The Bus

May 26, 2017:

In which Isa Reichert is shown courtesy from a fellow pilot, and introduced to the aerial command centre colloquially known as "The Bus."

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, Tony Stark

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

Since the quinjet crash over St. Petersburg, Isa has been spending most of her time in the Triskelion's excellent medical facilities. The laundry list had been extensive – left leg broken in four places, left arm broken in three, sprained shoulder, concussion, abrasions and lacerations, and a whole lot of bruising.

She'd spent most of the week under heavy sedation, and yesterday was the first day the pilot had been allowed to walk under her own power. SHIELD's medical facilities are truly amazing, and after extensive testing, she'd been submitted for regrowth of her critically damaged bone structure once it had been determined she was compatible.

Yesterday, she'd been hobbling about the facilities on crutches. Today it's more of the same… but at least she can hobble to and from home.

So where does she go, now that she has freedom of movement?

Why, the hangars, of course.

Isa didn't come here to actually pilot, of course. She won't be cleared for active duty for at least another week, and as much as another three. No; she came to be closer to the thing that she lives for – the smell of jet fuel and oil, and the sight of the Triskelion's great steel-winged birds asleep in their hangars.

The sun is already down, but the lights are on in the hangar, casting their blue-white light and harsh shadows. She's standing off to one side, out of the way of the flight crews, leaning against her crutches and watching the quinjets somewhat bleakly.

It's gonna be a while until she can pilot, and she knows it.

Rather than the SHIELD flight suit she's usually spotted in, Isa is wearing a plain black shirt tucked into a pair of blue jeans, as well as her usual combat boots. Tossed over her shoulders, worn cape-style, is a plain brown leather bomber jacket. This isn't the one she'd been wearing around before – this one has no patches at all, and its collar is lined in warm, fuzzy fleece.

Maybe she comes bearing gifts, though. She has a sheaf of papers tucked under an arm, and she seems to be keeping an eye out for someone.

"See the new one at the end of the row? They're going to re-kit it for you once you're ready to get back in the air." May's voice comes from behind the woman on crutches, but notably not on her blind side.

May is standing a polite distance from Isa, also uncharacteristically dressed in exercise gear with her hair in a ponytail. Either she noticed Isa on her way here and followed, or someone on the flight deck told her to stop by. "Or were you looking for something else out here?"

There's a bit of a jump from the one-eyed pilot, but it's not much of a surprise that the Russian woman is a little… twitchy. Then again, it's not paranoia if they're really out to get you, is it?

Isa glances back, studying her fellow pilot for a moment from the corner of her eye.

"Will be surprised to fly anything after that." Isa manages a bleak smile, though there's no missing how her eye drifts toward the indicated quinjet. The new one. The very shiny-looking one. "Was sure that if I had not died, Agent Phillip Coulson might finish the job."

Isa shakes her head, offering the folder to May. "Nyet. No," the one-eyed pilot corrects herself. "Was not looking for anything. Just wanted to be near them." Again, that bleak smile. She really doesn't like being grounded, huh? Apparently she's not really kidding when she says that she doesn't have much left to live for aside from flying. "Also have something for you."

"Is some note I put together, about those tin can that tried to shoot us down. Talked to Tony Stark, too. Got his opinion on some of it. Am not sure what Icarus Dynamic is trying to do but is most probably dangerous… thought you might want this, just in case we run into more." The folder is shaken, gently. "Most probably won't be leaving them alone after this. Have to investigate, sooner or later."

May accepts the folder with a nod. "Thank you. I can add this to my report." She knows it'll all be extremely uerful intel, especially on top of what Darkedge was able to tell her about the planes he 'killed'.

Instead of opening the folder promptly, though, May glances at the various quinjets, then moves carefully past Isa and out into the hangar bay proper. "Come on. I want to show you something."

If Isa follows – which May suspects she will – May will lead her a different section of the hangar bay, where a much, much larger plane rests. She looks like she might have once been a C-130 cargo jet, or built off of the base specs of one at least. But she's considerably sleeker, and as black as all of the quinjets in their little huddle over there.

A brief word into the comm unit in her ear, and May watches the rear loading ramp of the jet lower smoothly for them.

Blinking, Isa watches as May files carefully past her, head tilting a little further than necessary to watch her go. She seems to have a habit of doing that – turning her head too far to the right, to compensate for the blind side.

"Hn…?" Brow furrowing, the Russian frowns, before shrugging her good shoulder and hobbling after her fellow pilot.

Her trek, punctuated by the sharp click of the crutches against the concrete hangar floor, takes her into the shadow of a much bigger aircraft. This is not a quinjet, at least not quite in the same way that she knows. That blue eye narrows in thought as she tries to identify it.

Even so, it's not like the ones she's seen before. This is a lot bigger. It looks reinforced, sleeker; confident and capable in its SHIELD matte black paint.

"Impressive," she finally manages to croak, glancing up to survey it as they approach. She limps after May, angling her crutches to keep from tripping over any uneven concrete. "What is it? Looks like… hn. Like maybe Antonov, but not sleek enough. Maybe like Ilyushin, but too… new."

"We call her the Bus." An inelegant name for so sleek a plane. May takes a couple of steps up the ramp then pauses for Isa to follow. "There are currently only three pilots cretified to fly her."

Aforementioned ramp is half-occupied by one of those ubiquitous black SHIELD suv cars, secured in place with cargo webbing fastened tightly around each tire. Up at the top of the ramp, a few jump seats are folded against the side panels of the space. And above that, an honest-to-god spiral staircase leading up to another part of the plane's interior.

Clearly, this Bus might have originally been for cargo but it's now decked out for something completely different.

The bus? That sounds like the name of some rustbucket old junker of a cargo plane, not this sleek and vaguely predatory bird. Names can be deceiving, apparently.

Isa takes it in silently, hobbling after May up the loading ramp, although she's torn between making her careful way and staring at everything.

Is that a spiral staircase?

"Very impressive," she adds, eyebrow disappearing somewhere in the vicinity of her long bangs. "Am guessing, was originally cargo plane… am guessing, has nothing to do with it, now. Thorough refitting. Retrofitting, even. Everything look new."

She thins her lips, frowning. "Also… thank you," she adds, more quietly. "For coming back for me. For pulling me out of quinjet." She was only conscious briefly, but it was enough to piece together what must have happened after she took over the crippled quinjet. "You saved my life. You and Agent Phillip Coulson."

"I'm not in the habit of leaving people behind, and I don't plan to start now." She walks slowly so that Isa can keep up, moving past the staircase toward an alcove and the simple elevator concealed there. It's a bit snug, but they both fit inside and it's an OH-SO-LONG ride to end up … ten feet above where they were before.

The elevator opens up to a short hallway with a door on each side before opening out into a lounge space that would be not be out of place in a richly appointed modern home. Well, except for the mostly concealed touches that prove the furniture to be secured to the floor with passenger seatbelts tucked into the cushions. There's even a wet bar in the very far corner across from what looks like a high-tech conference room.

Past the lounge area is a narrower space, small rooms on either side taking up two-thirds of the space until everything is closed off by a bulkhead with a hatch-secured doorway in it.

May leads the way over to a group of seating that include a sofa-like arrangement long enough for Isa to lie down comfortably.

SHIELD must have pulled out all the stops. Not only does this thing have a spiral staircase, but it also has an elevator? It must have incredible reinforcement and strengthening throughout its airframe, and—

Isa shakes her head to interrupt herself from her reverie. "Still appreciate it," she offers, as they take the elevator up. It opens into the hallway, and into the lounge. Which, incidentally, looks like it belongs in the luxury home to end all luxury homes. How much did refitting this thing cost?

…Does she even want to know that figure?

"Look like SHIELD pull out all stops in this," she comments, hobbling for the sofa. It takes a few precarious seconds of teetering, but she manages to ease herself down, leaning the crutches against the side. "Doctor say I will have those, few more day, maybe. Will use cane once I am finished with crutch. Out of work a week, maybe two, maybe three. Depend on how well I respond to procedure. They take sample every day; keeping close eye."

There's a beleaguered sigh. "Still not fast enough for me. Don't like being grounded." Her expression darkens. "Have work to do. Those bastard at Icarus, they are up to something. Something dangerous. Have to find out what."

May settles into an arm chair next to where Isa sits. "You know how long a normal recovery would take. Medical is doing everything possible." She knows firsthand exactly how hollow that kind of reassurance sounds.

"But I don't see why you can't start figuring out what Icarus is up to from here." Yes, she means 'here' as in on the Bus. "There are sleeping quarters toward the front, or I can show you the pilot's berth just behind the cockpit." That's where she usually sleeps.

"Da. Know how long normal recovery would take." Isa smiles a cold and hollow smile, gesturing to indicate the right side of her face. "Know how long this took? Over year. And I think Russian, they were maybe using they should probably not have used. I wonder, anyway. Could not save eye, but did not die."

Isa leans back in her seat, making a thoughtful sound in the back of her throat. "Here? Maybe. Appreciate offer," she adds, tilting her head toward May. She can suspect that May's offering an olive branch, of sorts. It's an impressive gesture. "Am not so sure I have clearance to be here, though. And some work, might have to maybe do from Triskelion, I think."

"That pilot," she adds, eyeing May. "Not sure how much you could hear… or how much Agent Phillip Coulson might have maybe told you."

"I know who he was."

"You have clearance to be here if I say you do." May doesn't bother to note that of the three pilots approved to fly the Bus, she gets first pick EVERY time if she wants it. "And, the computer systems in here are tired directly to the Triskelion's so it's like working from there." With fewer people meandering about and more … plane smell.

When Isa admits that she knew the pilot leading the attack group, May only nods. "I gathered as much." Not that she understood more than maybe four of the Russian words spoken, but she understands tone and inflection just fine.

She stands again, but only to step toward the wet bar where she fills two glasses with water to bring back over. One is of course offered to Isa.

The red-headed pilot hoods her single eye, as though in silent acknowledgement of the security clearance. There's silent appreciation in that simple gesture, too. But despite all that she's been through in her life, Isa is by far too proud to say anything directly.

"Wired directly to Triskelion? Good," Isa grunts, and it's clear that she's already thinking of how best to use those resources. "Have some digging I want to do, but might need specialist to get it. Lost clearance when I left Moscow. Was shut down fast." Her smile is thin and mirthless. The reason she got into SHIELD was bartering data for a chance to fly again. Her former employers didn't take very kindly to it. The smile fades. "Want more information on Icarus. Need to know how long they've been around, I think; who is involved in top tiers of company."

She drums the flame-scarred fingers of her right hand against her thigh, considering. "Is important, I think, to know who are dealing with. And to know what connection might be, if any, with government. Are they working with? Against? Keeping secret? Or secretly tied? Is too many variables. Need to whittle down."

"Spasibo." Isa pauses. "Thank you," she adds, in English. While she isn't actually sure whether or not May knows Russian, and while half of SHIELD seems to know the language, May hasn't ever shown any inclinations to speak it. It's probably a good guess that she doesn't know it.

She takes a long swallow of water before setting the glass down. "Pilot was Mikhail Nikolayevich Makarov. Can look up name, but won't find much. Was combat pilot in Air Force. Russian-born. Had good aptitude, showed talent for piloting when enrolled as cadet. In some way, better than me. In other way… not so much, I think."

"He is brilliant technical pilot. Can react quickly. Know textbook manoeuvres like back of hand. But is too cautious. Too careful. You do something crazy, he will not know how to react, I think. Has trouble… what is phrase? Thinking outside box," Isa explains, mimicing as though to indicate a stout parcel. "But if came down between us, am not sure which one would win in dogfight."

How does she know all this?

Isa sighs, draining about half the water. Maybe she should make sure she stays hydrated before her doctors start nagging her. That'd probably be a good idea. "Was married to him for two week. Was together with him for eight year, before that." Her tone of voice is one of absolute disgust. "Can't believe I fell for piece of shit," she comments, sighing. "Anyway. Is how I know him. But, am not so sure what I know is useful."

"That," she adds, stabbing a finger towards some vague 'outside the Triskelion' direction, presumably towards wherever Makarov is hiding, "was not man I married. Not at all. Am not sure what is going on, but is possibility that he was undercover, somehow."

Her body language and tone of voice suggest she is really, really not happy with the notion that she's been had this thoroughly. "Anyway. Not even sure why I am telling you. Maybe because I want to do something. This sitting around, this waiting, waiting; is always hard for me."

That's why May offered this sanctuary, she knew that Reichert would honestly appreciate the reason for it more than the offer itself. At the mention of needing a specialist to help with the data mining, she only nods. "That should be simple enough. We have several specialists on staff, or if you know someone you trust…" Yes, she's thinking that Isa might approach Stark about it, but she's not going to say as much out loud since just the name Stark is sometimes enough to make Fury twitch from afar.

"I agree that we need to whittle things down. We severely underestimated Icarus once already. We can't afford to do that again."

There a scant few words that May knows in Russian, mostly from being around Romanov on a regular basis. But no, she doesn't speak it at all. She doesn't need to. She's got the Asian language contingent under her belt already.

The explanation of the pilot's identity gets May's full attention and zero interruptions. She can tell it's very important to Isa. "Hopefully that need to do something will be helped by being here," May offers. "Because we need to stop being one step behind these people. And I think you're our best asset in that regard."

Leaning forward, May clarifies her last statement. "And I don't mean your piloting skills. I mean your knowledge of flight systems, everything you know about Makarov, and everything you can gather about Icarus. You'll be able to see details that even specialists will likely miss because you know these people."

"We will see." It's the only concrete answer Isa gives, on the matter of specialists. If Stark's name comes to mind, she gives no hint of it, and says nothing to confirm or deny. It's true that he knows how to get information that should be well beyond his capacity to get.

But does the need for that information outweigh the inevitable necessity of dealing with the insufferable man-child himself?

Not bloody likely.

"Don't know if I would survive a second time underestimating them." Isa's smile is bleak. "Or anyone else. Got lucky. Should have died. Should have been more of us dead."

In fact, the only reason Phil was still among the living was because she had more or less barked orders at Darkedge to get Phil off that plane as of an hour ago once she realised how crippled it was. "Been played. Don't like that feeling. Never have," she adds, sourly.

Nobody likes the feeling of being played.

There's a slight, almost imperceptible tilt of the head when May of all people calls her the best tool for the job. The quirk of Isa's brow suggests she doesn't buy that at all. As though May were trying to sell sand to someone living in the Taklamakan Desert.

"Maybe," she offers more softly, on the mention that being here might alleviate her compulsive need to do, to act. "Maybe not. Will see."

She looks tired, in that instant; so tired, and maybe just a little vulnerable. "But you are wrong," she offers, looking back up to May blandly. "That is what got me into this mess. What got SHIELD in this mess. I don't know. Don't know who these people are. Who controls them. Who they work for. For Christ sake," she adds, in a brief instant of anger, "I don't even know the man I was with for eight years."

The anger fades. It isn't May she's angry at; but the one-eyed pilot has been played for a fool, and played beautifully. It's hard for her not to feel resentment sticking in the back of her throat.

Isa sighs, draining her glass and setting it aside, scrubbing at the unscarred left side of her face with her scarred right hand. "I am sorry. Am not angry at you. Am angry at him. Makarov. Thought I knew him. Was wrong. Was wrong enough it almost cost me my life – and all of yours, you who were there Friday."

"I should go," she murmurs. "Am still not well yet. Still weak. Still tired. Have work to do, but… will not be able to do it until I am well." Yes, even stubborn Isa Reichert knows when she's met her match. Or, maybe she wants to avoid several lectures from her current gaggle of doctors and specialists.

Isa takes a moment to leverage herself back onto her feet, using her crutches to balance and drooping against them a moment while she recovers her strength. The doctors say she's healing very well – that she has a strong heart and a ferocious will to survive – but her body is still weak after the physical trauma of what had happened to her.

"I will come back here, the next time you are available. Would like to see 'Bus' some more." Isa manage a flicker of a half-smile. "But right now, need rest. Exhausted. Am going home."

"Da svidania, Agent Melinda May." She inclines her head to May, holding it for just a half-second longer than cool professionalism would require; a gesture of respect. "Thank you. For everything."

With that, provided May doesn't move to stop her for anything, the red-headed woman will move to hobble back down the elevator, down the loading ramp, through the hangar, and back towards the Triskelion's residental quarters.

May moves to stand when Isa does, but the stubborn Russian has bid her farewell and left before she can tell the redhead that the whole reason for dragging her up here was so that she could REST here and then not have to cross the damned building again to start working on the data mining.

Well, that's her own fault for not making it clearer. After taking the glasses back to the wet bar, May follows Reichert back off of the Bus and into the Triskelion proper, letting the Flight Ops team remotely button up the giant plane again.

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