Lifelines

By MacsJeep & Rocket

Episode 8.20: Part One



Phoenix Foundation Local Reserve
Nevada

MacGyver let his arms dangle over the fence loosely as he watched the wild mustangs grazing in the distance. It had been months ago now that he’d saved them from certain death at the hands of local ranchers, and every now and again he liked to come out and visit.

This time, he’d brought Sam along to meet his favorite stallion – a horse that had saved his life during a brushfire.

“Why do I get the feeling you could retire out here right now and forget L.A. even exists?” Sam teased, taking a bite out of a sandwich he’d brought along as he too watched the mustangs. “I guess they are kinda interesting. Maybe I could do an article on them sometime…” He set down the sandwich, picked up his camera and began to take a few random shots.

He lowered the camera again as one of the horses separated from the herd and walked over to them. The horse leaned over the fence and MacGyver reached out to stroke his nose.

“Hey fella.” The horse’s ears swiveled and he snorted softly. “You remember me, don’t you?” He stroked the horse’s neck and turned to Sam. “This guy saved my life. Bravest thing I ever saw.”

He’s magnificent.” Sam reached out to stroke the horse too, but the stallion snorted and stepped back. Sam hurriedly withdrew his hand. “OK, no touching!” The horse stared at him for a moment longer, then stepped forward and deftly stole his sandwich.

“Hey!” The horse stepped back out of reach, chewing. “Did you see that, Dad? He stole it! I didn’t think horses even ate cheese!”

“I guess this one does!” MacGyver laughed, watching the horse turn and saunter back to his herd. Sam sighed and picked up his camera again.

“At least I can photograph him, thief that he is!”

Mac watched Sam at work and smiled. It had been a good idea to come to Nevada for a couple of days. It was weird, but out here he felt so alive, so free from any burdens. He hated to admit it to himself, but just lately he felt like age was catching up with him. Nothing specific, just the odd headache here and the odd eye strain there. Maybe I need to get out of the Aurix Project and back into some good old fashioned field work where I can get some fresh air…

“Penny for the thoughts going through that inexplicable head of yours?” Sam had stopped taking pictures and was staring at his dad intently. “You know, you’ve been a little too serious lately?”

“It’s just the assignment Pete has me and Nikki working on,” MacGyver admitted with a sigh. He turned away from the panoramic view, leaned his back against the fence and shook his head wearily. “There’s a couple more weeks of it yet, and its all red tape and paperwork.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “It’s one big headache, literally!”

“Ah,” Sam grinned knowingly. “Paperwork was never your thing. Anything I can do to help?” He stuck in a new roll of film and clicked his Canon shut.

MacGyver winced. “Nope, it’s an external audit on an electronics company specializing in avionics. They’re doing some work for N.A.S.A., and N.A.S.A. basically wants to know they’re getting top grade circuitry after what happened to the Challenger shuttle.”

“Well at least the N.A.S.A. part sounds interesting,” Sam prodded. “Anything you can give me a scoop on?” There was a teasing grin on his face that suggested he already knew the answer.

“Not really. Not unless you want a few hundred shots of diodes, PCB’s, resistors, coils, IC’s, solder wire…”

Sam held up his hands in defeat. “Okay, I agree, it sounds boring!” The grin slowly faded from his face and he became a little more serious. “You know, speaking of work…”

MacGyver recognized the tone and the expression instantly. Sam had an assignment, and he knew his dad wasn’t going to like it. “You have a job, huh?”

“Yeah, my editor rang before we came out here.” Sam looked apologetic, but there was also a spark of excitement in his voice. “It’s overseas. I won’t be gone too long, but I kinda might be incommunicado for a few days.”

There was an awkward pause. Mac wanted to say Sam shouldn’t go. Heck, he wanted the kid to have some nice nine to five office job that never put him in peril unless the coffee machine exploded. But then, how could he ask that given his own lifestyle? Eventually, he patted Sam on the back and forced a wan smile even though his mind was screaming something else.

“Well, by the sounds of it we should both be about finished the same time. What say we do another road trip on the bikes afterwards? I know I could do with the break and fresh air, minus the plane crash this time, though.”

Sam chuckled. “Yeah, definitely minus the plane crash!” He put his camera away in his holdall and his eyes turned just a little watery. “Glad I found you dad…even if it did take awhile.”

MacGyver put his arm around Sam and squeezed just a little. “Not as glad as I am, kiddo.”

* * * *

Aurix Aeronautics
Silicon Valley
California
Sometime Later…


MacGyver peered through the special glass of the clean room, watching intently as the employees within worked meticulously on tiny, but very important PCB’s. At his side, Nikki Carpenter was almost as mesmerized. The lights were bright, and MacGyver squinted against the glare, feeling a headache starting behind his eyes.

The room was where the RCS thruster control circuits were being manufactured for the latest space shuttle, and everything had to be “surgically” clean. The area looked more like a hospital lab than a factory, with two glass walls for viewing.

The workers inside all wore white coveralls, shoe covers, white hats, masks and blue latex gloves. There was special matting on the floor to pick up any dirt or dust from people who entered, along with a special air filtration system to ensure everything was squeaky clean. Hi Tec seemed too loose a description, but the safety measures were very necessary.

“I have to say, this is pretty impressive,” Nikki offered, taking her eyes from the room to turn to Mac, arms folded in front of her.

MacGyver nodded. “Yeah, but it’s not what it looks like, remember? It’s about the whole process from goods inwards to shipping. If any one process fails to meet N.A.S.A.’s criteria…”

Nikki nodded knowingly and was about to make a comment when their guide from Aurix, Michelle Brewer reappeared from the nearby offices. She clasped her hands together and beamed just a little too pleasantly. “Everything in order?”

Mac couldn’t help but smile back. Michelle was a very pretty blonde with a figure that matched her radiant expression. That didn’t, however, detract him from his mission. “Looking good here,” he answered. “Can we have the records for quality audits done on all the components fitted to the RCS thruster controls when they entered goods inwards next please?”

Michelle raised a brow but scurried off back to the offices.

“That’s a whole lot of paperwork to sift through,” Nikki winced. “Do we really need them?”

“Well, all this cleanliness and static free environment is pretty useless if the parts weren’t up to scratch from the supplier.” Mac jerked a thumb back to the clean room. “Seeing isn’t always believing,” he pointed out.

Nikki nodded. “Yeah, and the devil is in the detail.” She looked a little sheepish. “Sorry, I’m just getting tired of the red tape side of things. I don’t know how Pete does this stuff 24/7.”

“Because he’s a saint.” Mac pinched the bridge of his nose with a sigh as Michelle returned with a huge pile of printouts. He took them with another smile. “Thanks.” Then he glanced at Nikki apologetically. “Would you mind if we headed back already? I hate to admit it but my head is splitting in two. I can take the printouts home and check them later. There’s nothing top secret about quality control figures, after all.”

Nikki patted his arm. “Be my guest, especially if it means I don’t have to dig through them all.” She let out a sigh. “To be honest, I’m tired too. Paperwork is more draining than field work. Who knew?”

Mac nodded. He knew alright. That was why he usually avoided it like the plague. He let Nikki take point out to the parking lot, dumping the computer prints on the back seat before climbing behind the wheel. Nikki hopped in beside him and stuck on her belt.

“Home, James,” she teased, patting the dash.

MacGyver felt like he should make a sarcastic comment back – it was how they worked together, but today, he just didn’t have it in him. He wasn’t just tired, he was dead beat.

Instead of talking, it took all his concentration to turn on the ignition and pull out onto the highway. His hands felt strange on the steering wheel, like they weren’t even attached to his arms. I should pull over…

Except at this point, his limbs didn’t seem to want to obey his mind anymore. He blinked and shook his head, hoping to clear it, but the movement spiked pain in his forehead and his vision blurred. He tried to tighten his grip on the wheel, but his fingers felt rubbery and indistinct. I should slow down…

“Mac? Are you OK?” He heard Nikki’s voice, but she sounded very far away.

Mac tried to press the brakes, but his foot wouldn’t budge from the accelerator. In fact, he was actually applying more gas, because his legs were now simple dead weights he couldn’t control.

“Mac? MacGyver! Talk to me! Are you Okay? MAC!”

From somewhere in the back of his aching brain, he heard Nikki scream out a warning about a bend, and then abruptly he was sleeping – dreaming about mustangs, and being finally free.

* * * *

MacGyver didn’t know how long he’d been out of it, but as his eyes opened up and struggled to focus, he realized he was in a hospital room with the window blinds closed and the lights muted.

He tried to move, noted it hurt his head far too much, and that he was hooked up to an I.V. even though he couldn’t feel any physical injuries bar his headache.

Concussion maybe?

MacGyver let his eyes close momentarily, tried to remember exactly what had happened, and when he couldn’t, he dared to reach over and press his bedside buzzer. Even that movement made him dizzy. He recalled the one time he’d gotten drunk as a Kid – the one time that had put him off alcohol for life – and even then he hadn’t been half as “out of it” as he felt now.

Footsteps down the corridor made him pause any reminiscing and he squinted painfully as the door opened and the room lights automatically brightened.

A female in a white coat entered, and before Mac could say anything introduced herself. “Ah you’re awake, welcome back Mr. MacGyver. I’m Doctor Helena Curtis, the neurosurgeon assigned to your case.”

Mac blinked, taking in the words, but it was hard to let anything sink in. “Neurosurgeon?” He frowned as if it would help. “What happened? Where’s Nikki?”

Nikki was in the car when..?

The doctor’s face said it all before she even answered. “It appears you blacked out at the wheel. There was an accident and…I’m afraid your friend…”

MacGyver felt every muscle in his body sag. He blinked up at the doctor and shook his head. Nikki couldn’t be dead! They were just talking, just griping in fact, about how the Aurix audit was hard work. He rubbed at his temple and closed his eyes.
“There must be a mistake…”

The silence stretched as MacGyver tried to piece together what had happened. He fought past the pain and the fog in his head, retracing the journey. He’d felt ill, set off in the Jeep with Nikki, and then…

…and then he’d lost control.

MacGyver’s hands bunched in the sheets and he screwed his eyes shut, the pounding in his head deafening, hot tears pricking behind his eyelids. Curtis walked closer, stuffing her hands in the pockets of her white coat. It somehow made her seem slightly intimidating when Mac finally reopened his eyes and accepted what she was saying. “I’m so sorry, she didn’t have a chance. Your Jeep careered off the highway and down a steep incline. It’s a miracle you escaped with cuts and bruises.”

Mac swallowed, fighting for control. It really wasn’t about cuts and bruises, he didn’t care what had happened to him; it was about the why this had happened. It was the usual story of everyone around him ended up dead or hurt and he walked away unscathed.

“I was tired. I should have asked Nikki to drive.” The words and tone were sharp and bitter. Right now he hated himself more than any man on earth. He clenched his jaw against the scream trying to escape and hunched forwards.

“I killed her. It’s all my fault.” MacGyver’s whisper was harsh and strained, and Dr. Curtis had to lean in close to hear him.

“It really wasn’t your fault,” Curtis was apologetic now, like she had more bad news. But that was probably because she did. “You didn’t just black out through fatigue Mr. MacGyver, it was because you’ve developed an aneurysm – from looking at your notes I’d say it was caused by a fall you took some time ago off a multi-storey car lot?”

Mac looked up at her and shook his head as if it wasn’t possible. “That was a few years ago. I’ve been fine since?”

“Sadly that’s often how these things work. You often don’t know you have one until it leaks or bursts.” Curtis was talking slower, and her eyes watched MacGyver for every reaction. “Have you had any headaches lately, blurred vision, anything like that?”

Mac ran a hand through the front of his hair and found the motion hurt. He wasn’t sure if he’d bumped his head in the crash, or if it was from the aneurysm itself. “A few headaches,” he finally admitted. “But that was just work?”

The doctor shook her head. “No it wasn’t.” Her eyes suddenly moved to the linoleum floor. “I’m afraid there’s something else…”

“Oh?” Could this really get any worse?

“We believe from the size and the position of the aneurysm that it’s inoperable. And given the headaches, the blackout and scan results we’ve just taken, we think its leaking and could burst at any time.” Curtis put a hand on Mac’s forearm. “I know this must be a shock, too much to take in even. I’ll leave you for awhile.”

MacGyver opened his mouth to tell her not to leave, but it was too dry to even make a coherent sound. In the end he just nodded and slumped back onto his pillow.

It was ironic really, how it had taken all those years for Sam to find him, and now this was going to happen. But then he always did hurt the ones he loved – that was why he’d never settled into marriage – it was too risky.

And what about Nikki?

It was too much to accept she could be gone like a candle extinguished in the night by some random breeze. She was too strong, too sassy, and too alive.

I should have died back then when I took the fall onto that car. It would have been cleaner, less messy. No Sam to upset. No Nikki to kill…

But then fate had always been cruel that way, and now the good old reaper was going to finally collect what was his.

And right at that moment, MacGyver didn’t care.

* * * *

That Night…

The ship’s horn startled MacGyver into a waking state, and he rubbed at his eyes. The nightmare of the hospital room was thankfully gone, replaced by the view from a liner’s wooden deck. He couldn’t recall why he was on a ship, but it was far better than the dream he’d been having about aneurysms and Nikki’s death.

Mac blinked and looked around him. There were passengers milling everywhere, and some of them seemed strangely familiar. He stepped closer to the safety rail and leaned over just enough to catch the name of the vessel he was on, emblazoned on a plate.

Osiris…

It took a moment for realization to dawn. This was the liner that carried souls across to the afterlife – at least that was what his mind had shown him after the fall a few years back. He’d met his mother and father here, and Grandpa Harry.

So the hospital was real? Am I dead already? Did I die in my sleep?

Sam…

Mac stumbled backwards, stunned, his mind reeling with questions.

“Mr. MacGyver, so nice to see you again!” A voice from an upper level caught his attention, and when Mac looked up he saw the captain of the Osiris peering over a rail at him. “Why did you have to go to Aurix Aeronautics Mr. MacGyver? What did you need to investigate for? There was nothing to see, and now Nikki Carpenter is dead because of you…”

The captain stepped back to reveal Nikki looking out across the horizon, back to the land they were fast leaving behind. Reality and life that they were leaving behind.

Mac backed away until his shoulders hit the stark coldness of an outer cabin wall. He tried to close his eyes to it all, but even through the darkness, his mind filled with images of the Jeep speeding off the highway at a sharp bend and tumbling wildly onto the rocks below.

The captain’s voice droned on. “Why Mr. MacGyver? Why bother with Aurix? Was it your idea? Well done! You killed a friend…”

“No!” MacGyver yelled, arms flailing out of control, until after a few seconds he realized he was back in the hospital room in the darkness. He fell back against the pillows, panting heavily as sweat dripped from his brow. His mind was hazy, and his skull felt like it was ready to explode – but then maybe it was.

After seconds turned into minutes, he eventually felt composed enough to shakily press the buzzer again. He wasn’t sure he liked Dr. Curtis, but then maybe that was because she was the bearer of bad news. Right now, though, he needed more answers, even if it meant they were from her.

It took awhile, but eventually Curtis appeared. As she entered, was that a look of annoyance on her face? It was fleeting, and MacGyver wasn’t even sure it wasn’t his imagination and fatigue filled eyes playing tricks.

“I…I think I had some kind of nightmare or…I don’t know?” MacGyver pushed up onto his elbows. “It was like…like before, when I was in the hospital with the original head injury, except everyone in the dream, vision, call it what you will, they were yelling about Aurix, about Nikki about…”

“About it being your fault?” Curtis nodded and helped him into a sitting position. “It’s the aneurysm,” she explained. “It’s causing pressure – that coupled with your subconscious reliving recent events, and you have a very heady cocktail. Maybe it would help to talk to someone about it?”

Mac cocked a brow. Seeing therapists had never been his thing. “You mean see a counselor?”

Curtis smiled, and there it was again, that little tinge of insincerity that was gone in the blink of an eye. “Something like that. It might help after all you’ve been through.”

“Is there any point?” MacGyver watched the doctor’s expression. “I mean, why bother, if I’m dying?” He sucked down a breath, wishing he wasn’t so negative. He was never negative. He should be coming up with a plan to live, all held together with a little hope and a dash of duct tape. Eventually, he let the breath back out and stared at Curtis. “Pete Thornton? My son Sam? Why aren’t they here?”

“Mr. Thornton is taking care of the audit at Aurix. It has to be complete before the next shuttle launch in just two days, apparently, but he assures me he’ll be in as soon as he can. He’s also having a top neurosurgeon flown in for a second opinion, but…”

“But you don’t expect them to come up with anything, either,” Mac finished for her, suddenly feeling the urge to tinker with something to keep his hands and mind busy, except here he didn’t even have a pen or a paperclip. “And Sam?”

Curtis winced. “I’m sorry. We’ve been trying to contact him since all of this happened, but no luck. If you have a way of contacting him..?”

He did say he’d be incommunicado for a few days on that assignment…

An emptiness suddenly hit MacGyver like he’d never felt before, not even when he was on missions behind enemy lines with no contact with the outside world. He was truly alone, no son, no friends, just the knowledge that he was dying, his final days tormented by nightmares and guilt trips. “Okay,” he gave in. “I’ll see the counselor, if nothing else it’s someone else to talk to.”

“Good!” Curtis seemed pleased, considering it was a pointless exercise, but Mac let her have the moment. He didn’t have the energy not to. “She’s actually just finishing with another patient. I’ll go see if she can fit you in today…”

The doctor vanished, her white coat swishing like a cape-wearing wraith in the night, and within five minutes, she was back with a tiny woman MacGyver could have sworn he’d seen in a Bond Movie – and not on the side of 007. She wore a very prim and proper plaid suit, and her eyes narrowed like she was scrutinizing everything.

Curtis left them to it.

“Mr. MacGyver I presume?” The little woman plopped down onto the only chair in the room and smiled far too broadly. Didn’t she know how he was feeling? Didn’t she know he maybe had days, hours even to live? “I’m Dr. Sandhurst. Dr. Curtis tells me you’ve been having nightmares. Care to tell about them?” She folded her arms in front of her and waited expectantly.

Somehow, the brusque approach worked and Mac opened up to the tiny counselor more than he ever had to anyone – even Pete. Or maybe that was just because of the drugs they had him on?

“I keep seeing Aurix – it’s a place I was doing an audit on before the accident – except in my dreams I see other people, Nikki who died in the accident, my Grandpa…and…” Mac’s voice trailed. How could he tell this woman about his brush with death before, and about the Osiris, the ship that took away the dead? He bit his lip, remaining silent.

Instead of asking him to continue, Sandhurst’s eyes narrowed. “If you’re nightmares are about Aurix, it might be significant. What were you doing there, Mr. MacGyver? Is there something about the place in your subconscious you’d feel better telling me about? Perhaps you found something there in the audit that might be triggering that part of your nightmare?”

MacGyver’s mind was too bleary, too overwhelmed by the questions. He shook his head, trying to clear it. “No, I don’t think so…it was just a whole lot of red tape…” Careful Mac, remember she doesn’t have security clearance to know what Aurix are working on…

“Red tape can be so annoying, can’t it Mr. MacGyver?” She patted his arm. “Do try to think on it. I’m sure the key to unlocking the nightmares is this project of yours…” Sandhurst rose from her seat, sniffed and headed for the door. Before closing it behind her, she looked at him pointedly. “Do call for me if you think of anything else you’d like to get off your chest.”

The door slammed as she exited, and Mac was left feeling like he’d just been examined by an alien nation under a microscope. Sandhurst hadn’t tried to help him one bit, she’d cross-examined him and then left.

This isn’t just a nightmare; it’s a waking nightmare I can’t escape from. It’s not right somehow…

There was something, something he should have noticed on the edge of his peripheral vision, but that was hiding just out of reach. MacGyver tried to concentrate, but the act seemed to just make him more tired. He attempted to fight it, but was suddenly so weighed down by some mental fog, that he once again drifted off into slumber.

It wasn’t a place he wanted to be, and yet his mind dragged him back there. He was on “the other side” again, walking down the deck of the liner of death. He could feel the timbers beneath his sneakers, and smell the salty ocean air.

“MacGyver!” The way his name was spoken sounded like a taunt, and he couldn’t resist whirling around, even though he knew who was heckling.

It was the ship’s captain again, and he was shaking his head like he was scolding a naughty child. “Mr. MacGyver, you know you really shouldn’t have left last time. Your place was here all along, on the trip with Harry.”

MacGyver shook his head. This wasn’t real, it was a dream, and all he had to do was wake up and it would be over, wouldn’t it? Except part of him believed it. Were his mom and dad here to greet him this time?

“Tut tut, who will look after Sam now that you’re going to die?” The captain continued his tirade, and two crewmen had joined him, there stance suggesting they wouldn’t allow MacGyver to try and leave without a fight. “Was Aurix and what you found there really that important? Just what did you find there, Mr. MacGyver? Why were you even looking? Who was it at N.A.S.A. that put in the request? You see, it’s all their fault don’t you?”

MacGyver turned away, cradling his head in his hands, the pain in his skull was so intense. His brain felt like it was ready to melt down and his vision was so blurred he saw three of everything. Could you actually feel like that on the other side?

“You’re not giving up on me again, are you, Bud?” The words were scolding again, but this time there was a tinge of affection too, and Mac could have recognized the gruff voice anywhere. It was Harry.

MacGyver pulled his hands away from his head and dared to open his eyes.

Harry was looking back at him, and he looked angry. “You shouldn’t be here, not then, not now. I told you before, it’s not your time. Now go get back where you belong and sort out this mess, Bud, before I have to take my boot to your behind and kick ya there!”

Mac smiled wanly. Somehow, the ticking off from Harry had made him feel better – stronger, and his head was clearing too. Maybe he could fight this, maybe…

“You shouldn’t be here, not then, not now. I told you it’s not your time…”

Harry’s voice repeated the words over and over, fading slowly until he was gone, and the Osiris and her crew along with him.

MacGyver blinked and noted he was staring at the ceiling of his hospital room in the darkness, and he was panting. What the heck just happened? His mind wanted answers, and for once, his body seemed willing enough to want to help him find them. From somewhere, he pulled the strength to roll over, mindful of the needle in his hand and the line snaking up to the drip stand. He felt for the tube, but couldn’t find it.

And then it hit him – he’d been writhing in his sleep so much he’d somehow pulled the I.V. from the back of his hand. How long had it been out? And more to the point wasn’t it meant to make him feel better? So why did he actually feel more alert, now it was out?

Mac pushed up onto his elbows and tested his body. His head ached, but it was a duller pain, and he was still groggy, but somehow he felt different. He pushed up further, swinging his body onto the edge of the bed. Dare he try to stand?

He let his feet slide to the floor and was surprised how cold it was to his flesh. He shivered, and then realized he was standing without any assistance. There were slippers by the bedside chair, and instinctively he slid them on. Barefoot was never good in an unknown situation, and this was fast becoming just that.

This isn’t right…

And what about Pete?

I don’t care about how important the Aurix thing is, he would have been here for me!

MacGyver stumbled to the cupboard across from his bed, using the wall for support until the feeling of Jell-O in his legs abated. Gently teasing open the door with shaking hands, he expected his personal things, clothes at least, but there was nothing. Great, stuck in a hospital gown and slippers. Not my day, or night, whichever it is!

Being in a gown didn’t mean he had to be stuck in the room, though. He wanted details now that his mind was clear of the chemical induced fog. What hospital was this anyway? Who were these people?

He stumbled to the door and gripped the chrome knob, twisting with what little strength he had, but it was locked. What kind of hospital locked patients in, apart from mental facilities? What if there was an emergency?

Okay, so what about the window, there are always alternatives…

Mac turned himself around and again used the walls to navigate the room. With each step, though, he was feeling better and his headache was clearing. That shouldn’t be happening with an aneurysm, now should it?

The blinds on the window were closed – in fact, now that he thought about it; they had been since his arrival. Originally he’d thought it was to help with the headaches he’d been suffering from, but was that really the reason?

Mac clumsily pulled the cord to open the blind, but what he found wasn’t what he’d been expecting, and it certainly wasn’t a view of L.A.

The window had been carefully boarded over from the outside.

And there was no hospital in the world that did that.


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