The Austin family ambled down the hallway of the OSI building. Kayce walked with one hand clasping the smaller one of her five-year-old son Kyle. The young boy's eyes darted around at all the business-suited adults in search of one-person.
"Mom, are we going to see Miss Cassie?"
The young, blonde woman smiled down at her offspring who looked like a miniature of his father, especially with the twinkle dancing in his blue eyes. "Well Kyle, I'm not sure she's even here, we'll have to see."
Steve was walking next to his wife carrying their one-year-old daughter Stephanie. Her bottom was supported by his forearm, her face nestled in the crook of his tanned neck. Even though she was more asleep that awake her tiny left hand held tightly to the worn pink blanket she had since her birth. As Steve would smile and nod in response to the friendly greetings of his former colleagues as they passed, the head with the platinum curls would come up in curiosity before dropping softly back down on the broad shoulder.
The former astronaut was called to Washington, DC to participate in preliminary project meetings for development of a space station. Not wanting to be separated from his family he suggested they travel with him from the west coast and Kayce readily agreed.
Turning the last corner on their trek Kyle broke from his mother to run to the familiar door and knock as hard as his little fist could. Kayce shot a smile at Steve who responded with a lopsided grin at the boy’s excitement to see his uncle. There was a request to enter and the family walked into the lab greeting Linda, Rudy's assistant.
After chatting a few minutes they found out Rudy Wells had been called into Oscar's office and was expected back at any moment. Choosing to wait Steve sat his daughter on the couch and Kyle settled next to her, pulling his crayons and coloring book from the small knapsack he carried. Kayce, Steve and Linda caught up on the goings-on in their lives since they last saw one another and after an hour ran out of conversation.
"I'm sorry but I don't know what could be keeping Rudy. It wasn't a scheduled meeting or anything like that."
Steve winked at his wife and looked at Linda. "Well, then we’ll just go see what's keeping him."
The lab assistant saw both parents glance behind them at the children. "You two go ahead. I'll keep an eye on them for you."
"Thanks Linda," Came the grateful reply in unison before the couple turned and left.
Peggy Callahan, Secretary to the OSI director, notified her boss of his unexpected visitors and was ordered to send them in. During the pleasantries Kayce noticed that she had Steve seemed more excited to see their friends then Oscar and Rudy were to see them. She immediately sensed the heavy tension in the room as did Steve and tried to make a graceful exit
"I'm sorry, you two must be busy and we should let you get back to work."
Oscar quickly replied, "No, no... It's nice to see you two. Where are the kids?"
"There with Linda and Rudy's lab." Kayce responded.
Oscar, ignoring the stern look he was getting from the scientist, made his move. "Actually I'm glad you're both here." He stepped behind his ornate desk and took a breath to continue but Rudy interrupted, "Oscar don't." Two sets of brown eyes locked on one another causing two sets of blue eyes to meet.
"Don't?" Oscar asked. "Why not?"
"You'd know why not." Rudy answered in a low voice. A few seconds of dead silence ticked off before Steve spoke up.
"What's going on?" He inquired glancing at both his friends.
Rudy knew Oscar would ignore his request and dropped his gaze to the floor in defeat. Seeing the doctor concede Oscar explained, "We have a situation. A close colleague of Rudy's has disappeared."
"Who?" The couple asked.
"Dr. Cheryl Osborne."
Steve's eyes widened as he recalled the scientist who once kept herself isolated from other people by conducting experiments on a remote island. Kayce picked up on her husband's stiffened posture. "You know her?" Steve just nodded and looked at Rudy who was now looking at him.
"How long?" Steve asked.
"Three days." Oscar replied.
"We suspect it's connected with her work. She was working on several top secret projects... Some with Rudy and some her own."
"And you suspect she was taken?" Steve received an affirmative nod as an answer.
"Yes... At least that's what our investigation leads to."
The doctor quickly interjected, "Steve I don't want you involved in this."
With a furrowed brow Steve asked, "Why not?"
"Because... because you're retired. It's too dangerous and you have a family."
"But Rudy this is Cheryl. You said yourself she's like a daughter to you please let me help?"
"Me too," Kayce chimed in wanting to help Rudy anyway she could.
The doctor took a few moments to consider his friends’ unselfish offer. He had spent a lot of time trying to stop Oscar from calling the bionic pair to ask their help with this situation. He didn't want to put either of them at risk... not with two small children.
"Rudy?" Kayce called out waiting for an answer.
Steve's voice filled with need called out to his friend, "Rudy, let us help you find her and get her out. Please."
After a long exhale the scientist replied, "Alright."
Steve turned to his boss and asked, "Is Cassie available?"
"Why, do you want to take her too?" He asked curiously.
"No, we need someone to watch Steph and Kyle."
"She's at her apartment."
"Great," Steve replied "Kayce why don't you call her and filled her in." The slender woman nodded and quickly left.
Suddenly Oscar's red phone rang startling the three men. Oscar answered and spoke very little, his hands scribbling out pertinent information before hanging up.
"Well?" Steve and Rudy asked in unison.
"It would seem half the job is already done. We know where she is." He handed the information to his operative. "Now you just need to get her out."
Steve read the address on the paper and nodded at Rudy. "I'm on it."
Rudy at Oscar followed behind after the director organized his men to back up his agents.
In the briefing room Steve pulled maps from the OSI file cabinets and a fellow agent supplied him with a schematic of the warehouse where Dr. Osborne was allegedly being held. He thanked the agent and headed to Rudy’s lab.
The man suspected of being the ring leader in the kidnapping was Thomas Sheridan, an American citizen born and raised in Maryland. At only 35 years old he was already well known to the US government as a slippery character. Every few years he made sure to move his business onto bigger and better things. Oscar’s agents, including Steve, had tried to capture him a few times but each time the criminal was able to escape only to reemerge somewhere else and just out of reach. Oscar and Steve hoped maybe this time they would get lucky and lock this man up for good.
As the Austin’s reviewed their options while looking over the detailed maps and drawings Steve tried to convince Kayce to stay behind and let Cassie go in her place but Kayce would not be dissuaded from participating. She tried to explain that she owed a lot more to the doctor then Cassie and she wanted to help. Steve tried to argue his point….drawing silent attention to the two children on the couch talking quietly over a book.
“Steve I know you and Cassie have worked well together in the past but….well…I think we work even better together. I mean it’s a proven fact that in a strong marriage no one knows you better then your spouse. We can anticipate how the other will react both physically and emotionally in any situation without much thought. Plus I would feel much better being there to be sure you stay out of trouble.”
“So you aren’t going to change your mind then are you?”
“Nope, you’re stuck with me.” She smiled and Steve let out a sigh when Cassie, Oscar and Rudy joined them.
Steve and Kayce spent a few moments with their children, hugging them tight and placing goodbye kisses on their heads before relinquishing them to their friend. Kyle was excited to be spending time with Miss Cassie while a crying Stephanie had to be pried from her father’s arms. Reaching up and grabbing her leg Kyle chatted away with his little sister in an attempt to calm her sudden outburst, telling her all the fun things they would be doing until their mother and father returned. Steve gave Cassie a grateful wink as she headed out the door.
Looking at his wife he confessed, “I still wish you would stay here.”
“Steve you know the odds are much better with the two of us. It a simple plan. It should be over in a matter of hours. Don’t worry.” She assured him with a gentle hand on his chest.
It was late afternoon when Oscar, Steve, Kayce and Rudy loaded into a well-used van that would easily blend into the other vehicles in the warehouse district. They parked three blocks away and waited for nightfall while the OSI surveillance team kept them abreast of any changes at the extraction point.
Kayce watched Rudy pace outside the van, occasionally having brief conversations with Oscar who stood, leaning against the side of the van, his hands in his pockets. At her urging Steve explained the doctor’s close relationship with Cheryl Osborne, a woman he had known since her birth when he worked closely with her late father. When he finished Kayce just shook her head, better understanding why he was so upset.
“Thanks for telling me. I was beginning to second guess myself about coming with you and risking both of us but now I know I made the right decision to come along.” She stated simply, her eyes on Rudy.
The rear doors opened and Oscar appeared. “Ready you two?”
“You bet.” Steve replied as he assisted his wife out of the van with a hand on her arm.
“Be careful.” Rudy urged and the pair responded confidently in unison. “We will.”
“Good luck you two.” Oscar said as he slapped Steve on the shoulder.
With the plan laid out and all participants on alert, the bionic pair moved quickly on foot to the warehouse under a full moon and street lamps. The duo stopped in the shadows across the street and took a moment to observe any movement outside. Before moving on Kayce grabbed Steve by the arm.
“What?” He whispered with a furrowed brow.
“Kiss for luck?” She asked softly with a tilt of her head and a hopeful twinkle in her eye. Her smile brought a grin to Steve’s face. “What?” she asked innocently.
“You look just like Stephanie when you do that.” He leaned in a placed a tender kiss on her pink lips. “Remember the first one to find Cheryl just gets her out. We aren’t that worried about Sheridan right now.”
Kayce nodded in agreement. “Good luck.” She said and moved off into the night. Steve hesitated a few seconds before moving off in the opposite direction. They both hoped converging on the building separately would increase their odds of getting Cheryl Osborne out unharmed. The challenge was carrying out the rescue without any way to communicate with each other. The use of radios at an inopportune time might bring attention to an agent attempting to move about without detection.
So it began…Steve took the top two floors while Kayce searched the first and second. In one bionic leap Steve was on the third floor fire escape. Within seconds he was swinging his legs over the rusted metal railing and yanking open the locked door as quietly as he could. He was glad to be attempting this at night, not needing to take the time for his eyes to adjust to the darkened hallway. He moved about silently looking for the kidnapped scientist while keeping one eye out for guards roaming the immense building. He was hoping this would be one very short mission. He smiled to himself picturing Oscar nervously glancing at his watch every few seconds.
Luck was on his side when he came upon an armed guard in front of a steel door. He waited in the darkness for the burly man to turn his back as he paced few feet to and from the door trying to stay sharp.
Downstairs Kayce entered the building from a side door. She was able to hide easily behind large wooden storage boxes until three men ambled by, lighting their cigarettes as they went. Wanting to see what Sheridan might be up to she studied the writing on the crates…obviously the man in charge was deep into national secrets and had connections somewhere. She scanned the letters and numbers on the closest crate, immediately recognizing the coding for bionic parts. The revelation caused a shiver to travel the length of her spine. Kayce moved fast but cautiously about, amazed at what she was seeing. She had searched the whole first floor within minutes before moving to the stairs, so far undetected.
Upstairs Steve felled the guard with a blow to the back of the head just hard enough to cause the man to lose consciousness. He broke the lock quickly, pulled the heavy burden inside and shut the door. When he looked up he saw Cheryl standing at the far side of a crudely assembled laboratory.
“Steve Austin!” She said softly in disbelief.
He crossed to her. “We need to get you out of here.”
“Lead the way.” She said with relief. He took the lead and they headed back the way Steve had come. They only got a few steps down the hall when the guard regained his senses and followed quickly behind, his gun at the ready.
The first shot flew past the fleeing pair as they headed for the metal stairs against the wall. As they turned to descend another guard, hearing the shot, was running towards them from the lower floor firing his weapon. Steve immediately grabbed Cheryl’s hand and pulled her out to the fire escape just as a bullet hit the electrical box at the top of the stairs sending sparks flying. On the outside he used his bionic hand to bend part of the rought iron fire escape stairway to seal the door shut.
After kicking off the banister of the stairway with one foot he gave his order, “Climb on!” Seeing her hesitation he urged her. “Come on! Trust me!” Hopping onto his back and wrapping her arms about his chest she took a deep breath and held it as he stepped to the edge.
Steve’s mind fell on his wife hoping she had heard the shots and was making her exit at the same time. Cheryl’s eyes closed tight and she buried her face in his upper back as Steve crouched and leaped into the air.
The female scientist felt like they were falling forever but the two bionic feet touched the earth safely within seconds. She slid off his back and looked back from where they came. “Steve look!” He followed her pointing finger to see the smoke squeezing out from the door frame.
“Come on.” He grabbed her arm intent on delivering her to Oscar and Rudy. All the way he continued to pray Kayce was already out of the building.
As they rounded the front of the warehouse vehicles were screeching to a halt and OSI agents were exiting as fast as they could. Rudy ran to Cheryl and they embraced tightly. Steve turned at Oscar’s mumbled words.
“Oh my God.” Steve looked up to see dark smoke now billowing out of most of the windows on the second and third floors that had shattered from the heat. He looked frantically around. “Where’s Kayce?”
Oscar began looking around too. “I don’t know. We didn’t see her come out.” He said in an ominous tone.
There were small explosions going off inside the building and Steve turned in a panic. “I need to get her out!” He took a step and Oscar attempted to stop him. With one hard shove Oscar was slammed into the side of the van and without much thought Steve was in a run to the front door. He had to get to Kayce.
Rudy steadied Oscar after he impacted the van and the two men and Cheryl watched in shock as a desperate husband disappeared into the burning building without hesitation. The minutes ticked off like hours and fire truck sirens could be heard approaching from a distance.
The OSI director stood frozen, his emotions fighting an intense internal battle. He could easily order his agents into the inferno but knew it would be a death sentence. He just prayed with their bionics both Kayce and Steve would emerge unscathed.
Suddenly the whole second floor exploded with a deafening roar and all bystanders were transfixed as a human form, blown out a window by the blast, dropped like a limp doll. Time stood still until the helpless victim slammed onto the roof of a parked sedan, shattering its windows.
The horrible impact was sickening to all watching and Rudy Wells, an experienced trauma surgeon, was the first to make a move toward the broken body that was now cradled in the concave sheet metal.
Scampering up to the injured man Rudy was shocked by the amount of blood on the tan shirt. Quickly finding a pulse in Steve’s neck Rudy gave orders to the stunned observers edging closer.
"Cheryl, keep his head still. Edwards get an ambulance here fast."
With an aggressive tug with of hands Rudy ripped open the bloody shirt while Cheryl knelt at Steve's head stabilizing it with both hands.
"Rudy?" Oscar urgently called out while climbing onto the vehicle’s hood, fire trucks now surrounding them.
"He's alive... multiple puncture wounds on his chest and abdomen ... not too deep though. He probably has a concussion." The physician looked up at Oscar's horrified face. "Who knows yet if his neck or back is broken."
Taking a deep breath Rudy called out to the rescue crew exiting a paramedic truck, "I need a backboard and bandages over here now!" The paramedics moved quickly as the firefighters began attacking the fully engulfed warehouse. Oscar quickly moved to the captain to discuss the federal investigation taking place at the warehouse and the need to preserve any evidence. The fire Captain agreed that once the fire was extinguished he would gladly surrender control of the site over the federal investigators.
In the next instant a moan escaped Steve's lips as the darkness receded and the painful assault on his senses began. Dazed and confused he fought to move against the two sets of hands holding him, pinning him down.
"Steve, don't move. Do you hear me? Don't try and move!"
The pain-filled eyes closed tightly, the bloody torso rose and fell rapidly as his mind slowly cleared and recalled the events leading up to this moment. "Kayce," Steve forced out through clenched teeth. Waves of pain washed over him pulling him reluctantly back into the darkness. But Steve fought against the offer to be relieved of his pain as he tried to get the answer he needed.
"Steve where do you hurt?" Rudy asked with concern trying to assess his patient without moving him.
"Kayce, where’s Kayce?" The fearful husband breathed out.
"Steve I need to know where you're hurt," Rudy spoke forcefully trying to redirect the injured man's focus as he applied bandages to the seeping wounds.
A terrified Steve managed a deep breath and cried out as loud as he could, "KAYCE!" The emotional cry brought tears to Dr. Osborne’s brown eyes and she looked away, closing them tightly, while her hands continued to support the patient’s head.
Rudy anticipated the agitation and already had the paramedic draw a mild sedative for injection. Once the drug was in the bloodstream the patient was still semi-conscious but calm enough to be strapped to the backboard. The doctor was relieved that his friend was stable and breathing on his own but continued to monitor him closely as Steve persistently called out for his wife.
Once the ambulance doors closed and Rudy saw Steve was resting as comfortably as possible his adrenaline rush had burned off. Rudy took a moment to allow the gravity of what transpired to sink in, his heart growing heavy as it twisted in his chest. Swallowing hard, the whispered words tumbled off his lips without thought, "Kayce…can't be...it just can't be." Looking down Rudy saw silent tears trickle down Steve’s temples from his closed eyes.
At Steve and Kayce’s townhouse Cassie had just slid into bed, the children long since asleep. As she dozed off the telephone rang jarring her back to full wakefulness. She grabbed it with a glance at the clock showing midnight.
As Oscar explained the situation Cassie’s body began to tremble. Steve was on his way to the hospital after being thrown out a second story window and there was no way she could have prepared herself for the rest. Kayce was presumed dead.
With a simple ‘okay’ she ended the call with the weary OSI director and slowly returned the receiver to its cradle. Lying back onto the bed she curled into a ball and sobbed at the devastating news. Already drained from entertaining the two small children she cried herself to sleep within the hour.
At the Medical Center while Rudy was treating Steve Oscar began coordinating the Sheridan investigation by phone but it was getting no where. He then decided to interview Cheryl Osborne in the privacy of Rudy’s office.
The dark haired woman sipped her warm coffee from the ceramic mug she held tightly between her hands, her elbows resting on the table in front of her. Oscar leaned against the front of the physician’s desk and requested the woman share what she knew.
The scientist could only tell the tall man that she was taken from her home and kept at the warehouse. During her captivity she was treated well and directed to set up the laboratory on the third floor of the industrial building. Her captors gave no clue as to why she was there. She never had any contact with the man referred to as Sheridan.
None of this made any sense to Oscar as he began pacing back and forth. Sheridan usually dealt with weapons and electronic devices that could be used or sold for espionage purposes. Taking Cheryl Osborne just didn’t fit Sheridan’s MO. Settling himself on the chair across from her he rubbed his throbbing temples.
“Okay, let’s step back a bit. What experiments are you presently involved with?”
The tired woman shrugged, “Nothing he would want. My background is in Neurology and my work deals with the brain and its functions not military equipment or weapons.” She let out a tired sigh in frustration.
Oscar looked up at her with an idea. “Weren’t you assisting Rudy on a project?”
“Yes. We were trouble shooting ways to recover brain function after a traumatic brain injury.”
“Did anyone know why you were working so closely with Rudy?”
“No…not that I know of. We just started three months ago.” She placed her empty cup on the table and sat back folding her arms about her waist, noticing the look of deep thought on the director’s face. “Oscar we aren’t even close to anything substantial.”
“No,” he replied, “but your extended contact with Dr. Wells may have implied you had some involvement in Rudy’s primary project… the bionics program.” Oscar was on his feet, his long legs moving him aimlessly across the carpet.
“That doesn’t make much sense.”
“No, maybe not, but it’s a connection between you and a very top secret project that Sheridan, if he knows about it, would stop at nothing to get his hands on.” He saw the skeptical expression on her face. “I realize its weak but we have nothing else, at least not yet.”
Cassie awoke to the unfamiliar sound of a baby crying. Suddenly remembering where she was and her present assignment she swiftly pulled on her robe. With her eyes puffy and red she lifted the whimpering little girl from her crib.
Cassie was never a morning person but now it was only eight in the morning and already her head was pounding. Without needing much concentration she got Stephanie cleaned up and changed all the while trying to ignore the ache in her chest.
Once the little one was dressed the two moved off to the kitchen where sounds of metal utensils hitting dishes could be heard. “Let’s see what your big brother is up to so early.” She said to the blonde headed toddler. “Just like his father….an early bird.” She mumbled as they headed down the hall.
When the pair arrived at the doorway to the kitchen Kyle offered a shy lopsided grin. “Good morning Kyle. What’s this?” Cassie asked seeing the cereal bowls and milk.
“I made you breakfast.” He replied proudly then continued in a disappointed tone. “I wanted to make you pancakes in the shape of hearts like Mommy does for me but I’m not allowed to use the stove without a grownup’s help.”
At the mention of Kayce and heart-shaped pancakes Cassie almost started sobbing but instead she bit her lip and fought back the tears threatening to shower down her cheeks.
Sliding into a chair with the one year old on her lap Cassie offered her best smile and tease the tow headed boy. “Well, how did you know I love to eat Cheerios in the morning?” Kyle’s mouth grew into a big smile as he pushed the half-gallon jug of milk towards her.
Dumping a few pieces of cereal on the table in front of the hungry little girl Cassie added milk to her bowl of the little ‘O’s. “Here,” Kyle handed a small spouted plastic cup filled with milk to his little sister. “Steph likes milk too.” The little girl smiled at her brother.
The three then sat quietly and ate their breakfast.
With all the test results in his hand Rudy entered his office to find Oscar sitting behind his desk with his head resting on his folded arms. Oscar looked up at the sound of the door.
“Where’s Cheryl?” The doctor asked after glancing around.
“I sent her home. She couldn’t give us much.” He said solemnly as he fingered a small sealed plastic bag.
“I was hoping you could tell me. It was found amongst the debris at the warehouse.”
He handed over the small piece of charred evidence. Rudy intensely gazed at the 2 inch by 3 inch circuit board and Oscar’s voice barely broke through his thoughts. “Is it…….?”
Rudy swallowed the lump that suddenly lodged in his throat. “I can’t be sure.” He replied and pulled a magnifying glass from a drawer. Looking at the minute details that were not blackened he added, “It looks like a piece of bionic circuitry.” He handed is back to his boss who came stiffly to his feet.
“Did they find Kayce’s body?”
“No. They found 2 intact, badly burned males, of course neither one was Sheridan, and pieces of human remains that are, at this point, unidentified.”
“Then maybe she wasn’t there when it exploded.” Rudy offered hopefully but received a look of sadness from his friend.
Oscar reached into his pocket and handed the doctor another piece of evidence that was found. “We also found this in the rubble.”
Rudy took the simple gold wedding band that showed obvious damage from extreme heat. He turned it in his fingers to read the inscription he hoped wasn’t there.
‘Forever yours, Steve’
Oscar let out a sigh of defeat, “It may be the only thing we get back. The fire was intense.” Rudy blinked back tears thinking this could not be happening while Oscar asked a difficult question, “Could that circuitry be part of……..her?”
The doctor just nodded the affirmative trying to get control of his emotions. “But maybe she got out.” He whispered.
Oscar knew Rudy was planning on holding out for more evidence. In a calm baritone voice he hoped to help his friend come to the obvious conclusion, the only conclusion to explain the wedding ring, the bionic circuit board and her absence. “Steve said Kayce was taking the first and second floors. She would have started on the ground floor and by the time Steve was bringing Cheryl out Kayce would have been on the second floor.”
“Do we know what caused the explosion?”
Cheryl told me that she and Steve were being shot at. Some bullets hit a high voltage box and she said there were closets full of flammable and combustible tanks around the building. It’s possible a bullet struck something and it started a chain reaction.” Rudy nodded silently and took a seat.
Rubbing the exhaustion from his face the physician described what he had found. “He was incredibly lucky he landed on the car the way he did. I think it limited the severity of his injuries. He has a concussion. The 14 pieces of shrapnel I removed didn’t do too much damage. His neck and back weren’t seriously damaged but his whole body is turning black and blue. He’ll be stiff and sore for quite awhile.”
“That’s it? Nothing life threatening?”
“No, like I said he was extremely lucky.” A snicker instantly left Rudy’s mouth as he finished the sentence and he added with disgust. “I can’t believe I just said he was lucky…he lost Kayce…..” His voice trailed off as the two fell silent lost in their thoughts for several moments.
“Did you contact Cassie?” Rudy asked with his head resting on the chair
“Yes. I’ll call her again and give her an update. Is he awake?”
“No, I gave him a strong sedative so he could sleep.”
“Does he know…about Kayce?”
“I think he did when it happened but there might be some confusion when he wakes up.”
It was early evening the day after the explosion and Rudy was staring unseeing out the hospital room window. His mind was filled with several scenarios of how to inform his friend of Kayce’s death. He stood unmoving, with his back to the slumbering patient, waiting silently for the injured man to wake up. His right hand, shoved deep into his pants pocket, continued to finger the gold wedding ring.
He had just left out a heavy sigh when he heard his friend stirring. Swallowing hard he turned, walked to the bedside and waited some more, wanting Steve to wake up and not wanting him to wake up.
A soft moan escaped Steve’s lips as he attempted to reposition his stiff, aching body on the bed. Slowly the glassy eyes opened and tried to bring the surroundings into focus.
“Steve?” Rudy called out softly. “How do you feel?”
The blue eyes looked at the doctor standing over him. It took a moment to orient himself before he answered in a raspy voice. “Hey Rudy. I feel like my chute didn’t open.” He made another attempt at moving but was stopped abruptly by the pain. “How banged up am I?” He mumbled.
“Not as bad as you could’ve been being thrown out of a two story window onto the roof of a parked car.” A raised brow was the only retort to the comment. “You have a concussion with a big bump on the back of your head. No fractures, but your whole body is one big bruise. That’s why the head of your bed to raised up, to keep the pressure off your back and head. In fact, let me see how much swelling is still there.” The experienced hands gently touched the back of Steve’s head making the patient flinch, “I know your stiff but your only other comfortable option is lying on your side. I’ll have the nurses get you up and walking later. That should help. If you aren’t too unsteady on your feet I will discharge you tomorrow.”
The doctor opened Steve’s chart and began making notes. Steve stared off into the distance as he smiled. “Sounds good to me. I’ve been craving some of Kayce’s apple pie but she’s been too busy to make me one. Maybe now she’ll feel sorry for me enough to bake me one.”
Rudy stopped writing, slowly closed the medical chart and slid off his glasses. With a weight on his shoulders the doctor wondered how much his friend would remember. Steve instantly noticed the hesitant movements and the solemn expression on his friend’s face as he placed his glasses in his breast pocket.
“Something wrong Rudy?”
“Steve, how much do you remember of what happened?” Steve shrugged his shoulders slightly as he tried to recall the events leading to his injuries.
“Well,” He replied noticing the doctor was avoiding eye contact. “I remember meeting with your and Oscar about getting Cheryl out. Then Kayce and I were in a van discussing our plans….and….”
Rudy waited but Steve became silent trying to catch the fuzzy pieces of memory that seemed out of reach. Looking him straight in the eye he inquired, “Steve, what’s the last clear memory you have?” Steve closed his eyes a moment and a small grin tugged at his mouth. The vision of his pretty wife tilting her head and smiling at him came into focus.
“Kayce wanted a kiss for luck.” He smiled at the doctor who once again moved his gaze away from Steve’s. “Oh god….” Steve breathed out causing Rudy’s head to snap up in surprise. He held his breath while Steve continued. “Cheryl….we didn’t get her out did we? I’m so sorry Rudy.”
“No, no Steve. You got Cheryl out. She’s fine.”
“Thank god. I thought by the look on your face that she…..”
“Steve I have something to tell you and it’s very difficult to say.”
The younger man offered a reassuring smile. “Shoot Rudy. You’ve given me bad news before…how bad can it be? Just say it.”
“I’ve never had to tell you something like this before.” Rudy saw Steve waiting patiently for the news. “It’s about Kayce?”
“What about her?”
“When the warehouse exploded she was inside.” He paused and waited until the information sunk in. Steve stared unblinking at the brown eyes, his body going numb. Rudy saw him swallow hard before hearing the low shaky voice.
“What are you saying Rudy?”
“That Kayce…she didn’t get out.” He could see his friend overcome by stunned silence. “Kayce’s gone Steve. She was killed in the explosion.”
Gradually the blue eyes filled with tears and the words were choked out. “That can’t be Rudy…she….we….the kids…..”
The physician placed a comforting hand on his patient’s shoulder. Finally Steve got enough air into his tightening chest to speak again. “Where is she? I have to see her.” He insisted.
“We haven’t found her body Steve. I don’t know if we ever will. The OSI recovered a piece of circuitry that could only have come from your bionic arm or hers.”
“No Rudy you’re wrong. She can’t be….she can’t. I don’t believe it, not without a body!”
Rudy’s heart was breaking for Steve and for his children who would be growing up without their mother. “There’s something else.” He retrieved the ring from his pocket. “They also found this in the rubble.
Steve took it and stared at it. Tears silently began flowing down his face as he read the inscription confirming the ring belonged to his wife.
“Please… just leave me alone.” He choked out. Rudy nodded and left his friend to begin mourning the loss of his young wife.
Hearing the door shut Steve rested his head back, squeezing his eyes shut as his hand held the ring in a tightly closed fist. He sobbed uncontrollably, “No…..Kayce…….Oh god…..”
Rudy was talking with Oscar at the nurse’s desk when he saw Steve’s nurse exit his room with a breakfast tray full of untouched food. As she passed the doctor she just nodded negatively to his unanswered question.
“Come on let’s go see how he’s holding up.” Rudy suggested and led the OSI director down the hall. Upon entering they were surprised to see Steve up, a light blue robe over his hospital gown, standing by the window.
The two visitors shared a brief glance before Oscar ambled over to his recovering agent. “Hey pal, how are you doing?” He asked in a concerned tone.
A pair of sad eyes glanced at his boss before returning to the sunny view. “How do you think I’m doing?” He replied curtly, without any hint of emotion.
Oscar stood silent not knowing what to say. Finally Steve got up the courage to ask the questions that were crowding his mind. “What have they found so far?”
“Three intact bodies.” Steve head instantly swiveled in the direction of the voice with wide eyes. “Two were male and one is unrecognizable. We’ll have to wait for the autopsy.”
“But it’s not Kayce.” It was said as a statement more then a question.
”No it wasn’t Kayce.” With a hopeful nod Steve looked back out of the plane of glass. “Steve I know Rudy has already told you what we found….in regards to Kayce. The fire and explosion were intense. You need to know that may be all we get. There may not be any remains to bury.”
There was no response from the injured operative. “You did all you could Steve. You have to believe that. You were injured running into a burning building to find her.”
There was still no response so Oscar, after letting out a frustrating sigh, continued.
“I don’t think Sheridan was in the warehouse. We’ve been unable to find any leads as to where Sheridan was or is at this point. You know as well as I do he is very good at covering his trail. We may never find him if he doesn’t want to be found.”
“So you want me to just take everyone’s word for it that Kayce is…gone.”
“Steve she didn’t come out of the warehouse before you did. If she did get out after the explosion or she was hurt she would have shown up somewhere. We checked all the hospitals and police stations in the area. What we found in the warehouse…the pieces of bionic limbs….”
“Pieces?” Steve interrupted in surprise.
“Yes pieces….at least 12 pieces that Rudy has confirmed were part of her bionics, arm and legs.” Steve closed his eyes and leaned his forehead against the warm glass. “If we can’t find anything to go on in the next ten days the Secretary will make us close the case.”
Steve just silently nodded his understanding. When he looked out the window again his whole body stiffened and the two observers immediately noticed the postural changes.
“Steve, are you okay?” Rudy asked stepping closer.
“Oh god.” He said and two pairs of brown eyes followed his gaze. Cassie was walking up the sidewalk with Kyle and Stephanie.
“Steve if you want I’ll talk to them.”
”No, Rudy. I’ll do it. They should hear it from me.”
“You know it doesn’t have to be done today.”
“I know. Thanks.” He took a seat, careful not to sit back, so he could reach his children when they came in without bending over.
It was only minutes before there was a knock on the door and a very energetic five year old burst in and ran into his father’s arm. Steve held him close and swallowed the lump in his throat. When he looked up Stephanie was wiggling to be let down from Cassie’s arms crying, “Daddy!”
Cassie sat the little girl on Steve’s lap as Kyle filled him in on their activities. As the conversation hit a lull Rudy escorted Oscar and Cassie out of the room to give Steve some privacy with his children.
An hour later Rudy was surprised to find Kyle helping his father pack the few things Cassie had brought him. He had to admit Steve looked better dressed in street clothes. The doctor wondered what and how Steve had told his children about Kayce’s absence. It wasn’t long before he had his answer without even asking the question.
“Yeah?” Steve replied while concentrating on buttoning his shirt.
“Will mom be home in time for the fireworks?” The little boy asked as he entertained his little sister on the bed, protecting her from falling off. His mother had promised to take him to see the fireworks on July 4th which was only 2 weeks away.
Rudy saw his friend react to the innocent question like he had been struck. Steve grabbed the foot of the bed and took in a deep breath. “Well Dad, will she?”
“I don’t know Kyle.” The distraught father responded softly.
“Well, I see you are ready to head out.” Rudy broke in.
“Almost.” Steve replied while tucking his shirt into his jeans.
Are you planning to return to California right away?”
“No. We’ll be at the townhouse.”
“Good, I want to see you in a few days.”
“Fine.” He said as he picked up his daughter with a soft groan, his back protesting the stretch. With his free hand he grabbed for his mostly empty bag but Kyle grabbed it first. “Say goodbye to Uncle Rudy Kyle.”
“Bye Uncle Rudy.” He smiled at the physician and added confidence, “Don’t worry I’ll take good care of my Dad until my Mom comes home.”
Rudy made eye contact with Steve, seeing the tears filling the tired eyes before Steve’s eyes dropped to the floor. “I’m sure you will Kyle.”
“Bye, bye.” Stephanie giggled and Rudy couldn’t help but smile at the angelic face under the platinum blonde hair that fell to her shoulders.
“Bye, bye Stephanie.”
“See ya Rudy.” Steve, with his children in tow, headed out of the medical center. The physician watched as the small family walked to the car. Steve was carrying his daughter with his right arm and holding Kyle’s hand with his left. It was a bittersweet scene, bittersweet indeed.