1964-12-21 - Red Star at Night
Summary: Beware words in the mouths of babes.
Related: Project Virgo
Theme Song: None
rogue bucky steve-rogers zola 

OOC Note: Features Steve and Bucky by proxy. Rogue is the writer.

“Is he going to come back?” A complex structure, twisting metal pipes and metal spheres, shadowed the waif’s concerned face. She reached into the rectangular dish for another flexible tube, fitting the end into the hole piercing the ball.

He answered her after a momentary pause. “Focus on the task, Fanya.”

“Talking doesn’t slow me,” she said.

True, the decoupling of her thoughts from assembling the matrix of lysine. Her nimble fingers sorted through the pieces without need for her to check by sight. She was faster feeling for the shorter strands that she assembled into the incomplete lattice. The pattern in her mind remained clear, a diamond shape forking off in different directions.

Another two bulbs stuck out from the twiggy wires when he spoke again, slow and methodical, as always. “That arrogance does not suit a young person. You will be punished for talking back to your teacher.”

The steel ball bounced back into the dish, clanking off the others gathered in a heap. Fanya pressed her lips together and her chin jerked down, a bright spark guttered out by the expert pinch.

“Yes, sir.”

“The finest student obeys the teacher and respects elders. Know your place. Is it right to question me?” he asked.

Fanya bit the inside of her cheek and pressed three lengths to the back of the ball, the emerging rays reminding her of brave, skygoing Sputnik. Her thumb polished the front curve, but she dared not hesitate placing it upon the rising apparatus. A quick shake of her head answered the expectant silence. A risk, not speaking, but when her tutor entered these moods she found the correct answer was none at all to interrupt him.

He must be pleased with her choice because none of the carefully positioned devices or the metal strips on the desk awakened to his command. A frightened glance checked for surge of blue sparks that occasionally forewarned her of the corrective shock. She continued to build the next section of the model, twisting a longer spur into the socket.

The doctor’s voice cut through the empty classroom in a thick, heavy presence. “Stop, Fanya.”

She complied at once, dropping her gaze to the desktop and putting her hands atop one another. The flat splay of her fingers displayed the bony, thin rise of her knuckles. Short, hacked hair fell forward in a dark chestnut wave to show the smooth line of her neck and thin shoulders under her regulation drab dress. The wait did not bother her. Everything in its own time.

“The question still bothers you.” Vibrations rumbled under her stool, carrying up the metal legs into the curved seat.

“Yes, sir,” she said.

The long silence stretched out. Lights hummed in fluorescent bars overhead, steady and eternal, but that could change in a moment to the whims of an invisible puppetmaster, plucked into eternal darkness. In the dark came the spectres wielding clubs and metal pipes, ready to break the small bones in the hands and feet. A girl needed to be quick and cautious when the lights went down. Her slippered feet curled against the metallic rung girdling the stool’s four spindly legs.

The voice prodded her across the distance. “Why does he matter to you?”

“I fed him when he was hungry, sir.” The first answer that came to mind sprang out after the briefest reflection. Truth must always be spoken to her superiors. Fanya stayed perfectly still with her head down, no longer flexing her toes in the too-tight boxes of her soft shoes.

“Is that why?”

Another prod. The low hum rushed up the rooted circuits and tickled the back of her thin legs. Fine hairs stood up under the scratchy wool tights and firing aches through her sharp knees. Her elbows twitched but she smiled, pleased her hands remained flat. A moment later, an incinerating bolt shot up through her hipbones and knocked the breath out of her lungs, punching the girl forward against the desktop. Her body convulsed and flopped, rigid to supine, knocking the careful structure into dozens of useless metal straws and balls.

Fanya fought for a breath through the flecked white foam at the corners of her mouth. The question. She must remember the question. He was waiting on the answer, an answer only she had.

“Ch-ch-champ-p-p-pion,” she spat out the sound through her gritted teeth. Blood welled out of a thick crescent bitten into her unresponsive tongue.

The current halted after reaching a scintillating apex that thrust the girl’s limbs into a jarred dance, her back arching into a stiff bow completely at odds with scarecrow legs kicking a fitful timpani. He allowed her no more than six seconds to recapture her breath and sit back up, spreading her hands out again for the unseen rod.

Fifteen hours for smashed knuckles to reassemble under ideal circumstances. He confessed himself pleased by the results, if far from ideal. Mortality won’t be conquered by such imperfect parameters. Refinement will be required. Still, this one is not hopeless yet.

“This stranger distracted you from your lessons, then.”

“Y-yes, Doctor Zola.” The brunette struggled to keep the quaver from her voice, her mouth numb and tongue already swelling against the blood. Her wet eyes streamed with tears that did not quite spill over her cheeks, poised on damp lashes. “I failed you. I was thinking too much about him.”

“I gave you an opportunity as no other girl would have to serve the motherland. You wasted your lessons worrying about a stranger in a children’s tale,” Zola repeated, slow and patient. He must be slow and patient. The children took too long to understand. Attempting to force the speedier comprehension failed, time and again. “You failed your test, Fanya.”

She nodded. By her slip, she forfeited the wide desk and the classroom with proper pencils and paper, the chair in front of the very important work. No more sums and no more careful graphs, genetic diagrams set to the side for another student following in her wake. Was it right to sit on this stool or should she walk out to the pool? Her feet touched the floor and she pinched her plain dress, feeling the cloth between her sooty fingertips. Can I still wear this?

“Two.” The word barked out dispassionately into the classroom.

Her heart leapt. Doctor Zola gave her another chance! Fanya immediately struck out with her heel and spun, taking the dangling apparatus of thick inky wires and hydraulic cables in her small fist. Her fingers refused to close fully, pinky finger sticking out at the most absurd of angles. A downward clawing motion knocked the spiked steel probe at the floor, its initial electrical discharge pouring out in a blue-white bolt that melted through the vinyl linoleum in two seconds. Ozone cut the howling air and strafing sparks burst in a madcap halo around the struggling nymph.

The gears swiveled overhead and she clambered up the convulsing tentacles, swaying back and forth to rip them free from their housings. Bolts reinforced the couplings and connectors. Long ago she and other children learned to throw their entire weight against Zola’s odd machines, and wasted all their precious coolants and lubricants in a lurid rainbow. He since replaced the contents with caustic compounds sure to eat through flesh and fabric indiscriminately, but she swing away, spinning around and trying to force the probe on a swivel.

Useless, of course. He installed breakers and magnetic checks to prevent the probe’s mobile arm from coming unscrewed or wheeling round and round. Childish ingenuity supplied any number of simple but amusing diversions for him to test his engineering principles against.

“What is so important about the champion?” he asked. Observing her progress through a dozen monitors presented clear signs of the girl wasting her time snarling the cables together. At his prompting, another pair of nozzles shot caustic sprays suspended in a fine mist. She twisted and hurled herself upwards, fingers catching the central piston driving the arm across the ceiling track.

Fanya lacked the mass and strength to dislodge the reinforced steel spur. She tucked her knees close to her body as the mists spread out, eating through the ceiling tiles discoloured in its passage. Swinging back and forth gave her a little leverage to move, and she hurled herself away from the beam to land on the desktop table. Skin peeled with her melted slippers and she resisted a scream, proud she managed little more than a stifled intake of breath.

Zola heard her. Every microphone rigged into the classroom assured that.

“He protects the Motherland. Its best servant!” she called out, snatching one of the long pipes from the destroyed model.

“Perfection that excuses you to deviate from your studies. He has not broken his promises. You have yours,” he said. “I am disappointed.”

Fanya ran from the desk and he watched the thin girl use what little cover she could while the noxious substances emanated a heady gas that not even her enhanced physiology shook off. Fifteen minutes would be properly fatal under normal circumstances. She’d seen the children and adults collapse after four.

She slowed and stumbled, reddened eyes and bubbling blisters appearing up the backs of her legs through the ragged holes in her tights.

“No, sir. I listened to him, sir,” she whispered, and rammed the metal stick into the joint in the probe. The hollow end bent at a funny angle how she expected, but she twisted and hauled up, using the natural resistance of the steel pieces to earn the fork. The discharged beam might halo, then, but it could no longer spew a concentrated spark at her again.

“What did he tell you?”

Somewhere, the tape drives spun up at rapid order. Reels hissed. Red lights flashed upon the reinforced, hardened glass panels. Phantoms bled through formerly black, smoky panes.

“He’s finding his place.” Her feet hurt again. Blood and smoke down there. Up above, the poisoned air burned the tender lining of lungs and sinuses, melting into a smell too hard and sharp to name. Time running out. Her whimpers became a scream when he redirected twenty thousand volts through the floors, the intersecting seams alight.

She knew what to do. Dance over them, jump, and use the countertops for coverage. When her knees gave out, she pulled herself up onto her belly when her legs were useless, face hidden under the thin collar of her dress.

“Report!” he shouted. The speakers blared. Words of the mighty plowed down into her head through melting hair and smoking skin.

“He will come back. To do his duty.” Fanya gasped out the sounds as her lungs heaved, but she forced herself a little further forward. The door loomed in front of her, across the electrified gauntlet, a maze headed for salvation.

The portal opened and a rainfall of furious spirits descended upon her, coating the girl in a blackness fraught by blood-bright copper and hot iron. Shapes ripped through the discarded, bold printed paper flung into the air. Bullets shredded the cover, confetti flung everywhere.

And she saw the red star as she fell down, down, down into the dark, and Fanya smiled.

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