Rumbling cattle wagons pulled by an old wood-burning steam train gathered speed again as in completed the turn through the town. It continued to descend further eastward in the Urals, through dark shadowy forests.
A solitary figure leapt from the accelerating train as it passed, but did not slow, at the empty starkly light platform.
A stout elderly man withdrew from a grimy window in an opposite alley which surveyed the scene. He rose with difficulty and threw another log on the fire, poured himself another drink, contemplating the glass, before glimpsing back out to watch the former stow-away intently.
He saw the stranger wobbling as if he were in a drunken stupor. He suddenly grabbed his right shoulder and collapsed to the ground. The old man hurried outside and to the stranger he recognized as the reported missing astronaut Steve Austin.
He picked him up and carried him inside his house where he laid him on his bed. He ran his hand against his forehead and felt a bit of a fever. He inspected his body from head to toe for any injury, especially to the right arm and shoulder but Steve didn’t have a scatch on him. He peered at the back of the head for any sign of a concussion. Again, no traces of blood. As he groped the legs to feel for broken bones, Steve began to moan. The old man gently tapped him on the cheek to wake him. Steve slowly opened his eyes and focused on the blurred form sitting by him.
«Where am I?» Steve asked in a complete fluster with his eyes darting around the room.
«Just relax. You’re in my home.»
«I must go.» Steve shot into a sitting position and was quickly overcome by dizziness.
The old man gently eased him back onto the pillow. «Take it easy, son. It’s obvious you’re not well.»
«They’re after me,» Steve panted in abject fear.
«Who’s after you?»
Steve’s eyes swivelled back and forth in a frantic motion as he tried to recall the names of his pursuers. He broke out in a cold sweat, his hands gripping the sheets. «I…I can’t remember. All I know is that they’re after me.» Steve’s breathing grew heavier as his eyes bulged out of their sockets.
The old man placed a hand on Steve’s shoulder, running it up and down in a soothing motion. «Take it easy, son. You’re safe here. No one is going to hurt you.»
Without warning, Steve’s face contorted with pain as a searing pain radiated through his right shoulder. He grabbed it and turned to his right side to apply his body weight onto his arm to alleviate to pain. «God, it hurts.»
Steve’s attack worried the old man. He tried to turn him over to get a closer look at his shoulder, but Steve jerked his hand away.
«I just want to see where it hurts, son. I’ll be careful.»
When the pain subsided, Steve slowly rolled onto his back and allowed the old man to examine his shoulder. He poked and prodded the painful area for any sign of broken bone or dislocated shoulder but didn’t feel any. «Son, did you fall on your arm? » he asked, a bit puzzled at the lack of any trace of serious injury.
Steve shook his head frantically. «I…I don’t remember.» Tears started to cloud his eyes, still swivelling back and forth. «I don’t remember,» he finished in a sobbing voice. «The pain just comes and goes.» He closed his eyes in utter despair.
«I have to send for the doctor.»
Steve quickly grabbed the old man’s arm «No! If you do, they’ll find me for sure.»
«You’re sick, son.»
Steve struggled to keep conscious. He squeezed the old man’s hand before he passed out. The elderly sat and stared at the tormented soul lying before him. There was a striking resemblance with his own son who was shot as he was trying to escape a group of mercenaries in Peru. Was he given a chance to do for Steve for he couldn’t do for Jimmy? A knock at the door yanked him out of his thoughts. He went to the door and opened it to his smiling daughter, Susan.
«Dad!» She hugged him and held a small paper bag in front of him. « I brought you some freshly baked muffins. » She entered the house and walked to the kitchen to put the delicious hot muffins on a plate. She was troubled by the fact that her father hadn’t asked about the flavors as he normally did. She turned round and noticed that he was looking toward his bedroom with a worried expression etched on his face. She frowned in puzzlement and slowly walked up to him. «Dad, is something wrong?»
He took her by the shoulders and stared into her eyes. «Susan I need you to do your old dad a huge favour. I want you to get Dr. Brown out here.»
She began to panic, thinking her father wanted him for himself. «Dad, you’re sick?»
«It’s not me.» He paused and took a deep breath. «Come, I’ll show you.»
She followed him to his bedroom where they both padded up to the sleeping form on the bed. «My Goodness! That’s Steve Austin!»
«What’s he doing here?»
«I saw him jumping from the moving train. When he collapsed in the field, I brought him here.»
«We have to notify the authorities.»
«Dad, if you only had a TV or radio you’d know that the government is looking for him. I heard it say he could be dangerous.»
«What did he do? »
«They didn’t said. Just that if we see him, we need to call the local police.»
He sat on the bed and felt Steve’s forehead. «I don’t think he is dangerous. He’s just scared. Sick and scared.» He looked up at Susan and took her hands. «Please, Susie, ask Dr. Brown to come and don’t tell him anything about Col. Austin.»
Susan lowered her eyes and sighed in resignation. «Alright dad.»
«And please, don’t tell anyone else, I beg of you. I want to hear his version before we turn him in.»
«Okay.» She nodded and kissed him on the cheek.
As Susan left the house, the old man went to the kitchen to get a fresh pot of cold water and a dish towel. He brought the items back to the bedroom and began dabbing Steve’s forehead with the moist towel.