1964-11-30 - Project Virgo: Gunning Down the Ego
Summary: And onwards until dawn…
Related: Project Virgo
Theme Song: None
rogue bucky 

Usman Forest. 51'44'N. 39'34'E. Voronezh Oblast. USSR.

Pine and oak forests stretch along the enormous Russian steppe, the odd silver birch grove among the marshy transition of grasslands to woods. Chains of lakes interrupt roads and rail, in this place defined by a rolling flatness to the landscape. Voronezh lies forty clicks off, the great city so far it might as well be on the backside of Lake Baikal or the Moon.

The train slips along, a silvery, noisy bullet covered in rusty flakes. In the twenty-four hours of travel, what does Bucky Barnes know but the rhythm of the wheels and the sway of carts on the track? The bolts in the floor and the reinforced cattle-car doors, how they rumble and those weak points in the planks where too much stress will dump him 2,000 miles behind enemy lines.

The car behind him carries those vile sausages and stale water, manna from Heaven after a long trip. Supplies buried among more of those crates, a front. No matters in there. It's the next car where he finds them in a reinforced wall, metal box inside a wooden one, five chained and bound exactly like Stasi prisoners sent to the gulag. They're filthy, drugged within an inch of their life, having voided bladders and evacuated sanity's reach. Dirty, bundled in thick clothes, four boys and one girl cannot be any older than twelve.

It's good to have his suspicions confirmed, that his spontaneous white knighting wasn't entirely wasted. But it's horrifying, too. These…..he'll be too far behind the lines to winkle them out. This time he'll have to find what he can, proof to bring out, files to be examined. Maybe destroying the facilities if he can, but that's a long shot….and almost surely a suicide mission.

He doesn't stay to let the memory of his presence imprint, but retreats to his hiding spot for now. Waiting for the sound of the train starting to slow, to get ready to guess where he can leave it before they find him.

Not a chance they recognize him from within their jingling shackled cells. The children are painfully withdrawn out of the world, each in a metal 'crib' where chains anchor to heavy bolts and don't give any easy chance to move around. They cannot be heard moaning or much breathing over the cacophony in the carriage car. Cold here, the foetid air leaking with the promise of winter through chinks and chunks. The only way into the next car is back out and dangerously climbing over the top, wind howling, pushing him away from the roof. Safety is an illusion.

His patience won't pay out necessarily well. Dawn remains out of sight, one cycle of rising and falling bringing them into the area in the predawn blueness. Frosty patches lie on the ground. Ice bites into loess-heavy, shallow lakes. Their speed only slows for the odd curve, the gradual bend that cuts onto a rail-line going north. He won't see Voronezh, the ancient city on the river to the south. Instead, the route cuts into the forest, approaching some small waystation forgotten by everyone since the Tsars…

A city might be both easier and harder to deal with, depending. But….he's the product of a sharashka himself, he knows the signs of one - surely that's where they're headed. The oddly named penal laboratories where scientists and engineers labor on behalf of the state.

It's enough to raise the hair on his neck again. Winter's still humming with anticipation. He may not be able to drive Bucky back into the fold, but if Bucky heads there on his own….

NKVD and the KGB wind the sharashkas into showpieces. This one has a feel different from others, more forlorn. Slumping rooftops attest once to a greatness since lost in a place declining slowly back into the forest. Low wings gather around a shuttered, cloistered entrance with the hallmarks of a dacha drive: long ruts, a carriage drive acting now as a rail spur through pointed gates and serpentine fence. Perhaps some kleptocrat boyar kept his summers here, hunting the rich stock provided in the watershed of the rivers. Among the swamps and drowned, shallow forests, few would ever think to come. Lives drowned in black rusalka waters, the story of the wild countryside of the USSR for the last thousand years.

The buildings link together, ramshackle divides covered in slanted walls. So little to see from the outside. Within, likely dormitories laid out around a mournful central hall, dark corridors ruled by mice droppings and holed walls. The train slows, and with that, inevitably guards melt out of the woodwork to meet their staff, the rail crew. No smoking chimneys here. Russia is not Bergen-Belsen.

|ROLL| Bucky +rolls 1d20 for: 6

Winter's abubble with happiness. It feels like home, like it should. The pattern of the forest is right, the scent of leafmould and earth. The self-proclaimed American soldier, however, is uneasy. He slips from the train as tracelessly as he can, heading for the shelter of the forest. Time to pause and reconnoitre a little, before he plans either assault or infiltration. But he does stop when he feels safe from view to watch the unloading of the train.

Bubbling memories never lie outside the surface even in the holes cemented with little more than guesswork and ill-got dreams. The Rodina, the Motherland, is the black earth, the loess steppe, the primeval forest. Russia is not a tamed thing. She is a cruel mistress, a harsh lover, a demanding landlady. The woods here are wet and slick in their way, riddled by foxholes and traps just suitable enough to be mined. Instinct tells him that. Winter must be in heaven, but even heaven in the southern oblast is precarious, dangerous at all times. Small creatures slink away from motion. It feels wrong, wrong into his bones, and no matter where he turns, there may be a sense of pervasive watchfulness, a woodland collectively holding a secret to its breast. In short, not fun.

No boundary demarcates wild from not. The crumbling dacha takes up the primary grounds, absent of western European niceties like gardens and spaces to sun. Whatever wires convey electricity, and there must be many, run underground. The train 'station' is little better than a yard with a stack of coal and a narrow watering spigot forcefed by pressure and hidden hydraulics. Offloading goes quick, the guards using whatever machinery to drag out the unresisting patients and whisk them into the intake wing through double doors scarred by weather and reinforced steel. Probably more. It feels like a facility, and long experience ought to teach him what's on the exterior never matters.

He watches, silent, huddled in the forest. There's got to be somewhere to rest, to hide long-term, longer than a moment. But he's marked the intake wing….and then starts to circle, carefully. Trying to sense what paths are safe, which are too well travelled or known…

Rest in the roots. Press up against the trunks, where his shapeless mass blends into the others dark outlines swept in charcoal blotches. No paths exist here in any fashion, other than those carved by animals and few dare come so close. Meandering ways here and there… a wrong footfall and he'll hear a click of a mine. Other traps abound: wires hidden in trees. Fall lines. Collapsing pits, shored up spots where old steam tunnels — no reason for them to be here — mean a slow, roasted death in bubbling red flesh. Those lookouts they have, and it's hard to say where and how, are hardly stationed on perimeter walks. Other than the badly placed gate fence, which feels more for show, the protections are invisible.

Which suggests belowground, as do those tunnels, the odd vent of cool air or certain smells. Those stacks are concealed well, hard to note even when someone knows what they're looking for. Outlets lurk in deadfall, in living trees, in rock.

IT's like the war, like the forest with its terrible, undetectable swath of crystal mines. It'd be easier if this were a delineated camp - barbed wire, watchtowers, the usual paraphernalia of a prison.

How big is it? What marks the underground boundaries? IT's tempting to take to the trees - with that arm, he's a fearsome climber. But they're surely trapped, too. A safe place, is there is one to be found….

The dacha lives in the middle of a clearing, though no one makes any effort to keep up the weedy front or stop the woods from encroaching too close. A few hacked branches and bushes mark either target practice for the landscaper, no doubt some poor guard pressed into multiple service, or bad luck. The perimeter is wide enough to allow sight lines upon the old hunting lodge. It's not fair to call the building a manor, too grandiose in its miserable disrepair.

A full scouting without running into the few guards reveals certain facts beyond the hole pocked roof, certainly one access point. The main doors overlooking the carriage drive probably serve as the traditional way in. Neither angling wing off the main hall has a doorway, and surprisingly few windows if he's too used to American architecture. Windows in Russia are a luxury, especially with the cold climate of even Voronezh in the south. This is not Sochi. The back of the building is a long rectangle, covered in flaking shingles, the windows above suspiciously narrow and thin, set almost under the eaves. Not much promise there. The side where the train is offers more possibilities, at greater risk. Behind the coal hopper and the water pump station, there's a warehouse that probably served for carriages or a stable back in the day.

He hasn't brought any real scouting gear, beyond a pocket monocular. It'll have to do. Dawn comes late in winter, and Voronezh isn't so very far north, happily. He's better than almost anyone else's best, but then…the stakes have been upped. With his luck, there are yet more of his 'children' here. It's the warehouse he goes to look at, first. Better to come in from what perimeter this place has.

The warehouse-cum-carriage house lies closest to activity. Forest enfolding the low building constitutes spindly pines and droopy oaks, the marshy nature of the land sucking at boots, leaving a filthy film in his wake as a signature of the drowned mother who watches her children with dispassion. The train is within a vibranium arm stone's throw, the stretch of those brown box cars stretching back in a sinister wall. No markings he can see. The doors open to the intake side, opposite him. Small blessings, then, though two engineers work to replenish the water through spigots, and both of them have the look of Russians, Slavs anywhere. Floodlights erase shadows along the coal hopper all the way to the side, so he's certainly not going to be sneaking up on the train's right flank.

Warehouse doors opening to the north and south clearly intended to take big pieces of machinery. Slipping inside is not impossible by any means, though the ramshackle, flimsy wood exteriors disguise the fact there is real oomph to the engineering underneath, bunker grade concrete and thick steel. Any number of weird metallic upright pods greet him: tall, cylindrical, wide enough to be easily the breadth of his shoulders and more. Cue some random rail equipment, big shovels, a primitive snowblower, and one that is definitely not so primitive (and probably twenty years ahead of American technology on that front; Sears and John Deere will be having kittens).

Most of it makes sense. The pods, though….missiles? Cryochambers? Those are what he sneaks up to next. Fear's as close to him as his shadow. He's in the depths of Indian Country, no help in sight. Only his skills to rely on - stealth will have to serve. Quiet as a cat, eyes wide.

Too short to be cryochambers, though not impossible. To Bucky's eye, the similarity lies more along the lines of storage units in a certain Azzano facility than the frosty containers he's undoubtedly spent time in. Opaque, for one. Their rank and file roots into the very ground, whatever web work of pipes and wires supplying them buried in the concrete. They form two flat squares to either side, allowing for access from the southern set of doors without too much interruption. Overhead, lights are off, spanning the metal beams holding up the roof. Very little makes a sound, the background hum audible only to cats and dogs. Maybe it's imagined. What steam vents and ports, booby traps in the forest, he saw elsewhere aren't here. The floor seems to be poured concrete, nothing else. Nor are there markings of note on those pods.

That's unnerving, to have those images drift up out of memory like that. The days before Winter was even more than a nebulous concept. Buck scouts the warehouse, but then it's back out into the forest, trying to circle around to the back. Sooner or later he's going to have to venture in, but doing that without a clear idea of the layout beneath…

The forest folds unevenly around the building. He has to walk lightly. There are close calls; moments when his metal arm brushes up against the metal line strung by a sinister arachnid, the lamellar panel hissing underneath the fine line. Only a healthy core of vibranium stops that singing thread from really breaking, absorbing the motion. Or the trip fall he skids past, a rustling of leaves and the bouncy surface tension of the soil different from the sucking morass. The long brick block is in similar disrepair as the rest of the dacha, even if it's clearly a newer addition in the last century. Mournful silence greets him in the pre-dawn, still another hour and more to go before the sun even starts to crest in Leningrad or the western cities of the Soviet Union. Starlight is lost by the branches, a tangled canopy in a distance. No lights burn in those sideways slit windows. Too thin for him to be able to squeeze through, the apertures wouldn't even permit a half grown adolescent through, and even if they could, it's a two story drop to the ground. A number of cement enclosures frame the bottom where wall meets ground, and it's hard to ascertain their purpose. They simply look like boxes, about two feet tall. Otherwise, nothing to speak of for design architecture. No doors there. Tear off the shingles for the roof, or approach the front door. Or make his own.

If there is any form of patrol, it belongs to the scudding clouds and the fallen leaves, the growing frost. The majority of those visible are clustered near the front. Obviously the passengers taken through the intake unit, the east wing, have living bodies. But not back here.

|ROLL| Bucky +rolls 1d20 for: 19

The nearest of those steam access pipes of any size isn't to be found among the trees, buried in a trunk. Too thin, or impossible to escape without an axe or a blowtorch. Neither are the dead falls ideal, but he might recall a grated spot among a few partly submerged rocks. The moss grows too well there, hinting at better warmth. Or he could try the pond. Chances are if it's not frozen, one of those many marshy spots has an intake or outflow. Pull off the hatch, in he goes?

The grate it is. He's good at holding his breath but the superserum won't keep him from straight up drowning if he gets stuck in their sewer pipe. James is as quiet as he can be, at first trying to open it quietly, rather than wrenching it by main strength.

No shit creek for Bucky Barnes this morning. Or perhaps, it's the path less traveled that he prefers. Either way, the grates are meant to resist small hands slipping in. The mesh in layers twisted under the bars allows the passage of airflow and not much else. An absence of much grit and dead fall implies good scrubbers or regular maintenance. Air warmer than the ambient environment greets him as he pulls it away, and luck smiles, allowing him to tear bolts out from concrete without as much effort as might meet the eye. And why not? He faces a narrow tube plunging down through topsoil and bedrock, away into the faintest grey shadow. He can wedge his way down the somewhat slick-sided entry to where condensation is no issue, or drop, like a demented rock climber, feeling for the very few seams between metallic segments. Otherwise, if he drops, it's at least twenty-five feet and change to hit the ground, no noticeable intersections for this particular purpose. By stalling by careful squirming about, he'll feel the cool stirrings of air and a tension in the air as familiar as an old coat,

Winter knows this. This place? Maybe. Likely not. A cat in the dark always knows the feel of shadows, whiskers taut for the brush of old talents. It has an energy like the dim cellars he hammered and beat men and women into ideal tools. Smells, tastes, vibrates the same, this artificial, eternal nightfall. With a twist. Not quite the same.

He doesn't have Steve's magical frisbee, and while the arm is alloy and he could take the fall on it if he had to…no. Not when he has no idea what's down there, for real. Better to carefully wedge himself down. Slow and steady wins the race. IT's making his heartbeat racket up, heading into the unknown. He doesn't exactly smell like a bed of roses, as it is.

Slowly, slowly, creeps the son of winter down the chimney, a green elf with a heart adequate in size, to no Christmas morning to spoil. The painstaking descent is ever so slow. Nothing above the access pipe hints at guards creeping up, shunting a barrel of a gun down or flushing him out with Zyklon B. As he slips lower, the temperature increases, air flow marginally fluttering at the edges of clothing. The cement floor underneath him holds no moving shadows, and the thick grated cover there would stop him from smashing through anyways. It might bear his weight.

The room is lit, and possibly large. Slanting shadows imply a half-wall or some kind of low, broad structure like lockers, a demonic altar, or bookshelves. There's not terribly much to hear at this particular hour, other than the mournful oscillation of a fan, the buzz of electronics.

This is the land where it's always winter and never Christmas. Though the New Years' parties come close. He's reduced to shifting around, trying to look past his own body so he can get a better view….and get a grip on the grate so he can find a way to unlock it, or get through. As silently as h can, of course.

Never Christmas: the most popular Communist holiday store in this SSR.

The obvious way to open the grate would be jump on it or stamp-kick it free. Those bolts cannot hold up against nearly 150 kilos of soldier. Somehow slithering up and curling around, caterpillar style, to face down and punch or tear the mesh free could be done, but neither offers a silent route. The vent isn't impermeable. Wiggle, dance, one hard boot: they can all offer points of escape. There isn't a lock so much as screws twisted into place, and if he stands there too long, he might just fall out anyways.

Regardless, the outcome shall be the same: metal slicing away, an opening to a bank of industrial grey metal that stretches out in segments that very much could be bicycle lockers or electronic equipment. The space is narrow between that and the next bank, an aisle that meets up with a wall after about 4 meters.

One hard kick will have to do it….and he's not fast enough to catch it before it slaps or hangs loose. Only then does he dare jump down to the floor. No superhero landings, those are hell on the knees. Then he's creeping along between the banks, tread softer than mice, seeing where it leads.

Banks in both directions, a depth of three. Their backsides are blank, the front covered in glassy fronted arrays that almost blithely disrupt sense of the familiar. For those features present fifty years from now are already present: touchscreens, haptic responses, smooth features with bezelled edges. Blue dots gleam in polished rhythms steady as a heartbeat, controlled by the atomic clock precision of their inner workings. And, behold, a few really are bookshelves. Metal frames with interesting volumes a Russian or German speaker picks out in a heartbeat. Topics are intensely scientific in place: Elements of Nodular Engineering; Microscalar Transmissions; Young Pioneers; How the Revolution Was Victorious; Vaniushka the Red Army Soldier; Two Brothers; The Motherland's Champion.

He can't resist. Even knowing that time is marching, that soon morning will come and the denizens of this place will awake…he pauses, and picks the last two of that list right off the shelf to eye them. They never gave him anything to read that wasn't immediately relevant to whatever mission he was preparing for. He reads Russian perfectly, but….has never read anything in it just for the hell of it.

Two Brothers is a children's book. By no means is it particularly long, and the simplistic colours and almost gothic Cyrillic speaks to an earlier age of turbulent Bolshevism and rejection for Tsarist notions. Children play as the simple song plays below.

In the beginning…
Baby, walk by me…
A merry tune,
For the future,
I'll tell you a beloved fairy tale.

He flips through it, bemused. Did his 'brothers' ever read these? Were they ever really children - did they have to go through some hell of accelerated adolescence? Or were they just decanted as an ideal twenty year old, mind blank and innocent. Then he opens the other, as some dim memory of a phrase.

As for the other, it's considerably longer and much less childlike, no product of the twenties and thirties. The action sequences alone are drawn by a sharper hand, exquisitely wrought in slashed black lines and chunks of colour that blend propaganda styles with the baroque art of the fifties and sixties. That stamp is far more modern, Moskva, 1962. Against all manner of threats, be that the glistening sub or the snarling tiger — euphemism easily understood — rise the Soviet people, and in their shadows, the Rodin champion, the soldier of the Motherland, claims success. Knife, bullet, hand outstretched to turn back the bloody tide: it doesn't matter. He is not the soldier on the battlefield but on the rooftop, barely visible in the grand hall.

He is the man with a face in shadow, a man with the cutting edge of the sickle and the outstretched hand that holds stars in his palm. Enemies fall. It's a considerably more complicated story, this, one of ghosts and dusted dreams.

He should be moving….should be stuffing this down his shirt. But that arm. There's an incredulous twist to his lip. They designed him to be a comic book character….after he'd already been one? There's a terrible, delicious irony in it that summons a rather twisted smile from the Champion's grubby template. Gone from propaganda for the Americans to propaganda for the Russians. He's still riffling through it, skimming as fast as he dares

Less comic book, more inspirational reading material for boys - likely - over the age of twelve. Or someone has a disturbing sense of humour, and they might. The moments tick on, as he flips through. There the mission, there the resistance of airplanes and motorcycles, strikes in the street, scientists rising against a threat that streams through their notes. Above all, the Motherland, that massive statue conceived in bombast and wonder, holds out her arms to her children as a sea of red drips through every page. If there were James Bond for Russia, this is it.

Tick. Tick. Tick. Somewhere, a clock marks the time. Somewhere, the stillness swells and flows, ebbing on a turn.

Hastily, he puts it back. Both of them crammed on to the page, and he continues on. Senses stretched, quivering like antennae. Someday he'll meet that author, surely. Fate being what it is.

Someday. But rather, he's going to meet something different. His maker, being one issue, but not the immediate risk.

The immediate risk is a flicker to one of those glass frames, and a sheen of energy that registers with a buried light. Several more tick over. Then several tapes roll over on their great reels somewhere beyond the bookshelves. The units aren't near Bucky. If he dares a look over the bookcases and the machine cases, he might see something only vaguely alarming. A swimming pool squished right there in the middle of the room, submarine lights shining a pale white, throwing strobed ripples all over the walls surrounding it. Up on high is some kind of glass window, hard to see, but it feels like an observation deck of a kind.

Now, that's disturbing. What's that there for? And…can who or what's at the window see him? Has he been bumbling around like a mouse in a maze this entire time?

The next stage is him trying to find other exits out of here, without betraying himself to those possible observers…and seeing if he can see if anything's in the pool, now.

The line of sight from the observation deck isn't exactly clear. Reasonable to assume anyone up there could see him as much as they see the circular pool, if he were given to standing up at all. The room on high is not lit well at the moment. The pool sits dead center of the room, beautiful in its serene blue, and ringed in a row of tiles before reaching another step. All sorts of chrome is present, largely to give that synchronized swimming pit an ideal setting. The back wall is elevated several steps up, and behind another barrier of metal rails, there are three doors there marked helpfully with Russian signs: "Authorized personnel only" and, before that, "Tech 1, Tech 3, Tech 7."

The other way out? Stairs up on high, climbing the wall, to get access to whatever lies beyond this large, recessed chamber. Maybe they really like swimming here.

He loves to swim - that's a lot of why he visits the Avengers' mansion when Steve might not be there. But that pool, in all his shimmering glory, does not tempt him. Understandable, surely. He eels along as close to the walls as he can, crouching to try and keep out of sight, heading for the nearest of the doors in the "Tech" sequence.

He'll hear the sound first. A shuffle, the slap of foot down on tile. Whilst he heads out of the cover provided by the computer systems, the mainframe gearing up and rolling through its sequences, Bucky faces the doors. They are all closed, one, three, and seven functionally identical. The first are spaced equally apart; the latter takes up more wall space. Thus the two chambers beyond are likely equivalent in size, and the other double their relative size. Seven is the largest, by that measure.

He doesn't know what's beyond….but he can't go back the way he came. Bucky's slipping for the door marked Tech 1, trying the handle. He's got to get out of this maze before they filter in enough men to trap him. There's that crawling feeling spidering its lazy way up his spine.

The door opens, and past a short flight of three steps, the cavernous interior is mostly dark. No windows; wrong level for that, and the steady temperature is present. The feel of his feet on the ground speaks to tile. Touching the walls confirms tile. Never mind what might be up there, if he dares to feel for a light and turn it on. The low crackling bulbs throw a dim, unsteady flicker at first across implements. Would he have a name for them, even upon touching the glass cases that contain metal tools and things that look like they belong in a space age exhibit at the World's Fair? Cords and wires wind in neat rainbows overhead, arching past the upper beams and servicing a pair of corner units closed up behind polished enameled metal doors. It feels one part classroom and one part operation theatre, designed by someone with a thing for aquaria. Clean lines everywhere, curves, no hard edges. Even if those hooks in the ceiling designate something of a feller purpose. For no reason at all, there's a blender on one of the smooth polished counters, and a number of metal cups with plastic straws angled in them. Midnight snacks and all.

«This isn't where you should be.» A voice, behind him, levels judgment in the sad, headshaking way Steve Rogers excels at. Earnest tone, a bit disappointed in a grand sense. Not quite Steve. There are subtle differences. Like, you know, the Russian. Alto.

That jangles nerves in entirely different ways, that voice. He doesn't whirl into action, but turns to peer at whomever's observing him. In that little part of his mental landscape, he's already been cataloguing potential weapons, lines of fire. Surely he's not about to beat some innocent tech to death with a blender? «…..what?» he asks, tone mild, even.

Intuition screams. It ought to. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Run. Sometimes voices get loud and maybe Winter is kicking Bucky in the head for the failure to secure the perimeter and check for shapes. This one, though, is not the 6'4" or whatever ungodly height Steve has nowadays. The man is like a very manly giraffe. Go down about twelve inches, and that's what he faces, a solemn, blue-eyed child. Chestnut hair wisps behind the ears, chopped in a curve below the jaw. A few shorter pieces want to stick up. «You. Here.» Hard to place age in the cerulean light of the pool and if he turned on the overhead bulbs in the Tech 1 room. But the heavy grey green gown combined with general weediness implies that this particular denizen of hell — who might be fourteen — probably woke up from bed. She pucker her lips a little. «Are you hungry?»

Steve is *enormous* and some part of Bucky has never entirely forgiven him for that growth. It was so satisfying to look down on him.
Oh, he's fucked up amazingly. Winter is indeed kicking Bucky….and right now, he's just taking it. Because he deserves it. At least he didn't just beat a child to death with a metal fist. There are enough little ghosts trailing after him as it is.

He swallows hard, blinks at her. «I guess not. I'm new here. And yeah, I'm hungry. Are you? What's your name?»

This little ghost isn't entirely little, but she is hardly anything remarkable to see at the moment. Willowy. The promise is there, maybe, if she got a square meal for the next ten years, and ate her carrots, of course. Her frost blue eyes gleam as Bucky holds her attention. Just a little winter snowflake, waiting for Ded Moroz to bring her a blue coat. She doesn't yawn, that would be wrong. «Fanya.» She reaches up to push her hair back behind her ear. Little ghost, living ghost, the cut of those features is not unfamiliar. Not really. She doesn't shuffle forward, but the vaguely drawn and worried look has all the elements of a best friend measuring, finding a chink in the plan. Can he hear that voice? C'mon, Buck, think about it for a second…

«Yes. You first.» Manners, maybe? She doesn't seem to have any problems walking into the lab and pushing the door closed behind her. The lights are on if he hasn't hit them yet. She shuffles in small, short steps to the counter with the blender and the cups. Six on the tray, but setting them aside until only two are there is easy. «You're not really new. Old.» The twitch of a smile gets bigger, blooms wide, and she beams at the corner for a moment at her secret little joke. She heads to the chrome cabinet and pulls open the door unless he stops her, revealing… a fridge. Basically, a fridge rigged from Soviet architecture. It contains a miracle in this age, an inner door spot to put a cup. A push on the lever and the liquid pours out into the contents, and honest to God, it looks like a milkshake with a faint smell. Maybe a little more earthy than a milkshake. «No waste.» She points to a small sign inside the fridge door. It literally says the same thing with a small smiley face.

He's agog of course, he is. «Well, I am a lot older than you,» he concedes, after a moment. Then James ventures, «Fanya. Stefaniya?» A glance at the milkshake. «What's that?» This little wisp of humanity has managed to do what years of violence and carnage have not: shock him into being utterly off-balance. He's got no programming at all that deals with this, even as his gaze easily catalogues the similiarities. She'll be a handsome woman, if she gets those ten years and good meals.

He might've expected a little boy version of the seven, a spectre of his own childhood….or, a daughter, the echo of lost Rebecca. This…this is a gut punch.

Her hands clasp the metal cup, straw poking straight up. Thick stir of things. «Our food.» Her face turns up to him. Cheekbones, same. The bright eyes are the same, almost, though the fluorescent hardness overhead makes it a bit hard to tell. But for that brown hair, though, the softened chisel and rounding of wan feminine adolescence makes her terribly similar. His instincts are true. «Food. Don't you drink them too?» The idea puzzles her, denting her brow. She looks down, a touch of longing and then holds hers up. While Bucky aims to process the knife to the back, she puts it down on the counter and tears herself away to claim the other cup. Her movements are faster, clumsy, a bit too strong. It might go both ways, this confusion, the building emotional time bomb thrown off at the depths.

There's the eighth, fumbling the other cup to the slot and pushing. Some of the pale, thick slurry runs over her fingers. She shoves them fully into her mouth, sucks them clean. In some ways, as ravenous as any young teenager.

After a good amount of finger-licking, because the sign says no waste, she adds, «Stefaniya. Fanya.» A little nod.

Bucky reflexively holds out a hand to gesture her to slowness. She's kicked in Winter's instincts, too. This is a possible baby Widow, and thus one of *his*. For surely that's what she's destined for. «Ah, no,» he says. «I was….I was raised and trained elsewhere. I'm…uh…I'm an older model, if that makes sense.» He does take and try a sip of the milkshake, steeling himself not to make a face if it's awful.

They could come in and take him without a blow struck, now. He's that shocked, watching her. «I'm Yegor.» He'll use his father's name as an alias without shame. « What are you doing up? YOu're allowed to get up by yourself at this hour? Or did you sneak out of bed?» Fanya, the little bioengineered Cindy Lou Who.

Blank stare. Model might mean something but she clearly doesn't understand the gist. Fanya wears her bangs a little too long, and they get in her eyes when she has to push them away when she wants. Her pupils widen a little when Bucky tries the milkshake, and her own straw is in her mouth a moment later. Elbowing the chrome fridge door shut is important enough to distract her for a second. Past that, the interior contains basically little else but a few saran wrapped dishes and a generously large freezer compartment with a sliding drawer. She drinks fast and quick, one solid pull that drains a good portion of the cup. Bottomless little pit there, good lungs, if the pool had anything to do with that. Is she a baby Widow? Hard to say; she is rather thin where her wrists and ankles are visible. But still, she is at the cusp of the age where growth hits hardest.

«I'm following rules. Hungry, we eat.» This is said as the most natural thing in the world, and heartbreaking, because it's the inverse of an orphanage where food deprivation comes readily. «You eat first. Always.» Another sip, and the bubbly slurp of bare plastic on metal sounds. She's downed a lot. The slurry is thick as a milkshake, as cold, but a bit chalkier and sort of richer. Any familiarity with a powdered shake or blended drink of that sort through the army will probably trigger immediate comparison, or a vitamin powder stuffed into a blender mix. Hence the reason for it to be cold, to be mixed, palatable. «Yegor.» She repeats his name. More sipping. «What are you doing down? You're not allowed.»

«No?» he asks, keeping his tone mild. The stuff seems decent, so he wastes no time on it. Calories, nutrients - he runs hot, himself, even if he's no longer growing. «I'm not. But you've seen the other guys who look like me, right?» Thank god he changed out of a booze sodden business suit into gear that's far warmer and more durable….and more likely to look like something that belongs out here. «I'm new here, and kind of lost. Which way do I go back to where I should be?»

|ROLL| Bucky +rolls 1d20 for: 20

|ROLL| Bucky +rolls 1d100 for: 40

«You're old.» Cue those big blue eyes sweeping a look through her lashes, not coy, so much as mirrored in worried, almost shy judgment. What kind of socialization can she get in the middle of nowhere, even if Voronezh is a respectable city? «And you go to the kitchen.» Poking around with the plastic straw, she sips up the last of the shake with somewhat noisy slurps. No helping that, and she doesn't clearly care. When that's done, her finger runs around the rim and she licks it. Then she sucks the straw clean. «Others? Nope.» Her next job will be rinsing her cup. If his is done, she takes that too, nodding to Bucky with fraught earnest way. «You need more? Kitchen is the other side.» She'll even point at the door, and presumably to those stairs on the other side of the pool.

It'll be something subtle around the adrenaline fear clench to his stomach and the jitters that are coming, surely, with Winter pacing like a caged beast. A rush, a thrill, the burn of super-concentrated nutrients attacked by his various systems to extract or exploit what they can. Endocrine kicks into high gear, immune spins around, nervous clamps down on the signals and the rest stumbles right along in lockstep. The things he doesn't know, but the things he does: it's invigorating.

«I'm real old. In fact, I'll tell you a secret,» he says, in a conspirator's whisper, as he hands off the cup…a hair reluctantly. Taste may not be that great, but the hit….he needed that. Needed it badly. «Can you keep secrets?» It's enough to make a flush come in, a little vasodilation in response to all that activity. And then he glances at the door they came in through. «Kitchen's that way? Past the pool?»

She nods firmly. Fanya rinses the cups and puts them back on the tray where they came from. The drawer supplies two new straws, placed carefully in. She rubs her hands together and looks at her nails, hopeful, hope dashed in time. The shuffle brings her up to Bucky. «Around the pool. It's the big door on this side." From her perspective, it's the door on the right.

«All right. Thanks, Fanya. Don't mention me, by the way. I want it to seem like I learned on my own,» He's glowing with energy, wide awake, now. «Or….did you want to come with me? Are you allowed to eat in the kitchen?» Hell, if the little wolfling's hungry, might as well buy himself some more guidance.

Fanya blinks up and nods. «I can get in.» It's almost a silly thought to ask or say to her, and she gives a little smile, so bright and cheerful. Her hands clasp together and she inches along after him, letting Bucky take the lead. «We can always eat. Are you not allowed food there? Where you go from?»

«Only at certain times,» He allows. «So some times I'm real hungry before it's time. What do you like best to eat?» Heading for the door she mentioned, as if he had every right in tht world to be here. Surely he does. Trying to keep his stride easy, focus ahead, even as vision wants to keep darting towards that little sprite. Mine. And Steve's. But all out of their hands. That drink….whatever it is, he's still trying to look tired, but it's buzzing behind his eyes.

The brunette teen traipses in bare feet and that forgettable green-white scratchy robe down past her knees. She doesn't take large steps but keeps up by speed more than anything real length of stride. At 5'3" or so, she hasn't got the gait to do that easily. «Shakes.» That answer's emphatic underline counts. The door from Tech 1 opens into the chamber with the pool, and going down the stairs allows him to cross the tiled extent for the opposite wall where further stairs lead up, double the height at least. The upper landing opens back into an aisle facing the pool — because why not! It's a nice view. See the pretty observation deck, still yet higher, and the bank of computers where he dropped in. With Fanya following him like a duck, Bucky doesn't have to look far to find her.

Two doors, one on the right, one on the left.

On the right it is. He's in plain view but that's not as worrisome anymore. He's been spotted by one little inhabitant, and if she doesn't automatically recognize him as the wolf he is, well, that's fine. It's more peaceable time than he's spent with his sons, this surreal little interlude with a daughter? A grand-daughter? Then he's opening the door to what she said was the kitchen.

Daughter or granddaughter? He barely ages. Would his children? Would the other's children, given that uncanny resemblance of certain features in the admixture that is Fanya? She keeps her hand on the rail up the stairs, padding her way to the landing. The door clearly isn't locked, given the girl emerged none too long ago through there, yes?

Bucky easily opens the right-hand door onto another of those industrial-styled chambers. The only point of interest immediately presented are tall planters in a row, three cement cups that feature a very large fern in an attempt for brightness. On the wall hangs a simple map of Mother Russia from three seas, conspicuously the only country visible, and some of the major cities named in a neat hand under red stars. Beyond that lies a rather wide, open area with tiled floors and little impediment to see signs in the dimly lit area. Or one that matters, anyways, that reads CAFETERIA in bog standard industrial print on a sign.

Instinct says to open the doors, see what's behind them. That doesn't jive with his story, even if he's trying to spin a cover that might fool a fourteen year old girl. He lets her precede him in, and pads softly through the silent room to what must be the kitchen. Looking at her for cues - indicating the kitchen door with a finger, brows up. That way?

Fanya nods, and she passes the map and through the open space. «See?» She points to the sign helpfully outside the door, mounted on the wall. Another door opens adjacent to it, and then the aisle stretches off to the back wall on Bucky's relative right. It sweeps around out of sight past another room to his left. «You can go and eat. Food in the icebox.» Her shy grin is all earnestness in the mould of someone far too young to be roaming around a questionable dacha.

This is unreal. He should be breaking in to things, dodging guards, escaping. Something. But instead, no, here he is, helping someone designed out of him at least partially to cadge a midnight snack. Well, Cindy Lou, this Grinch will eat the cookies and milk.

The kitchen is dark, immediately apparent when he opens the door. It's large, too, with several plastic and metal folding tables laid out to accommodate more than a few people. They eat communal style, here, the benches replacing any sort of folding chairs. Around the edges of the room curve the basics of a mess hall, right down to the deep sinks, the tureens, the pots in their cabinets and a counter scoured clean within an inch of its life. Cutlery out but no knives, smart given the children. Another door in the corner looks small, scarred, often banged up like the wall. Nothing in here implies much character, no calendar, no children's art on the walls, but it does boast the facts of having food and being warm.

Of course he's looking through the cabinets, the fridge, for what they might have. Fanya'sgoing to have to pass him off as the world's biggest rat. Maybe there's milk to drink to settle that shake - he still half-feels like his hair is standing up. «So, Fanya, do you go to school in the day?» he asks, apparently idly.

Cabinet doors open to reveal the absolute basics, things like flour and a little bit of sugar. Wheat crackers that taste like cardboard, familiar to every last Russian. Oatmeal, of all things, in nameless tins that must be checked to see what they are. Most of the goods are dry. In the icebox are the meals, frozen blocks of vegetables and congealed gloop that must be more of those damn shakes. Reasonable to presume meat is delivered on a daily basis. Bread? Crumbs, at least, the heel of a loaf. Beyond that…

There's a damn bottle of vodka in the back of that, if he's searching. Milk, yes. And vodka. Vodka with an imprint he has to know all too well. Sometimes it was used to clean his wounds. Sometimes it was forced down his throat. Sometimes it sat on the side table while he was subject to memory exercises, violations, lessons, needles in the arm, the skull, click-click-click.

It makes him swallow hard. His constitution's steady enough that nausea's a rare thing, but….that label. There was one tech not so secretly taking swigs of it, when not using it to clean the needle marks. It's the milk he goes for. «Do you want anything?» he asks her. «There's not much, but….well, if you're still hungry…»

There was a specific scientist with a taste for it, too, a man in dapper coat and bowtie to assume the mien of a college lecturer somewhere in England. If only the accent didn't betray him entirely, no? The voice that might haunt Winter's waking memory and echo around the holes in Bucky's memories. Only one man has it, a brilliant geneticist who should not be within an hour.

«Only my shake.» Fanya shakes her head, her loose hair falling over her ears. She can't help but tuck it back again and bellies up to one of the benches. He has no issue finding cups in one cabinet, all the same, uniformly stamped. No odd shapes here. She chews lightly on her cuticle, biting into her skin a bit. Unconscious, mostly. Nips are light, tears quick. Nothing too great. «What now?»

«Well, I wanna know more about what you do here,» He could sneak around and steal files, or an inmate can tell him. «Like, when you wake up tomorrow, what then?» Do not go for the vodkabottle. That won't help.

«School, silly.» The solemn look lasts for three seconds and then the little brunette teen swings her feet. Her gown is too thick to make even that problematic. «I learn. Maths. Sciences. Play outside. Did you not learn too?» Her expression turns a bit concerned, and those wide, guileless blue eyes track Bucky's every moment. «Reading is good. Sometimes I draw. I am not very good.»

Bucky hesitates a moment. «Sounds like what I did, yeah,» he syas, as he pours out the milk. «I….i grew up in near Vladivostok. Out east.» He's got the accent to go with it. He chugs half the milk, goes to get the heel of bread from the fridge. «I'm pretty good at drawing.»

Vladivostok. It's like a dream. She gets up to go prance outside the kitchen and consult the great map with its arcing sweep. V, V, many Vs. Not Vladimir's town, but somewhere on the far Pacific. If he looks, Bucky can watch her peer up, standing on tiptoe to read out the name and find its right star. It takes her a few minutes.

He does watch. But he's tempted fate, long enough. THe milk carton is empty, and he's devoured that scrap of bread. He comes out into the empty cafeteria, face set. «I should be finding my place,» he tells her. «And you should be going back to bed. Be able to sleep, a little bit. I'm glad to've met you, Fanya. I'll see you again, soon.»

«Going so soon?» The crestfallen expression covering her face is serious, almost sad. «But you haven't had a lesson.» Her mouth turns down a little, and Fanya bows her head. There is no fight in her, not for being told where to go by an adult. Others might rail, protest, challenge. She shuffles back to the planter and veers immediately to the far wall. A set of stairs is tucked away, where she will be headed up. «Okay. Bye-bye.»

«Bye-bye,» Only when she's gone does Bucky turn back to his former errand. Terribly shaken - there are puzzle pieces here, floating in a void, and he knows the picture is going to be so awful when it resolves. Then he's turning for the hall that leads left out of the cafeteria area.

He's got a set of pocket picks with him. Never know when you're gonna need 'em, right? So he's down on one knee, taking what time he can. The world turns, the terminator marches across the timezones. The pale knight rides out across the Urals, while the red knight touches the Pacific shore.

The day approaches on the heels of fading dark, ragged robe pulled across the ground. Fanya is gone, up the stairs, to betray him or return to her bed with a full stomach and fuzzy head. His hunger laps and fades, leaving that sense of action mingled by fear. But it's a curiously buzzy sensation, as his immune system kicks up the internal heat and rips apart whatever has been presented to it. Fiddling with the bars on the doorway leading to the north, functionally identical of that to the south, says something.

Something wrong. He need but touch the metal to feel their strength, resisting his grip. He can squeeze and they won't bend that easily, though the vibranium-infused arm is another matter. Hauling the door open is easy, the inner second barred gate meant to slide back. Like a jail, of course, which makes the inner chamber…

Well. How many people has he taught to fight and taught to die in such a chamber? Sloping floor, central drain, wooden plank enclosure around the edges for the next in line to be called up by their handlers? This is a place where they fight and fall. No mats. Room for knives. Hooks in the ceiling for ropes, chained links, punching bags.

Enough. A lash of memory sickens him, blurs his vision. He doesn't need to go in to understand. Then he'sturning,again. For the room with the shimmering pool, for the stairs that lead up to that observation chamber. Haste is overriding stealth. He needsa way back out or he'sgoing to be trapped here.

Where, indeed, are those stairs for the observation deck? Tis the rub, none are visible in the computer room, and certainly none are visible from the shallow set leading to Tech. 1 through 7. His choices may be those impossible running jumps to latch onto solid glass or finding another route, tracing his way higher.

Nothing for it but to follow the stairs the little sparrow took, quiet as he can. But it's enough to make him feel like an ogre in a fairy tale - hunger coiling in his belly, that strange energy in his veins. Fee Fi Fo Fum.

Up those stairs wind through the switchback. Cement gives way to worn wood, no runner carpet. Hell on sock feet, maybe why little Fanya preferred to go bare, rather than trip and fall. The railing is gone, only the brackets where it used to remain. As in the tradition of fallen nobility near everywhere, upstairs is opulent, downstairs functional. Though opulence at a distant remove. He swings his way on a tight switchback, no accounting for fast movement or modern heights here, only to be spat back out inside the central hall of the building on the eastern side. If he had to guess, he's beyond the eastern wing — the intake — where it joins the body of the house itself. This is the transition point. It's beautiful here, tiles on the floor and the great ceiling painted with some Russian fairy tale or historical image. Hard to say whom the boyar is, astride his proud horse, an echo of Marcus Aurelius' equestrian statue.

A few lights are on, not many. Archways lead into the back wing, and four men guard each cardinal direction.

Shit. He needs out now, like a cat needs Out. OUT. There's got to be a way to evade, though. The chances of killing four men quietly….well, he may be the Winter fucking Soldier and that should be like falling off a log. But still. Not at his best. Wounded, tired, buzzed on who knows what…he presses himself back to the wall, silent, trying to figure the best way forward.

Forward, the choice forward is walking through the central chamber in the dacha unless he plans on climbing up an air vent again. He's already on the main floor, not the top, but the one where a pair of doors led outside into the carriage drive. Then just a run forty kilometers back to Voronezh and another two thousand back to safe territory past the Iron Curtain. Or he could dodge south for Iran, the Persian kingdom relatively friendly to American interests, provided Bucky can swim the length of the Caspian Sea. Turn south directly and head for Turkey, steering a boat along the Don River into the Bosphorus. They'd never expect the Barnish Inquisition.

The stairs give him a corner. His nearest exit through the east wing marches right past all those guards, the drugged children, and into fresh air. How to advance?

One of the young men starts to chuckle.

So, next level. That makes sense. Maybe he can make it up the stairs without them noticing them. It's abetter chance than trying to dash past that gauntlet. Up he eels, but….his judgement is not what it was. Not after that train ride, and that night, and god only knows what singing in his veins.

The next level: step by step winds upwards into a long, low room roughly etched in by dark patches and few lights. There needs not be much, honestly, because they sit there and wait. A man with a cup of tea, a samovar glistening on a table beside him. He dresses in a suit, dark, and fine shoes. Beside him is a guard who stands, still chuckling softly. There's not much to hear aside from that, the scraping syllables coming out from the 40-something man in plain khaki clothes, good boots, the image of a nice Soviet officer.

«Come in from the cold, have you?» The question comes from that ever so pleasant tea-drinker.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License