The Chauffeur

May 03, 2017:

In which Isa Reichert tells to Rusalka Stojespal a story, and in so doing, cements a friendship.

New York City - The Triskelion

The Headquarters, Armory and Fortress of the Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics division is, for the most part, an unassailable tower in the midst of the diplomatic sprawl that is Midtown East. The primary intelligence clearing houses and most of SHIELD's senior leadership are all housed hear, along with a veritable army of agents and staff to keep the place running, the world spinning and the weirdness at bay.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Phil Coulson, Sloane Albright

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

It's late evening in the city, and the one-eyed pilot living next to Sloane Albright had put in a call to request some assistance from the Inhuman's best friend – namely, a vehicle and driver, so she could finish up a few errands without spending enough to ransom a modest kingdom in taxi fare.

Besides, she trusts her own flying more than she trusts the city's taxi drivers.

Those errands have yet to go, because she's waiting outside her apartment door in the Triskelion, absently tapping an unlit cigarette against the opposite forearm. She's not wearing a sling, at least, and she looks nicely dressed, wearing a three-piece suit in charcoal and black. The chain of a pocket watch hangs from her pocket; she's wearing a touch of makeup to lessen some of the damage.

While waiting, she reaches for the watch. It's silver, with an enameled face depicting a Mikoyan fighting jet and lettering indicating some kind of commemoration of service; when she pops it open, it shows an intricately etched and tooled brass face – and a smaller copy of that wedding photo tucked into the inside.

The one-eyed woman looks a little impatient as she eyes the time on it.

Tick tock. She would have been precisely on time except for the security guard holding her over to verify things - getting her new identification card and making sure her status as 'student recruit, SHIELD engineering' was legit. Such is bureaucracy, alas. Fortunately she's only a few minutes late, part of which she can make up with a long-legged run down the usual hallway.

There she is, sixteenth floor - and there's Isa. Whose appearance gives Rusalka a moment of surprise, eyes widened as she sees the older woman's outfit. Granted, she's seen the Russian woman before, and appreciates the business style, but this is a look entirely unexpected - and quite dashing, if she had to admit. "Tyotya Isa," she says by way of greeting. Aunt? Well, it's better than zhenshina at least. Respectful and friendly.

The Sokovian girl's dressed in her usual fashionable way, though a bit more flamboyant than usual - a white long-sleeve high-neck shirt under a cute black vest. Straight-legged grey slacks over her legs, not so long that they drag on the ground, but still enough to emphasize the girl's slender physique. Not a single racing logo to be found, interestingly. The only significant concession she makes to comfort are the leather T-strap shoes she prefers for driving. And the hairband, of course, dark red strap holding the girl's long bangs to each side. It comes together well on the blue-eyed girl, and is definitely the sign of Sloane's efforts. Now if only she can get Rusalka to give a damn about makeup…

The girl's voice stays in english, the soft accent forever present. "You look quite impressive. Very fancy," she adds, taking in the watch. Quite a dapper thing, almost old-fashioned, especially with the three-piece suit. She doesn't see the interior of it, the photograph - just what parts of the ornamentation she can see through the woman's fingers. It takes a moment, before she nods. "From your Air Force days, mm?"

It's just conversation, really, but she recognizes the aircraft finally. The MiG-29, a staple of the Russian military; it's a generation better than the old Soviet designs of the Sokovians. "You flew that one? Many people back home would be envious," she adds with a grin. Granted, she has no great love for the Air Force, not nearly on the level of her mother's dedication, but she did grow up around it - and around the pilots.

"Shall we go, then? Where did you want to travel, anyway?"

Aunt? The one-eyed pilot slowly arches her single red brow in mild curiosity. Whatever got the girl to start calling her that? It isn't that she minds, but it seems like an odd affectation for the fiercely indpendent Stojespal scion to use.

It beats 'old hag,' anyway. A marked improvement over zhenshina.

Rusalka's outfitting is given a brief look of silent appraisal, and Isa seems to approve, with the faintest hint of a nod. It looks nice. Not too formal, but not too casual.

"<There you are.>" Isa elects to use Russian, since she knows the girl speaks it. Not that she's lazy, but she's lazy. "<Thank you. It helps to project an aura of affluence, sometimes.>"

The watch is picked up again, brow quirking as though to say, this?

In response, though, Isa shakes her head. "<No. My husband's watch,>" she adds. "<And a reliable timepiece. A Mikoyan? Yes, I flew one, but many years ago. The things I flew were new.>" That's an understatement. They were so new they were the bleeding edge of the country's technology, and if her military had used names instead of numerical designations, some of them wouldn't even have had names yet. "<Very new.>"

The watch is crisply snapped shut and slipped back into her pocket. "<We can go. East Side, for the time being. There are a few antique stores I would like to look for something specific in. I have need of a few articles of clothing, too.>"

"<Lead the way.>" Isa flicks her scarred right hand toward the corridor, her wedding band a brief glint of gold. "<It is your vehicle.>"

'Aunt' might be a little informal between them, true. Sally catches the eye, and grins slightly. Switching to Russian at Isa's choice, she nods a little. "<Yes, since you've been a wise person. Your advice was difficult, but…I suppose I think I've properly settled.>" Sally shrugs gently, turning to walk to the elevator when Isa gestures. "<Do you not approve?>"

Sally smiles a bit at the mention of an aura of affluence; she knows all about projecting that. Surprisingly fashionable, for all her protests of avoiding it. It seems the Sokovian isn't above the trappings of her social station after all. "<I might have to ask where you shop, the tailoring is quite well done.>" At least the elevator's empty, giving them a chance to continue gentle chatter.

It was her husband's? Ah, yes. She listens, curious, as Isa mentions vaguely her days previously. "<I see…you were a test pilot, you said, but that is fantastic. It must be like being able to drive a Formula One car. Nothing but you and the engine, all the way to the limits and beyond.>" There are, Sally figures, at least a few similarities between strapping a jet fighter to your back and doing the same with the highest-performance racing machines. Speed and quickness, hurling their drivers around the inside of the cockpit as hard as they can.

"<Antique stores? Hmm…>" She has half an idea, a suitable gift to find. "<I like this. I suppose I could do a little shopping as well, and there's more than enough there, I'm sure. Come along, then,>" she adds as the elevator opens to the parking garage. And there it is, a white and black super-sportscar that looks curiously out of place among the mix of black SUVs with SHIELD logos on the doors and the mix of unmarked and civilian vehicles. Like a thoroughbred among a pasture, or a prototype on a flightline.

Opening the door for Isa, Sally grins. "<It's a shame the track is closed today, it might be fun to show you around. I guess it's not a proper fighter plane, but it's enjoyable enough.>" An invitation for the future, perhaps. Meanwhile once Isa's seated, Sally will join her, firing the car up with a smile on her face and a loud snarl from the engine. And it's quite comfortable; leather bucket seats, air conditioning, power adjustment, even seat warmers. Coulson loved the seat warmers.

"<I do not disapprove.>" Isa's answer might be a little vague, but as she hasn't asked Rusalka to stop, it must pass muster. "<So you have made your decision, then? Good.>"

She will not ask what it was. That is Rusalka's to tell. For all her blunt and sometimes brutal honesty, Isa Reichert is a woman generally tolerant and even respectful of secrets.

To the issue of her suit, she glances down at it, almost dismissively. "<This? Ah. I will forward you the tailor's information when we come back. Very good, is it not? When you watn to make an impression, you wear Italian silk.>" It's not the same she wore to Stark Industries, but designed similarly.

She jabs the button on the elevator before Rusalka has a chance to, impatient to be going; to be doing. She is not a woman who seems to handle idle time very well.

"<Yes, a pilot.>" Isa crouches into the white and black Lotus, which does not at all fit with the government issue black vehicles that fill the SHIELD car park. The machine is given a brief but appraising look, one that shows a hint of approval, too.

…Coulson would have loved the seat warmers, would't he?

"<Very nice,>" she comments, looking over the 'cockpit' with muted interest. "<I am impressed. You have an expensive hobby, Rusalka Stojespal.>" That is, come to think of it, one odd thing – Isa has never given Rusalka a patronymic, and 'Isa' is hardly a proper Russian name. "<I trust you to know how to use it well, then.>" She fastens her harness with a pointed click of its buckle.

A faint smile. "<Show me.>"

A little vague, but Sally's actually starting to get used to that. Even if Isa's older, more experienced, and wiser, she still doesn't have all the answers. More like an oracle, Isa's been a guide towards the right direction - and Rusalka just needed the suggestion and encouragement to take those early steps. "<Yes, I have. Once I am finished with the summer at Stark Industries, I'm going to transfer to SHIELD and finish education there. I don't have to be a soldier, and they have a fantastic engineering program.>"

Obviously so, it gave them Quinjets among other things. Fusing that with what scraps of knoweldge she can gain from Tony Stark, Sally might just have a solid future ahead of her. "<And it's a place that I can do good in. Not just be good at something, but do it for good reasons. I'm thinking of staying on, after my education, at least…>" At least for a little while. "<You said I could trust Phil Coulson, and I do. He has proven worthy of it.> Kulturny," she adds with a smile.

Cultured. Honest and trustworthy. Honorable. It's a wonderfully flexible word, really.

There's a smirk on her face at Isa's approval, and she nods. "<Expensive, though no great cost. And highly rewarding, if I may say. There's something about being at speed, handling a course and navigating other drivers. It's a place of belonging, of…perfection.>" Unfamiliar with describing it, the philosophy is difficult to make clear. Then again, it's not something that exists in a world with words, only sounds and sensations. "<I would say, well enough perhaps.>" Was there a slight affront in her tone? Maybe…and then Isa says two magic words.

Buckled in, engine purring, and everything right with the world, Sally is more than happy to demonstrate the adage of the founder of Lotus. "Simplify and add lightness" was the words of the businessman-driver, and they made maneuverability the hallmark of their vehicles. It shows in the way Sally darts through the parking structure, the shriek of tires on concrete almost constant as she winds her way up to street level. So does the g-force pressing Isa into the side of the door from the tight turn.

Once out in the streets, and told where to go, the ride is like a rollercoaster. She doesn't lay down rubber at the lights like a street racer, but instead simply accelerates right to the point where the car would be. A flick through traffic, seeking out spots and openings between vehicles that sometimes seem invisible. Tucking in behind a garbage truck, only to dart back out and rocket past the steel behemoth in a way that implies she could see clean through the vehicle. Isa had wanted to see her driving skill, and she's demonstrating it - and doing so, somehow, without breaking a single traffic law. Driving all over every last millimeter OF those traffic laws, certainly, but Rusalka prides herself on not having been ticketed yet.

Of course, the drive is not without comment, there's a steady stream of muttering in English and Russian describing the mental difficulties of other people behind the wheel - rubbernecking, eating, texting, even worse. The Sokovian heiress does not suffer fools easily, and it might be argued New York is a city of nothing but.

Sometimes that vagueness is a necessity, because the woman cannot or will not give the answer. Other times, a little mysticism is necessary because there are no words to describe what is being asked. In this specific case, a vague answer was best because that's all that was needed.

"<It will do you good, I think, and you will have ample opportunity to do good.>" Isa turns her eye forward, but she doesn't seem disturbed by the car's quick handling, or the closeness with which Rusalka treads on the edge of traffic law.

The cabs are a lot worse, she decides, within the first quarter-mile.

Where Coulson was enjoying his ride in the Lotus, Isa is clearly studying it. She pays attention to each shift of gravity, every instance of threading the needle between traffic, and silently measures the distances around the vehicle in a way that only someone who comfortably and habitually thinks in three dimensions can do.

In fact, when Rusalka talks about the place of belonging and perfection, it almost seems to be jostling Isa from a trance. "<Hm? Oh. Yes. It is the same when you are flying, though maybe not so much…>" She flicks her hands at the dodge-and-weave routine Rusalka keeps doing to get around drivers. "<Not that, unless you are in a dogfight, maybe. And even that is not as glamourous as people sometimes think. It is over in seconds, maybe minutes, if you are both very good.>"

Her foot is on the floorboard, but her Invisible Parent Brake isn't quite as hard as Coulson's. That may be because she's accustomed to much higher speeds. Even at its absolute finest, the Lotus just can't touch the kind of thing she's used to driving around. Her reaction times are tuned for something far quicker.

Maybe a little, though, because it's New York City, and it's hard for someone with such strong control freak tendencies to sit back and be a passenger in the middle of the chaos that is New York City's traffic scene.

"<Impressive.>" Isa's tone of voice isn't bland, but it isn't dismissive, either. "<You are handling it well. Better than I was expecting. I think many people who drive such a thing, they drive it because they want something luxurious. It is a glorified Chaika, to some, I think.>" A luxury car; a status symbol. "<But I can see that you know how to really drive it.>"

She looks over to note the street, rattling off directions. Another clothing botique. Coulson had told her to make a few purchases, so she is, after informing Coulson that she'd be going out to do just that. Perhaps he's shadowing her, perhaps he isn't, but she trusts he has SHIELD agents tracking her and keeping an eye on the situation.

The city is not safe for her, but danger to herself had never frightened her before. She's not about to let it start. Danger to others – yes, she will throw herself into the fire to save them, but there are few threats anyone can make against her, personally, that will sway her.

…After a particularly hairy brush with a car whose driver is texting, two taxi cabs, and a public bus, Isa exhales slowly and gives the texting driver the evil eye as Rusalka eases the Lotus past. "<These drivers, they are like so many children.>" Amateurs.

Sally understands, in the end. She'd grown up around it from time to time, and even if she doesn't know about Isa's secret past, she knows it's there. For starters, the woman barely mentions anything about her existence prior to finding SHIELD other than her deceased husband. Were it not for him, the pilot might well have simply sprung into existence from Zeus's forehead a month ago, like the gods of old. The simple fact of her name, as well - if Sally were to have guessed, and never heard the other woman's Russian, she might consider Reichert to be a German name.

A very odd choice for someone with a Muscovy accent.

But there are things Rusalka is permitted to ask about, and things she is not; there are rituals and clubs and such that she is no part of. And she respects that secrecy; if she is to know she will be told. If not…then it will never come up. An old family keeps its secrets in old and efficient ways. "<That is my intent. Even if Sloane does not fully join, she is still under their care. And it seems Stark Industries does a great deal of technological work for SHIELD as well.>"

The Lotus has a manual transmission, and Sally uses it to the fullest - darting back and forth between gears as she slips in and out of traffic like a ballet dancer through a swinging line. "<Mr. Stark may be a curious individual, but his heart is in the right place. Much of his work has been beneficial, and he does many good things. If SHIELD is acceptable to him…then I suppose I cannot judge them harshly.>" That SHIELD is also acceptable to tyotya Isa and dyadya Filip goes unsaid.

Taxicabs. A plague upon the golden peril of New York streets. Maybe she cut that one off, but she did have right-of-way when the cab conceded. That doesn't stop her from slipping past the bigger car's bumper at a distance that Isa can't even see, looking down outside the passenger window. The loud honk from the other driver just gets a snort of derision. Do better, or else do not at all, incompetent fool!

There's a smirk on her face when Isa compares their mutual situations. "<I suppose that is true. There is much more air under an airplane; thousands of feet instead of mere inches.>" Or less than an inch, if that cabbie was to be believed. "<Someday I must take you for a true race, if I ever get the chance. Imagine doing this," she adds, her feet doing a dance on the pedals. Downshifting two gears with a blip of power sending the engine into a sudden snarl, she spins the wheel hard over for an instant and lets the rear tires break loose from the asphalt for an instant.

Timed just right, too, as the wheels glide through a puddle. The move kicks the back end of the car out nearly ninety degrees, while the front end knifes over the lowered curb of a driveway. A momentary flick of the wheel to straighten things out and, one gearshift later, they're nosed into a parking space. In the moment of silence as the engine is turned off, she grins at Isa. "<At a hundred and fifty, with about as much room.>" Perhaps Sally isn't a worshiper at the altar of pure speed, but her precision and control more than make up for whatever minor deficiency that is.

A frown of distaste at the mention of those who spend such sums on performance vehicles, and never perform. Merely used as status symbols, a riotous potlatch of noise and color without meaning. "<I feel sorry for their vehicles. To never be allowed to live for the purposes they were built for, that is."> There's a respect for the machine in this girl, perhaps even a feeling of it having a soul. …Nah. Sally's not superstitious. Just very devoted to her hobby. "<Thank you for your words, then. I appreciate it.>"

And she truly does, in the pride of someone being recognized for their hard-earned skills. She'd grown up with a loving father's hand, who had steered her towards cars when she was little. After that hand was taken away, she's kept her passion alive…and in some small way, perhaps a bit of her father's soul as well.

"<A child can learn. A fool…>" Be nice, Sally. Do not besmirch the name of your family. The hell with it. Her voice snaps a moment, before sighing. "<A monkey could be taught to perform better. So much distraction, so little attention. These people are infuriating sometimes, and as you say. They do not know how to truly drive, and will never care. Sometimes I understand Sloane's feelings…>" Who would want to thread the needle through a fabric made of New York City's traffic, after all? Yet in her that needle can't be put down; it's in her blood.

She takes a long, deep breath, unbuckling afterward with a grin to the one-eyed woman. "<So. Now we are pedestrians. Shall we become shoppers next?>"

"<It seems Sloane Albright has earned the protection of SHIELD, for the moment. While I cannot speak to their goals, I would trust that protection, and do.>" The fact that she herself is reasonably safe while in their custody suggests that their agents' skills are commendable.

Certainly Coulson must see something worthy of protection, or he wouldn't waste the effort he's gone to on her behalf. He especially wouldn't have gone to the effort of trying to rescue her wayward husband…

…but Rusalka does not know that part, at least not yet.

Even she isn't sure about that.

"<Curious individual. I suppose that is one way to describe him, but I would be truthful. He is an incorrigible man-child with no sense of responsibility beyond what lies before his own nose.>" Isa pulls a scowl. "<But he knows his craft, that I will not argue. And his heart does seem to be in the right place. I am to understand he supplies research and development to SHIELD, though I myself do not know the depth of that aid rendered.>"

She glances out the window just as the Lotus zips in between two cars, nearly sandwiching itself in the process to fit into the lane, and there's a brief involuntary easing of the foot over the Invisible Parent Brake. Although she doesn't own a car, Isa does know how to drive.

Golden peril indeed. As the Lotus cuts it off, the taxi cab driver shakes a fist, leaning over his horn and giving voice to a stream of profanity. Isa can almost see the blue in the air around him from the Lotus' comfortable seats. She smiles sweetly, finger-waving as the Lotus screams past.

Her attention swivels back to Rusalka, partly so she can stop paying attention to how very, very close that other car was.

Silence settles over the Lotus as the car is abruptly manoeuvred into a parking space, after some nerve-jangling acrobatics. The only thing to break it is the ticking of metal as the engine gradually cools.

Isa draws in a deep breath and lets it go, arching her brow, expression otherwise bland. "Well played, little sister," she murmurs in English. "Would have maybe made good pilot, I think."

"<Come.>" Isa frees herself from the harness, finding sweet solid pavement a moment later and smoothing down her slacks. A hand rises to sort through her hair, though it isn't terribly out of sorts.

Into the botique, which seems to cater to more elegant tastes. A brief look is given to the clerk, who starts to edge around the counter towards what's sure to be fresh meat on a slow evening, but Isa raises a hand to forestall the woman. "Just browsing. Will let you know."

She recognises that look, though. The clerk is staring. She just noticed the scars.

Isa smiles a bland, sardonic little smile.

"<I learned to get used to it, after the first year, but it took a time to do.>" She sorts through a rack of colourful fabric, but the way she does suggests she's looking for something specific. Maybe she isn't after all. Her personality is driven, in a way, much like Rusalka's. "<Oh. Will you do me the pleasure of staying for dinner, once we are finished? I will make all this shuttling worth your while,>" she adds, with a half-smile; scarred hand reaching up to ruffle Rusalka's short hair a little. Mladshaya sestra, little sister, indeed.

"<I suppose there is much yet to learn.>" At this point, Rusalka might as well adopt it instead of Honor Unyielding as a family motto. But SHIELD is a powerful organization, and a large one - and she is only now scratching at the surface of what may be a labyrinth of reflections. What kind of secrets there are, what kind of things SHIELD knows and does…in some ways, it's daunting, and frightens her.

And yet in some ways, she doesn't care. Rusalka Stojespal grew up entrapped in the ways of the family; even if she spurns them at times she is still a product of them. Loyalty, earned so rarely, is something she stakes her soul upon. Isa, she has come to trust. Phil Coulson, she has come to trust. Sloane Albright, however, is someone that Sally is truly loyal to and would shake the foundations of the earth for her if it became necessary.

Tony Stark…she permits. "<Truthful, yes, I suppose. But he is not so different from a few others, besides the reach of his eccentricity.>" The blue-eyed girl gives Isa a grin. "<You should have gone to technical college and met more geek-niks>," she adds, mixing languages for a moment. "<Eccentricity seems to be common enough, despite how frustrating it can be. Mm…I do not know myself, but dyadya Filip mentioned he is a supplier. Certainly there is much to be learned, but…>" An impish grin and a twinkle in those cobalt blue eyes; she's in a good mood - a little fun behind the wheel is always a cheering up. Turning around to face Isa, walking backwards a moment, she adds in a sing-song voice. "<I do not think I will acquire his study habits, at least…not right away. Perhaps if they are useful…>"

That totally won't make Isa's day, having two of them around.

"Oh?" Switching back to english, her accent not quite as thick as Isa's, Sally nods her head at the suggestion she should fly someday. "From my dear elder sister the fighter pilot, then, I shall accept that as a compliment of the highest order." It's an easy enough assumption to make - Isa is a pilot, wears flightsuits from time to time, and even has a spiffy watch. And managed not to shriek once on the entire drive over; her mettle is quite forged with the Right Stuff.

Perusing the racks, there isn't too much interesting - a pair of slacks, perhaps, or a coat. Something businessy, she considers, and makes a note of a particular style. For the most part, she's here to let Isa do her thing, spending…well, the store they're at doesn't list prices on the merchandise, because it's for people for whom price is no object. Isa handles the staff, and Sally simply peruses, watching to see if any of them happen to be following 'the two weird foreign women' - though the offer of dinner catches her attention.

"<I have gotten a chance to play in traffic. I suppose that alone would typically be enough, but I would happily join you.>" And then Isa's hand is in her hair and Rusalka makes a suitably put-upon face. Hands raise to readjust her hairband and set her brown locks back to where they should be, but she does it with an amused enough smile. Isa is a terrible and oppressive big sister, of course. She'll just have to make up for that with good food.

"<There is always something to learn in any place, any time. Everyone has something to learn,>" Isa comments, even as she examines a suit on the rack with a critical eye. "<Only the arrogant believe that they know everything. That is what separates the good from the great. The good know what they know. The great know what they do not know.>"

That had been her philosophy, anyway. She had always tried to take away things to learn from any given situation, especially her piloting. It kept her sharp, learning new things. Kept her competitive.

To the issue of Tony Stark, she only shakes her head. He's an aggravating man-child who happens to have ocasionally good uses, such as his brilliant engineering. His eccentricities are liveable, if only because his other skills are worth suffering through the eccentricities.

Isa flicks the suit to the side, examining the next one on the rack with half her attention on the girl tagging along behind her. "<Technical college? Mmm,>" Isa comments, half-heartedly, distracted. "<I did not need to. My husband was a 'geek-nik.' Maybe he was not so focused on engineering as I was, but he with his sense of humour would have gotten along with Agent Coulson, I think.>" Dorks, that is to say. They are, or were, both dorks.

There's a faint flicker of sadness, but the one-eyed pilot hides it by plucking another suit from the rack, examining the lines of its seams. "<Acquire his study habits, and I will show you what New York City is like from thirty thousand feet, without anything between you and the air,>" Isa comments distractedly. Her voice is nonchalant, as though she were discussing the weather report.

"<Fighter pilot?>" Isa arches a brow, swivelling her head around to stare at Rusalka with a slight frown. She maintains her Russian, but she does lower her voice, noticeably. "<What makes you think that? I am not a fighter pilot.>"

The watch wasn't hers, but Rusalka doesn't know that.

Carefully, she hangs the second suit back on the rack, considering another one; a cream-coloured number that would probably go well with her complexion. "<Hm. What do you think about this one…?>" But Sally's already on about something else. Maybe Rabbit does fit her well, always darting to the next topic of conversation, as agile-minded there as she is in her engineering. "<Good. I do not plan on eating alone tonight, so stay. Sloane Albright can come, too, if she likes.>"

The truth is, she doesn't mind cooking for them, not at all, at least not for her mediocre cooking. Her skill in the kitchen isn't terrible, but it isn't exactly the pinnacle of greatness, either.

"<We will go after this, but I think I would like to take this one. There is something about cream and ivory,>" she comments, holding up the hangar and regarding the suit, hood-eyed. "<A good colour to wear when you do not want to be so stark in white, or so solemn in black. A bit less stifling, perhaps, than charcoal… and yet more formal than a pastel colour, no?>"

Sally grumbles a little, then laughs. "<I suppose even when I am Baba's age I will still be learning. Mm…I suppose it won't be so bad.>" Though, in her opinion, Dragana Stojespal does know everything. "<Certainly, at least it will be interesting things to study. I think I'm picking up things quickly, though. Mr. Stark has me working on a new idea, actually.>"

For an engineer, learning is a profession that keeps on giving. The more that's created, the more that's studied, the more things are improved - and the cycle continues. Fortunately the cycle includes spinoffs like cool cars and neat computers and awesome planes.

Sally peruses some of the early-summer looks, staying close to Isa so that they're not calling each other across the store. And gives a glance at the light-colored suit in Isa's hands, pursing her lips a moment and then nodding. "<That one would go well, I think. It would let your hair shine very well, I suppose Sloane would say.>" In honesty, fashion isn't Sally's strong point. Quality outfits, certainly, expensively tailored ones absolutely, but she gets a lot of help from her best friend.

Comfort over style, as far as she cares.

As to her husband, Sally gives a gentle nod. "<Hm…I suppose so. I took Phil Coulson on a drive, recently, actually. It gave us time to talk, and let me work out the questions I'd asked of you. He rather enjoyed it, actually,>" Sally adds with a laugh. The outright boyish cheer of fun had been a surprise from a man she'd decided defined the word 'understated.' "<Your husband seems to have been a good man, and I am sorry for your loss, Isa Reichert.>"

And then both hands go up in defense. "<D-don't worry! I cannot think as fast as he does, and it's difficult to keep up. I would like to also think I'm not quite as scatterbrained, as far as switching thoughts goes.>" His shifts of conversation between Peggy Carter and herself had been…impressive at least. And left her feeling a bit steamrolled, with the energy he had. "<I prefer things…more organized, at least. I've been yelled at for being a perfectionist before, so I do not believe I will fall into Mr. Stark's bad habits.>"

She hopes, anyway. Most especially his nicknaming scheme, for which Isa would not so much throw her out of a plane as skin her and throw that out of the plane.

The lowered voice gets a look of mild surprise, Sally's eyes widening a little. The cobalt-blue gaze is innocent, and honest. "<It's the way you are. You remind me a lot of the pilots at Kovyl' Air Station, back home.>" Feather Grass? It seems oddly rustic, but it is Sokovian. "<My mother's station; they fly MiG-23s. Older models from Russia, but…Sokovia is no great superpower. And I recognized the MiG-29 on your watch…>" There's a mild exasperated sigh in her soul. Yes, thank you mother for teaching me so many things I did not care about. But she shakes her head a little, sweeping the thoughts away.

"<And, you mentioned you were a pilot, and well…>" Shrug. "<That was all; was I wrong? I am sorry.>" An incorrect assumption based on mistaken data, for all that she was close to getting to the truth. It isn't as if Isa has given away too much; it's simply that Rusalka is intelligent and grew up around a mixed portion of the Sokovian Air Force. If she were to decide, Isa is more of a fighter pilot than an attack-jet pilot; she loves the sky too much…and has the unshakable arrogant confidence in her own skill.

At least it's not overpowering, simply present. And Rusalka refuses to acknowledge the hypocrisy of her own unshakable arrogant confidence in her skill behind the wheel.

"<Yes. That one definitely works, and it is a nice cut. Not too severe, and…mm, sporty, I suppose. And the color suits you, as well.>" She considers Sloane's thought processes, then narrows her eyes a little. "<The lightness would not drain the contrast from your eye, perhaps. And, we can go anytime. You mentioned antiques, mm…was there anything else you had in mind?>"

"<Everyone has something to learn,>" Isa offers, even as she peruses a few of the other suits. The cream-coloured ensemble she keeps in hand, prepared to pay stupid amounts of money for it, because it looks professional and might well come in handy. She's miserly enough with her salary that she can afford it. "<There is no such thing as too well-versed in anything. In flying, and in engineering, or even in driving. Always there is some new technique to be picked up; some new thing to be learned.>"

It would let her hair shine? Isa tilts her head a little at Rusalka's slightly oddly-worded observation, but shrugs one shoulder in vague agreement. It's the right side that she moves. She may not be wearing the sling any more, but it's still a bit stiff; still tender. For such a small wound, it left a considerable mark.

She does raise her brow at mention that Rusalka had taken Coulson for a drive. Now that's an interesting development. Eventually she gives a faint nod, though, dipping her chin and her voice as well. "<Good. He is one to trust, Rusalka Stojespal.>" In the absence of a proper patronymic, Isa uses full names as a mark of politeness; like honourifics in Japanese, or a title in English. "<Remember that.>"

One has to wonder just what he did to earn Isa's good graces. She doesn't seem like a woman for whom trust comes easily.

"<Thank you.>" Mention of her husband brings a cloud over her expression once more. She even manages a faint, melancholy smile. "<He was.>"

He is a good man, and she's determined to get to the bottom of that mystery, but that's not information she's quite ready to part with just yet. Telling Rusalka too much would be dangerous, but some part of her also feels she owes the girl some measure of truth – enough truth to make her own decisions about whether to be around the red-headed pilot, anyway. Not enough that could come around to trouble Isa herself… but enough to show trust, and to share it.

That first step is always so hard, though. It used to come so easily to her. Once upon a time, she could strike up conversation with any random everyman on the street. These days, it's considerably harder.

Rusalka's investigative work earns another arched eyebrow. Her expression is nonchalant, eye hooded. "<Still wrong,>" she points out, cheerfully. "<While it is true that I am a pilot in SHIELD's employ, I do not fly fighters. I fly quinjets. Their armament is basic compared to better-equipped fighters, though it is true that they are capable of supersonic flight.>" She pats the watch in her pocket.

"<But that is not my watch. It was my husband's.>" One of the few effects of his that she has left, truth be told, and the warmth in her voice when she speaks of it suggests a certain fond regard for it. "<He received it as a commendation of his squadron's model performance. He was the squadron leader, so really, one could say it was in recognition of his abilities.>"

As though reaching a decision, Isa flips the suit over her shoulder and makes her way to the front desk. Presenting it to the cashier, she doesn't so much as bat an eye at the exorbitant price, passing over a credit card. Well, that must really be her name, despite the lack of patronymic. That's what it says on the credit card, if Sally watches it.

The clerk manages a customer service smile, but her eye lingers on Isa's face just a fraction of a second too long. Isa's bland and long-suffering look suggests this happens a lot, and aside from the vague annoyance factor, she's gotten quite used to it.

Ten minutes later, the suit is packed up into a box, she's back in the car, and buckling her harness.

"<Forget the antiques. I will do that another day,>" Isa comments, waving a hand dismissively. "<I am half-starved. Back to the Triskelion, and I will begin cooking. How does that sound? That is, of course, if you did not have anywhere you wished to stop,>" Isa adds, politely.

"<Yes, starshaya sestra.>" Wise words, and Sally certainly concedes the point, even if she can't resist the little tease at the older woman's age. At least she didn't say 'baba' yet, though Isa will need to go a long way before having such a term of affection tossed her way.

There's a nod, and an equally quiet voice in reply. "<I agree. He is…a good man, despite many things. Honorable. I imagine there are many things he will never tell me…but what he does, I believe I can trust. I shall remember.>" Whatever it was that sold Isa on him, she doesn't know, but for her it's the honesty that he's shown her with Sloane. Unfettered access, outside of the times she'd agreed to, and no pressure.

Just…letting her friend be her friend. A kindness, perhaps, but one that was promised - and a promise carried through. It's why she's made her decision to help, because…in all honesty there are more like Sloane Albright. Many more. And they need help…help she might even be able to provide, in some small way.

There are many ways to change the world.

Sally frowns when she finds out she's wrong, but she still bets - ah hah. Supersonic, combat aircraft? "<Still a fighter plane. Heh. But a strange name, what…>" Unfamiliar english slips past her lips, though buried in Sokovian accents that make it sound foreign enough that noone's listening. "<Quin? Queen? Jet.>"

The revelation that it was her husband's watch, however, gets a nod of respect and sadness. "<I apologize for my assumptions. And for your loss, Isa Reichert. But…I understand it.>" Turning away from the salespeople, making this a private thing between them, Sally reaches to her collar and draws out a pendant on a thin gold filigree - it's not the silver-dollar friendship pendant she shares with Sloane, but a small gold teardrop that flicks open at the touch of a thumb. Inside is a tiny photo of man and woman a few years younger than Isa and a young girl a few years…younger than Sally.

"<My father. He was gentle and boisterous, and wanted me to be a great engineer. He loved cars, the silly man.>" The pendant's snapped closed, and tucked back under her clothes, invisible once more.

It's a quiet few minutes while they check out, Sally's own hurt now revealed before Isa as a shared pain between them. Eventually they reach the car, and she looks up as Isa speaks. Getting buckled in, Sally nods. "<To home it is. Hm…Sloane mentioned your rosemary bread; I would be happy to try some. As well as dinner, of course. Ah, I have nowhere to go myself, it is a quiet night. Yes?>"

The car's started, and with a gentle touch on the gas Rusalka navigates back into traffic, much more sedate this time - for a minute or so. Then, at the front of a red light that suddenly turns green, she can't help it - a cheerful "Khorosho~!" matches a press of that black leather t-strap shoe against the accelerator…and inertia pressing Isa back into her seat once more. The Lotus is, after all, built for acceleration."

Isa tilts her head back very slightly, regarding Rusalka from the corner of her lone eye. The expression might be haughty on anyone else, with the way she tilts her head ever so slightly. It isn't arrogance, though – she's tilting her head so she can actually see Rusalka. True, there's some skepticism there, but she has a habit of tilting her head to the right to expose things to her still-functional left eye.

It's just as well the girl doesn't call her baba. Too old perhaps to have children of her own, at this point, but she is not so old as a grandmother just yet. Her hair hasn't even begun to frost, despite all the gut-chewing stress she's been through in her life. It's still as vibrant as the newsprint publicity photos that had been taken of her five to ten years ago; rich and coppery, tempered here and there with strands of blonde and strands of auburn. There's no trace of grey, silver, or white – though if there were, it wouldn't surprise her in the least. She puts herself through enough stress to drop someone of lesser constitution.

Her willpower is the stuff of legend. It got her through some truly horrific events in her life, and it also got her through the kind of crippling loss that no one should ever have to go through. She survived, though. Her instinct and desire for survival, to pull herself through situations where any sane and rational person would acknowledge their shortcomings and give up; it borders on the psychotic.

Of course, it can be very useful in certain situations. It can also work against a person just as easily.

"<It's a quinjet,>" Isa clarifies, pronouncing the word slowly and carefully. "<They're a bit like the English Harriers. The have vertical takeoff and landing capabilities, and they have auxiliary turbines for manoeuvring. Glorified thrust-vector engines that border on true verniers, I think. They are wonderfully efficient transports.>"

The part she doesn't say is that they can also be configured into formidable air assault and ground assault aircraft. While they may not have the speed to keep up with a true supersonic fighter, they do have as much agility as a helicopter, and the stability of a ground attack aircraft. Sacrificing their speed is a relatively small price to pay for what's gained in return. Isa does not say that, though. This girl is technically not a part of SHIELD just yet, and those are not her secrets to give.

"<Thank you.>" This is delivered quietly, in the wake of Rusalka's apology for her loss. Her eye is drawn to a glint of gold – a tiny locket that the girl thumbs open to display a family portrait. The girl is immediately recognisable as Rusalka Stojespal.

She doesn't say anything back to the car, but there is a sobriety and solemnity to her.

Carefully, she pulls the pendant from her own neck. On a thin and slithery silver chain, the kind that looks like a solid piece when flexed just right, it also bears her mangled dogtags, now charred after the crash over Siberia; gently, she twists her wedding band off her finger and replaces it onto the chain. "<If we are handling flour,>" she says, by way of explanation. She touches the ring to her lips in her own little ritual before letting it drop to rest beneath her collar again.

There's a thin band of a mark around her finger where she'd worn it, and she affects a slightly rueful expression. "<I should have it resized. It has never fit well after the accident… I do not like not wearing it.>"

Rusalka doesn't know it, but the ring has become a symbol of hope for Isa. That stupid impossible hapless man is still alive out there, and if he can navigate the wolves stalking him, perhaps he might even come home to her, after all these years.

But that is a little much to think about. The raw emotion behind that concept is something she's still even now processing, and in an odd way, it's almost as painful to know that he's still alive and beyond her reach than it is to know he's dead. It's one and the same to her, for the moment. It's time not spent with him; time that could be cut short with finality at any time.

I have placed my trust in you, Phillip Coulson, she thinks, even as Rusalka coaxes the Lotus' engines back to life. Do not make me regret it.

"<To home,>" Isa agrees, wearily. Is that a bit of mist in her remaining eye? Surely it's just a trick of the lighting as she blinks it away. For all Rusalka knows, the woman is still grieving her husband.

But really, she's trying to sort out the tangle of emotions that come with knowing he's still alive, and very much in a great deal of danger.

Leaning back in her comfortable seat, Isa watches the New York City streets flash by; observes the way the seat seems to pull her into its depths as the pedal tilts closer and closer to floor-parallel. She doesn't mind too much. It's a little startling when it isn't expected, but her reaction times are tuned for speeds much higher than what this vehicle can do, admirable as that may be.

Also she's tired, and very much distracted. Having the company will be a good thing.

Despite the traffic, it isn't long back to the apartment. Rusalka is a skilled driver, more skilled than many of the others on the road, and she knows exactly how far she can push her Lotus, and what she can ask of it. The girl would have made a fine pilot, or a fine engineer.

"<Rosemary bread? Of course. I do not mind making it. It was one of my husband's favourites, so baking that is a little like being closer to him, as foolish as that might sound.>" Isa allows herself a faint flicker of a half-smile. "<It is also delicious. He had always wished to visit the Mediterranean, but he had never quite had the leave to do so. And dinner will not be a problem.>"

She seems relieved to get back. Being out is nice, but she can never quite shake the feeling that there are eyes on her. Maybe it's a product of her circumstances. It isn't paranoia if they really are out to get her, right? And she brooks no illusions that there are quite a number of people out to get her for what she had done.

Once they've settled back in, Isa vanishes for a moment to change into clothing she doesn't mind getting full of flour – in this case, an old flannel shirt and a pair of worn jeans. From there she can pour herself a glass of wine, and start putting together the dry ingredients; as well as offer Rusalka something to drink from her fridge. Driving is thirsty work, no?

The appraising look from Isa gets Sally's attention, and she looks back - eyebrows raised slightly, as if to ask a question. But she just waits, as if a student waiting to be called on - and Isa the professor. Skepticism, perhaps, but the girl's still too young to be anything but honest.

That willpower, that iron determination…she does see that, though. Rusalka Stojespal, daughter of Irja Stojespal, has grown up around a woman who expected absolutely no tolerances for things - life would be the way she determined. Irja's goals would be reached, by sheer force of will, and she has. Like Isa the older Stojespal woman hasn't yet begun to gray - but that steel-minded strength of will has cost her. Someday, perhaps, Rusalka will tell the stories…but not today.

A quinjet then. "<A fascinating plane. Capable of many interesting things…I am jealous. I would like to see one someday,>" she adds, perhaps a bit wistfully. It may not be a deep interest of hers, as much as others, but the impressive performance her friend claims is definitely something to intrigue the engineer. It isn't fair to wave something so technologically fascinating under Sally's nose and give her a whiff of the wonderful.

Skip the fact that she's working at Stark Industries, at that.

The shared sadness between them is…certainly not a uniquely Russian thing. But loss of family has touched them both, and Rusalka takes it very seriously. Ties of blood are deep for her, and those who are taken away are just as deep a pain. She doesn't know the truth behind Isa's husband…but she does understand the pain her friend goes through, if not the source.

"<I would be honored to cover the cost. I know of a jeweler in the city that I would trust, for such a thing.>" It's said quietly, an offer of kinship - and of safekeeping. Something as precious as that ring is something Isa should trust to none but the best. "<A gift, in thanks for all you have given me, Isa Reichert. It is only fair. And…yes, to home.>"

Fortunately for Isa, it's a short drive - Sally may not have explicit clearance to enter the building, but she's recognized easily enough. It's a breeze through security, Isa's own badge helping. Once they're back in Isa's room, Sally glances back - she was about to count the deadbolts, but simply raises an eyebrow at the curious bit of technology around the eyepiece. And the complete lack of locks.

"<I don't believe my father ever tasted it. Rosemary bread, I mean. But…I think tonight is a night for it. We will share it for them, da? And yes, please. Juice would be lovely.>" She doesn't have anything to change into, but she can afford the drycleaning. The black vest is slipped off, and the arms of the white shirt pulled up to free her forearms. "<I haven't done this in a few years, actually…this should be fun. Where shall we begin?>"

In time, that willpower and determination will cost the one-eyed woman more dearly than she could imagine, burning the candle at both ends and driving her straight into exhaustion. Already she looks slightly older than her years.

Like an ember banked against the wind, she can seem calm, smoldering quietly, only to erupt into an inferno at the slightest provocation. She would fight anyone and anything if she felt herself threatened, or the people and things that she holds dear.

That capacity still shines through in her daily life – like an animal that isn't quite tame, willing to bare teeth at the right moment.

Chances are the entire door had to be replaced after all the holes and deadbolts she had put in it, but Coulson hadn't batted an eye at the potential expense. That had made her feel a little guilty. If the people hunting her had really wanted to force the issue, deadbolts would not have been an actual deterrent. She would be very much dead without ever having seen it coming.

She almost was, before transferring to the citadel of SHIELD. Imagine, to be found by the Winter Soldier, and spared. Even she couldn't have guessed something like that might happen. And, like an animal not fully tame, the man behind the legend frightens her; more even than his legend did – because she knows the legends are true, having seen his mettle with her own eye, and having seen how coolly and professionally he was willing to systematically destroy her to extract information, at least until he had suspected she was not his correct mark.

"<Yes, we will share it for them. Maybe I will tell you a story or two,>" she offers, wearily. "<I will have to ask you to handle the bread, but I will tell you what needs to be done. I do not have the strength. My arm is still weak at the end of the day, I think.>"

Isa takes that opportunity to pour a glass for Rusalka, leaving it within easy reach of the girl and filing back out to the living room. Dropping onto one side of the loveseat with her glass of wine, she manages to do so without spilling a drop, despite the lack of depth perception – less a supernatural knack, and more years of practising simple things like that.

Today has been a gruelling day of physical therapy, and she had slowly begun gearing back up to flight. Soon, the healing in her arm sings to her; soon, she will be among the clouds again, where she belongs. But for now, she's tired, tired enough that it shows through in the stress lines of her face, and the slightly distant look in her eye.

"<It is a simple thing, but it was one of his favourites. It has a nice flavour to it, without being too overpowering… I do not remember where he first tried it. Perhaps it was a restaurant? A family member? I am not certain…>" Isa leans her head back, baring her throat and sighing.

Even the skin of her throat is damaged, where the scarring creeps from mostly on the right side towards the left, and it continues down past her collar as well. Hideous damage, and what must have been a horrifyingly expansive wound, if it was all inflicted at the same time.

Her determination to live a normal life after that must border on the supernatural.

Instructions are given crisply, tiredly; directing Rusalka to the dry ingredients and the refrigerated ingredients. Her kitchen is small and composed of absolute order – everything is in its place; the mark of either the highly organised, or the mildly obsessive. Likely it's a bit of both, in her case.

A story, she promised.

"<I see that you and I are cut from similar cloths, Rusalka Stojespal.>" The absent patronymic is like a loose tooth one can't help but probe at. Its lack bothers her; feels somehow unnatural, just as when she speaks with Coulson. "<I will tell you a story, I think, one that may perhaps tell you a few things. It is not too long a story, so perhaps I can tell it to you while you knead dough. Something to pass the time, yes?>"

Isa is an ember in the wind, but one ember is all that it takes to start an inferno. And Rusalka's seen that inferno flare before, when she faced down Tony Stark's questioning over Isa's flight qualifications. Sally had been more interested in the various technical problems that Mr. Stark had thrown her way by means of an employment test, but it worked out in the end.

Mostly, that she got the job, and mostly, that Tony Stark still lived to teach her.

The Winter Soldier is a myth. A myth noone has told a certain Sokovian heiress; her understanding of such things despite her family's presence in the military is nonexistent. Perhaps her great grandmother knows, but some ghost stories Dragana will tell…and some she will keep. If she knows the legend of the silver-armed assassin, it is one that is never spoken of.

As far as the bread goes, Sally nods, deep blue eyes bright with anticipation. She's actually looking forward to this. "<Let me be your hands. Go rest, you've had a long day I'm sure - even I can tell how tired you are. I will, of course, need your instructions.>" A sip of juice to get started, as Isa explains further. Sally sees her throat injury…and realizes, finally, how extensive the scars must be. Not just her arm and her face, perhaps…but her whole side. Every cell of scar tissue an engraved stone speaking of Isa's sheer determination.

As the instructions are given, the girl gets things ready - methodically, very precisely, and fairly quickly. A recipe is just a list of components with assembly instructions, and Sally is damned good at following assembly instructions. Plus, she actually likes cooking, even if she does less of it on her own than she should. Sometimes studying takes precedent, and the university's cafeteria is an acceptable standin.

"Mm…I do prefer Sally, if…you don't mind." It's actually in English, just to signify her assimilation to New York. "<I've never been fond of Rusalka, it's such a silly thing to be named. Especially as an old tradition.>" It's certainly better than 'Bunny' though. Maybe. She's not sure. "<But my father's name was Petro, so…Sally Petrovna, if you wish.>" She won't tell Isa to avoid the familiarity, though. She's come to like the older woman, actually. "<I would appreciate a story. Consider it your price for dinner, if you wish.>"

…Wait, Isa is the one who offered dinner, and now Sally's the one charging for it? Talk about an entitled little heiress…but the smirk on her face and the wink take any venom from it. It's just the Sokovian girl's paradoxical sense of humor - poking fun at her own station.

Much as the red-headed pilot who incorporates so much of it into her spirit, fire is a many-aspected thing. It can be a surprisingly gentle thing, as the light of a candle, or the warmth of an hearth on a cold winter's day. Yet it can also be the red light of a nightmarish inferno, devouring all that lies in its path and leaving behind little more than ash and ruin.

Isa can be the flame on either end of that spectrum. Thus far, she's established herself as the light of the candle and the warmth of the hearth to the Stojespal heiress. The girl has not yet seen the raging inferno… but there's no mistaking that the potentiality is there. Something about Isa Reichert is volatile, like a flame waiting for accelerant and fuel. Rusalka had seen just a hint of it when Tony had called Isa's skill into question.

She has not seen the woman backed up against the wall. That is when the flame burns its highest and brightest. Adversity is to this woman like water to a tree in the desert.

So far, it sounds as though the woman is listening. There aren't any other sounds except the occasional soft sound when she sets her wine glass down.

Coulson might worry that she would fall into temptation, but she had terrified herself straight after her last encounter with the hardest liquor. Right now, she's under enough stress to justify the relaxation of a glass or two of wine. It isn't like she even needs to drive anywhere! If she does, well, there's always Rusalka. Right?

Slowly, Isa slides her eye closed. "<Very well, then, Sally Petrovna. If that is what you prefer, that is what you shall have.>" She has just enough energy to make her voice carry into the kitchen, over the sounds of breadmaking, but only just.

"<I do not know how well you followed the news of the Motherland, but they had once a pilot who was very good at flying. She was so good in fact that she was asked to fly the newest aircraft,>" she murmurs. "<Whenever there was a new Yakovlev, or a new Mikoyan, she was invited to test it. When the press descended, she was very good at speaking with them, too, and explaining how these innovations would benefit the Motherland and strengthen her people.>"

The pilot opens her eye to half-mast, gaze lingering on the framed photographs on the mantle. Maybe it's just imagination, but something about them seems to be drawn into more focus – freshly dusted and polished, and perhaps a quarter of an inch more forward on the mantle. A vase of fresh flowers stands beside the wedding photograph.

"<She had not intended to be a test pilot, but she was very good at what she did, and she had the necessary skills. So she accepted the offer to become one that was given to her.>" Slowly, Isa closes her eye again. "<She met a fellow pilot who was not a test pilot, but understood what it was to fly, and to have one's soul among the clouds. They were together for a little over eight years until they were married, because for all that they flew fast, they did not wish to move quickly in their personal lives.>"

"<Are you familiar with such a pilot, Sally Petrovna? Perhaps you saw in the newspapers. There were many articles. She flew for many years.>"

That candle and hearth has been most welcome. Half the time she's come to the Triskelion, she's at least looked in on the pilot - and Isa is one of the rare few that has been permitted the passenger seat. The inferno, less so - but she's only seen a glimpse, and understands the situation. She didn't burn so much when Phil Coulson had manipulated her into a track day…but she was quite immensely put out by it.

Isa is, of course, permitted her wine. It's only natural, after a day of fancy shopping, to celebrate a little bit. And it isn't as if Rusalka would refuse the woman a ride, if necessary - but she's pretty sure the Russian has had a quite long day, even before she'd arrived. It's probably the therapy, Sally thinks; she's seen soldiers wounded before and has witnessed what they must go through.

"<I appreciate it, Isa. I have never been…typically so very fond of family traditions, and being named such a name. Well. There's that damnable Dvorak opera, among other things. I know why…and I respect my ancestors, but sometimes I want to be myself, not someone else.>" There's a little bit of frustration and determination slipping into her voice at the end of that, before she clears her throat and apologizes. "<I did not mean to interrupt or sound ungrateful. Simply…independent.>"

A strange, but understandable mindset, perhaps.

Isa begins her story, and Sally pays close attention even as she's measuring out the various ingredients and letting the dough form. A pinch of these, a teaspoon of that, a cup of this; it comes together as the redhead tells her tale. She also manages to keep the kitchen area quite clean; spills and messes are for other people.

Meanwhile, she wonders. Thinking back…years ago, when her family was whole and her mother still a rising star. Pilots, and airfields, and thirty year old jets. Soviet aircraft, but from a time when the Soviet Union still existed. Yet the Sokovian pilots were not ignorant of things…magazines, news articles. The great developments of Sukhoi and Mikoyan. The desires for them, the wish to fly such top of the line aircraft, never to be seen under Sokovian budgets. And among them, a common face. One she doesn't remember, but remembers her mother's approval.

It was a sign of what a dedicated woman could achieve, even in Russia, and Irja had taken a little pride in that. The young Sally had looked at the pictures, seen the strange and fantastic aircraft, and remembered them more than the pilot - but she remembered vaguely the woman her mother admired. There's a slow nod, eventually, as she explains.

"<I … remember sometimes, a new plane would develop, and it was the talk of the airbase. I remember magazines, but…such a woman would be a fine person indeed. My mother was more aware of such things than I, but I was still a little girl. Before my father was->" She doesn't say murdered, but the cut off word is obvious. A deep breath. "<I do not recall myself, though. It has been some time, after all…and I was not always at the base.>"

But the story is obvious - there's a reason she is telling it, and her description of the lovers in the sky is one she knows she has heard before. "<I suppose, though…that I have since become familiar with such a pilot.>" Instead of contradicting Isa, Sally just lets Isa continue speaking - she promised to listen, and she is very good at listening and learning.

"<My own name does not matter to me.>" The one that she uses, that is, rather than the one she was born with. The former is a name of her own choosing, one that carries very little personal weight. Her own name is one more precious to her, although it isn't safe to use it. "<It is not even my real name.>"

Well, that confirms what Rusalka had probably suspected. It isn't a Russian name at all. It sounds vaguely germanic, although 'Isa' could be several different names, or short forms of several different names.

"<Yes, such it was in Russia, too. The major aerospace companies, they would come up with a new aircraft design, or they would revolutionise a particular component, and when the retrofitting and work had been done, it was the pilot that they called in to test them and put them through their paces. That she did. She handled them perhaps a bit roughly, sometimes, but that is only what she was asked to do.>"

Stress testing, essentially. She knew well how to do that, as she had demonstrated to Coulson. Pushing a machine past its boundaries and stretching its limits is a familiar challenge to her, one she normally enjoys.

"<Her name was Raisa Ivanovna Yakovleva, and perhaps you might remember her name from so many of those articles.>" Isa's voice grows a little distant. She isn't falling asleep, is she? No, not quite yet, but she isn't too far from it, especially after a glass of wine. It helps take the edge off her mind, and put up some of those more aggressively paranoid tendencies and tics. "<Then, her parents were slain in an automobile accident. The year was 2012, a week after her thirty-third birthday. It was a terrible blow, but she had her husband to help keep her strong. Four days later his aircraft was lost, after a terrible accident. That pilot, she did a lot of drinking after that. Not enough to impact her flying, yet.>"

"<Three weeks after Mikhail Nikolayevich Makarov was killed, Raisa Ivanovna Yakovleva's aircraft failed. The port engine exploded over Siberia, and then the ejection seat failed. Very much like her husband's accident, actually. It was said she died in a terrible accident when the aircraft went down. She rode it to the earth, unable to eject, and probably died in a fiery crater on the taiga.>"

"<Except she didn't.>" Isa opens her eye to half-mast, studying the wedding photo on the mantle. "<She survived her fall, even though she was burning. She lost her family and her husband and her right eye, and much of the skin of her right side, when she tried to block the fire so she could control her aircraft with the left side. It did not help, though, and she was human wreckage when the rescue crews tracked her location and arrived. She was not even conscious when they pulled her from the wreckage.>"

"<But she was a survivor, Raisa Ivanovna, and despite the damage, despite being told she would never fly again, she rehabilitated herself over many years. She brought her case to her superiors in the Air Force, and begged them for the opportunity to serve again, because flying was all that she had left.>"

"<They said no.>" Isa lets her eye close a little further, but it isn't quite closed; the barest slit of crisp blue.

"<At that point,>" the woman narrates, "<she decided she was not nearly drunk enough to listen to what they had to say, and proceeded to vanish into a bottle of vodka for several years. Two years, I think. I did not keep track of time very well in those years. There was not much point.>"

"<Although she was very much tempted to self-destruct, she did not, because that was not what Mikhail Nikolayevich would have wanted, and she had promised him so over his gravestone. She was out of options when she came to America, and desperate to fly again. So she stole from the Motherland. Plans and schematics for improvements to turbofan aircraft design. Those she brought with her to New York City, and she gave them to SHIELD in exchange for the opportunity to fly again. Collateral,>" she adds.

Isa leans back in the loveseat, kicking off her heels and crossing her legs at the ankle, tilting her head back and closing her eye. "<So. It is not entirely truthful to say that I am not a combat pilot, because I was, once upon a time. Raisa Ivanovna cut her teeth on fighting jets, and she was an active service pilot for a brief window of time. But she learned quickly to pilot prototype aircraft and experimental designs, and she was content with that… would have been content with that for the rest of her life, I think, but that was not to be.>"

"<But SHIELD…>" Isa opens her eye again, staring at the ceiling without really seeing it. "<I do not think SHIELD is so bad, for someone who does not have anyplace else to go, or anywhere left to turn.>"

That it wasn't her real name doesn't surprise Sally all that much. Though it's not so much a nickname as it is a false name after all; she'd suspected 'Reichert' at least was a pseudonym. But SHIELD is a land of secrets and the people who possess them, it seems. Isa is no exception.

Meanwhile she works, letting the dough form and knead as Isa had instructed. It's good to get her hands working, after making sure they were quite clean before starting. The dough comes together well, and it isn't as if the heiress is a delicate flower - she's had more than the occasional busted knuckle working on an engine, and has stronger hands than might be expected from hauling heavy tools and parts. The rosemary bread dough is no unstoppable monster and is defeated quite readily.

Sally remembers some of those pictures. The curious swept-forward wings of the giant Sukhoi plane…the delta-wing of a MiG prototype…and a host of other lesser technical accomplishments. She was too young at the time to truly understand them, but had a sense about what she looked at. A sense that it called to her, that technology. So fascinating to even the 'little Ruka' as she got nicknamed at the base.

The name tickles a familiarity, one she's known she's heard but not in a long time. Though mention of the loss of both parents in an accident slams Sally's eyes shut in sympathy, the moment of grief palpable in her own heart. But, 2012… "<It…was a very cruel year. To us both,>" she whispers. And then Isa's story turns worse, a true tragedy in the finest Russian tradition. Mikhail…and then herself.

Blue eyes open, taking in the photograph on the shelf. Polished, shined…such care in Mikhail's picture. "<I have…thought of such things. There have been drivers…>" She can think of several who had faced such terrible fates, even some…who survived them as well. Sally knows that it's a fate that may yet await her, that it stalks everyone who presses the limits of speed, but she has never considered it quite so personally. Not as Isa explains everything that happened to this woman, this Raisa Ivanova Yakovlev.

And the burned, disfigured, and crushed woman brought secrets with her, to this place of secrets, in exchange to do what her soul calls for. Sally pauses in her work with the dough, spreading it out, and then looks up at Isa with a sadness of understanding. "<I understand her desire. To be…where her soul cries out for. To do what her very being was made to do. It is the same with me…there is more than merely operating a car. For me…there is a rightness when I am behind the wheel. Even for just a drive to go shopping,>" she adds, flashing Isa a grin.

"<I am not interested in many things. Especially many American things; parties and dances and 'clubbing' and such. Sloane is different…and very special to me.>" She glances at the woman again, deep blue eyes meeting one bright sky blue. "<I believe this Raisa Ivanova might well be the same…and I believe she needs a friend. One who truly understands the calling of the soul.>"

And then there's a sudden laugh, an actual amused sound that echoes in the kitchen. It's a pleasant thing to hear, suddenly, as Sally's face turns quite suddenly smug. "But I was right about you after all, hah! You cannot hide a true pilot, not one who is the greatest - and knows it. Heh heh…I knew you had to be.>" And with that, the rosemary bread goes into the oven, and Sally makes her way over to the chair. Reaching down to unbuckle her shoes, she toes them off and sets them aside, letting her stockinged feet relax against the soft carpet.

"<So…does this story end well, I wonder?>"

It would have been an extremely bizarre name in Russian, breaking any rules that would have made it Russian. The lack of a patronymic is a constant annoyance, although Isa strives to make use of those who have them. Reichert itself also sounds distinctly Germanic… but it isn't at all Russian for someone who not only speaks it fluently, but also carries a dialect that is distinctly Muscovite.

Finishing off her wine, Isa sets aside the glass, flipping off her eyepatch to let it land on her knee. Her arm she drapes over her face, not so much to hide it as to block out the light.

"<It was a year I spent more time forgetting than remembering.>" Isa doesn't shrug, if only because she's too comfortable to move, but the fatalism is audible in her tone of voice. "<I will not, of course, but there are times I wish that I could. That year… it brought me nothing but loss. It is better for me to think of these recent years.>"

They're less bleak than many in her past had been, after all. Her change of scenery brought with it something of a new purpose to her life. Through it all, SHIELD has been very good to her; specifically, Agent Coulson. If not for him, she isn't certain whether or not she would have stayed here.

Slumping back a little, she snorts. "<It was not so much that she needed to be where her soul craved to be, though that is certainly part of it, but more that it was the only thing left to her after so many losses. She did not have anything left. If she could not have that, better for her to be dead, after all.>"

Indeed, if she ever loses the ability to fly, it's a fine line that she walks. It would be easy, so easy, to fall into self-destruction. Like fire, her life and her desires are somewhat volatile, burning brightly, but they also have the potential to gutter just as quickly.

If Sally looks around, though, she'll notice the unscarred half of the pilot's mouth is quirked in the faintest half-smile as the driver exults in her correct guess. "<No. There is not any hiding that. I made the mistake of attempting to hide it from Tony Stark, before I understood who and what he is. It is why he calls me 'Desk Job.'>"

Getting shot just cinched it because, you know, every secretary in the history of ever dodges bullets on a daily basis. Right? Isn't that how clerical work is?

No…?

"<Does this story end well? I do not know, young lady.>" Devushka, she says, a title of respect and not simply an artifact of Rusalka's blue blood. "<Nobody knows how their story ends, do they? It is true that I am indebtted to Phillip Coulson for what he has done for me, but it is not yet time to tell you that, for there is still danger. And you must not use my name outside this apartment. It is not safe. There are a great many people whom I enraged by my actions, when I left Moscow.>"

Straightening, she pulls her arm from her face, and Rusalka will earn a brief glimpse of the damage that she hides. There was an eye socket there, once upon a time, but the fire seared that away. Now there is only a suggestion of a socket, hideously scarred over in a way that suggests the pain must have been off the charts at the time. There is no hint of an eye itself left – completely and totally gone.

It's little wonder that she had despaired when she had woken up in the hospital. Aside from the agony of her wounds, even then she had known there would be no recovery from this damage, no prayer of any regrowth. There simply wasn't enough left, and even the most cutting-edge medical care available to her rank would not achieve the impossible.

She replaces the eyepatch, perhaps in the hopes that Rusalka doesn't see the damage. Leaving it off had been more of a creature comfort than an intentional gesture. It's really only there for the comfort of others – she got tired of people staring at her, and it felt awkward to leave the empty socket bared when she couldn't see through that nonexistent eye anyway.

Nudging the patch back into place with a scarred forefinger, Isa fixes her eye on the Stojespal heiress. "<I will hope for a happy ending, but it is not a very happy tale. We shall see,>" she finally concedes, shaking her head slowly. "<If certain things turn out the way that I hope they do, then this tale will indeed have a happy ending… but we will see what we will see.>"

Not that Rusalka would suggest such a thing in person, but after listening to the pilot's story…if she truly desired a patronymic, Isa Chortova might well work. Daughter of the Devil, certainly an accurate summation of everything that's come about in the last five years. Then again it might be flaunting a bit too much, for someone with so much to hide.

Sally keeps an eye on the woman as she finishes the dough, seeing the eyepatch come off and the arm go over. It must be exhausting for her, she wonders, as she finally joins her friend. She's got to say…SHIELD apartments are quite nicely furnished. Clenching her toes through the stockings against the carpet, and settling into the overstuffed chair, Sally nods.

"<I suppose that is true. But, recent times have not been so bad, have they? There is good that has happened.>" Mostly she means Isa's reaching out and growing friendships with herself and Sloane, and having a stable place to live - one deep within a fortress, perhaps, but sometimes a fortress is needed. "<But I suppose…it never does go away,>" she adds, with a wistful thought toward her own father. Perhaps the last year has been wonderful. Perhaps she has gained so much. But with a guilty pang in her heart as she glances in Isa's neighbor's direction, she wonders if she would trade it all, to have her father back.

Such questions should never be answered…or, for that matter, asked.

"<I see…after such loss, yes. When even that was taken from you, I suppose I could understand.>" There's a terrifying thought. Losing her entire family - she knows Baba is very old, and won't live forever despite clear evidence to the contrary, but all of them - even considering it as she does is enough to send her mind reeling. To be burned, like Isa…to lose so much, and then to even lose the one last piece of her soul like that? It's a terrifying thought that lurks only in nightmares, in the hours before dawn…and doesn't belong in the world.

She can't help the girlish giggle that slips out when Isa mentions the nickname she'd gotten. "<He is certainly a creative and intelligent man. For all his annoyances, I suppose. And well…it is difficult to truly change your nature. Especially when it is such a part of you, like a pilot.>" Or a driver, she doesn't need to add. "<And do not worry. I probably would not have realized, if I had not grown up around so many. Although I would appreciate it if you would be shot at less. At least, successfully.>"

There's a softness in Sally's expression, if Isa looks over at her, at the address and the answer. "<Then perhaps this story simply needs another, happier chapter.> Da? <It does not need to end just yet. And I understand. 'It is just the wind,'>" she adds, turning her head to give the pilot a wink. "<As far as those in Moscow…my family has no great love for them. Nor do I. Baba made old war against the fascists, when they rampaged through our lands. While she could not stop the bolsheviks," Sally adds, sitting forward, "she cares little for those in power in Moscow.> Pust' suki yebut vmeste v ognennom adu. <Great-grandmother is not one to restrain her feelings.>"

It's a very foul curse, especially from the lips of one so innocent. But like the term 'old war' it's just a sign of Sally's family; the truth is that Dragana had made gleeful terror among the Nazis when they invaded - and fought cruelty with cruelty.

The scarring is finally seen - not just skin-deep, but truly destructive, costing Isa more than it had seemed. There's a hiss of surprise and sympathetic pain, one she hadn't meant to give. "<I am sorry, Isa. I…I did not meant to stare,>" she apologizes, turning to gaze at the wall. "<Your wounds were not…something I fully realized, and I am sorry.>" Shame drops her voice quieter than before, and not understanding the exact meaning of her friend's words colors her answer.

"<There has been enough sadness. I will pray that such a thing comes about. A happy ending…is something I believe you deserve.>"

Almost every apartment is furnished in the same way, for those that have no personal touches. The fixtures and the decor are tasteful without being too lavish. The colours are soothing neutrals and earth tones. Walls are an antique white. None of these things were changed in the case of Isa Reichert's apartment.

Everything is accounted for, and the only touches of personality exist on the mantle, the two photographs framed and polished; fresh flowers beside the photo of her husband.

"<There is good, but the presence of good does not abolish the pain. There is no forgetting what has happened. My life was taken from me, young lady. You do not understand what that means; you have not had everything you cherish torn from you in flames and blood.>" Isa huffs a sigh. "<I hope that you never experience such loss as that.>"

After a moment she straightens, nudging her eyepatch back into its proper place and studying Rusalka through her good eye. Her mouth is an expressionless line, even quirking downward a bit at the corner when she mentions writing happier chapters in her life.

Is that so easy? She had to leave Moscow to get away from what had happened to her; to escape the memories that were there at every corner. Even crossing an ocean wasn't enough. They follow her still.

Very slowly, Isa shakes her head. The gesture is one of abject exhaustion. "<No. It is not so simple, devushka. I am trying. But it is a hard road, a very hard road. Perhaps I was only married to Mikhail Nikolayevich for two weeks, but we were together for eight years, before that. You do not forget that so easily. No,>" she corrects herself, resting her elbows over her knees. "<You do not forget that at all. It cannot be forgotten. They say that the pain fades, over time, but that is not the case, either. Not when you lose a piece of your soul like that. Not when you have your heart torn from your breast and dashed to the ground.>"

The woman lowers her head and sighs a long, weary sigh. It's true that she's lost a great deal in her life, but that doesn't define her, even if it may feel that way sometimes. Maybe Rusalka is right. Maybe she should write more happy chapters in her life.

"<But I would not mind a happier chapter. I could use a little happiness in my life, I think.>"

Slowly, the colour drains a little from her face, as she listens to the atrocities suggested by the younger girl. In particular, she blanches at the eloquent and vicious curse. To hear such a thing from the lips of someone so young is unsettling. To know that Rusalka seems to understand the implications, to know what exactly is meant by fighting cruelty with cruelty, is even more unsettling.

"<Do not speak of that in my home again,>" she snaps, with a little more heat than she had intended. Isa gentles a moment later, shaking her head at Rusalka. "<Please… do not. I do not care who was on the receiving end of your baba's venom, be they Russians or Sokovians or even Americans, for all I care, but I will not have such atrocities and cruelty, such inhumanity, spoken of in my home, for whatever that home is worth.>"

It's more of a lecture than a snap, though, delivered in leaden tones. There is so much ugliness in this world, and she isn't sure she can handle seeing that ugliness coming forth from someone she's cautiously come to call a friend.

Almost as though a self-conscious about the ruin of her eye, she nudges the eyepatch more securely into place. It's hard to imagine such an aggressively self-confident woman so self-conscious about something, but it seems those scars are more than skin-deep. It's hard to think of herself as normal when she looks at the ruin in the mirror. People used to point and stare, and whisper amongst themselves; for all that she might say she's stopped paying attention to that, subconsciously, she still does. Who wouldn't?

"<I wear a patch for a reason. Sometimes it is tiresome.>" The red-headed pilot shrugs and leans back against the cushion, closing her eye. "<Maybe. Maybe I do not. That is for God to decide, and not for men to know, I think. The bread is almost done… there are leftovers in the refrigerator. Last night's stew, if you care to heat that for dinner.>"

Her eye flicks back to the photographs on the mantle, and she allows herself a small, melancholy half-smile. "<Yes, I pray for a happy ending, too. We will see.>"

It's a spare bit of personality…one wrapped in a cloak of anonymity and generic nothingness. Other than the thin sliver of humanity that her photographs and flowers bring, there is a staleness to the apartment, even that in the kitchen. It could be transplanted anywhere to anyone, and none would notice.

The chiding about loss, and the hopes of Isa get a nod from Sally. "<In …all honesty, so do I. I was not…I have not suffered as you have, I admit. I have lost, yes…but not as much. And I cannot claim to understand all that you go through. But I can understand a little of that pain, perhaps. My father.>"

She looks down at her chest, through the shirt at the pendant below. "<It is only fair to be honest, as you have been. My father was murdered when I was thirteen. A girl, just starting secondary school, and with such hopes - only to have them taken away. By a family member, no less. My father was an arranged marriage, you see; it was to help strengthen ties. It seems not everyone agreed with the idea, and made it known some time after they were married. He was stabbed on the street, very brutally. I…saw it.>"

She raises her hand to her chest, to touch the pendant through the silk of the shirt. "<I cried for many days after that, and my family…there was a bad time. Such things as trust and betrayal, for power, I learned. It very nearly killed my mother, and her time in the Air Force, it…became very difficult.>" Blue eyes, misty slightly with memories, glance up and take in Isa.

"<It was not something I will forget, though I have noone to blame anymore. It was taken care of,>" she adds, a deadly euphemism. The 'bad time' in the family of which she speaks is obvious.

The snap at her curse, at her descriptions of the family she grew up in, get a hard, teary-eyed blink - which turns into a real one rolling down her cheek as Isa calms herself. "<I have insulted you, and insulted your courtesy by saying such things. I humbly apologize, and beg your forgiveness…Isa Reichert.>" It's a touchy line to follow; who is she addressing? The woman who's revealed herself, or the one with the secrets? In the end her choice makes it clear.

Isa is the only name Rusalka has known her by, has befriended her under, and has placed trust within. She speaks to that person, to the one who has also placed trust in her as well. "<Such things shall never be spoken of again, I swear upon my soul. And…>" There's a few hard blinks, as she hadn't meant such things. "<I suppose…I am not my great-grandmother. I am not…one so taken with tradition; it is why I am here.>"

Shrug. "<I wish to be someone other than that…and by the help of God I will be. I apologize and atone for my words. Their like will not be spoken again.>"

Sally rises to her feet, though, when Isa mentions the bread. "<Good. I am glad,>" she adds, blinking hard still. "<The smell of it is becoming very, very tempting. Shall I heat you dinner as well, then?>" It wouldn't be hard, and stew and rosemary bread is a delicious treat. "<It may not yet be a happy ending…but I would like to at least have a happy page, perhaps. One night, between curious new friends…>" Raisa Ivanovna. Her voice falls silent as she speaks the secret name given to her, making the point of addressing who the redhead was, this time.

Perhaps trust is a creation of great effort and great time…but everything has a beginning. Perhaps this will be that beginning.

It takes a long time for that quiet, banked anger to fade away. The pilot is speechless in the wake of the younger girl's shame, and for a few long seconds it might seem that she hasn't forgiven her after all. Finally, though, Isa pulls herself to her feet, and walks over to the chair that Rusalka's sitting in. A weight settles over her head, through her hair; Isa's hand, burn-scarred but whole, and the woman gives Rusalka's hair a gentle pat.

She doesn't say anything for a long moment, fingers threading through short brown hair, mindful to avoid the headband. Raisa Ivanovna Yakovleva merely strokes Sally's hair, as though to reassure her that no grave crime has been committed, and perhaps also to share in the pain of loss. It may not be recent loss, but time is not always a healer, not when it has taken so much.

There's a final gentle pat given before Isa pulls her hand away.

"<I am Raisa Ivanovna Yakovleva,>" she corrects, gently, voice soft, the hard edges of alcohol and tobacco softened. "<That is who I am. Isa Reichert is no more than a pseudonym. A person who does not exist; a contrivance to save my own life. But that is not who I am. We do not forget who we are, even if we might wish to. You are Rusalka Stojespal, even if you run from that, even if you seek to defy it with all that is in you. I am Raisa Ivanovna Yakovleva. I cannot change that either.>"

She withdraws back to her seat, easing herself down slowly. "<You will be someone else. But do not be so eager to shed where it is that you come from, either. Accept it. Embrace it. And know that in spite of it, yes, you may still be your own person. You will be stronger for that, I think, once you can do that.>" Drawing her knees up to her chest, she circles her arms around them, watching Rusalka coolly. "<Yes, a happy page. And speak it,>" she adds, gesturing faintly with her scarred hand at the unspoken name. "<It is safe, here. Phillip Coulson has said as much of that.>"

It had damned well better be, or she'll have Coulson's head on a pike after all.

"<Yes. Heat dinner for us both. There is enough too for Sloane Albright, if she wishes to come here.>" Isa manages a faint but crooked smile, perhaps aware that she'd spooked the girl with her snapping. "<I am sorry for my harsh words. But I have seen ugliness in my life, such ugliness, and I do not wish to see it in you, or in my home.>" Her head bobs faintly. "<Ugliness has a way of propogating itself, do you see? I have come to think of you as a friend, Sally Petrovna, and I would not like to see that ugliness in you.>"

Food is a much cheerier prospect, though, and the pilot claps her hands together. "<Dinner, then! Enough of this unhappy talk. Good food is best enjoyed in good company, is it not?>"

So it is, and so it shall be, as far as the one-eyed pilot is concerned.

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