Down The Tunnels
Natasha finds herself in Sterns' Red Room. She and Betty attempt to escape before Natasha is overwritten.

Sterns' Underground Facility


"There's no such thing as perfect." - Betty
"There is too, Betty. I've found it." - Sterns

Another rip is made in Natasha's tattered gown (to better enable running) as she chases the mark down the tunnel of the subbasement. In some respects she feels like a rat in a maze, yet there's an odd familiarity to the maze. Almost like she's been here before, but it's a feeling she shakes, choosing instead to chase after her attacker. The person who seems to have created this mess. The way they move, the way they engage her in battle, it's also familiar.

He rounds a corner. And leads her to a fork. Without a hint, there's no way to know which way to go. Natasha's eyes seek out a clue. Anything. But they come up short. She releases a deep breath, and desperately wishes she had a coin to flip. And then, whispering quietly to herself, she mutters, "R is for Right. R is for Romanoff. Right it is…"

She turns right and runs about halfway down the hall to hear a thunk behind her.

A few more steps have her reaching into her bra to pull out the mini-digital lock pick and push it against the door that's just closed behind her. She presses it to the seal and madly works the button, "Come on Carter," she whispers. Only to almost fall over. Whatever she's stuck in is moving. Getting out now might not be smart…

Not that Natasha ever considered herself that smart. Jumping out of a moving vehicle feels far from impossible. Her fingers go to work on the lock again, and it seems to get the first piece of the puzzle, drawing the faintest curl of Natasha's lips. It's working. Which is when the gas starts to seep into the room in puffs of smoke. Frantically, Tasha bangs on the door of whatever vehicle she finds herself in. But the lock doesn't move any faster, nor does the door give underneath the pressure. The second piece of the puzzle yields. It might work.

She holds her breath as long as she can manage, staring at the device, willing it to work faster… but her biological urge gives in before the device completes its work.

The ride is some time, whatever it is, and eventually, unexpectedly stops. Around the same time Romanoff wakes up. Sort of. Drowsily, with a hand pressed to her head, Tasha ambles to her feet, quite dizzily. A glance is given to each in turn. No shoes. She can't remember if she'd been wearing them when she fell into this particular trap. Idly, her hand reaches up her leg: her gun is gone. Fail. She quietly curses as she looks for her lock pick. It too seems to be missing. Okay. World class spy in a tin can.

Carefully she steps to the door, unsure what she'll find on the other side. She presses on it lightly and it gives, opening to a Red Room. Red ceiling. Red walls. Red floors. She swallows hard. One of the walls turns to a screen, exposing a very different room. A white room. With one occupant. Eyebrows knitting together, Tasha reaches out an raps on it lightly, "Hello?"

Betty Ross has been basically pacing the floor ever since her talk with Sterns a few days ago. Unwilling to partake in the puzzles and toys that he left behind for her, she has instead been amusing herself by reviewing research in her head. It's been quiet and lonely, worried for colleagues that are under some sort of mind control drug and fearful of what she might have done while under its influences. She feels disgusted and violated, unable to think of anything else and yet desperate to clear her head.

When the screen turns on, Betty barely notices it, muttering an equation to herself in another futile attempt to block the unwanted thoughts from her head. To Natasha, she must look crazy. However, when she hears a voice - a decidedly not Sterns voice - the scientist stops in her tracks and looks around. Seeing the blaring red of another room and the woman standing there, her eyes widen. "H-hello?" It's soft and hesitant. She's expecting this to be a trap, something that Sterns is doing to mess with her head some more. She steps forward as if expecting a bomb to go off. "Who…who are you?"

To Betty, Natasha must look equally crazy. A glance is given down to her tattered evening dress that has been cut down to size. She'd abandoned the long black gloves when she had to short circuit the camera and tap back into Travis' feed. A hand runs through her very matted red curls before her elbow rubs at her green eyes, smudging her mascara that much more. She has looked better. Her eyes track down to the red chair resting in the middle of the room. The Red Room. She swallows hard as she stares at the woman on the other side of the screen. "Hello," she reiterates, more confidently now. Even. Her eyes scan the top of the room to locate each of the cameras in turn, built high up into the walls. And then, as if talking to herself more than Betty she realizes, "The screen must have a camera behind it too. The angle…" her lips hitch upwards as she finally studies Betty. A single eyebrow arches upwards, "Doctor Ross?"

As far as who she is, she hasn't decided yet. Not for this place as she settles into the very uncomfortable red chair.

As both Betty addresses the new 'guest' and Natasha settles into her spot, the screen splits. And there is the hot pink tuxedo'd Samuel Sterns. "Ladies — " when he says it, it's incredibly creepy. "I hope you're becoming acquainted. I think you'll be spending some time together in the next little while, until — well, welcome to your new home, or — your home for now — Agent" there's a pregnant pause as he stares out at both of the women, "Romanoff." His head turns slightly to the right, presumably to address Betty, "You should call her Tasha or Nat or even Natasha. I'm told all of her close friends do." He smiles wolfishly at both of the women. Yes, he is having fun. There's little doubt about that.

The fact that this woman knows her name is quite shocking. The step that Betty took forward is immediately retreated. "How do you know my name?" She was never the famous one, the one that was in the papers. "Who are you?" she repeats. This is getting stranger all the time and she doesn't like it. She was starting to get used to the routine and the silence and now an x factor has been thrown into the experiment.

The appearance of Sterns automatically causes Betty to cringe. Without thinking, she sits down on the bed, as if an invisible hand gently pushed her backward. It doesn't take his speech to creep her out or deflate her. "Why are you doing this?" she asks Sterns dejectedly. It's the one question that has been spiraling in her mind for days.

Natasha levels her gaze on Sterns as he says her name. And then she shifts her gaze to Betty. But as her lips part to explain she's thwarted by a Sterns' answer, "Agent Romanoff brought me to your dear. Old. Daddy. Some time ago." He smiles. "Didn't you, Agent?" his head cants to the side as if looking for some explanation. He waves a hand as if to suggest such things were in the past and not to be thought about now, "Bygones!" he says too eagerly. "Especially in a few weeks." His nose wrinkles as he chuckles quietly to himself. "The good agent here was trying to rescue you, my dear doctor. You see, I invited those pesky agency types to my party. Well, our party. But, as you can see, she failed. Failure~ Failbot~" He laughs again. "It'll be water under the bridge soon though…"

Stoically, Natasha lets Sterns monologue, studying him with interest she can't quite explain. He talks about water under the bridge and her head cants to the side in consideration. And then, finally, she offers, "You look different. Very different. I thought that when I saw your picture in our briefing." There's an evenness in her words and manner that doesn't let anything else stir. She remains calm despite the situation, focusing on one thing and one thing only: information getting. And listening requires silence.

The situation has gone far beyond begging for her life. Betty looks down at the floor as Sterns talks, shaking her head. She doesn't quite believe in rescue, unsure of how in the world she would ever get out of her. The first entire day was searching for cracks or vulnerable places in her cell. She could find none. As far as she knows, everyone on the outside believed her to be a willing participant in this mad man's research.

"It was not our party." She sounds very clear on that. Her eyes flick between the projected images of Romanoff and Sterns, not knowing how she can relay anything she knows. Instead of going through the obscure root, she decides to tell her directly. With a renewed urgency, she stands and crosses the small space toward the screen. Ignoring Sterns, her eyes are wide and pleading as she looks at Natasha. "He drugged us - me and other scientists - with gamma radiation. It makes you extremely susceptible to suggestion, practically controlled by someone else. He basically has a formula to turn anyone into his slave. I had no idea." Her hands are pressing quite firmly on the screen as she looks down, unable to stand it. "I had no idea."

Natasha just nods. Slow. Steady. Stoic. She can't give tells. "Right," she replies evenly to Betty. "Which is what," her eyes tick to Sterns, "he planned to do with all of those dignitaries at the party." And the gaseous bomb she couldn't quite defuse. Not without different equipment. SHIELD would've had it though. Trent Carter is always prepared. Her jaw tightens. "And is what he plans to do with me here. In the Red Room." Her eyes scan the walls a moment and then she notes, "You do know that the Red Room wasn't actually red. We called it that because we're Soviets. Not because it was red."

Sterns just smirks through the explanation Betty provides. "Not badly done, Doctor. Not bad at all. Of course, you're wrong on more than a few fronts." His nose wrinkles as he settles back in his chair, steepling his fingers together. Disapprovingly he clucks his tongue, "I don't really understand why the General sent a sociopath to rescue his daughter but — " he shrugs " — whatevs. His business is his business. You are his attack dog, aren't you Natasha? Wait." He pauses. "Is that even your real name?" There's another pause as he addresses Betty now, "Ever since that day she apprehended me, jailed me, and let them do what they did… I've wondered about her," he taps his nose lightly. He reaches off screen and draws out a large manila file folder. A few pages are tugged out of them, "Sociopathic tendencies. That's what her file says." He turns back to Natasha, "Your file also tells me that radiation is unnecessary. Evidently," he snaps the file shut, "I can return you to factory settings." Again his tongue clucks as he snaps the folder shut, "It's like they packaged you just for me. Programming soldier spies. It's a beautiful thing…"

Inside Natasha's mind, the cogs are moving, she needs a new interrogation tactic, he's not talking about what she needs to know. She needs him to stop spouting information about her and switch the conversation back to him. And something occurs to her: ignore the ego-maniac. Focus on Betty. So instead of answering any of Sterns questions or letting Betty respond to them, she addresses Doctor Ross. "You asked why he's doing what he's doing earlier. I think, in part, it's revenge." She keeps her gaze on Betty, her expression remains even, but her eyes silently plead for Betty to keep her own eyes trained on Natasha.

Betty is not a spy. She's smart, but her work is research and science based. She's never been kidnapped and held against her will by a maniac. Nor has she been subjected to what amounts to psychological torture. The most mental stress she has had to deal with was her father - who was controlling and manipulative. He never went out of his way to break her down. Her demeanor is not cool, nor is she concerned with pulling information for later use.

"I saw what you did to Robert," Betty tells Sterns, eyes filled with disgust and pain. "He was barely cognitive." She's had recurring nightmares where she looks in the mirror to find her eyes similarly dull and lifeless. Trapped inside her own body, she's unable to steer her own limbs or get out. She's unable to focus entirely on Natasha. That's just not in her nature. She can't ignore someone as dangerous as Sterns even if he's only visible through the monitor. "What did they do to you that warranted this?" Her focus flits briefly to Natasha. "Why would he want revenge on you?"

There's a twitch of a smile that edges Sterns' lips, a defense mechanism of sorts at the questions that follow the redirect. "They unlocked my inner potential," he says coyly to Betty as he reaches off screen for another file folder. "Maybe I should be thanking them instead…" This one is pink. Once more he opens it. "Who is Clint Barton?" he asks Romanoff idly as his eyes scan whatever papers are inside.

Sterns is summarily ignored as Tasha only addresses Betty. "I was misled," she begins, "and brought in my mark. As always." Those green eyes remain trained on the other woman. "I was convincing — "

Sterns lifts a finger and interrupts, but doesn't take his eyes off of the pink file he's studying, "She threatened to shoot me in the leg — "

But Natasha pretends he's not even there, " — and, as I believed, convinced him that they would help him." Sharing so much information causes her to feel queasy. After all, she'd barely shared this with Clint. Her features soften, purposefully as her eyes track downwards, "I'm guessing he didn't receive much help." And with that, her lips press into a thin line as her gaze lifts almost defiantly. "Doctor Ross, hypothetically speaking, if you were interested in someone exposed to gamma radiation, and its effects on their particular physiology, what would you do to them?" Pause. She shakes her head, that's not the question she wants to ask, "No, not you. I mean, what would Thaddeus Ross do to them?"

"They experimented on you." Betty's tone is flat. She can see why she is a part of this now. Unsure of who to talk to now, she steps away from the screen. The red background behind Natasha and the plain one behind Sterns makes her feel like she is talking to the devil and angel that are supposed to be on her shoulders. Perhaps that was part of the plan. However, she can't identify either of these individuals as angels. Maybe she was supposed to be some sort of innocent - trapped in a white room. Or, he was foreshadowing the little white room where she would go insane. It's impossible to tell with Sterns.

What she does know is the exact plans her father had for someone exposed to gamma radiation. He would assemble a team of the top scientists. They would cut him open, do multiple blood tests, attempt to perfect the formula to make the perfect soldier. As far as her father was concerned, Bruce was military property and it was his patriotic duty to study him. If he had gotten his hands on Sterns and he was exposed to gamma radiation, she can't imagine the plan changing.

Her gaze switches between Natasha and Sterns, finally landing on the spy. "And you brought him in to it."

Natasha's eyebrows tick upwards as Betty puts it together, a small tell that, from her own estimation, Betty got it right. There's a moment of satisfaction that goes with all of that. But just one. She rises to her feet in her tattered evening gown and does a quick turn about the room, contemplating her strategy. "I don't do well with being lied to," she states evenly before stopping in front of a very red panel in the wall. She presses on the panel and it opens as a sort of closet. With her SHIELD uniform inside. Her head snaps back to the screen, but she says nothing. The cogs in her brain continue turning. And then, she adds as she tugs the uniform from the hanger she adds, "You don't have to," there's a pause, "return me to my factory settings to get me to work for you." There's a pregnant pause before she adds, "You just need to tell me the truth about what I do." Her tongue rolls over her lips, "You lie to me and I defect."

Sterns waves a hand fleetingly at Betty's pronouncement. "Water under the bridge." Except not. He lifts his chin slightly, but continues to read the papers with rapt interest, "Tell me, Doctor Ross, what kind of experimentation would they have done to me, anyways? Don't I seem exactly the same as I was when we first met?" His eyebrows knit together as he goads her, just a little. Natasha's proclaimation, however, has him snapping the file closed. "And what, Agent Romanoff, has changed since the last time I offered you a job in my employ?" And then he repeats his one of the questions acquired from the file, "Who is Clint Barton?"

Slowly, Betty takes another step backward. "I am not my father." Her response is vehement. The experiment with Bruce had nothing to do with dissecting him. She actively fought against Thaddeus to make sure that he would never do such things to Bruce.

That intense emotion, now dredged up is not sleeping for awhile. Betty stares at Natasha with horror. "You know what he's done to people and you're willing to work for him?" The disgust is plain in her voice. From what she can tell so far SHIELD may not be any better - especially if they were willing to experiment on Sterns just because he had been exposed to gamma radiation. The very thought of helping a man like him is enough to cause her to dismiss Natasha. Instead of an impassioned plea to cause her to change her mind, she returns her attention to the madman on the screen. "You are certainly different. When I met you, you wanted to help people. You wanted to help Bruce."

"Clint Barton is a colleague," Natasha finally answers flatly before glancing at Betty and then back to Sterns. "We have worked on a number of cases over the last few years." That's all he's going to hear about Clint. Or any of them. Her lips thin into a line at Betty's response. And really, it brings her a sense of satisfaction that she doesn't dare let register across her features. In so many respects, the spy still has it in the only way that counts.

After a few seconds of silence and Sterns maintaining an utterly straight face, he actually laughs at Betty and then again at Natasha. The laughter continues for some time before he catches his breath and bends over in laughter again. Finally, he rubs his eyes, presumably drying tears that have accumulated in their corners before uttering, "You ladies crack me up." He catches his breath again before he smirks at the screen and starts clapping, "I have both of your files, Agent. Both. You have two. TWO. And the warnings… ha. You think I'd fall for that? I'm not naive to you or your feminine wiles. You did, however, catch someone" his gaze turns to Betty, "in your web. Ah ah ah, the Black Widow strikes again~ " As an aside to Betty he almost asides, except it's a screen, so the aside doesn't really work, "That's what they call that one. Because she tricks, traps, and kills." He rubs his eyes again, "It's laughable. Of course I'm returning you to factory settings." His eyebrows arch, "Unless there's something you don't want to lose." Following these words, his eyes become indiscernibly squinty, "Or someone." Pause. "Is it love, Natasha?"

As far as change is concerned though, "I am what Thaddeus Ross made me. Although…" his gaze ticks to the side as he considers something, and chooses not to utter his thoughts.

Hands clench into fists. Betty does not like being laughed at by a man who has kidnapped her and subjected her to these conditions. And she doesn't like being in the middle of a cat and mouse game. Spies lie. That's all they do. Realizing she can't trust Natasha - even if she was supposed to be her rescuer - the scientist keeps moving backward. This might be worse than being alone. She doesn't understand what factory conditions means; how can anyone be reset?

She can't comment on any of that and she is attempting to not show how irritated she is at being laughed at, so Betty merely responds to what she can: "Although what?"

"Love is for children," comes the deadpan response. "No, I don't know what the Reds' file," her eyes tick between the file folders — two folders, and so she takes a guess at what the other could be, "told you, but I've seen resets go badly. I'd rather not relieve my prepubescent years mentally." It's a flat response. A half-truth from someone meant to have no attachments to anyone. However, Natasha silences and doesn't dare interrupt Betty's question. She lingers, holding onto her uniform, in silence, almost statuesque as she tries not to leave any impression of actually being present. Letting Sterns speak is everything.

Sterns smiles at both of the women, he really does love a rapt audience, "Although I would like to believe I've extended beyond my factory settings. Our creations are only what we allow them to become when they fulfill their own potential. I'd like to believe I'm fulfilling mine. I was created by two separate men. One by accident and one on purpose." His arms cross defiantly as he stares Betty down as best he can through a monitor, "One of us has to fulfill your dear old Daddy's destiny, don't we?" His smile takes on a sinister edge. "And come on, Agent, surely your adolescence was far from awkward. Now, answer my questions — "

Betty hates feeding into the man's ego, as she's sure she is, but this is all she has while trapped in this room. "So, what are your creations, then, Doctor?" She's reverted to his more proper title. No more Samuel. "Robots without the ability for free thought, unable to reach a potential on their own? What happens to them when you don't give them orders? Would they still be able to function? To discover? What's the point in gathering such brilliant scientists when they're unable to do what made them brilliant in the first place: to see things differently." She doesn't care if she's treading on thin ground or making him angry - she's not even sure that's possible. "My father was wrong to test on you. Bruce and I went to you for help because we didn't want that to happen to anyone. But, this, what you're doing here. It's not brilliance, it's madness. It's petty and cruel."

And while her gut instinct is to stay quiet and let the man answer, Natasha can't quite bite back the question that she's been longing to ask since she walked into the room: "And if your creation is so successful, then why is it that Doctor Ross has her faculties? She's thinking, talking, and moving independently, not like the others. Our intel suggested that wasn't the case several months ago. What happened?" Her green eyes scan Betty and then return to Sterns. Her lips purse for a moment before she tacks on, "I'll trade you. One answer for one answer. You answer my question honestly, to my satisfaction, and I will answer one of yours." One. Just one.

There's a tick of Sterns' eyebrow. A moment of intrigue not quite uttered at all of the questions posed by Betty. "My creations are perfect as they are. No need for growth when everything else is optimized. And my 'orders' aren't what you think they are, Doctor Ross. My orders are on a much higher plane." There's a twinkle to his eye, an all too pleased with himself expression. "A plane unlocked only by pushing the bounds of what is possible." His fingers steeple together, "And soon enough everyone will be my creation." The idea of trading information, however, has him rubbing his hands together greedily. "Huh. It's like a game." His lips twitch to the side as he considers the game. And then he sets the rules, "Alright. I will answer one question for each of you, but you must both answer one question in turn. And I also must be satisfied with your answers." His eyes track back to Betty and then Natasha in turn, "And don't bother lying about things. I know your tricks, remember? And I already know who the players are that I want to ask about — " there's a pause, "Are these terms acceptable to you both?"

The question that Natasha asks was actually just about to be the next one out of Betty's mouth once Sterns talked about how perfect his creations were. It's already asked for her, though, so she merely stands there and hugs her arms across her chest. "There's no such thing as perfect." And even if there was, she certainly would not define it as those robotic creatures she saw Robert Dunphy become. "Adaptation and growth are what makes us human. Take away those things and the result is inhuman." The people he's altered are merely drones, not people at all. But, then, she pauses in her disgust for his work when the 'game' is suggested. "Both of us?" She looks between Natasha and Sterns. "I don't have any answers to give."

All Natasha does is nod. One firm nod. Her arms continue to fold over her chest as she stares at Sterns. She'll accept the terms. An answer for an answer. And God-willing she'll remember the answer later. Or Betty will. Her eyes narrow and she just keeps her gaze level.

Again Sterns chuckles. "There is too, Betty. I've found it." He uses her first name. It's not something he does frequently. "Who says they can't adapt? Their adaptation exists." In a big way. Not that he explains what he means by that. And as far as having no answers, Sterns rolls his eyes, "But there are always questions to ask… like how long your friend Bruce Banner has been able to maintain the other guy? You know the one I mean. The green one. That's large. And assuming."

And then the answer. "So is that your question — how is it Betty here isn't like everyone else?"

Betty has little hope for her own safety or survival. She's been taken out of the mix and put here for a reason that she can't even begin to understand. With all the talk of what her father has done, she assumes that she is bait to lure people like Natasha into rescue and capture. But, that could be done while she was still under the gamma influences. She can only assume that she's been taken out of it to torture her, make her suffer for what happened to Bruce. For 'experimenting' on people. As if she didn't try to stop him. As if she hadn't already suffered enough.

"I can't answer that." Betty isn't being coy or rebellious. "I have no idea. I'm not sure he can even control it. That's why we came to you. He's tried, but nothing works. He wants a cure." He still wants a cure, as whatever it was that Sterns researched was ineffectual.

Another nod from Romanoff indicates that she wants to know about Betty and how Betty is special. But she remains silent, even as Betty explains a little bit more about Bruce. A glance is given to the unifornm she realizes she's still holding, and in a way, she really wishes to be wearing it, but walking away now will only kill whatever conversation she has started. And so she waits in her very beat up dress.

Betty receives a hmmm from Sterns. "Yes, a cure for his other nature. The other guy. The one with all of the brawn and none of the brain," he whistles after saying it. "But imagine if there was a way he could have both. Imagine how unstoppable that would make him — I envision a better world. That's all I'm saying."

And then the answer to the million dollar question. "Well," his gaze tracks upwards as he considers his answer. "Doctor Ross was one of the first to be subjected to my gamma radiation experiment. And my… genius may be faltering some. I may need a recharge of sorts." It's vague, but it seems truthful enough. "Now, tell me, who is Clint Barton? And I don't mean in the whole he's your colleague way, I mean as in who is he? He shows up a lot in your new file. Why?"

"You're not playing by your own rules." Betty is firm on that. "I'm not satisfied with your answer." She glares at Natasha, daring her to answer his question when she's not finished with the first one. "Do you mean the radiation didn't take? The answer to her question is that it wasn't that you chose for me to no longer be under your control. If it was up to you, I'd still be a thrall. This is all to cover that?" She's not sure if that makes her feel better or worse. Perhaps it would be Robert that were cognitive if he had decided to test on him first.

Contemplatively, Natasha arches her eyebrow and then nods at Betty's thought. "I agree with Doctor Ross. You are not being forthcoming. If you want to know anything about Barton, we need to be satisfied with your response." The question is how badly does he want to know what he wants to know. Her arms tighten over her chest.

Sterns sighs and rubs his temples. His rules, not theirs. His lips purse together as his head cranes to the side, "Something isn't working. That's why she's not hooked into the hive. I'm working through it though and it will come together. I promise it will. And then Doctor Ross will return to the state that she's entitled to." He glances between the women. "Now, my questions — I have things I want to know." About everything. "Answer my question."

There is no reason why she is cognitive. The very fact alone is chilling to Betty. If Sterns had his way, she would still be a mindless drone forced to do his will. However, she is not. And since she has not been affected by the radiation again that must mean he still has not yet finished his research. If he hasn't finished his research, even with the help of the most genius minds in the field, that must mean he needs more help. He needs Bruce. She is bait in a trap. Terrified, she takes a few steps backward. There is, thankfully, one silver lining. "Your research isn't finished. The others will come out of their state." These are not questions, they are relieved statements. Robert will return to his normal self. She won't be exposed to the radiation again until he fixes it. Her eyes shift to Natasha. She's satisfied with that answer, at least. Also, she has answered her own. It's Natasha's turn.

Natasha holds up a single finger. "Clarify something for me before I tell you what you want to know…" Her green eyes flit between Betty and Sterns, lingering on the former longer than she ought. "What do you mean recharge? You said you had to recharge, but you never explained what that means." Whether she's just stalling or really trying to get a clarification is anyone's guess.

Betty's response is waved off. Sterns frowns as he merely waves his hand in the air. "Research is never finished, Doctor Ross. Just you mind that. And Robert will never return to his normal self." He leans closer to the camera and growls, "What he remembers will destroy him, I saw to that." Natasha, however, has begun to try Samuel's patience. "I meant what people mean when they say 'recharge'. I need to recharge. Renew my energies, expand my range, amplify somehow. And I'm working out how," he hisses.

At this, Natasha outright stares at Betty Ross.

"I believe the research on smallpox has completed." Betty is simply being petty now. They found the cure for smallpox and have since stopped investigating the disease. The savage growl of Sterns actually manages to take the scientist back. "What did he ever do to you?" She has no knowledge of Robert being a SHIELD scientist and can't imagine him doing anything to harm someone else. "What did you do to him?" With a frown, Betty looks to Natasha and then back at Sterns. "When people say recharge they normally mean sleep. Or possibly go to a spa. Are you saying you need more gamma radiation?"

There's the faintest tick of a smile on Natasha's lips as Betty asks the next question. Clarification here is everything. And so she continues in the same line, "Your forehead is flatter than it used to be." It was the first thing she noticed when they brought up his picture at the briefing, "Even than when you were in custody." There's a pause. "Are you losing something, doctor?" There's a certain amount of unsung delight that swims through Tasha's consciousness, but she doesn't give it footing. The picture is coming clearer.

And then, to allay further complaint and avoid any wrath that the scientist might instill on his captives, she raises a hand in semi-apology. "Clint Barton is very much my partner in all things SHIELD." She knows this won't be enough, and so she sits down on the chair again, considering the story she will choose to tell. "When I was with the Reds, and became ranked as one of the number ones," her gaze shifts to someplace distant, and not all there, "Barton was sent to put me down. To take me out." Her lips press together into a thin line. "He made a different call. I defected. Joined SHIELD. The rest is history." Her eyes track downward, ".As you can imagine, after working for the people they fought against, no one wanted to work with me, with the exception of Barton. I owe him a debt." And that's all she intends to tell Sterns. And then she adds, "I took you to the people who made my life liveable again because I genuinely believed they could do the same for you. They lied to both of us. I'd like to remember the victory of making them pay." She doubts she'll have another opportunity to convince him. The chances of getting out with her mind intact seem slimmer and slimmer.

"We agreed on one question. I answered your question. I clarified, I will not answer another," Sterns nearly pouts as both of the women regale him with more questions. "I liked it when it was a game and we all knew the rules, but you both" he points towards the screen, "have warped the fun out of it altogether." But then he hears about Clint Barton, and seems somewhat deflated at the answer. "And I thought you would be interesting," he states plainly.

At the last, however, he merely shakes his head, "Too much of a risk. I need you to work for me without question. And programmed soldiers don't ask questions. Evidently I can even create memories for you if I so choose to. I just have to decide what your past would've looked like. I can even rename you. Nancy. I like the name Nancy — it's not ostentatious…"

Natasha's jaw tightens. Her eyebrows tick upwards. Her hand reaches underneath her to the chair on which she's perched, and it's drawn out from beneath her in a single move that combines a jump and a pull. The red chair is twisted once over in her hand, and she smashes the furniture to pieces. Each of the pieces are subsequently thrust to separate ends of the room, and then listened to in turn. To a random onlooker, it might seem like she's merely having an angry fit, but then she asks a quiet question, "Doctor Ross, do you hear a clang anywhere in your room — "

The thought that Robert will never return to normal is an upsetting one to Betty. What did Sterns do to him to make it so that even when the radiation wore off he would be unable to return? That's something she wants to know. "I just want to know what happened." Aren't evil geniuses supposed to boast about their plans? Though she has so many questions, she attempts to make everything she says a statement to abide by the rules. "I did call you on the rules made and then asked a question out of turn." She refuses to say that he was right, but at least she'll make that concession.

As she's talking, the erratic movements of Natasha are noted and Betty moves a bit closer to the screen in order to figure out what is going on. At the question, she cocks her head to the side and listens, even closing her eyes to focus her hearing. After a moment, she slowly nods her head. "I do…" It's odd, she thought she was in a sound proofed room. Quickly, she presses her ear against the west wall to hear it better. "It's coming from here…" Despite the rampant curiosity, she does not ask what it is.

"You don't need to know all of the details of — " Sterns begin to reprimand Betty about her questions only to see Natasha have her random freak out in her room. His head cocks to the side. What is she doing? His nose wrinkles as he feels his focus change. While he easily multitasked earlier, it's becoming more laboured. "What are you doing, Agent Romanoff?" the question sounds casual, yet it has just a stitch of an edge.

Tasha smirks at Betty's answer. Evidently Elizabeth Ross is on the other side of the east wall. Her hands roll over it. It's cold. Cement. No way to bust out through that. The spy turns her chin up to the ceiling. It's a long way up, but the ceiling tiles look like the only real exit. Yet there's no way she can jump to it, and she just destroyed her only means of boost. Her gaze turns to the screen and a single eyebrow is arched. She can climb that. She bends down, picking up one of the remnants of the chair that was, and props the piece of wood across her shoulders, inspecting the screen as carefully as she can. The plank is grasped like a baseball bat, and Romanoff swings hard at each of the cameras on the side of the room. These have no affect on the image. But then her attention turns to the screen again. She repeats the process, this time against the screen, causing the camera inside of it to falter, and it to flicker to black.

"Infuriating," Sterns murmurs to himself, while trying to bring his other cameras on line. "Captain West," his voice bellows, "Get a team down to the prisoner block, pronto. Put one on each of the prisoner's doors — " Sterns stops addressing the screen, madly tapping on his computer, but the screen is left on. Maybe he forgot to shut it off?

On the other side of the wall, Betty can hear more clanging. But only briefly. The sounds change to rapid gunfire. And then silence.

Betty grew up as a military brat - she knows gunfire when she hears it. The scientist quickly steps back from the wall and looks around. Natasha seems to be staging an escape. Her room does not offer much in the means of protection or escape - everything seems to be fastened down or attached. After a brief contemplation, she takes a sheet off of her bed and spreads it on the floor by where she assumes the door is. Luckily, everything in the room is the same shade, so the sheet blends into the floor. Anyone attempting to get in will hopefully slip on the sheet and take a tumble. Her movements are slow and deliberate - one eye always on the screen where Sterns is still typing madly away. Hopefully she is moving in such a natural way that he won't see her out of the corner of his eye.

Her trap set, she picks up the puzzle box that Sterns left her to amuse herself. It's not really much of a weapon, but she opens the top and sifts through the pieces to make sure they are all dislodged from each other. It's a longshot, but she's prepared to toss the pieces in the face of anyone attempting to enter. Then, she crouches behind the bed. She's not in direct eyesight of the screen any more; hopefully that will lend a few precious seconds of confusion. All she has are distraction tactics, but hopefully it will be enough to give herself a window of escape.

There's a knock somewhere above Betty's head, a rap from the ceiling itself. A muffled female voice yells through the material. The truth is Natasha has no idea where Betty is in the room, but she needs to come out. "Move back!" Betty can hear a couple of loud bangs echoing through the ceiling. And then one of the tiles comes free, crashing to the ground, destroying the solid white of the room. Simultaneously, the door, as solidly closed as it is, slides open (evidently it's mechanical or electronic in some way), introducing three armed, very alert, guards to the room — these are not gamma zombies. The first turns his attention to the hole in the ceiling, taking aim at where the tile has been removed. The second treads towards Betty, while the third retains his position on the sheet.

Before the guard can open fire, he's being leapt upon by fiery haired Natasha. Her legs wrap around the soldier, twisting sharply, having the desired effect of bringing down the armed guard while simultaneously using him as a human shield. Evidently sometime between the screen's destruction and her journey through the ceiling, she has changed. She's dressed in her SHIELD uniform, black and form fitting, and versatile, and seems far more put together than she did on the screen's image.

Sterns' stares at the screen with rapt attention his fingers steepling at the changing scenario and unfolding situation. Irritably, he pushes on the desk and rolls the chair away from it before disappearing entirely from view.

Swallowing a squeak, Betty tumbles out of the way of Natasha's rather dramatic entrance. While some of the puzzle pieces spill out of the top of her box, she's managed to keep most of them intact. Upon seeing the armed guards, she ducks down behind her bed again. It's only when Natasha springs into action that she's brave enough to lunge forward toss the puzzle pieces in one guards face. She then ducks down and yanks the edge of the sheet with both hands in an attempt to topple another guard. Though she has no idea what she's doing, she constantly moves forward in an attempt to make it toward the door. She has no desire to pick up a weapon or even to make sure the guards are actually unconscious in her sprint for the exit. All she knows is that she wants out of here desperately.

The guard on top of the sheet tumbles to the floor under the force of the tug. Meanwhile the guard having puzzle pieces tossed at him bats them away irritably only to suffer from a solid trip kick that knocks his legs from underneath him. Natasha grabs the guard's large automatic weapon and hits him in the head with it. She then straps it around her body. One of them has to be armed if they're going to make it out of here alive. The gun is pointed at each of the camera's in turn, and fired at, causing each of them to break underneath the force. Betty's takedown remains on the floor, but is given a solid kick to the head as Tasha passes him, just to ensure he stays down.

Betty beats Tasha to the hallway. It's long and metallic, and incredibly shiny — the kind of place where every hall looks like the last. Natasha stares down the hallway at the racing Betty for a moment as she considers which direction to take. She sprints to catch up to Betty, and then utters as her hand grasps the gun, "We need to find a map — " her tone is no longer flat. In fact, it borders on urgent. "We need to find either a way out or to a way to communicate — " She takes a deep breath as the pair begin to round a corner only to see another team of three armed guards. Instinctively, Natasha reaches out to pull Betty back to the echoed sound of gunfire.

Though she grew up around the military, Betty was never one for guns or violence. She springs out into the hallway, barely pausing for Natasha to follow behind. "Uh…" She doubts that this is the kind of place that has helpful 'you are here' maps at each intersection. As she barrels around the corner, the three soldiers waiting are an unpleasant surprise. With a yelp, she's easily pulled back to safety, the momentum causing her to slam up against the wall with a barely noticeable twang of metal amongst the clamor of gunfire. Using the moment to catch her breath, Betty gestures toward the guards. "They've got to have a way to communicate with each other, don't they? Coordinate and all that." Nervous, she glances behind them to make sure there aren't any guards coming their way from the rear.

"No doubt," Natasha hisses before rounding the corner again. In many respects her own gunfire is blind, at least at first, but she manages to take out at least one of the gun men. She bobs back behind the corner to take a deep breath and then round again. Once more she fires, meeting a flurry of bullets in return. There's something calculating was she considers each of their positions. The second is taken out in turn. Sure enough a team of three begins to fire on their rear, prompting Natasha to grab Betty's hand and pull her towards the one still-armed guard. One guard is better than three. She continues to fire as the pair come up on the guard, eventually causing him to fall over. Tasha shrugs semi-apologetically at Betty before running further down the hall.

The hall looks much like the last, another long narrow metallic space, except this one contains three doors on either side of the hallway, each looking just like the last.

Betty feels like she should feel some sort of shock over the fact that three man may be dead at their feet because they decided to escape. However, at the moment all she feels is numbness and the strong desire to be above ground. All she wants is for this nightmare to be over. When Natasha grabs her hand, she doesn't have to be dragged along, nor does she linger over the bodies they are running toward. "Wait! Don't we want to search them for….something?" She tugs at the firm grip that the spy has on her and turns just slightly. "We might be able to listen in and figure out where they're coming from. Or maybe one of them has a map on them?"

There's another shrug, Natasha can see the point and releases Betty's arm entirely. Her eyes narrow at the comlink plugged inside of each of the men's ears and her stomach churns just a little. She doesn't particularly like looking at her own victims anymore. Not that she can't. She just doesn't like it. She bends down and grasps the earpiece from one of the guards. "Honestly," she groans as she plugs the piece into her ear and points down for Betty to grab one and do the same, "I don't think sticking around too long is wise." Normally she'd be all for searcihng bodies, but not really when three more guards are rearing up behind them. She pops back up to a stand and stares at the doors. Patterns of three. "Maybe we should try to break into the ventilation system in the ceiling again…" the hallways hardly seem safe. Not that the six doors grouped together leave her with a strong sense of want or satisfaction.

This entire situation will fall on Betty's shoulders at one point. It's likely she'll have nightmares about it for many years to come. For now, her only instinct is survival and getting away from Sterns. With shaking hands, she plucks an earpiece and situates it into her ear - attempting not to think that it belonged to someone no longer alive. She shivers slightly, but follows Natasha. "They could just flood the ventilation system with gas. I also don't know if I'd be able to climb up or lift you up from the ceiling." She's more brainy than fighty. "Let's just find a safe place to hide and figure out where to go from there?" As if there is a safe place anywhere in this building. But, she can hope.

Natasha sucks on the inside of her cheek and just nods. Whether she's wholly convinced that this is a good plan is unclear, particularly as she reacts and says so little. She's really going to have to be on her toes. They could flood sections of the building with gas, but she doesn't say it, instead she looks to the right and left side of the hall. Right didn't serve her well earlier, and so she opts for the first door on the left. "What's behind door number one…" she murmurs quietly.

Door number one yields a large desk facing a window-like screen that takes up the whole wall opposite. It looks like an observation room, the space behind the two way mirror to watch whatever transpires on the other side. The desk, complete with a computer has a single symbol on it, a skull with tentacles. Not exactly a cuddly image.

A brief moment of naseau washes over the red head as she begins tapping buttons on the computer in front of the desk. Her gaze snaps to the door and she points to the computer, "Doctor, do you know how to hack a computer? If the goal is to hide out, we need to break into their communications interface — there's no way my people know where we are— " She slides away from the machine and leans agains the door, pressing the non-comlink'd ear to its cold surface. It's too quiet…

The lights begin to flicker. But this isn't a power surge kind of flicker. It's intentional and patterned. Three quick flashes two slow. Natasha closes her eyes and releases a slow breath.

Betty follows Natasha and stares at the screen. The symbol looks vaguely familiar to her, but she can't place where she would have seen it. Pushing it from her mind, she quickly moves to the keyboard. "I'm not exactly a hacker, but I've used advanced computers before." Sliding into a chair, she starts to type on the computer and attempt a way in. This might be futile, but it's the only thing she can think of doing. When the lights start to flicker in some sort of code, she frowns and looks around, scared and curious. "Why is it doing that? It's too intentional to be a power outage. And the computers aren't flickering." It could be anything - a message, a code, a behavioral cue. That's what Sterns has been working on, after all.

Natasha just takes another breath while keeping her eyes shut. "Good." Her lips press together tightly. "What we want is to hack into either their primary communications or camera system. I can do it if you get stuck," but can't watch the door at the same time. She doesn't say this. The silence on the other side, holds, however.

Slowly, she slides away from the door just a little, eyes still closed. "It's for me," she answers plainly. She doesn't explain further, but doesn't open her eyes. A lot harder to catch a target when needing to rely her other senses. Not that she can't. It's just not nearly as accurate. And in a way, with even her brief interlude with the lights, Tasha can feel things slipping away. Vague things. Codes. Transmission lines. And so she whispers to herself, "I am Natasha Romanoff. Agent of SHIELD. Resident of New York." She takes another deep breath and listens to the door again.

And then, in case Betty didn't figure it out already, she states, "They can overwrite me." Pause. "And evidently he knows it." There's an irritated edge to her voice. Sterns knows more than he should. How he got his paws on her Soviet file is anyone's guess.

Meanwhile the computer under the keystrokes begins to complain, just a little. Evidently it doesn't always like being touched. The screen flashes blue only to switch to black. Standard DOS code, even though it's NOT a DOS computer. More than likely something of Sterns own creation. Weird for a man interested in technology.

Behavioral, of course. Betty decides to focus on the computer screen in front of her, but tells Natasha, "There might be a light switch somewhere. Better to be in total darkness than worry about the flashing lights." Of course, she had multiple questions about how she can be overwritten and what in the world that means. And, if all else fails, she can at least help with basic questions to keep her mind focused. "What's your favorite thing to eat? To drink? Describe them for me. Where's your favorite place to go in New York?"

As she talks, she frowns at the screen. "Stop that," she tells it idly when it starts changing color, slightly panicked by the idea that she won't be able to do what is necessary to help them. Plowing forward, she starts inputting commands. "Come on, come on."

Eyes still clamped shut, Natasha fumbles at the wall near the door for a light switch, but comes up empty, prompting her to curse quietly in Russian. Of course it couldn't be that easy. But then there's more than one way to skin a cat. "Shashlyk," she responds, begging the question about what she's talking about. "My favourite food — it's like a kebab." Pause. "But better," it may be the first time since they've met that she even opens up to the notion of clutches. Like her formative Russian foods. In a way, even with her eyes closed, she's sensing where the light is. "Lamb or pork with peppers."

She takes a deep breath, opens her eyes, and shoots the the first light bulbs in turn causing it to burst into a million little pieces. At about the same time as the loud bang, the computer flicks, Betty has achieved access. Maybe they'll be able to get a message to SHIELD. Maybe. "Red wine. Cabernet sauvignon. Overtones," her eyes open, and she aims at the second bulb, "of blackberry," the last words she nearly whimpers. It's not her ideal mode of dealing with the issue, but it is the one she will go with for now. The gun is lowereed and her eyes are opened once again.

Favourite place in New York? She smirks as she lets her thoughts turn. "SHIELD combat training rooms." Some people never take a breather. And then she shakes her head, "Maybe… Riverside Park." She swallows. "Less glorified than some of its sisters." While it's hard to see in the dark, her skin has begun to pale, and moisture forms along its porcelain surface.

"That does sound good. I can't say I've ever had that." All Betty has had to eat for the past few days have been sandwiches and juice - much like Sterns promised, Robert was unable to make anything else. When the gun goes off and the light bulbs shatter, the scientist flinches and instinctively ducks, covering her head with her arms. The light bulb shards shower to the ground nowhere near her and she attempts to focus on the computer again. Part of her attention remains focused on Natasha. They're attempting to turn her and the danger of being locked in a room with a highly trained spy who has a gun is not lost on her. "When we're out of here, I'll buy you the best and most expensive bottle of cabernet sauvignon I can afford."

When she looks back at the computer, she realizes her success, hopeful that there will be something useful here. "I'm in," she tells Natasha before she starts to dig around for video feeds or some way to communicate with the outside.

The heels of Natasha's hands press firmly on her eyes as she takes another slow deep breath and releases it just as slowly. Such an action might be a clearing of some people's heads. For Tasha, it's keep everything in her head. Every language. Every identity. And everything about her. Natasha Romanoff. Not the Black Widow. With each thing that slips, her own mask fades. Slowly, but surely. Her expressions become more exaggerated, and her tone less deadpanned.

It's not until she stops moving that she actually realizes she's been pacing the room. The hands are lowered at the words and Tasha perks some as she shuffles back to where Betty and the computer are perched. "I might be able to access my remote files," she says quietly as she leans a little closer to Betty to access the keyboard. It's not a perfect way of getting information to SHIELD, but she told Clint Barton to look through her folders. If she doesn't check in like she promised — oh right, check in. The cogs in her mind are slowing, prompting her to scowl. "I have a colleague, if he's on the secure line…" she frowns. It seems like a big if. She's only just come here, there's no way she should be checking in this early. "…then maybe we can get in communication."

Her lips press into a thin line as she begins making keystrokes over Doctor Ross. "Come on, Clint," she whispers quietly.

Betty shoots Natasha a worried look. This is more than just making sure she comes out of this intact - it's also about her own survival. "You can make it through this. Programming is just programming. You're still you." Then, she shifts to allow the spy to have better access to the keyboard. "Maybe if you leave a note, they'll be able to find you. If not…" She frowns. "I…I might be able to get a message to…." She pauses, looks at Natasha and then finally says, "A friend." She has no idea if there has been any news on her disappearance. Did they all think she willingly participated in this horrible project? They might. But, if she could get a message to Bruce…at least she could get the word out that she's not here under her own free will.


Clint Barton is perched where he has been perched for quite sometime. It's hard to get an actual bead on his location, but anyone that knows him knows that he's got a good view of everything that he needs to have view of at this exact moment. Even in the chilled darkness, Clint Barton's glasses are on. And through those lenses he can keep a close eye on the aftermath and the clean up of yet another mission that may or may not have gone according to plan.

The frown that's on his face is a mixture of boredom, disgust and general disregard for the orders that he's following at this exact moment. Ugh.

There's a few more strokes of keyboard and Natasha's eyes track upwards to the screen, to get a better feel for what she's doing. "Banner?" she asks as she continues to tap the keys with speed. And then she actually explains, "Thunderbolt — " Thaddeus Ross' nickname, "tried to recruit me for his squad multiple times." And then, her head snaps to the side towards Betty, "I never did it. Join him, I mean. I don't believe in human science experiments." Her nose wrinkles and she mumbles, "Especially ones against people's wills." There's a bitter edge to her voice, and an angry gleam to her eyes. The earpiece in Clint's ear whistles rather than pings, evidently something the Widow set up for their side project. While she may seem deadpanned, Natasha's sense of humour definitely exists.

When he picks it up, he, of all people, can hear the change in Natasha's voice. "Clint?" for most people the hint of desperation in her voice would be normal for someone on the run for their lives in the middle of an unknown building in some unknown location in Russia. For Natasha, it's not a good sign.

There is a surprised jerk of her head when Bruce is mentioned, however perhaps Betty should not be surprised. Natasha is a spy. A spy her father apparently hired to rescue her, whatever that means. But, she doesn't want Bruce mixed up in all this. She knows her father's nickname and just shakes her head. "My father is not exactly the best person to talk to where civil rights are concerned. He takes national security incredibly seriously." To the point where people are property in his eyes. The scientist perks when she hears Natasha state a name. "Are you through? Can they hear you?"

Clint turns his face away from the clean up watch and immediately pulls his glasses off. So he's no longer distracted from the HUD on the lenses. He knows Natasha's tones perhaps more than anyone should be allowed to. "Where the hell are you?" is all Clint has to say, as he's stepping away from the edge of the rooftop that he's been perched on and turning towards his various racks of equipment that are set up for his clean up watch. "And are you still wearing that dress?" Clint's defense mechanism of comedy is attempting to mask the worried tone that Tasha will be able to pick up on.

She's calling too early. Way too early. Something's wrong.

The faintest curl of Natasha's lips happens at the sound of Clint's voice, and she nods at Betty, "Yeah. I'm through." Of course, by now Betty can hear. But Tasha's brain is slow right now, and her filter is fading. And then back to Clint, "Under the building, there are tunnels. I chased a mark through them and got caged in. I turned right. Should've turned left." Right. For Romanoff. "I found Doctor Ross," kind of. "She's here. She's okay, and there's things. So many things. She's on the line too — " Her eyebrows draw together while the heel of her hand presses to her forehead.

And then the more important point: "I've been made. I was going to let it stand and play it out," her eyebrows knit together, "but — " she frowns. "I've been compromised." It's not exactly an explanation. "I'm going to try to get Doctor Ross out and then…" there's silence as her eyes track downwards." She shoots a glance to Betty, but doesn't accompany it with words. Instead, she follows his lead and actually talks about what she's wearing, a question she never graces with anything. "And I changed. No more tattered party dress." And then possibly, a more important piece of information: "Clint, he had my uniform." She presses her lips together and then adds, "And my SHIELD and Soviet files…"

Betty remains where she is - this isn't her conversation. "Uh, hi." That's all she says when she's mentioned as being on the line. Nervously, she looks behind her. "We don't know how much time we have," she reminds Natasha. The trail off is caught and she can't help but add, "And then what? You have to come with me. I mean, I don't even know where we are. Once I get out of here, where am I supposed to go? I don't think Sterns is going to let us go just because we made it out of his rainbow themed prison." It's not that she doesn't appreciate the gravity of what Natasha is saying it's more likely she doesn't understand it.

"Sounds like the only thing he's missing is an arrow to the knee. I can handle that." As Clint responds with more of his banter, he's already moving to strap up gear to his body. Might as well suit it up while talking to the Widow. He's pretty sure she's going to be in need of extraction and there's always time to extract Natasha. "Just give me a location." Clint Barton is not one to leave his friends or partners behind. Natasha has managed to become both. So, as far as he's concerned, the priority mission just changed from Sterns to Natasha.

Natasha gives Betty a long heavy look as she presses a palm to her head, and she may as well admit whatever is going through her head, "I still know who I am right now, in another twenty minutes…" she shrugs her shoulders. "Forgetting is only the beginning." And while the lights are off, Tasha knows what other avenues Sterns has to take. "I am your ally. That won't last." And there it is. The truth. "I'm going to get you as far as I can and then I'm going to fend you for as long as I can. Doctor, out of everyone involved in this mess, you don't deserve to be here." The redhead's head snaps back to the computer, as if she's trying to look at Clint, "That's the bigger problem: I don't know. What time is it? I think we're maybe a mazimum of two hours in either direction of Stalingrad. The Reds," the Soviets, "had half a dozen training underground training facilities in the area. I can tell we're in one of them." Her nose wrinkles as she looks through the glass. She'd sat there on the other side for hours running through batteries of psych tests. "I can't place my finger on which," because she lost it. It was lost to the ether. And she's losing more by the minute.

"But Clint, I'm not calling for that." No. Ever the spy, her goals are entirely different: to pass on the information she has to someone she trusts. "SHIELD did this. They made Sterns into what he is. You need to stop it. And Sterns— he does something to people. Controls them. It stopped working on Doctor Ross." Her lips press together, "You need help with this, I can't— " her voice actually cracks "— I can't fight it. I'm trying, but this is what I was designed for." And then down to brass tacks, "I don't think I'm getting out of here." Not as herself. Her voice changes, the desperation back: "You need to shoot to kill this time. I don't know what he'll make of me. I could be anyone. And I don't want to be anyone but me. Natasha, your Natasha is dying." She presses her lips together tightly. "He's rewriting me. Clint, I need to be more than the Black Widow." She shakes her head as her eyes track to Betty and then back to the computer. And then to focus back on the past, "Last time," when he chose not to shoot her, and she was, in many respects, a scared girl underneath layers of training and conditioning, "I was not as good. But," to quote herself, "you can't beat me in hand to hand anymore. Take me out before I can— " she chews on her bottom lip. "It's not me. I won't hesitate— " to kill him, civilians, or anyone she's ordered to. "Don't forget that."

Her eyes clamp shut again as she fights to focus on what needs to be said, "When we started all of this I told you I would try to line up help, I know you told me not to, but— " She swallows hard, "I didn't get far. But my file— " her eyes clamp shut. "You can guess the password. It's on the SHIELD server under layers of protection. It's set for your voice recognition. I contacted someone. I'm going to try again— " her green eyes glance at Betty. "— but you should try to get in touch too. It's in there. Under the file: Mr. Green." At these words she steals a quick glance at Betty. "Also, be careful who you tell anything to. Sterns might be in someone's head in our ranks. We still don't know how he got out of custody in the first place. The file said there was no struggle. I don't know if there was and Ross covered it up or if Sterns literally walked out of the building— " she groans as she pinches the bridge of her nose, the pain in her head won't stop.

Betty meets Natasha's gaze and the only thing there is worry and confusion. She's never been a spy and the entire idea of being overwritten is foreign to her. The closest thing she can come to a comparison is how Bruce reacts when he turns into The Other Guy. This sounds a bit more serious than that. "Hey, we just…we just have to get out of here. He can't do anything once we're out of the tunnels. You'll be fine. And if the worst happens, what's to stop you from coming back? I'm not letting you go on a suicide mission on my account. I'm not guiltless. I let Bruce test gamma radiation on himself. My father hunted him down and I couldn't stop him. No one deserves to be down here." She attempts to pitch her voice into a soothing manner, but she's scared and doesn't know what to do in this situation. The look that she is given is returned with a hard to read expression. It falls somewhere between surprise that they know Bruce's alias and fear that they have gathered information on him. However, when Natasha groans in pain, she reaches out to put a hand on her shoulder. "Are you okay? Let's try and find a map. We have to find a way out of here."

Clint doesn't do anything but listen. Which is the only thing he needs to do at this moment. Committing every single word, pause, phrase, change in voice inflection and whatever else that comes from Natasha's mouth to memory. He doesn't miss a beat in strapping up all of his gear and by the time she finishes with the info dump, he's already plugged in the coordinates of Stalingrad into his glasses, as well as running a reverse trace signal on the call, bouncing it around for a cross referencing between the areas around Stalingrad (2 hours each cardinal direction) to see if those GPS lenses can't get a lock on the Widow's location.

He knows he shouldn't be going after her. But he's not the type to just leave people behind. Besides, if anything, he can get to this Doctor Ross.

While there was a literal plethora of information that was dropped on him, the only thing that Clint says is, "Natasha Romanoff is immortal." In that simple statement, there's really not much else that he needs to say. He's not commenting on the infodump, for fear of this line being unsecure or something. He's not saying 'okay' because that would be acknowledging everything the Widow has said and he damn sure ain't giving up on her. And the only thing he wants her to know, perhaps even a phrase she can try to cling to while bad mental things are happening, is that she is immortal. Maybe Clint has some reverse hypnotic suggestion tricks of his own. Or he's just really, really, wanting to make sure she ends up being okay.

She'll get to hear the sound of his bike starting up. The one without wheels. Time to fly.

There's an unusual softness in Natasha's expression at Betty's encouragement. It lingers for a moment with the other woman's words, and it seems like she wants to say something on the tip of her tongue, but she can't give it words. She calculates rather than strives to hope. It's what's kept her alive this long. Yet there's something she admires about Doctor Ross and her arguments, something that feels different. And she thought she was the only one in the room with red in her ledger. The hand on her shoulder prompts her to focus more, but she doesn't try to push it away. Not yet. She still knows what's coming and is all too aware of the danger she poses the good doctor.

The single sentence Clint gives her prompts a near-smirk. There's no doubt she's lived through some strange trials before. Yet with the stripping down of her very self, her defences aren't what they usually are. She whispers something quietly in Russian, the words sound like a concession, something she both does and doesn't want to say: "Ya tebyA lyublyU." Whether it's even audible through the link is questionable at best. The murmur causes her own face to become serious again as she disconnects the link. Her and Betty need to move, and she's given Clint all she can.

She taps a few computer keys and sends one last message into the world.

Dear Mister Green,
I believe I'm about to fail. Help our mutual friend. Trace this message as far as you can. It will be linked on a netowrk with multiple locations. One should give you what you seek.

And then she's rapping on keys again, this time madly. "I know this building," she mutters. "I just lost it." Somewhere. Into the ether. A frustrating thing for a spy who trades and collects secrets. But even the rapping is becoming slower, more laboured, finally prompting Tasha to push the keyboard over to Betty. "Try to do a search of the computer network. We already have admin privileges, we just need to figure out where these corridors go and how to get out."

"Yes, exactly. Listen to…" she has no idea who Clint is, so Betty just manages to end with a lame, "…that guy." Reassuringly, she squeezes Natasha's shoulder for just a moment before pulling her hand back and watching her type out a message to Bruce. "What did you say?" She may be able to identify it as Russian, but she doesn't actually speak the language. This is way out of her depth, but she's attempting to keep up and give comfort where she can. At least, now she knows there's someone else here that knows what she's going through. She'll do what she can to help her. Focusing, she takes the keyboard and starts searching. She has the desperate feeling that they're running out of time.

"Clint," Natasha fills in for Betty. And then, eyebrows drawing together, she notes, "I shouldn't have told you that." She curses quietly in Russian, further annoyed by the haziness drifting into her consciousness.

Under Betty's touch, she manages to find an incomplete version of the buildings' schematics. Maybe they'll gt out of here yet…

A buzz then begins to play through the speakers, reverberating in the room, and causing Natasha to plant her hands over her ears. She curses again, and murmurs something vague to herself in Russian before lowering her hands and climbing on top of the desk. She cringes before jumping up and pressing hard on the network of vents, and exposing a crawlspace in the vent.

She takes a deep breath. Perspiration forms along her face in beads of moisture that trail downwards. "You…" her breathing is becoming laboured as she struggles against the suggestion that knocks against her mind, "need… to commit what you can to.. memory," she points up to the hole. "I will boost you." And then try to hold people back. If there's anyone coming. At the very least she won't be in the same space as Betty…

The incomplete schematics are the best Betty can find without doing a system wide comb through of each file. When the buzzing starts to echo, the scientist puts her own hands to her ears. It's as if her ear drums have burst and she's only hearing the static that comes after loud explosion. She stands, letting her hands drop. "No, come on, we're getting out of here together. We're almost out. You can do this." However, she can see how belabored Natasha's breathing has become, how hard it is for her to form sentences. Her expression shows just how worried and anxious she is as she follows behind the spy toward the crawlspace.

Natasha doesn't respond to the comments. She just bends down and threads her fingers together to act as a step for Betty. She can push Betty up. She's capable of it. The buzzing continues though and she can feel everything changing in her brain. Memories are stripped one by one, try as she might to cling to them. She is, once again, being unmade.

And it's not the first time.

Her green eyes glaze over as she recalls the first time. It was different. Very different. A red-headed child behind the glass of a room like this. Tested. Tried. Broken. Trained. Rebuilt.

Sociopathic, they said.

She had only been what they'd made her. Frankenstein's monster didn't seem capable of emotion. Incapable. Unthreatening.

Her lips purse together as SHIELD begins to slip through her grasp— one year at a time. One person at a time.

Bobbi. Masters. Trent. Maria. Coulson. Fury. One by one they vanish. Their importance for her life and livelihood dissipates with each passing moment. She can't even recall why she's boosting Betty. But she continues with the motion because good soldiers stay on target. Good soldiers. Automatons.

But she clings to the memory of her one true friend. The edges are being lost. She can sense it.

"Climb up," she finally instructs, unsure of why she's saying what she's saying anymore.

Betty looks up at the vent and then back at Natasha. The overwhelming desire to run as far away from here as she can courses strongly through her. She doesn't know about the internal struggle going on within Natasha, but she can start to see her face change. They don't have a lot of time and she's not helping. Reluctantly, she puts her foot into Natasha's netted fingers and then climbs up into the vent. "Come on, you can get in after me." If Natasha is part of Sterns' plan, they won't harm her - she hopes - what would be the point of going through all this trouble just to kill her once she's changed? A terrible thought of the end of 1984 goes through her head in a flash, but she pushes it away. "We're almost out."

Three distinct pings overlay the buzz. And it's like a switch goes off.

Hands that had supported Betty, boosting her into the vents now reach for her ankle to pull her down. All recognition has drained from Natasha's eyes. And it's beyond the simple lie of a spy. The pull is hard, intense, and altogether, calculated. There's no denying the redhead's strength.

With a yelp, Betty kicks blindly backwards to get the arms off of her. "Natasha! Stop! Please!" The doctor is a smart woman and gets to the gym when she can, but there's no matching the spy's strength. Desperately, her hands scratch and slide on the interior of the smooth metal vent - unable to find any purchase. The pull yanks her out of the vent and she tumbles backwards into the spy who tried to help, but no longer recognizes her.

The tumble actually causes Natasha to fall backwards, perhaps with surprise. And as the pair collapse into a mini-pile on the floor, the doorknob to the small room turns. The sound of a slow clap (from a single individual) resounds as the door creaks open. Three men stand there. Two heavily armed with guns trained on the women pile. The third, who also happens to be the man clapping, is unmistakably Samuel Sterns. The smile that curves on his lips lingers into his every being. "That was quite the show, ladies," he smirks.

Even though she's tumbling, Betty tries her best not to hurt Natasha. Scrambling up, she turns to look at the woman who attempted to help her. "Natasha. Your name is Natasha Romanoff. You live in New York City." Reaching forward, she puts her hands on Natasha's shoulders. There's no shaking, just an attempt to reach out and shove the information back in her brain. "Your favorite food is something called a Shashlyk, which is apparently like a kebab. It has lamb and peppers." As the door creaks open, she tries to pull Natasha back toward the desk. She lost Robert, she has no idea where Bruce is, she can't lose Natasha, too. Without looking at Sterns, she tells him in a very angry voice, "Bring her back."

Unlike Robert, Natasha is no mind zombie. She reacts to the hand on her shoulder quickly, yanking it off. Her head cants to the side expectantly while her eyes narrow. "You are mistaken," the voice is accented. Russian. "I am Natalia Romanova. And I am from Stalingrad," now known as Volgograd, "Russia." The Shashlyk piece isn't discussed, however. Perhaps because it's one of the few things that hasn't change. Meet Natasha Romanoff pre-SHIELD. The same. But different.

"You've made a serious miscalculation," comes Sterns response as he leans against the doorframe, "you thought she was a real girl. All this time she's been nothing but Pinocchio. A puppet. It just happens that the puppeteer has changed." He clucks his tongue. "She's not a woman. She's a weapon." He swallows as he paces into the room slowly, the sinister smile continuing on, "And to my knowledge the process is… irreversible. Blame the Soviets for that one. Not my doing." Except he carried out what they'd already programmed in.

It's not exactly that Betty is surprised. By now she should realize that nothing good will ever come about down here. There's a pleading tone. "You like cabernet sauvignon and Riverside Park." Those memories are still there. They have to be. This is fixable. She was there to help. And she did. They got a message out. Hopefully Bruce will find it. Whoever Clint is will be on his way to find Natasha. There was no miscalculation, not on her own part. With a step away from Sterns - she finally looks at him with a venomous glare. Her voice is tight with emotion when she tells him, "You're a fraud."

Natasha's eyes seem to bare no recognition. Not even a stitch. Riverside Park sparks nothing. Cab though, well, who doesn't like a good Cab? Her gaze turns towards Sterns, but she says nothing, just standing at attention in her SHIELD uniform, a strange juxtaposition.

"Much like Pinocchio," Sterns points towards his new toy— an ally made, quite literally, "I am what Frankenstein made me. Dear old Daddy did what he did. And now, I believe the world gets to know what success we can create. Think of a world of utter obedience. Tell me, isn't that what every army wants? What every government wants?"

His grin becomes more sinister, "Ultimately, it's what people are looking for. And I'm going to achieve it." The twinkle in his eye becomes more prominent as he addresses the two armed guards. "Guards, return Doctor Ross to her pen." His lips hitch up to one side, "Comrade Romanova?" he addresses the redhead, "I'd like you to come with me. I believe there are… inconsistencies in your memory that I'd very much like to fill in." And with that, Sterns turns on his heel, ready to leave the room.

There's nothing really available for Betty to do. She can't storm after Sterns and she's not about to fight armed guards. All the rage is built up in her stomach and all she can do is grab a pen from the table behind her and slip it in her sleeve. Now she'll have something to write with. And she'll also have some sort of weapon. "You are a monster. They had no right to test on you without your permission, but what you're doing now? That's your own doing. When I get out of here, I will make sure every thing you've done here will never see the light of day. I'll burn it down with my own hands if I have to."

Sterns clucks his tongue and, the coolness of his back replies, "When you get out of here, you'll be one of my children, doctor. All in good time. All in good time."

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