"Steve! Wake up!"
Steve bolted upright, best he could since he was trapped in a sleeping bag. As the last wisp of sleep drifted from his brain, he glanced around for the source of the voice. He noticed Rudy leaning against a boulder, waiting impatiently.
"Are you just going to sit there on your tin butt all day or are we going to fish?" Rudy questioned. It had taken a bit of effort, but he finally convinced Oscar that Steve needed a break; a fishing trip would do the trick. Rudy decided to drag Steve up into the Montana mountains, away from civilization. All methods of outside communications were left back at the lab.
"Yeah, yeah," Steve replied while fighting with the zipper. He heard Rudy chuckling at his dilemma. "How the heck…" The zipper finally broke loose. Steve cast off the bag and scrambled to his feet. He cast a dirty look at the doctor while rolling up his bedding.
In the meantime, Rudy poured coffee for both of them and seated himself in front of the fire, offering a cup to Steve.
Steve reached across the fire, accepted the cup, then seated himself. "Thanks," he replied before taking a sip. He was still trying to relax after having spent a week in the mountains. The peace and quiet is what he needed, but he was becoming a bit antsy.
After several minutes of silence, Steve said "I hope you don't mind, Rudy, but I'm going to give the fish a chance to live another day."
Rudy finished off his coffee and put the cup down. "What do you have planned?" Rudy suspected that Steve was getting restless when he started pacing through the campsite the other evening.
"See that mountain?" Steve questioned, pointing to the looming peak behind Rudy.
Rudy glanced behind him briefly. "You're going to climb it?"
"It's there to be climbed, so that I'll do."
"As long as you stay out of trouble, fine with me. That will just mean there will be more fish for me to catch." Rudy replied.
Steve laughed. "Right…"
Rudy just rolled his eyes. This was a long standing argument… who's the better fisherman. "Be back in time for dinner," he said while gathering his fishing gear.
"Will do." Steve started off at a slow jog toward the tree line.
By Noon Steve had made it about a quarter of a way up the mountain. He found a ledge to sit on, wanting to enjoy the view before needing to head back down to camp.
Minutes later, Steve thought he heard the sound of a twin engine plane. Looking around, he spotted the small plane flying just above the tree line, much too low to clear the mountain top. Using his zoom, he noticed the plane carried two, maybe three occupants. He decided that if there were a third occupant, it must be a child. Steve stood and watched in horror as the plane smashed into the trees, crashing to the floor below.
Steve broke into a bionic sprint towards the smouldering wreckage. He peeked inside the cockpit through the broken glass window. Still strapped to his seat, the pilot was unconscious, blood oozing from deep gashes on his face. Steve stretched out his arm to feel his pulse and found the man was beyond hope.
No time to mourn his lost, he had to save the passengers inside. He hastened to the side of the plane and yanked the door off its hinges to reach the occupants. Just as he saw, there was a family of three, including a young girl, barely six or seven years of age. He quickly unfastened her seatbelt and carried her to safety. He laid her gently at the feet of a tree before he ran back to the plane. Smell of gasoline spilling onto the ground sent shivers coursing through his body, knowing it was only a matter of minutes before the carcass would blow up. Unfortunately, Steve had grossly miscalculated his remaining time. As he neared the plane, an explosion thrust him backwards ten feet into the air, his back crashing onto a tree and bashing his head open. Black dots began dancing before his eyes as he tried to push himself off the ground. He tottered to his feet, shaking his head to dispel the dizziness. He tried focusing on the roaring fire eating away at the plane before him. His vision was blurred and the ringing in his ears was deafening. He felt himself lapse into unconsciousness. He took a few deep breaths and crawled away to the young girl.
Feeling a strong heartbeat, he lifted her in his arms and started his arduous journey down the mountain
Rudy was hurrying up the path when he met with them halfway. “Steve, what happened? I heard an explosion,” Rudy asked in a frenzy with Steve’s bloody face and deathly pallor adding to his fear.
Steve handed him his bundle. “A twin-engine plane crashed into the woods up there. I managed to save the girl but when I went back for her parents, the blast hurled me back against a tree where I smacked my head.”
“Let me see.”
Steve brushed Rudy’s hand aside. “No time for that now. Let’s get her to a hospital.”
As Steve started down the path behind Rudy, a fainting spell washed over him. He grabbed his head. Rudy stopped and turned back to his friend who was fighting a losing battle. “Steve, sit down.”
“No, Rudy! Keep going. I’ll follow you.”
It was nearly dusk when they reached the feet of the mountain. Steve sat on the ground next to the little girl while Rudy hurriedly gathered utensils, pots, pans and sleeping bags and tossed them in the canoe on the riverbank. He held the unconscious girl in one arm and helped Steve to his feet with the other, wrapping it around his waist for support as he assisted him to the boat.
Steve struggled against dizziness to remain conscious. He offered to help with the rowing but Rudy refused, despite the fact that his muscles were crying in agony.
Twenty minutes later, they reached the dock of a fishing outpost where Rudy contacted Oscar to send a medevac. Inside the shack, Rudy tended to the girl while Steve laid on the next bed with a damp towel on his forehead. He fought against the increasing throbbing in his head and the deafening ringing in his ears goading him to seek refuge into unconsciousness. Finally his weakness prevailed and plunged him into total darkness. Rudy attempted to shake him awake but to no avail.
Both victims were airlifted to the nearest hospital. Upon arrival, they were rushed to the emergency room for a complete medical assessment. While the little girl’s condition was deemed satisfactory, Steve’s was alarming. Rudy wheeled him down to surgery to insert a drain to relieve the pressure in his brain.
Meanwhile, Oscar managed to obtain information regarding the passengers of the doomed aircraft and that contrary to what Steve believed, the plane carried seven-year-old Samantha Hughes and her aunt and uncle. He was able to notify her parents to inform them of the crash.
Oscar took a flight to Montana while Ed and Nicole Hughes flew in from Chicago to learn with great relief that their daughter was making remarkable progress.
Two days streamed by and Steve remained in a coma. That morning on his way to the airport to catch a flight back to Washington, Oscar dropped by the hospital to inquire about Steve’s progress.
“Has there been any change?” Oscar asked with concern as he padded up to the bed where Rudy was standing, taking Steve’s pulse.
“No, if it is that the fluid keeps building up in his brain. The drain just doesn’t seem to be enough. At this rate I might have to operate again.”
“What about his ears?”
“I checked them again. The eardrums are intact. There shouldn’t be any permanent damage to his hearing.”
“I spoke with the Hughes. They insist on staying here for as long as it takes for Steve to regain consciousness. They are grateful to him for saving their daughter and wish to thank him personally.”
“That might be awhile, that is…if he regains consciousness at all.”
Oscar turned to Rudy with a bewildered expression etched on his face. “What are you saying? That he could remain in a coma permanently?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying. The longer he stays in a coma, the least likely he is to awake.”
Another three days streamed by and Steve’s condition remained stationary. Samantha was allowed to make small trips up and down the hall to tone up her leg muscles. She passed by Steve’s room and peeked inside at the comatose man. She was stepping into the room when her mother took her by the shoulders.
“No Samantha. Don’t disturb him.” She steered her away from the door.
“I want to talk to him.”
“He’s sleeping right now. Perhaps later.”
Rudy walked over to them. “Well, how do you feel this morning young lady?”
“I feel okay. My stomach doesn’t hurt anymore.”
Rudy squatted down before her and held her hands. “Well, guess this means you can have some ice cream. Would you like some?”
She nodded enthusiastically with a gleeful smile.
“What flavor would you like?”
“Strawberry?” he stood up and motioned to Steve. “That’s his favorite too.”
“Can I go see him?” she asked shyly.
“Of course. Come with me.” He grasped her hand and led her inside Steve’s room. She padded up to the bed, craning her neck to see if the patient’s eyes were opened.
“He’s asleep,” she observed. “I don’t want to wake him up.”
“Don’t worry. Besides, he’s been asleep too long. We’ve been telling him it’s time to wake up. Maybe you can make him listen to you.”
“You talk to him. Tell him about yourself. He’d like that. His name is Steve.” Rudy quietly slipped out of the room to leave the little girl work her magic on the slumberous patient.
“Doctor Wells, are you sure it’s okay?” Sam’s mother asked.
“Yes, absolutely. She might turn out to be just what the doctor ordered. Let’s leave them alone for a bit.” He nudged her away from the door. “Can I offer you a cup of coffee?”
In the room, Samantha leaned her elbows on the bed and with her head propped up in her hands, she started at Steve with the curiosity of a child. “Hi Steve. I’m Samantha. I want to thank you for saving my life, but you sleep all the time. I guess you must be tired. I was too. I had a headache and it made my stomach hurt that I threw up. Yark! I hate throwing up. It smells bad.” She leaned in closer to gauge his reaction. “The doctor tells me you walked on the moon? I want to ask you what it was like. It’s so far away. It must be very dark.”
She moved closer to his face to better study his facial features. She ventured a finger on the tip of his nose, then lifted it to her own. “Your nose is funny,” she giggled. “My mom and dad have promised to take me to DisneyLand to meet Mickey and Goofy. Goofy is my favorite. He’s so funny. Do you like him?” Her beaming smile dropped at the absence of an acknowledgment. “Come on Steve, wake up!” she coaxed. She began tickling him underneath the chin. “When I pretend to be asleep because I don’t want to go to school, my mom tickles me and I wake up.”
Steve moved his head slightly to the right, making the little girl smile at her feat. “You’re ticklish too.” She continued to coax him awake with her tickling until he blinked open his eyes. He turned to her, squinting to focus on her tiny face smiling at him.
“Hi Steve!” she gushed, leaning closer to examine his eyes. “You have blue eyes just like me. Do you remember me?”
Steve blinked heavily and nodded. “What’s your name?” he whispered weakly.
“Samantha. You know you sleep a lot?”
Rudy walked into the room and agreed, “Yes he does.”
“How long have I been out?”
“Going on five days now,” Rudy informed as he took his pulse. “This young lady has the magic touch. We tried to rouse you without any success. She comes in and a few minutes later, there you are.”
“Can you blame me? I always keep an eye out for beautiful young ladies,” Steve said, winking feebly at Samantha.
She bit her lower lip and lowered her eyes shyly to hide her blush.
“I’m sorry about your parents,” Steve offered dejectedly.
She frowned. “My mom and dad are right here.”
“Steve, it was her aunt and uncle who died in that crash.”
He closed his eyes as a wave of relief washed over him. “So you like Goofy?”
“Yes, he’s my favorite.”
“I like him too. Did you know he’s my friend?”
“You know Goofy?” she exclaimed in shock.
“Yes. I bet if I ask him, I’ll be happy to give you a personal tour of Disneyland.”
“Would you?” she gushed, leaping on the edge of the bed. The joggling of the mattress sent Steve’s head throbbing. His face creased up, scaring Samantha who softly slid off the bed. “I’m sorry. I did not mean to hurt you.”
“That’s okay,” he heaved out, reaching for her hand and giving it a light squeeze for reassurance.
“Will you come with us?”
Steve turned to Rudy. “I think that could be arranged with the boss.” He winked at Rudy.
“Yes, I’m sure Oscar won’t mind if I tell him the trip is doctor recommended,” he winked back. “Welcome back, Steve.”