heart, Henry.”

“Thank you, but it’s a trilennium crystal.”

“Oh, stop it. If I want to say this big red rock in the middle of your chest is your heart, then let me have my romantic moment.”

“OK, Margaret. I’m giving you my heart.”

“Henry, how long will you… you know… last?”

“My batteries will keep me aware for an hour and my memory circuits intact for several days. When the ship gets here, they can install another crystal and I’ll be as good as new. The cradle will keep you safe until then. My crystal is large enough to power it for a month.”

“Thank you, Henry. I’ll see you when the ship gets here. You know I love you.”

“You’re welcome, Margaret. I love you too. Oh, Merry Christmas. I’m sorry we won’t get to have our dinner together.”

“Me, too. Merry Christmas, Henry.”

*****

“Captain, we have a faint energy reading on the surface.”

“Is it natural?”

“Not likely. The energy signature matches trilennium crystal, but there’s no trilennium anywhere in this sector.”

“What ever is down there must be old. Trilennium hasn’t been used for fifty years. Send a scout team down to check it out.”

“Yes, sir. Bridge to Science Officer. Please have EVS team dispatched and check for survivors. Sending coordinates now.”

“Copy that. Will report when we get to the surface.”

** ***

“Captain, the scout team is calling in their report.”

“On the speaker, please.”

“Science Officer Wilkins, Captain. We found an old outpost down here.”

“Are there any signs of life, Mr. Wilkins?”

“There’s a woman’s body in a cryo-cradle and a robot lying next to her. Looks like she tried to use his trilennium cyrstal to power up the cradle. What I don’t understand is how the crystal got back into the robot. She left a recording on the cradle’s computer, but we’ll have to bring it back to the ship to play it.”

“Very well, I’ll meet you on the science deck.”

*****

“OK, that should do it. The circuits are very old, but the cold kept most of them intact.”

“This is… Margaret Hansen. The robot lying next to me is my husband, Henry…power has failed… our shield… in a matter of hours… ship has not arrived… may not make it. At his insistence … used Henry’s crystal to activate the cradle and I waited for him to power down. Minutes before… failed completely, I put the crystal back into Henry. I knew if he reactivated, he would try to save me. First Law requires…  His memory is better than mine. It’s… perfect. He will remember us. I cannot live without him. The cradle… on battery power, so I won’t feel anything. Thank you, Henry. That was the best Christmas gift anyone ever gave me…”

“Good work, Mr. Wilkins. Please forward a report to Command. They’ll  try to locate Ms. Hansen’s family.”

“Captain, there’s something I don’t understand.”

“What’s that?”

“She called him a robot, but according to our tests he was a cyborg. I thought they outlawed cybernetics.”

“They did, thirty years ago. He must have been one of the volunteers. Most of them had terminal diseases and cybernetics was their way to cheat death.”

“Why would he let her think he was a robot?”

“So he could protect her. He knew she couldn’t argue with the First Law. He let her think he had no choice but to sacrifice himself.  According to the log, they were waiting for a ship. If one had come within a month, they would have made it, but she changed everything when she put the crystal back. Too bad; a robot would have survived down there, but a cyborg didn’t have a chance.”

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