After a short space odyssey to the moon to collect mineral samples for NASA, Steve settled in his quarters at the quarantine compound. Rudy made daily visits to what the astronaut called a prison cell to monitor his vital signs and physical readjustments to earth’s gravity.
Steve complained of recurrent headaches and muscle pain as though he was coming down with the flu. Rudy extracted a few CCs of blood and groped Steve’s neck for the presence of swollen glands. He promised to return with the lab results.
In a NASA research facility a scientist studied the composition of a particular mineral Steve had brought back from the surface of the dark side of the moon. Under a scanning electron microscope, he was astonished yet troubled by what he saw. Active cells were perpetually dividing inside a porous tissue. The crude ore was a living entity.
He waved his supervisor over to confirm his finding. In order to sustain life, the entity required oxygen. A second hypothesis was advanced suggesting it was an anaerobe, an organism living in an oxygen-deprived environment. But if the latter held true, how could they explain its survival on earth thus far?
In late afternoon, Rudy checked back with Steve to deliver the good news. The battery of blood analyses revealed nothing abnormal in his system. Rudy admitted the possibility that Steve’s cephalgias might be caused by a bionic malfunction. The good doctor would set up his lab for a complete physical no later than tomorrow morning at dawn’s early light. Meanwhile he advised Steve on two aspirins and a goodnight sleep.
Halfway into the night, Steve roused with a throbbing migraine, so intolerable that it bleared his vision and rendered him weak. The stationed night nurse was doing her usual rounds when she heard the groans and immediately contacted Rudy.
No more than 20 minutes later, Rudy was at Steve’s side. The light had been turned on for the medical assessment, which appeared to alleviate some of the pain. Rudy feared a potential chemical imbalance may be behind Steve’s headaches, something that was inexcusably overlooked during the lab tests. However Rudy refused to jump to hasty conclusions and decided to put the astronaut under close observation at NASA’s private hospital.
Rudy observed the patient through the remainder of the night and noticed that Steve slept peacefully with the light on, whereas a dimlit room elicited a painful reaction, one that would drive the man to border on dementia.
Rudy and his colleagues were baffled as to Steve’s mysterious condition. The second and third blood tests revealed no foreign agents, nor corpuscle deformity and his red and white cell count was normal. The human part was in perfect health. Therefore the problem was inevitably of a mechanical nature.
Once more, the results were negative. Rudy was dejected. He stood behind a glass window, staring at Steve who was finally slumbering soundly. He pledged to uncloak the mysterious illness clawing at his friend, gradually consuming his health. He dared hope it wasn’t too late already.
Oscar’s first item on his agenda was to visit Steve at the hospital early morning.
“What’s wrong with him?” Oscar asked Rudy standing beside him, looking at Steve behind the glass window.
“We don’t know yet. His symptoms are very peculiar. However I’m ninety per cent positive that Steve’s ailment is not from an earthly origin.”
“Something he picked up in space?”
“Most likely. We are studying the mineral samples he brought back from the moon. We discovered one to be a living entity.”
Oscar turned to Rudy with an air of surprise. “From the moon?”
“Hard to believe. Its basic cell structure and properties are closely identical to our own.”
“Is it a virus?”
“That’s what we’re trying to determine. Was probably transmitted through skin contact. He must have touched the raw ore with his bare hand.”
Careworn as to his friend’s uncertain fate, Oscar padded over to Steve’s bed. Sensing a solicitous presence in the room, Steve opened his eyes. He looked haggard and ashen.
“Guess I stepped in it this time,” Steve feebly rasped out.
“Wouldn’t be the first time,” Oscar jested with a caring smile. “ How do you feel?”
“Then go back to sleep. I’ll check back with you in a little while.”
“Sorry about not being able to fulfill my next mission.”
“You just concentrate on getting better.”
“If it were up to me, I would have been out of this bed hours ago.”
“See you later,” the ailing man whispered seconds before falling asleep.
Crestfallen, Oscar turned to Rudy. “ Don’t let him die.”
“I’ll do my best.”
Rudy went up to the lab to gen up on the latest developments regarding the cryptic moonstone.
His assistant discovered that the tissue cells’ multiplying rate had increased tenfold in the last twelve hours while kept in a dark box. Darkness was therefore the determinant factor in its growth and the results concurred with Steve’s symptoms.
However it wasn’t established as a viral agent, one that could easily be eradicated with antibiotics. Steve’s blood was free of any foreign bodies, his lungs were clear and his MRI showed no sign of dark masses within the brain tissue.
Rudy did notice a slight rise in Steve’s body temperature whenever he experienced a sudden seizure. It was safe to assume the hypothalamus was involved.
With that observation in mind, Rudy intended to submit Steve to a third CT scan. Only difference being that this time, the patient would wear a blindfold to prevent the dimmest ray of light from innervating the retina’s chemical sensors. Of course it meant subjecting Steve to intense pain, which Rudy loathed to do.
The next day, Steve was prepped for the MRI. Rudy strapped his head firmly in place against the bands.
“I feel dreadful,” Steve lamented.
“I know and I hate what I’m about to do to you.”
“There’s no other alternative.”
“Unfortunately. Are you ready?”
Steve took in a long deep breath. “Yeah.”
Rudy placed the mask over Steve’s eyes, holding it in place with medical tape. A little over 30 seconds, Steve started groaning. His face contorted by pain. His entire body strapped on a board, he couldn’t stir nor wiggle.
Rudy tapped him on the shoulder. “Hold on, Steve. We’ll make it as quickly as possible.”
Rudy hurried back in the control booth behind a thick glass window. A lab technician sitting at the panel noticed an alarming heartbeat increase.
“Dr. Wells, his heart rate is skyrocketing.”
The pain reached an unbearable peak where Steve felt his head about to burst. Insanity crept in, taking hold of his smarting mind. His bionic powers broke in full force and he wrenched himself free of his restraint.
With eyes bulging out of their sockets, ablaze with fury, Steve kicked the door open, shattering the glass. He headed for the exit, hurling Rudy and his assistant against the wall. This time around, the light did little or nothing to alleviate Steve’s agony, which prompted Rudy to fear that the damage was now irreversible.
Clawing at his pounding head, Steve stormed down the corridor in a whirlwind, knocking anything or anyone standing in his path.
Rudy cautioned the staff to steer clear of the madman and forbid them to attempt any sort of heroic gesture.
In the waiting room, Oscar heard the commotion and sprung to his feet. He joined Rudy as the nurses helped the two stunned interns up on the feet.
“What’s going on, Rudy?
“It’s Steve. He’s gone mad.”
“Can’t be sure but I assume we’re too late.”
“Too late for what?”
Rudy bowed his head for a moment then looked up at Oscar with a forlorn expression painted on his face.
“Rudy, too late for what?” Oscar emphasized the question.
Rudy remained wordless.
“I’m going after him.”
“No!” warned Rudy, clenching Oscar’s arm. “You won’t outrun him. Besides, he’s dangerous. He can harm you.”
“He won’t hurt me.”
“He doesn’t know what he’s doing.”
“Then what are you suggesting we do?”
Rudy led Oscar to his office where he unbolted a medicine cabinet and reached for a tiny rectangular glass box containing six tranquilizer darts.
“You assemble your best sharp shooters and you give them these. There’s enough sedative in each to knock out an elephant. Only one must it its target otherwise they’ll kill him.”
Oscar clasped the box of lethal weapons in his hand.
“Bring Steve safe and sound, Oscar.”
“And then what?”
“Hopefully we’ll have found a cure by the time you return.”
Oscar tapped Rudy on the shoulder and headed for the exit.
On his mad quest to escape his tormentor, Steve ran as fast as his legs would allow him, hoping that his bionic sprint could palliate the intensifying pain.
Police sirens echoed in the distance. As the deafening blare grew closer, Steve blindly stepped in front of the speeding car. It screeched to a halt but not fast enough to avoid hitting the raging man desperately seeking refuge from his torture.
The shocked offices bobbed out of their car and hurried to the still form sprawled on the road. One policeman palpated Steve’s right wrist, searching for a pulse.
“He’s dead,” he grimly informed his partner.
“He came out of nowhere. I didn’t see him!”
“Call Goldman. Inform him that we’ve located Colonel Austin.”
“Hey Alan, look at his chest…it’s rising. That man’s alive!”
“Can’t be! He has no pulse.” He checked Steve’s pulse a second time. Puzzled, he glued his ear to his chest and perceived a faint wheeze. He groped Steve’s neck and sure enough, he felt a pulsation. “I don’t understand this.”
“I’ll call for an ambulance.”
Steve was rushed to the hospital in a critical condition. Rudy toiled to stem the internal bleeding during three gruelling hours of surgery.
Oscar had begun plowing a furrow in the floor when Rudy assured him that the impossible had been done and that the man’s fate now rested in the hands of God.
The latest reviews on the moon ore failed to provide a clue as to a possible cure for Steve. At the moment, Rudy’s main concern was to keep him alive.
Aside from a serious head concussion, the MRI showed a startling element. A small dark mass, believed to mimic the entity’s cell structure, had conglutinated near the hypothalamus. The blood tests also revealed high levels of dopamine, which is known to play a part in schizophrenia. His body temperature was above normal and his blood pressure was a bit high.
Rudy subjected the comatose patient to a battery of physiological tests, one held in the presence of light and a second series conducted in a dark room. Both results were the same, prompting Rudy to sadly conclude that the living entity dwelling inside Steve had adapted to the light, making it more powerful and nearly impossible to conquer.
Rudy outlined a drug treatment to eradicate the evil but produced no significant results. Wasn’t there anything that could destroy it?
Oscar padded up to Rudy standing by Steve’s bed.
“No. He’s slipping.”
“No leads with that moon stone?”
“What about his bionics? Are they affected?”
“To some extend yes since they’re directly linked to his nervous system. But there’s no chance of permanent damage.”
“What about that lump in his brain?”
“I’m thinking of going in and remove it, but not at the moment. It’s too risky what with his head trauma and his low vital signs. He’s too weak.”
“But if you don’t remove it soon, we risk losing him anyway…right?”
Rudy bent forward to check Steve’s right eye. It was fixed and dilated. He lowered the sheet covering his torso to make certain the electrodes were still firmly affixed to his skin. The constant beeping of the heart monitor reverberated loudly in Rudy’s mind. He stared at the monitor as if it wanted to convey a message of hope. Then it dawned on him.
“It’s worth to try.”
“Rudy what are you talking about,” Oscar queried, following Rudy out of the room.
Rudy dashed to the Nurses station to contact his lab assistant. He instructed him to place sample 25 inside a shatterproof container and submit it to thirty sound megahertz for ten seconds. Before leaving for the lab, Rudy asked Oscar to remain at Steve’s bedside and to notify him of any change.
“Rudy, tell me! What is it?”
“Can’t explain right now, Oscar. I’m on my way to the lab and should be back within two hours if everything goes according to my theory.”
When Rudy arrived to his destination, he was shellshock. His lab assistant and four other technicians were lying dead on the floor, their bloodshot eyes were evidence of an aneurysm. Rudy gave a swift glance around and noticed the door of the container was open. As he neared it, a high-pitch sound assaulted his mind. Clasping both ears with his hands, he agonized, but managed to stagger his way out of the lab, closing the soundproof door behind him.
Catching his breath, Rudy realized the entity was returning fire, using their own weapon against them.
Desperate to save Steve’s life at any cost, Rudy grabbed a head set off the shelf and sneaked back inside the lab. Quickly he closed the door to the container before the ore could generate the ultrasounds. He stood behind a panel and subjected the mineral to one million volts. Within seconds, the ore shattered into pieces.
Rudy cautiously proceeded towards the container and slowly opened the door. He donned surgical gloves, picked up a pebble and examined it under a microscope. The living cells had burst and it was save to say the entity had been destroyed.
Relieved by his finding, Rudy drove back to the hospital to inform Oscar of the possible cure for Steve. There he learned that Steve was showing signs of responsiveness.
As both Rudy and Oscar entered Steve’s room, they heard faint moans.
“Steve, can you hear me?” Rudy coaxed, joggling his shoulder.
Steve’s eyelids fluttered before he blinked opened his eyes. “Rudy?” he rasped, his face disfigured by blinding pain.
Rudy gently laid his hand on Steve’s forehead. “Your head still bothering you?”
Steve nodded, tears welling up in his eyes. “My legs…my arm…I can’t move them.”
“That’s because I severed the neurolink so you wouldn’t hurt yourself in case of another attack.”
“Please, make it stop,” Steve beseeched, his head tossing from left to right.
Rudy looked up at the monitor indicating a heartbeat increase. There was no a moment to spare.
“Steve, listen to me. I think I’ve found a way to relieve your pain by annihilating the entity attached to your brain. But it’s risky.”
“What is it?”
Steve gulped. “How much?”
“A million volts for a millisecond.”
“Won’t I bust a gut?”
“It’s likely you’ll go into cardiac arrest but we’ll be standing by with the crash cart ready to shock you back.”
Steve closed his eyes as another smarting twinge radiated. “Do it. Quickly, please!”
Rudy gathered his instruments and summoned his staff to assist during the delicate procedure. Steve’s suffering had reached an unbearable peak and consequently was rendered unconscious.
Despite Rudy’s warnings, Oscar insisted to be present in the room. He watched at the nurse handed Rudy the two small electric paddles that he placed on either side of Steve’s temples. He inhaled deeply before applying the charged electrodes against the skin.
Steve’s body stiffened and leapt off the table. As predicted, the patient crashed. Rudy started applying CPR while the paddles were charging. Luckily he needed only one shot to revive the patient.
Two days later, the mass had subsided. The MRI was negative and the dopamine level had returned to normal.
Steve regained consciousness less than forty-eight hours later. The headaches had disappeared and he was gradually back on solid food.
In the NASA research facility, the lab was cordoned off. Access was denied until further notice while the cleaning was underway. The shattered pieces of the mineral were placed inside a biohazard bag and left in a freezer, unbeknownst to them that the minus thirty degrees temperature was a fertile ground for the allegedly extinct entity to find a second wind.