I should probably work some on my other three fics. I wanted to, but I ended up writing this, as well as 1949, the sequel to 1947. Don't worry. Should everything go as planned, you'll be seeing Weekly updates of this as well as Steve Meets Girl soonish.
When Stark's instruments indicated Seventy-percent, things stopped going so smoothly. Steve had began to scream those agonized, blood curdling scream, and so Erskine rushed to the Vita-ray saturation chamber, yelling out the young man's name, pounding on the outer surface as the light from within shone brighter and brighter.
Above, Agent Carter left the government men and politicians, rushing out of the observation booth to implore someone to shut the whole thing down. Erskine was far from about to argue with her, as he turned and commanded Stark to cut off the reactors, when suddenly, the screaming stopped, and above the hum and sparking of power and machinery, Steve yelled out,
"No! Don't! I can do this!"
To the men in the booth, or on the platform, there was little doubt Steve Rogers would die in that chamber, but not one of them dared deny him his destiny, whether that destiny was for him to emerge from the chamber as the perfect human male, or as a grotesque, misshapen, deformed carcass.
With an authorizing nod from Erskine, Stark went on to crank up the lever on the chamber's control console to raise the emission levels. Speaking out the percentage as they rose by tens, Stark noticed that Steve had stopped screaming. Was he holding back the pain to see the procedure through, Stark wondered, or had his lungs been torn within him?
Tense seconds followed as the entire room grew brighter and circuit boards sparked, and then the chamber shutdown as programmed, a short while after reaching Hundred-percent emission levels. For a moment, no one knew what to do, and were terrified to find out. Erskine eventually called out to Stark, who pulled the lever back to unlock the chamber.
Steve Rogers stood inside the chamber, covered in sweat, with his chest raising and falling. He was alive, and at least immediately, he looked to be… unchanged.
No one quite knew how to react. Everyone was glad the young fool had somehow survived the ordeal, and Erskine was beyond relieved that Steven had not succumbed to the same fate that had befallen General Schmidt, but they were also succumbing to the frustration of the project's apparent failure.
Erskine and Stark helped Steve out and held him up until he could gather the strength to stand on his own. Pretty soon the entire audience gathered around to gawk.
"How do you feel?" Peggy asked as an orderly helped Steve into a white tee.
"…Taller." Steve said, dazed and out of breath.
On brief consideration, she could see that he was indeed taller. While he previously stood with his eyes toward her nose, they were now towards her own, as he slouched. Aside from growing two or three inches in height, there were other differences; his arms looked heavier, his shoulders were slightly wider, and his ribs were not nearly as protruding. Others were noticing it too, he was healthier-looking, and when dressed, he'd probably look normal, but to Colonel Philips, the other guests, including the project's political overseer, Senator Brandt, it wasn't nearly enough.
"I don't understand." Brandt grumbled, "I thought he'd come out looking like a super-soldier."
"Looks aren't everything." Stark remarked, "He could still perform within our target goals without having affected a significant outward change."
"That is a possibility," Erskine said, "We need to run more tests."
There was a bit of a conversation after that, one that Steve wasn't able to listen to. The procedure had taken a lot out of him, and much of what had followed, as dramatic as it was, had fallen through the cracks in his memory. He half-remembered the explosion of the observation booth, various exchanges of gunfire. The one memory from those chaotic moment that was quite vivid, the one he'd carry to his grave, was Erskine's trembling finger, wordlessly poking into his chest.
He must had left the doctor after his last breath left him, he must had ran up the stairs like Agent Carter had done before him, even though he didn't remember doing those things, because he did remember bolting out into the street and charging at Agent Carter who'd been taking aim at the taxi had come barreling toward her, knocking her out of the way.
They hit the asphalt with him taking the brunt of the impact. He groaned, and she tore herself out of his protective embrace and furiously barked,
"I had him!"
There was a loud crash down the street, sounds of tires screeching, metal bending and glass breaking. Steve struggled to his feet and looked in the direction of the commotion to see the taxi had come to a halt, its front end embedded into the side of a parked sky blue Roadster.
"It looks like you got him."
A tenth of a second earlier and Agent Carter would have missed her shot, a tenth of a second later and she'd have been killed, but he'd knocked her away at precisely the right moment. Fred Clemson, or whatever his real name was, did not escape, and the last surviving sample of Erskine's serum was retrieved.
But Dr. Erskine was dead. He was a man well ahead of his peers, even Stark, and he was gone. Project Rebirth's fate, despite the survival of most of its scientific staff and accumulated data and research, was in serious question.
For the next couple of weeks, Steve endured every medical examination the SSR doctors could throw at him. Blood, urine and some other samples were taken to be examined. Back at Camp Lehigh, his body was put to the test; he was made to make the Camp's four mile run under Sgt. Duffy's observation, to swim in a near-freezing water, and to stay awake in a brightly lit room to see how he could cope.
In the end, the scientist learned how much of a super-soldier the procedure had made Pvt. Rogers into; not super at all. Being made to stay awake made him extremely tired and begging to be allowed to sleep, those deathly cold swims soon gave him a cold.
However, he got over his cold faster than he ever did before. He could run faster, farther and for longer before he got tired. His asthma never acted up, either. As it turned out, he was rid of it. What they all eventually learned was that the serum had simply made Rogers better, increasing his muscle mass and curing him of his high blood pressure, asthma, angina and all the rest of his ailments, raising him to absolutely average physical health.
Then came the discussion of whether or not this qualified Erskine's work as a failure or not. Around the country, there were plenty of able bodied soldiers signing up for the armed services, and for those that weren't, there was the draft. Measured against the costs of operation, it might've not been worth it to use the procedure on willing 4-F'ers, and even then it was unknown, as it always has been, how many of the population were physiologically able to benefit from the procedure. There were some voices theorizing the serum's effect is tied to the existing physical properties of the recipient, and that an already fit man could be turned by the procedure into a true super-soldier as desired.
The discussion of what would happen to him, however, never arose. Colonel Philips, Agent Carter, and even Stark, had gone off to London to begin taking the fight to Hydra. He's requested to go with them, and was summarily rebuked.
And so he waited. As the days passed, he was given less and less examinations, until it was all down to Dr. Hillman in the infirmary checking in on him and how he was doing on drills.
A few months later, while doing kitchen duty, Sgt. Duffy came up to him, looking as mean and surly as usual. The thing with the flagpole wasn't something he'd forgotten yet.
"Never thought I'd see the day, Rogers." Duffy spewed with distaste, "Pack your bags, Private. You're being transferred to the 107th and shipped to Italy. Uncle Sam is that desperate."
Steve took the papers he was handed. It wasn't until Duffy was out of sight that it sunk in.
This is it, he thought. He was to be deployed and see action overseas, as one his father's regiment, no less.
This was it.
Next Chapter: Pvt. Rogers finally makes it to the front lines.