At exactly 10:00 Am, Steve arrived at the OSI for his next mission briefing with Oscar. He pushed his way through the glass doors into the reception area to greet Oscar’s new secretary. Since marrying Steve last year, Peggy Callahan has decided to quit her job and devote herself to raising their son, Steven junior. Steve had been on temporary paternity leave for the last few months and was now ready to take on his next assignment.
“Hello. I’m Steve Austin,” Steve said as he walked up to the secretary’s desk.
“Col…Colonel Austin,” the young timid woman stammered at the sight of her idol. “I’m happy to finally meet you.”
“Miss Galloway. How do you like your job?”
“I enjoy it very much.”
“The boss is not too hard on you?” he teased with a knowing smile.
“That happens but he’s an angel compared to my last employer.”
“Oh!” Steve chortled. He glanced both ways before bending closer. “Word of advice: don’t ever mention it to Mister Goldman. Might go to his head and we’ll all be in trouble.”
She chuckled at his witticism. “I’ll keep that in mind, Colonel.”
“Please, call me Steve.”
“Okay, Steve,” she said shyly with eyes widening in ecstasy.
Steve threw Linda a friendly wink, smiling at the obvious similarity in demeanor between her and his wife Peggy. “I believe the angel is expecting his little devil?” he asked teasingly.
“Ah yes, only that Mister Goldman hasn’t arrived yet.”
Steve knitted his eyebrows in concern as he glanced down at his wristwatch. “That isn’t like him to be late for a meeting.”
“You’re welcomed to wait for him in his office.”
“I’ll do that. Thanks.” Steve crossed to Oscar’s office and entered. He walked to the bar to pour himself a cup of coffee. He took a sip then ambled over to the window to cast a casual eye out.
“Good morning Steve,” Rudy greeted gleefully as he entered the office.
Steve turned round. “Rudy! Long time no see!” Steve chaffed as he stretched out his arm to shake the good doctor’s hand.
“Three weeks to be exact. How’s junior?”
“He’s growing like a weed. I think he took on another inch since you last saw him. Peggy and I have to watch him every single minute. We can hardly keep up the pace. He’s some runner. I swear sometimes that boy has bionic legs.”
“He’s his father’s son,” Rudy laughed. He thrust his hands in his pants pockets and scanned around the room. “Oscar not here yet?”
“No. He’s fifteen minutes late. That’s not like him,” Steve observed with a glint of anxiety.
Linda buzzed Oscar’s desk. Steve pressed the intercom button. “Yes!”
“Steve, Mister Goldman’s on line one.”
Steve flashed a quizzical look at Rudy who shrugged. “Okay, put him through.” Steve put his coffee cup down on the desk and picked up the receiver. “Oscar?”
“Steve. Is Rudy with you?”
Steve glanced at Rudy. “Yeah, he’s here. Where are you?”
“Can you two meet me at the old Milos farm on Milton Street within the hour?”
“Sure, but why there?”
“I’ll explain when you get there.”
“Oscar, can…” Steve cut in mid sentence when Oscar hung up on him. “He hung up.” He put the receiver back in its cradle and took his coffee cup in his hand. “He wants us to meet him at the Old Milos farm within the hour.”
“Strange. Did he say why?”
Steve shook his head while taking a sip of coffee. “No he hung up before I could ask.”
“Well then, we’d better go.”
Steve took two more gulps of coffee before following Rudy out the door.
They took Steve’s car to drive to the meeting place. Once arrived to destination, they stepped out of the car and scoured the surroundings for any sign of Oscar.
“This is the old Milos farm, but where’s Oscar?”
“Give him a few more minutes, Steve. He’ll show.”
Steve was suddenly gripped by a strong sense of foreboding as he mentally replayed his phone conversation with Oscar. He suspected this was a trap.
“Rudy, I don’t like this. I think this is a set-up.”
“Can you see anyone around?”
Steve adjusted his telephoto lens and surveyed the area for any armed individual concealed in strategic areas. “No, can’t see anybody.”
Seconds later, a car drove onto the site. It stopped a few feet in front of the two men. Two sharply dressed henchmen stepped out of the car, followed by a stoic Oscar. One kept a gun trained on his back while the second took the lead. As they moved towards Rudy and Steve, the leader gestured the OSI men to stop walking.
“That’s as far as you’ll go. As you can see we have your reputable director with us.”
“What d o you want with him?” Steve asked bluntly.
“Nothing.” He pointed to Rudy. “It’s him we want.”
Steve and Rudy threw each other a muddled look.
“Right. We have no intention to hurt you, Doctor Wells. We have strict instructions to bring you to our boss unscathed.”
“Who’s your boss?”
“You’ll know in due time. We want to make the exchange in a peaceful manner, but should you resist, we shall not hesitate to resort to violence.”
“You will not take him,” Steve exhorted with a predatory expression.
The man chuckled. “We anticipated your answer Colonel Austin.” He nodded to two other men in the car who showed themselves with high-caliber rifles. “My men will make sure you don’t stand in the way.” He waved to one of the men to take Steve aside while the rest of the team proceeded to make the exchange.
Steve could feel the rage mounting within. He had to throw a wrench in the gang’s plan to kidnap Rudy, but had to weight his options very carefully for fear to run the risk of generating a shoot-out that would end in a bloodbath. Once Rudy and Oscar switched places, Steve twirled round with lightning speed and knocked his captor off his feet. He made a bionic dash for the other men. No sooner had one aimed his gun at Oscar that Steve jumped on his boss to hurl him out of the bullet’s path. The leader took out a grenade that he threw on the ground next to the two men who had fallen in a heap before taken off with Rudy. Steve grabbed onto Oscar and rolled over on the ground with him, away from the blast. He shielded him with his own person as the grenade exploded.
“Are you okay?” Steve asked Oscar.
“Yes. Thank you,” Oscar coughed.
Steve elbowed himself up to let Oscar wiggle himself from underneath him, unaware of the tractor behind him was heeling over.
“Steve, look out!” shouted Oscar.
Steve barely had time to swirl around that the gigantic ton of machinery fell on his legs. He cried out in agony as sparks flew from his crushed limbs.
Frantic, Oscar crawled over to his friend whose face was distorted in pain. “Steve, hang on. I’ll call for help.”
Steve nodded while gasping for air between tightly clenched teeth. Oscar leapt to his feet and scuttled over to Steve’s car to contact Rudy’s new young assistant, Matthew Murphy, to dispatch an ambulance to the scene.
He then dashed back to Steve’s side where he dove to his knees to lift his friend’s head onto his lap. Steve moaned in pain at the move.
“That hurt Oscar. That hurt like the devil,” Steve wailed before another painful electrical surge coursed through his body.
Oscar reached for Steve’s left hand. “The ambulance’s on its way. Hang on!”
Steve gave Oscar’s hand a tight squeeze at each spasm radiating through him. The pained look in his friend’s glazed eyes sent chills down Oscar’s spine. He was gripped by an icy clutch of helplessness as he watched his friend in the throes of agony.
“Do…do you…have any id…idea where they might...might…have taken Rudy?” Steve stuttered between gritted teeth.
“I think so. But let’s not talk about it now.”
Steve thrust his right arm behind his head to grip Oscar’s shirt, ripping it as another excruciating spasm hit him. As he tried to breathe away the pain, four consecutive contractions overtook him, degenerating into involuntarily convulsions that numbed his body and constricted his throat. His eyes grew wide as saucers as he strived to draw in a breath. Panic struck Oscar who instinctively raised Steve’s torso higher to ease his breathing but that failed. When Steve’s body went limbed, he groped his neck for a pulse.
“Oh no, don’t do this Steve! Breathe!” Oscar yelled while shaking Steve frantically. “Breathe!” He slid from underneath him and quickly started applying chest compressions. “Come on! Come on! Breathe!” Oscar turned hysterical when he noticed Steve’s lips slowly turning blue. In a last-ditch attempt to revive his friend, Oscar clenched his fist and slammed it into Steve’s chest. The cardiac thump proved successful. The insentient man sucked in a deep breath just as the ambulance drove onto the site.
It took nearly an hour to remove the tractor off Steve, one golden hour that the doctors would normally require to work on saving a grievously wounded from a certain death. Fortunately, Steve was no ordinary victim. His strong constitution and special nature allowed him to survive thus far.
Shortly after Steve was rushed to the operating room, Oscar contacted Callahan at home to inform her of her husband’s accident. Quickly, she got on the phone to her neighbor to ask for the favor of baby-sitting for Little Steve. After dropping her son at her friend’s house, she drove at full throttle to Rudy’s lab.
There, she met with Oscar in the waiting room.
“How’s Steve?” she asked with an hysterical edge about her voice
Oscar took her by the shoulders and heaved a heavy sigh. “We don’t know yet. He’s still in the operating room.” He led her to the couch where they both took a seat.
“How bad, Oscar?”
“His legs were badly crushed. It caused sparks and…”
“The spasms caused him to go into cardiac arrest, but…” he gripped her arm to prevent her from panicking, “I was able to revive him and he was breathing when they wheeled him into the OR.”
“Cru…crushed. Oh…oh my God! The nuclear cells?” She put both hands on her mouth. “They burst, didn’t they?”
Oscar looked downcast and shook his head. “It’s too soon to tell. We have to wait until surgery’s over.”
She leaned her forehead on his shoulder and wept. Oscar tried to appease her qualms by brushing a soothing hand against her back but seeing how his own fears matched hers, the treatment proved ineffective.
She slowly pulled back and wiped her tears. “What about Rudy?”
“I have my best team of agents looking for him. Hopefully we’ll know something by tonight.”
“I hope so. I have a feeling Steve is going to need him.”
“Want a cup of coffee?”
Oscar started for the coffee dispenser when he caught sight of Rudy’s assistant Matthew rounding the corner. “Callahan!” he beckoned her towards him.
She sprung to her feet and hurried to Oscar’s side as the young overwrought doctor walked over to them.
“Matt, how’s Steve?” Oscar asked with a touch of apprehension.
“He’s doing as well as could be expected under the circumstances.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means I was able to mend the damages done to his legs but…”
“But what?” Callahan asked worriedly. “The nuclear cells? They burst?”
“No, they’re still intact,” he assured with a hand on her shivering shoulder.
“Please, sit down,” Matt ushered them to the couch where both Peggy and Oscar reluctantly sat on the edge of the cushions. Matt perched himself on the arm of the sofa and after heaving a thick sigh, began exposing the critical situation. “Two weeks ago when Steve checked in for his physical, Dr. Wells performed a series of modifications on his legs and arm to address a small problem before it degenerated into a complete shutdown. You see, Steve mentioned that he’d been experiencing a debilitating weakness on occasion and Dr. Wells discovered that it was the result of some synthetic neurons that were misfiring. “
“Yes, Steve mentioned the problem to me. But he said that everything was back to normal,” Callahan explained.
“It was. Problem is Dr. Wells hasn’t had time to draw a blueprint of those alterations, hence the reason why I haven’t restored the bionic power to his legs. I carried out the repairs according to the old layout but without Dr. wells notes, I cannot and will not activate the neurolink or I run the risk of a possible rejection.”
“So what does that imply?” Oscar queried.
“Right now, he doesn’t have the use of his legs.”
“He’s like…paralyzed?” Callahan translated.
Matt nodded. “Yeah.”
“Can you at least restore the feeling back in his legs to allow him to walk?”
“Unfortunately not. With the new pattern, we need to proceed through a different pathway to achieve that result and I have no intention of going by field and run the risk of a severe rejection.”
“So you’re in essence saying is that Steve will be confined to a wheelchair until we find Rudy?”
“That’s right Mister Goldman. I wish it were otherwise.”
“What about Dr. Wells’s colleagues? Can they help?”
“Like me their hands are tied. They need the new layout. I’ve also attempted to decipher Dr. Wells’s notes but they’re too sketchy. Can’t risk it.” He laid his hand on a crestfallen Callahan’s shoulder. “Your husband came through the surgery well. He should make a full recovery within the week.”
“Can I see him?” Callahan asked.
Matthew smiled and nodded his answer before assisting the grieving wife to her feet.
“I’ll check with the office to see if there’s any new development in the case, then I’ll join you in Steve’s room.” Oscar tapped Callahan’s shoulder before parting ways with her and Matthew.
Meanwhile, in a posh residential area of Washington, Rudy roused in the spacious, ostentatiously furnished guest bedroom of a million-dollar manor. He scrunched his eyes together and grabbed his pounding head as he painfully raised himself into a sitting position. Once the queasiness passed, he surveyed the strange surroundings, wondering where he was.
Downstairs in the small surveillance room, the guard notified his boss of the guess’s awareness.
“Mister Kozlof, Dr. Wells is awake,” he spoke through the intercom.
“Thank you Rico,” came the reply.
Leader of a notorious international spy ring, Alexander Kozlof, rose from his impressive leather chair in his study and waved two of his bodyguards to follow him upstairs to Rudy’s room.
Rudy was nearing the French doors leading to a balcony overlooking the immense property when Kozlof and his men loomed in the doorway.
“Dr. Rudy Wells, I presume?” Kozlof alleged on a slightly acerbic tone.
Rudy turned round to face the illustrious racketeer whose portrait has graced the FBI and CIA’s lists of most-wanted criminals in America for many years.
“I know you. Alexander Kozlof.”
Kozlof gave an exaggerated bow of the head. “That’s right. You should consider yourself fortunate. Not many have the opportunity to meet me in person.”
“I bet,” Rudy sneered. “Why have you brought me here? What do you want with me?”
With his hands folded behind his back, Kozlof ambled closer to Rudy. “We want your bionic prototype,” he said on a hectoring tone.
Rudy recoiled in horror at that bold demand “What are you talking about?” Rudy asked with a composed poise that he strived to maintain in presence of the daunting leader.
Kozlof’s face lit in bitter triumph and a malicious grin hung on his ears as he stepped up to Rudy. “We know about your greatest achievement. Problem is we don’t know his name. I trust you will provide us with that missing information?”
“There’s no prototype of any kind. My theories are just that: theories. It’s only dots and numbers on sheets of paper. I admit we tried to build a cyborg but he died shortly after.”
“That’s a wrong answer, Doctor Wells. According to my sources that man survived. Who he is we have no idea otherwise we would have taken him instead of you. All we know is that he works for the Office of Scientific Intelligence. We are in the process of narrowing it down to ten likely candidates but we thought that by asking you directly, you could save us a lot of time on the process of elimination.”
“I can’t tell you anything because that man doesn’t exist. I told you he died.”
Kozlof gestured one of his guards to slam his fist into Rudy’s stomach, knocking the wind out of him. He bent over in pain and crumbled to his knees.
Kozlof crouched down beside the man gasping for breath. “It’s up to you if you want to get out of here alive. I am willing to offer you to hospitality of my humble domain for a few days until your memory returns. But I wouldn’t overstay my welcome.” He rose to his feet. “It would be ashamed to kill such a brilliant mind.”
Back at the hospital, Oscar and Callahan were sitting in Steve’s room discussing Rudy’s kidnapping when a muffled moan escaped the patient’s lips. Both leapt to their feet and approached the bed.
“Steve! Can you hear me?” Callahan gently coaxed while she delicately ran her hand across his forehead.
His eyelids fluttered open and slowly titled his head toward the blurry figure hovering over him. He blinked to establish focus on the beaming smile that graced her lips. “P…Peg? he murmured feebly.
“Shuuuuuuu, I’m here, “ she whispered, leaning closer to brush back a lock of hair on his forehead.
“Oscar?” he briefly closed his eyes and gulped, “You…you alright?”
“I’m fine,” Oscar answered with a strained smile.
The blood drained from Steve’s face once he tried wiggling his toes. “Som…something wrong with my legs. Ca…Can’t…can’t feel them.”
Callahan turned to Oscar with a pained look.
“The doctors severed the link,” Oscar informed grimly.
“Why? Weren’t they able to repair the damages?”
“From what we were told Rudy made some modifications during your last physical and…”
“Rudy?” a flustered Steve interrupted, “Is he alright?”
“We’re still looking for him.”
“What?” Steve gasped. He began hyperventilating as he tried to elbow himself up. Oscar was quick to pin him down to the mattress.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Oscar scolded.
“I got…I got,” he huffed and puffed, “I got to go find him.”
“Not like this, you won’t. Come on, lie back. Don’t strain yourself.”
Callahan clasped her husband’s hand and rubbed her thumb over his knuckles. “Steve, take it easy. Don’t worry, they’ll find him.”
Steve clamped his eyes shut and inhaled a lungful of air before staring pleadingly into Oscar’s eyes. “My legs? What’s going to happen if Rudy isn’t here to fix them?”
Oscar and Callahan exchanged woeful glances before returning their attention to Steve. “They’ll remain off duty for the time being.”
“Meaning?” Steve’s eyes darted maniacally between Oscar and his wife. “I’m… I’m going to be confined to this bed? Is that what you’re saying. I’m going to be like a cripple?”
“They’ll provide you with a wheelchair so you can move around.”
“A wheelchair?????” Steve spat out in a fit of fury. He gasped in a breath before continuing, “I want my legs back!”
“Steve, they said it was too dangerous, that you could wind up doing a reject,” Callahan explained on a mollifying tone.
“Peggy, I can’t stay like this,” Steve whined beseechingly. “Not while Rudy needs me. What if they don’t find him?”
“We will, Steve,” Oscar assured.
“And what if you can’t? huh?”
Oscar bent forward to place a hand on Steve’s heaving shoulder. “You just concentrate on getting your strength back and let me handle the search at my end, okay pal?” He waited for Steve to nod his compliance before tapping his shoulder and beckoning Callahan out of the room. “We’ll be right back. Don’t do anything foolish,” he cautioned his troubled friend who didn’t bother acknowledging his warning.
Outside the room in the hall, Oscar took Callahan aside to enquire about the people looking after his godson.
“Junior is at our neighbor’s house. They’re good friends. I trust them,” she told him without unfastening her eyes from Steve’s room.
He placed a hand on her shoulder to will her pained bleary eyes to his. “Maybe you should go home and take care of him. He’ll wonder where his mommy is and you know how he can sense when something’s wrong. He’ll be traumatized. I’ll stay here for a spell.”
She shook her head. “Oscar I want to stay with Steve. You saw the look in his eyes. He’s terrified at the prospect of never walking again. I can’t leave him. Not now. I’ll notify the whelans that I’ll be staying a while longer. They have a two-year old who likes to play with Little Steve. He won’t be alone.”
“Okay,” he complied with her wish. He glanced down at his wristwatch. “How about you take the first shift while I drop by the office and then I’ll take over later this evening so you can go home to the little guy?”
“No problem.” He pulled her into a hug. “He’ll be alright. You go on and be with your husband. I’ll come back a later, hopefully with some good news.”
“I hope so. Not only for Steve.”
They exchanged one last smile before parting ways.
The next morning, Callahan brought junior to visit with his downhearted father, hoping to lift her husband’s spirits. He was sitting in bed, his back propped up against a heap of pillows. His face lit up upon seeing his exuberant son, clamoring to be held by his daddy with outstretched arms.
“He misses his daddy.”
“Come here my little lambkin.” Steve reached for his baby boy who squealed with delight at his daddy’s hug. “Sorry little guy but I can’t give you any horsy ride today. Daddy’s legs are sleeping.” He held the boy straight up at arms’ length over his legs. His heart took a beating at each of Little Steve’s springy bounce on his numb limbs, a constant reminder of his invalidity.
Callahan was wreathed in smiles at the happy picture until she caught sight of Steve’s sorrowful expression. She held out her arms to pick up her son. “Come on, Little One, let’s not tire your daddy.”
“No, leave him. I’m alright. I’m alright.” he flashed her a halfhearted smile as he continued to let his son bounce up and down on his legs. “Any word on Rudy?”
“No, not yet.”
“Yes we do,” came the voice from behind. Oscar walked up to the bed to tousle the little boy’s hair. “How you doing little guy?”
“Where is he?” Steve questioned.
“Information kept filtering in during the night. We have reasons to believe he’s being taken out of the country. We sealed all ports and airfields. Canadian and Mexican borders are on high alert. We’ll finally nail him and his gang.”
“Kozlof?” Steve exclaimed in puzzlement. “What would he want with Rudy?”
“No doubt it has to do with the cyborg project. That’s the main reason why we posted guards in this hospital in the event his men might want to get to you.”
“They know about me?”
“Our assumption is that he doesn’t; otherwise his men would have taken you along with Rudy. My guess is they want him to build them their own bionic man.”
Steve sunk his head into the pillows and heaved a loud sigh of despair, all the while keeping his son at arms length over his legs. Oscar picked up the gurgling baby in his arms and began tickling him.
“I feel so helpless,” Steve lamented, closing his eyes and shaking his head in dismay.
Matt entered the room to check on the patient. “I see you’re in pleasant company?” He tweaked the little boy’s nose. “Hey little Steven. How you doing?” The boy answered with a shrill of delight that made everyone flinched at the piercing sound. “That one’s got a strong set of lungs, that’s for sure.”
He walked to the other side of the bed to take Steve’s pulse. “And how are you Steve?”
“Aside from being numb from the waist down, I’m fine,” Steve replied with a crushing cynicism.
“I told you, I’m sorry about this situation, Steve. But there’s nothing I can do.”
“Yes there is. You can put me back to way I was before.”
“I told you about Rudy’s alterations to the neuronal system.”
“I know. But you also told me there was a fifty-fifty chance that nothing would come of it.”
“Steve, I can’t run the risk that you fall into the wrong fifty per cent. It could kill you.”
“Assuming I do. How long do I have before my body start the rejection process?”
“I don’t know. It could take from several hours to a day or two. It’s impossible to tell.”
“Several hours. Then I have time.”
“To do what?” Oscar asked suspiciously.
“Go after Rudy and bring him back.”
“Steve, that is out of the question. My men will handle it.”
“Oscar will all due respect to your agents, they are worthless against a man like Kozlof. We need an element of surprise; otherwise he’ll slip between your fingers. He won’t hesitate to kill Rudy if he feels trapped.”
“Steve as your attending physician, I must put my foot down. This is too risky.”
“Matt I’m sorry but I outrank you in this matter. I want my legs back once we know where Rudy is located.” Steve’s eyes swiveled back and forth between Oscar and Matt who exchanged a worried look.
“Don’t I have anything to say?” Callahan spoke with bitter resentment.
“Peggy, understand that if we don’t find Rudy, I may never walk again.”
“At least you’ll be alive.”
“I’ll never be whole and this in time will kill me.”
“Matt and his team will find something by then.” She glanced up at the young dejected doctor, “Right?”
“There, you see!” she enthused.
“In bionic terms, eventually means many months, even years from now.” He turned to Matt, whose wrinkled brow clearly confirmed his statement.
“I can’t let you do it, Steve.”
“Oscar, Matt, could you leave me alone with my wife, please?”
They both complied with Steve’s request with an acknowledging nod of the head. No sooner had both men left the room with the baby that Callahan jumped down Steve’s throat for being selfish and not considering the implications of his act.
“What about me and your son? What’s going to become of us if you die?” she sobbed.
“I’m not going to die. Even if my body starts rejecting, I can function hours before it reaches the critical stage. I’ll have Rudy back here in plenty of time.”
She shook her head in despair. “It’s too risky, Steve.”
“Peggy look at me,” he cupped her chin to level her teary eyes with his pleading blues. “I need to do this. That man saved my life on countless occasions. It’s time I pay my dues,” he quavered.
“At the risk of your own life?”
“I won’t die. I promise.”
“Don’t make promises you can’t keep, Steve.”
He leaned forward to kiss her on the lips. “This one I’ll hold.”
“I love you so much,” she cried before hugging him.
“I know. I feel the same, kiddo. I can never break any promises to you, ever. Remember that.” He disengaged the clench to wipe the tears pearling down her cheeks.
They both chuckled at the “dada” squeal echoing in the hall.
“I think someone is missing his daddy already.” Callahan stood from the bed and walked out of the room to take her son off Oscar’s hands. “He wants to do it,” she informed both men in a heavy sigh.
The doctor shook his head. “It’s too risky. I can’t take the responsibility.”
Callahan fastened her pleading stare on Oscar’s thoughtful expression. “I’ll assume the responsibility,” Oscar said stoically, without batting an eyelid.
Matt bowed his head and closed his eyes in despair. “alright. We’ll keep him under close observation overnight and if his vitals hold strong, I’ll have him in surgery in the morning.”
“How will it take for him to be fully functional again?”
“With any luck, I’d say within seventy-two hours of reactivation.”
“That ought to grant us enough time to locate Rudy.”
Matt walked away with a heavy conscience, leaving Callahan and Oscar to exchanged harried looks before heading back to Steve’ room with the restless little boy.