Tears were seeping from underneath his eyelids, streaming down his ears; his forehead glistened with beads of sweat; his heart was racing; his breathing was erratic. He was thrashing about in his hospital bed, gripping the sheets in tightly clenched fists.
“Noooooooooooo!” he bawled his head off, his heart skipping beats as he relived the last horrific moments of the crash before his plane plummeted to the ground. The hydraulic pressure had failed and the instruments were going awry. He was diving to his death.
As his eyes witnessed the plane about to smash into piece on the runway, his body went into convulsions.
“Steve, wake up!” Rudy shook Steve’s shoulders to whip him out of the nightmare that was dragging him beneath the surface.
Steve gulped in a few wheezing breaths before his heart failed and his spasmodic body stiffened before going completely still
“He’s in Vfib. Charge the paddles to 300.” Rudy applied emergency CPR onto Steve’s chest while waiting for the defibrillator to charge up.
“Ready Doctor Wells.” The nurse, Jean Manners, handed him the paddles that he rubbed together before positioning them inches away from Steve’s chest. “Clear!” he pressed the paddles against the skin and the patient’s body bucked. Rudy looked up at the monitor showing a flat line.
“Charge to 350.” Rudy repeated the process with negative results. “Prepare 7mg of epi and take it up to 400.” Jean filled a syringe with epinephrine that she handed over to Rudy who drove the needle into Steve’s heart. Rudy breathed in deeply before he sent a third surge of current coursing through his friend’s body. Still no response. Rudy ventured a fourth shock.
He gestured to Jean to turn off the monitor. With a rueful heavy sigh he called it, “ Time of death, eleven fifty three AM.”
The nurse quietly left the room to allow Rudy to bid a last farewell to his dear friend, a troubled soul who was now at peace. Rudy was pained to see that the once chiseled features beaming with life had been slashed by fear, pain and anger over the last three months. Although Rudy had striven to heal the physical wounds, he’d failed to nurse the emotional ones.
He placed a hand on Steve’s forehead and drew closer to his face. “You got what we both wanted,” a dejected Rudy confided with a tearful sigh of relief. “I’m sorry it couldn’t be sooner. Believe me, I never wanted you to go through this emotional agony.” He wiped a tear pearling down his cheek before he pulled the sheet over Steve’s face. He heaved a heavy sigh and walked ponderously out of the room.
Barely ten seconds later, Steve felt a tug on his shoulder. “Come on Steve, wake up.”
Steve grunted his annoyance at the harrying voice yanking him away from the peaceful haven he was dwelling in.
“Come on, squirt. No time for lolling. Get up!”
Steve’s eyelids flickered and forced them open at a slit. His glassy eyes made a sweep of the room and came to rest upon this blurry figure of a stranger standing by the bed. He blinked open his eyes wide to establish clear focus. “Who are you?”
“I’m your father.”
“No, you’re not,” Steve answered dozily with a hard gulp.
“I’m Carl Austin, your biological father.”
“But you’re dead,” he said raspingly.
“And will you if you don’t get out of that bed right now.” He tossed Steve’s shirt and pants onto the bed. “Come on, get dressed. You and me are going to take a little walk.”
Steve levered himself out of bed and picked up his trousers. As he began to slip them on, he glanced at his empty shell lying supine with the sheet over it. His face creased with fear as a hallow feeling washed over him.
Carl laid a hand on Steve’s shoulder. “That’s you, son.”
Steve swallowed the growing lump in his throat. “So you’ve come to take me away?”
“Not yet. There are some things you need to see before you make your final decision.”
“I know, you’re going to show me what life would have been had I never been born?” Steve asked pettishly.
“No quite. Just what life would be for your friends and family once you’re gone.”
“I don’t want to know.”
“I’m not going to allow you to take the easy way out, son.”
They ambled out of the room and down the hallway. Steve looked at a woeful Rudy lounged against the counter of the Nurses Station, where he was on the phone with Oliver Spencer, the head of the OSO, to inform him of Steve’s death.
“What’s going to happen to Rudy?” Steve asked with his brows creased in concern.
“I’ll show you.” Carl laid his hand on Steve’s shoulder and both vanished, only to rematerialize at the entrance gates of a cemetery.
“What are we doing here?”
“You wanted to know what’s going to happen to Doctor Wells now that you’re gone.” Carl ushered a perplexed Steve inside the iron gates and steered him toward a tombstone marked ‘Wells’. Then, he motioned with his head, “There.”
Steve’s eyes widen as they rested upon the headstone. He slowly dropped to his knees and brushed his fingers against the freshly chiseled letters. Steve swallowed down his heart caught in his throat. “What happened?”
“Three months after your death, he was asked to build a second cyborg. A champion racecar driver whose arms and legs had to be amputated. He refused, stating that the project was doomed to fail. They insisted but he persisted in his obstinacy. One night, they broke into his house and murdered him.”
Steve’s swirled on his heels and looked at his father in shock. “Murder?”
“Of course the official account was one of burglary and the case was closed.”
“So it’s safe to say that without Rudy, they couldn’t make any more human robots” Steve spoke with bitter resentment.
“You’re gravely mistaken, my boy. Doctor Wells’ notes became government property and therefore made available to top scientists in the field of cybernetics.”
“There were more?” Steve exclaimed in disgust.
“Did they survive?”
“Some did. Others either experienced acute body rejection or committed suicide.”
Steve sighed woefully and closed his eyes in despair.
“Come on. Let’s go.”
“Don’t you want to meet your wife?”
Steve bolted upright and stared inquisitively at Carl who smiled and wrapped his arm around his son’s shoulders.
In a flash, they were inside the office of parapsychologist Dr. Margaret Winslow. She was sitting behind her desk, studying a patient’s file while sipping her coffee.
“Who is she?”
“Your wife. Parapsychologist Dr. Margaret Winslow. That is, if you decide to stay.”
“I thought Jean was…”
“No, she won’t,” Carl cut Steve in mid sentence. “She’ll be instrumental in your emotional recovery, but you two will eventually part ways.
“You said she was a parapsychologist?”
“That’s right. You will be involved in a car crash after which you’ll start hallucinating about a twin brother, a sort or haloed figure appearing and disappearing suddenly. She’s going to try to convince you that you’re seeing your spirit.”
“I don’t believe in ghosts,” Steve said sternly, annoyed at the prospect that he could be convinced otherwise”
“And you’re going to make it quite clear to her that you don’t. It’ll be discovered that the whole thing was a hoax, but despite your conflicts of opinion on the matter, you will both discover a deep attraction for one another. She will leave on a vacation for a few months, but upon her return you’re going to look her up and a romance will blossom, leading to marriage and three children.”
“A handsome boy and two lovely daughters.”
“What’s going to happen to her if I don’t stay?”
“She’ll end up marrying one of her patients. A man for whom she’ll abandon her career and devote her life to pleasing him. In return, he will beat her and hurl threats that if she ever leaves him, he’ll kill her and…he will.”
Steve heaved a heavy sigh.
“Now. Let’s go see your poor broken-hearted mother.”
“Oh! Well, that was easy. I thought you’d need more convincing.”
“I haven’t changed my mind. Look, I’m sorry for those people, I truly am, but I don’t want to live as half-man, half-machine.”
Carl sighed and looked skywards. “Then he was right. It was a bad suggestion to rush you into a decision. You need more time to think things through.”
“What are you talking about?”
Carl laid his hand on Steve’s shoulder and both reappeared in the hospital room. Carl turned to Steve’s corpse and placed both hands on the chest.
“What are you doing?”
The chest started to rise. “No! I don’t want to come back,” Steve begged. He turned to his father but he was gone. Steve raised his eyes heavenwards and pleaded with God to take him away.
Jean walked back into Steve’s room with Rudy to prep the cadaver for his trip down to the morgue. She removed the sheet off his chest and began peeling off the electrodes. She felt the ribcage rise underneath her hands. “Doctor Wells!”
Rudy looked at her quizzically. “What is it, Jean?”
She was flabbergasted. “My God, he’s breathing!”
Rudy groped Steve’s neck to find a steady pulse. He checked his right eyes, which was fixed and dilated. The patient was unresponsive but alive. Given Steve’s erratic breathing, Rudy deemed it necessary to insert a tube down his throat and maintain him on a respirator while in the coma. Jean readjusted the IV push.
Rudy leaned over Steve and put his hand against his forehead. “I don’t know why you decided to come back but for all it’s worth, I’m happy you did. I was starting to miss you, friend. Now hold on, you hear? We’ll help you get through his.” He stroked Steve’s hair back and smiled his gratefulness to having his friend back with the living. He looked up at Jean and instructed her to set up a second intravenous line. He winked at her and left the room.
She pulled the blanket up to Steve’s shoulders and kissed him on the forehead. She began caressing his cheek. “I know you can hear me, Steve. Please fight.” She sniffed back her tears but one dripped onto Steve’s bottom lip. She wiped it dry with her finger that she pressed against her own lips. “I need you, Steve.” She laid another kiss on his forehead before she left the room.
Steve’s spirit was sitting on the windowsill, looking on. He hopped down and stepped closer to the bed where he stared down at his shell barely clinging to life. What to do? How long was he condemned to hover between two worlds? He loved Jean but was his affection deep enough to lure him back into his body?
He thrust his hands in his trousers pockets and walked out of the room. He wandered down the hall to the waiting room where a father and his two young children were sitting, anxiously expecting news of the new birth.
“Daddy, when am I going to see my little brother?” asked the seven-year-old boy whose short legs kept shifting nervously a couple of inches above the floor.
“Mom is going to have a girl,” argued the five-year-old sister, curled up against her father.
The father wrapped his arms around his kids, sitting on either side and pulled them close. “Now, now kids…let’s just wait and see what God has chosen to give us. Whether it’s a brother or a sister, we want that little fellow to be healthy, don’t we?”
Both children nodded in agreement.
“It shouldn’t be too long now.”
At that moment, a doctor walked up to the family. They all sprung to their feet. Doctor?”
“Congratulations Mister Walker, you have a son.”
The father hugged the two children. “Can we see him?”
“Certainly. Come with me.”
Steve followed the father and his two children down to the nursery to admire the new arrival. His heart brimmed with joy for this family that he was told could be his in a couple of years. The decision awaited him. Steve smiled at the perspective of a peaceful white-picket-fence existence with a wife and kids, treasuring every moment spent teaching his children how to be responsible citizens and kind individuals. He wondered if his son would follow in his footsteps and become a pilot.
His smile was washed over by a wince as he pictured his son’s mangled body sprawled on the runway. His eyes flew open. He took a deep breath and walked away.
He noticed Rudy entering his room with Oliver Spencer. Puzzled, he followed them.
He stepped over to the other side of the bed to study Spencer’s countenance to Rudy’s description of his medical condition. The stone-faced bureaucrat stood with an eyebrow raised in incredulity and chin sticking out defiantly.
“Can’t you wake him?” Spencer asked Rudy.
“This is not an artificial coma. I have no control over it. We have to let it run its course and hopefully he’ll…”
“Pull the plug,” Spencer ordered coldly.
Steve frowned at Spencer’s harsh request.
Rudy was equally indignant at the suggestion. “Mr. Spencer, you can’t ask me to do that.”
“Yes I can. It’s obvious this prototype won’t do. He’s psychologically weak. We can’t afford to waste time on him. Pull the plug.”
“Not while there’s still brain activity. That would be considered murder.”
“No one will know. I’ll make sure of that.”
Rudy stared Spencer in the eyes. “I can’t.”
“Then I’ll find someone who will,” Spencer stated brusquely before limping out of the room with the aid of a cane.
Steve was livid, sickened by Spencer’s matter-of-factly attitude. He decided then he wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of winning. He dived back into his frame and struggled to help it emerge from beneath the surface. When his body and mind merged, the flickering eyelids gave first sign of responsiveness. Rudy held Steve’s left hand, squeezing it tightly to embolden his friend to open his eyes. “Come on, Steve. That’s it.” He smiled at the glazed blues darting the room to eventually rest upon him. “Welcome back,” Rudy sighed with relief. “Your timing is impeccable.”
Steve blinked heavily and strained to flash a weak smile at Rudy.
Rudy placed his hand against Steve’s forehead. “You’re going to be just fine. You won’t be alone.”
With a brand new outlook on life, Steve took the bull by the horns and went ahead with his therapy. Within a few weeks, he was assigned to his second mission by Oscar Goldman, the man who took over for Spencer at the helm of the OSO, now OSI. It was a rocky start but the rest is history.