Steve felt buoyant. He was ready to leave the hospital this instant but his doctor quickly dampened his enthusiasm by confining him to bed for overnight observation. He ordered a set of tests to uncover the cause of Steve’s miraculous recovery that had him positively confounded.
Steve was sprightly and bouncy. Sleep was the last thing on his mind. He wore a look of studied boredom at the thought of lying in bed, staring at the ceiling while twiddling his thumbs to idle the time away. He wanted to chat with his father, the man who gave him life and prevented it from ending in the prime of his life. But the doctor ordered complete bed rest and made certain his patient abided by his directive by administering him a strong sedative.
While Steve was safely cradled in Morpheus’s arms, Garth stole out of the room to seek Shyna, the nurse he suspected might be a shaman. He asked for her at the Nurses Station. He was taken aback when he learned the woman was not on the staff and that as far as they knew, she never worked at the hospital.
“She was just in my son’s room less than an hour ago,” Garth argued.
“Sorry,” replied the nurse, shaking her head apologetically. “What did she look like?”
“Platinum blond, green eyes, about five foot three.”
“No one here fits that description, sir.”
“Perhaps she works on another floor?”
“I could check.”
“Would you, please? It’s important that I talk with her.”
Garth wandered outside. He heaved a long-drawn sigh and looked skywards. He was still dithering over whether he should return to Washington or remain here.
“Search your heart, Carl.”
Garth swiftly turned his head towards the soft voice. Shyna was standing in a flounced white satin robe, the warm breeze gently wafting her long blond hair. She appeared angelically serene.
With a mesmerizing smile, she sauntered up to Garth.
“You’re the one who healed my son?”
“He was ascending that hill on his own when he inadvertently lost his footing. I merely extended him a lifeline to cling to.”
“Some lifeline! You cured him.”
“Your son never renounced the faith in winning the battle. He is not a quitter.”
“He’s a great kid.”
“He needs you, Carl.”
“No. He has a life back in the America. A mother and a father who love him, an unblemished reputation. He’s a national hero, idolized by millions! Can ruin that for him.”
“You cannot elude your destiny. Your paths have crossed for a reason.” She gently rested her hand on his arm. “Go with him.”
Garth stared deeply into her eyes. “You know what’s ahead for us, don’t you?”
“The acquaintance road will be paved with hardships and…a tragedy.”
“Then why do you want me to go there?”
She turned to Garth and took him by the shoulders. “To prevent your son’s death.”
Shyna’s prophecy of Steve’s demise was all the incentive Garth needed to make his decision to follow his son back to Washington.
Less than a week later, father and son were on a plane to the States. Both had convinced Marnu to leave her Tibetan roots behind and plant new ones in a country full of opportunities.
On the night flight, lounging in his seat, flanked by the two people he most cherished in the world, Garth let his mind regress to an earlier period. He chose to dwell on the day he left for his mission.
His wife Helen, pregnant with their first child, was seen running up to him. They fell into each other’s arms. Faces bathed in tears, it was the last time they would see one another.
In his army uniform, Carl put his hand on Helen’s belly. “Take care of that little bundle.”
“Write me everyday to tell me how junior’s behaving.”`
“Why are you so sure it’s a boy?”
“I just feel it is. Sprout is going to grow strong and healthy.”
“Sprout? Please Carl, you’re not going to call him that?”
“Why not? Suits him,” he joked.
“Let’s wait until he’s born and then we’ll talk.”
Carl clasped Helen in a warm embrace and they kissed passionately.
“I’ll be back in a month,” he whispered close to her ear.
“I’ll…I’ll be waiting,” she choked on her reply, her body racked with sobs.
Garth was drifting further into the past when a stewardess asking if he wanted anything hurled him back to the present.
“No, I’m okay. Thank you.”
Garth turned to Marnu, sleeping to his left. He pulled the blanket up to her shoulders. She stirred and changed position to face the window.
To his right, Steve was dozing peacefully, his head leaning against his fist, a muffled hoarse noise coming out of his mouth. Garth leaned closer and smiled when he established the sound as a snore.
He tugged at Steve’s shoulder. “Hey, sleepy head.”
Steve started out of sleep. “What?”
“You were snoring.”
“I don’t snore,” Steve snorted, yawning and rubbing his eyes.
“You were, Sprout.”
“What did you call me?”
“Sprout. That was the name I picked out for you before your mother put her foot down.”
“You don’t mind if I call you that?”
“No but…don’t spread it around ‘cause I feel I’m never going to hear the end of it”
Garth smiled and gave the back of Steve’s neck a fatherly squeeze. “Want something to drink?”
“No I’m fine. What time is it?”
Steve began to feel a numbing sensation in his right arm. He held his hand in front of him and stretched out his fingers. Garth stared at Steve’s hand with a degree of disgust. He shrunk back at the thought of his son being half human half machine. Steve picked up on Garth’s uneasiness.
“What’s wrong, dad?”
“Dad,” Garth smiled blissfully, “I like hearing that.”
“I like saying it.”
“That arm of yours. Do you feel…anything?”
“Everything. When I injure myself I don’t feel as much pain as a human flesh wound would, but the limbs have been part of me for so long I can hardly tell the difference.”
“Neither can I.”
“I’m still me. Heart, soul and the core is human.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“You didn’t. I’m quite over it now. In the beginning it was hard to accept.”
“I can imagine.”
“But now I’ve made my peace with it. It saved my life.”
Hours later, the plane landed safely at Dulles International Airport where Oscar anxiously awaited the three passengers outside the terminal.
Steve proudly introduced Garth and Marnu to his boss.
“Captain Carl Austin, I’d like you to meet the man I trust most in the world, OSI director Oscar Goldman.”
They shook hands.
“Mister Goldman, it’s a pleasure to finally make your acquaintance.”
“Pleasure’s all mine.”
“Steve speaks very highly of you.”
“Does he? He’s a fine agent and a decent human being.”
“You need not sell him to me.”
“Stop it you two or you’ll make me blush,” Steve jested, shyly lowering his chin to his chest. “Oscar, this is Marnu, my father’s wife.”
Oscar reacted to the word. “Wife?”
Steve suddenly experienced a spasm in his right arm that made him drop the suitcase he was holding.
“Steve, you alright?” Oscar asked.
Worried, Steve rubbed his arm with his left hand. “I don’t know. My arm’s been bothering me in the last few hours.”
“Better have Rudy take a look.”
“Yeah but not before I show my guests to their hotel.”
Later in the afternoon while Garth and Marnu were getting settled in their hotel room, Steve was at Rudy’s lab.
“How does it feel?” Rudy asked.
Steve wiggled the fingers of his right hand and bent his arm. “Feels great. What was it?”
“Just needed a tiny adjustment.”
Steve rolled down his sleeve.
“But to be on the safe side, I’ll run a complete diagnostic. You had better lie down, try to relax. It might sting a bit so I’m going to give you something to put you under.”
Steve stretched himself out on the table while Rudy prepared the injection.
“Did something happen while you were there?”
Rudy administered the injection to Steve whose nose crinkled at the needle prick.
Steve continued, “ I was almost killed.”
Rudy stood astounded. “What happened?”
“Got a spear through the stomach, but I feel fine now.”
“Let me see.”
Steve untucked his shirt for Rudy to examine his abdomen. “Where did you say it was?”
Steve jabbed his finger at the entry wound. “Right there.”
Rudy felt the area. “There’s nothing there, Steve. No puncture marks, no bruise no nothing.”
“I know. It’s a long story, “ he suspired, lowering his shirt. “I don’t quite have a firm grasp on it myself. “ Steve began to feel the numbing effect of the drug. His eyelids started to hang heavily.
“Are you sure you didn’t just dream it?”
“I wish. No, it was real.” Steve took in a deep breath. “There was this nurse. She stared at me with hypnotic eyes and told me to stand. I just had major surgery so I wasn’t too sure I should try. But…something in her voice made me submit to her. I got up and walked. No pain. When the doctor looked at the wound…it was gonnnn...,” Steve exhaled the last word before nodding off.
A few days passed. In the hotel room, Marnu was looking out the window at the teeming street below. Her mind was far away, back to the land upon which he roots were solidly planted until she yanked them off the ground to follow Garth to his homeland. However finding a new soil for them proved difficult. She feared they would shrivel and die. She felt helpless and alone despite her husband’s presence by her side.
Garth returned to the room with a bucket of ice.
“Steve’s booked us at a posh restaurant tonight but in the meantime, let’s have ourselves a little celebration.” Garth saw beyond the contrived smile Marnu threw at him. “Marnu, something wrong?”
“Why would anything be wrong, Garth? I’m happy for you. You’re with your son.”
“But what about you? I did force your hand into coming here.”
“A wife’s place is by her husband’s side and seeing you with Steve makes my heart flow with joy.”
“I know it’s a major step and quite a change of scenery but we’ll get used to it…but if you’re uncomfortable, we could…”
“What? Go back? I don’t think you can, not now that you’ve found your son. If you had to make a choice between me and Steve, I know he’d be him and I wouldn’t hate you for it.”
“Marnu, give it time. I don’t want to lose you.”
“What about your other wife, Helen? How will she react when she meets me?”
“Same as I will react when I meet her husband, I guess.”
“Yes but you already know about Jim. She doesn’t know about me.”
“She does. Steve called her to tell her. We’re flying to Ojai a day after tomorrow.”
“It’s too soon, Garth. I don’t think I can face her.”
He clasped her by the shoulders. “You can. I’ll be with you.”
Late afternoon, Steve drove up to Oscar’s office and found Callahan under a stack of folders.
“Callahan are you in there somewhere?” Steve jested as he searched for the secretary who was hunched down on the floor gathering some loose sheets.
He crouched down and helped her. “Is that Oscar’s doing?”
“Yeah. He’s decided we need a new filing system, so I have to re-label the folders one by one.”
“As you said.”
“Hope he’s paying you well?”
“He’d better.” The terrifying squint she threw Steve read danger, that her boss would be signing soprano if he so much stepped out of line. The fire in her eyes prompted Steve to step away slowly and seek refuge in Oscar’s office.
“Wanted to see me, Oscar?”
“Yes I did,” he hid his grin, “Sprout.”
Steve’s shoulders slumped and his face hit the floor. “Oh no, you’ve been talking with my father.”
“It slipped out, “Oscar chuckled under his breath.
“Sure it did,” Steve scoffed.
“It’s…cute. It suits you.”
“Uh-huh. You use that nickname again, Oscar, and you won’t live to see your next birthday.”
“Come on, Sprout, “Oscar teased.
“I mean it! Only my father can call me that.”
“Well, haven’t I been like a second father to you?”
“Let’s change the subject. What did you want to see me for?”
“Did Carl tell you about the secret documents he was carrying aboard the plane when it crashed?”
“Oscar we haven’t exactly tackled that subject.”
“You should. It’s vitally important. Once it was known that Carl Austin was still alive, The FBI contacted me about those files. They want them back.”
“What could they possibly want with sixty-year-old documents?”
“Steve, they believe your father has them and if he doesn’t turn them over they will have him arrested.”
“You can’t let that happen, Oscar.”
“The matter is out of my hands.”
“I just found my father and now they’re going to take him away from me?”
“Not if he gives back the documents.”
“What if he doesn’t have them?”
Oscar hung his head in silence.
“Dad was right. I should never have asked him to come. And here he was, worried about me!”
“Steve, talk to him.”
“I will. Soon as we get back from Ojai.”
“I wouldn’t leave Washington if I were you.”
“Beg your pardon?”
“Not while your father may be suspected of treason.”
Steve huffed out of the office. Far from Oscar’s and Callahan’s eyes, he felt a sharp pain in his right arm. “Oh Rudy! You said you fixed it.”
At night, Steve drove to the hotel to pick up his guests for the celebration dinner. They were asked to be ready an hour earlier for he had planned a small detour to a residential area where he’d spotted the perfect house. A fertile ground to plant new roots.
On their way, Steve broached the subject of the documents. Garth assured his son he was not in possession of those papers nor was he ever cognizant of the content of the briefcase. As far as he knew, they were still in the broken plane up in the mountains. Steve readily believed his father. The Feds were barking up at the wrong tree, he thought to himself. Expert climbers were already on their way to the area to sift through the plane carcass. There they would find what they are looking for…or would they?
Steve bionic arm jerked.
“Steve, what’s wrong?” Garth asked, worried.
Before Steve realized what was occurring, a surge of electricity coursed through his right arm, causing him to lose grip of the steering wheel, his foot hitting the accelerator instead of the brakes. He lost complete control of the car.
Garth barely had time to grab a hold of the wheel that the car crashed head on into a large tree. The force of the impact rendered Steve unconscious as his head jolted forward. Garth and Marnu were shaken but unscathed.
Fire was smouldering from underneath the hood. Dazed and driven by his survival instinct, Garth kicked the car door open with a strength running on adrenalin. He quickly unbuckled Steve’s seatbelt and firmly clutched hold of his shoulders. He slid his hands in the crook of his son’s arms and pulled him out of the burning wreck. He carried him away from the potential blast, gently laying him on the grass.
Slightly bruised, Marnu was painfully squeezing her way out through the broken window when the car exploded.
Garth rushed to his wife but it was too late. “Nooooooo!” he bawled, kneeling down in the middle of the street, the flames mirroring in his dewy eyes as curious onlookers flooded the street. He stood there, frozen in horror.
As police sirens blared in the distance, he teetered to his feet and went to Steve. He removed his jacket and covered his body with it. He undid his tie and wrapped it around his bleeding forehead. Steve let out a faint moan. Garth heaved a sigh of relief knowing Steve was alive.
As Garth watched the car burning, Shyna’s words echoed in his mind. “The road will be paved with hardships and a tragedy, but you must follow your son to prevent his death.” He looked down at Steve, a tear rolled down his cheek and dripped onto his son’s.
Such was their destiny.......