With the aid of science, in 1941, Steve Rogers became the fighting embodiment of freedom and the symbol of a nation, he became Captain America....
By Brian Kilby
A Lifetime Lost, Part One: Past Tense.
It's been a long time coming...
Before he was Captain America. Before he was the fighting symbol of a nation, the unyielding, undying
Sentinel of Liberty....
He was a boy.
He was a frail, young boy named Steve Rogers, born on the Fourth of July, 1917.
Frozen before the end of World War Two and revived decades later, he is a man out of time, with nothing but memories to tie him to the past that he so dearly loved.
Nothing, that is, but one item. It's been dancing back and forth in his mind for the past few days. In his sleep; in his dreams; just slightly out of reach....
The pocket watch.*
[*See last issue-BK]
It was his father's, but more than an heirloom, it was his only link to the man he never knew. Upon its surface is inscribed an affirmation of faith and within its scratches have flowed the countless tears of loneliness and incertitude.
This night, Steve comes to a decision. He is going to retrieve that pocket watch. For years upon years, he's sacrificed everything; his relationships, given up friends, lovers, and personal gain. He's given it all and more for his country, for freedom and has asked nothing in return. Until now.....
The New York Apartment of Steve Rogers, Four a.m.
Another restless night, Steve thinks. He wakes up again as he often does; reaching out into the darkness, trying to capture the object of his desire but it's just outside of reach. Tonight he's not dreaming of Sharon Carter. He dreams of the pocket watch and his friends of sixty years past. He dreams of pretty girls and nickel matinees, of creme sodas and the Brooklyn Dodgers. He dreams of things past; Things lost; Things sacrificed.
Sometimes you can go back home again.
It's four a.m. but that doesn't matter. Right now, nothing else does.
By a quarter after, Steve is in gear and on his motorcycle, in the brisk New York morning air. It's Winter time, he should be freezing but he's not. He's off in another world, lost in his thoughts. To him it's Spring, 1938 and he's at home with his friends. The sun is on his back and a warm breeze excites the hairs of his neck. Steve is carried away as he relives his favorite dream.
Unbeknownst to Steve, he'll soon be reliving his worst nightmare.
Avengers Mansion. 6:00 a.m.
Taking comfort in his thoughts, Steve walks into the mansion. Little is on his mind other than the Quinjet, the trip to Virginia and his treasured past.
From the darkness, a familiar voice asks, "Steve, how are you doing?"
Like a thousand panes of glass, Steve's dream world is shattered. "What? Hank--?"
Cheerfully--especially for the time of the day, he replies: "Yeah. It's me...I hope I'm bothering you." Henry Pym, the Giant Man: Former Avenger and friend. He's now a scientist in the private sector, he does brilliant work in the areas of bio-physics and bio-chemistry.
"What are you doing here this early, Hank?"
He laughs his usual uncomfortable laugh. "I was about to ask you the same thing. I needed a case file from one of our old exploits. I had an interesting theory about mutant genes and how they utilize energy. If it's okay, I'll need to hang around the mansion today doing research."
"That's fine, fine. Knock yourself out."
"Thanks, Steve. Oh, what are you up to, if I may ask?"
"I'm borrowing a Quinjet and heading down to Virginia to pick up something that I left there a while back."
"Oh really? Hm...interesting. If you don't mind me, Steve, I'm gonna head upstairs to do some digging. I'll catch you later."
"No problem, Hank. I'll be back by night."
Northern Virginia. 7:30 a.m., outside of an abandoned boarding house.
The ride from New York took the same time as it always does but for Steve Rogers, a man who should know patience well, the shortest trip seemed like the longest voyage.
Steve stands outside the building where Operation Rebirth took place, it's facade is cold and dead...a far cry from the early 40's. Then it was a place of excitement, of hard work, of study and, occasionally, of clenched fists. It was alive then....it was a home. Now it's only a home to rats.
The front door is boarded up, Steve removes his trusty shield from his back. The nail scream and the boards moan as they are torn apart.
The door is open. Why not walk in?
"I don't know about this," Steve says. "Something seems wrong." It's not the premonition of danger, it's a reminder of his own mortality...or rather, it's a reminder of how he cheated it.
He walks in. The early morning sun floods into the door, lighting the stairwell that leads to the second floor. Steve pictures the early days, while he was training...before Rebirth...before he was 'born again.' He hears laughter, he hears himself, reciting The Constitution, The Declaration of Independence...he hears the sound of study, of joy, of pain. He smells the smells of times past but it’s all in his mind. It’s all in the past. The smell of mildew and moisture that now fills the building brings Steve back to present and reminds him of his task. He walks the rickety stairs, removing cobwebs from his path as he goes.
Second Floor, Steve's Room.
He takes out his flashlight and looks around. The room is dusty and panels from the decrepit ceiling have fallen to the floor. Other than the nest of a few birds, the room is empty. No bed, no chest of drawers...no pocket watch.
Steve's waited too long and traveled too far to be denied now. He searches every room but he gets the same results; Nothing.
"Nothing." The word rings through his mind but it never crosses his lips. The unyielding, undying Sentinel of Liberty is not so easily swayed.
"I should have went through official channels to begin with."
The Pentagon. 10:30 a.m. The office of Leonard Watkins, Three Star General.
"I thank you for seeing me, General Watkins."
"Much obliged, Captain. May I speak frankly?"
"Of course, sir."
"I'm a real big fan of yours, I have been since I was a kid...would it be possible for me to have your autograph?"
"Make it out to Lenny, would you please?"
The General produces a pen and his office's official letterhead. "I apologize for asking but, as I said, I've been a fan since I was a wee boy. You only live once, you know?"
Steve signs the paper. "Most of us, anyway.... General, let me get down to business. I have the clearance to handle level four government materials...."
"Yes, you're privy to information that the President himself isn't allowed to see."
"Yes...I was wondering if my privilege could be expanded?"
"You see, I want to retrieve an item that I left behind during Project Rebirth. You're aware of Rebirth, yes?"
"Most of it, yes. What kind of item?"
"My father's pocket watch. I left it behind after the security of the project was compromised."
The General takes a deep breath and pauses to think. "While I don't have the power to officially grant you this request...you are Captain America after all...I don't see why you can't."
Steve stands up. "Thank you sir."
"No, thank you for our freedom." The General salutes Cap and smiles. "And thanks for the autograph."
Steve nods. "Where can I pick up the watch, sir?"
"One of our boys will take you back to the lower storage area and you can retrieve it there...it may take some digging."
Steve salutes the General and leaves his office...smiling.
Lower Storage. 11:15 a.m.
"You say that the watch is from 1941 and part of project...." The staff sergeant pauses and looks at his notepad. "Project Rebirth?"
Steve looks around at the massive expanse of crates. It's here; An underground bunker that stretches as far as the eye can see...in every direction. The pocket watch...Steve can feel it in his bones. "Correct, soldier." It’s here.
The soldier looks at a layout of the storage facility. "Well, sir, I believe that would be located in aisle double-R-eleven. Hm...within walking distance." The young soldier points to the west, "In this direction, sir."
Steve knows it. He feels it. Beyond that, he feels something...something dangerous...something...familiar.
"This is...odd, sir." The soldier looks at the place where the watch should be. "It should be here, at this spot."
Steve looks at a barren shelf. "It's here."
"Son, what's in the vault over there?"
The soldier looks on his map. "WW2 case-files and materials. It could be in there...I suppose."
The two walk to a huge vault. It looks like a bank vault but it's much, much larger.
The soldier pauses for a moment. "I think I remember the combination."
"The vault was moved to the Pentagon years ago, it was originally hidden decades ago in a secure location. It held secure documents and designs that we didn't want the Nazis to their mitts on. I've never needed to use the combination." The soldier pauses for a moment and thinks. "Oh, yeah! Pearl Harbor!"
The staff sergeant uses the appropriate combination, 12-7-41, and the large mechanism inside rumbles. The door creaks open.
"No electricity." The soldier pulls out his flashlight. "Let's find your watch."
Inside it's like a Captain America scrapbook. Pictures, documents, names, dates...almost everything in the vault is dedicated to or part of Rebirth.
Almost everything.... Steve finds something that is highly disturbing.
"A cosmic cube...?"
Steve lays his sight on a non-functioning cube. He looks over a few documents pertaining to the six-sided box. It's highly technical but Steve understands...they never figured out the power source. He reaches to the cube, he feels the need to put his hands on it...it's...it's calling him!
Carefully, he lifts the cube. Startled, excited and frightened he whispers: "It's glowing!?" Softly it does...or so it seems.
Startled, he drops the cube. "What is it, soldier?"
"I found it!"
Steve hesitates, he looks over his shoulder to the seemingly non-functional cube below. He ignores it. "I'm just edgy," he thinks. "I'll get some sleep tonight. That’s all...it was the flashlight. Get over it." His mind rejoins the moment at hand. "What...? You found it!?" He runs to the young soldier.
"Yes sir!" Smiling, he hands the pocket watch to the uncharacteristically anxious Captain America.
The first thing he does is look for the inscription. 'Make us proud.' "It's there!" He laughs. "It's there!" He takes off his gloves to feel it against his skin. He takes his eyes off the watch and looks at the soldier. "Thank you."
The soldier smiles. "Wow, Captain America is thanking' me! No problem, sir. None at all. I was glad to do it. He thanked me! Wait’ll I tell the guys...."
New York City, Avengers Mansion, Two p.m.
The return trip home was short, seemingly non-existent. It's almost like Steve stepped out of the Pentagon and into Avengers Mansion. He's happy. Happier than he's been in years. He's on top of the world...if a bit a tired.
"I should call it a day," Steve thinks. "I'll be fresh tomorrow, if I get some sleep." He yawns. "It's only two. I suppose that I can get that sleep later."
Steve walks upstairs to the former lab of Henry Pym, the Giant Man. "Hank, are you still here?"
He receives the obligatory "Uh-huh."
Steve looks around to find Hank working on a computer. "Busy, Hank?"
"Oh, no. Did you find what you were looking for?"
Steve holds up the watch, victoriously. "Yeah. It feels good to have it back."
"When did you leave it again?"
"Oh. I know that was a rough time for you...for everyone."
"Yes but it was a rewarding time as well."
Hank nods and smiles...almost as if he's humoring Steve.
"I can see that I'm bothering, Hank. I'll let you finish your work."
"No, you're not bothering. Not at all. In fact, I was about to take a break. Turn on the television, would you?"
"Sure, is CNN okay?"
"That's fine, Steve."
Steve picks up the remote control and turns it on. "Odd...."
"There's a press conference...something about Great Britain."
"Take a listen for yourself." Steve turns up the volume. "It's a press conference originating from London. Great Britain’s Prime minister is addressing his country...in German...."
"Steve...what's so odd about that?"
"Hank, the last time I checked, England's official language was English!"
Hank Pym shakes his head, "Steve we've been through this before."
"You're gonna make me say it aren't you? I hate to remind you Steve, but you lost. You really need to put it behind you."
"The war, Steve. World War Two. You lost the war!"
To be continued.