"The Coward"


by
MoonWalker66



Set-up: Everything is concurrent with the show.

Logline: An alternate ending to the episode "The Coward"


  -We begin the story when Steve and Garth climbed down the mountain and were surprised by Queng-Dri and his men.-


Garth bolted to Steve to pluck him from the jaws of a certain death. Queng-Dri was charging in his direction and before Garth could get to Steve, Queng-Dri speared him in the abdomen. Steve grabbed the lance firmly with both hands and struggled to yank it out. In shock, he collapsed on the ground.

Garth picked up a large rock and hurled it at Queng-Dri, knocking him right from under his horse. He rushed to Steve and knelt down beside him. Feeling a faint pulse Garth took the spear and split it in half, leaving the head inside Steve’s stomach.

He lifted Steve delicately in his arms and carried him over to Queng-Dri’s horse. He settled him in the saddle and sat behind him, wrapping his arm around his waist to hold him straight and being careful to avoid touching the wooden stake lodged inside Steve’s abdomen.

“Hold on boy. We’ll soon be there.”

Garth kicked his horse to a trot. The wound was sweating blood and Steve looked appallingly ashen.

The constant bouncing made the trip very uncomfortable for Steve and he complained by moaning and groaning. At one point, the laments grew alarmingly loud that Garth reined in his horse and stopped to look at Steve’s wound. He reacted in horror when he noticed the lower part of the shirt completely soaked in blood. He was unable to apply pressure to the traumatized area because of the broken arrow.

“Steve? Steve can you hear me?”

There was no response. Steve was sinking further away and with no doctor for miles around Garth dreaded his imminent passing.

“Hold on Steve. Don’t want to lose you now, boy.”

Garth pricked his horse’s flanks and held him at a steady amble.

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Twenty minutes later, they arrived at Garth’s cabin. He carried a lethargic Steve inside where he set him down on the couch. Marnu dipped a small towel in fresh water and sponged Steve’s forehead with it.

“He’s cold.”

“I know. I have to get the doctor.”

“Garth it’s thirty miles away.”

“That boy requires immediate medical attention, one we cannot provide ourselves. You tend to him while I’m gone.”

“Even if you do reach the doctor he might no want to follow you to these parts.” “He will even if I have to knock him out and drag him over.

He started for the door and turned to Steve one last time.

“I don’t want to lose my son, Marnu.”

He grabbed his rifle and left.

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Later, as Marnu was putting another log into the fire, Steve began to stir. She dipped a cloth into water and wrung it, then she hunched down at Steve’s side and dabbed his feverish face with it.

The spear remained lodged in his abdomen causing unbearable pain. As he touched it, he yelped, his back arching.

“Don’t touch it! It’s better to leave it there until the doctor gets here.”

Steve looked down at his chest and saw the piece of wood sticking out of his belly. He dropped his head back on the pillow and wet his lips.

“Are you thirsty? Want some water?”

Steve nodded. Marnu poured a cup of fresh cold water and assisted Steve in drinking by carefully raising his head.

A few sips and Steve began to retch. A bout of coughing exacerbated his wound, creating a second haemorrhage that quickly soaked the clean bandage with blood.

Steve’s last spec of energy ebbed away, his vitality evanescing with the loss of blood that Marnu frenetically attempted to stem. He was fading fast.

“Where’s Garth?” Steve uttered feebly, toiling to keep his drooping eyelids from closing altogether.

“He went to get the doctor.”

“He’s my father,” he paused to swallow, “isn’t he?”

“How do you know that?”

“I just know.”

His eyes shut tight and he drifted off.

Neighing was heard outside. Marnu momentarily stepped away from Steve to peer through the window, thinking it might be Garth returning with the doctor. Her face dropped when she saw Queng-Dri lurching to the cabin.

Marnu panicked. She swiftly pondered her options but time wasn’t on her side. She resigned to whatever fate awaited her and Garth’s son. She returned to Steve and replaced the blood-tainted bandage with a clean one. The wanness of his face was telling her that the end was near.

Queng-Dri burst inside the cabin. Marnu displayed no emotions as the lame man limped toward her. He leered at Steve and took out a gun. He cocked it at the dying man’s head.

Marnu flung the weapon out of Queng-Dri’s grasp. Rabid, he seized her by the hair and dragged her away from the bed.

“Don’t try that again, woman, or next time you’ll regret it dearly.”

“Don’t kill him. Nature will take care of it.”

“I don’t like to wait. Besides don’t you want me to end his suffering?”

He bent down to pick up the gun and aimed it at Steve’s head.

A shot resounded, giving Marnu a start. She looked at Queng-Dri losing his grip on her and slowly crumbling to the floor. She was relieved to see Garth, a smoking gun in hand. He had shot Queng-Dri in the back.

Marnu ran to his arms.

“Are you hurt?” he asked.

“No, I’m fine.”

“I brought the doctor with me.”

The town physician rushed to the dying man and searched for a pulse on his right arm but felt no beat. He lifted Steve’s left eyelid and noticed that his pupil was fixed.

“I’m sorry, Garth, but this man is dead.”

“He can’t be!” Marnu exclaimed.

Garth sat on the edge of the bed and took Steve’s left arm. “I have a pulse.”

“Let me see.”

Sure enough, the doctor felt a faint pulsation. He took out his stethoscope and applied it to Steve’s chest.

“I don’t understand this.”

Marnu called the doctor’s attention to the fact that Steve had lost an awful lot of blood during the last two hours.

“I can’t do much for him here. He needs to be in a hospital. The nearest one is two hours away and by the looks of him he won’t last that long.”

“We’ll have to chance it. I’ll hitch up the wagon.”

Garth left the cabin.

“Marnu, who is this man?”

“Garth’s son.”

“His son?”

“Keep him alive, doctor.”

“I’ll do my best.”

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Later, they snugly tucked Steve in blankets in the back of the wagon, Queng-Dri’s body lying next to him. The doctor sat with Steve and Garth sat in front.

Garth kept the horses at a steady pace to allow for a smother journey on bumpy roads.

“How is he doing, doctor?”

“Not good. How far long are we?”

“We should be there in ten to fifteen minutes.”

“The sooner the better”

The doctor laid an extra blanket on Steve’s chest and one on his legs, keeping clear of the wound with the protruding end of the spear.

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While Steve was in surgery, Garth reminisced about his past with a wistful smile. As Captain Carl Austin, he was revered by his comrades-in-arms and commended by the Army for his courage under enemy fire. His resilience was an attribute his son had inherited. He knew so little of Steve’s prowess and achievements. He missed holding him in his arms, witnessing his first steps, taking him to ball games, going on fishing trips and sharing thoughts about girls and all on account of a cowardly act he wanted to spare his family.

The doctor shuffled out of the operating room and went to Garth.

“Doctor, how is he?”

The doctor laid his hand on Garth’s shoulder.

“Sit down, Garth.”

Garth removed the hand from his shoulder and looked the doctor square in the eyes.

“Just tell me.”

“He’s alive…barely. The next twelve hours will tell. But there’s something else.”

“What?”

“I’ll need to explain it to you later in a language you can understand but right now, I need a change of clothes and a hot cup of coffee.”

“I’d like to see him.”

“We’ve taken him down to I.C.U.”

“Thanks.”

“Don’t stay too long.”

Garth entered Steve’s room and padded up to the bed. He gazed at him as he dabbed his hair.

“You need to be strong, son. It don’t want to lose you now that I’ve found you. I promise I’ll make it up to you somehow.”

Garth leaned closer to Steve’s face and whispered, “Fight, boy. Fight with all your might. I’ll be rooting for you.”

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Morning had broken. The sun glared down from the cloudless sky and streaked into Steve’s hospital room. The sunrays beamed down on his face, filtering through his eyelids with an intense brightness that annoyed him to rouse.

He blinked open his eyes. Still in a drug-induced stupor, he glanced around nervously in a complete haze. His glassy stare traveled down to Garth, hunched over in a chair, sleeping.

As Steve tried to speak, a stinging pain emanated from his abdomen. A faint moan escaped him as his body stiffened and his face puckered.

Garth stirred. He stretched himself and yawned. He rubbed his foggy eyes as he lifted himself out of his chair to stand over the bed. Steve was fully awake.

“Good to have you back. How do you feel?”

“Like…like the life has been drained out of me,” Steve muttered weakly.

“In a way, it was. You lost quite a bit of blood. But you’re going to be fine.”

Steve stared at Garth and with imploring eyes, asked, “Tell me.”

“Tell you what?”

“That you’re my father.”

Garth lowered his head to avoid eye contact. “Who told you that?”

“You are…aren’t you?”

Garth looked at his haggard son who was striving to keep focused. “Yes.”

Steve breathed out a long sigh of relief. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I couldn’t.”

“Why?”

“Because you don’t need a coward father like me to complicate your life.”

“Who says you are?”

“Enough talk. Save your strength.”

“When I get out of here, you’re going back with me to Washington.”

“No I’m not.”

“Why not?”

“It’s better for both of us no one else finds out about my existence.”

“But I…”

“Hush, don’t talk,” Garth interrupted, dabbing Steve on the shoulder to quiet his anguish. “Go back to sleep.”

“No,” Steve paused to catch his breath, eyes glistening with tears, “we need to talk.”

“Not now. Sleep.”

With no more fight left in him, Steve fell into a deep sleep.

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Hours elapsed. Garth ambled outside under a clear night, studded with bright twinkling stars. He soaked up the atmosphere of a hospitable land that adopted him unconditionally and bestowed upon him a carefree existence away from petty annoyances.

Was he ready to forsake all this lavishness to return to the hustle and bustle of a slavish society in utter disarray? Was the son he never knew masterful enough to pry him away from this heaven on earth? Carl Austin was branded a coward in the opposite corner of the world. A word not so easily obliterated from people’s minds, however the rendered verdict may be.

No, he had not jumped off the plane as it was rumored, but was pushed by his co-pilot, Christopher Bell, a life-long friend who wished to discharge an old debt. Christopher was the sole witness in proving Carl’s bravery, but the poor soldier’s remains were laid to rest in the Tibetan mountains.

What sort of father would intentionally offload his burden onto his son’s shoulders for him to bear the weight of it all? But Steve was his own flesh and blood, the pride and joy his wife Helen would describe in letters, which brightened his most sombre days while on missions. Even today he often wondered what this toddler had grown into.

He returned to the hospital, pondering.

As he entered Steve’s room, he was disturbed to see the doctor and a nurse hovering over the bed.

“What’s going on?” Garth inquired, bothered by their presence.

“His blood pressure dropped,” the doctor informed while probing the patient’s abdomen with both hands.

“How come?”

“I think he’s haemorrhaging again. His abdomen feels a bit rigid.”

The doctor instructed the nurse to maintain Steve on the same medication for the next hour and to monitor his vital signs at fifteen-minute intervals.

Garth trembled with fear. “How could this happen? He was fine an hour ago?”

“We’ll keep him on coagulants and watch for any significant changes. If nothing happens, we’ll have to operate again.”

“I’ll stay with him and notify you of any change.”

“Okay.” The doctor laid his hand on Garth’s shoulder. “You should get some sleep.”

“I will when I know he’s okay.”

The doctor patted Garth’s shoulder and left the room.

Seconds later, a middle-aged platinum blonde nurse ambled into the room. She gazed at Garth by Steve’s bed, holding his left hand, for the right still gave him the shivers, having been told what it was made of.

“He’s your son?”

“Yes.”

“Don’t abandon yourself to despair. That young man is not willing to concede.”

“I hope you’re right.” Garth heaved a deep sigh. “Why did he come here? Why did he have to find me? He doesn’t need me to complicate his life,” he lamented.

“Why do you say that? Seems to me that the young man traveled a great distance just to find you.”

“How would you know?”

“He’s Steve Austin, isn’t he? The distinguished American figure.”

“That’s precisely the reason why he doesn’t need me tagging along to tarnish his reputation. Still, I don’t want him to die. I feel it’s going to be a very long night.”

The nurse suggested to Garth to go pour himself a cup of coffee while she remained with Steve. He agreed and stepped out of the room.

The nurse approached the bed and laid her hand on Steve’s forehead. “Your time hasn’t come, yet. You are reunited with your father and he needs you more than you can possible conceive.”

She moved down and waved her hands over Steve’s abdomen, closing her eyes in concentration.

As her healing power works its magic, Steve slowly opened his eyes.

“Hello,” she greeted with a fetching smile. “I’m Shyna.”

“Hi.”

“How do you feel?”

“Great. Better than great. I fell…energized.”

“You can stand.”

Steve looked at her mistrustfully. Having undergone a delicate operation the night before, he feared getting up would exacerbate his wound.

“Trust me,” she said soothingly. “You can stand.”

Something in her tone and bewitching stare rendered him unreservedly submissive. She assisted him out of his bed and much to his astonishment, his body was no longer racked with pain. He ventured a few steps. He felt invigorated.

“But…how?” Steve asked, completely dumbfounded.

She merely fashioned a beaming smile and held both his hands.

In shock, Garth dropped his coffee at the sight of Steve walking.

“God, how can this happen?”

Steve motioned to the nurse. Garth turned to her.

“Miracles do happen if you believe in them.”

Garth hugged Steve. Seconds later, the nurse had vanished as quickly as she had appeared. Who was she?

...Continued