1965-03-13 - Ursa Minor: Polaris
Summary: Hanging by a thread, the SHIELD agents led by Captain America are short on supplies, hope, and faith. Ringed in by their enemies — the 21st Guards Motor Rifle Brigade, Omega-Red, agents of the Red Room — they can't go back unless they want to end their lives in a Soviet gulag. Their only option is forward to reach their quarry and an exfil point. Once they enter the labyrinth of Closed City 53, will they ever return? Natasha and Bucky are coming home…
Related: Project: Ursa Major
Theme Song: None
steve-rogers rogue bucky 

0355 hours. Medveditsa. Closed City 53.

It helps Sgt. Barnes has a head for figures and numbers, a memory trained and refined painstakingly in bloody practice. Details scoured from the subbasement of the dacha laboratory link up, after some soul-searching, to the Serebryakov Institute. A sprawling campus lies adjacent to Gagarin Park, a collection of high buildings not terribly far from the city centre. Among trainee musicians aspiring one day to Alexandrov Ensemble or the Soviet Symphony Orchestra, Bucky eventually finds a bureaucrat able to provide the information they are after. Their helpful sublecturer on Russian classical pianists, codename Alphekka, parts with a choice nugget regarding transports of particularly troubled artists, the usual sort trending for 'trouble' who need rehabilitation and a proper state education. A blend of intimidation, name-dropping, and pressure — either way, it doesn't matter what method gets used. They gain a location, an unnerving lack of names all around, and a time.

Once every other day, a train runs from Saratov to Astrakhan, picked up from a forgettable, swampy stop above the city. Instructions prove easy. Buy a ticket and stay on until Razyezd 81 km, a place inhospitable in the cold, flooded Volga lowlands. Per Alphekka, from there finding the city means passing three checkpoints while leaving the Volga south of them. Being shot through the chest is a surefire way to know victory on the heels of death. After that, his gallows humour peters out.

Barely a sign marks the crossing, only the power pole adjacent to the tracks. Short of a fight, both men disembark the clattering train heading south to the ancient city floating on the Caspian Sea. By nightfall under a smudged fingerling moon, not much stands out to suggest a town — much less a city — is anywhere nearby. Slowly rolling hills lift and fall. Lights are few and far between. A few brave birches stick their skeletal white arms in supplication to the velvet sky, catching the moonlight in their crooked fingers. Countless thin, broken roads meander off into nothing, trailing away. From there, they hike, past the winding creeks and man-eating swamps, trekking around the barbed wire punched through thickets.

When encountering armed patrols with hounds and triple layers of defense, they probably know they are in the right direction. Medveditsa lies behind countless traps, mine fields and carved paths patrolled night and day by gentlemen in Ladas wielding Medveds, among more contemporary firearms options. Towns this way are barely that, a few spotlights and a desperate cluster of temporary buildings that feel more like Gold Rush towns in the Klondike.

On the train….Buck was out like a light. Having set some internal clock for the right stop. Gotta take what rest you can.

And now this hike, ever deeper into the wilds of Russia. Bucky's a scarecrow at this point, even after snatched food and rest. They haven't had time for a shower, after all, and even stolen clothes only goes so far to making him look something close to human. Grim and tight-lipped. "This whole program," he says, softly, as they navigate a possible way in, "They had me for decades, so it makes sense they could use me as a source for genetic material. But you….how'd they get any samples of you?" he muses.

Somehow, Steve has found another great coat, this one not terribly different from the first now lost to the depths of their riverine travels. Unfortunately, there was no second fur-lined hat to spare anyone the sight of that rust-stained nape of his neck. He simply shrugs the coat higher up around his ears and watches the road ahead of them with a mildly feverish glaze to his eyes. One can only stay awake for so many hours before the mind begins putting its foot down on consciousness itself.

"Not everyone is loyal to whom they say they are. Words are one thing. Actions are another. They took blood samples from me long ago, after Erskine's experiment…worked." He blows a sigh. "Someone could have spirited away a vial. Regardless. I don't like it."

Who knows of Medveditsa? Such a place exists only in fantasy, like the other ZATOs, a collection of a few thousand souls gathered in one place, burdened with glorious purpose. Cameras strung on the silver branches maintain careful witness for any spectres drifting away from the Volga's banks to disrupt their idyllic lives. Other deterrents to random visits may be easier or harder to detect. Sucking swampland that can pull off a laced boot might be a tad less volatile than a bouncing Betty but they both serve as particularly dangerous in their way. Listening posts disguised in their fashion ever turn Big Brother's attention outward, for the good of the citizens.

Police mind the main checkpoint. Other long stretches of barbed wire have hounds and teams operating under cover of darkness. Deep past their protective perimeter, low rises and the odd statue speak to an oddly peaceful scene. Night rests heavy on the soul here, and the denizens sleep.

The task before two men and, presumably, one woman? Get in. Get out? That's another issue.

It's reminiscent of places he's been. Places he's been kept, more specifically. "Follow my lead," he says to Steve, heading away from that main entrance and picking a more remote path through some of the swampier parts - negotiating the tell-tale signs of hidden mines. "These places are all built on similar plans. There's one further east near Vladivostok where they kept me, trained me." He sounds matter of fact about it, neither bitter nor angry.

ROUS, Highness? I don't think they exist.

But what about flame spurts? Best listen for the popping sounds that precede them, one supposes.

Steve nods and replies back quietly, "I'm right behind you." Normally, he'd be beside Bucky, but the knowledge of the terrain lies unfortunately in the favor of the other man at this time. He falls silent afterwards, all the better to be sneaky. At one point, he reaches out to slap Bucky's arm lightly, pointing at a fence lined with wires giving off the faint whine of electrification. Musn't touch that. The mine-field? It's negotiated with utmost care, his footsteps rolling silently and softly as possible across the turf itself.

The town is hard to see, given the screens of natural foliage and a distinct lack of many lights. Some train stations are brighter and more opulent in their spartan designs than the 81 km crossing marking exactly nothing and no one. A trek through the woods goes away from the river, but that's not saying much. With the heavy amount of flooding up and down the Volga as far as Astrakhan, possibly up to Moscow, degrees of 'wet' apply. Night deepens while the men trudge, a slow course that switches back and forth. Those fences don't have rhyme or reason, strung out in continuous electrified barriers. As the first line of defense goes, they're useful. Of course, they are the first.

Deeper in, deeper secrets. None of the ZATOs are lightly defended. Their guardians can be overzealous. Long before the faint scent of woodsmoke and the vaguely outline of a lit pole on a hillock might be visible, they have to cut north rather than east, another of those long mined sections of woodland awaiting. It's not unlike Voronezh's dacha. Is that a comfort?

Not in the least. But then, there is no inch of ground in this country comfortable or homelike for James. Discomfort or no, though, he knows these sorts of places. And this may be the one they created his clones/children/pups at….perhaps it's their knowledge that might be helping him pick his way in.

His voice is softer than a sigh, as he motions Steve closer to him, all the better to be heard. "Steve, we have a problem. We've got a bear coming up on us, and dollars to doughnuts says he's not an ordinary bear. Not in these woods."

Stepping up beside Bucky, Steve half-crouches, hands already reaching for his belt — but they stop, hover, when he hears exactly what his friend is concerned about. Well, this is…new. Brooklyn born and raised, and while touted as basically the ultimate Boy Scout, he's not savvy about the woodland wildlife of Russia.

His eyes are just wide enough to flash a little white. "…are you telling me that HYDRA has managed to engineer a super-bear?"

Rubles to pounds the bear snuffling around through the woods is, if nothing else, rather well fed. The natural landscape supports deer and sturgeon, though doubtful the archaic shark-cousins much worry about lumbering ursines. Some of the trees could well be solid enough for an enterprising creature to scratch itself against, though none of the bark or branches indicate a regular presence. Then again, who is expecting a wild animal like that?

Bucky is the only one to really have an initial idea of direction, upwind being roughly a tick to the northeast. Is that a branch twitching, an idle crack of spongy deadfall? Certainly the smell of the bear is subtly there, musk and wet fur.

"I dunno who made him - Russia's plenty weird on its own," Buck whispers. "Be ready," He's got a knife in hand, like that's going to do much good against a Soviet were-bear. "If that's who I think it is, we're in trouble. I've heard of a bear monster - I'm not the only awful thing to come out of the Soviet training programs…."

"Wait-wait-wait," Steve hisses, a hand upraised before him. The other is at his belt again, feeling around for something useful to use against this potential monstrosity. "You're saying that HYDRA managed to combine the genetic material of a human and a bear?!"

A beat. "…and I thought I was the weirdest thing to come out of a lab," he mutters, his expression gone grave. Wonderful. A hybrid creature like as not interested in their viscera.

As time will have it, either they will find a bear or they will not cross its path. Given how their little Russian adventure has gone so far, what are chances of bypassing it? Nothing emerges from the woods bellowing a chorus line for the Red Army's favourite songbook, anyways. They might just have the cards on their side because they don't smell like dinner. Fish paste rot, mmm!

After a long enough wait to assure himself it's not going to pounce….Buck motions for them to go one. Fish paste, metal, fear sweat, and athe sharp ketones of someone burning faster than his metabolism is keyed for. Or perhaps this one knows Buck's scent and is yet another thing driving him forward. He doesn't push them towards it, or seek the confrontation. Not fighting the mutant bear, always the better choice.

Steve nods in silent agreement, the motion sharply exaggerated with raised brows, and onwards they go. He's definitely got some fear sweat going on, along with the scent of river-wetted suit; if the shield still on his back has anything to contribute, it's the simple and clean-cut zing of metal itself, not terribly different from the arm of his friend.

For all they know, the bear has a pelt made of individual carbonadium filaments that collectively repel vibranium, being similar enough in nature to the hidden substance. As they move on, how easily can they differentiate bear from mucky forest, from the lowlands tipping upwards a little on the bedrock of an ancient craton? It lumbers on, in its way, so very patient. Is that a mushroom? Nomnomnom.

Medveditsa awaits them, wherever it is, the layers of defense more than sufficient to be problematic. Can't go through…

Buck's already started looking for some sign of something underground. There's always a way down, the stuff on top….even if it's not just a Potemkin village, it's only a fraction of what's there beneath. "WE should try and find some underground entrance," he sighs. "If Volga hasn't flooded all this, too. Incontinent immortals….even HYDRA was never this bad."

"I feel like someone with the…ability to manipulate the locks like that would proof their entrances against it," Steve grumbles, separating from Bucky at a short distance to aid in this search for another entrance.

He doesn't stray too far, not wanting to lose sight of his friend through the foliage of the water-logged area. All the while, he keeps looking up and pausing from time to time, listening, more than a little wound-up despite him keeping a tap on the tension.

Rumble, rumble, ruffle, and bubble. As memory would serve Bucky, there is always a way through. There was last time, in a sense, but the underground entrance was on the other side of a fence, through the checkpoint, within relative sight of a set of low-rise apartments or flats of a kind. The difference between warehouses and residences is difficult enough.

"I know a way in to the underground part," Buck says, slowly. "But we gotta get through that fence. Too bad I didn't bring any wire cutters. Up and over, if it's not electrified?" Which would be his luck, Sergeant Superconductor there.

"I have the feeling that it isn't that easy." Steve speaks to the off-chance that it's not electrified, even as he cautiously approaches the fence in question. "I've got the shield, let me try something."

Slipping it from its moorings on his back, the Captain readies himself and then, after bringing back his arm as if ready to throw a discus, he brings the vibranium-steel buckler across the bulwark. The edge collides with the electrified lines and small sparks are thrown off as metal welcomes the kiss of controlled lightning briefly.

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