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Mirrored in His Silver Shield: The House of Arthadan part 3

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Steven dropped the technician’s body with a grunt, barely batting an eye as it fell to the floor to join the other HYDRA scientists and doctor’s littering the room. Steven let out a deep cleansing breath and opened his eyes, surveying the scene around him. It was not unlike many of the other bases he had cleared out in the past year and a half. It had the typical Red Room Spartan décor, with gray concrete walls and polished floors; paint in different colors running along the floor lead to different sections of the base.  It had the typical HYDRA flare though, with advanced technology lining the walls and desks in the labs and control rooms, but this one contained something the others did not: a cold storage vault. That little tid-bit had captured his interests, and led him on a trail to find it. Steven followed the trail for months and miles, destroying one base after another, each time making sure that none of the data on the control of him and his Ada remained behind; and gaining a little more information about his target.

They were small things really: a footnote here, a passing mention there, all about some new project that had the high hopes of the Red Room for its success. It wasn’t until he found the location of the new project that his interest really spiked: a research lab in the heart of Siberia, one that had familiar coordinates. Steven had been there before, a long time ago, and had shuddered at the memory of the cold sterile labs and damp cells, and the endless hours of pain and agony he endured, both physically and mentally from sensing his Ada’s torment. Upon realizing where he had to go, Steven burned the base to the ground, incinerating any evidence as to his next target. The last thing Steven wanted to do was to go back to the dungeon, but with the knowledge of an important project hidden somewhere in its vaults, he had no choice.

Now that he stood in the blood stained ruin of the heart of the base, Steven found himself oddly at peace. His breath was even and calm and his heart beat steadily in his breast; no trace of fear in its rhythm. He opened his eyes and looked around the room again; this time his gaze raked across the items in the room with purpose. His lips ticked up on one side with a whisper of a smirk, as his gaze lit on the main computer interface, untouched and open to a file directory. With absolute calm, he stepped over the bodies of the dead, and made his way over to the terminal, dispassionate about the pools of blood he walked through on his way there; leaving a trail of foot prints made in blood leading to the computer. Steven pulled out the office chair and uncaringly knocked the dead technician’s slumped over body out of the chair. The man slid to the floor with a squeak and a thump; a line of blood streaked across the desk he had collapsed on. Steven looked at the blood with a winkle of disgust, before he turned his attention to the screen. It was surprisingly advanced for a Soviet computer system with a full color screen and symbols instead of the black and green computer code from a few years before. Not that it mattered to Steven; to him all computers were outdated and obsolete, but the new user interface made it easier for him to gather his data. Steven pulled his hard drive out of his pocket in his coat, and set it on the desk, well away from the blood, before pulling out the adapter cable he had created for just these occasions.

It was rare that he found computers instead of file boxes and cabinets, but it made his job simple in the long run and hard in others; HYDRA and the Red Room wanted to update their technology and file system, but were too paranoid to digitize old files. New files and information could be encrypted while being written, but old ones had to be scanned and then filed, making encryption difficult and costly in processing terms. More often than not, Steven had found that they were using the computers as a way of easily searching for hard copy files; essentially turning the computer into a digital file directory, or rolodex. Steven liked it this way, because their paranoia and stupidity made it all easier to find the file. Not to mention their encryption was crap, and not even that complex, making it laughably simple to find his file.

Steven plugged the drive in with a placid smile and laid his hand on the computer’s tower. With a calming breath he let his eyes flutter shut, as his mind delved deep into the computers base code, rewriting large chunks and adding bits with a thought, allowing him to turn the drive into a removable data disk; at least to the computer’s source code. When he opened his eyes there was a triumphant gleam in them, as he removed his hand and began his search. The last base he had infiltrated and destroyed gave him the project name, and thus a place to start. In the file directory search bar he typed in the name of the project in Russian. “Vozrozhdeniye proyekta” went into the search bar, and he pressed enter. It took a long slow minute for the computer to search through its file names to come up with a result, and for Steven it was an agonizingly slow minute. Steven took that time to go over his designs for his latest project in his head, closing his eyes and looking at the structure in his mind’s eye. He made adjustments to the silhouette and to the aerodynamics of the wing and fuselage before looking at the tail and propulsion. By the time the computer dinged, signifying the completion of its search, Steven had already deemed the craft perfect and had begun mapping out the electrical systems and computer core.

 Steven opened his eyes and was immediately bombarded with data not on chemistry and Serum research, but on genetics and genetic manipulation.  Steven frowned and leaned forward to pay closer attention to the file. Instead of skimming the file and downloading it onto his drive, he began to read in earnest, and as his eyes run further down the page, his expression became more stunned and disgusted. The experiments they had been conducting were way beyond the bounds of not only being unethical, they were bordering on the sadistic and dangerous.

Most of the research was based around genetics and how genes affected an organism, with experiments in diseases and other pathogens that could become plagues if they escaped the lab. The very sight of the animal testing with an altered flu virus made Steven sick to his stomach, and made him want to cry. The only saving grace was the fact that these tests were years old and the research abandoned.

                “Note to self,” Steven muttered as he read further down the page, “Burn those specimen samples.”

As he continued down into the human genetics, his skin took on a greenish pallor, as his jaw clenched and he swallowed against the urge to vomit. Suddenly he stopped and his skin went white as snow; at the bottom of one of the pages is the project name he typed into the search bar, along with a brief sentence describing the project.

                ‘Vozrozhdeniye proyekta: Project “Rebirth”

Human genetic engineering project no. 3’

Steven didn’t like the sound of that. Genetic engineering on humans implied enhancement from birth, and not Serum based enhancements. Steven clenched his jaw and skimmed down the sentence until his eye caught on an item no.

‘Sample no.7038-32B’

Steven opened a second search bar and typed in the item number. After a long minute the search coughs up a cold storage locker no. and location. Looking down the first document further revealed an attached digital file as well as a physical file location. Taking no time to read, Steven opened the file and downloaded it onto his drive, before skimming the document for further information. Steven growled when the document declared that further information was on written documents only, and slammed his hand onto the desk; jostling the cup of pens enough to fall over and roll to the floor. Steven ignored this and noted the file location and number before organizing the files he had taken already into neat categories and bulk downloading the rest for further study. Once he is done, Steven unplugged his drive but not before uploading a virus onto the computer that would cause as catastrophic overload and fry the hard-drive.

Steven stood up from the chair and pocketed his drive, before marching out the door towards the cold storage vault, stepping over the bodies of Dead scientists and guards as he went. The cold storage vault is not much different than the rest of the labs but it was painted a stark white instead of the unpainted gray. Steven ignored the uncomfortable feeling in the back of his mind as he opened the door to the cold room and started searching for the right locker. After several seconds he found it, and opened the door. Much to his shock there was only single vial inside.

With trepidation Steven reached in and plucked the vial from its shelf. It was an innocuous thing that was barely longer than his finger and as wide around as a thick pen. Steven looked at it and at the label, confirming that it was indeed sample no. 7038-32B. After a moment of puzzling why this would be so important to squirrel away in the most secure part of the facility, Steven spotted the inscription on the label:

                ‘Sample no. 7038-32B: genetically engineered embryo, enhanced characteristics expected; Status: Viable’

Steven stared at the little vial with his jaw open in shock. HYDRA had created an enhanced individual from scratch, and had just left it in storage. ‘They must be further along in their genetics research and development than I thought,’ Steven mused. After a moment Steven placed the vial back in the case, before turning to the filing cabinet just outside the cold room. Steven opened the drawer with the correct file series numbers on it and started fingering through the files before he pulled out the right one. Steven flipped open the file and took in the first page, and what he saw made him turn white and stumble for a chair.

Vozrozhdeniye proyekta: Project “Rebirth”

Human genetic engineering project no. 3’

Sample no. 7038-32B

Specimen: single fertilized embryo acquired from SHIELD holding facility

Specimen Genetics: maternal genetics confirmed-Rogers, Steven G. Cpt. US Army; Paternal genetics: Unknown non-human donor

Alterations to date: resequencing of the paternal DNA, adding genetic markers from third subject

Donor specimen: The Asset- Codename: Winter Soldier

Project current status: Cold storage’

Steven looked back over at the locker with the unassuming little vial inside it and instantly knew what it was. It was the very same egg that Howard had harvested from Steve all those years ago, with the promise of return once research was complete. Howard had told Steven that it was kept in a cold storage vault in SHIELS’s secure archives, but it was stolen along with a sample of Celegorm’s sperm; used to help Steve get pregnant before everything in his life went wrong. A bolt of horror shot through him as he realized that they were manipulating Steve’s unborn child, then just as suddenly Steven saw red. Pure unaltered rage ran through him, and he dropped the file onto a desk as he marched back to the cold room.

                ‘How dare they,’ he thought, his mind blinded by indignant rage. ‘How dare they use Steve’s egg like this! How dare they use it to create one of their monsters,’ he seethed. Steven ripped the door open, and with an outstretched hand tore the locker’s door from its hinges with his powers. Steven walked up to the now open locker and raised his hand. His fingers sparked and crackled with electricity and began to glow white and gold, as he summoned power from deep within; his face contorted with pure rage. He raised his hand to destroy the vial and the embryo, when he suddenly stopped, and the red haze lifted from his eyes. There, on the vial’s label, was an innocuous little word that lifted the unfettered rage clouding his reason: Viable. One little word made him stop and really think about what he was doing and about to do, and his conscience hit him like Steve’s Shield not a second later. With the fog of rage gone, he realized what he was about to do.

                ‘What am I doing,’ he thought to himself in shock. ‘It’s viable! It is a viable embryo, and I am just going to destroy it?!’ Steven looked down struggling with his conscience and his anger, before he looked back up and saw the label again. His eyes this time caught on a very different word: Steve’s name. His eyes widened and he was overwhelmed by a wave of shame. ‘This is Steve’s baby,’ his conscience said, its voice very small and quiet; but it was that quiet that shook Steven to his core. It sounded so very much like how he had sounded when he was young, before his powers had manifested; when Steve was his hero, only just behind his Ada.

                ‘Steve would never do this,’ it said, and Steven’s eyes were suddenly blurred with tears. ‘Steve would never destroy and innocent life, no matter where it came from.’ That little voice knew just how to strike him, for those words hit harder and cut deeper than any punch or knife ever could. Steven loved Steve, and learning he was dead destroyed him; broke his will and crushed any hope that was left in him that he would be rescued, that they would be rescued. With that, Steven squared his jaw and the glow around his hands died. Steven reached in with the utmost care and pulled the vial off the shelf, cradling it in his hand for a moment before he grabbed a portable cryo-container. It looked almost like a small thermos made of brushed steel, with a screw on cap. This innocuous look made it the perfect espionage tool; mostly for obtaining samples of pathogens and other genetic samples. Carefully inserting the vial into the holder, Steven screwed the container shut and activated the portable cold storage circuit; rapidly cooling the internal container but keeping the external one only slightly cool to the touch.

Steven placed the container inside a travel briefcase before leaving the cold room. He then went back over to the file that he had dropped on the desk and placed it in the briefcase as well. After doing such, he quickly skimmed through the files for any other information on the project that could help him with research or on the stability of the genetic code. Time was against him and he needed every bit of information about the project if there was any way of saving the baby. Steven looked one last time through the digital files for anything else that could be vital to the project, before he left the base to self-destruct.

Steven climbed into his stolen military vehicle, dropping the briefcase into the foot well of the passenger seat, before starting the engine and driving back down the road. He was only a half mile from the entrance when the explosives went off, lighting up the sky behind him and the forest with fire and smoke. Sparklers of light danced in the sky as the base’s ammunition stockpile ignited; ensuring that any and all pathogens were utterly destroyed, and that there would be no evidence that he was there until he was long gone. Steven’s lips curled in a satisfied smile, while he sedately drove down the track to get back to the main road. When he was finally out of the wooded area, he floored it and raced down the road as fast as he could. Sometimes he hated it when HYDRA and the Red Room kept their bases so far from civilization.

It took him little over an hour to reach a small tundra town, with a train, and, more importantly, a public phone. Steven ditched his military vehicle and took his duffle bag and briefcase with him as he walked into town. As he reached the public phone, and entered the booth, he pulled out a little device from inside his coat pocket. It was strange looking, almost like a phone but small and thin. Those in the town that had been lucky to see bootlegs of the famous sci-fi series Star Trek would have thought it a prop for one of the communicators, albeit thinner and shinier. The case was a smooth black glass with a durable hinge, and inside was a small screen. Attached to the device was a cord like a phone connector that he used to stunning effect, much to the irritation of the crumbling KGB. Steven set his bags down with care and picked up the phone’s handset. With calm and care he unplugged the handset from the wire and attached the adapter on his device to the payphone.

Steven smiled when he put the device to his ear and heard a dial tone. He pulled the phone, for it was obviously a portable telephone, away from his ear and started using the keypad on it to make a call. Steven smirked again when he heard the static of the wiretap being blocked by his device.

It was a portable telephone, but it was also the most sophisticated piece of spyware he had ever made. The phone, when attached to a wired system, would scramble the location of the call as well as encrypting the audio data. This meant that the audio could only be heard on the closed system between him and the number he dialed, making wiretapping impossible; because all they would hear would be static or garbled voices. It did this by digitizing the audio information coming into and going out of the phone receiver, and thus allowing it to be encrypted. The result was a phone that could not be tapped or traced, and all Steven had to do was plug it in and it would drive the KGB and HYDRA bonkers trying to find him by a wire trace or listen in on his calls.

The phone rang several times before the operator received the call.

                “Hello. This is British library services, how can I help you?” the calm English operator asked. Steven smiled again at the creativity of MI6 and their answering service.

                “I’m sorry, I must have the wrong number,” he said, following the script. “I’m trying to get a hold of the British transportation services,” he said in code; meaning he was needed transportation out of his current location. The operator chuckled and following the same script transferred his call to the appropriate switch board.

                “Transportation,” the woman said.

                “I need a private flight out of western Russia,” he said, “What can you get me?” there was the sound of clacking from a keyboard as she looked for airports sympathetic to them, before she answered.

                “We have one at north of Leningrad that had a plane on standby, but it will only take you as far as London,” she said. “I can get you a transferring flight to the Americas from there.” Steven sighed and weighed his options. He didn’t have the time to wait for a non-stop flight, but he couldn’t risk the chance that he could be caught in London, either. In the end, he realized that he couldn’t risk taking the chance at waiting, because he didn’t know how long it would take; and he was on the clock.

                “I’ll take it,” he said, “how long before the connecting flight?”

                “About 8 hours,” she said with regret, and Steven snarled in frustration. “But there is a commercial flight out of Belfast less than 4 hours after, but you’ll need a train and ferry across.” Steven sighed and calculated the time. If he got on one of the bullet trains to the ferry he might make it with a few hours to spare. Decided, Steven nodded and answered.

                “That’ll be fine,” he said. “If it’s possible, could you send a missive to Mr. Stark at his office to meet me at my Ada’s house in New York?”

                “Of course,” the operator said cheerfully. Steven smiled in relief before thanking her and disconnecting the call. Steven rested his forehead on his phone, before he unplugged it and reattached the old handset. He closed the phone and picked up his bags. Leaving the booth he walked toward the town’s only source of revenue: the train station. He had a long trip ahead of him

                “I really need to finish my jet.”