Washington, January 1978
Oscar leaned back in his chair, placing his feet on the desk, settling in for a long morning of reading reports. After taking one week off, his in-box was stacked 5 inches high. Callahan did a good job of sorting the reports, color coding them with red, yellow and green, with red being high priority, yellow medium priority and green low priority or informational. He was into the third red file when Rudy entered the office.
"We have a problem," Rudy said, striding to the desk and dropping a massive 320-page report in front of Oscar. "Oh, and welcome back." Rudy took a seat in a leather chair, waiting for Oscar's response.
"What sort of problem?" Oscar drops the report on the desk and tosses his glasses on top of it.
"It's all in the report," Rudy said, knowing Oscar would ask again.
"Enlighten me," said Oscar, leaning back in the chair with hands behind his head.
"Joe Patton has burned out."
Oscar sat up in his chair, now paying close attention to the doctor. "What do you mean 'burned out'?"
"After preparing Joe for his next mission, the technician did the standard memory tests to make sure the information took. It didn't. The technician contacted me and for the past week we've been working with Joe with no luck. It's like his brain has developed a blockage, a resistance, no longer permitting the data transmission." Rudy spent many long hours at the computer the prior week, running simulations trying to determine a way around the blockage. All simulations failed.
Oscar heaved a heavy sigh. He knew it was too good to be true. "Well, I guess it's time to shut down the project. With all the training he's had, I'll give Joe the option to become a regular operative, or to transfer to another part of the organization."
"Sounds like a good idea," Rudy said. "But I wouldn't yank the funding yet."
With a puzzled looked, Oscar said "Why not? I thought you said it's over." Oscar suspected Rudy had something up his sleeve. He wasn't disappointed.
"The report in front of you details a new project, one which takes the technology of this project and the technology from the implant found in Billy Parker's head a few years back," Rudy said.
"Billy Parker? The name is familiar."
"He's the night club comedian whose actions were controlled by a third party through an implant on the left side of his brain," Rudy explained. "Steve was his body guard while you investigated. I removed the implant and kept it for further study."
Oscar nodded, "I remember now. So how does the implant and the data transfer join together?"
"It's all in the report," Rudy said, pointing to the 320-page manual in front of Oscar.
Oscar skimmed through it for a moment, then looked up to Rudy. "I don't suppose you have a synopsis of the report?"
Rudy smiled, standing to leave. "That is the synopsis."
Oscar looked back down at the report and sighed, knowing it was going to be a very long day.
Washington, May 1979
Steve stormed into Oscar's office, slamming his fist in the middle of the desk. A slight cracking could be heard through the room. "What now?" he said, his face beet red.
Oscar took off his glasses and placed them on the corner of the desk so they wouldn't risk being demolished. Unfazed by Steve's anger, Oscar said, "Nice to see you too."
Steve paced the office like a caged tiger. "Can it Oscar. I've had it. I can count on two hands the number of times I've slept in my own bed in the past year." Steve had returned from a month long mission the day before and then received a summons first thing this morning.
"What can I say? It's been a busy year. As for your next assignment," Oscar started, picking up a folder off the desk.
"No," Steve interrupted.
"No?" Oscar said, looking up at Steve. "Are you refusing an assignment?"
"Damn right I am. I should have put my foot down months ago," Steve replied, venom in his voice. "I don't know what you are up to, but if you want me out of the way just tell me. I can find plenty of things to do that will keep me busy and out of your hair."
Oscar stood, staring at his friend. He leaned against the desk, resting on his fists. "Colonel Austin. I don't know what you are referring to, but I definitely don't like your tone." Oscar had been expecting this for some time now and was surprised it had taken this long.
Steve looked at his boss in disbelief. Facing Oscar, "My last mission was a babysitting job that a rookie could have handled. The mission before had me monitoring a satellite launch in Huntsville, Alabama. Prior to that I was a glorified courier. Shall I continue?" For the past six months Steve had not been on a mission that required his special talents. He began pacing the office once again. "I want to know what the hell is going on around here."
"You know you are not privy to everything," Oscar said.
Steve turned on his heel, facing his boss. "You admit something is going on?"
"I did not say that," Oscar said. "I merely stated that you are not privy to all activities."
"What?" Oscar said, caught off-guard.
"You heard me. Where's Rudy? Why isn't he hassling me about being two months late for my annual evaluation?" Rudy was punctual when it came to the annual physical. The fact that Steve hadn't heard from his doctor made him even more suspicious.
Oscar seated himself at the desk. "Rudy is currently on a level nine project and will be unavailable for an indeterminate period of time. If you need medical assistance, Michael Marchetti will be available," Oscar said, giving Steve the rehearsed answer.
Steve stood starting at his boss, speechless. He turned to leave.
Oscar leapt to his feet, pounding the desk. "Where are you going?"
Steve threw up his hands, not responding. He slammed the door behind him, splintering the doorframe.
Oscar stood staring at the closed door. He picked up the receiver and dialed a number. A moment later, "Goldman here. Austin's on the loose." He returned the receiver to the cradle, and then took a seat. Turning around in his chair, Oscar stared out the window. "Don't do anything foolish, Steve."
Once off O.S.I. property, Steve tried to focus his thoughts. His suspicions were correct; Oscar had been trying to keep him out of the way. What about Rudy? Steve was puzzled. What could he be working on that would prompt Oscar to keep them apart. Unknowingly, Steve had driven to Rudy's apartment. He climbed the stairs to the third floor. Approaching the door, Steve glanced to the window and stopped; the apartment was empty.
Dumbfounded, Steve stood a moment longer before leaving the apartment complex. Needing time to himself, Steve drove to Andrews, preparing for a trip to Ojai.
A knock on the door brought Oscar out of his thoughts. He swiveled around in his chair facing Mark Russell. "Well?"
"He stopped at Rudy's apartment, then headed for Andrews, destination Ojai. I've already dispatched two agents from the California office to keep watch on Steve."
"Good. Hopefully he'll stay at his ranch, out of trouble. Unfortunately, his curiosity might get the better of him." Oscar was concerned Steve may go looking for Rudy.
"What if he doesn't?" Russ asked.
"Then we'll have to find a way to keep Steve out of the way," Oscar said.
Russ left the office, heading back to his cubicle. He knew Oscar was frustrated and figured it would be best to leave his boss alone.
Steve arrived at his ranch a couple of hours later. His first task was to air out the house. His parents normally took care of this task, but Steve knew they were on vacation and wouldn't be back for a couple of weeks.
He sat at the kitchen table, sorting through the mail, tossing the junk mail into a trashcan and setting the bills aside. When finished, he sat motionless at the table, staring out the back window.
His mind drifted, working on the mystery before him. Why had Oscar sent him out on so many missions instead of telling him to take a vacation and get lost? What project was Rudy working on that demanded so much secrecy?
Steve shook his head to clear his thoughts, having decided to put the subject aside and concentrate on doing chores around the ranch.
Somewhere in Virginia
Rudy looked up from his microscope as Oscar entered the lab. "I hear Steve exploded today," Rudy said, returning his attention to the microscope.
"I'd call it a heated discussion," Oscar replied.
"He refused an assignment."
"And just how do you know that, Dr. Wells?" Oscar had never figured out how Rudy kept up with current events considering he's been in his own little world for almost a year.
"A little birdie told me," Rudy replied. The 'little birdie' was comprised of his O.S.I-bound assistant, Linda, and Oscar's own secretary, Callahan. Prior to beginning the project, Rudy voiced his concern, in confidence, to the two women. They agreed to keep track of Steve's activities the best they could and keep Rudy informed of major events. The morning's tantrum, overheard by Callahan, was one such event.
"I'd roast the bird if I could find it," Oscar said while thumbing through the daily event log.
Rudy had long since tired of giving Oscar weekly updates, so he created the daily event log. The log served two purposes, the first to keep Oscar up to date and the second as a history log of the project.
"Unless you've stopped by for a specific reason, you can run along. I've got enough to do today without you hovering nearby." Since the start of the project, Rudy had put his foot down on Oscar's unannounced visits.
"Alright, alright, I'll leave," said Oscar. Halfway out the lab, he turned back to Rudy, "I will have a progress report on my desk by the end of the week, correct?"
Oscar's reply first came in the form of a glare, then "OUT." Oscar left Rudy to his research, returning to Washington shortly before dark.
Ojai, California. June 1979
A month had passed since Steve stormed out of Oscar's office. For the most part he enjoyed his freedom, except for his ever-present shadows.
He first noticed the agents a few days after his arrival, sitting a discrete distance, so they thought, from the ranch. Steve had yet to decide if the two men where lousy at tailing their subject or if they were sending the message they were watching.
As time passed, he learned to ignore them. Figuring Oscar would leave him alone as long as the agents stayed close; Steve chose to ignore them.
By the middle of the month, Steve's curiosity peaked when he couldn't locate Rudy at a single research facility in the country. Or at least the people he spoke with said Rudy wasn't there.
He started wondering what kind of project would require such secrecy. He had given it some thought in the beginning, but had not gone any further. In recent days his mind kept returning to one possibility; he sincerely hoped he was wrong and Rudy had enough sense not to create another Cyborg. The more he thought about it, though, the angrier he became. His mood turned dark, finally prompting him to place a call to Oscar.
He placed the call, waiting impatiently for the phone to be answered. Finally on the fifth ring, Oscar answered.
"Oscar, it's Steve. I want an honest answer now. Have you ordered the creation of another Cyborg?"
Oscar heard the venom in Steve's voice. "Whoa pal, calm down. I can honestly tell you that has not happened." Trying to lighten the mood, "Why would we want another one now when we're having problems with the one we have?"
Steve slammed down the phone, in no mood for Oscar's attempt at humor. He felt a little better, knowing a Cyborg hadn't been created. "Human experimentation," he muttered to himself. The thought still had him upset, since the idea of a 'guinea pig' in the clutches of the O.S.I. was still deplorable by his standards.
Trying to shake himself of the mood, he grabbed a fishing pole, saddled the horse and headed down to the lake, hoping to calm himself before having dinner with a few friends.
Somewhere in Virginia, June 1979
Rudy woke early, unable to sleep. He hauled himself out of bed and into the shower. Once dressed, he wandered down to the cafeteria for a quick breakfast, then back to the office to go over the previous day's test results.
Shortly before 7, Tim Bass knocked on the door as he entered the office. "Morning," he said, plopping into a chair.
"Morning," Rudy replied, not looking up from the report.
"What's on the agenda today?" Tim, a specialist in electronics and neurosurgery, had been assigned to Rudy for the duration of the project.
"Based on yesterday's results, I'd say we'll go into the field today," Rudy replied. He closed the folder, turning his attention to Tim. "Is Sam up yet?"
Tim nodded. "Jean said Samantha's been up for an hour or so. She's eating breakfast now."
Rudy chuckled. "You better not let her hear you call her Samantha; she'd have a thing or two to say to you about it."
"Yeah, well, I just..." Tim was interrupted by a knock on the door. He turned in time to see Sam walk into the office.
Fourteen-year-old Samantha Larson strode into the room dressed in a purple jogging suit and white running shoes. Standing just shy of six foot, the lanky teenager sported a short, shoulder length haircut, which suited her personality. Sam preferred simplicity in her life.
"Morning guys," she said, taking a seat at a near-by table.
"How did you sleep?" Rudy asked while retrieving a booklet from a six-drawer file cabinet.
"Like a rock, as always," she replied.
"Good," Rudy said. "Let's see how much you learned." He dropped a booklet in front of her. The booklet contains 100 questions on the given topic from the night before, in this case College Level Trigonometry. "You have..."
"Fifteen minutes, I know," Sam finished.
The two doctors sat quietly as Sam worked her way through the questions. Ten minutes later she dropped the booklet in front of Rudy.
"Done. There's a misspelling on page 22 and the formula on page 37 was incorrect; I corrected the formula then solved the equation," Sam said, dropping onto the couch.
Rudy went through the booklet, checking the answers, taking considerably longer than Sam took to answer the questions. "Perfect as usual," Rudy announced. Rudy filed the completed booklet away with the other completed booklets. Turning his attention to Sam, "I think it's time for some field work."
Sam hopped to her feet, "Sounds like fun."
In need of Steve's help, Oscar flew to Ojai, dropping by the ranch unannounced. As he pulled into the drive, Oscar spotted him on horseback, well off into the pasture. He leaned against the fence, patiently waiting for Steve's return.
Steve had been on horseback most of the day, checking the fence surrounding his property and his parents. Finding a few loose boards here and there, Steve would stop and repair them. He gave the horse occasional breaks at the lake, allowing it to drink and graze.
Once satisfied with the fence's structural integrity, Steve headed back toward the barn. A glint of sun stopped him. Taking a closer look, Steve spotted a car in the driveway; a moment later he noticed Oscar standing at the fence. Steve let out a heavy sigh, and then nudged the horse into a gentle trot. A short time later, he arrived at the fence gate.
"What do you want?" Steve asked curtly. He dismounted the horse, opened the fence and led it into the stall.
Oscar followed. "I need your help."
Steve groomed the horse, helping it cool down. "Surprise, surprise," he said, under his breath. "What now? Another babysitting job?" he said loud enough for Oscar to hear.
"No," Oscar said. "Let me rephrase it; Rudy needs your help."
Steve's attention piqued. "Is he okay?"
"Rudy's fine. He needs your help with the project he's been on for the past year."
Steve put away the grooming gear, and then gave the horse some fresh water, oats and a few sugar cubes. He exited the stall, latching the gate. "Let's go inside."
Steve led the way into the ranch house, excusing himself for a moment, returning with a fresh shirt. He grabbed a soda out of the fridge without offering one to Oscar. Sitting at the table he said, "I'm listening."
"Does the name Billy Parker ring a bell?" Oscar said, waiting for a response.
Steve thought for a moment, taking a swig of his drink. "Yeah, it does. Wasn't he the comedian I played bodyguard to when someone controlled him through a brain implant?"
Oscar nodded. "He's the one. What about Joe Patton?"
Steve rolled his eyes, "Well of course I remember Joe; he's a friend of mine. He and Rudy worked together on some form of memory experiment."
"Joe burned almost two years ago," Oscar said, going on to explain the situation surrounding the burnout.
Steve became suspicious. "Don't tell me Rudy's taken the project and reinvented it."
Oscar sat silently.
"And this time around there is more to it than merely transmitting data into the brain."
Oscar knew Steve deplored the idea of human experimentation, due to his circumstance, which is one reason he was kept in the dark regarding the project.
"Oscar, what has Rudy done this time? Who have you managed to drag into the organization without him realizing he's lost his private life, giving it to the government?"
Oscar ignored the comment, deciding to fill Steve in on the details of the project; how Rudy took the implant device, which can be attached to the brain, and combined the technology with a data stream to send information directly into the brain. "The possible applications are endless..."
"But of course the military application takes priority," Steve said bitterly.
"Actually, since this is strictly an O.S.I. project, I was thinking in-house use to begin with before mentioning it to the military," Oscar corrected, ignoring Steve's sour mood.
"What does Rudy need with me? If he thinks I'm..."
"No, no, no," Oscar said. We're already into the testing phase. He wants you to help with one of the tests. He needs you as a pilot and nothing else," Oscar said, trying to reassure Steve so he would agree.
Steve stood, pacing the kitchen. He didn't mind helping, but he was still upset with Oscar, and the idea that another human guinea pig was under O.S.I. control bothered him. Granted, the situation was a lot different, but he figured whoever was drafted didn't stand a chance of having a normal life once again.
Oscar could see the wheels turning as his friend paced. He figured it would be a good time to apologize for the deception. "Steve, I'm sorry about the way you were handled over the past year, but can you understand why it was done? We know how you feel about human experimentation, so I thought it was best to keep you in the dark for as long as possible."
"You could have trusted me with the truth or you could have found another way instead of driving me to the edge," Steve said, still pacing.
"I expected you to rebel months ago, which is why I started sending you on fluff assignments. I figured you'd catch on sooner or later that I just needed you out of the way."
Steve stopped, facing Oscar. "Why didn't you just tell me to get lost?"
"Can you honestly tell me you would not have been suspicious if I told you to take a long vacation far away from the Washington area? I know better. You would have been all over me. I figured the best way to handle it was to make you disappear on your own," Oscar said.
Steve nodded, agreeing with Oscar's assessment. Getting a couple of days off in a row was difficult enough, but to have Oscar tell him to take months off would definitely send up a red flag. "Alright, I'll help. When do we leave?"
"How soon can you be ready?"
Somewhere in Virginia
Rudy wandered down the hall to the nurse's station, finding Jean Manners busy with paperwork. "Jean? Have you seen Sam recently? She was due in the lab an hour ago. I've looked everywhere."
Jean looked up from her paperwork. "I haven't seen her for a couple of hours. She mentioned something about going outside; she seemed preoccupied."
"Thanks," Rudy said. "I think I know where she went. I'm expecting a call from Oscar; take a message if he calls while I'm out."
"Will do," Jean said, returning to her paperwork.
Rudy headed outside and down the hill toward the cliff edge. The facility sat upon a mountaintop, snuggled into a grove of trees. The cliff dropped several hundred feet to a massive rock pile. Rudy spotted Sam sitting on a flat rock, more like a boulder someone cut in half horizontally, about twenty feet from the edge. He leaned against the rock, a few feet from Sam. "Something wrong?"
Sam shrugged, remaining silent.
"Feel like talking?" Although Sam tended to be quiet on occasions, her thoughts turning inward, she never appeared to be moody. Rudy felt something was bothering her and wanted to find out if it had anything to do with the project. Sam sat motionless for several minutes while Rudy waited patiently.
Breaking her silence, "Twelve years ago today my parents were killed in a car accident."
"I'm sorry, I didn't know," Rudy said. "Do you remember your parents?" Rudy hopped up onto the rock, turning so he could face Sam.
Sam thought of the last time she saw her parents alive. She was two at the time. "I can still see them, waving goodbye as they headed out to the store. They left me with a babysitter so they could shop for a birthday gift, so I was told. I never saw them again. It was a closed casket funeral." Sam still remembered sitting in the front pew with a neighbor, the two white caskets mere feet away, both piled high with flowers.
"I guess your enhanced memory is a curse as well as a blessing," Rudy commented.
When the project started, three criteria had been set forth for selecting a human participant; advanced memory capabilities, high intelligence, and no family. Sam had been one of three individuals selected. At the time she figured it was just another round of intelligence testing, which she had become accustomed to while at the orphanage. Psychologists in the surrounding area were fascinated by the un-adoptable genius, frequently stopping in to talk with her.
Sam was surprised when told she had been selected for a government experiment. Of course, she was highly suspicious, but after spending a day with Dr. Wells, Sam was convinced the experiment would work.
Although the other to candidates were suitable, Rudy selected 14-year-old Samantha Larson for a couple of reasons. The first being that Sam's recall abilities surpassed all human standards, being capable of recalling events with such detail, all the way back to her first birthday.
Sam's IQ was immeasurable. Rudy tried every known test, but in each case she blew the top off the chart.
As for family, she had been placed into the care of the Massachusetts social services system after the death of her parents, whom were both orphans and had no family to adopt her. Sam's intelligence, not her age, prevented her from being adopted. Every prospective couple shied away from her upon discovering how intelligent she was; they felt intimidated by such a smart toddler. As time passed, the interested couples dwindled since they wanted infants or toddlers, not older kids.
Luckily for Sam, her assigned social worker saw to Sam's educational needs, starting at age four. Sam received independent study through the aid of interested teachers within the local school system. Permitted to set her own pace, Sam would finish two to three grade levels in one school year. By the age of ten, she had received her high school diploma. Interested in continuing her education, Sam managed to get scholarships to local colleges, permitting her to pursue her interests in Mathematics and Biology. She received her bachelor's degree in Mathematics by her twelfth birthday; she's still working on the Biology degree, having to put it on hold for this project.
Once Sam agreed to participate in the project, Rudy pushed Oscar to obtain 'adoption' papers for Sam courtesy of the O.S.I. Officials in Massachusetts balked at first, but caved when Oscar threatened to have their system audited, looking for any infractions. Rudy felt Sam would waste away intellectually in the orphanage, so he and Oscar decided to do what they could to find a family within the Washington area for her.
The most important thing was that for all Sam had been through in her short life, she was well adjusted.
They sat silently, enjoying the view. Sam finally broke the silence. "What's going to happen to me when we've completed phase one?"
"I thought you understood..."
"Not that Rudy. I'll work with you at the O.S.I. I know that and look forward to it. I mean, where am I going to live? I don't really need supervision, but I'm sure social services would frown upon a fourteen year old living alone." Ever since being selected for the project, Sam had taken it one day at a time, decided to focus on the here and now, not worrying about something farther down the road. Unfortunately, the 'dead end' sign approached, being a year into the project, and almost at the end of phase one.
"A final decision has yet to be made. I'm sorry I can't give you an answer, but to help ease your mind, I'll put the issue with Oscar," Rudy promised. "In the meantime, why don't you take the rest of the day off? You haven't had a break in a couple of weeks."
"Thanks, I appreciate it," Sam said, still staring at the distant trees.
Rudy headed back to his office, leaving Sam alone with her thoughts.
Several hours had passed when Rudy heard a knock on the door. "Come in," he said, not looking up from the paperwork.
Oscar and Steve entered the office, closing the door behind them.
"So this is where they've been hiding you," Steve said, seating himself on the couch.
Rudy looked up and smiled. "How have you been?"
"I'd have been doing better if Oscar had told me the truth from the beginning," Steve said, cutting a look at Oscar.
Oscar seated himself in a chair on the other side of the room from Steve. "Where's Sam?" he said, trying to change the subject.
"Outside, the last time I saw her." Rudy said. "I gave her the day off. Today is the twelfth anniversary of her parent's death. She's a bit depressed."
"Her?" Steve said.
"She remembers that far back?" Oscar said. He knew Sam's memory was extraordinary, but he didn't know the full extent of it.
Rudy nodded, explaining the earlier conversation. Leaning back in his chair, "There is one thing you need to resolve Oscar, and that's who will have custody of Sam when we've completed phase one. She asked about it this morning."
Oscar nodded, "I'm working on it."
"Custody?" Steve asked, puzzled.
"14 year olds don't generally live by themselves, Steve," Oscar said.
Both Rudy and Oscar could see Steve's temper rising. He stood, pacing the office. "Wait a minute. Let me get this straight. You are experimenting on a child? You've brought a child into this? What were you two thinking? How in the hell could you do this to a 14 year old?"
"Steve," Rudy said, "Sam is hardly a child; she is an adult in a child's body. If I didn't think she could handle all of this, we wouldn't have selected her." Rudy recited the details of Sam's background, as Steve continued to pace the office. Although he still believed they were wrong to do any experimentation on a child, he started to understand why she had been selected. When Rudy concluded his speech, he waited for another outburst. Although Steve still was still visibly upset, Rudy could see he was slowly calming down, finally returning to his chair.
"Sam has lived here since the O.S.I. retained custody of her from the state of Massachusetts. And you have to remember, she was given a choice; we didn't force her into the project," Rudy said.
"We figured we'd solve the custody issue as time wore on, but now we're down to the wire and I've yet to find a suitable family," Oscar said. Changing the subject, "Rudy, I've given Steve the run down on the project itself, but not your test results. I figured you'd like to do the honors."
Rudy spent the next hour going over the results from many months of testing. "She's aced every test. We're now shooting for distance."
"Distance?" Steve asked.
"Sorry, range is more accurate. So far our tests have been within a half-mile or so of the facility, with obstacles tossed in to check for signal degradation; things like concrete walls, metallic objects, trees, etc. The signal has yet to fail. Sam has received and processed everything we've sent," Rudy explained.
"Where do I fit into this? Oscar mentioned something about flying?" Steve asked.
Rudy nodded. "That will be the final test of this phase. We've got a couple of other tests scheduled with which you can help, if you'd like."
"Sure," Steve said. "I'd like to see how all this works."
Rudy filled Steve in on the following day's test details, explaining that he and Tim would observe from about 100 feet while Sam executed a survival exercise which includes building a shelter, gathering edible food, collecting water and identifying any dangerous plants or animals in the area.
"We've put together the exercise based on the information contained within the Air Force survival guide. She'll be fed specific information from which she'll carry out her instructions. Tim will use a checklist to determine if all the instructions had been carrying out," Rudy said.
"How does she recognize when the signal is being fed?" Steve questioned.
"Three beeps, which are fed into her auditory system, indicate the beginning of a data feed. Two beeps indicate the end of the feed. Her brain then processes the information, popping up like she suddenly had an idea," Rudy said.
"You mentioned this is phase one," Steve said. "What's phase two?"
"Phase two is behind the scenes. We'll work on data encryption for the signals. Sam will help with the testing when we're ready. Phase three, the end of the project, will involve another, yet to be determined, test subject who will be placed into simulated assignments," Rudy said.
"We figured we'd start looking for the next test subject in the middle of phase two," Oscar said.
"And no," Rudy continued, "We aren't going to ask you. You've been through enough."
Steve relaxed. "I appreciate it," he said. Although the project sounds interesting, he still would rather not be an active participant.
Rudy picked up the phone and called Jean, trying to locate Sam. Jean informed him that she had returned and gone to her room. Rudy thanked her, hanging up the phone.
"Steve, there's something you should know about Sam before you meet her," Rudy said.
Oscar chuckled briefly. "Oh fine, you warn him and not me."
"I did warn you," Rudy corrected. "You didn't follow instructions."
Steve gave both men a puzzled look as Rudy continued. "Sam can be a little abrupt with strangers. We've tried to work on the behavior, but haven't had much luck. Until she gets to know you, she treats you as an intruder in her own little world. The best thing you can do is immediately introduce yourself and let her know what you'll be doing with the project. After that, you're on your own."
"What did she do to you, Oscar?" Steve said.
"As Rudy said, I didn't follow his instructions. I was first asked 'who the hell are you' and told in no uncertain terms to leave the room. Not used to being spoken to in such a manner took me by surprise, so I finally remembered Rudy's warning and introduced myself. She finally accepted my presence, but had little to say and was unusually cold toward me. Rudy and I have since determined it's because we don't have much in common, project or not," Oscar explained.
Rudy gave Steve directions to Sam's room, explaining it would be best for them to meet alone. Sam preferred to make her own first impression of a person without having anyone else around. "Good luck," he said as Steve left the office.
The room was her sanctuary, so to speak. It provided her a place to retreat from the real world and spend time doing things she enjoyed; reading, doing complex math problems, and building models, which is what currently occupied her mind.
Sam sat at her desk with a lit magnifying lamp an inch or so from her nose. Underneath was a very small cockpit of a fighter jet to which she applied the final bit of paint to finish off the details. Setting the paintbrush aside, she soaked the console decals for a moment, then carefully slid them off the paper and applied them. As she set the piece aside to dry, she heard a knock at the door.
"Come in," she said without looking up. She already had another piece under the magnifying glass, placing it into the alligator clip arm, which held the piece so she had both hands free. Picking up a paintbrush, she dipped it into the paint and started detailing the piece.
Steve opened the door, letting it swing shut behind him. He stood waiting for her to look up, not wanting to cause her to make a mistake.
A moment passed before she glanced up. "Who are you?"
Steve smiled. "I'm Steve Austin. I work for the O.S.I. and will be helping in the last phase of the testing."
"Oh," she said, returning to her work, ignoring her visitor.
Glancing around the room, Steve noticed it was not a normal hospital room. He suspected it to be a converted conference room, which provides plenty of space for other activities, such as modeling.
Steve wandered around the room, examining the variety of model airplanes sitting on the shelving. He turned to Sam and asked, "Any reason you chose airplanes and not cars?"
Sam cleaned off the paintbrush, put the lid on the paint and turned her attention to her visitor. "Yeah. Cars are mundane, nothing special about them. Airplanes allow a certain amount of imagination to be applied, wondering what it would be like to fly in one. I have nothing against model cars; I just prefer airplanes."
"Me too," Steve commented, examining a couple of the models closest to him. "My Mom still has a few of the ones I did when I was a kid. She keeps them in my bedroom."
"Oh? You like planes too?" Sam said, truly oblivious of Steve's celebrity. She never paid much attention to television, preferring to keep her nose stuck in mathematical equations or English literature.
"You could say that," Steve replied. "I'm an Air Force pilot."
Sam ignored the comment for a moment, until the name and Air Force relation clicked in her brain. "Wait a minute. You're the astronaut, aren't you?"
Steve nodded. "Was. Haven't been in space for quite some time."
"You're not part of the Shuttle program?"
"Nope. Had to pass on it due to an obligation to the O.S.I.," Steve replied.
"Too bad," she said, returning her attention to the airplane. Several minutes passed before she spoke again. "I've learned a bit about the O.S.I. since I've been here. Are you a field agent or an H.Q. employee?"
"Field," Steve replied. "I couldn't handle being tied to a desk."
Silence fell between them once again. Steve wasn't sure if she was just concentrating on the piece or whether she just chose to ignore him. He decided to change the subject.
"What is it like?" Steve asked.
"Huh?" Sam said, looking up from the model. "What's what like?"
"The implant. Receiving instructions from a computer via radio signal," Steve said.
Sam put down the model piece, sat up straight and thought, trying to put it into words. "Well, at first it was a little disconcerting, suddenly having information pop into my brain. If it weren't for the warning beeps, I guess it would be like suddenly having an idea on how to do something. It's kind of neat, really, once you get used to it. I've been enjoying it recently. I've learned several languages while I slept, including Latin. It's a fascinating language."
Steve chuckled at the last comment.
"Do you know the origins of this project?"
"Yes. Rudy gave me the entire history of it, explaining where the technology of the implant came from and the fact the data transfer had been tried once before, but after a year the agent burned out," Sam replied.
"The guy involved in the last project was a friend of mine. He once confided that he found Latin more interesting than the rest of the languages," Steve said.
"Oh. I never met the guy or had a chance to talk to him," Sam said, returning her attention to the model.
"Do you have to be asleep to receive the instructions?" Steve asked.
Without looking up, "Nope. Asleep, awake, doesn't matter. Rudy just makes use of my down time to continue with the testing."
After several minutes of silence, Steve decided it was time to leave. "I'm going to head back to Rudy's office. I haven't had a chance to just chat with him for over a year."
Sam looked up, "You two are friends?"
Steve nodded. "Yep, sure are. He held my hand during flight school, and then was assigned to me as my flight surgeon during the Apollo era. We go back a ways."
Steve opened the door to leave.
Steve turned back toward Sam. "Yes?"
"Thanks for stopping by. If you want to do so again, feel free," Sam said, smiling. She then returned to her model.
"Will do," Steve said, returning the smile. He let the door close behind him, standing in the hallway for a moment, thinking of their conversation. A moment later, he headed for Rudy's office.