AoA: The Shield

October 12, 2017:

Military Intelligence Director James Buchanan Barnes returns to the Triskelion after weeks away from New York. An artifact has been recovered and an ambitious plan is unveiled. Humankind shall be *Avenged*. (Emits by Nate).

AoA Triskelion- General Ross office


NPCs: None.

Mentions: AoA General Ross, AoA Graydon Creed

Mood Music: None.

Fade In…

Another cloudy, chilly Automn day in New York. It is October, but feels like December. The Summers are getting better, but still feel more like northern Russia than the old New York of Bucky Barnes youth. Nuclear winter is the technical term.

It has been 22 years since the Winter Soldier stopped being a ‘soldier’ and became just a wandering warrior. 22 years since the Red Room was annihilated by the Horsemen, leaving very few surviving agents and no handler alive.

Returning home took almost 20 of those years. First he had to find himself. Then he had to fight, and fight. Through the ruins of Russia. Through the lawless wasteland that was Eastern Asia. Until three years ago he earned a passage through the Pacific in one of airships serving the mysterious New Japan nation.

Eurasia is dead, unless one is desperate enough to swear fealty to King Von Doom. Africa and South America are radioactive hells. No one seems sure what is going on in Australia, but it is not good. But the Eastern Coast of America is still standing. Refugees from the entire world go there.

Did he expect to be remembered? Apparently he was. Only a few days after he got to the ruins of New York, he was visited by a man called William Stryker. A rebel leader of some renown they called the Prophet. He was looking for men to rebuild the American army and the secret services. Not only had he known of Sargent Barnes, he also knew of the Winter Soldier.

A year ago, as the millennium ended, Stryker won the presidential elections, and Bucky Barnes was promoted to director of military intelligence, just under Secretary of Security Graydon Creed. A lofty rank which means he is responsible of a couple hundred couriers, spies and agents trying to keep tabs of the comings and goings of thousands of bandits, raider gangs, rogue mutants, monsters, terrorist and the rests of Apocalypse’s army. Unsurprisingly, he spends most of the time in the field, not behind a comfortable desk.

Today, however, he has been summoned to the Triskelion for a meeting with Creed and General Ross.

The irony of it all was that, during the Cold War, nuclear war was the greatest threat anyone could imagine… but no one expected it to come in this form, when it came. The cultural terror everyone feared was the USA and the USSR trading nuclear fire in the skies. No one accounted for anything quite like Apocalypse or his Horsemen.

With devastating swiftness, the order of the world was upset, and the Winter Soldier found himself free, separated from all the handlers and agents he had known in Department X and the Red Room. Free… and with voices in his head telling him his home was somewhere other than the frozen waste of Siberia. Voices that eventually grew clearer and clearer, over time, until he realized they were the thoughts of his own true self, thirty-odd years suppressed by brainwashing and ill use.

In times like these, he could almost wish one of the ways in which Zola's knockoff serum failed to match Erskine's was in longevity. There were times, over the twenty years he took to return home, that he would have preferred death than the baffling youth he continued to maintain. It made him easy to recognize once he finally returned to the home he remembered, fifty-eight years after he left it.

There, he met a man who offered him a chance to resume the kind of life he lost fifty-four years ago. He accepted. By this point in his life, after everything that was done to him, he was a walking weapon, and he could no more exist without a purpose in war than Steve ever could.

He still looks for Steve, every time he goes out in the field.

Today concludes yet another mission against the remnants of Apocalypse's army. Another day he has failed to find any hint of what might have happened to Steve Rogers, or Natalia Romanova, or the others he has known through the years. It is not necessarily unusual that he be called to the Triskelion, but it is a rare enough occurrence that there is a certain curiosity to his eyes when he arrives, dressed in his service uniform. Old habits of Army propriety, dating all the way back to the 1940s, die hard.

The Triskelion is in full alert, and as soon as James arrives he has men reporting to him. They don’t expect him to stop, so they just make the reports along the way.

Contact with Washington lost. There were around 100,000 humans and mutants in the region.
Telepathic cloak over the area. A number of agents missing.
The feared Shadow Thief might be back – Apocalypse’s telepathic assassin killed most of the other telepaths.
A group of alpha class mutants has appeared – they claim to be X-men from ‘another world’.
Madrox is one of them. The first of the Madri… except he seems harmless. In fact a few famous mutant criminals are among those ‘foreign X-Men’. But Magneto is handling it.
A powerful mutant claiming to be the new Horseman War attacked a few of the foreign X-Men in Central Park.
Something is up with Emma Frost (Secretary of Education). They have been told not to investigate. (But Bucky’s men are investigating, of course).

Looks like it was a very busy week!

The state of the Triskelion, when he arrives, shows quite well why he must have been summoned back so quickly. Usually they don't make a point to hurry him back out of the field once a mission concludes. The minute he's in the door, people are falling into step with him, and what they have to report brings James' mouth to thin.

His orders, for the time being, are orders of surveillance and overwatch, and overall to hold for further instruction: no concrete actions to be taken yet. Plainly, he wants to see what it is Secretary Creed and General Ross have to say before he commands a direct action, in the event they have specific commands for him on how to respond. Especially with such major events suddenly in motion around the world.

"Another world?" he does ask, exasperated, of the aide to bring him that piece of information. "As if shit weren't already crazy enough, we have other-world mutants pouring in? Have whatever we know about them on my desk by oh eight-hundred." The news Magneto is handling it, however, is a reassurance… and mutants from 'another world' does open up certain opportunities. Especially if they managed to live through an encounter with this purported new Horseman War.

The news about Secretary Frost is particularly concerning. He makes a note to review any new intel on her, as well — but later.

For now, there is the conversation with the Secretary and the General.

The 'highlights' of the chaotic situation reported, Bucky is left alone at the door of Ross' office. Of course he will have a huge stack of reports waiting for him at his desk. If he even makes it to his desk today. Yes, they know two cabinet members are waiting for him, so the aides vanish just as he knocks at the door.

The door opens, "come in, Barnes," growls Graydon Creed.

A stocky man with many burn scars, Creed went as Horror Show in the Resistance. Armed with high-tech flamethrowers, he is reported to have killed dozens of powerful mutants.

It is said Creed hates mutants. He is the son of two mutants, a kind of throwback. It is said he has issues.

Bucky knows better. Creed dislikes mutants. But he dislikes normal humans too. He is an equal opportunity hater in his hating almost everybody. He doesn't seem to hate Stryker, though, so he works for the President and somehow he is almost a clever and capable as Stryker himself.

General Thaddeus 'Thunderbolt' Ross is one of the few survivors of the old US Army. He was air force, maybe 25 years ago. He fought, he lost, he survived, he made it to the Eurasia with a tiny group of American soldiers and joined the war efforts there. He was competent enough to make it to Human High Council just before the last battle. Ross commanded the Airship fleet that tried to nuke Apocalypse to hell and now he is the Secretary of Defense.

"You have to see this, Barnes," adds Ross. He looks excited, shocked. "Captain Newell just returned from his trip to Atlantis ruins."

Walter Newell is a submarine commander. Perhaps the last submarine commander left in the world. He used to haul refugees from America to a mysterious refugee somewhere in the south. Now he commands a stealth submarine, fighting the monsters released into the Atlantic from the Breeding Pens. And exploring sunken cities and odd places.

He found something, indeed. Ross is almost reverent as he opens a large square box on a table. There is a metal disk inside, about two and a half feet in diameter. Painted in fading red, white and blue colors. Bucky had not seen the shield since 1945.

Enjoined to enter, Barnes does so, closing the door behind him and standing at attention until permitted to rest at ease. His gaze crosses Creed first, then Ross. Most people don't like Graydon Creed, but Bucky Barnes isn't most people. He can more than empathize with having 'issues.' He can also respect a man willing to go up against mutants with flamethrowers. Bucky himself has a long track record of fighting uphill against powered individuals.

He can even empathize with equal opportunity hatred of humans, to some degree. After eighty-four years of life, twenty spent roughing it in the lawless radioactive wastes of Siberia and the remnants of America, Bucky doesn't much like humans anymore either, though there's enough memory of Steve in him to keep him from total descent into misanthropy.

General Ross commands Bucky's respect for different reasons, most of them to do with that shared experience of being career military. It's to him that Barnes turns when he starts to speak: Ross doesn't often sound excited about anything.

Puzzled, Bucky's about to ask what on earth Newell could have found in Atlantis, when Ross opens the box and the world starts to spin. Stunned, Bucky has to catch himself on the edge of the table. One hand grips measurably harder than the other; his prosthetic left whirs quietly, its metallic nature making itself known even under his sleeve. The edge of the table groans under his grip until he remembers himself, and lets up.

If they found the shield, then —

"Steve?" he asks hoarsely, shocked enough to forget military composure. "Did you find him? Is he here?"

Creed snorts, and Ross shakes his head, looking solemn. "This was in a vault in the ruins of what we believe was the royal palace. Perhaps King Namor found Rogers but… we couldn't find records."

"Newell mission was to bring back Atlantean tech for the eggheads," comments Creed. Not sounding happy the mission was aborted to bring back a metal chunk, even if it is a 'historical artifact' or something. On the other hand, "is it the real one?" Not even Creed can resist to ask the question.

It is the real one. Bucky knows the second he picks it up.

"There is a project," starts Ross, talking quietly. Creed frowns, but says nothing. "Several projects, actually. To form a small elite fighting force to match the X-Men in capabilities, but using human agents. Like the Invaders were during the Second World War. I want to activate the Avengers Initiative. I have talked with the president already."

Hope comes and goes as quickly as a snuffed candle. It would hit Bucky harder if he hadn't been searching for decades already… long enough that finding Steve again seems to have become a dream. His head bows briefly at the news there was no sign of Steve, but the moment he takes for himself is just that — a moment. The man he is now, and the country he serves, do not have time for indulgences.

So, with the terrible efficacy of a man accustomed to bearing hard truths, he pulls himself together and lifts his head again, standing straight and looking down at the shield with equal reverence as Ross — if not greater. Bucky was there for the christening of the original Captain America, and memory glosses his eyes as he takes in its details.

Thus it is that, when the inevitable question is asked — is it the real one? — Barnes is already reaching impulsively for the shield, lifting it carefully from its resting place with his right hand. He regards it a moment, before his left hand fists and strikes the thing dead center, propelled with enough force to powder concrete. All the wild momentum of which the Winter Soldier's left arm is capable: stopped dead.

"It is real," he says. "Nothing else feels quite like vibranium does."

He turns a puzzled look on Ross as the man continues, however, laying the shield carefully back down as he listens. He… wants to activate the Avengers Initiative. A small elite fighting force, with human agents…

Bucky hesitates. The shame of his acts as the Winter Soldier, which continues to hang over him even after these many years, is still so heavy that he does not even think of himself in relation to this. For all he knows, he was simply called to verify the authenticity of the shield. "Sir?" he says, after a moment. "Do you want my recommendations on appropriate agents for this initiative?"

The old general nods, but Creed adds. "There was already a number of people in consideration." He pulls a folder from a cabinet, spreading pictures and data files on the table. "Lewis, Stark, Barton… a few other names are up for consideration". Most of them would be known to Bucky. Quite the collection of survivors, troublemakers, soldiers and heroes.

"Lewis is probably the most powerful super-being in America. Stark has his armor, and we need him for the technical expertise, Barton is our best pilot and sharpshooter. And you…" Ross points to the shield. "You should be the new Captain America. You have the skills, you knew him, you know what it means, you were there."

Bucky skims the files as they're spread open across the table. He has full dossiers on most, at least partials on the rest. Not exactly a lineup one would consider for a standard military unit, and in fact most have histories as wildcards. Yet for what amounts to a small spec ops team… do they really need career soldiers? The team Steve led back in the 40s was certainly no collection of men that would parrot "yes sir, no sir." He's about to speak, perhaps to say something to this effect, when Ross finishes.

You should be the new Captain America, he says.

There is a long silence. Barnes long ago stopped being the expressive young man who grew up alongside Steve Rogers, so it says a great deal about his emotional state that he actually visibly pales. It is true Bucky is defensive about the shield, would trust very few to carry it — it is not just a piece of metal to him, not just a title, but a mantle and standard of conduct and a beacon to those who see it go into battle. It cannot simply be passed to someone who does not understand the spirit of everything Steve embodied, when he wore the shield as Captain America.

But to accept it himself? He still remembers what he did, as the Soldier. He still remembers decades of death at his hands.

In the end, he inhales sharply, letting the breath out as a slow exhale. Sixty years ago he made a decision to serve his country. Six decades, it turns out, don't change certain core things about a man. "I will try to deserve the honor, sir," he says, and his voice briefly shakes. "What do you want me to do?"

"Pick a colorful bunch people, and don’t get killed," grumbles Creed. Obviously he is not sold to the idea. But Creed own plans usually go more around the lines of secrecy and expedience.

He did help with the selection, though.

"A small group, five to ten," suggests Ross. "Power and competence are an issue, but also moral standards. Like the Invaders of old, they should be symbols of courage and hope, not just a hammer. Please, read the files, we can meet again tonight. Perhaps with the President."

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