January 19, 2017:

Cutscene. Hydra begins its requisite compliance training of Jane Foster.

??? - New York City


NPCs: None.

Mentions: The Winter Soldier


Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

They promised it would be painless.

They lie.

The first week is endless hours in the tiny room, with nothing lit enough for her to see, though Jane wouldn't remember if she could, not between the sodium thiopental in her blood and the papery voices whispering in her ears. They ask her questions. Every question one could think to ask a person. She resists at first, but eventually she tells them. She cries as she tells them every last private detail of her life, from her first constellation to her first kiss to how for five minutes she stared at her father's cold corpse in the hospice hating herself for realizing he'd died and she didn't even notice. How she met the Winter Soldier one night, and how she repaired his arm, how she realized it was in need of upgrading, how he was in need of saving.

Her head is so full of their psychotropic cocktail that Jane hears her own voice speaking from somewhere far away, and she swears she can look down and see herself, in that chair, begging after twenty hours for a drink, after forty for sleep, but they always have one question more. They pull her secrets apart and she lets them, too tired to stop.

She graduates to stage two of compliance training.

The room they keep her is half-lit and cold, so cold that Jane's only movement is the shivering of her limbs, the chattering of her jaw. The restraints stop the rest.

Straps at her joints. Elbows and wrists. Knees and ankles. All restraints carefully padded, and she knows why. She knows in these precious few moments they don't inject the ice cold something into her vein, when she has her mind, when she is herself — it's so there's no marks. No trace of evidence that she is being tortured.

It has to look painless to keep the Winter Soldier docile.

They crank the bed they've manacled her and angles her head down, down and down, until the blood rushes to her face and it's even harder to see: the belt over her forehead holds her head in place. Jane hears the motorized hum of a moving machine, coming down closer from behind, looming down to halo her head. Her whorling eyes strain to look but she cannot.

She asks what's happening.

She's never given an answer, not once, not by the faceless persons whose gloved hands hold her still to attach sensors, to fit her into the three-piece apparatus that yawns down to fold her skull into its vice.

Jane jolts and shivers against each abrupt, unfamiliar, loud sound. She gasps against the freezing touch of metal. Her bound hands flex. A pair of tears slip from her eyes, and she hates that inside this thing, sound only seems to amplify, caging her in the echoes of her own shallow breathing, in the pounding of the blood in her ears. She tries to see through her peripheries. There is a person at a monitor, and though hurts to see, she swears she sees a structural image of a brain, with lit areas highlighting activity. Her brain?

They push a mouthguard in between her teeth. She panics with quiet realization. Jane fights, more tears rolling free, but does not win. She chokes on the taste of rubber, tries to scream.

And a scouring light turns on.

Cowed to silence, she jerks, squinting her eyes to painfully adjust. The restraints cannot stop the way she shivers. When her eyes do blink open, the look in them pleading, all Jane can see, from her bound position, trapped in a room moated in dark, is a single playing card.

A man holds it. The angle of the light hides his face that she cannot see. Only the card in his hand. It's red.

"The card is blue," he says.

Jane's widened eyes twitch incredulously. She's not sure what this means. All she thinks is: no, it's red.

There's a loud click, and the machine around her head turns on. And —

— indescribable pain, pain she's never known, pain she's never felt, spasming every muscle straight in her body, fixing every joint, locking her jaw, and her eyes stare sightless as electricity scours every synapse of her brain.

It stops.

Jane comes to, shaking, struggling and straining against her restraints that do not budge. Her turning eyes beg to see, beg to know, beg to ask why. She murmurs around the mouthguard.

"The card is blue," he says again.

But it's red —

The pain starts again. Jane convulses, unable to suck in air through the contraction of every muscle, choking for breath as the moving current puts her head on fire. Her teeth latch into the guard.

It stops again. She comes to with a hoarse breath, though when Jane fought the first time, this she merely cries, her dark eyes gazing up, begging the darkness for the one answer no one will give. Why?

"The card is blue."

She looks at the red card —

Pain. Pain scouring her from the inside-out, and she hates them, she hates them, hates them, hates them.

"The card is blue."

Jane, voice muffled with the guard, tells the card to go fuck itself.

More pain.

She doesn't understand, doesn't understand how it can be blue, it's not blue, something isn't blue when it's red.

Pain again.

Why would they do this? Why are they doing this? Don't they know something so simple? What are they doing to her? It's red, why aren't they saying it's red? Why is no one saying its red? It's not blue, it's red —

Jane's screams brank on the rubber between her teeth. Tears roll from her eyes.

It happens again and again. She is not sure how many times. She loses count, count of how many times he says it, that one line over and over, the wrong line, wrong to her every time, because it's not blue, it's red. She tries to lie, tries to tell them the words they want to hear, tries to gag around the mouthguard that, yes, yes, it's blue, even though she thinks it's red. But as soon as she thinks it, she hurts, she hurts so much that she doesn't want to think, and tries to stop thinking about the colours blue or red at all. But as soon as she sees the card —

— pain. Pain, endless pain. Pain after pain that reality seems to blur, that life rewrites itself as a function of that humming machine, and the torture running through her head. Jane begs them to stop, but they do not. She asks them to tell her why, but they do not. They make the pain come again, each and every time, until she breaks down, crying without sound, trying to call a man's name out through the guard muffling her mouth.

No one comes. Only the pain does. Hours of pain. Maybe days of pain. Pain and that card. Over and over. Hundreds of times. The red card. The same red card. Shown to her over and over until —

"The card is blue," the voice tells her.

Jane, pale and broken, froth leaking out ether sides of her muffled jaw, looks up through the hair matting along her sweaty brow and sticky temples. Tears water from her eyes, ringed black with dehydration, fatigue, agony, hopelessness. She gazes through the card, the same card she's always seen since the start, and yet —

She sees blue. Blue just like they tell her to.

No pain comes.

She is so happy.

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