1964-12-03 - Project Virgo: Winter is Railroaded
Summary: Sometimes the worst secrets are the ones lurking in plain sight.
Related: If there are no related logs, put 'None', — please don't leave blank!
Theme Song: None
bucky rogue 


"Tainted?" he parrots back, with a lift of his brows. "Do you mean….poisoned? Speaking of, how are you poisoning them. Every supersoldier variant I've encountered has been very resistant to toxins or disease." He's never had so much as a sniffle since Zola, give him that, at least. And Steve…..Steve with a liver that laughs at pure grain alcohol. "I thought cryo was just to give me a longer useful life before I age out."

"Poison them?" Zola's voice is a brittle note, a saw of a violin in a child's hands rather than the usual timbre. Affront strikes home and he uncoils that toxic dismay. Easy to imagine him with pursed lips and trembling jowls. "Is it even worth speaking about this? You indulge too much. He has not the wit or the education to grasp the very essentials of the work. Poison indeed. As if we would insert such a flaw into the grand design of perfection."

Volga raises his long, broad fingers to silence the tirade, which is marginally effective. Oh yes, there's movement back near the door, the sense of motion. "Comrade, at ease. Each generation surpasses its predecessors, such is the very law of nature. Darwin came so very late to the essential conclusion the process weeds out the imperfections. The students are the very best, refined, accomplished, and bright. They are used to a regime tailored to their needs, keeping them in very best of shape. Which of course the barbarians cannot so much as recognize, let alone provide, in the rough, uncivilized environment they are trapped. You, however, cannot fully benefit from what they do without corrections, an unavoidable fact." He doesn't sound smug, not one whit.

Zola makes a dismissive noise. "We can improve on the original."

Volga nods. "Do this, and we shall be."

It does feel strangely indulgent, to have even this much explanation. There's nowhere to mentally put his feet, it's such a different angle on the previously straightforward regimen of torture and cryosleep and mission dispatch. "I know," he says, almost lazily. "I'm the rough draft."

Ah, but when the command comes down and he's wiped clean, what then? The long arm of Zola is never going to let him sleep, anymore than Steve is permitted to retire and run that flag store he daydreamed about on ice.

"You know nothing, Winter Soldier," says Arnim, and the contempt is a brief interlude.

Viktor gestures idly. "The hour is late. Your orders are given. You will return immediately to America and obtain the targets, or terminate them. It will be done before the end of December. As soon as you acquire one, make contact with Petrograd Center Two. Do you remember Snow Five, or Ice Route Nine?"

Can he even make it back out without some other arm of his old service snagging him. Winter has been gone too long. "I do," he says, simply. The memory wipes are targeted to keep from denuding useful knowledge….though the last one that left him an amnesiac wreck on the shoresof Manhattan…

Volga takes a step within Bucky's range, careless of the risk and the threat. "Do you have any further questions or are you prepared to execute this request? I suppose it bears saying for the satisfaction of my colleagues, do know we are monitoring you. A misstep and you betray the very land itself, and the land does not forgive."

He shouldn't be surprised to have a last fillip of ideological fervor come his way - but then, they never did bother to try and inculcate him with much more than unquestioning loyalty. "No," he says, simply.

Viktor gestures again for the door where Zola's dark presence lurks, sensing a departure for what it is. "Be gone, then. You have a long journey ahead of you and it will not begin here." That's right, typical Soviet. Give a command and have someone head upon their way, back into the wilds, without the least scrap of concern.

"Where shall I depart from?" he asks, calmly. If he's taking orders and he can't officially have been seen to be here….

Volga crosses his arms, the suit barely creased as a result. Its cut truly profits him in every sense, conforming to the lineaments of his strong frame. For all that Viktor has a heartiness to him suitable to a Soviet officer, the black-haired man has cheekbones to cut glass and dark eyes endless as winter night. Far from forgettable, middling in no sense. "The front door is customary, though you can exit the window." He gestures to a segment of the wall where shutters drawn make it hard to see the casement, but careful inspection reveals it to be there.

That's an invitation to straight up steal a truck, just to be a bitch….if he'd seen one. As it is, well, he's going to go downstairs, get some water….and then hitch a ride on the train. If he has to pose as just walking off down the road and then circling back, so be it.

Alas, no vehicles on the property suffice for those desires to hijack and flee with property not his own. The carriagehouse might have held something, but Bucky's previous forays reveal naught for his chariot but a futuristic snowplow by which to tame the wilds of winter's cradle in the vast reaches of steppe and snowbound field. Whilst he may be the hero to the motherland for his sacrifices plowing a route a meter wide in his wake, such may not satisfy his dark, frosted desires.

The guards await him outside in the great hall where he came up from the lower level, though the staircase taken by Fanya and he is dwarfed by a rather elegant staircase that still sags a bit, weathered, like the rest of the dacha. Of course that means passing another guard waiting at attention and heading down to the main doors. He won't go entirely alone, overseen by those dark, unnecessary presences.

He walks out and informs the guards, calmly, "I'm getting water. And then I'm leaving." Not that water's hard to get in a marsh, but will even his constitution be able to take what's in it, out here?

They don't speak to him. They barely salute in any sense, though the smallest smirk shows on one man's mouth. There and gone, imagined if Bucky looks for too long or dares to see back. The heavy bar on the door should be no trouble for him to lift, and then stepping out into the night reveals the train in a wreath of white steam. True, he could rely upon that. He could follow the tracks back to the main path; Voronezh, a city of almost half a million people, lies in the middle of various transportation routes. Perhaps sheer despair might send him rafting down the River Don, out to the Sea of Azov and navigating his way around the Black Sea until washing ashore among bemused American diplomatic staff in Istanbul.

The train it is. Walking would take too long and he's not going to ride the snowblower into the glory of Siberia. The Urals are killers at this time of year. This time he doesn't bother to conceal himself, but goes looking for somewhere to sit that's relatively comfortable.

The Urals are killers at every time of year, though that could be due to the evil lurking in those woods, the slopes buried in the corpses and bones of fools defying Mother Russia.

Finding hismelf a place to sit that is comfortable means the only passenger car, the first, and that will most certainly take the crew by surprise when they bother to show up and check out the rather tight, close bench seats as part of their preparations to leave. No one said there would be another passenger, and Bucky might well get close to having a book thrown at him by the startled engineer. But it's a long, long way back.

He's in those dark clothes, clearly somewhat military, but no insignia. No explanation. But there he is. If there's room, he'll sleep draped along one of those benches. No conversation, either.

And so begins that twenty hour journey to the edges of the Soviet Union. Unless he makes it a point of trouble, trouble will not find him in any capacity. An anticlimax perhaps to the long, long journey in. The world spins by in blurs of grey, brown, and white, the pale sky warming to rose and vanishing back again. The crew trade off to sleep in the dormer cots in the back of the car, things that fold down and they lay blankets across. He brought none? He's on his own.

The vastness of the steppe comes and goes. They make those vile sausages. Water is his companion unless he dares to ask for something more, maybe a crusty roll. His stomach aches, hollow, and hunger is an overpowering urge at times, a need that cannot be simply assuaged. Thirst is one thing, griping in his belly another. How long since his last proper meal? When night falls again, so early, the pangs are pretty strong. But too impossible to bear? No. He can see his own face in warped glass, a dimension blurring side to side.

Food he does ask for. Used to worse privations, in his own training days. Distant, frosted glass memories. Not so long ago, as the body reckons time. How many years has he actually *lived* in their grip? Three, four, if one doesn't count the dark frozen spans between the interludes of light. When he gets off, he can steal food, if he has to. He sleeps as much as he can - hunger doesn't bother one as much, in such stretches. And gods only know when he'll be able to rest again.

|ROLL| Michael +rolls 1d20 for: 17

What's wrong with the picture? It's not hunger that makes that reflection seem slightly out of true. The features don't quite match up in double vision, when he stares out or catches it from the corner of a frosty blue eye. The eyes are the same, dark by night, the closed expression drawn and weary. But some cuts are cleaner in one image, the other harder, rougher, not as perfect. In the way the main template was the ideal stamp, and those that come after lose the distinguishing factors…

He's looking at himself, and not himself, in that window.

They will also part with some cold cucumber soup and dry cardboard crackers.

….how does that work? As surreptitiously as he actually can, Bucky glances around. The ghost, immaterial, sitting by or atop him? He'd wondered if that companion had tagged along, witnessed that catch and release.

There's no privacy here to try and commune with that reflection, beyond trying to meet his eyes …..or tap something out via a fingertip, via Russian Morse.

How many miles out of Voronezh? They're back to nightfall when that happens, so at least ten. Halfway into the west, chasing the sun on its course towards the distant Baltic and ultimately the Atlantic. That place he dreams of, a safe bed or friends or a foxhole in the Ardennes without name, is not known to that subtle presence.

The ghost inclines his head only a degree. The only thing that doesn't quite match up, aligning to Bucky's features. A tap. A finger presses back to the glass. No sound. No frost, either, forming on the cold windowpane. But the movement is guessed at.

He can see it, at least. How does this child do it? Under the guise of pillowing his head against the window with a hand, he's got a finger up so he can 'talk' as it were, and still see the ghost's response. Vertigo inducing….but they've got nothing to do but try until the train's reached their destination. -Morse?-

«Hunt or run?» A very easy response comes in slow, deliberately articulated movements. One handed, the other being somewhere else out of sight. It might be disturbing to guess how that works, whether the ghost is trapped in the glass or a mutual hallucination.

«Hunt, but not kill. What is 'taint'?» To all appearances, drowsing, leaned on the wall. A strange intimacy, to be that close with a kinsman he can't feel the presence of.

«What will you do with them?»

History hinges on the answer to that deliberately drawn out, carefully emphasized question.

«Whatever needed to keep them alive. And then find a way so they can be free.» A pipe dream, the odds against him are immense. «He was right. You are all my children.»

«Him. Monster.» The fingertip wordlessly stretches a double line beneath the tapped phases on the window, and the molten bleak landscape sweeps by without much differentiation until they hit a town and fade past. The train's rocking rhythm on the narrow gauge has no impact on Lazar, for he moves as easily as the carriage behind the huffing engine. Streaming on an arrow shot towards Poland, they won't make it quite so far before Bucky is banished to find his way from the border at Brest. Warsaw via Poznan to Berlin, it's an inverse of a journey storied and horrifying.

«Us. People. Not you. They see only you.»

«Over Zola? A monster, yes. You are people. They made you from me. We are not tools.» A long pause. «Or weapons.» We.

A narrowing of those burning, dark eyes. «Zola is a monster. Black Hair is a greater monster.» Lazar sketches the taps one after the other, dashes registering in painfully long measures. How often has he had to write like this, transcribe anything? Settling down to one knee to line up a killshot that struck two SHIELD agents fatally and took out their engine: this is not difficult. Facing one's maker is quite another. «They do not know how to be themselves.»

«I know. Never allowed. Who's Black Hair? Saw Fanya?» Buck can be patient. The steel may be refined and alloyed in the children, but it was there in the father. Else why him, instead of some Siberian giant or peasant from Ukraine?

Fanya brings deathly silence for a time. The profile cuts from his own, Lazar staring at the front of the train. «Did not see.» He can write without eye contact, but it's sloppy in a way, like interpreting sign language through a misty window. «Black Hair sees all. Go to Fanya and he knows. Mobility is too important. Even for her.»

«Sees you? Even like now? Telepath?» He should've thought of that then. Of course. «Mobility?»

«He always sees. The rocks, the walls, the guards, the rails betray you. When you stepped into its shadow, he knew you.» Lazar does not have so much as an iota of expression other than bitterness, and when he returns to make eye contact that's all that is left in the hollow mask of the Winter Soldier. Oh, Winter, if this isn't your son then who is? «He would know I am there. You must hunt. Black Hair would have you bring me. How could you defy him? You cannot.»

There's only a little curl of that corner of his mouth - a smile nonexistent by American standards, on the side of his face away from the train's men. «Won't kill. Will defy him. Not like I can catch you. What will you do?»

«Watch.» What else can he do? Telling the ghost of the Soviet Union you'll kill him would be pointless. Of course he will. Of course this must be assumed. In the business trust is incredibly difficult to find, especially under terrible circumstances such as theirs. Forgiveness waits on no man. In the silence, perhaps the absence of a threat is their mutual detente. «Black Hair does not lie. He said true things.»

«True, yes. All of the truth, no. What do you want? You could run, not be caught. Do you care what happens to them? I do. Help me.» Ostensibly gazing fixedly out into the darkness, but trying to meet his reflection's eye. The Looking Glass War, as Le Carre phrased it, a literal truth.

If it were possible to put a fist through the glass, Lazar might be vaguely moved enough to do that. For what end? Certainly none that would help, what with the train too complicated for either of them to drive through night past border checkpoints. Stealing a truckful of children is easy; bringing back an empty train into West Germany, near to impossible thanks in part to differing rail standards.

«I will not leave them behind.» Makings of a marine. Maybe no different than the first. «I did not leave you, did I?»

He veils the hint of a smile in his eyes by lowering the lids. «Good.» A slowed breath, as if he were falling into sleep. «Why do they want the kids? Raw material for ones like you, Volya?»

Those brutal words. The reaction isn't written. It's nodded.

«Figured. Me, no powers. You know Steve?» Hope is irrational. But persistent. Winter's a child of cool fatalism, but Buck's still heir to the madness of American optimism.

«Watched the beating.» Taps have no passion. They hold no tone. The empathy is only in Bucky's own head from a figure who generates no feelings or tangible stirrings. «You do not know what Black Hair does. You have the children in you too.»

A tightening of the skin around his eyes. «I don't know. The drink? How? Beating?» They didn't beat him, to Bucky's own immense surprise.


Spelled out letter by letter, that serves as an answer to a heartwrenching, pounding silence. He nods to the question of the drink. Mouth white, he stamps it out. Lazar stares at Bucky, the sting killed, slaughtered under the terrible weight. They've shorn everything else, how not the inklings of emotion in the ghost who was never supposed to be. «They beat Genya and Nika to his image.» How is that the road less traveled, less painful in any way?

«Who did?» In his head, it's an image of these kids being inculcated with hate for Steve that way. He mouthes the world spelled out. «What is Ouranos? Like HYDRA?»

First things first. «SHIELD. Guards. They did the beating.» Nikita, the self-same one who was in his presence, who probably wanders around West Berlin rooftops listening to bad pop music and eating French fries. Evgeniy, the one unconscious with his brother in the chair, headphones on, on that lonely day in Quebec.

But it won't prepare anyone, perhaps, for Lazar's slow, slow response.

«The father who devoured his children. You have now.»

The only sign of shock is that little line graven between his brows. No reason to doubt Lazar's assertions re: SHIELD. Iterations of him, helpless. Not able to touch the original, not with Peggy and Steve's protection….but the copies are nameless. He doesn't even try to tap out the question. Just meets the eyes of his reflection, and silently mouths, "What?"

«Ask them yourself.» If the god can find the sons, hidden away from view by a rebel child. Circles within circles. «You devoured the children. The drink. Your taint. This is how they have you.» That expression is bleak as the moon.

His finger isn't shaking, as he taps against the glass, silently. «….what does it do?» HE'll be changed, again. First the metal arm, and now this.

How much of the careful communication is severed and broken when the odd tip-tap wavers with the dying of the light? Another lonely glare of a burning lamp flashes against the window, drowning out the ghostly image as much as it illuminates the mesh of the unseen figure there in the glass. Beyond the glass. Bent distortion twinkles. Behind Bucky, the cots rattle and the engineer, lulled by the rocking on the rails, the cradle for which he's become accustomed. Lazar takes a long time to answer, long after some forgotten town vanishes into the wilds untamed by the Golden Horde or the distant hand of rulers in Kyiv or Moskva.

«Do not know for you. You are pure. We are not pure. Black Hair refines it. Genya needs the most to stay in the clear. Out of the clear he is angry.»

«This stuff…it controls your powers? Or gives them to you to begin with?» He pauses,considers, «I….don't remember a lot. They don't steal your memories, do they? You remember all your lives?»

Lazar takes in a deep breath, each question after the last evicting a certain frustration, a deep and abiding anguish without any outlet. He can't very well bang his fists, scream, or put a bullet in someone here. What would it gain to snap the neck of the train driver, and how would they get where they need to go? He considers it. Murder in his face, that soulless reserve that might be familiar to Bucky himself. Has he seen the hollowing out, the glacial cold slipping in?

«Of course we are put to the chair. We must be perfect.» He scratches his nails across the glass, shaping soundless letters and words. It's painstaking to form out. «You defy. We echo defiance.» For the very reason he's on ice half the time is probably just why the children are what they are, ghosts in horror cinema shows. The projection flicker of the carriage light through the rougher reflection gives him a surreal, motion picture quality. «Maybe not the youngest. Fanya was after us.» Obviously, she's two-thirds their age at best, and younger even than Orel, who marks the benchmark of adolescence. «The hunger is always there. It focuses Genya. Nika is open. Volya never tells us. He is shut. He would have drowned under the water rather than let you have him.»

|ROLL| Michael +rolls 1d20 for: 20

«…..he's not human at all, is he. HE's a sorcerer, chances are good his death is somewhere remote.» Not really a question, truth be told. He slumps back a little, mouths 'fuck' silently.«They wouldn't want you to have enough experience to learn to resist more, of course.»

«He is the water and the earth.» Lazar taps the glass, for a moment hard enough to throw a crack through the outer panel. A chink; easily dismissed as a rock. But for one moment he's there in the whipping wind, the grueling scream of the cold, the night blurring around black clothes and the flesh and blood face… outside the train. «You have a destiny.» Knock, tap, tap. The engineer snuffles in his sleep. A door rattles around in its housing. «It is the great game. You have not seen the animals rise to him? You have not watched the stars follow you in the dark night?» A pause. He holds tight, but the strain of being outside, holding on outside, must be grueling at the speeds the train moves at. Still, he's doing it.

«Open your eyes. Find the truth.» And then his fist slams into the glass just once, the next moment forced back intangible. But his punctuation mark goes clear through the outer pane, brings spiderwebs to the inner. So much for bulletproof glass.

This has flipped it to entirely another level of horror. He's met the creatures of myth, been made one more than once, now. What would Zola have made of finding the All-Father's marks on his skin, when he was being stripped for the chair?

He's even met with the nightmares of the Slavs, in the eastern forests. Rusalki don't like rifle fire, and even Winter was wise enough to retreat from the hut with bird feet. But this…

«No,» he says to Lazar, simply. «I hadn't.» He knows some of the myths. When you're a kid in Brooklyn, any legend, any fairytale, you can get from the library. He read to Steve, anything from Paul Bunyan to Ivan Tsarevich and the Gray Wolf. «But I will find it.»

What has he met, but gods and beasts, monsters and wonders? Scattered fragments across the breadth of a country, a realm, time. All he needs to do is stare out the window to see an impossible thing, the dark landscape notwithstanding.

«You are running time from the well.» Lazar hasn't the option to be exhausted and Bucky will have to explain why the carriage has a shattered window, now, the whistling moan all the louder. Rattling cages, his is one of glass and circumstance. «Black Hair would not tell you the day without meaning that day.»

Or not. Winter's stony silence can be useful, in its time. He wasn't officially there, let the engineers confabulate. One of which, in later days, will insist he saw the man with the metal fist crack it, just because. «I know. He wants them for the dark of the year.»

The nod is all he receives as answer. Lazar has spoken more than ever intended, and he melts into the shadows. Bucky will have naught but his own shadow and his face to himself, though the shouts and frowns over the windowpane may test that. So too does the hunger; it doesn't leave, even if he ate the entire vat of beans and icky sausages. They wouldn't be shared, at any rate, the men giving him bitter looks and side-eye the whole way. By the train pulls into Brest on the border with Poland, they will be happy to see the back of him.

So another adventure begins…

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