1964-11-24 - Bucking the Trend
Summary: Sometimes it’s better to just let me go.
Related: Project Virgo
Theme Song: Foo Fighters - Something From Nothing
bucky rogue 

Forget what hurt you but never forget what it taught you.
- Shannon L. Alder

In the depths of a concrete basement, they learned the lessons of pain. Simple artistry never suited for their kind, and no mere hack pulled from the wet works division of the KGB could be pulled in on the next train to instruct the nameless young men on the critical points that must be learned.

Casual dissidents broke down under the application of a bamboo cane or pressure that split their tendons, bowed their bones. The thugs parading around in their green coats and khaki shirts pretended to amount to something fierce. What made an expert? Certainly not swinging a baton at the vulnerable, taut body caged by steel and thick leather straps stiffened by cerebrospinal fluids or spilled piss, blood, and tears. Any hack could achieve those prizes at the end of the rope.

Manipulating one of the Motherland’s hidden monsters required a special touch, an intuitive understanding for a man’s weaknesses that transcended the physical and walked into the spiritual. The heavy scent of bleach and chlorine wouldn’t transport the laity to the lofty vaults of heaven, and all the better. Religion was taboo in the Soviet Union, sent underground. But what could they do? Russians are a spiritual people, as much as they are fatalistic. Wed the two together and their belief never fades, but grows on the thick black soil and endless sky replicated in bland, chipped paint washed free of any unwanted splashback.

The squat man in a heavy greatcoat held near reverence for his assorted tools laid out in their encrusted dish. Everything held its proper place. The same fanaticism applied to the rusty vacuum tubes and bellows of his brain. Laid out before him was a masterpiece, incorrupt and glowing, something he intended to examine as closely as the restorationists in Leningrad crawled all over the grand paintings from the Tsarist age at the Hermitage. But he held no qualms about skin the way they painstakingly preserved craquelure and renewed the dimmed oils to a mouthwatering luminosity. HIs masterpiece could bleed from its cracks and the canvas flex in its distorted frame.

Ferapont Polzin took no little pride in his work. His patients dreaded him. He’d learned to tell them apart despite the difficulties through these long sessions.

Strapped into a chair, the behemoth of a man dwarfed him twice over. Bloodshot eyes bulged against thin, papery lids. His grotesque tongue burst through his taped lips, captured by bundled lengths of rough bamboo. An ingenious calculation, Ferapont decided, a stroke of inspiration to apply the splintered chopsticks. One good twist of the rubber bands induced the most beautiful frothing at the corners of a yawning red mouth. Garrotte wire cabled over the throat would normally be shorn of any casing, but rules were rules.

The dark maestro over the singular symphony of human suffering was forced to oblige. He didn’t care at all for scientists and bureaucrats meddling in his work, but even in his field, greater horrors lay under the surface.

Ferapont sighed and picked up the thin hammer, usually reserved for precision strikes that snapped bone to pieces. Pity the brute couldn’t appreciate the nuance. He would of course have no word for the almost dislocated wrench of the shoulder blades as his bound arms stretched out behind him until his oozing, raw wrists tilted almost vertical.

Strappado, the only good thing Italian ever contributed to culture. Ferapont practically shuddered, feeling the tension creasing along his stiff trousers. Time to get to work. Metal clanked as he lowered the hammer back to the tray and selected a pair of prongs attached to a naked wire wrapped eventually in cheap black plastic.

“Electricity today,” he announced. His patient never bothered to raise his head or acknowledge the spoken word. Typical, the meat in their heads went to quivering waste after a few hours of his tender ministrations. No matter the mystical transubstantiation the scientists promised, they never quite delivered. Red marks lashed the patient’s bare stomach in livid welts raised over empurpled bruises, scores of scorched points dancing in a uniform grid along his exposed thigh and flank.

Clothes in the work room only existed for the maestro, who prided himself on playing his part. He opened the alligator teeth on a clamp sufficient to pierce a bear’s coarse russet hide and felt a hardening thrill when the guttural love-moan from his subject answered the skin rippling and cracking open. One applied to the upper reach of the thigh where a bit of excess skin and muscle would hold. He chose the same side for the second, but much higher on the chest, the useless biological nub left behind by nature.

He cranked the dials on the innocuous silver box mounted in a sea of spotless tile. At once a buzz played through the lines and saturated the patient’s body with the scratchy, angry bee-hum no one could hope to reach. Just so. “Longing.” The voltage darted higher, a needle furiously swaying like the upright tail of a frightened cat. “Rusted.

It was going to be a long night. They were inevitably when he got the most work done.

Diane Ricoult of SHIELD’s O Division boasted a tiny office stuffed by paperwork and basic hand-to-hand training expected for anyone employed by the secretive agency. She utterly failed in her firearms review, and opted out of any sort of intermediate field tactics. On her file, her instructors praised her dogged commitment and lamented nearly every other aspect of the psychologist’s formalized combat training. She lacked the credentials to shift into any form of handler or active street role, which suited her just fine.

Instead her acumen and a reorganizational shuffle placed Diane under Doctor Farnsworth, a rank five member. One step higher than her own clearance and conceivably as removed as the moon. Doctor Farnsworth answered for a project without a name that trickled down through O Division to a carefully recruited and screened network of psychiatrists.

Half of those lay dead under a Quebec farm, hastily buried to avoid unwanted issues crossing the border without some kind of official government sanction. Patients assigned to the psychiatrists and psychologists singlehandedly slaughtered guards in a desperate retreat to the threnody of pop songs.

She knew only the barest amount of those hard, cruel facts.

What she understood derived from her imperfect diagnoses, observations gleaned through intense scrutiny and a veil of red tape obstructing any view of her subjects’ histories. Trauma, detachment, a list of symptoms and plausible syndromes a mile long paraded around each. She turned a clinical eye upon possible causes and ran up against a host of violations of every medical ethic she could think of. Mental programming. Unceasing abuse. Destimulation.

A ranking committee full of SHIELD brass and ivory tower mandarins summoned her a week before to testify to her disturbing findings and left her to hang by her badge hours later. Whatever authority she gained as the main psychiatrist to an asset so valuable it remained locked in an unnumbered basement cell at the Triskelion on Governors Island evaporated when challenging the state of his imprisonment.

Volya, that patient called himself. She’d ceased to think of him as JBU-04 weeks ago. Even her reports addressed him as Volya, my patient. Could a man ripping apart four inches of cold-pressed steel be called her patient?

Sweat soaked through her white blouse, half-covered by the standard issue black jacket that served as her everyday uniform. Diane encountered no resistance from the two guards stationed to either side of the outer airlock doors that guarded the inner sanctum. They turned their full attention inward where the only real risk lay.

Burrs grated along her throat when she swallowed. Words clung to her bruised mouth. Just a word would announce her, and scupper the whole ill-conceived plan in its wake. Her future hung in front of her. Weren’t some of the theoretical scientists or the free-thinkers down in the Village always insisting that one action touched off dozens, spawning whole new universes? An odd thing to imagine now.

She could turn back. But I can’t. Who would I be if I leave a patient to come to harm?

The guard on the right was peering through the wired glass at his internal counterparts, all within range. His coat peeled up, showing the sidearm in its vinyl holster against his belt. Diane’s tutor in pistols rarely troubled her memories and she remembered little of him now, other than the routine regimen of thumbing off the safety, pointing, and cleaning.

Her grab at his gun caught his partner by surprise, and he rotated too late to stop her from leveling the barrel at his head. This was it. No turning back, no explaining herself now. Cameras and microphones captured every word as they had when she spoke the phrases to send her patient into docile sleep. Obviously that hadn’t worked.

“Open the doors or I shoot you.” Her threat rang clear.

His partner would be the problem. Any hesitation on her part and he could shoot. When the man under the pitiless barrel jerked a look to his companion, horror registered in his gentle cobalt eyes. They darted to the empty space, the weapon in her shaking hands.

Movement at the corner of her vision warned her enough. She shot twice, squeezing the trigger doubly, before the heavy fist impacted the side of her head and sent her flying across the floor. Lightning circulated inside her skull, trapped fireflies with no way out. Another hit like that and consciousness would flood away, perhaps for good.

Wet breath rasped over her. Calls on a radio scoured away any sense of familiarity. She reached around for the gun, the only option left for freeing Volya. She had to find it and force herself up. A mere psychologist who hated running and keeping trim enough to pass the annual physical trials was no juggernaut.

Tears dredged over her cheeks as she found the pistol and fired again. The shot struck concrete, throwing chips. The next time was easy; the good man with a wife somewhere tried to tackle her. She had only to point at his chest, squeeze the trigger. He fell.

Claxons wailed. Strident buzzing screams overflowed on the constant, urgent stream of English carried over the PAs. Volya tuned the words out. They flowed into a meaningless stream of consonants interrupted by a half-hearted Russian phrase, the way a cornered trainer shouts at a dog in hopes “Sit!” or “Stay!” will work now where it has not the previous ten times.

The grating tore into the soles of his feet and dented his shins an inch deep. Blood rolled down his fingers. Little use to lubricate his bruised neck or split, sweaty scalp. Yet he still possessed options. Once more he felt around the circular ring binding him to the four corners of his holding cell. Beams converged at angles, anchoring into the frame, giving absolutely no give.

Somehow he remain locked in. A mechanism must open the ring, break the orbit enough to allow his head to pass through. Simple understand kept his fingers moving when he caught the unmistakable chorus of gunshots. Patriotic symphonies had been written to less..

Volya chased his bloody nails around the smooth rim. No latch there, but he felt the seam hidden on the underside, and blindly slapped his palm around on the corresponding front face. With the tacky, thick blood coating his skin, he nearly missed the skinny divot.

Not much strength remained to him. He’d have one, maybe two tries before they came through and subdued him. The SHIELD interrogation took much out of him, and they persisted for days after the failed escape through the black water. A memory of the red star burned in his flickering memory. Copper and sweat stung his unfocused eyes. Better to stand than die on his knees, he decided. His flagging energy briefly surged.

Lazar had come before. The ghost. He might well be round the corner again.

From some unnamed depth of himself, a lyrical bellow ripped out of his throat. Adrenaline knotted his biceps, his forearms, acid bite and reaching hands tearing at the metal frame in opposite directions to open a space. He slipped, skid, lost his grasp and re-established it with the desperation a sailor holds onto the rail above the watery onyx abyss. Sawing back exposed open, sharp screws yanked out of their holes, stripped in the partition. Pressure rose on his adam’s apple, no escaping that, the uneven skew of the separating ring pushing down on his neck. Cut off his windpipe, game over, dead, no one coming.

Games. Like he knew anything of games. Volya uttered one last blasted shriek. He wrenched his head back, banging it on the metallic frame and that bent him forward, his hips thrust out and legs splayed in a squat like a sumo wrestler. Not that he knew anything of sumo or Japan other than a passing fancy but this, this worked to give his forearms rest on the twisted frame and mounted bar as he pulled through.

And the pain bloomed, blew open, as he reeled back and cleared the eye of the needle. He slammed free against the grate, tipped over, rolling as fast as he could as the delirium set in thick and cotton cloudy.

Operations protocol reviewed in coming weeks and months identified a grievous error in professional conduct. Agents Savask and Kowalski made critical mistakes by releasing a unsubdued patient locked behind lucite and bulletproof glass. Risk analyses suggested the barriers could contain the patient long enough for backup to arrive on site.

Independent psychologists stated their professional opinions to a table of grim executives that they could not naturally be certain of the two operatives’ mental state that day. Little justified engaging someone identified as a beta level flight risk. They presented possible reasons and settled inconclusively upon a desire to exact revenge for the assassination of Captain Steve Rogers, or a poorly gauged decision about their own abilities to eliminate the patient’s danger to himself.

Whatever the case, the cameras captured the facts. Agent Kowalski unlocked the doors while Agent Savask provided cover with a semi-automatic pistol. Three shots fired, two struck clear and the third hit the patient along the side. The wound was non-fatal and minimally impacted his operational performance.

Too late for the SHIELD staff assigned to the grim duty of guarding him at the bottom of the Triskelion. They might earn a brick with a name, somewhere, if luck had it. Luck probably would not. It winked on a one-eyed senior agent, and anyone stationed on this particular prisoner defied his direct orders. He was well positioned to erase their providential deeds with the stroke of his pen.

Malachi Savask didn’t stand a chance against the four inches of steel mounted in a t-bar slamming into his skull at speeds sufficient to impale the hood of a ‘63 Impala. His orbital socket collapsed and the force keeled him over.

The next man in line wisely would have run, but what hope had he to outrun Volya the Hunter?

The race was on.

Man in the savannah relies largely on firepower to gain an advantage over the larger predators he contends with. A lion smart as an adult male gains more advantages and opportunities to exploit. Volya kicked the broken T-frame used to bind his wrists while Kowalski struggled to open up space behind them. In a contained room, the outcome was all but certain.

He raised the gun for a clear shot, and nearly took the bloodied edge of steel to the face. Reflex pulled him aside, and the beveled corner slammed into the wall. Fracture lines radiated around chipped grey paint, and the cuff block crashed to the floor. Volya was already on him, ignoring the bark and the flash of muzzle fire.

Kowalski kicked out at the vulnerable point at the side of the knees, and both his boots impacted with the broad, muscled leg right above the hinge. Volya seized his collar and buried a fist in his coat, rotating with the kick as he collapsed low. The agent thought he had a chance after all until he left the ground thanks to the immense strength in those corded, bleeding arms covered in yellowing bruises — healing too quickly, already, thanks to some infernal serum devised by the Soviets.

He struck out at the Russian’s face, twice, three times, a fourth in hopes of catching his chin and forcing it up, breaking the bridge of the nose with a satisfying crunch, slamming something into eyes or brow. Choice eluded him.

His palm connected with Volya’s face, a swipe that slammed against the cheek and snapped the prisoner’s head to the side.

Breath sawed through broken lips, clotted nostrils. Volya flung the guard away from him through the separated doors of his cell, hardly noticing the way the man’s compact body deflected off the bracing steel bar anchoring the torn neck-cage. Vibrations ran hard through the structure upon forceful impact; the grated floor hummed as the agent’s body rebounded and tumbled to a stop.

The Russian didn’t bother to look. A quick pat down of the other guard’s armoured body produced little worthwhile, a passcard snapped up and his belt torn free as a precaution. Extra ammunition and a pocket knife he discarded. The jacket would never fit, too bad given he loathed the filthy sweats and t-shirt he was left with. Satisfied in his precautions, he ran for the only exit available to him.

He all but tripped over the mess of shapes in his way. They did not matter to him, features in a landscape equivalent to crumbling logs in a primeval Ural forest or glacial erratics on the taiga. Features his eye never lingered on. But one.

His instinct to crush the hand reaching for his bare foot stops only seeing the bird-thin wrist, the tremors running through the curling fingers. They skitter along his insole and fall to the ground among blood and spent casings, fragile things that quiver as they seek warmth and connection. That Volya could not grasp, but he saw the pained, pasty-white face and the wet eyes staring up through a mess of dark hair.

The face connected to a voice, a woman’s voice, a woman in dark clothes always comported so carefully. Someone sitting out of his way, she gave him space how the others never did. Soft words and confined gestures, limited ones. He barely heard her faded whispers scratching at his ears, the slurred sounds crashing together.

Diane struggled to say something, incapable pulling thoughts together through the roaring inferno crackling away in her skull. Exercising verbal control went to cinders when she attempted to focus. Everything burned away. Run. He must run.

The long fingers dusted in blood and gun oil swept across her brow to push her hair away. Blown pupils partly tracked the sojourn that exposed her face to the hateful light. She exorcised her demons in a breath. Why fight? At least he’d end it quickly.

Volya instead wrapped his arm around her waist and hauled the semi-conscious psychologist over his shoulder as though she weighed little more than a towel. She cried out, unable to hold back the anguish overcoming her. Everything hurt, most of all her splitting head.

He strode to the hallway, gun in hand, woman over the other. It never dawned to her he might use her as a hostage. It never crossed his mind to stop. His mission was singular. Find them.

They stared at the frozen frame on the television, reduced to shadows and bleach bone. Three telephones sat upon the desk. Grey, white, blue. One call connected to the highest levels, and ensured Armageddon. The other two diverged fates to different directions.

“What do we do?” The hoarse question hung between the level six agents. They clutched the arms of their seats instead of entrusting a faulty response.

Larkin pushed his palm over the rough metal. Thirty years of active service and he still wasn’t prepared for this. Fury is going to have an aneurysm over this. We all are. No one’s prepared for this level of crap.

Bodies lay in distorted, twisted heaps against the metal grate floor. Still light rose from the bowels under the chamber, a thin layer of lucite distorting any noise possibly generated in the facility. Blood and flesh festooned the holding cell’s walls.

The sick sensation pooled in the quiet stretching out. Lockdown proved insufficient. They could break through the reinforced doors with enough effort. But all that one had to do was stare at the wall and the door ahead of him splintered as though punched by a dozen battering rams.

Senior by six years, the aging Commando sunk back and put his head in his hands. “Got all the proof we need right here, agent. Up with it. We’re going to have to make a call.”


“How ‘bout we start with God and end with Rogers.”

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