1965-03-02 - Project Ursa: Alkaid
Summary: Bucky descends south towards Volgograd in search of Steve Rogers. His first stop doesn't end well.
Related: Project: Ursa
Theme Song: None
bucky rogue 

2000 hours. Voronezh Oblast. Somewhere southeast of Verkhniy Mamon.

The great majority of the USSR is rural, thinly inhabited by descendents of serfs who tilled the soil and eked out a living on the black loess left by ancient ice sheets and howling winds. Between great cities lie barren plains rendered fertile by the advent of industrialization. There are a great many lonely towns in the flatlands, collections of huddled masses ekeing out their existence.

Helpful for a man on a mission, cutting his way from A to B with a minimum of fuss. Trains don't run much on any form of track, and the traditional truck traffic largely stops with the snows. A soldier might move with a convoy, go it alone, or otherwise cut his way. Verkhniy Mamon is unimportant as far as places go except for the M-4 — The Don Highway — going from here to there. It splits and splinters in sections, slithering over the frozen, glittering waters of the great river in violent flood. One town after another has been buried under torrential waters. Derezovka, Gorokhovka, Novaya Kaltiva, Ol'khovatka, all summarily inundated and drowned.

Beyond the water, Verkhniy Mamon has two singular features. A gas station, presumably, and an ugly little cafe still open late called Zodiak. The one functional bar is swamped and shuttered.

All this for him, terrible ceremony to stop him and Steve. It's a weird little ego boost. OR would be, if he weren't so shut down. He's managed to scavenge a little in both money and clothes. The metal arm is disguised in a sling, and his hair's tucked below his coat collar, for now.

He took the plow as far as he could, but he's left it behind and walked the last little distance. So the only refuge from the cold is the cafe.

The M4 is far from an interstate, the pride of the Midwest linking east to west. But as far as Russian roads go, it's an Autobahn, regularly plowed and remarkably navigable. The plows utilized by the state are pathetic compared to the neat snow-throwing capabilities of something apparently designed decades ahead of its time, purring along and spitting out a fanned rooster-tail vertically behind it until Bucky somehow figures out how to make that more of a puffed mist. At least it obscures him from view at a distance. Gas apparently ought to work. Leaded, that might be a problem.

The ZODIAK sign is barely lit. Snowflakes fall on the empty streets. Inside a few regulars nurse coffee and bad borscht while listening to a radio no one really listens to. Mostly there is silence, the sort broken by his entry. Old men here, those weathered and witness to terrible things, watch as he enters. The tables are squat, chairs cracked, blinds crooked. But warm, yes, with food — a tureen of soup, another of pottage, always available. A server, not much older or younger than the grizzled folk traveling and settling, puts down his paper. "Hmph."

He's got jerrycans with him, the better to gas the thing up, if need be. But those were set down somewhere concealed before he came in here. The good hand fishes in his coat pocket for rubles, kopecks, as he contemplates what's on offer. Coffee and soup it is, asked for in murmured Russian.

Jerrycans work, and a gas station here is a gas station anywhere in the USSR. Exchange cash or voucher slips and away one goes, preferably after greasing palms in the time-honoured way. Cafe Zodiak is probably no different.

Bucky has a few spots to pick from, empty seats by the window or the wall where an ancient calendar depicts landscapes along the Black Sea. A few faded portraits of Stalin and Khrushchev hang overhead. The server nods, taking the cash, counting it out after he turns his back. The others are practically motionless where they sit.

He moves slowly to collect the soup, lid clattering onto the table. Ladling it out is a messy business. But warm, yes, if a bit thickened from the day's heat. He turns to offer that back, his hand shaking, chattering the bowl.

|ROLL| Michael +rolls 1d20 for: 10

It's not right, here. As it's been not right for so much of this trip. He does his best to blend in, picking a seat where he can see all the entrances and exits, keep an eye on his fellow patrons. He eats in haste - the body needs food, even if that wolfish hunger can never be sated. Drinking, too. He and Steve have a long way to go.

When has anything been right since he stepped foot on the ground of his adoptive nation, the one that seized him from the sea and breathed new life into his empty lungs?

Water can be found poured from a room-temperature plastic carafe, there for him to try. Tea and hot water, unfortunately, are a self-service business as the proprietor drops back onto his stool and resumes business of reading his paper. His eyes don't move. Not so much, anyways, slithering about now and then. While Bucky eats, they watch him. While he stares away, they watch him.

While he stares at them, rheumy eyes stare right back. Those patrons raise no sound, though one lifts his hand and mechanically spoons a bit of soup into his mouth. A slick's already formed atop it, a skin that peels off when he puts it in his mouth.

HE doesn't bother to try and play it cool. Don't start none, won't be none, hopefully. Watching the rest of them as if expecting to be jumped, some sort of insane diner fight. It'd be par for the course, wouldn't it? He gets himself tea, lets it brew while he frankly wolfs down the soup. If they know what he is, they'll hopefully be wise enough not to tangle with him.

Nothing at all to see here, is there? The tea comes out slow, as the heated water takes a bit of time to warm up to a palatable temperature. Bags wait in a dusty box for the taking, and if the proprietor has complaints, he keeps it to himself.

They might know what he is. Those rheumy eyes do not so much as blink. With precision, when he finishes the soup, spoon to the bowl, one of the older fellows in a faded yellow shirt and hat keels face forward onto the table. Deadweight displaces the crockery and chair in two directions, the bowl and spoon deflected like a hockey puck off the wall, the chair cracking into another diner who sloughs at a rickety angle to collapse against the table. Neither rise.

Only the proprietor turns his head slightly, watching. «Hnnngh.»

What the hell? Bucky looks down into the bowl. Did everyone here just get poisoned to get to him? Reason says no, paranoia gibbers that it's entirely likely. There's a moment's insane temptation to get up and skim the cash register, but really, what would he buy in Russia? Has he been dining with zombies, the entire time?

Questions without an answer. The bodies stacked up here would not be impressive, only five total, plus Bucky itself. But with two down, neither of them release so much as a kick or a rickety death rattle to satisfy the needs of death. The soup certainly doesn't taste that odd, but the serum gives him an edge up on poison, anyways.

|ROLL| Michael +rolls 1d20 for: 10

He's tempted to investigate. But….what could he do? Hastily, he rises, taking the cup of tea with him. A tentative sip, as if it might betray itself with a taste.

The tea still tastes black, bitter, and warm, all one can hope for in the Russian winter.

«Death,» hisses the proprietor in a leaking bellows wheeze through pinholes possibly punched in a balloon. His eyes flit up where Bucky shadows the windows. Food he has, and enough to pass on for a few hours nutritionally. Gas will be another issue. Maybe it's just this one town, this one place, something like a leak or botulism, ergot in the sprouted grain, maybe….

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