Cutscene: Tchernobog

June 04, 2017:

In which Isa Reichert reflects on the nature of service, and resolves to kill a monster.

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, Rusalka Stojespal, Tony Stark

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

She sat forward with her hands folded over her lap, trying very hard not to shift her weight. Most of the scarring had healed, but there were still portions that were raw and chafed terribly against her uniform. The room itself had begun to chip at her composure an hour ago. Its lights were too harsh, its ventilation too poor. Her dress shirt's collar felt like it was suffocating her.

After two hours the room was familiar. She had sat here defending her case for at least that long, fiecely, but she felt her strength flagging. The longer the proceedings dragged on, the more she felt the grip of quiet despair.

This man was not going to change his mind. Nothing in heaven or on earth she could say or do would make a difference.

"I have proven that I have the ability," she said tightly, fiercely. Her voice sounded thin and exhausted to her own ears. Recovery and rehabilitation had cost her deeply. She knew she looked pale and weak, as though held up by her dress uniform; the fiery red of her hair faded, a hollow under her good eye. "Please, Comrade Colonel. I have taught myself to compensate. There is no risk. Let me fly; it is all that I know how to do for the Motherland."

If she could appeal to his sense of service—

"Comrade Major." The Comrade Colonel was a thin man with a thin moustache. He regarded her through thin eyes, mouth set in a thin line. The gravity and depth of his voice was at odds with his half-starved appearance. His leaden tones set something cold to coiling in her stomach. "You are broken. We appreciate all that you have done in service to the Motherland, but your service is at an end. Raisa Ivanovna Yakovleva—"

She flinched at the sound of her name as though struck a blow.

"—You are hereby released from your service. We will not take you. With such wounds, you will be lucky if a civilian company takes a chance on you." He shook his head, as though to say, what a shame. "Your papers will arrive shortly. I advise you to sign them and return them to your superior officer, and then return home. This hearing is over."

She felt as though the world had spun away from her, moving on without her. A weight settled on her chest and shoulders. It felt as though she couldn't even draw in a breath.

She forced herself to.

"Thank you for your time, Comrade Colonel." She spoke so softly the words were drowned out in the rustle of fabric as she stood; she smoothed her dress shirt with careful deliberation. "Goodbye."

"Good luck, Comrade Major." A hollow platitude, she knew. She had already been dismissed.

Without another word she turned and strode from the room, stiffly, with as much dignity as she could muster.

The international airliner from Moscow to New York City was the longest flight she'd ever been on.

Normally she might sleep in such a luxurious cabin, but fear and anxiety kept her awake. She watched the window, looking not at the view but at the reflections of approaching strangers. She kept waiting for someone to sit in the empty seat beside hers with soft words and steel in their eyes.

The hours dragged into years.

That prickling between her shoulder blades, that sensation of being followed or watched, hadn't left her since Moscow.

In this, the scarring helped. No one wanted to approach her. It might as well be leprosy, she thought savagely to herself. More than once she had caught people staring at her in the boarding line and on the aircraft. At least the damned thing is good for something.

Her eye eventually slid back to the window; her flare of anger gave way to apprehension and despair.

If she bargained with an organisation like SHIELD, if she brought to them the data she had hidden in the lining of Misha's old jacket, they might let her fly. They might give back to her the one thing left to her life; the last place that held meaning for her. There was nothing else left for her in Moscow. The graves of her father, her mother, and her husband bore the last flowers she had been able to bring them. Now there was nothing behind her, and nothing before her.

No time like the present, she told herself, curling her scarred right hand into a fist. What a long shot. You're a desperate fool, Yakovleva… but maybe this will work after all.

Hours turned to days. Time stopped having any real meaning for her.

Isa Reichert squinted at her laptop display through a bleary and bloodshot eye. The Tchernobog, as Sally Petrovna had taken to calling the Icarus Dynamics aircraft, was shaping up into a true abomination.

The sleek and predatory lines were bizarrely organic. Only the hunchbacked lines of its cockpit spoiled the smooth curve of its profile. Oversized air intakes gaped below the sweep of its wings. Its turbines were too large. The plating on their edges spoke to thrust vectoring and advanced agility, to her trained eye. All taken together, it defied known designs.

It looked sinister. It looked alien… and if what Stark said about the Chitauri power plant was correct, it was alien.

Isa rubbed at the scarred side of her jaw with an equally scarred palm and frowned. It wasn't an attacker, not with wings like those, although it could certainly have the stability. With its reinforcement, it was made to manoeuvre at multiples of the speed of sound. Air superiority, that much she knew just by looking at it, by reading its design like a book.

Ordinarily, one thing must be sacrificed for another; either speed, mobility, or stability. An aircraft could be stable at low speed, it could be fast, or it could be quick. Physics prevented them from being all three, and the thing that stared back at her from the screen was in defiance of physics as she knew them. Its wings were reinforced, so it could load the weight of virtually any kind of weaponry. Its construction meant it could be an attacker, a fighter, and an interceptor, all at once.

The implications chilled her to the marrow.

Stark and Stojespal had helped her to fill in the missing pieces. Now, she had redesigned the fuselage a third time, based on their feedback. The more she worked on it, the more this sinister thing frightened her. If it ever fell into the wrong hands; if it ever fell into a warmongering nation or into Hydra's keeping…

"Nye na moikh chasakh," she growled; bent closer to her screen. Not on my watch.

She would simply draft these again, shed more light on the Tchernobog, no matter how much sleep she lost over it. It would help them to counter its systems if she could estimate its true limits. More information would be better, but this dogged guesswork was better than nothing. Coulson could order her to sleep later. If she let Icarus Dynamics finish their pet monster and sell it to the highest bidder, hundreds of thousands of lives could be lost.

Hundreds of thousands of lives could be saved if she could only work quickly enough.

Coffee, she realised, setting aside her stylus. I need coffee if I am to make sense of this.

Abruptly she pushed herself to her feet, baring her teeth at the crackle of pain that chased its way down her wounded leg.

Coulson's voice came to her, unbidden, a hazy memory from her stay at SHIELD's medical facilities. She'd been drugged out of her mind, but she could still remember bits and pieces of his visit. It still woke something warm and grateful in her heart that he had visited.

There are only so many times a woman can be cracked like an egg and stitched back together like the proverbial Humpty Dumpty, and you have reached your limit, he had told her, truth and disapproval intertwined in his voice. Now she was beginning to see the truth in that, feeling the pain biting deep into formerly shattered limbs.

She hobbled for the coffee maker with sullen determination, leaning against her cane. I want to serve, she insisted to herself, brow furrowing. If not here, then where? I belong here, where I can make a difference. Where I can save lives, instead of taking them.

At the same time, she couldn't deny the truth of Coulson's observation; the twinge of guilt that he was, in this, correct. She couldn't deny the pain in her limbs, the sullen and determined ache that seemed to come from her very bones. Life had dealt her a great many wounds, some of them visible, some of them not. Maybe he was right. Maybe there was only so much she could take before she reached threshold. The spirit was willing, but the body was shattered.

Maybe he's right. She waited for the coffee maker to finish, pouring herself a cup and breathing in the steam. Maybe I should request to be taken off active duty. Stay away from combat. I will settle for what little I can do that does not put me up to that risk… for my health. I am only fooling myself. I was never a combat pilot anyway.

Carefully, she took her coffee cup, hobbling back to her seat and her work. She eyed the Tchernobog on the screen balefully and settled in with her coffee. Sipping it, she stared down the prototype.

No. One last time, she promised herself. I will help Stark to kill the Tchernobog… but that will be the last. Merciful God, grant me victory in that, and I will ask no more of you.

Putting her cup aside, Raisa Ivanovna Yakovleva rubbed some circulation back into her face, and set back to work.

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