1965-03-06 - Project Ursa: Alioth
Summary: SHIELD's finest agents race through enemy territory to reach a cache waiting at their next safehouse. Road blocks, tired peasants, a few soldiers, and flooding all stand in their way to supplies that might level the odds against Volga in their favour. Simple right? Not a chance.
Related: Project Ursa
Theme Song: None
steve-rogers rogue bucky 

Soundtrack: Run Londinium - Daniel Pemberton <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OLVtqVxZgYI>

0708 hours. Pyatimorsk Roadblock. Volgograd Oblast.

The Volga-Don Canal scythes a straight path for freighters and great ships to traverse south of the highway smothered in ice and snow. A thin grey ribbon of asphalt appears through the treads of passing vehicles, an exodus of positively terrible Soviet cars and trucks headed for safety from the floodwaters in Volgograd. Fields normally dormant under snow now form skating rinks as silty water choked in ice creeps up the embankments, taking out the shoreline, and in places casting patches of ice across the roadway. Treacherous for anyone on four wheels. On two or three? Pure insanity.

Reaching top speed on the Ural simply isn't going to happen, not without risking a deadly skid into oncoming traffic or plunging through the deep canal. Besides, the line of creeping vehicles duplicates anything in New York rush hour. Barricades cross the road, leaving only the northern fields behind scrubby plants free for a traverse. Soldiers force some vehicles back and wave others through. They wear the standard uniform of the infantry, backed up by plenty of rather ugly MAZ-537s and GAZ-66s parked at intervals behind them. That's a sight to see, the sort of bland green finish used by the army damn near everywhere.

This is dangerous and terrible and Bucky Barnes is a shit liar. So is Steven Rogers. They are trying to get through mundane dangers to fight with a hero out of myth - it's like trying to deal with Jersey rush hour so you can get far enough west to try and beat up Paul Bunyan.

None of this, however, prevents a little bubble of excitement welling up in Bucky's chest. A welcome relief from the nearly zombie-like lack of affect over the last few days. Not as good as old times, but still, reminiscent of those old challenges. It doesn't show in his face, beyond a wolfish gleam in his eyes, at odds with the bored stoicism of a soldier sent on yet another stupid task for a superior he doesn't respect.

The Ural comes to a controlled stop, its driver making absolutely certain to avoid what ice-filled potholes and ruts divot the road. The amount of traffic present was not meant to traverse this place. In his borrowed ushanka and buttoned-up great coat, Steve might pass for someone who lives in one of the main cities proper…but that's an awfully big 'might'. His expression is decidedly serious, as if he's the only one perturbed by the sight of backed-up vehicles ahead of them.

«I don't see an easy way out of this one,» he says quietly, glancing at the passengers of the motorbike. Kicking it into park, and planting a booted foot, he takes a better look around. «Bluff. A late delivery?» Seems better to keep speaking in Russian, even if the drone of running motors overpowers most speech.

One sorry lane goes in either direction, the road block effectively severing the east-west route. Everything is bumpy behind the snaking line of cars being checked through, papers requested, soldiers leaning over to look through the windows or insisting this vehicle or that turn back. It's not clearly how or why. Not that there's much to draw someone to stay in the cold.

Ramshackle power lines dripping with snow and buzzing in a worrisome way crowd around a roadside restaurant half-collapsed under the weight of faded flags. The village of Pyatimorsk and the riverside hamlet of Il'yevka slumber in the weary, watery dawn. An officer is up there, among others, and Bucky needs no skill whatsoever to see a Katyusha half a mile down the road, tops, with a bit of shrubbery lending the impression it 'accidentally' lurked in the bushes.

«I don't see any choice. There's no way to sneak through all this. If we break out of line or turn back, we look suspicious,» Buck says, bleakly, from where he sits a little slouched in the sidecar. «And they're armed for bear, it's clear. Gonna have to fake it. I guess the story about a special delivery for What's his Face is going to have to serve, we've got no papers.» An edge of black hair visible under his folding cap - he and Steve are equal in nominal rank, corporals.

Steve's sigh whitens the air before his face as he looks back up the line of cars, forehead furrowed deeply.

«It'll have to do. Got a good name for What's-his-Face rattling around in there?» he asks, glancing back at Bucky expectantly. Hey, he can toss names out there all he wants, but there's nothing like the lucky clover of a defacto nom-de-guerre to make the soldiers flinch and wave them through.

The car in front of them is waved off. The truck two ahead got through, but not the one in front of it. Another tag follows and the officer and his phalanx of bored, cold soldiers eye up the armoured bike more than a little curiously. «Papers and destination,» says the one in charge, a fellow with a hardened look to him that's most unquestionably Cossack in origins. Rare for a man of his stature to reach the rank he has.

«Major Vasilevsky,» Buck says, quickly. «And as for our names - I'm Yasha Yegorovich Smirnov from Vladivostok. You're Stepan Alexeievich Gagarin, from Moscow, no relation to Yuri, you've heard that joke a trillion times.»

A beat to have it clear, and then it's their turn. Buck's got his best prisoner's deadpan on, as he holds up the package of baked goods. «Delivery for Major Vasilevsky, from the bakery.» He sounds bored. «No papers because he doesn't want this one on the record, since officers aren't supposed to accept privileges their men don't have.» A cynical drone, not even up to sarcasm. Enlisted men have gotten crapped on for thesake of officers' whims since the days of the Roman legions.


Steve has the wherewithal to give Bucky a flat look, as if he's equally unimpressed with the fact that his passenger is unimpressed. For the Motherland, comrade, drag up some respect for the rank!

«Yes, and he doesn't want the delivery to be late.» The one in charge is given his best poker face. Oh, wait. He suddenly squints and holds up a hand, muttering, «A moment.» Patting at a pocket on his great coat, he mumbles, «Where are my glasses. Oh, there.» Out come a pair of pince-nez, god only knows from where, and the Captain dons them before continuing to give the Cossack another look, apparently unmoved by the soldiers' interest in them. Disguises are important, you know.

Glasses, in Soviet Russia, tend to be a dull hipster affair, all black lines and coke bottle lenses. The officer holds out his hand, and upon receiving no papers, not even so much as a card, his caterpillar brows furrow together. «Why is he asking for that now?» Another soldier in the middle of the narrow gap between the barricades lounges there, blowing into his hands. Beside him, comrades are stiff and watchful. «You can't go through. This.» He gestures at the motorcycle. «Won't do. Nor is it right to bring the woman. Turn back.»

Bucky just gives him a look, shrugs «Officers don't give reasons to people like us, you know that. We go where we were told to go.». And then proffers the package. «Can you at least pass that on down to him? I mean, inspect it all you like, but just make sure he gets it? The last guy who didn't deliver those still warm enough to eat got stationed as a camp guard in the East, and I gotta wife and a bunch of boys to feed. I screw this up, they're gonna send me east, too.» A glance at the woman, then back at the officer, like he's amazed the guy manning the checkpoint doesn't get it. «She's off the record, too. I think you can guess why. And you can explain to the Major why the lady he sent for, his 'niece' didn't get to visit her old uncle.»

«Yes, upon your head be it,» Steve adds, in apparent agreement with the man sitting in the sidecar of the motorcycle. He adusts the glasses on his face and then glares down the line of traffic. «Want to bet the Major will station these poor bastards in the same place out East? Did you even hear from Popov again?» He asks of Bucky, seeming to fight against a wry little smile.

The officer gestures to one of his soldiers, an abundance of them spread out. The young man hastens forward to take the box gingerly, fully prepared to peek inside and inspect the contents. Buns indeed. That apparently satisfies the sniff test, if not the taste.

Unfortunately, Comrade Officer isn't bending on that front. «He'll thank me for being circumspect. Turn back.» The matter shut, he points them to the opposite side of the road through a weary pair of tracks to head in the opposite direction. The next car will trundle up behind them, a stream of tired comrades displaced by the river.

Well, crap. And now they're going to stick out in memory. Buck's shrug is philosophical. «Not a word. I think the ink out there is too frozen to write with.» He motions for Steve to turn the bike around. A little salute for the officer, and he sits back in the sidecar.

«Shame. It was nice to meet you, boys. Have fun when Vasilevsky sends you a love letter.» — and with that, Steve takes the higher route of responsibility and turns the Ural around once he kicks it into gear again. Bumpity-bumpity, he makes his way to the other side of the road and attempts to slow the bike down until they hide in the shadow of a truck idling in line. A quick surveil of the area and he says quickly to the passengers in the sidecar, «Ditch the bike and hop into the back of one of these trucks? We can hide under the tarps, smear grease on our faces, whatever it takes to be unrecognized.»

Back down the road then, a chance for them to recuperate in Kalach-na-Donu or reorganize. The Black Widow, dressed in white, has choice words no doubt locked behind her demure expression. Managing the motorcycle on the slippery road is difficult, conditions far from ideal, snow and ice waiting to wipe them out at the nearest chance.

Vehicles come in three brands: boring cars, big trucks, smaller trucks. Big trucks don't make it through the barricade, turned back, smaller ones selected now and then. Three people hiding under one of those might be a stretch, in one a bit different. They just have to find someone fool enough not to notice.

«Might be worth splitting up.» Bucky likes that thought not at all. «They're not letting the big stuff through. That fucking Cossack will remember our faces, no trying to fake him out a second time. We'll have to ditch the bike. Shoulda mugged someone for papers, first…» He sighs. Hindsight is always 20/20.

What sort of truck is that? 1948 special, solid enough doors, and a very plain name written on the side: Oktyarbr'skiy Special. It's about fifteen vehicles back from the front line at minimum, driven by someone smoking and trying to read the briefing papers of the local Party in his lap while occasionally creeping forward. He hasn't got anything to worry about with that fascinating gossip rag.

«We can split up. I have faith in you,» Steve says, indeed ditching the Ural off to one side of the road. Maybe someone else can make use of it. See? How humanitarian of him. «You're not going to pull another act like the Scheldt stuff, right?» There's a quick little grin, poking fun at past memories of tough situations. The Captain then sobers up again, adopting his best air of long-standing fatigue. «I'll see you on the other side, beyond the blockade.»

With that, Steve separates from the small group, adopting a tired pace — which isn't difficult given the slog through the muck. It doesn't take him long to find a truck big enough for three people. The driver isn't interested in him; all the better to step around and squeeze into the nearest available compartment…that smells strongly of sturgeon paste. Yes, Captain America is going to smell like ludefisk for days unless there's a shower nearby. Hold your noses.

Split up, indeed. Buck's off to find another truck, himself. He doesn't dare ride the roof - too easily seen. He's tucked his cap away, looking less like a soldier and more like a civilian who's just picked up what he can against the winter. Now, where else to hitch a ride?

Lutefisk would be a mercy next to that particularly aromatic cargo. Be assured Natasha is presuming murder and designing fifty ways to kill them all before they reach their waypoint. She mutters, «Destination, Prudboy,» before they end up stowed away in the sickening van from hell. Whatever choices remain are less than ideal, smaller cars, more civilians than drivers conveying goods across the snowy wastes.

«Could be worse,» Steve quips…and then regrets inhaling beyond the comfort of the great coat's wrinkled gathering at his elbow. He's not about to vomit, but the idea may become more entertaining in a few hours given the jouncy road ahead of them. Hopefully Bucky has found better quarters smelling better than that of sturgeon paste.

No. Turns out not. There he is. Buck's got his scarf wrapped around the lower half of his face. Turns out he'd rather smell wool, metal, and riverwater than that fishy smell. It makes him look perturbingly like Winter, with only those half-made blue eyes visible, the ragged (if now much shorter) dark hair and level brows above it. At least until his eyes crinkle in a smile.

No telling what the driver will think if he's able to interpret why his truck just made an unfriendly thud over a pothole, or four hundred some-odd pounds of metal and flesh rolled up. He curses and looks out his rearview, then outside. His expression remains dark as he rustles up towards the line. It's a painstakingly slow process. Give or take ten minutes and Officer Comrade is asking for papers he receives, asking questions. And, of course, someone is going to have to look in the back at the stock…

The very stinky stock.

Comrade Yuri opens the door slowly, wretching at the scent. Special October indeed.

At the sound of resisting doors and the awkward glurk of averted gag reflex, Steve ducks behind what containers he can. It puts him terribly close to what spills have occurred over the months of travel and he desperately buries his face deeper into the crook of his elbow. Breathe slowly. Think of pleasant things. Like not fish paste.

Buck's also ducking behind the cargo. Volga's going to be able to smell them coming for miles, after this. He's squinting back at the inspecting soldier, as if willing him to overlook them.

That smell is god-awful, hoenstly, such that the soldier kicks the door closed and promptly vomits onto the road. Wouldn't you? The vehicle trundles along through, being waved on. Unfortunately, the side effect of being among the sturgeon-based fish paste and fish products means that smell is impregnating everyone's clothes and caught in their hair, an oily residue that will not go away. Neither is the van floor very comfortable, bouncing them around, the boxes shufflign and shifting. The pothole-laden route accentuates an apparent total lack of springs or shocks in the damn truck. Those tires aren't great either, slithering and shimmying as they reach an almighty twenty miles an hour. WOO!

The shifting boxes are no friend to Steve, at least, along with the flooring of the truck itself. More than once, a jolting divot slams them and their contents into his arms — ribs — twice into the meat of his thigh, which nearly makes him whisper something crude. Almost.

Are they safe yet? Has enough time passed that they too are beyond the immediate reach of Comrade NO-BUNS-FOR-YOU and his friends?

"Bucky," he hisses. "Can you see outside?"

There's the soft rasping of metal on metal, a ping, and then a tiny dot of light tracing its way across Buck's cheek, before he seals eye to the loophole. "Can now," he whispers, hands splayed on the outer wall to keep him from slamming his face against it.

The smell is truly terrible. Speed is attained only for it to slow right down again, chugging down to a crawl, no doubt limited by some varied trouble or another. Boxes in the back fo the truck are tossed about as much as bodies are, especially when the rear of the vehicle shimmies alarmingly. Rumbling strips catch the tires and what on earth are they driving over, waterlogged lumber? The squealing brakes make for a stink, and it's unfortunate for Bucky to be jostled like a porcelain cup in an earthquake. More cars gathered here and the signs of puddles, frozen ice build up. Either another road block of the military kind or the natural sort.

"What do you see?" He has to ask after recovering from a particularly sharp and sudden drop of the tires into a rut; it nearly slammed his face into the flooring of the truck's compartment and wouldn't that have been insult to injury? Huzzah that Steve doesn't look like he lost a fist-fight to a fish. "If it's clear, we need to get out of this." Please oh please, no more oily seafood residue.

"We need to get out before we're seen, but….we gotta make sure we aren' seen doing it. We're coming up on another block. Closer to the river," Buck agrees, in a stage whisper. "Can't tell if i's a checkpoint or just a delay." He rolls his face as best he can, trying to get a better perspective.

Cars all over, some forced back and others trying to get around an icy patch are apparent. Whatever has happened here has swept out the bridge and proven the Volga can overspill its banks with the help of the Don, their mingled waters never intended to connect but for the Soviets breaching the lifelines. Muddy water is certainly responsible for keeping anyone from advancing forward, and going over.

It's almost an insult, the way the boats just sail past. Oh well, the choice to trudge means going out into the bracing cold, failing in the hissing winds that swirl and spiral around to devour the unsuspecting, inadequately dressed serf as a toll.

"The second you're sure we're beyond the blockade, say something and we'll get out of this place," Steve whispers back before he coughs as quietly as he can into his sleeve. Ugh. The oils are definitely permeating the coat's surface, likely from the various necessities of catching himself against sudden shifts in balance.

They're going to reek. That in and of it self…..well. "We should snag a boat, if we can," he says, trying to gauge if they can safely slip out.

The woman also must fall into consideration. Can she leap out from the sickening stye full of piscine byproducts, clutching onto a box to keep from falling over? Murder may be in her eyes, carefully hidden away. Freedom may be a breath away or a lifetime, and their plans rely upon whatever harebrained notions are shared. The vehicle comes to a stop.

HONK! The beep of the horn doesn't do anything but disrupt the din.

Soldiers stand around, here and there. No hope of getting through the pond without someone noticing.

"Sounds like a plan." With that final whisper, the Captain begins to make his carefully towards the point of their initial entrance to the fouled interior of the shipping truck. He can make out just enough of their surroundings to see, indeed, the river, and that they aren't alone. The glasses are a lost cause, one lens smudged by fish oil, and he removes those from his face to leave behind.

When he deems the timing correct, he slips out into the frigid air by the river and immediately hunches over, facing the truck itself, and blows on his hands as if he's been waiting forever in the cold.

Buck's already got a cigarette and lighter out. Just taking a smoke break, nothing to see here, right? Nevermidn that he hasn't really smoked in nearly a year. Blame Lucian. And the dark elves. Already scanning for a possible ride to hitch. Gotta make it to Prudboy before they can rest.

The woman in white will be out after the two men, looking blank enough to constitute a bored traveler unhappy to be out of the comfort of a stinking van cube. Considering the situation out there, with the washout, and Prudboy some number of kilometers up the way, hiking or searching for some kind of route falls to them. They have at least ten to fifteen other vehicles gathered up, far more in the way of soldiers at the roadblock. Walking to the river isn't hard, it's literally at the banks of the road. That means any docks are submerged and that cold, murky water is just waiting. The locks are slightly different, a channel under more control.

|ROLL| Steve Rogers +rolls 1d20 for: 1

Risking a glance over his shoulder, Steve does his best to return his eyes to Bucky without revealing the heights of discomfort at realizing that…the entire 20th division has turned their attention towards their small group. The revelation comes when he mutters,

"I think they've seen us, Buck," he mutters, not even bothering to use the native tongue. Another look off towards the river, which laps up against the road itself, and…

Then Steve glurks and looks panicked. Another choked sound and he clutches at the lapel of his coat, above his heart. Wide blue eyes stare at his friend in sheer, undiluted panic as he then stumbles to one side, knees apparently giving out entirely.

SPLASH, right into the murky waters of the Don, flailing up a frothy mess as he 'accidentally' propels himself further into the flooded expanse. There goes the hat, floating happily away. …but where's Steve? Little bubbles break the surface a few times, popping morosely atop the oiled surface.

This is a comedy of errors. But Buck wastes no time. If Steve is apparently drowning, Bucky can't let him die. Not like that. He dives in without missing a beat, hands reaching for where he last saw Steve.

Soldiers and civilians are alert and distraught, the flooding a cause for concern. How can they leave their homes to a place of safety if the road is washed out? Lapping wavelets and dashed ice piled up block the natural route; the canal is free, if the water level is rather high. But every child of the flat steppe knows the hazard of those great inland waterways — the Don, the Volga, the Lena, the Dniepr, the Ob — and the risk they present to anyone not fully prepared for their wicked undertows and their chaotic currents. Dangers riddle a free-flowing channel, much less one hemmed in by engineers and fashioned by mankind. The water is not happy, no, placid and sparkling as it looks in late spring. Winter belongs to the Rodina.

Grandfather Winter, too, is cruel, the shocking cold of crashing below the surface kept free by icebreakers alone terrible. A man who fell to his death in the icy depths and remained locked there should know better. The man who let go of the shield to certain fatal ends before rising as the soldier of the Motherland, he probably learns again those drowning-dark memories pulled up from the gloom, dredged and scoured by the shifting blocks of ice.

There's no way to prepare for an ice dive. Piercing the surface is enough to make the body jerk and arch in torment, breath knocked free. Water closes in. Riding the channel through the submerged canyons of the river was not this, being open to the sky and deprived of it, hurled by a twisting eddy away from shore and into the shipping lane. A man yanked under the ice can die within sight of an air pocket. Visibility is poor, and above, the shouts and notes make all too apparent they've lost the element of surprise. Sink or swim, boys.

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