Logline: After Rudy has been abducted, Steve is charged with finding him, and Oscar must come to terms with his role in his friend's disappearance

Set-up: Everything is concurrent with the show.

  “Can you tell me exactly what it was that you were expecting would happen here?” Rudy didn’t wait for an answer, but kept right on going, “You can’t treat people like they’re OSI property and think that they’ll continue to tolerate it--”

“--I don’t treat people that way, and you know it.”

Rudy slammed a file drawer closed to accentuate his words, “I’m sorry, Oscar, but you do.”

“I have never once treated you like that--”

Rudy rolled his eyes, “--You push people past their limits, and then act surprised when they can’t take it anymore and choose to get as far away from you as possible.”

“Oh come on, Steve wasn’t really angry with me, he’ll be back in a few hours after he’s cooled off, and you know it. Besides, he knows how important the Butterfield project is to the OSI, he won’t jeopardize it by quitting any more than you would.”

Rudy let out a derisive snort, “Were you not in the same room that I was a short while ago? You might as well forget about the Butterfield project, Oscar; you’ll be lucky if Steve comes back to the OSI at all.”

Oscar smiled, “Rudy, you’re overreacting.”

Wells glared at Goldman, “I don’t think so.”

Oscar shrugged indifferently, “Guess we’ll find out in a few hours.”

“No. You’ll find out in a few hours. I won’t be here.”

Oscar stared at Rudy, “What are you talking about? You can’t take the afternoon off, you said yourself that this project is at a critical point--”

“--I’m not taking the afternoon off, Oscar. I’m taking the rest of my life off.”

Rudy began tossing papers and files into a box.

“Whoa, Rudy...what the hell are you saying?”

“You need me to draw you a picture? I’m resigning, effective immediately.”

“The hell you are, Rudy--”

Goldman grabbed Wells by the arm, and the smaller man spun around, anger lighting up his dark eyes.

“I’ve had enough, Oscar. For the past year, I’ve watched you manipulate, coerce, and just plain old overpower people into capitulating to your will, and I’m finished. Life isn’t just about the OSI, government intrigue, and power plays. I’ll be damned if I’m going to stay here for so much as another hour, involved in this.” Rudy picked up the box he’d been packing, and moved to stand in front of Goldman, “The OSI used to be synonymous with integrity, loyalty, and advancement through hard work and preparation; this agency reflected the vision and beliefs of an exceptional man I once knew. In the past year, we’ve become nothing more than a shadow organization of the NSB, run with the same kind of thug-mentality. Start treating people like human beings again, Oscar, and maybe you’ll keep the few friends you have left. I hope for your sake, you do.” Moisture began to fill Rudy’s brown eyes, “I’m sorry it had to end this way, you’ve meant a great deal to me.”

Wells started for the door, but the icy venom in Goldman’s voice stopped him, “You don’t have any classified files in that box, do you?”

Rudy turned, his face colored with incredulity.


“I think you heard me, Dr. Wells.”

Rudy shook his head in disbelief, “I don’t know what’s happened to you, Oscar, but I don’t know who you are anymore.”

“Let me see the files, doctor....”

Rudy threw the box on the floor, at Oscar’s feet, “Be my guest, I don’t need them anyway.”

Wells slammed the door to his lab with a force that shook the floor. Oscar stared after him, his belly twisting in knots. After a moment, he walked over to the phone, and dialed a number.

“This is Goldman. Phase Two is in motion. You know what to do.”

Oscar gently replaced the headset in its cradle, and swallowed hard, his heart pounding into his chest. There was no turning back now.


By the time Steve returned to work at the OSI early the next morning, news of Rudy’s resignation had reached the security guards who worked the gate of the farthest parking lot. Steve shook his head at Rudy’s longtime assistant, Linda.

“This doesn’t make any sense..... I’ve never known Rudy to make rash decisions.”

“Me either, Steve, but I was sitting out here when it happened, and believe me, the two of them were yelling so loudly at each other, it would have been hard to miss. Mr. Goldman actually believed that Rudy was taking classified files with him.”

Colonel Steve Austin had known both Oscar Goldman and Rudy Wells long enough to know that this was all wrong. The more he thought about it, he realized that his own disagreement with Oscar yesterday had been forced; Goldman knew exactly which buttons to push to anger Steve, and the argument had been calculated. It was then that the nickel dropped: Oscar had wanted him out of the way.

“Steve? Are you all right?”

“I’m sorry Linda, what were you saying?”

“What do you think is wrong with Mr. Goldman? He hasn’t been himself for a long time....”

“No, he hasn’t, and I think it’s long past time that I find out why.”


Callahan’s voice was friendly, but it lacked her normal warmth, “Good morning, Steve, how are you?”

“Hi Peggy,” Austin’s tone was all business, “Oscar in there?”

“Yes, but he’s on a confidential call.”

“All the better....”

Peggy started to say something to Steve as he walked past her toward the door, but gave up in mid-sentence realizing he was neither listening nor intending to stop. The slamming of the large wooden door caused Oscar to look up from his desk. Steve stood near the door, his hands on his hips, an angry glow in his eyes. Goldman wrapped up the call, and stood as he hung up the phone.

“Do you always interrupt people’s confidential phone calls, Colonel Austin?”

“Only when warranted.”

“I see.” Oscar paused, and when Steve said nothing, he nervously continued, “I’d offer you a drink, but it’s a little early in the day.” Goldman walked over to the bar, giving Steve a wide berth, “Early or not though, I think I’m going to have one. Something tells me I’m going to need it.”

“Linda told me what happened with Rudy yesterday.”

Oscar shrugged, “So?”

“That’s all you can say?” Steve didn’t wait for an answer, “You think we can pick-up scientists like Rudy Wells off the street? We can’t afford to lose someone with his brilliance, and you know it.” Steve moved closer to Goldman, causing Oscar to back away slightly, “You have been irritable, disagreeable, and unforgiving with everyone around you for months, and now you have a blow-out with Rudy; something’s going on Oscar, and I want to know what it is.”

Goldman walked back to his desk, and sat down, his mind moving quickly in its thought. He drained the amber liquid in his glass, and then looked into the intense blue eyes staring at him.

Oscar’s voice was soft, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Steve. There’s nothing ‘going on’....”

Steve moved quickly to stand in front of Goldman’s desk, leaning his fists down on top of it, bringing his face inches from the man he’d known and admired for so long. Oscar could feel the heat of anger from Steve, and for a moment, felt his chest tighten with panic.

“I’d suggest that you stop lying to me, Oscar, because I’m just about two seconds from breaking this desk in half: and it’s the only thing between you and me.”

All the color drained from Goldman’s face as he looked into the furious blue eyes burning into him. Before he could answer, the intercom buzzed. Steve held Oscar’s gaze a moment longer, then Goldman looked down and pressed a button.

“Yes Callahan?”

“Sorry Mr. Goldman, but the Director of the NSB is out here, he says it’s an emergency.”

Oscar’s eyes flicked up to Steve’s momentarily, and then he pressed the intercom button once more.

“Send him in.”

The wooden doors opened, and Jack Hansen walked into Oscar’s office, followed by four NSB security agents. Steve noticed that their demeanor was consistent with that of agents on high alert.


“Sorry, Goldman, but we couldn’t take any chances....”

Steve’s voice did not disguise his irritation, “Chances with what?”

“OSI security breach.”

Oscar stood up, “What are you talking about?”

“You haven’t heard?” Hansen could see by the looks on both faces that neither Austin nor Goldman was privy to what he knew, “Rudy Wells has been taken.”

Steve glared at the smaller man, “What happened to Rudy?”

“We received notification this morning that Wells resigned from the OSI. Per standard policy, if an OSI employee with a Security Four clearance or higher quits unexpectedly, that employee must be vetted by the NSB. We went to his townhouse this morning to pick him up, but he wasn’t there.”

Oscar’s voice was calm, “So maybe he went out for a cup of coffee.....”

Steve frowned in response to Goldman’s cavalier tone, but said nothing.

Hansen looked at Oscar, “As per procedure in this situation, we let ourselves in to wait for his return, only to find that his townhouse was in shambles.”

Steve continued to observe Goldman, and noticed that Oscar showed no particular emotion at the news that a close friend of his was apparently in enemy hands.

Goldman kept his voice even, “Maybe Rudy’s not as neat at home as he is here--”

“--Dammit Goldman, there were clear signs of a struggle. Wherever Wells went, he didn’t go willingly.”

Steve turned to Hansen, “What is the NSB implementing?”

“Standard procedure when anyone of an S9 clearance is kidnapped......”

Steve’s eyes lit up with alarm, “You’re going to assassinate him?”

Goldman piped up, “Assassination's a strong word, pal....”

“No, it’s not.” He turned again to Hansen, “Killing Rudy is the plan, right?”

Hansen looked down, then back up at Steve, “We will locate him, and then sanitize the area, yes.”

“Sanitize the area......that has a nice ring to it.”

“Colonel Austin,” Hansen’s voice rose in anxiety, “We have few options here. To an opposing government, Rudy Wells is a fount of information--”

Goldman broke in, “--Don’t you understand Steve? We can’t allow that kind of knowledge to fall into enemy hands.”

While Hansen was surprised at Goldman’s allied stance, he chose not to question a gift from on high. He looked back at Steve.

“I am sorry, Colonel Austin, I know you’re very......fond of Dr. Wells, but it’s out of our hands.” He turned to Oscar, “I’m glad you understand our predicament, Goldman.”

“If you need the OSI’s help, Hansen, let me know.”

Steve stared at Oscar, not believing his own ears. Hansen thanked the OSI Director, and walked out, taking his entourage of agents with him. Austin turned in anger toward Oscar.

“’If you need the OSI’s help, let me know’? What the hell is that about? You want to help them kill Rudy?”

Oscar put a hand on his old friend’s shoulder, “I know how hard this is for you, Steve, but it might be the kindest thing we could do for him.”

Steve grabbed Goldman by the front of his shirt, shoving him hard into the nearest wall, knocking the wind out of him.

“There was a time when I thought you were a trusted friend, Oscar, but now...... I wish it had been you they’d taken instead of Rudy.”

Steve slammed Oscar’s body into the wall once more, the man’s head connecting painfully with it. As soon as Austin let go, Oscar slid to the floor, gasping for air in his lungs. Steve stared at him a moment longer before heading for the door. As he opened it, he looked back at Goldman.

“You know, even Jaime, who has always been your biggest fan, said the other day that she can’t stand being in the same room with you anymore. And you know what Oscar? Neither can I.”

Austin quietly closed the door behind him, leaving Goldman alone to nurse the bruises Steve had inflicted. But the tears that slowly filled Oscar’s eyes had nothing to do with the physical pain visited upon him by his bionic man.


In his anger leaving Goldman’s office, Steve rounded a corner too quickly, and he literally bumped into Russ.

“Russ.....sorry, wasn’t looking where I was goin’.....”

The panic in the younger man’s voice sped up his speech, “Steve, did you hear about Rudy?”


“You coming from Oscar’s office?”


“Bet he’s fit to be tied.....”

“You’d think so, wouldn’tcha.....”

Distracted by his own thoughts, Russ didn’t pick up on Steve’s sarcastic tone.

“Did he mention what he wants to do?”

“He’s letting Hansen and the NSB handle it.”


“Hansen’s on point.” A strange look played across the young man’s face, and Steve frowned, “Russ?”

“I don’t understand.”

“Well neither do I, but I heard it with my own ears. Oscar’s letting Hansen move forward....”

“That’s not what I mean--”

“--Well what do you mean, Russ?”

“Hansen and his team have Rudy......don’t they?”

“What gave you that idea?”

Russ turned white as a sheet, “Oh my God....”

Russ took off at a dead run heading toward the Director of the OSI’s office, and Steve Austin decided that following him could lead to an unveiling of some part of the mysterious behavior of Oscar Goldman.


Callahan wasn’t in the outer office, but Russ wasn’t planning on stopping for her to announce him in any case. He burst through the wooden doors to find Oscar lying on the couch, and Callahan holding a towel full of ice to his head. Goldman looked over at Russ, a pained expression on his face. His voice was slightly weaker than normal.


Russ swallowed hard, and looked from Goldman to Callahan, and then back to Goldman. Oscar reached up and took control of the towel filled with ice, as he sat up on the couch.

“Thanks Callahan, I appreciate the help.”

“I still think you should get it looked at....”

“I’ll be fine. But I need a minute with Russ.”

“Call me if you need me.”

Oscar nodded, and the two men waited for Callahan to close the door.

“What the hell happened to you, Oscar?”

“Steve and I had a slight....difference of opinion regarding the NSB.”

“Are you all right?”

“I’ll be fine. Tell me why you look so shaken up....”

Russ sat down on the coffee table, his face pale and his hands trembling.

Oscar frowned, “Russ?”

The young man didn’t know how to tell him what had happened. Their entire plan hinged on Phase Two going smoothly, Oscar had entrusted it to him, and he blew it. And now a lot more than just a game plan they’d put almost a year of their lives into was in jeopardy. He swallowed hard, and looked Goldman directly in the eyes, he had to just tell him......

Steve was standing in the outer office, catching hell from Callahan for manhandling Oscar, when they both heard the bellowing from behind the wooden doors.


They could hear Russ respond, but they couldn’t hear his words. Goldman on the other hand, could probably be heard by the maintenance crew in the basement.


Then there was only silence from behind the door, and Callahan looked concerned. She had seen more than one of Oscar’s steady and loyal employees leave his office either in tears, or completely broken. And she was worried about Oscar.

Callahan turned to Steve, “Maybe we should go in there.”

“I’m right behind you....”

Callahan and Steve entered the office, not prepared for the sight that greeted them. Russ was sitting on the coffee table, his head hanging down in shame. Goldman had his hand on the back of the young man’s neck, speaking to him softly, and Steve immediately recognized the compassionate, kind, and caring Oscar Goldman he once knew. As soon as Oscar was aware of the audience, he pat Russ on the shoulder, and whispered something into his ear. The young man nodded and stood, but Steve noticed the profound sadness in the man’s eyes.

“I’m sorry I let you down, Oscar.”

“Things don’t always go our way, Russ, we’ll find a way to rectify it. I’m sorry I took my frustration out on you, I shouldn’t have.”

“There’s a lot at stake and you’re worried. I understand.”

“No matter what happens, no guilt, it wasn’t your fault. I know you did your best.” Oscar took in a large mouthful of air, and let it out it as he instructed Russ, “I want you to use every resource we have. I don’t care what you have to do to find him. Just find him before anybody else does.”

“I will, Oscar.”

Russ quickly turned and left the room. Oscar closed his eyes in distress and leaned against the back of the couch, holding his aching head. Callahan moved to sit next to him, and picking up the towel with ice, gently held it to his forehead. Oscar winced in pain. Callahan pulled him forward to lean his elbows on his knees, so that he could hold the ice, and she gently began massaging his neck.

Her voice was soft, “You should really have a doctor look at this....”

Steve’s voice was filled with sarcasm, “Too bad our house doc is missing in action.”

Goldman’s guilt-filled eyes darted to Steve, and he sighed in resignation. It was time for the truth, and Oscar knew it was going to hurt both of them.

Steve spoke up, “Callahan, would you excuse us a minute? Oscar and I need to have a little chat.”

Callahan ignored the request, continuing to rub a soothing hand on Oscar’s neck. Concern covered her face as she leaned in toward her boss.

“Are you going to be all right, Oscar?”

Goldman nodded, and then she looked over at Austin.

“You’re not planning on throwing him into any more walls, are you?”

“No, I’m not planning on it.”

Peggy stood and looked into Oscar’s drawn face, “If you need me, I’m right outside.”

Oscar nodded, “Thank you, Callahan.”

She pat him softly on the shoulder, glared slightly at Steve, and left the room, closing the door behind her. Steve stood there quietly, observing the man he’d known for so long. The pieces of the puzzle just didn’t fit. Austin could see the sadness in Oscar’s eyes, and the guilt in his sagging shoulders; and yet, the man had pushed everyone close to him away in the past several months, behaving as though he didn’t care about anyone or anything. Steve sat down in one of the leather chairs across from the couch, and waited. After several long minutes of silence, Oscar finally set the ice down, and looked into Steve’s eyes for a moment, then he glanced down into his own large hands as he spoke, discomfited by Steve’s scrutiny.

His voice was soft and low, “About a year ago, we began to notice a pattern of classified information moving through the intelligence community at a low level, and given its nature, we knew there was a leak at the OSI. It was very subtle at first, nothing too painful, but gradually that changed. The more we investigated, the more cyclical it became, and we were unable to pinpoint the source. Even though we tightened up our security measures, information was still being passed along at an increasingly alarming rate. Then six months ago, we discovered that a terrorist organization was looking for an opportunity to make an overture to either Rudy or myself--.”

“--So you decided to make it easy for them, and portray the unhappy public servant....”

Oscar nodded, “Yes. I didn’t want them getting near Rudy.”

“Which is why you clamped down so hard on him with security.”

“That’s right. I finally had to tell him the truth about a month ago, because he flat out refused to allow a security team to keep an eye on him.”

“The two of you decided to make it look like you weren’t getting along....”

“Yeah. We publicly argued about the Butterfield project, and waited for one of us to be approached, but it didn’t happen.”

“So yesterday’s little stunt--”

“--Was a play to get them to make a move, yes.”

Steve stood in anger, “I can’t believe you gambled with Rudy’s life like that--”

“--Settle down, pal, you haven’t heard all of it.” Oscar waited for Steve to sit back down, and then he continued, “The plan was for Rudy to loudly resign, and then disappear. We figured that when they couldn’t find him--”

“--They’d come after you.”


“But you don’t have him.”

Oscar looked away, fighting the sting of guilt, “No. Russ and his team were supposed to pick Rudy up at Bistro Bis in Hotel George, and take him to a safehouse......but Rudy never showed up.”

“And we know the NSB doesn’t have him, and that he was taken from home. You should have come to me, Oscar. This might not have happened if--”

“--I couldn’t, Steve.”

“You didn’t trust me?”

“I didn’t say that.”

Steve stood and began pacing, “You could have come to me, Jaime...and several others I can think of for help, instead of shouldering this burden by yourself.”

Oscar sighed heavily, “I was operating on direct orders from the Secretary, Steve, my hands were tied. Until I spoke to Rudy, the only person who knew was Russ....and I suspicion Callahan knew something was up, she always does....”

Steve could hear the exhaustion in Goldman’s voice, and felt a twinge of guilt. He sat on the coffee table in front of his old friend, leaning close.

“What we have to do now, Oscar, is come up with a plan to find Rudy before Hansen does.”

Oscar looked pale, “I shudder to think what the people who have him might do to him if he refuses to give them what they want....”

Steve gently pat Oscar’s shoulder, “I should have given you the benefit of the doubt.....”

Oscar smiled wanly at him, “I wasn’t exactly helpful, pal. I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you about it.”

“Come on......”

“Where are we going?”

“You and I probably know Rudy better than anyone else, my guess is that we might find something at his townhouse that others may have missed.”

Oscar’s eyes brightened slightly, “You think he might have left some kind of clue?”

“He’s got one of the quickest minds I know.....”

Oscar set the towel of ice down on the bar, grabbed his jacket, and followed Steve out of the office. He only hoped they could get to Rudy before anything happened to him.


He shivered in his wet clothes, and slowly opened his eyes as he came to. He was in a large, damp room that was part of a warehouse. There was one window, high up toward the ceiling to his left, and one door, also to his left. The ache in Rudy’s shoulders was beginning to gnaw at his nerves, which he knew was the purpose of leaving him chained and hanging from the ceiling. As he gradually gained consciousness, he became aware of the pain in his sides and face. Then he remembered being beaten before he ended up in his current situation. One thing he knew for sure, he had several broken ribs, none of which was enjoying being stretched by his own body weight.

The door opened, and a tall man with dark hair and a beard walked in.

“Ah, Dr. Wells, I see you’re awake. Perhaps now you will be more reasonable.”

“Who are you?”

“We’ve been over this; who I am is not important. What is important is what you can tell me about the OSI and its projects.”

Rudy smiled slightly, “You can go to hell.”

“I see hanging around has not improved your disposition at all.”

The man put a pair of rubber gloves on his hands, and reached for a hose. He switched on the water and sprayed Rudy with it. He set the hose down, and walked over to a large barrel, pulling out a long metal rod that had a wet sponge on the end of it. Calmly he turned a switch on a portable electronic unit to his right, powering it up. He held Rudy’s brown eyes with his own, the intent of the torture quite clear.

“I will not insult a man of your intelligence, Dr. Wells, except to say that you will find this most unpleasant.”

Rudy let out a mouthful of air, “Yes, I doubt very much that I’ll enjoy being electrocuted....”

“I have no intention of killing you just yet, Dr. Wells. You’re much too valuable.” The man moved closer with the electrified rod, “Tell me about the Butterfield project.”

Rudy laughed, “There is no Butterfield project, you moron. We just made it up so that you’d come after me, and lead us to the head of your organization.....”

The man angrily held the rod to Rudy’s midsection, causing him to scream in agony as the electricity sent his body into convulsions. He pulled the rod away, and Rudy could feel his insides still shaking.

“That was a low setting, Dr. Wells. We are just beginning. I suggest you reconsider your position.”

Rudy’s breath came out in gasps as he spoke, “I’ll see.....you....in...hell....”

The man hit him again with the rod, and as his body shook with electricity, Rudy prayed that he wouldn’t last long for his sake, as well as Oscar’s.


The two OSI men entered Rudy’s townhouse using a key that Oscar had. The NSB had been instructed to leave the space as they found it, so that the OSI could also investigate. There was an eerie countenance in the still darkness of the living room that made Steve’s mouth go dry. The two men made a quick preliminary search, but didn’t find anything helpful.

Steve’s voice was soft, “Maybe he didn’t have time.....”

“Or maybe he wasn’t able....”

“Oscar, you can’t think like that.”

Goldman nodded and walked back into Rudy’s study. If he knew Rudy Wells at all, this is the room he would have been in when he was taken, no matter what time of the day or night. Oscar looked around at the mess. Books were on the floor, the computer terminal missing, the desk drawers smashed and papers strewn about. Oscar walked over to the desk, and spotted a bloodstain on the top, and he felt the bile rising in his throat. Steve walked into the room, and the sorrow in Goldman’s body language tore at him.

“Oscar, this isn’t your fault.”

“Yes Steve, it is.” Oscar fingered the bloodstain, “If anything happens to him, I’ll never forgive myself.....”

Austin walked over to his friend, looked down at the bloodstain, and gently squeezed his shoulder, “Give Rudy a little credit, he’s pretty tough, you know.”

Oscar looked into Steve’s eyes, “That’s exactly what frightens me. That, and the fact that Jack Hansen is good at his job.”

Steve understood, and for a moment he allowed himself to feel his own heavy heart. Then an idea struck him. Steve walked over to Rudy’s desk, and sat down in the chair.

“What are you doing?”

“Bear with me, Oscar, let’s think this through..... Rudy is at his desk, working--”

“--Where he always is....”

“Yes. He’s working, when he hears something. He takes his reading glasses off, setting them on the desk,” Steve looked to his right, and sure enough, Rudy’s glasses were smashed on the floor by the chair, “and then he gets up and walks toward the door.”

Oscar picked up, “But the door opens before he can get to it.” Goldman looked behind the open door, and checked the wall, finding an indentation of the doorknob in the plaster from being shoved open.

Steve continued, “Rudy stops in the middle of the room,” Steve moved to about where he figured Rudy would have been, “and several men come through the door, holding guns. He asks them who they are and what they want, and instead of answering, one of them grabs him by the arm.”

Oscar moved forward, and gently took Steve by the arm, “The men are most likely wearing masks of some kind, so he looks for some other way to identify them....”

“But even if he found one--”

“--The man holding him would move him forward, toward the door.”

Oscar slowly moved Steve toward the door.

Steve’s voice rose in pitch, “Yes, so Rudy would have feigned a break for it, in order to buy himself some time, knowing that they would have been instructed not to shoot him.” Steve gently shoved Oscar away, and headed back toward the desk, he looked up at Goldman, “The man holding him would have been closest....”

Oscar moved toward Steve, grabbing him by the back of his shirt collar, “He would have grabbed Rudy from behind....”

Steve pointed toward the blood on the desk, “And you’re in the perfect position to show you mean business....”

Oscar gently brought Steve’s head toward the desk, touching it where the blood stained the top.

Steve continued, “Rudy would have been slightly stunned, and fallen to the floor.” Steve sat down to the right of the center of the desk, coming eye level with the middle drawer. And there it was, small, but unmistakable, “Oscar, look!”

Goldman bent down to join Austin, “I’ll be damned, he drew it in his own blood.”

Steve grabbed a pencil and paper from the floor, and copied the crude drawing, “Any idea what it means?”

Oscar looked at the small cross with the top of a question mark attached to its vertical line, “I don’t know, but I’m betting one of our little geniuses in research can figure it out.” He looked away, guilt stinging his eyes, “I just hope we’re not too late.”