1965-03-24 - Project Ursa: Kochab
Summary: The awful scope of Arnim Zola's work finally becomes clear in the culmination of Project Ursa.
Related: If there are no related logs, put 'None', — please don't leave blank!
Theme Song: None
steve-rogers rogue bucky 

0455 hours. Closed City 53.

Vibranium wrapped by coils of serpentine carbonadium dulls the glint, doubly if the gentleman thought to wear any kind of covering - black greatcoat, stiff with blood and dirt, say. Either way, the loud noises make Bucky an excellent receiver. Arkady swivels to the rising tide of action bounding his way, a juggernaut in a navy costume. %<171>And here we go.%<187>

His shrieking, writhing teddy-bear of a Winter Soldier in arm, Omega Red uses the spiderweb of steel-dark catwalks for fast retreat towards the only viable exit, one that cuts further west and might be difficult to notice from where Natasha faces off against the Red Guardian. All said, Steve is not without means to track the strategic retreat to that shorter, narrower door than anything else. Metal stenciled with 'AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY!' separates him from the pair. His boots splash through puddles, prints left in his wake on the concrete.

That Bucky can be handled by one of those metallic appendages is a testament to the angelic blond's strength or gross motor control.

If the reflection of industrial lighting isn't bright enough to slant from muted vibranium, the sudden retreat on the part of someone Steve's never seen before is enough to draw attention. Sprays of water splash in the wake of his quickly-thumping boots as he charges, a burst of adrenaline tasting sour in his mouth as he glances up again to see a rather familiar limp figure. The faintest echo of a raked throat attempting to project agony reaches him from that direction and it's confirmed:

Captain America is mad enough to kill.

The hulking figure, with body chaotically-colored and glinting dully, disappears and the door between them doesn't stand a chance. The flat of his boot collides resoundingly with metal that does not withstand the impact. He manages a leap over the mangled panel, now dismantled from its frame, and bullrushes down the hallway. Single-minded determination is a double-edged sword in its way, however.

Vault 16. Research Facilities. Weak sounds percolate through the large spaces carved out from the Russian bedrock, the murmurations of agony sliced off when the heavy doors seal shut behind Arkady and Bucky. Whatever triggers the visual warning for the blond soldier pounding his way in their wake, the riot of activity behind him hardly settles. Guards run along gangways and descend on the fallen, shot man and the woman approaching the Red Guardian. Then knowledge of them is no more.

The doors marked 'Authorized Personnel Only, No Vehicles' lead into a rather handsome, sterile environment in industrial greys and washed out drab greens. Formal bays divide the large rectangular space, some separated by acrylic glass walls, field hospital-style canvas drapes, and even one hexagonal dome attest to the use of different research labs. At this hour, few of the scientists are called to task. All manner of warning signs litter the contents of each lab, be it a fridge full of vials to a series of brown blocks hit with more 'corrosive' and 'poison' stencils than a man can shake stick at. Mechanical production at its finest.

A man as tall as Arkady can certainly not hide in plain sight. No one stands in the middle aisle carving straight up the large space.

Upon entering the medical-grade facilities, Steve comes to an abrupt halt. Foreboding prickles dance up his spine and into his scalp as his eyes dart about. The flashbacks are hard, fast, visceral:

Devesting of the khaki uniform to disappear into a metallic coffin and emerge anew, some stripling youth transformed into a god of his time.

Shattered vials and lives throughout the lab as a foiled robbery turns a gun upon the innocent.

Against hope, finding the barely-cognizant body of his friend strapped to a gurney —

— and history runs painful circles around all.

He mouths Bucky's name even as he turns sharply towards some distant sound far off, unable to pinpoint its exact direction of back in the hanger or farther up and along the middling aisle that partitions the room. Carefully, readied stance angled in a quarter-crouch, he begins to mince farther within, oriented to travel up that open space.

The mechanical creations reinforce the information already acquired about battery development. Electronics are present in contained, locked labs visible through their warped glass doors. Heavy fire suppression systems run along the length of the ceiling, along with several dangling wires and at least two or three conspicuous vents fed by powerful fans. Maybe all those air compressors in the huge bays serve a dual purpose. By design, the central aisle gives absolutely nothing to act as cover. Numbers mark off each bay like a proper university or college might have. At the end, another T-intersection stretches along a lateral axis.

Gently lit, the low glow of lamps speaks to dormant labs. Scientists leave proof of tidiness and appreciation for the gifts given to them in their study their lithium batteries or test superconductivity, wiring or fans. Those labs are meticulously neat.

The lack of life is eerie, in a way. As Steve travels as silently as possible down the central aisle, measuring his steps to roll rather than impact, he looks left and right. Electrical devices, this much he can suss with complete accuracy; batteries would be his guess, given the wiring and general appearance of the inventions.

He runs his tongue over his teeth behind closed lips, glancing back the way he came, in case a reflection from another angle of glass wall reveals something that an initial pass-by missed. The skin about his mouth and nose is pale, stressed and strained from suppressing his rapid breathing as best he can.

Design of the research labs leaves reflections here and there: Steve in the polished frosty inset of a door, for example. No one lingers behind him like a spectre in a dusty horror movie watched in the cinema by squealing teenagers. The heavy door to the hangar bay made quite the noise when he entered, for all his semi-deafened state yet. Here, in the quiet, the ready oscillation of fans and the low hum of electricity along cables stretched along the ceiling to feed each bay give a steady background noise like the tide on a beach.

Choking gurgles somewhere further to the northeast barely register at all, a hollow emptiness that reaches the blond. Somewhere pushed into water to drown? The furtive sounds of terror for the one poor scientist on duty in the predawn, hoping to check on his research realizing someone hellbent for blood has descended?

A sound — the first hint of life in what feels like an inordinate amount of time to the Captain. He looks back forwards, his face turned in that direction, and the attempt to continue forwards increases speed, until his boots can be heard in muted footfalls rather than shifting silence.

He continues to look left and right into the small sectioned-off labs themselves, ready to react at the drop of pin, though it's patently unhealthy for the mind to be strained as such. The weariness of a long trek in combination with little sleep is a spectre constantly on his shoulder.

Labs vary in size by need, varying spaces between the doorways. The closer that Steve comes to the end of the hall, his steps a knell on the floor, the faintly louder that whimpering noise becomes. Nothing serves to arrest its rhythmic repetition, varying through the lowest levels of the masculine range. Hurt, pain, desperation: this is the nature of fear in the flesh, when the flesh is weak and the mind buckled beneath immense weights assaulting it from the inside out.

There lies Bucky Barnes, ragged doll, enveloped by a length of shining silver around his torso up to his neck. The blunt end of said length either lies against his mouth or in it, stifling the profane elegy to shaking despair. Every so often a spasm traces through his frame, overcoming him. Directly opposite him in the doorway is a child, tow-headed, no more than ten. Kneeling, reading a book, they flip a page casually back and forth, as though oblivious to the man pinned to the wall. The child recites in Russian, «The explosion shook the building. To survive he needed three things. He must move fast as the wind. The champion leapt from the window. He must know how to land. The champion rolled as he struck the ground. He must have luck. Mother Russia blessed her son to escape the fiery burst.»

Rounding that corner, the sight shakes Steve to the core. The seconds slow as everything fever-brightens and frazzled nerves buzz to staticky life. The child, reading the book — therein lies the ultimate dissonance in his line of sight — the sheer lack of concern displayed by the child curls to nausea in his stomach.

That silver line, however? That is his target of his abrupt lunge, patently suicidal, the edge of the shield aimed at what extends in a line beyond the wrapping about Bucky himself.

The child lifts his head, revealing clear blue eyes pale as a winter morning and a smattering of freckles on his nose, still snubbed by youth. Lean cheeks, the angular face, surely strike a horrifyingly familiar chord with Steve. Fall back thirty years into the hectic streets of Brooklyn, to schoolyards where he played and sketched and drew, following around his best friend like a puppy and watching out for the other, younger kids in the park. That boy could be one of them, dressed in a plain sweater trousers held up by suspenders, not the epitome of cool. Maybe nine, by the best of guesses. The lines of his face are familiar in the clearest way.

He clutches his book gently to his chest when interrupted by motion and movement, scrambling back a step. «No!» he cries out, trying to get to his feet. «He went all mad, I am helping! The reading helps, it made him stop screaming!»

That silver line is, alas, the one thing vibranium itself cannot shatter, being of an equivalent strength. Carbonadium at its core is adamantium; the tentacle may not cut through Steve's shield like a blunt knife through hot butter, but neither is the shield getting through it.

Arkady's cruelest jest yet, or a way to save Bucky from having his neck broken?

In the vein of physics, Steve's initial impact with that silver line wrapped constrictor-like about his friend throws his arm and shield backwards. He twists as a cat might, rotating at his hips to turn about his landing to something less than awkward. It brings him to face that doorway, with the child spouting bulletproof logic, and he straightens again, staring with a slack-jawed cast to his face as the click of recognition hits him upside the head rudely.

«Mother of God,» he whispers in Gaelic, paling a shade further. That's — that little boy could be Rebecca in guise, a relative of the Barnes family without fail. It brings him to take a step backward, towards Bucky and his entrapment, the star-spangled shield upheld as if protected from more sudden shocking comprehension. What desperately-horrifying madness has been occurring through Zola's machinations?! Fanya wasn't the only one?!

A ripple of motion follows along the silvery metal limb that races along the upper part of the wall and under the doorway, past the child. The binding retracts, pulling Bucky higher with it, the scrape against the industrial grey-green paint leaving parallel gouges and scratches someone no doubt will be hard-pressed to explain come morning. The soldier still hangs feet above the ground, fully supported by the constricting coils that pin his arm to his side and provide the utmost stability, in a sense. Jostling to Bucky is minimal at best.

«Please stop.» The kid truly has no idea of anything Gaelic, repeating himself in slower Russian in case the blond wearing stars and stripes happens to be slow. He even bravely holds out his hand, palm first, the classic gesture to halt. «Stop. I am reading.»

Follow the metallic stripe past the doorway and Arkady is hardly hidden, given the scarlet armour, but angled at a corner. His motivation for doing so could be anything: protection, staying out of frantic soldier line of sight, trusting in the mouths of babes to do what he can't.

There's a choked noise from Arkady's burden, but Bucky isn't struggling. Not anymore. Only the flutter of lids and then the rolling of pale eyes betrays the return of some kind of consciousness. There's a definite failure to track or focus - is he still caught in whatever fugue had him screaming?

Movement behind him forces Steve from the perturbed staring at the small child, that Barnes lookalike. He half-turns to see the paint begin to peel and grits his teeth.

«Son, stay out of this.» Spat in Russian, that's all the soldier has to comment in regards to the tiger cub baring its milk-teeth before he reaches behind with his free hand and wraps a white-knuckled grip around the length of tentacle extending beyond its initial wrapping. Expecting the metal to chill, it's unusually warm and the segmentation makes the flickerflash of consideration in telescoping cross his mind. He pulls as if attempting to unwind Bucky like a toy top, clearly intending to be there to catch the man should the severe yank do anything in their favor.

Hardly easy to gurgle too loudly with a carbonadium silencer, an improvement over a wooden stick or a rubberized bite tray when caught in torment. Do what one can with the materials at hand, after all, and Arkady is all too aware of the gross finesse sometimes rattling him. The paint peels where the metal flexes against the wall, scratching out chips and damaging only when taking the impact of the shield.

Steve pulls on the metallic structure of the tentacle and the immediate response is tightening up, shrinking the linkages that appear as subtle, faint grooves at regular lengths. Just as Bucky's lamellar flatten to whatever internal gyros pull them in, these respond, but by no apparent mechanical means. The resistance keeps from making an easy approach and Arkady snaps the appendage back, enough to bring the Winter Soldier into the next room — and possibly Captain America at the same time if he refuses to let go. Bulldogs an their toys, and all.

Narrow ruby crescents of his eyes ablaze, Arkady watches that most entertaining effort with the impassive regard of a black-tipped shark going around a reef. Literally: his eyes are a single pane of colour, so any excitement looks identical to boredom or sorrow. Something stripped away, the rest of his expression difficult to make. «Go,» he tells the child. «It'll be on his head for breaking whatever's left.»

There's a muffled whimper from Barnes, body jerking in that metallic grip. He's awake, for some value of the word….and that tightening hurt, squeezing his ribs. But not cogent beyond simple sensation.

Arkady gets that obstinate Rogers attitude that ended in so many split lips and black eyes all those years back in the hidden alleys of Brooklyn. There goes Steve, holding onto that tentacle with all the strength he can manage against the inertia of a whiplash-withdrawal, and he's brought into that next room along with the toy in question.

Even as he hangs on, Steve manages to breathlessly growl, «Put him down and we can discuss this civilly!» The importance of a familiar voice is paramount to the concerned and concussed after all, a life-line in a sea of confusion.

Vault 15. Mech Bay.
Lifts and pistons meet with the scent of oil, a familiar spot for anyone ever given the opportunity to work on a car. Heavy industrial mechanics keep their work here, thus the scales exceed anything needed by a common Chrysler or Ford. Hoists sufficient for tanks stand on thick metal poles, tools locked up in cribs with strength and dense fencing enough to resist the casual armament. Signs all around announce, in the cryptic code of mechanics everywhere, what goes where. Red lines on the ground, painted in thick bars, signal the different bays. Crude, thick arms — robotic, in a way — lie against the walls, out of use. The room is far taller than wide, but given the vast size of the transporters outside, no doubt they need a mech bay big enough for sections of propeller or sheet metal.

Works are in progress, at least one of those batteries Vanguard describing in the process of being built. A block as big as a child's playset, it stands apart, with several tires marking out the area around it, and an internal panel opened up to show protective lead-lined sheeting.

Has that familiar voice reached his ear? The sense of a beloved presence? Or is he lapsing back into unconsciousness…..for Buck's gone still in Arkady's grasp again, head lolling as much as that grip permits. There's just the rasp of mostly stifled breath, with an occasional flicker of eyelids.

The child doesn't want to move — and to Bucky's eyes, if he can focus outside his world at all, that is Rebecca all over again in a masculine mold. Gawping, he has to scramble out of the way to avoid being flattened by Steve or Bucky, though he trips as he goes and ends up with a skinned knee through his thin trousers. Saving the book matters more. He hares off to the door headed to the northeast, one marked helpfully with a sign: Store your gear at shift end! Keep your spaces clean!

Let it be said even here Arkady is tall, if dwarfed by propeller shafts and the like. «Civil?» He manages not to smirk, the other tentacle curling behind and around him like the tail of a cat, swishing idly. «You're asking for hospitality, is that it? I'm not sure America knows what that means considering they stage chemical attacks on their allies. They try to detonate submarines in international waters.» He pulls out the tentacle from Bucky's mouth for now, but for either of them, the immediate risk is enormous. One thought and the hunger can strip them of both things. «He needs attention. If you insist, you can sit and talk. I'll return him to the doctors.»

«Nope, he stays here, with me. You put him down nicely and then we'll talk.» Steve attempts to glare a hole between Arkady's blank ruddy eyes, still clinging to that tentacle as a child might the monkey bars. His shield is still raised, at the ready, between himself and the tall monstrosity. Still, he eyes the shifting secondary appendage with great circumspection — the potential for great trouble lies there, especially given the appalling genius likely behind it.

That glittering carbonadium appendage is as much part of Arkady as his right leg, and more so, in some ways. Pressure from the super-soldier's hands exerted over the tentacle causes the scarlet-clad man to plant his feet on the ground. «You are famous for manners. I see none,» Arkady scolds Steve like a recalcitrant schoolboy caught dipping the girls' braids in their ink wells. The energy-lode he stole from the village of Bereslavka sustains him perfectly well and he burns a fraction to bolster his strength. Thews bulge and shiver at the added energy as he whips the tentacle around in a wild serpentine meander, using Bucky as the counterweight.

Steve, caught in the middle of a fight between a skipping rope and a mutate anaconda, becomes the one forced to either release the metal limb or end up flung across the room towards the southeastern grey door. The impact is bound to leave an imprint of a man if only in outline, dented inwards, slamming the door open wide to reveal a locker room.

«You do your work properly,» Arkady tells the lolling, haggard assassin. «I'll put in that good word.» The other tentacle unoccupied by restraining him smacks open the northerly door where he moves briskly, thrusting Bucky through, and taking care of shutting it as soon as he gets inside. For good reason.

The Winter Soldier's come home.

A breath of assent from Bucky, barely recognizable as a word. Hard to talk, after being gagged like that. And the pain that spilled along the link may have subsided, but he's still confused, bewildered. Too weak to fight, though his free hand reaches back towards Steve, a beseeching gesture.

Vault 14. Laboratories.
Describe "Laboratory" and most people conjure two distinct images. One is a spotless place of shining steel counters and white, sterile walls and floors, pristine for the exploration of secrets on the micro and macro levels. Invariably the machinery holds a benign, futuristic quality rich in beeping lights and monitors, as a legion of science-fiction for the past forty years keeps refining.

The other sort, typically adjacent to 'secret' or 'Soviet' descriptors, speak of dingy, illlit places buried in subterranean vaults. Inadequate lighting shines over dim, boxy machines from the nascent horror humanity holds for being replaced by their own creations.

Wed the two, and that Bucky sees from his position as the personal lure of a red anglerfish. Artificial illumination tints greenish-blue over shining surfaces on layers, where odd apparati with something in common with the mechanical lab stand out. At least two robotic arms descend over tables — clearly an improvement on medical chairs seen elsewhere. Any variety of machines serving some kind of purpose line the central chamber.

Another is rather obvious for its use: a glass box holds a slumped over man, wrists implanted by half a dozen tubes and wires, a pair of magnetic cuffs binding him. Drawn features and loose brown hair make it impossible to confirm who that is other than Orel, not enough gold in his locks for that.

In the middle of it all, a rather nasty apparatus used for containment holds quite a number of straps and bindings and metal bars dwarfing the figure. Upon entry it's hard to see what or whom but for rigid feet in ballet pointe, aimed at the door. The gentleman there, however, is unmistakably Arnim Zola, right down to his damn little bowtie.

(REF: Holding 'tank' room - https://cdna.artstation.com/p/assets/images/images/000/284/064/large/KZ4-massa_lab_1.jpg?1415092437)

(REF: Layout, merge the two concepts: https://img00.deviantart.net/a37f/i/2013/303/1/7/xcom_sci_lab_by_zombat-d6sed7w.jpg | https://i.pinimg.com/originals/98/48/3b/98483b9b233efd8aaa0ddfd94be5adcd.png)

There's an old saying about how the greatest wounds can have only silence in response. So there's not a sound out of James, at that sight. This is where it comes to, this is where it ends. More or less where it began, a year of freedom finished in an alloy grip, all of it brought to ruin. That last thread of hope, finished - all he's succeeded in doing is handing them back, and dooming Steve and Scarlett along with.

«Brought him,» Arkady says rather blandly, tramping into the room. The locked door behind him engages the same magnetic apparatus as the huge pair that Bucky dove through to first admit himself to the closed city, except this one lies on a far smaller scale. «Where do you want him? Back in a cage? Clean him up?»

Zola flexes his fingers, clearly interrupted at the work of critical monitoring. He glances up, and any recognition hidden behind the professor's mild expression stays firmly buttoned up as emotion properly should. No demonstration of horror or distaste will be permitted where science and logic rule. «Thank you for the consideration, but submersion would interrupt the work.» He nods to one of the hanging overhead cranes. «Secure it, and put the bed upright to stay out of the way.»

Now might be the time for Bucky to fight, to look beyond the light screens shining with complex black-and-white imagery or the glowing crescent hooks mounted to the bed frames. Possibly past the halo, devious terrifying thing, in the distance. Glass panes show the floor for a second and beneath him cyan light radiates off liquid, the same hue as the dacha subbasements, right down to the body suspended therein.

That terrible Cerenkov blue. "I'm not an it, Zola," he says, in a voice gone hoarse and distorted. "No matter what you did to me." Another attempt to reach the link - who's where, who can hear him? Or is he the only mind left whole and awake.

By habit, Arkady maneuvers around such medical spots carefully, all too aware of his size and how tipping over a machine or casually bashing an aide through a wall upsets people with knives, needles, and perilously vulnerable ribs. He lowers Bucky onto the bed, the metal appendage still in place until the straps can be secured across the body. Start with the hips nad then the pelvis, those broad links necessary. Broad cuffs for the lower legs and wrists invariably come after. His casual ease speaks to definite familiarity at securing recalcitrant individuals, the runaway indifference present in every act.

The forehead strap has not been hauled out yet, though it comes. The crescent tipped on its side supports the bed to the roof beams, and the structure likely holds considerable strength. None of its parallels are distorted except for one, the recent patchwork of honeycombed metal standing out as an oddity.

"Saved your life. Gave you purpose," Zola answers mildly. Patients ever act as the critics. He turns back to his work for a time, making small adjustments to several dials. One has a set of digits visible, the current flip-card style common to alarm clocks. Those twists add a decided ozone element to the air, fed by countless converging cables.

The link he seeks is a crumbled channel gone to dust, a shivering dance of ruin. Spasmodic tremors along phantom limbs, Bucky tries to extend himself through broken pathways. He will regret if he does.

Only once Arkady's relinquished his grip does he try to fight. Of course he does….and there is that attempt, one last reaching out. Are any of them free? Where is Lazar?

Fight the straps intended for someone of their super-soldier nature, fight all he wants. The cuffs will come, right foot than left, disregarding the state of those filthy pants. Omega Red is little bothered; his nose doesn't turn up at such things, after all.

The doctor practically claps his hands together, businesslike mien dropping for an instant. Arkady pauses for a moment when Zola stabs a button and flips two switches. Then movement to deal with the southern doorway, just in case.

The first sign of trouble is the prostrate figure in the cage jerking in an apparent seizure. Then not, coordinated more than that, hurling himself against the glass like a hound trying to break out of a burning barn. He lands and throws himself again, as though repeated bodily blows will overcome the tempered glass. Which of the wolves? Hard to see through the black mask of the Winter Soldier.

Something churns inside Bucky's skull, a swarm of furious hornets, resolving an angry buzz to lupine serenades in fragmenting howls, arrested wails tempered to the lights outside the facility flashing and dipping at the enormous energy pull. How can he tell one from the other through the maelstrom?

Another hoarse, incandescent scream at short range ricochets off every surface, and the body strapped down vibrating so hard the metal panels above shake. Foxfire hair sways, bleeding fingers clenched against bleeding palms. Loud enough by half to cover the gliding footfalls that announce the arrival of that black void under the wolves' howls. Svyatoslavich ever does time his entry into fortresses and cities well.

He can't bring in enough air to scream. There's only hoarse gasping from him, eyes rolling up. Chaos isn't enough to send him under, but it is enough to blind him to what's before his eyes. A name, whispered. Autumn.

Tick. Tick. Tick. The energy poured into a volume not even six feet tall does the most wretched things, grounded through a series of stems going deep to the bedrock. Or perhaps that well of Cerenkov blue water underlying the whole structure, potentially, some architectural genius to flirt with certain death.

The screaming lasts until even supernaturally capable vocal chords run out of breath, and the fixed, silent agony deserves a near compassionate pat on the machine. Zola takes his recordings on a pad of paper gridded out like an accountant's ledger, measuring responses dutifully against the tick of a clock, the pass of time. He renders not the least bit of interest in Bucky except to check the work left incomplete by Arkady. «Who would prefer to mind a door like a lowly gate guard instead of… ah, well.» He will have to see to that himself, throwing a handle that pulls the Winter Soldier upright — out of the way, naturally.

The fist slamming weakly into the glass does not leave so much as a crack. Eventually the pup — who? Not Genya, not tattooed — slides down to his knees, spent of strength, or overcome by whatever concoctions are pumped into his veins from sources spliced up to the ceiling. He collapses, arching in profound agony, rolling to his back. They all hurt, hurt on levels nameless and deep.

«Another five minutes,» Volya says in that fluid Russian, arch and aristocratic, recalling days of an empire before an empire when 'The Great' was an expression with meaning and purpose. He deigns to flow past the tortured victim of a thousand experiments, beyond the rattling tables, and squares up James Barnes with that level, unreadable darkness to his face. No smile, quite. «Have you enjoyed yourself thus far?»

He stares into Volga's face, purblind, hollow-eyed, only glaring in that helpless hatred. Doesn't deign to answer, shivering in his bindings. What comes, comes. It's up to Steve or the Widow now.

Zola adjusts the dial again, severing the connection to half the energy bank. Volumes drop and the dramatic moonbow arch in the semi-conscious redhead ceases, leaving her a rigid board stretched in the mummifying collection. Her wrappings are chains and wires, straps and bands, all collectively suited to keep her ba and ka united for a time.

Volga mildly raises his raven eyebrows, furrows under the widow's peak mildly imprinted. His is a calm to erode mountains and underpin the next mini Ice Age. Reaching out, he takes James' chin in hand, examining the roughness laid out in a patchwork of exhaustion and growth untended by comb or razor. The blood rises, the fractured howls dissipating in gurgles where the smothered lights go out. So few, so few sounds beyond a zoned whine in the key of the electric turbines, the servos in his prosthetic arm known to similarly hum. «Is it so necessary to be rude?»

His gaze never wavers from Volga's. «What do you want? I am here.» he asks, softly. The forms, at least, are polite. Worn down to gauntness - you can only run that metabolism without food or respite for so long without starting to burn away muscle. Calm, in the way that despair pushes one down into the depths beyond fighting, beyond struggle, beyond anger. He doesn't flinch away from that touch.

Cultivating that measured repose, Volga has all the time in the world to survey what he likes, as he will. «As you are. Commendable effort to do so, at that.» His voice is melodic after a fashion, smooth and restrained. «Would you like water? Food?»

A noteworthy feature perhaps caught from the corner of the eye, the wolf in the glass cage crawls away to the corner with what little strength remains to him, curled up in the foetal position as best his bound limbs allow. Arkady remains on duty in case Steve should come tearing through, his expression nearly blithe, a man gone to church and audience to a sermon of particular mesmerizing content.

His measurements otherwise complete, Zola approaches another of the bank of electronics to make his adjustments with all the ease of a chef in the kitchen.

He shakes his head, mutely. Hunger ravens, but he wouldn't dare eat what he was given by either. Still watching Volga, unwavering, though that caged struggle does not go unnoted. «What do you want?» he asks, again, voice toneless. As if that were the only question that mattered.

Another dance of electrons through the ether collides with the burning edge of conscious thought, flirting along the edges of damnation. Not enough to disappear into a full faint, certainly not enough for collective thought and action, the energy current keeps the shaking human taut and insensate for the better part of things. Bucky is loud enough to be heard, possibly, but not registering in a neural system fried. No needles work their way into bound limbs. The thin hole punched through the shoulder, another story. Web works waver under the floor, thin shivers distinguished by their irregularity, as though the ground occasionally shakes, a fishtank tapped.

«What do you think I want?» Volga asks in return, not entirely departing from consideration. His hand drops away to his side, other crossing his stomach in a vaguely thoughtful air. «The security of the Rodina. No more, no less.»

He nods his head to that. Letting the weariness he's been fighting for so long rise up and start to drag him down, closing his eyes for a moment too long to be a blink. But he opens them again before it gets to the point where it can be attributed to rudeness. Science and research will cause them enough pain, no reason to add an immortal's pique to the mix.

No chance of sleep, not truly, not with the harmonics burning their way through the brainstem into hollow places. Bucky is not given that particular freedom any more than his writhing counterpart hidden behind glass is, nor the quivering figures enchanted under glass and water can resist. They quiver like unformed bugs in a jar, suspended animation crackling to being. Flickers that drown, drown in the cold and the immense weight of the liquid surrounding them, flicker and pour their way out.

A mindful look from Volga never quite leaves Bucky's face. He makes a gesture, and with that, the spike of energy turns into a living, visible crawl of blue sparks on external wires going straight down into Scarlett. Through Scarlett, the metal vibrates, hair stands on end, and the screaming begins again in torn, truncated force.

Zola doesn't so much as scramble as hasten as best his short legs allow to begin the monitoring with a practiced ease.

The pain hits him….and while it's fractionated from the primary target, it's still enough to make him stiffen in his bonds. There's the old habits, Winter's practicalities, to offer their bitter assisstance. Don't fight it, don't resist, let it come and pass through, leaving him dangling limp in the bonds. When his eyes aren't tightly shut, head thrown back, he's still looking at Volga. As if there were something to communicate by a look.

«Heart rate still within parameters,» Zola says in his matter-of-fact way. «The other results are acceptable, though his is suboptimal from what I can measure. Suitable for a primary reconfiguration until his next use.»

Arkady still maintains his position by the door, perfectly satisfied in every respect. The tentacles briefly shiver, no more, far from inactive.

Volga, on the other hand, has the patience to muster a response. «The last time we met, you failed to take advantage of our hospitality. Again, a homecoming awash in certain discomfort. Are you so out of practice to fail to offer your credentials properly?»

Panting where he hangs, head lolling again. «There are moles, and traitors,» he says, on a cough, between spasms. «I could not reach you directly, I trusted no one else. And I'm too much of a ghost for most to know I'm real.»

The slow weight of iron-dark eyes rest upon the bitter progenitor of the other guests in their care. Once eight, now how many — whittled to the missing ghost and the two who escaped, one mad and the other betrayed? His bearing is unmoving, the hooded gaze and lengthy mouth compacted to thoughtful precision. «Have we not demonstrated a capacity for discerning the truth? I would think by now you know alternative means to reach out. Tapping the glass would have been enough.»

In the background, Zola shuffles away from the machinery. A small rubber hammer carried in his gloved hand has a specific purpose: knocked on the knee, checking for a response. Straps buckle and groan when he applies the blunt end smartly. Down the shin, the bare feet come next, with the pointed side. Tap. Tap. Tap.

He spasms in time with those blows, as if it were his own raw skin touched so roughly. A nod to Volga, unprotesting, eyes glazing - trying to keep focus past what's rising up from the back of his brain. Riding pain like a wave.

Volga's hooded eyes fail to gleam, still and mindful. His dark hair has more capacity for movement than himself. «Is it still wrong to fail a mission? What is your mission now, soldier? I wonder very much whether you have thought that far ahead.» He halts for a time, playing the pause out for several seconds. «You said you had been sent to kill Steven Rogers. You have effectively done it again, perhaps better suited to the parameters of your overseers. Hardly the first time you have failed to execute someone as effectively as you thought. The World's Fair, Svartalfheim.»

«I don't know. I will see what I am given.» His face is pale, gaze level. The mention of Svartalfheim makes his brow furrow. But then…Volga's a sorcerer and an immortal in his own right. For all he knows, Volga has tea with the dark elves on a weekly basis.

For all Bucky knows, the dark elves revile this corner of Russia and unleash their attention elsewhere rather than raise a dread power's attention. They could be utter fools and assail New York, running afoul of the mystic community led by a man in a red cape.

Zola gives another smart strike to bare, rigid feet on the redhead and gains not even another scream, her voice too weak to support that prolonged torment. The electricity ceases sooner or later, leaving a flat, limp creature with only the vaguest hint of humanity to her. He passes out of the room through the open aperture that acts as a gateway of sorts, heading into another chamber.

Volga gauges the reaction some. «You do have an odd relationship with death, seeding it among those nearest in proximity to you. Such fine bait for Czernobog. The scars are still there, if you know where to look. My esteemed colleagues, alas, are shorter-sighted than that and see only what they want to see. A fault common to artists and scientists. Your erstwhile companion, the poet? Quite convinced he was offed, and so won't ever see the marks on you. But fascinating. If Zola slays you, do you rise anew?»

Just confirmation of what he'd started to suspect. As if he were a carrier of contagion, a plague rat. «I don't know,» he says, simply. «He raised me once already. I guess that's a hobby among the Swiss, bringing dead things back to some kind of life.»

«Give him no opportunity for balancing books, he finds other ways.» An accepted consequence of the punctual, impecunious Swiss cannot be argued. Volga turns a smirk into a bitter length of ivory and asphalt, leaving little warmth in his wake. Nothing is. «You are positioned to be our guest for a time. Is there anything else you require?»

That he's asked - that has to be some sort of bitter joke. A few more hours and then the chair and the lightning, and whole house of cards collapses in on itself. He shakes his head, silently.

Quite naturally concerned about the finer points of polite behaviour, Volga nods. «Very well, as you wish. You need only ask should you change your mind.» He withdraws the way he entered, with a wraith's light steps, headed through the laboratory whence he came in Zola's path of departure. A murmured word exchanged in that corridor carries the effect of a proper snap of his fingers at garcon, wherever that 'boy' would be.

Bucky has perhaps two minutes to his own devices, at least where Arkady is not involved.

Two minutes where he's dropping into half-consciousness, exhaustion and despair like lead weights dragging him down. There's a relief in ceasing to fight, if even for moments.

Two minutes. One hundred twenty seconds. Long enough for a measure of resistance seeping away into the night, perpetually enshrined beneath the surface of the Earth. Long enough for the ragged creature in the glass to crawl forward and mark the departure of the sorcerer, clawing at the black mask covering his face. When it falls…

Volga's had him since the dacha, surely. All this time, and Bucky crawling like an ant, struggling towards them. A silent breath from him, senses reeling. He doesn't speak - Red is listening, after all.

The river listens, the earth knows, the Motherland eternal in her vigilance. Somewhere in that narrow corridor, the two masterminds of such torment on behalf of the Winter Soldier are not without means of functionally hearing a disturbance. Say nothing of Arkady, watching the captive entertainment behind the glass strip himself of the hated mask. Whatever the wires strung into the veins do, they fail to much inhibit his ability to move yet. Then again, the serum in their collective veins burns off the aftereffects of medicine well; the semi-lucid states strengthen when the dose tapers off.

Barely out of reach by a length of Bucky's body length, Scarlett is as good as unconscious, if not catatonic with her eyes open.

He's close to that himself, limp as a doll within the bonds. No attempt to communicate….not even to reach down the bond, what's left of it. As if silence and stillness will have Red forgetting he's there.

Kyr lolls against the glass, pressed up to it. Puppies untouched and unloved, put up for sale in disreputable shops, have often a similar look of cracked hope for something near at hand and drooping despair when the passersby head on, refusing to purchase the littlest of victims for a forever home. He vaguely drums his head against the glass with a dull thunk, a percussion rhythm to break the monotony.

Monotony of time, the real killer of long-lived souls, shall eventually surrender in its fashion to a kind of ruin. Never too long, no chance of sleep coming to Bucky quite yet before Zola bustles out, a professor bubbling over the results of his latest study or the batch of marking showing some vague academic breakthrough in the mushball minds of the young. "Let's be on our way. Your space is prepared," he says, brisk and businesslike, favouring German to Russian when he is perfectly aware the soldier understands. "I have what I needed."

The terrible genius of the beds' design? Each of the crescents rests on a track, and a few turns of a fat black dial means one can be carried right along out of the laboratory into the adjacent wing. Rather like a modern car factory assembling pieces from a selected bay… or an abattoir taking the hunk of meat out to be carved up.

When you encounter the thing you've feared most for a year, it can be too much for a mind to handle. Not that he breaks into screaming madness again. No, Bucky's quiet, eyes blank. What has to come will come, and time is winding down, horror rendering him mute and passive.

Despair bows Kyr's back, his body slumped on itself. Glass squeaks where the heavy octahedronal angles of his cuffs impact the surface, and he flattens again, unable to bear the incalculable weight demanded of his fractured psyche. Being conscious in the midst of such misery is the death of the self by inches.

The lights flicker again, weakly winking out and on, an interruption of a second or less. With Zola preoccupied with the task ahead of him, Arkady hits his stride, stretching out with the guard on that door still established. Exemplary tasks wait, and he knocks on the glass. «Don't worry. You'll have breakfast soon enough.»

HE has his eyes closed again, though there's no prospect of rest. Maybe after Zola's done what he intended to do. Let the nightmare be over, let the Swiss revive the tattered ghost of Winter.

Vault 13. Cold Storage.

Metallic clicks give way through the transition points on the rails, and pale resistance flows over him as he snaps through the archway leading into the secondary chamber. Secondary could be a misnomer considering its actual proportions exceed the attached room. Impressions found even through closed eyes take on a decidedly luminous cornflower blue quality, the aqueous ripples flow over the dark metallic roof and grate, showing more of the water churning below the floor. What sets apart the cold storage vaults takes only a blink to establish from the previous experience of the dacha: spheres, rather than tubes, for the most part. Only a few are reserved with the haloed metal 'torpedo' style Bucky has no doubt become so familiar with. One of those long-standing, Forties-era cryochambers is right there waiting for him.

He just has to pass his four children first: Fanya, dead. Volya, clasping the wall when Steve and he were washed away. Nikita, drowned and lost secondly in the snow. Orel, drowned by the Volga.

There is no end to the terror.

It's almost a relief. The end of the line, surely. Let the dead tend to the dead. He doesn't even whimper at the sight.

Open, waiting, a carapace to deal with. Obviously Zola is no force to deal with lifting a man with a metal arm, and what about the sorcerer? He holds all the rude health of a man raised in an era where riding and fighting were de rigueur, byproducts for lower life expectancies and harsh standards of living. Not naturally comparable to the fully developed physique of a super-soldier — but short of an Asgardian, what is?

Stopping at the appointed station, the bed swivels, guided directly in front of the cryochamber. Someone can simply dump a man in there, turn up the coolant, and let nature take its course. What artistry is there in dumping the valuable tool of the CCCP inside? Volga in all his midnight intensity waits and watches, the feathery flicker of sparking static around steepled trigger fingers. Bullet time, punching time, which is faster? «A certain elegance in closing the circle.» He whom so prizes Tolstoy can recognize the irony and justice, poetic as it is. Those bonds drop.

Zola is conspicuously on the other side of the sorcerer, further away. Observing, as he is wont to do.

Of course there's one last shot in his locker, one last attempt for vengeance, for something. A permanent death, maybe. For there's the bare moment where the bonds are off but he hasn't fallen into the chamber…..and he's lunging for Volga, teeth bared. A last knife in hand, but by the way he moves, that isn't how he intends to do damage.

Eight eyes open in a singular impulse. Fixed point ahead, they track on triangulation until finding exactly what they seek. How not in the dark, gaunt spectre come to undermine the empire?

The sorcerer is unmoving, holding that spell calling open the cuffs and buckles. Intention takes a generous sliver of his focus, certainly responsible for lengthening reaction times. Close in and the knife might just rise in time, the snap ready to close, the banished confusion in the Winter Soldier's mind crystallized on a final mission. Wishes going slant sometimes carry fortune's blessing.

Milliseconds down. Sloe-dark eyes meet that ice-cold gaze. Step in to meet flesh and…

… Never
… forget
… the
… blood

The bond in the blood, the poisoned tide infiltrated by Volga Svatyoslavich. Step inside and the cold pressure blooms from the chest outwards, lungs full heaving no air no
bullet wounds bleeding hurt ripped poppy-flows in the shirt why oh why

crack metal kissed lips jaw open aching no
veins wired sluggish drugged thoughts slip so closely through why did they take him, no don't not another


all hurts everything hurts — bloody drip — breathing hurts kill just kill me die no stay stay with it — run run — fight
Haven't you learned yet?

icy wind on wrapped skin, waiting, aching joints and so stiff, so stiff, waiting, come out, come out

rusted rusted rusted rusted rusted rusted fresco fresco fresco

The sorcerer…..does not resist, holding those bonds open. It's his *teeth* Bucky's sinks into Volga's throat, clamping down where the carotid pulses, at least in normal humans. Tearing with nothing of the assassin's precision, but a lupine hunger.

The knife flashes, but it's to inflict minor wounds on himself, first, a bloodied hand….and then, hopefully a nick too minor for Volga to pay heed, as if they were to be blood brothers, at the last moment.

What Arkady thinks, could he see, might be expressed in the truest laugh heard in these halls in days. Weeks. So rarely does the world reach out to surprise him, but he shall be prohibited this spectacle.

Blood and circuses, he told Sergeant Barnes and the Winter Soldier not so long ago. A lifetime ago, perhaps. Prophetic voice of the Rodina speaking to one bastard son through the trueborn, now. Darkness drops with the savagery of a bite that should full knock over Volga, and very nearly does, the crumpling of bodies in an entangled embrace in the hall. Through the grate, aquamarine water tranquil in its hypnotic depths bulges upwards, mass contracting from the tank's sides.

Biting his flesh, touch as it is, may not be fully impossible. He objects, as any man naturally would, but the copper-bright tang trails over the tongue as a blossoming flavour inundates the palate in a vital, horrific charge of power.

For one devastating moment, a whisper of the enormity of his sensory range crashes through Bucky's senses — lives aflicker all around, so many in clusters nearby and further afield, following the yawning black bends of the river-lifeblood, more, a vast flowering, rosebushes in a dimly populated meadow. One second becomes a glacial epoch tapped into the terrestrial heartbeat of the Rodina — alive, She is Mother Russia, ancient black earth and forest, steppes and lonely snowswept hills weeping blood among the unquiet sleepers of Stalingrad fields. There is Steve, a speck picked out among so many more of him, greater planets chasing after Bucky's orbital perbutations, eight of them awake to the siren call.

And that awful, yawning hunger, indescribably intense, dripping out bit by bit. What he had was dilute.

He found the goddamned source.

The sounds alone must be horrific enough to discompose even Zola, even in the darkness. The clang of bodies falling, and then wet tearing. Winter was never a berserker, never given to battle madness. Gods only know what drives him now, to this, but he's battened onto Volga like a cub nursing at his mother's flank. Drinking.

Zola will be off his diet for days. No proper German breakfast or sausage of the month club for him, given he stares in fraught disgust about this whole business. The pitiless bystanders in their presumably secure glass cages watch while Bucky wreaks his special brand of havoc, and he stifles the modest gagging noise of his rebelling stomach.

Volga's complicity is no accident, black eyes dark as the soil that supports him. Conscious throughout the famished plundering of his lifeblood, he rattles through partaking until placing a firm hand on Bucky's shoulder and shoving him back. «Enough. Such gluttony is not acceptable, even for you.»

It's the first time he's felt…..satisfied since his first visit to the dacha. The pale eyes are round and wondering, but he obeys. A wipe of his hand over his mouth, and it comes away smeared with darkness. «What….?» he asks, blankly.

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