Rudy hurriedly shuffled the pile of papers on his desk in search of the one he needed. It was late in the day and the scientist was nearly finished with his meeting with the OSI Director when he realized his report was not complete. He rushed to his lab to hunt down the missing item and with a sigh of relief pulled it from its hiding place and moved quickly back to the office across the hall.
Moving through the door, still ajar from his recent exit, Rudy was glancing at his report as he spoke. “Sorry about that Oscar. I must have pulled this from the file to…..” He stopped in both mid-sentence and mid-stride seeing Oscar looking deathly pale sitting perfectly still behind his desk.
Noticing the man did not even acknowledge he was no longer alone Rudy approached the desk slowly and finally put a name to the expression on his boss’ face. He looked grim. There was no doubt the earlier light mood in the office had suddenly shifted to one of a darker nature.
“Oscar?” The doctor called out but didn’t get a response. He stepped closed and placed a hand on the white sleeved forearm resting on the desk. “Oscar!” He called out more sternly and finally saw the brown eyes blink until his mind was back on his surroundings. “Oscar what is it? Are you feeling alright?”
Oscar, his face still white as a sheet, just looked up and nodded ever so slowly. All was not right as evidenced by the pained expression. “Oscar what happened since I left? Why do you look so horrified?”
Rudy’s stomach twisted at the thought of what could have cause this reaction in the otherwise strong man. “My god, its Steve isn’t it? Did you get a call while I was gone?” Again his question was answered with a simple affirmative head shake, the man behind the desk still unable to find his voice. “Well, tell me. Is he hurt?” There was no answer so Rudy took another shot. The scientists mind whirled with possibilities fully aware Steve was not presently on assignment. “Oh no don’t tell me he’s… he’s….dead.”
The voice that came from the articulate man sounded nothing like his usually authoritative tone. It was just above a whisper, rough and strained. “It’s worse Rudy.”
“Worse? Worse than being dead?” A confused Rudy retorted.
“Yes.” Getting quickly to his feet he marched to the wet bar and poured himself a three finger glass of whiskey. Rudy watched as he did so and finish it in one swallow. The trembling hand that placed the glass on the counter was also noticeable to the trained eye. The shorter man moved to the wet bar, bracing himself for what could have happened to their friend.
Oscar’s voice became hallow and sounded disconnected from any emotion. “Remember we talked about Spencer’s recent new appointment to a special committee on Foreign Intelligence?”
“Yeah, I remember.” He replied simply not wanting to interrupt and thus delay the explanation of Oscar’s distress.
“I just received a call. I’m not sure who it was but he took a very big risk in calling.” The narrow eyes moved to look at the physician in the eye before he continued. Swallowing hard he filled him in.
“It would seem Spencer has made some kind of arrangement, an exchange of sorts, with the Russians.” He paused to gather the courage to speak of the nightmare that was just beginning for the bionic operative. “He’s agreed to trade Steve and possibly the whole Cyborg project to the Russians for some kind of secret weapon.”
Rudy stood stunned by the incredible news. Both he and Oscar knew Spencer had resented Steve since Steve began working for what was then called the Office of Scientific Operations. Shortly after Spencer moved on the other assignments and Oscar replaced him. But not before Steve made Spencer’s life difficult. Rudy never forgot how Spencer once asked if the doctor could keep the operative in electro-sleep between assignments. At first Rudy thought the director was joking but soon came to learn he wanted a robot to do his dirty work not a Cyborg, not a human with independent thought and morals.
It was there that Steve and Spencer clashed. Every opportunity that Steve had to remind the rigid government official that he, and only he, had the right to decided in what fashion his new skills would be used he took it. It certainly made an important point, one that desperately had to be made early on in the Cyborg project. Rudy had supported Steve 100% and both men were relieved to find Spencer’s replacement was much different then his predecessor. Oscar understood Steve’s position and although he did his best to persuade the agent at times he still had respect for Steve’s difficult position, never having volunteered to be a covert operative.
After downing another drink Oscar moved to get his coat when Rudy stopped him.
“We have to get to him. They can’t just take possession of him like he was some…some…”
“Piece of equipment?” Oscar offered a sardonic smile. “I’m afraid that’s what the upper levels see Steve as. I’m afraid it’s too late. The mysterious caller said Spencer knew exactly who to call to ‘retrieve it’. By now Steve is probably in Spencer’s custody.”
“But Steve won’t just go willingly. There’s no doubt, if he knows what’s going on, he will put up a fight…not to mention try to run. We have to do something.”
“Alright let’s go.” Oscar moved to the door with Rudy following. As they entered the hallway Rudy spoke in hushed tone so not to be overheard.
“Oscar, Steve has many friends in the OSI, CIA and NSB. Many of whom he single handedly got out of dangerous situations. I don’t know if any would be willing to take him by force no matter who orders it. Who did Spencer find to willingly bring him in?”
Oscar’s face turned dark and he replied through tight lips. “Hanson.”
After being quietly escorted from his Washington home to the waiting sedan Steve sat quietly in the backseat trying to figure out what was happening. With a gun on him Hanson had been smiling the whole time so Steve knew whatever it was it wouldn’t bode well for him. He decided to needle Hanson enough to get him to spill any information.
It didn’t take much as Hanson wanted Steve to know what he could look forward to…especially the long trip to Russia. The stout man with the mustache smirked as he tried to rub salt in the wounds.
“Well Austin how does it feel to be just another piece of government hardware, huh? I bet you actually thought the Secretary and his Directors actually considered you human. Of course there’s Goldman but he always did like to use your successful missions to make himself look good to the brass.”
Steve just sat, impassive, listening to the grating voice drone on and on, his mind rushing through possible scenarios. “Yes sir, I bet you can’t wait to see Spencer again. I know he’s looking forward to seeing you…especially when they turn you, an honest to goodness Cyborg, over to the Russians. Soon you’ll be thrown out of the country like a bag of trash.”
Steve’s mind was racing. Spencer…. If Spencer was sending him to the enemy then what about Jaime? Would Spencer actually trade the whole Cyborg project? Did Spencer actually think Steve would cooperate with this insane plan? The questions came faster and faster until Steve was ready to bolt. What was happening was out of character for the agents assisting Hanson. Steve knew he needed to get to Oscar but Jaime was his first concern. Glancing out the window he knew he could quickly disappear in the dark night before the others even knew what was happening.
Waiting patiently for the traffic light to turn green Steve prepared to disarm Hanson and run. Seconds ticked off but the operative remained calm. The burly agent glanced out his own window when suddenly he was struck hard enough to render him unconscious. Kicking out the locked back door Steve took off before the vehicle made it through the intersection.
The driver tried to get the stopped car out of the traffic jam, car horns beeping angrily around them. The agent who occupied the passenger front seat ran off after the rogue agent.
The rapid knock on the door startled Callahan. “Who is it?”
“Callahan, its Steve open the door.” He whispered through the door.
Each of the five locks was undone before the door opened and Steve swiftly entered, closing the door behind him.
“Steve what’s going on? It’s almost 10:00?” The young woman asked tying the sash of her pink robe tighter about her waist.
Taking a deep breath the handsome man started with an apology. “Callahan I’m sorry to involve you in this but it’s an emergency.”
The petite woman stared at him with wide eyes, he needed her help and she would do anything to help. “Does this have to do with national security?” She couldn’t stop the butterflies from filling her stomach at the thought of working as an agent.
“Callahan listen to me. Hanson is after me.”
”Hanson?!” She exclaimed in disbelief.
“Yes. I don’t have time to give you the details. I just need you to get this to Jaime as soon as you can.” He pulled a thick Manila envelope from his breast pocket. “But don’t let anyone know you gave it to her or you may lose your job and your freedom. Don’t open it and whatever you do don’t let anyone, and I mean ANYONE, get a hold of it. Understand?”
The blonde head nodded with certainty. “Is Jaime in trouble too?”
“Not if I can help it.”
“Alright I’ll see her tomorrow.”
”No Callahan. I need her to get right away… tonight. Can I count on you?”
“Absolutely. I’ll just get dressed and get over there. And don’t worry I won’t let anyone see me.”
“That a girl.” He winked and smiled causing her heart to melt before closing her bedroom door.
Steve aimlessly paced the small living room. After freeing himself from Hanson’s custody Steve went to his home to retrieve some important documents from his safe before heading to Callahan’s apartment. Jaime would soon be safe. Now all he had to do was find a way to get to Oscar.
Hanson and his men headed to the NSB office after being unable to track the fast moving agent. Once there they attempted to solve the mystery of where Steve would go. With surveillance at the nearby air force bases, train and bus stations, rental car agencies and all airports, private and public, they were sure Austin would surface somewhere.
“What about Sommers’s place?”
“We have 2 men on it. The house is dark and her car is there. They said no one has come or gone.”
“Then where the hell would he have gone?” Hanson grumbled.
Looking over the map Hanson tried to figure out the puzzle. “He escaped here and headed south.” Tracing a line on the paper with his pencil he saw what was in that direction. “Well his house is in that direction but I doubt he would be crazy enough to go there. Do we have men stationed there?”
“Yes sir they arrived around 2130 hrs. They searched the place but no one was found.”
Hanson turned back to the paper, clearly annoyed at the turn of events. “Okay who else could he have gone to…?” Tapping his pencil on the graphic Hanson tried to remember who Austin’s closest friends would be. “What about Goldman and Wells?”
“They have been at the OSI building all evening.”
”Is that verified?”
“I want their homes searched anyway. Austin doesn’t need a key to get into the residences. Send men to both addresses.”
”Yes sir.” The agent replied and headed out of the room.
Thinking of the small group of friends that banded together after Dr. Franklin kidnapped Oscar Goldman Hanson wondered who he had missed.
“Goldman…Wells…Austin….Sommers…..who else? Who am I missing?” Suddenly it dawned on him, the least obvious person to be involved…..Peggy Callahan, Oscar Goldman’s secretary. Grabbing the phone he got the young woman’s address and moved out the door.
Peggy came from the bedroom dressed in black clothing. One look at her and Steve had to hold back the chuckle that threatened to escape. He knew how enthusiastic she got when it came to OSI business…especially covert operations.
“Do you think I need the hat?” She asked sincerely, holding up a black knit cap.
“No Callahan you should be fine.” He moved to her, placing a hand on each of her arms. “I can’t thank you enough Callahan.”
“No problem Steve.” She replied, gazing into his deep blue eyes.
“Wait until I’m gone okay? I don’t want us seen together.”
She nodded and saw him out the door. Watching him exit the building from her darkened bedroom window she was shocked when he was cornered by NSB agents. Hanson stepped from the bushes with a toothy grin and gun in hand. She held her breath and watched.
“It seems you should have used those metal legs of yours and made a run for it to another state. Did you think I was that stupid that I wouldn’t track you?”
“Maybe.” Steve replied with a cocky tilt of his head.
Hanson addressed his colleagues. “Get upstairs, search the place and see what the little secretary has to say.”
Steve tensed, feeling guilty for involving the innocent woman. “She’s not involved in anything Hanson so let her alone.”
Hanson chuckled. “The fact that you are so worried about us speaking with her tells me she is involved in whatever you are planning. Now move to the car…slowly.”
After a glance at the dark second story window Steve moved to the car. He sat in the backseat under Hanson’s supervision waiting for the other agents to return. It didn’t take long.
Sticking his head into the open window the winded agent spoke to Hanson. “We didn’t find anything. We searched the whole place. She said she doesn’t know what’s happening and told him to leave…didn’t even let him in the apartment.” He gestured to Austin with a tilt of his head.
Hanson thought a moment. “Okay let her here and let’s get Austin back to the NSB.”
Steve sat quietly in a stark room that held nothing more than a table and 2 chairs. An armed Marine stood like a stone statue at the door, staring straight ahead. He wondered what the guard was for since he strongly doubted if what Hanson said was true, that Spencer would allow anyone to damage the merchandise.
Testing his uniformed babysitter the OSI agent stood slowly and began pacing back and forth across from the emotionless military man. Steve was sure, even though the eyes never moved that the man was watching him in his peripheral vision. Slowly he made his trek further from his chair. He glanced out the small rectangular window, stretching his back. The guard never moved.
Steve moved closer and when he was ten feet in front of the Marine a steady hand dropped to his side arm. No words were exchanged but the message was clear. Steve offered and quirky apologetic smile at making the guard uneasy. “Sorry.”
As the imprisoned man turned away the door opened and the guard allowed Spencer to enter. Steve watched him as he put his briefcase on the table then rested his black cane against it.
“Please Mr. Austin…have a seat. We have much to discuss.” The older man settled himself and began moving papers from the attaché.
Steve took wary steps then sat across from the man who had taken control of his future years before….and also tried to take control of his life.
Handling Steve a satellite photo he asked if Steve knew what the hardware was. Steve nodded. “It’s a Russian MiG. Looks like a new design.”
“Oh it’s more than just a MiG. This aircraft is invisible to every Radar know to man.” Steve’s eyes came up and saw the twinkle in Spencer’s usually dull grey ones.
“What does that have to do with me?” Steve inquired. “Do you want me to steal it?”
“There’s no need to steal the plane. In 48 hours the United States will be purchasing this hardware, the only one of its kind….and you will be the method of payment.”
Even though Steve had a ‘heads-up’ on what might be coming, hearing it from Spencer’s mouth made his stomach turn. The gravely voice continued with reasons why it was being done and who had approved the transaction but Steve barely heard the details. His mind was overwhelmed with his survival. If he went to Russia…..
Spencer finished his explanation. “A prototype for a prototype… sort of an even exchange. I assure you it happens quite frequently behind closed doors.”
“And what does Oscar Goldman have to say about this?”
“Oh… well, I’m afraid this is all beyond his realm of control. He has absolutely no authority in the matter.”
Steve’s eyes turned icy. “Do you really think I’ll go along with this?”
“Well I don’t think you really have a choice.” Spencer added as he closed his briefcase. “You aren’t the suicidal type, at least not anymore, and if you refuse I will see to it that you have a suitable room at the Washington Veteran’s Hospital. Of course we would need to relieve you of your government issued parts. I’m sure the newspapers and TV reporters would get a long ride out of reporting about the former famous astronaut who’s a triple amputee.”
Steve couldn’t help swallowing hard at the possible outcome of his refusal. He had to find another way out. He stared unfocused at the tabletop while Spencer left the room.
Steve knew how the Russian’s worked. He had to find a way to put a wrench in Spencer’s plan. Using the Russian’s deep distrust of the United States Steve would do just that. But he would need Rudy’s help. Letting out a deep breath he got to his feet again.
As before the Marine guard remained motionless as Steve paced the small space, carefully considering his opponent. He was young, very young, which would work to the experienced agent’s advantage.
Moving over to the guard, who immediately put a hand on his sidearm, Steve noticed the uncertainty in his eyes. Surely the guard knew who Steve was, a superior officer. In fact for a moment Steve entertained the thought he may be able to convince him to let him out with just an authoritative order but pushed the idea aside knowing Spencer would have all his bases covered.
No, even though Steve hated guns, what he needed to be done would have to involved gunplay.
Steve wandered aimlessly about, getting himself psychologically ready for what he was about to do. As soon as he got close to the young man, who wasn’t much more that 18 years old, he grabbed him. With his bionic right hand over the guards left he took control of the weapon that had swiftly cleared the leather holster. There was a short scuffle that ended with a muffled gunshot.
Both men froze at the sound. The guard watched stunned as the former astronaut dropped heavily to the ground at his feet.
Spencer and another guard rushed in and were shocked to see Austin on the floor unmoving. Spencer was fuming.
“What the hell did you do?”
“Sir, the Colonel rushed me…I pulled my weapon…I…I don’t know how but the gun discharged. Sir, I didn’t intend to shoot him.” The young man was confused how his gun had been fired. He didn’t even think he touched the trigger but then again it all happened so fast that he must have in order to defend himself against a man he had been warned had the strength of ten men.
Spencer, unable to crouch down because of his leg injury, waited for the second guard to inform him of Austin’s condition. “Well?” He asked impatiently.
“He’s unconscious but alive, sir. It looks like he took the bullet in his leg.” Three pairs of eyes fell upon the sparks flashing from the leg...
“DAMMIT!” Spencer stepped back and thought for a second. “Okay let’s get him to Dr. Wells.”
After being notified Dr. Rudy Wells was waiting for Steve’s arrival at the medical center. His mind filled with unanswered questions. Finally his patient arrived and he moved to assist pushing the gurney into the closest trauma room.
Seeing Steve’s pale face and rapid breathing Rudy wondered how bad the injury to the leg was. Steve moaned softly as he was deposited on the examination table. Rudy moved to his side only to bump into Spencer who was not letting Steve out of his sight.
“Dammit Spencer, wait in the hallway!” Spencer looked at the doctor then at the patient. Rudy assured him. “Take a good look Spencer; he isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Now get out of the way and let me do my job.”
Spencer pursed his lips, in the silence Steve’s rapid breathing sounded worse. Reluctantly the limping man moved to the door with Rudy next to him. After closing the door Rudy turned back to his injured friend and was surprised to see the eyes open slightly.
The patient’s breathing immediately slowed and he attempted to prop himself up on his elbows but the painful feedback from his injured leg stopped him cold.
“It’s okay Rudy….I’m not as bad off as you think. The act was for Spencer’s benefit.”
Rudy was at Steve’ left side taking his pulse. “Who shot you?” He asked with a furrowed brow.
The right side of Steve’s mouth curled and he closed his eyes, tiring from the excitement and pain. “I did.”
Steve rested his head back down against the pillow, his eyes remained closed as he filled Rudy in. “I deliberately accosted the guard knowing he would draw his weapon. I grabbed his shooting hand and pulled the trigger myself.”
“To get here…to you.”
By now Rudy was inspecting Steve’s right thigh after his nurse had cut his pants open. “You took a big chance….” His comment was interrupted by the door opening and Spencer entered unannounced. Steve immediately began breathing heavy and letting out a soft moan here and there, giving the appearance of being unconscious.
“Dammit Spencer I told you to wait in the hall!” Rudy eyed his nurse. “Jean, please show Mr. Spencer to the lounge so I can see to my patient.”
Spencer only got halfway to the bedside and noticed the patient was still unconscious. “Now Doctor you know I’m not a patient man. How is he? How bad is the damage?”
“He’s obviously unconscious.” The physician stated simply. “I haven’t assessed the damage yet.”
“Fine, fine but you finish up quickly….” He turned to leave. “I’ll put a guard outside just in case you get him on his feet faster then I expect.”
Hearing the door shut Steve slowed his respiration and looked at Rudy.
“Steve you took a big chance. That bullet just missed the nuclear power pack.” The brown eyes study the location of the bullet.
“I know but I had to put it there.”
“Why?” Rudy straightened up and looked his patient in the eye.
“Rudy you must know what Spencer has planned. I had to come up with a plan to beat him at his own game. I need your help.”
“Okay. What’s your plan?”
“Tell Spencer the bullet damaged the power pack. Then surgically replace the nuclear power pack with the original experimental pack.”
“But Steve those were just modified lithium batteries I used in the first trials.” Steve just nodded with a knowing smile.
“Exactly. What gives me my extraordinary power and strength?”
“The nuclear packs.”
The two men looked at each other and Rudy slowly comprehended the plan. “So I replace the nuclear packs with battery packs, Spencer trades you to the Russians….”
“And they will soon find out Spencer was lying and that I have no special properties…just electronic prostheses. They will think Spencer underhanded them in the deal.”
“It’s risky Steve…on many levels. Spencer will want to watch the surgery…You’ll have a tough time getting out of Russia without bionics…What if the Cyborg files go with you?”
“Knowing how distrustful the Russians are they will probably think the files were faked. No offense Rudy but just think how incredibly absurd the idea of a Cyborg with super human strength is?”
Rudy’s mind went over the logistics. “We’ll have to keep Spencer out of the observatory. We can tell him that the observation operatory is not available…..if he wants to be in the OR I’ll have Oscar distract him.” He looked down and saw Steve’s brow crease. “Are you in pain?”
“Just a little… I guess that’s what I get for shooting myself.”
“I’ll give you something so you can rest and I’ll get everything ready. I just hope this works.”
”It has to it’s my only chance.” Steve replied as his eyes slowly closed.
Anxious and confused Jaime Sommers was on a bus heading to the Midwest. She had been on the move all night since Callahan arrived at her apartment. She waited until the petite secretary left in the darkness of night before opening the package Steve had sent with such secrecy. She smiled remembering how proud Callahan was that she thought to hide it under her cat’s litter box when Hanson’s men began searching her house.
She was shocked to find $5,000 in cash, all in small bills. In a smaller envelope she found a blank Driver’s License and passport, each only requiring her picture. Slowly she unfolded the hastily written note telling her to go underground immediately. The note lacked details but she knew it must be serious for Steve to go to such lengths to get her hidden. It was a scenario they had discussed long ago. Jaime just never thought there would be a need, thinking Steve may be overreacting to the governments control over their bionic agents.
All she knew was the Cyborg project was at risk and Spencer was pulling the strings. Steve had once confided in her who this man was and how he lacked any human morals. If Steve was leery of him then Jaime was downright frightened of the man.
As the miles flew by the dirty bus window and the sun slowly began to makes its appearance on the horizon Jaime prayed Steve was alright and would meet up with her soon. Maybe then she would have all the answers she needed and peace of mind that her longtime friend was safe.
“WHAT DO YOU MEAN I CAN’T BE PRESENT?” Spencer shouted.
Rudy was tired and angry. “Dammit Spencer what are you so afraid of…Steve walking out o f here? I already told you the bullet damaged the power pack in his leg. He isn’t going to go running off!”
Spencer’s cold eyes glared at the doctor dressed in green hospital scrubs, unsure if he should believe the man whose loyalty had always belonged to Steve. He huffed his displeasure as a feeling that he wasn’t in full control began eating at him. “Fine! But I will be watching from the door. Understand?”
“Fine, suit yourself.” The doctor eyed the gurney being moved into the operatory, the patient already sedated for the surgery. He took a step to follow when a strong arm stopped him.
“That piece of equipment is worth a lot so make sure there are no screw ups.”
The doctor remained silent and just moved around the stubborn man. There were many words he wanted to say but swallowed them quickly.
Rudy repaired the leg damage, occasionally glancing at Spencer’s grim face on the other side of the windowed door. A look at the clock showed it was time for Oscar’s diversion. There was no way Rudy could replace the power packs in all three extremities with Spencer watching, there would be no way to explain why it had to be done. Spencer was well verse in bionics by this time.
As if on queue Oscar was seen arguing with Spencer although the words could not be heard through the thick door. Finally the two moved away from the doorway to a private area to discuss what Spencer was doing with the Cyborg project, a conversation that would no doubt get quite heated Rudy thought.
The surgeon immediate nodded to his team. “Bring the other packs over here and let’s get this done quickly. I doubt we have more than 30 minutes.” The nurse lifted a metal case from under the sheet-covered table and opened it. Inside was solid foam with spaces cut out that housed each experimental power pack perfectly. They had not been seen for 2 years until Rudy checked them an hour ago.
As Rudy replaced the nuclear pack in the leg his head nurse was opening the access panel on the right arm and preparing it for Rudy. It took 10 minutes for the first replacement, moving onto the arm the scientist made the second change as the nurse prepared the other leg. Twenty-five minutes later the power packs were all replaced and Spencer appeared at the window again, just as the team was covering up the extremities and readying the patient to be moved to his room.
Taking a deep breath Rudy moved to the door anticipating Spencer would be on him like a bulldog.
”Well what took you so long? It shouldn’t have taken that long to repair one leg.”
The doctor pulled off his gown and began washing his hands at the stainless steel sink, trying his best not to let the annoying man get to him. “Since when have you done bionic surgery Spencer?” Straightening and drying his hands on a towel he glared at the man and stated matter-of-factly, “Oh that’s right you never even went to medical school.”
“When can he be moved?”
“Probably by tomorrow or the day after”. Throwing the towel in the dirty laundry bin Rudy made his exit, deliberately nudging Spencer from his path, his rage barely under control.
Minutes later Oscar and Rudy were sharing a drink in the doctor’s office, both lost in their own thoughts. Finally Rudy spoke. “What do you think of Steve’s plan?”
“I’m not thrilled with it but I don’t know any other option he has. Every door I tried to open was slammed in my face. Apparently even the President approves of this trade and I haven’t been able to meet with him to see what exactly he’s been told.”
“I just can’t believe it. Did you find out why it’s being done?”
Oscar took a sip of his drink before responding. “Spencer convinced the committee that the MiG and its ability to hide from Radar can be used in more useful ways, save more lives, than a Cyborg agent.” The dark head nodded negatively. “Spencer just doesn’t get it.”
“Oh he gets it.” Rudy assured him firmly. “In fact that’s why he asked me to make Steve bionic in the first place so he could be used in delicate and intricate situations for our benefit. Oh, he’s gets it alright. I think he is just enacting some kind of misguided revenge on Steve.”
“You may be right Rudy.”
“Well, I think it’s good you are letting Steve handle this his way. With everything he has at stake it’s important he be in control….whatever the outcome.”
Oscar nodded. “I just wish we could be doing more.” The two friends fell silent for a few moments, their minds racing with other options and possible outcomes.
“Oscar, can Spencer bring Jaime into this?”
The voice that responded was thick with fatigue. “I don’t know. I tried to contact her and was unsuccessful…..”
”But you have to find her and…..” Rudy jumped in with deep concern.
Oscar interrupted. “Its okay Rudy I did get some confidential information from Callahan.”
“Callahan? What does she have to do with this?”
“Steve got to her before he was taken into custody. I must say it was a smart move. Callahan confided in me, off the record of course, that she delivered a large Manila envelope to Jaime from Steve.”
“What was in it?”
“She didn’t know but knowing Steve I suspect he sent her underground, out of Spencer’s reach.”
”I sure hope so. I just wish we could get Steve out of Spencer’s reach.”
Oscar sighed heavily, the signs of defeat all too evident. “So do I Rudy. So do I.”
Spencer paced back and forth for hours in Steve’s room. He was becoming frustrated with the ongoing delay and spent the last 2 hours trying to determine how to keep on his timetable. The Russians were already becoming suspicious when he moved the exchange date back. It was not supposed to happen this way.
Rudy’s entrance brought the former OSO Director’s attention back to the patient in the bed. He watched the doctor shine his penlight into Steve’s right eye then remove his stethoscope from his lab coat pocket. Spencer’s clearing of his throat did not get the physician to even acknowledge his presence.
Rudy took his time and checked Steve’s heart and lungs before taking his pulse at his wrist, knowing full well his dismissing of Spencer’s presence was annoying the man, though he would never admit it.
Wells silently concluded Steve was in a deep sleep and suspected he would be for some time. The doctor thought that was good since it was obvious the OSI agent needed some rest from the stress of last 24 hours. He just silently hoped it wasn’t a bad reaction to the replaced power packs.
“Well doctor?” Spencer asked unable to hold his tongue any longer.
Rudy looked at the sad excuse for a man before responding. Spencer read the expression on his tired face.
“Don’t give me that look. I’m just doing my job. Now you do yours and give me an update.”
“Not before I say what I have to say Spencer. What you are doing is beyond despicable. Steve a human being not some piece of government property. If YOU were even half human you would realize that.”
“Are you done?”
As if the insulting words were never uttered Spencer asked again. “So will he live?”
“Unfortunately for him yes.” Rudy shuddered to think what life would be like for Steve in enemy territory. They would no doubt exam and dissect him to learn everything they could. He just prayed Steve would escape in time or at the very least the soviets would be humane about it.
“When will he be up and around?”
“Probably by tomorrow night.”
“Keep it up and I won’t release him until the following day!”
“Fine… fine. Just make sure he is in working order.” The cane barely touched the ground as the thin man ambled swiftly from the private room.
The following morning Spencer arrived and noticed the guard was gone from Steve’s door. He quickly glanced down the hall and saw him escorting Steve and Rudy as they took a cautious walk down the hall. Seeing Steve walking under his own power pushed him to follow through on his carefully constructed plan, knowing Steve would become increasingly uncooperative en-route to Russia. He pushed the door open and entered Steve’s room.
A few minutes passed and Steve, with Rudy by his side and the guard following close behind, were almost to his room when the door opened unexpectedly. Spencer put on his artificial smile.
“Well there you are. I was just looking for you. I see you are getting around quite well Austin.”
“Get out of my way Spencer.” The limping man moved quickly to the side, letting Steve enter his room.
Steve sat himself tiredly on the bed, silently wondering if he made a terrible mistake having Rudy switch the power source to his limbs. He felt extremely fatigued and weak, which Rudy suspected was the decreased power output.
“Would you like some water Steve?” The sheen of perspiration was obvious on his friend’s pale face.
Steve nodded. “Thanks Rudy.” He took the plastic cup and drank the cold water greedily. The doctor watched his patient with a concerned eye, not knowing what to expect with what they had done in the operating room. He, too, was beginning to think it wasn’t such a great idea.
Suddenly Steve began swaying and Rudy easily laid him down on the bed, his brows furrowed in confusion. “Steve? Are you alright?” There was no answer from his patient. In the silence the doctor heard the door ominously close behind him.
“Don’t be too concerned Dr. Wells. He just needed to rest.”
The tone of his voice gave the impression to Rudy that Spencer was inwardly smiling.
”My god, you gave him something didn’t you?”
“Just something to make his flight abroad more comfortable.”
“Comfortable for him or you.”
“Okay I guess it will make transporting him a little easier for me.” He stepped to the bed. “We’ll be taking possession of him in a couple hours.” Spinning on his heels Spencer left the stunned doctor in his wake.
Steve awoke dazed and confused. He did not recognize his surroundings in the least. And where was Rudy? Slowly he pushed off the blanket and sat up, noticing he was dressed in blue jeans and button shirt, socks and brown ankle high boots. In the dim light he took in the plain furniture that was scattered neatly about the small room. There was no doubt in his mind he was half way around the world. The ball was in play…he just hoped he’d win the game.
The evening darkness had filtered through the room until it was almost too dark to see with the naked eye. The quietness in the space was occasionally peppered with the clink of ice as it melted in the glass held loosely by a lazy hand. The dark haired man stared into nothing as his heart ached for his friend. Never in his lifetime had he felt so helpless…so inadequate….as he did right now. Placing the glass to his lips he was disheartened when only tepid water meandered through the ice to his lips. Offhandedly he wondered if any amount of alcohol would finally dull the aching in his chest.
The soft sound of the doorbell echoed through the well furnished condo but went unheard by the sole occupant. He was lost in his own world of hurt and frustration. Brown eyes stared off into nothing as the darkness enveloped him. He sighed heavily before being startled by loud, incessant banging of an angry fist against the door.
He slowly rose onto long stiff legs and ambled over to stop the continuous banging that was starting to increase the ache in his head. Opening it he was neither happy nor angry to see Dr. Wells on the other side. Rudy, seeing the home dark, thought he would be waking his friend at this late hour. He was shocked at the distressed face that greeted him.
Without a word Oscar moved away to refill his glass leaving a stunned doctor at the open door. He followed Oscar into the living room and sat down, declining the offer for a 2:00 am cocktail.
“Sorry to come by at such a late hour.” Rudy said as Oscar dropped heavily into the well worn leather chair. The long legs came up to prop the stocking feet on the matching ottoman. Seeing the OSI director he was glad he came.
After taking a liberal drink he smirk at his guest. “No problem Rudy. As you can see you didn’t exactly wake me from a sound sleep.”
“Have you slept at all?” The soft brown eyebrows scrunched together.
“No…I….can’t.” The two men, in full understanding, sat in silence. The thoughts passing through their minds were ever present since Steve was sent to Russia less than 12 hours earlier.
Finally Oscar spoke. “Every time I close my eyes I have visions of what they must be doing to him, examining him….dissecting him….what he must be going though and…..and it almost makes me vomit.”
Rudy rested back against the couch and placed his feet on the coffee table. “I know exactly what you mean. That’s why I couldn’t sleep either. It would almost be better if Steve was dead…you know?”
Oscar swallowed hard and just nodded, not trusting his voice. Rudy looked closer and saw the tears filling the red-rimmed eyes. Without looking beyond the distance wall Oscar tried to express the devastation he felt.
“All those times he risked his life for me…for this country…and now…and now……” He couldn’t finish but Rudy felt the same overwhelming grief as his friend and responded softly. “I know.” The doctor knew telling his friend he had done everything he could to prevent Spencer from taking Steve would not do any good to lessen the guilt he felt.
The taller man dropped his head back, emotional and physical exhaustion taking over. It didn’t take long for the deep rhythmic breathing to take over. Rudy got to his feet and after removing the empty glass from the slack hand he retrieved a blanket and covered his friend, noting the lone tear that trailed down the pale cheek as he did.
Rudy whispered his thoughts into the darkness. “Let’s just hope Steve gets away from them soon before too much emotional damage is done.”
Stretching out on the couch the physician got comfortable and fell into a doze, hoping the nightmarish images would recede long enough for him to rest before dawn came.
It was late evening when Steve was escorted out of his tiny room and into an office. There was one high ranking Russian officer with two white-coated men who, Steve suspected, were doctors or scientists. He was stopped, by the armed guard, in the middle of the room and the uniformed man with no less than 15 medals on his chest moved to stand eye to eye with Steve. The guard was quickly dismissed.
With his body stiff in anticipation Steve listened as the Russian language pattered back and forth between the three soviets. Once or twice he heard the word Cyborg which made his blood run cold but he never broke eye contact with the man nose to nose with him.
Finally the man stepped back and gave what sounded like an order to Steve but the OSI operative was not that fluent in Russian, now he wished he had studied the language in depth. The same words were spoken more firmly as dark grey eyes flashed at Steve.
“I’m sorry I don’t speak Russian.” He glanced around as if to express his confusion as to why he was there. “What do you want with me?”
More angry words flew over Steve to the scientists who began walking in small circles around him. He watched them closely, his eyes an icy blue, his body bracing for what might be coming. “Could you please tell me why I am here?”
Steve looked at what he suspected was a general as he stood behind his desk. One scientist, the blonde one with blue eyes, stopped in front of him. The broken English was difficult to understand. When he didn’t immediately comply they began giving him orders in one word sentences.
“Unbutton.” The hand, not holding the clipboard, gestured to Steve’s shirt. Slowly Steve’s hands came up and began undoing the fasteners, his heart pounding furiously in his chest. After undoing the ones from his neck to his waistband he dropped his hands….waiting….to see what was next.
The black haired man, who was behind him, suddenly reached up and jerked his shirt off his broad shoulders. With the shirt still tucked into the pants Steve’s arms hung at his sides, exposed from his elbows on up. He focused on keeping his breathing under control, not wanting to show any fear to the enemy.
The two scientists stood side by side at Steve’s right shoulder, their eyes no more than 6 inches from his flesh. They had a short conversation and from what Steve could pick up they were impressed by the lack of scarring where his arm was attached. When they were done examining his shoulder they pulled the shirt back up. Assuming they were done the cursory examination he slowly began buttoning his shirt.
“Could you please tell me why I am here?” He asked firmly, wondering if he would get anyone to speak English.
The military man moved closer. “We know you are Cyborg. We want to know how we can make other man with super powers. We trade you for military aircraft.” The smirk on the weathered face made Steve’s stomach tighten. This was it.
“I don’t know what you are talking about….super powers?”
“Oh come on, do not try to tell us you are not cyborg….we have file….you are strong like superman….we want to make more.”
“I don’t deny that I am a Cyborg but I am not any stronger than these them.” Steve gestured at the two scientists then held his breath. Would they buy it?
“The file say…..you are nuclear powered.” The old man chuckled. “Like submarine…no? That would make you very strong.”
“But I am not nuclear powered.” The experienced OSI agent noted the flash of concern in the dark eyes. The general was no doubt wondering if he had been had.
Orders shouted in Russian filled the room and the blonde scientist disappeared only to reappear quickly, Geiger counter in hand. Steve waited patiently as the sensor was moved over him without much detection.
The expression on all three Russian was a mix of shock, anger and confusion. The words exchanged, punctuated with profanities, were what Steve had hoped for. Now he hoped to be sent back to the United States. Unfortunately that was not in the Russian’s plan.
The OSI operative was so focused on the man in front of him that he never saw the needle come from behind until he felt it enter his neck. Blackness came hard and fast before he could even react.
Steve gradually became aware of movement. His body felt like lead and he was having trouble getting fully awake. He didn’t know what he was given. It didn’t feel like any anesthesia or any sedative he had had in the past. Whatever it was it was very effective at keeping him inert. Lying on his back with his eyes closed he could feel his body shift slightly to the left then right with a steady forward motion. He was unsuccessful at prying his eyelids open to see what was about to befall him. Slowly and reluctantly he lost consciousness again.
Voices…..different voices. Heavy eyelids cracked open slightly with great effort on Steve’s part. Glassy blue eyes moved left to right taking in several unfamiliar blurred faces. He was unsure how long he had been unconscious and not knowing how long he could remain awake he tried to discern what was happening.
First he noticed the cold air against his bare skin. A breeze moved over his naked form as a sheet was unfurled before being draped over him. He wanted to lift his head to see if he was in immediate danger but his body would not heed his command. He was beginning to think his idea may not have been as good as he originally thought. Slowly his eyelids dropped against his will but he continued to listen for familiar sounds, fighting every second to stay conscious. He prayed he didn’t completely misjudge their wanting to keep him intact.
Beeping….steady rapid beeping. Steve recognized the sound of the heart monitor. Subconsciously he relaxed…..obviously they wanted to keep him alive. Why else monitor his vital signs? Consciously he dreaded being alive, stuck here, unable to stop their examinations.
With all his energy he fought to pry his eyes open again. All the faces above him remained out of focus but he was able to make out two men and one woman under half open lids. They all seemed oblivious that he was partially awake, distracted by the subject matter before them….a Cyborg. Something they were never able to accomplish on their own and now they had one to study. Even though he couldn’t understand the words they shared he could feel the excitement and elation in their delivery.
To Steve’s right he felt his right arm lifted, bent at the elbow and placed at a 90 degree angle to his shoulder. Hands near his legs moved the sheet aside and repositioned his left leg at an outward angle. He turned his head to the right and saw the glint of a scalpel blade moving towards his inner arm.
When Rudy had designed each bionic limb he deliberately placed the nuclear power packs in the most protected space in each limb for safety reasons, the inside upper arm just below the armpit and the inner upper thigh of each leg.
It finally dawned on Steve what was being done. They had the diagrams and were checking the power sources. They no doubt suspected the nuclear packs were shielded from detection somehow and that’s why they weren’t picked up with the Geiger counter.
Steve inwardly sighed, hoping to keep conscious with an internal dialogue. Isn’t this what he wanted? For them to find out he wasn’t nuclear powered? That he wasn’t super human? He mentally cursed himself for not realizing all this would be done to verify what he told them.
Not wanting to watch his own dissection the subject of study rolled his head slowly to his left, in time to see and feel a syringe being pushed into his left arm. He felt an odd rush of gratitude when the darkness returned instantly.
With his third coffee in hand Rudy watched Oscar pace around his desk tethered by the phone cord. He waited patiently as Oscar continued his attempts to get a face-to-face meeting with the President and get Steve back. After a long morning discussion both men felt this was their best and possibly only option at this point. They assumed Spencer had withheld important facts for the President to allow the basic human rights of a United States citizen, not to mention war veteran, to be blatantly ignored. After several minutes the conversation ended.
“The President is in Summit talks until Friday.”
“That’s 2 days from now!”
“Then I was told I may get to speak to him AFTER his 7 day stay at Camp David.”
“This is crazy.” Rudy commented, his anger barely under control. Taking several deep breaths he began pacing, knowing losing his temper would not help the situation. He desperately needed to know Steve was okay. Suddenly he stopped and looked at the tired man standing at the window.
“Oscar, are there any ally agents in Russia who could maybe tell us what’s happening to Steve?”
Oscar thought a moment, his finger tracing the thin lower lip. “Maybe. I’ll see what I can do.”
“I’ll be in the lab.”
Oscar didn’t reply. He just dropped behind his desk, his mind already sifting through calls he could make, favors he could offer. Rudy didn’t mind. He was glad he could give Oscar something productive to do even if it wouldn’t directly affect Steve’s return. It made Oscar feel like he was doing something.
Spencer was incensed. He held the phone received with a grip that whitened his knuckles. “WHAT THE HELL DO YOU MEAN FAKE?”….. “SENDING HIM BACK?”……DAMMIT!”
Slamming the receiver down Spencer called his small team together. It was time to catch a plane. Somehow Austin was trying to make him look like a fool and he was not about to let him get away with it.