Excerpt from Prologue of Reaching for Nuadha: A Biomechanical Breakthrough in the New Era of Stark Tech , James B. Barnes, 2017
At the trial, the eyewitness took the stand, obviously still shaken from what she had seen that fateful day. I hadn’t fully grasped how close death had been to me until I listened to her testimony. I began to picture the grisly tableau that was laid out on that Brooklyn street corner:
My body, limp in the street, one foot at a very wrong angle, one arm pinned beneath the taxi’s front tire. In my right hand, an opened paper bag, perfectly ripe plums rolling away from me toward the bystanders.
All I’d wanted that day was some fresh produce to take along on my walk, but I never made it to Prospect Park. I’d barely made it a block away from my apartment and the farmers’ market when the accident happened. I awoke in the hospital later that day, but I barely remember that, let alone the three days following. Following the driver’s trial, I interviewed eyewitnesses and my sister to piece together what happened.
We’ve all heard it a million times: one moment can change your entire life. This book isn’t an account of that moment. I’ll discuss it, but this is a book about the change. About the wonders of technology and modern medicine. This book is about the life, anew.
A sign in the school colors of crimson and white sits on an easel outside the Commons Room, reading “Welcome Faculty!” with the Shield College logo. As Bucky comes down the hall, he pushes his glasses up his nose and takes a deep breath to steady his nerves. A woman with strawberry blonde hair pauses next to the display and slides the sign back and forth, assessing whether it is centered correctly. She’s frowning, hands on her hips, mumbling something incoherent.
“Sorry?” Bucky asks as he shuffles up behind her.
“Oh! No, no. Goodness, I need to stop thinking aloud. It has nothing to do with you. I just think the font is off. Or unbalanced. Does this look right to you?” The woman shifts her weight from side to side.
Bucky laughs softly, smiling his most disarming smile. “I’m no design expert, I’m afraid. I’m just looking for the reception in the Commons Room, and from the looks of it,” he points to the card, “this must be the place.”
The woman studies his face, then looks him up and down. “Yes! Yes, of course.” She extends her right hand to shake his. “I’m the assistant to the provost, Pepper Potts. You look familiar.”
Bucky likes her solid handshake. “James Barnes. I think you were in my classroom demonstration.”
“Scientific journalism and technical writing! Now I remember,” Pepper smiles proudly. “I knew very little about the subject but you made it so accessible. You are going to provide new depth to our English and Writing department. I’m happy to see you again.”
Bucky feels a slight blush crawling up his neck. It’s been too long since he’s had friendly colleagues and new people to meet face-to-face. The realization of having to meet and recall new faces causes his mouth to dry. He hopes this reception has refreshments at the beginning of the event because he needs a bottle of water. He feels a tingle in his left hand--Bucky chalks that up to nerves as well, even though there are literally no nerves in his prosthetic. He silently reminds himself to shake hands on the right as much as possible.
Bucky claims a chair and sets his bag in it, then travels to the snack table. He picks up a bottled water, which he slips into the pocket of his leather jacket, and then selects an oatmeal raisin cookie as a snack. He assesses the room as he moves to find a seat. As he people-watches to pass the time, he notices a tall, thinner man with short dark hair and gray sideburns who is animatedly conversing with a round-faced, smiling Asian man. The tall man’s hands move fluidly through the air, and Bucky has to wonder what he teaches with such confidence and flair. Theater? Dance?
“Mind if I join you?” a confident, deep voice asks from behind Bucky’s shoulder.
“Sure,” he agrees, gesturing at the empty seats around him at the circular table.
A broad-shouldered, smiling black man in a polo shirt with an embroidered Shield College logo sits down on Bucky’s left side. He exudes friendly warmth. “Sam Wilson, engineering department.” He reaches out with his right hand, much to Bucky’s relief. “You a new kid?”
Bucky smiles and shakes Sam’s hand. “James Barnes. I’m the assistant professor in technical and scientific writing. At least I think that’s my title? I’ve been a journalist, but I’ve got a broad skill set.” Somewhere under the shoulder of his leather jacket, Bucky’s left arm clicks gently, cycling a nervous motion.
“Yes!” Sam flashes a bright grin and pumps his fist victoriously. “I heard we were getting somebody for that. I gotta get the kids on board with their tech documentation this year. Maybe you can help out.”
“I’m here to do my best,” Bucky replies. “They aren’t letting me teach the science stuff right off the bat, but at least I’m here.”
“More time for planning,” Sam nods. “I’ve only been working here about two years, but yeah, year one semester one was leading a lot of basics. They’re good kids here. I think you’re gonna like it.”
Sam’s enthusiasm is contagious, and Bucky is happy to meet someone who seems close to his own age. His past experience with university positions included other young adjuncts who only taught maybe once a week. It’s been hard to make connections in academia. As Bucky contemplates his past, he realizes that in journalism, he never had that many friends either. If Sam is this kind all the time, Bucky’s already one-up on any previous friend-making work he’s ever done.
As Bucky and Sam nibble on cookies and make small talk, another man comes to sit across from them at their table. He’s about their age as well, dressed in khakis and a tucked-in Shield College t-shirt, a white logo on deep red. He’s a little underdressed compared to Sam’s polo shirt-khakis-loafers outfit and Bucky’s hipster look. Bucky adjusts his glasses and leans closer to Sam. “You know that guy?” He points, keeping his hand where only Sam can see.
“Think his name is Doctor Rogers?” Sam guesses. “He’s some dude from the art department. I’m surprised he’s not covered in paint. That’s how he usually shows up to faculty luncheons.”
“So he’s a mess?” Bucky raises an eyebrow. Doctor Rogers, if that’s him, seems to be staring a hundred yards away.
“Who knows?” Sam shrugs. “I’m not much of the pretentious artsy type. Maybe that’s normal.” He giggles and his face lights up, mischievous. Bucky is struck by Sam’s impeccable cheekbones, thinking, wow, that’s a handsome face. Sam makes a point of looking Bucky up and down deliberately. “Hm. Leather jacket, black rimmed glasses, combat boots--you look like you might be a little pretentious too, James Barnes. Does he look normal to you?”
Bucky hears a faint metallic ping in his left forearm, but he recognizes Sam’s gentle teasing as a ribbing between friends. He huffs out a laugh at Sam. “I couldn’t tell you. Pretty sure we’re not shopping at the same stores, though.”
Dr. Rogers pulls out his phone, appearing to scroll through something. Then, the big blonde goes back to staring blankly into the distance. He sneezes. Bucky and Sam say “bless you” in chorus, but Dr. Rogers doesn’t turn or say thank you.
Someone calls the meeting to attention. Sam pulls a tablet from his messenger bag and starts tapping out some notes. Bucky looks across the table one more time, but Dr. Rogers has already started scribbling in a notebook and doesn’t look up at all.
The meeting seems like standard orientation business--where to find resources on campus, where each building is located, what times courses are taking place. It’s all important information to know, but very dry. Bucky is happy he snagged that cookie. Then there are acknowledgements of some of the incumbent faculty’s achievements over the summer: fellowships granted, research conducted, even babies born. The room coos over presentation slides with bundles of joy and applauds a few awards given.
“And of course, we’d like to extend a special, brand new congratulations today, to Dr. Steven Grant Rogers!” the Provost, Peggy Carter, announces to more applause in the room. “Dr. Rogers, of the fine arts department, is the youngest professor to be granted tenure here at Shield College. He has brought such energy and renewed enthusiasm into the arts here, and we are so glad have him aboard. We cannot wait to see what he does next, and where the department will go with him as such an integral component.”
The blonde across the table flashes a megawatt smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes. His teeth are perfect and bright white. He stands and extends a polite wave to the room.
That’s him all right, Sam mouths to Bucky after gingerly toeing his ankle to get his attention. Bucky can’t believe his eyes. He knows better than to judge anyone on outward appearances, but he surveys Dr. Rogers’ broad shoulders and gun-show-worthy biceps. Nothing about him screams artist. Dr. Rogers is built like a jock--maybe he coaches lacrosse when he’s not teaching? Maybe he’s a body-builder on the weekends.
There are only a couple of feet between Dr. Rogers, Bucky, and Sam, yet Rogers hasn’t looked at either of them once. He’s spent this meeting watching the Provost, looking into the abyss of his coffee cup, or focused down where he seems to be sketching in his notebook. When the Provost acknowledges each new faculty member by name, and has them stand up, Rogers barely acknowledges any activity beyond himself.
“We have Dr. James Barnes joining the English department this semester, helping to develop our writing program so it can grow in terms of scientific and technical writing. We’re thrilled to have him, and we hope he brings some of his award-winning journalistic knowledge to the table for our students and school as well. Welcome, James!”
Bucky stands at his seat for a few seconds, just so the room can get a look. When the applause breaks out, Sam gives Bucky a thumbs up and a warm smile, while Dr. Steven Grant Rogers nods without looking at Bucky, or anyone else, in particular.
As the presentation ends, everyone in the room is encouraged to mingle and meet their colleagues. Bucky wastes no time in turning to Sam. “What do you think the deal is with that big lunk?”
“Doctor Art Jock?” Sam responds in a whisper. “I still bet he’s pretentious as hell, but that body? My god, maybe I need to make friends so I can get his workout routine.”
“Never would have guessed by looking that he makes art. Looks like he should be pushing protein shakes on Instagram.” Bucky makes Sam chuckle by lifting his empty water bottle like it’s a heavy weight.
“Do you even lift, Doc?” Sam snarks. Both men watch Dr. Rogers as he rises, disregarding them entirely. Rogers turns and talks to several people who come over to greet him. Sam whispers to Bucky again. “So, wait, this art jock will talk to every gray-haired prof in here but ignores these two perfectly nice, attractive young dudes at his own table? We deserve a nod at least.”
Bucky’s breath hitches for a second. He did think Sam was kind of cute, but did he just acknowledge his attractiveness in return? Easy, Barnes. Do not start crushing on colleagues on your first day. Even if their forearms are nice and would probably look incredible if he was--Bucky, no! Be cool, he thinks. “C’mon, Sam. We should at least play nice and try to introduce ourselves.”
“Do we have to?” Sam rolls his eyes. “Y’know, pretty sure I met him once, and it was enough. Or not even memorable enough to be enough. You do what you want.”
Bucky stuffs his hands into his pockets and walks around the table. Dr. Steven Grant Rogers finally deigns to look down at the face of Dr. James Buchanan Barnes. Bucky smiles professionally and says, “Wow, youngest to ever get tenure? You can’t be much older than me. That’s impressive, man. I’m James; it’s nice to meet you.”
Dr. Rogers nods in acknowledgement and extends his left hand to Bucky. Oh god, really? Of course he had to, this jerk. Bucky extends his prosthetic arm, mirroring Dr. Rogers’ gesture, though really, Rogers could have put down his cup of coffee to shake Bucky’s right hand instead.
“Thanks,” says Dr. Rogers, who doesn’t move right away. He shakes Bucky’s hand, but it feels forced, unnatural. Bucky’s wrist plates clink together. Dr. Rogers doesn’t exactly recoil, but the way he withdraws his own hand is awkward. He looks from Bucky’s hand up to his face. “Wow,” Dr. Rogers nods. “That is some prosthetic.”
Bucky lets some other faculty member steal Dr. Rogers’ attention after that and quickly gathers his things. His eyes dart around the room after Sam, who had wisely wandered away from Rogers. He spies him talking to the man Bucky spotted earlier, the one with the elegant hand gestures and salt-and-pepper hair.
“Hey, James!” Sam waves Bucky over. Bucky is relieved to make his escape, and Sam is once again pleasant to look at and talk to. “This is my friend Dr. Stephen Strange. He teaches pre-med biology. Stephen, tell James here what you just told me.”
Stephen’s gray hair creeps up from his sideburns toward his temples, where it darkens to a sophisticated black. Stephen’s mouth draws up into a droll but pleased expression. “A pleasure meeting you, Dr. Barnes--welcome, welcome. I see you’ve met our mysterious meatball colleague over there. First of all, he uses the inferior spelling of our shared name. Secondly, how old do you think he is?”
“Uh,” Bucky stumbles, glancing back over his shoulder. “40? 41?”
“Thirty. Six.” Dr. Strange sharply enunciates every syllable.
“What? No way!” Bucky runs both of his hands back through his hair. “I thought he looked young, but a year younger than me?”
“And two years younger than me,” Sam interjects. He smiles that cute smile again, showing his dimples. “I’m also not at liberty to say how much younger than Dr. Strange here.”
Stephen rolls his eyes. Then, a giggle starts building in Bucky’s throat. He can’t help it, it turns into a soft laugh. “What’s so funny, Young James ?” asks Stephen.
“Your name...is Doctor Strange. Like, a Bond villain? Or a superhero? What’s your secret power?”
“I rather like to imagine that it’s dashing the hopes and dreams of my students. Pre-med kids don’t last long when they realize they can’t stomach seeing a cadaver for the first time.” He smirks, then his eyebrows lift as he calls out, “Wong! What’s my superpower?”
The round-faced Asian man Dr. Strange was speaking with earlier has returned to the table, carrying a plate piled high with baby carrots, celery sticks, and cheese cubes. “I like to think it’s gossiping,” answers Wong.
“You know me well,” chuckles Stephen. “That’s why you’re the best lab manager I’ve ever had.”
Wong simply smirks and pops a cheese cube into his mouth as Stephen steals a celery stick. Bucky shakes hands with some people, says good-bye to Sam, Stephen, and Wong, and makes his way back to his new apartment. He’s still got unpacking to do.