For the second time that day what Jars heard took him by complete surprise. “What do you mean you were there?” The question echoed in his own ears. Try as he might, there wasn’t even the hint of a memory of Nikki lodged in his brain prior to their meeting in Cooperstown. Had he passed her somewhere on the hospital grounds? No, that couldn’t be it. Nikki had said that she knew he had undergone a pacemaker implant procedure. Her words had been specific.
“You were there, weren’t you? You were part of the surgical team.”
The pieces began falling into place. Nikki had already told him that she was a surgical nurse. Against all odds their paths had again crossed, this time several hundred miles from the operating room where they had initially met—or where Nikki at least had first laid eyes on him. For his part, the various members of the surgical team had been a blur. He’d been aware of others besides the surgeon and anesthesiologist in the room but only as shadows, faint images moving about.
“Wow,” he muttered. “Who would ever have thought that—”
“That we would be in a helicopter together winging our way from upstate New York back to Charlottesville a mere four days later?” Nikki’s brown eyes took in the plush cabin with amazement. “Certainly not me! But am I totally surprised? No, not really.” The brown eyes morphed into twin almonds shimmering with mirth. “Father has a way of leaving his distinctive mark on matters he wants us to give our utmost attention to.”
“Father?” Jars wasn’t making the connection.
“Yes, Father. The God who is both my Father… and your Father.”
Jars would have quickly dismissed such words from anyone else as sentimental foolishness or a excuse weak-minded people gravitated to whenever something struck them as not easily explained. But the woman sitting across from him, although full of warmth and kindness, wasn’t the sappy sentiment type. And she was certainly far from weak-minded! In fact, it was partly her keen mind that had captured his interest. Nikki’s intellect, coupled with her gentle kindness, radiated out of a quirky personality that was very much alive… and was proving increasingly irresistible. And hadn’t she been reading a Bible when they’d connected for breakfast? Some sort of paraphrased translation of the New Testament? He’d passed it off at the time without much thought. But here Nikki was talking about God as if she actually knew him.
For her part, Nikki was feeling more relaxed with each passing minute. Sure she was heading back for a consult with her doctor that hinted of bad news. But whatever the news, God’s moment-by-moment presence was all around and within her, filling her with warm assurance. Not of any outcome she might concoct in her own mind but in something that would far surpass anything she could ever imagine. That it might include doing away with her cancer once and for all was something she hoped for… but not something she either demanded or counted on as some sort of proof of God’s power or love. He’d proved both in sending Jesus into the world to do away with all that was wrong in the universe—including the wrong inside her own heart. God was her Father and could make her into the woman he had in mind by whatever means he chose. Somehow, her battle with cancer was connected with the man across from her whose puzzled expression rendered him silent.
Nikki leaned forward, taking Jars’ hands in her own. “So tell me, what does a man as obviously healthy as you are need with a pacemaker?
The impact of her touch kept Nikki’s question from immediately registering. Her fingers were long and slender yet he could sense the strength and purpose that ran through their sinews and veins, guiding them towards the ends she purposed for them. If, at the moment, those ends included comforting him and bringing the two of them into closer connection with each other then her hands were succeeding. Her touch brought with it both comfort and a sense of longing mingled with hope. A longing to know her… and a hope that time would be given to him to do so. That time was something that was given, like a gift, was a novel thought for Jars.
“And what does RRNTBV1 mean? We saw it etched into the device we implanted in your chest,” she explained.
“Russian Roulette Nano-Technology Bullet Version One.” The words tumbled out of Jars’ mouth softly but distinctly, as if he were afraid of mishandling them and giving them a reason to change their mind about the mercy they had shown him thus far. Mercy he now disparately wanted more of.
“Sounds rather ominous for a pacemaker.”
The look on Jars’ face struck Nikki as a mix of sadness and regret. She had seen a similar look on the face of her dad as the life of his cherished companion, an aging German Shepherd named Oscar, slowly ebbed away leaving her father with only the memories of their exploits together as comforting ghosts.
“It sure is.” Jars let out a sigh. “It seemed a bit humorous and clever at the time but now…” His words trailed off lamely.
Jars spent the better part of their flight filling Nikki in on his life-and-death experiment, answering her barrage of questions as best he could, his rationale sounding madder than ever even to his own ears. Yet hadn’t it taken just such a desperate act of foolishness to get him to where he was now? The cure had worked—life had indeed taken on new meaning for Jars—but the patient was poised to die from that very cure!
“Without the device in my chest I wouldn’t have met you Nikki,” Jars said. “That alone has been worth whatever comes.”
“But from what you’ve told me, what comes is… your death.” The last words escaped from Nikki’s quivering lips as a whisper. She had listened to the fantastic tale with horror. From her own experience she understood the depth of despair that could drive someone to such extremes. Jars had pursued the god of science all his life only to find it hollow and lifeless, devoid of the very thing he needed most but hadn’t recognized: Love. And now the first wisps of that blessed life-infusing Spirit were finding their way into him, having backed him into a corner where there was no escape. Only life and death. Both wanted him.
Nikki was deeply troubled by Jars’ story and terrified by the prospect of what the next morning might bring. But she had to admit that God had turned what the enemy of Jars’ soul had meant for death into the spark of new life she was witnessing. That there was such an enemy that sought Jars’ harm she had no doubt.
Her thoughts were interrupted by Rory’s voice coming over the intercom. “Twenty klicks out.”
“What does that mean?” Nikki asked. “Are we running out of fuel?”
“No, we don’t have much left in the tank after a flight like this but we’re fine. Rory is ex-Navy and in the habit of using military lingo. A ‘klick’ is a kilometer. We’re about twelve miles out from the hospital.
“Look, I know I’ve just dropped a bombshell on you. But, for now, we need to focus on you. That’s what we’re here for. Promise me that for the next four hours you’ll put what we talked about out of your mind.”
Jars’ pleading captured Nikki’s heart. Here was a man whose every heartbeat was becoming more precious to him with each passing breath. Yet what was most important to him at the moment was her.
Sten hung up the phone and shook his head trying to put together pieces that seemed to belong to separate puzzles. From what Rory had told him, Jars was now on his way to Virginia. And with a female companion. One Nicole Clark. Jars had asked him to arrange to set down at the UV Medical Center in Charlottesville. When Sten had asked if either of the two appeared ill or injured Rory had replied that the boss looked anxious. Jars had introduced Nikki as a surgical nurse who needed to get back to the hospital as quickly as possible and that was that. Rory had closed the privacy door between the cockpit and cabin, fired up the twin Pratt & Whitney’s, and headed south.
Maybe using Nikki as an excuse was Jars’ way of keeping Rory in the dark about his own condition Sten mused. She’d make a great decoy.
It was pure accident that Sten had even learned of the flight. As his power of attorney and overseer of Synapzius on Jars’ behalf, Sten had thought it prudent to keep a watchful eye on things without coming right out and letting executive staff in on Jars’ medical emergency. After all, who knew? Doctors had been wrong before and it seemed to make sense to Sten to just sit tight, take things a day at a time, and keep a lid on the whole affair for a few days. He had access to the Synapzius corporate calendar and, as part of ongoing operational procedure, Rory logged every request and confirmed flight. Jars’ request had stood out like a sore thumb demanding Sten’s attention. After a fresh cup of coffee from the Breville, Sten had gotten hold of Rory who filled him in on the details. But he’d only done so after Sten had insisted that it was an emergency and had texted him an image of the POA Jars had signed giving him unlimited authority. Rory was well aware of the deep friendship between the two men and, being familiar with covert operations, decided that his part in serving Jars was to trust his gut and pass along any information Sten felt important.
Sten leaned back in his chair. The way he figured it, the folks at Synapzius could get along for a few more days without his stirring the waters. Katie was a different story.
Doctor Audrey Meyers was as good as her word and had cleared her late afternoon schedule in anticipation of Nikki’s arrival. What she hadn’t expected was a personal call from Sue Barrows advising that the pad used for the hospital’s Pegasus helicopter was going to receive her patient, Nikki Clark, aboard the private helicopter of a major contributor to the institution. With Sue’s urging, Audrey had sent her staff home early citing a desire to meet with Nikki alone without mentioning the man who stood before her now, hand outstretched in greeting in response to Nikki’s introduction.
Being a pulmonologist brought you into close contact with cardiologists as the two specialists often crossed paths given the tendency of lung problems to cause heart mischief as well. And in the world of hearts and technology Jarius Mason and Synapzius were rising stars. A portion of Audrey’s retirement portfolio included investments in biotechnology and she had been keeping an eye on Synapzius for a while now waiting for an opportunity to invest. Now here she was shaking hands with the very man with whom the whole medical community seemed enthralled. She couldn’t wait to hear how the man had come to deliver Nikki back from her vacation. But any explanation would have to wait. There was more serious business at hand.
Invited to make himself comfortable in the waiting area, Nikki had asked that Mr. Mason stay with her during the consultation. “I’ll explain later, Audrey. But for now, I’d like Jars to hear everything you have to say.”
The look in Nikki’s eyes, together with the use of his nickname sent the right signals. “Okay then,” Dr. Myers replied. “Let’s all go into my office and talk.” She ushered them into a room that looked like the misplaced abode of a country physician. It was totally out of character with anything Jars’ mind conjured up in connection with a doctor’s office.
Audrey smiled with satisfaction. “I’ve always felt it important to relate to my patients as one human being to another. This room,” she said with a gesture, “is meant to reinforce that connection. The last thing someone needs who is struggling with their health is a sense of distance between themselves and those seeking to help them.
“I won’t deny,” the doctor went on, gesturing towards two comfortable looking chairs while taking one just opposite, “that it’s a surprise to find the founder of Synapzius accompanying my favorite patient. But Nikki has a good mind and is a good judge of character.” She looked directly at Jars. “So if she’s included you in the matter of her personal health she must have good reason.”
Their conversation continued over the course of the next hour. And, as Nikki had feared, brought with it the unwelcome news that the cancer had roused itself out of dormancy and was once again on the prowl. Options at this point were limited, with surgery being the traditional response suggesting the removal of her left lung as both of the two lobes were affected. Serious stuff that carried with it a five year survival rate of about fifty percent.
“John Wayne did better than that,” Nikki joked half-heartedly. “The Duke went another fifteen years without a left lung.”
Yeah, until stomach cancer took him down Jars muttered to himself.
“Are there any other options available?” Jars probed.
“Yes,” Audrey replied. “Targeted therapy. A treatment that targets the cancer’s gene’s, protein’s, or the environment that keeps it alive.”
“What do you mean by the ‘environment’?”
“The surrounding tissue that serves as the cancer’s food source.”
“So,” Nikki interjected, “are you saying that with targeted therapy there’s a chance of killing the cancer cells without me losing a lung? Sounds like a no-brainer!”
Audrey gave her a wry smile. “I wish it were as easy as it sounds, Nikki. Targeted therapy is an evolving science that shows promise but is in its infancy. Several of the drugs used are only available in clinical trials. And the approach is complicated and not always effective,” she warned.
“How so?” Jars’ mind was in high gear.
“The cancer in the target cell may not turn out to be as important as first thought and so the treatment proves ineffective,” Audrey explained. “It’s a guessing game that depends on rightly interpreting test results, finding the right drug to do the job—if there is one—and hoping for the best.”