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Cyborg novel by Martin Caidin, Boris Vallejo cover

Steve Austin

(Caidin's Cyborg novels)


Power Level:
Game system: DC Heroes Role-Playing Game

Context

Cyborg was a 1972 novel by Martin Caidin. It was successful enough for him to write three sequels over the following years, and helped popularise the concept of a, well, cyborg.

But much of its impact came from the TV series The Six Million Dollar Man, which adapted the book in 1973 then became its own thing. This series had significant geeky footprint, since genre television in the 1970s was… sparse. Still, we’ll only deal here with the 1972-75 Cyborg novels by Caidin.


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Background

  • Real Name: Steve Austin.
  • Marital Status: Single.
  • Known Relatives: Parents (deceased) and an unnamed cousin that Austin hadn’t seen in years.
  • Group Affiliation: Office of Special Operations.
  • Base Of Operations: Mobile.
  • Height: 6’1” Weight: 240 lbs.
  • Note: Austin only appears to weigh 180 lbs (his weight before the accident). His bionics are somewhat heavier than their original biological counterparts.
  • Eyes: Blue Hair: Brown


Powers and Abilities

Oscar Goldman once summed up Steve Austin’s abilities and experience before the accident as follows:
“Test pilot, astronaut… But there’s more. There’s an extraordinary rounding out of this particular individual. Physically an outstanding specimen. A great athlete. An advanced student of the military arts. At the same time, a man with no less than five degrees. Steve Austin breezed through his masters and his doctorate.”

Among Austin’s athletic pursuits were scuba diving, fencing, wrestling, boxing, judo and aikido (earning black belts in the latter two). His education included masters’ degrees in geology, history, aerodynamics, and astronautical engineering. He even drew up designs for various implements to aid his limited mobility immediately after the accident.

After the brutal crash-landing that nearly killed him, Austin was rebuilt with a combination of traditional and experimental surgical techniques. Most of his musculo-skeletal structure has been reinforced and in some instances replaced by artificial parts. These range from surgical metals to high-tech plastics (in DC Heroes RPG terms, STR, BODY).


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Cybernetic limbs

Even more dramatically, his amputated legs and left arm have been replaced with bionic prosthetics. These nuclear-powered limbs have capabilities far in excess of human abilities. They are sophisticated enough to register damage, but it was as an odd tingling sensation rather than pain (STR).

The left arm has subcutaneous reinforcements along the striking edges. These allow Austin to punch through heavy wood and even light metal doors (EV). The legs can move faster than a human’s. They also have retractable webbing between the toes to aid in underwater maneuvering (Running, Swimming).

Since Steve’s body no longer has to pump blood all the way out to his extremities, his circulation is now more efficient. This provided Steve with greater endurance and resistance to g-forces (BODY 06).

Cybernetic eye

When Austin was first reconstructed, cybernetic technology was not sufficiently advanced to provide a functioning artificial eye. Instead, Austin was given a fake eye that was designed to mimic the appearance and movements of Austin’s real eye.

The fake eye did have a built-in still camera. The micro cartridges in the camera were loaded with normal and infrared film..

The OSO eventually developed a rough cybernetic eye. It was not connected directly to Austin’s brain, but rather linked to his other eye. Thus, it could overlay range-finding, orientation, and telescopic data over Austin’s normal sight in a manner similar to HUDs on modern-day jet fighters.

It did not give him true depth perception, but the additional information provided by the range-finder was enough to compensate for that lack.

Additional gadgets

There was a compressed air tank installed in each of Austin’s legs. He could draw out a small rebreather connected to the tank by a thin hose when necessary. It was designed for underwater work, but might also be effective against atmospheric gases that do damage only when they are inhaled.

It was not uncommon for OSO engineers to add mission-specific gadgets to Austin’s répertoire. These usually consisted of two gadgets installed inside one of the bionic limbs (usually the leg, where there was the most spare room). There often was a second pair of gadgets that was separate from the bionics but sometimes powered by them via hidden power ports.

Examples of external gadgets include extra canisters for Austin’s leg tanks (doubling their effective time) and a diving suit with electric heating elements powered by Austin’s bionics. Examples of internal gadgets include a burst-transmission radio and a poison dart gun built into the middle finger of Austin’s left arm.

Asp orbital interceptor

As part of Project Symbot, Steve’s bionics were altered to allow him to actually interface with the specially-modified Asp orbital interceptor. The interface greatly improved his already-formidable piloting abilities with the ASP, but carried certain psychological risks.

Austin was in some danger of losing his sense of human identity while joined to the ASP. And any damage the ASP suffered inflicted neurological feedback on Austin.

The Asp was a prototype orbital interceptor, built as a test bed for technology meant for future larger orbital fighter designs. It was armed with 13mm cannons and two missiles.

Steve Austin was chosen to fly the Asp in two missions against the Soviets. That was in part because of his previous experience with similar designs and space flight. And in part because his bionics could be modified to link him to the craft to an extent never experienced by a pilot before.


History

Like his father, who had died in a Chinese prison camp during the Korean War, Steve Austin wanted to serve in the military. Austin’s passion was for piloting, but unlike most aspiring pilots, Austin joined the Army instead of the Air Force. In this way, he could get extensive training in both fixed- and rotary-winged (planes and helicopters, respectively) flight.

He flew a gunship in Việt Nam and was sickened by the carnage his weapons inflicted. Thus, he almost welcomed the crash that sent him back to the states with a million-dollar wound (slang for a wound that got someone out of combat duty without permanently injuring them. In this case several broken ribs).

USAF

Steve transferred to the Air Force afterward. He breezed through the cadet program and ended up as a test pilot flying SR-71s . He later commanded an FB-111  strike team tasked with nuking Soviet command centers in event of an all-out war.

As part of this training he learned a great deal about nuclear weapons. He even participated in a research study in which he and his colleagues demonstrated how easy it was for someone to design a homemade nuclear device.

Like many pilots of the time, Austin also yearned to join the space program. His application was successful and he became one of the fortunate few to walk on the moon. Very fortunate indeed, since he only moved from the back-up crew at the last minute when one of the primary crew accidentally had an arm broken, and it was the 17th and final Apollo.

This also made Steve the youngest astronaut to travel to the moon.

M3F5

While he was in space looking at the moon with the Earth just beyond it, both appearing small enough for him to cup them in his hands, he had an epiphany about the fragility of life on Earth. He decided to have nothing more to nuclear weapons as he had in the past. After the Apollo program was terminated Austin went back to test piloting until the Skylab II program was up and running.

Because of his previous experience with space flight, Austin became one of the test pilots for the M3F5. It was an experimental test-bed aircraft that would lead to a new generation of orbital jets.

Austin’s involvement in the program came to an abrupt halt when he crashed during a landing. Miraculously, he survived. He was however badly crippled, losing both legs, his left arm, and his left eye as well as suffering numerous other severely disabling and mutilating injuries.

Desperate to help his friend, flight surgeon Rudy Wells contacted his colleague Michael Killian. Killian was an Air Force medical researcher specializing in transplants, prosthetics and related methods of restoring injured human bodies. Killian agreed to help and received assistance from an unexpected source: the Office of Special Operations (OSO).

OSO

The OSO had been created by the government as an impartial body to facilitate cooperation between the various intelligence factions of the US government. It was once described as a sort of Switzerland of US intelligence functions. Oscar Goldman of the OSO saw the potential of rebuilding the talented Austin with cybernetics that would make him a superbeing of sorts.

Goldman had Wells and Austin transferred to Killian’s top-secret lab in the Rockie Mountains, near NORAD. He gave them a six million dollar budget for their work. That’s be about $36.5M in 2018 USD.

When Austin was first revived (four months after the accident) he was understandably traumatized by his injuries. He was only one limb short of being a basket case (morbid pilot’s slang for a quadriplegic) and the rest of his body needed profound reconstructive work.

He even tried committing suicide once shortly after he regained consciousness. Austin undid his restraints when no one was looking and dragged himself one-handed over to a cabinet, then smashed the glass front. He used the shards in an attempt to disembowel himself. Fortunately, he was only able to inflict superficial injuries upon himself.

He was thereafter kept under closer supervision until this particular period of despair passed.

We can rebuild him

The first phases of Austin’s reconstruction used established procedures, albeit more extensively than on any previous subjects. They both rebuilt his shattered body and restored his features. Most of this had actually taken place while Austin had been in his four-month-long induced coma. The rest took place over the following two months.

The next six months were occupied with the installation of Austin’s bionic limbs and his subsequent physical and psychological adjustment to them. Austin adapted to the limbs much more quickly and effectively than anticipated. He even got the opportunity to fly again.

He experienced what he first perceived to be a setback when he rescued a group of children from a burning bus. His bionic arm was damaged, exposing its inner workings and frightening one of the children. This renewed Austin’s feelings that he was a monster.

However, Rudy Wells pulled him from his depression by reminding him of the good that he had done in saving the children. He also pointed out that the reaction of a panicked child was hardly something on which to base his self-image.

We have the technology

Once Steve was ready, he began missions for the OSO. He was technically an Air Force colonel on detached duty to the OSO for testing of avionics equipment.

In reality, Austin became a field operative for the OSO. He engaged in field surveillance and commando work. He was specifically kept away from undercover work because he didn’t have the necessary training for it.  Howbeit, he would occasionally have a cover identity to be used for brief mission-specific purposes.

His first mission was to infiltrate and photograph a secret Soviet submarine base. It was in South America near the coast of Surinam. But Austin was discovered during the infiltration. However, he managed to accomplish the primary mission by escaping with the necessary photographic evidence for the US to confront the Soviets through diplomatic channels.

Flogger

Austin’s next assignment was to steal a MiG-27  from the country of Asfir. For this assignment he was paired with Israeli captain Zamara Tigon, a lady that he found captivating on many levels. They succeeded in the first part of their mission. Howbeit, their stolen MiG crashed when it ran out of fuel.

After the crash, Tamara noticed that their stolen MiG was armed with a nuclear bomb. Austin took pictures before the pair scuttled the wreck and made their way across the desert to escape.

During this torturous affair Steve came to appreciate his new nature. His tireless bionic legs made the difference between successful escape and death. Putting his fears of being an inhuman freak aside once and for all, Steve was also able to open up to the growing romantic attraction between himself and Tamara.

This potential relationship was cut tragically short when Tamara died in action a few days after returning to Israel, before Steve had even finished his own recovery and the repair of his bionics (Cyborg).

Super-agent

Over the next two years Steve would complete numerous assignments for the OSO. One critical operation had Austin infiltrate a mercenary organization with deep NATO connections and a number of illegally acquired nuclear bombs (Operation Nuke).

Another assignment found Austin in the jungles of South America to recover a mysterious crystalline artifact. It had the potential for profoundly affecting technological development in a number of high-tech fields (High Crystal).

The most esoteric operation that Steve participated in was Project Symbot. Austin’s bionics were modified for this mission to allow him to directly interface with a similarly modified Asp Orbital Interceptor. Austin flew the Asp on two missions to stop a Soviet operation that was destroying US “Keyhole” surveillance satellites (Cyborg IV).


Description

“(Steve Austin) stood six feet, one inch tall, with eyes deep blue; a lean, muscled frame, almost rangy ; a laugh filled with warmth; and an animal attraction about him.”

Austin’s cybernetic limbs have been seamlessly attached to his body, betraying no hint of their construction unless the artificial skin covering is damaged in some way.

Some people might find this disturbing at first. But a quick explanation would probably suffice to calm them. If Austin is being used in a typical comic-book universe where cyborgs abound, his bionics would probably not be seen as profoundly remarkable by most of the people he would encounter.


Personality

Austin is a very dedicated and patriotic individual. Though he took great pride in serving his country’s military, he took no pleasure in combat. As a result, took the opportunity to serve in other ways when he could.

Despite his abhorrence for the carnage of war, he recognized the necessity of direct military action at times. And he served to the best of his ability no matter what the situation was.

He was similarly realistic about working for the intelligence community through OSO. He didn’t like what they had to do but saw the need for it. He also recognized that his relationship with OSO was one of mutual advantage rather than abstract altruism.

Other traits

Prior to the accident, Steve enjoyed the life of a bachelor. He adeptly dodged most of the women who sought something more permanent.

This was starting to change with his last girlfriend Jan Richards. But she broke contact with Austin after the accident on Rudy Wells’s advice. Wells feared that she would inevitably pity Steve in his disabled state and that Steve would come to hate her for it. This was before Wells had any idea that Steve could be rebuilt so comprehensively.

Austin stayed alone even after his reconstruction for a very long time. He feared no woman could love a Frankenstein’s Monster such as himself. He eventually overcame this mental block due to the affections of Tamara Zigon. But he remained single because of the demands of his new life as an OSO agent.


Quotes

“To make everything clear, I don’t much give a shit for your operation. I’m willing to go as part of the great experiment. I just want you to understand that I don’t owe you a thing.”

OSO Head Jackson McKay: “I don’t want to sound callous, but—”
Austin: “But you are. Don’t sweat it, McKay.”


DC Universe History

Austin’s crash was in fact not accidental but rather planned by Niles Caulder to create another “freak” for the Doom Patrol. Unfortunately for Caulder, Austin was only injured enough for massive bionic reconstruction rather than outright replacement of his body with a robotic substitute.

When Rudy Wells had the injured Austin, he was transferred to STAR Labs under the auspices of famous prosthetic specialist Michael Killian instead of to roboticist Will Magnus’s care. As a consequence, Caulder gave up on Austin entirely. He decided to arrange a similar accident for race car driver Cliff Steele instead.

As Goldman noted, Austin’s not the kind of man who’s right for covert operations, so he’d end up in a more active part of the intelligence community. He might end up leading the Suicide Squad briefly before going over to Checkmate.

Alternative

If the GM wanted a more current version, Austin’s history might be altered to have him serving in the 1991 Gulf War instead of Việt Nam. His wartime experiences were not uniquely tied to the latter conflict.

Like most comic-book universes, the DCU seems to have a more robust and active US space program than in real-life. So moving Austin’s participation in space flight ahead a couple of decades shouldn’t cause any major problems.

Perhaps he would now be the first astronaut to go back to the moon in a revitalized lunar program/ That would be instead of being the last astronaut in the original Apollo program. However, I suspect Austin would fit into the DCU better if his chronology was left as is and he currently occupied a senior advisory role with occasional field action.


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Game Stats — DC Heroes RPG Print Friendly

Tell me more about the game stats

Steve Austin

Dex: 05 Str: 05 Bod: 06 Motivation: Responsibility of Power
Int: 06 Wil: 07 Min: 06 Occupation: OSO Field Agent
Inf: 06 Aur: 05 Spi: 05 Resources {or Wealth}: 05
Init: 021 HP: 030

Powers:
EV: 07, Interface: 10, Running: 05, Skin Armor: 01, Swimming: 05, Telescopic Vision: 06

Bonuses and Limitations:

  • EV can only be used by left arm and legs (-1FC).
  • Interface can only be used on vehicles such as the ASP that have been modified to connect to the ports in Austin’s bionics (-2FC).
  • Skin Armor only adds to RV vs. damage to Austin’s head, legs, or left arm (usually called shots or GM’s call) (-2FC).

Skills:
Gadgetry: 05, Martial Artist*: 05, Military Science: 04, Vehicles (Land, Sea)*: 05, Vehicles (Air, Space): 07, Weaponry (Firearms, Melee)*: 05

Advantages:
Iron Nerves, Languages (Russian, Spanish), Lightning Reflexes, Military Credentials (USAF Colonel, Medium), Popularity (Local Hero, US government), Scholar (Geology, History, Soviet military doctrine and equipment, Space Flight), Sharp Eye.

Connections:
Flight surgeon Rudy Wells (High), OSO (Powerful, High).

Drawbacks:
Miscellaneous (Austin’s STR with his right arm is only 03).

Equipment:

  • AIR TANKS [BODY 02, Sealed Systems: 05, Limitation: Sealed Systems only provides a source of oxygen and does not add to RV (-3CS). There was a compressed air tank installed in each of Austin’s legs.
  • 4x 6 AP C Omni-Gagdet.
  • ASP [BODY 10 STR 09, Detect (laser or radar targeting): 10, Flight: 13, Projectile Weapons: 10, Radar Sense: 21, Radio Communication: 14, Sealed Systems: 13, Telescopic Vision: 07, Thermal Vision: 10, Ultra Vision: 10, Advantage (The Asp has been modified to work with Austin’s Interface, 10 pts.), Hardened Defenses. Also equipped with two Air-to-Air Missiles as in the rulesbook].

Early Austin

Prior to his accident, Austin had STR 03 BODY 05 and no Powers or Drawbacks.

After the accident and his subsequent reconstruction Steve struggled for a time with the idea that he was now a sort of Frankenstein’s monster. This would occasionally result in depressed moods and urges toward self-isolation. This can be treated as a Power Complication Subplot resulting in Guilt.

Austin came to terms with his altered nature during his second OSO mission. His bionics saved the lives of himself and his partner on that mission, ending the Subplot.

Early eye

It was not until just prior to the Asp mission that Austin had an actual cybernetic eye. Previous to that he had an artificial eye that provided no visual input but did have a built-in still camera with regular and infrared film. To represent those earlier capabilities add the following Drawbacks and Equipment:

Drawback:
MPR (Limited depth perception due to having only one eye — Austin suffers a +1CS to the OV/RV of all actions requiring depth perception more than 2 APs away, such as shooting at a distant target or flying).

Equipment:
EYE CAMERA [BODY 01, Chameleon: 07, Recall: 12, Thermal Vision: 06, Limitations: Chameleon only used to disguise artificial nature of the eyecam (-3CS), Recall is limited to photographs (-3CS), Thermal Vision can only be used in conjunction with Recall (-2CS), Ammo (Recall): 20].

Austin did not have the Interface Power until his bionics were modified for the Asp mission.

By Roy Cowan.

Source of Character: Cyborg novel series (Cyborg, Operation Nuke, High Crystal, and Cyborg IV) by Martin Caidin.

Helper(s): David Johnston.

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