The Iron Man Express

June 14, 2017:

In which Tony Stark delivers something of a present to SHIELD, straight from the Motherland.

Murmansk - Russia

The Russian city of Murmansk features a subarctic climate, with long and miserably cold winters, punctuated by short, cool summers that never really seem to get too warm. Even in the midst of June, temperatures never wander much higher than the mid-sixties, Farenheit. There's some rain. It's cool but not hot. This time of year, it's also house to the midnight sun. It never sets over Murmansk, not until near the end of July.

The area surrounding the city is mostly subarctic tundra, with rolling hills of green far enough away from the city limits, and cliffs that plunge dramatically into the Barents Sea and Kola Bay.

Murmansk is a fairly big city, with a population hovering just shy of three hundred thousand. It boasts quite a lot of fishing boats, and that wind off the water is quite cold. Most of the land around it is relatively flat, save for where it rolls off into the Kara Bay and the Barents Sea; tundra plains, and somewhat desolate in its own way.

Characters

NPCs: Mikhail Nikolayevich Makarov, Viktoria Dmitrievna Ryakhina

Mentions: Phil Coulson, Rusalka Stojespal

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

There have been flurries of intelligence reports within the upper hierarchy of SHIELD, digging into the matter of Icarus Dynamics. The relatively unknown corporation has been making quite the name for itself in recent weeks, creating all sorts of headaches for SHIELD personnel of all different kinds. If their current project came to completion and made it onto the market, the results would be devastating. The first nation to hock up funding and get their hands on a Tchernobog of their very own would rule the political stage ever after.

To that end, Icarus has had to be clever in how they operate, under the watchful eye of SHIELD, and also staying out of their government's way. Prototypes and airfields have been hidden in remote locations. Facilities are disguised as other businesses, and employees are tight-liped in the way that only the downtrodden and blackmailed could be.

Forty miles west by northwest of Murmansk, following the desolate arctic coast, there is an abandoned airfield. Its hangars are artfully rusted, and SHIELD surveillance has marked Mikhail Nikolayevich Makarov leaving the facility and entering it, driving an unremarkable truck that looks old and somewhat rust-spotted, old enough to be of Soviet make. The driver is wearing a flight suit, and looks as though he's gone from the seat of an aircraft to the seat of that truck, without much in the way of sleep between. He must be tired and careless for surveillance to pick him up. He looks too tired to be acting.

It's been a common sight on the security footage. Whatever he's doing, the man is making at least one trip into Murmansk every few days, if not more than one. He must be getting supplies of some kind. Food, maybe. Whatever he brings back on the truck is always covered by a tarp, but the airfield is so remote and in such a terrible location that it must surely be food and other basic survival supplies.

The last surveillance footage suggested he was driving north, towards Murmansk.

There aren't any standing orders for Stark to go after this target, but even he might know that if he brought in a target like Makarov, it would be an incredible boon to shutting down Icarus Dynamics. Plus, Makarov is intimately connected to Stark Industries' very own test pilot - Yakovleva's husband, no less, and Makarov could provide valuable intel about the Tchernobog and how SIRIN's systems could be altered to counter it.

Makarov, however, is still not quite himself. He might not make a capture attempt easy.

Down below, the truck raises a plume of dust behind itself. Stark is going to have to move fast if he wants to prevent Makarov from reaching the city, where he will doubtless be lost… fortunately, moving fast is something that Stark's suit is very good at doing.

"Sir," The slightly tired, and slightly alarmed voice of one JARVIS sounds inside the confines of Stark's suit as he cuts though the air at high altitude. "I still think you should have contacted the Avengers. Or SHIELD. About this plan of yours."

"Oh come on, JARVIS. Its just one guy in a truck. Its no big deal."

"Remember what happened last time you breached a countries airspace sir?" The AI pauses for only a second. "You were shot. With a missile. Sir. If you did not remember."

"Yes I remember just fine, JARVIS." Stark rolls his eyes slightly. "And come on. In. Out. I'll have a birthday presenst for Isa. More info on the T-whatever it is. Its fine." Tony Stark says that a lot.

JARVIS just sighs slowly. "Yes, sir."

"Thats the spirit!" He calls as he tears though the stratosphere. In a suit that is anything but subtle. Repulsors sending him ripping though the air like a missle. The suit itself a garish orange and blue color combonation. It looks more sleek than some of his others. Not quite the heavy battlesuit that he's been known to ride in.

But thats because this one has other tricks.

"Activate stealth suite, lets suprise this guy."

There is a ripple in the midsection of the suit before the entire speeding thing seems to dissipear. Full visual stealth systems kicking in, advanced passive EM and sensor baffles activacting as he dips towards the unsuspecting truck and the unsuspecting road.

He drops subsonic as he hurls down on an intercept course. Thinking the best way to slow down this progress…oh yes. That should work.

Annd ahead of the truck as it trundles down the road a tall tree seems to wobble for a moment and then with a crash tumbles over into the road.

Far enough ahead of the vehicle to stop at least.

It's not even a particularly new truck. The chassis of the vehicle suggests that it happens to be of Soviet design, and it can't be any newer than the middle of the fifties. The engine block has been kept in decent repair, though, and despite the dusty road it's being kept relatively clean.

The truck coughs and rumbles its way down the road, headed south by southeast towards Murmansk. Makarov looks at ease, leaned back in the seat with his elbow hanging out the driver's side window, his other arm straight ahead of him to rest over the wheel. He's wearing fatigues that are darker than military standard, and there is a patch on the shoulder that proudly proclaims Icarus in phonetic Russian, with the stylised emblem of a white wing and a black wing crossed. The name 'MAKAROV' is embroidered over the breast in Russian, letters bold and blocky, very much like a military uniform. He has gloves on his hands, and the pair of mirrored aviator sunglasses on his face can't hide the lines under his eyes.

He doesn't seem to notice that he's being followed, not yet.

When Stark had last left her, Isa had been doing as she's done for the past week and a half – working on the Tchernobog's specifications, and now that she's been officially assigned as SIRIN's test pilot, hassling the engineers in charge of the actual fabrication. She's been dogging them every step of the way, much to their complaints; but it isn't out of any sense of perfectionism. She trusts them to do their jobs. No, she's just nervous; pacing and hassling the crews is the only way she has to release that nervous energy.

Meanwhile, the truck rumbles on towards Murmansk. It hits a dip in the road, the engine coughs in protest, and Makarov grits his teeth as he tries to wrestle the vehicle back onto a level heading. Once he does, he takes his left arm from the window, patting at his pockets; lighting himself a cigarette one-handed and returning his arm to the window. Smoke is whisked through the cabin by mild, subarctic summer wind.

Makarov has no suspicion at all that he's being followed. He looks bored, or maybe tired. There's not much to do and he has no one to talk to on this long drive—

"<Shit!>" the pilot yells in Russian, brakes squealing as he slews the truck to one side. It's not too close, but it's close enough that swerving would have been a good idea. Unfortunately, that means it trundles right off the road and into a rock.

Makarov frowns as he hops down from the cab, cautiously opening the hood and peering at the devastation. There's not much hope for that radiator. Frowning, he lets it slam shut, looking back toward the way he'd come. Too far out to hope for anything any time soon.

He pulls a cell phone from his pocket, flipping it open and dialing a few numbers. Puffing smoke as he waits, he looks over to where the tree had fallen over, frowning a little more.

"<Viktoria Dmitrievna. It's Mikhail Nikolayevich. The damn truck's run off the road and hit a rock.>"

A few seconds of silence pass as he listens to the other end of the line.

"<No, it was not my fault. A tree fell across the road. As I was driving up to it. I'm going to need help getting the truck in to Murmansk for repairs, unless one of the crews can deal with it.>"

Silence.

"<Thank you, Viktoria Dmitrievna. I will wait here.>"

Sighing smoke, Mikhail climbs back into the cab of the truck, checking his wristwatch impatiently. He does glance back to the fallen tree again, though, frowning a little.

Funny. That's never happened before…

Well that worked better than he could have hoped really.

Now he might get two of them!

"JARVIS why do russians always use those full names? Its just a mouth full isn't it?"

"Cultural difference, sir." Comes the reply as the cloaked suit stands in the forest, half hidden behind a tree as Tony watches his target. His prey.

Or something like that.

"Hrmmm, if this guy is the pilot…give me a medscan of him would ya buddy? I wanna see just how bad off this beast plane is making its pilots."

Flicking ash from the end of his cigarette, Makarov leans back in the truck's seat to look back the way he'd come, as though he were going to back it up. It doesn't look like it's going to go anywhere. No, he's looking higher than that, glancing to the horizon regularly.

He's waiting for something.

There's distant thunder on the horizon. A passing aircraft, but not the one he's waiting for. He sinks a little lower into his seat, eyeing the sky over the rim of his aviators. His fingers tap on the door. He looks at his watch again. He sighs. Thinks about his wife. Wonders, for a brief and lucid moment, where she is and what she's doing. Thinks about the schedule coming up; of the new tests that Pytor Yakovich wanted to do. Checks his watch again.

Makarov doesn't protest to a medical scan, because he's not aware of the hunter behind the tree.

He's in relatively good health for a man of thirty-nine. He works out regularly, and both his bone and muscle health is good. There aren't any major problems with any of his physiological systems.

Well, except the toxins. There are a lot of toxins in the body of Mikhail Nikolayevich Makarov. Vicious and nasty stuff, whose levels are waning a little; he's been away from the Heliosphere for a few days. The remnants linger, though, and it's nasty stuff; the kind of thing used to alter behaviour and mess with neurological health. Traces of the combat boosters are also in his system still; the lingering remnants of something that had been used to produce a lot of adrenaline and something designed to keep a man awake and able to think and react at peak performance, even when he's exhausted.

That might explain why he looks like hell.

Makarov checks his watch again and mutters, under his breath. "<Stop taking your time, Viktoria Dmitrievna,>" he grumbles. "<You're going to make me take a night drive, and night drives are the worst…>"

"Run a check on Viktoria Dmitrievna," Tony adds as Makarov continues to mutter in Russian. "If she's part of this too I wanna know at least a bit of something about her. I mean the usual JARVIS, is she like Nat, is she hot, is she single, just how smart is she…" The inventor runs down the normal list as he idily waits, and turns the impressive sensor suite to the sky. He's waiting for an air-lift it looks like, so he wants to see just how this goes.

The medical readout though is much more intresting, and much more concerning. He knew that chemicals were the easiet way to combat the extreme forces of flying an extreme plane. He also knew that those chemicals were even harder on a body in the long run. It seems that they had been tweaked even further to create dependency.

"Well thats nice of these guys, create addiction so you can only get the cocktail here and won't even want to leave. Not only are they making super planes, but super junkies too. Good thing they can multitask." He mutters as he shifts his weight just slightly.

"Gimme a suggested detox regimine for this asshat." A pause. "I have no idea if Isa is gonna enjoy this or not. But I'm gonna say yes."

There are dossiers available for Viktoria Dmitrievna Ryakhina. She is a reasonably gifted test pilot, better than Mikhail in terms of intuition, but not half as good as Mikhail's wife. Her eyes are blue, her hair is long and straight and blonde, she's only five foot six, and she's about as formidable as a ballerina.

In the dossier, it's her eyes that are her most arresting feature; a soft baby blue, but hard and intense as an eagle's stare. This woman is made of something like Isa. She has something to prove. Although not of military background like a lot of other Icarus Dynamics employees seem to be, she comes from the private sector, a fairly gifted pilot in her own right.

Able to keep up with the boys, anyway.

In the truck, Makarov is down to drumming on the door with the arm hanging out of it, frowning a little more deeply as he waits impatiently. His body is slowly beginning to notice that it hasn't had a dose, lately, and that means it's slowly beginning to rebel against this fact. He stops drumming the door; reaches up to rub at his face with one hand. He has a thin scar that traces down the left side of his face; from cheekbone to jawline, like a cut from a tool.

With as long as he's been subject to this program, and as much as he's had things swirling around in his veins, Makarov's health doesn't look that great. He may take care of himself otherwise, but the cocktail that the Heliosphere feeds him is slowly tearing him apart from the inside. It's as well that Stark plans on extracting the man. There's no telling how long he'll last under pressure with the state he's in.

The pilot flips his phone open again, eyes it as though he might consider placing a call, but eventually flips it closed and drops it into his pocket again. Gradually, the sound of rotors is audible on the horizon, although the helicopter isn't yet visible. Makarov sighs in obvious relief, wrenching the door of his truck open and stepping out, leaning against the cab.

His phone rings. Makarov pops it open, frowning and listening.

He listens for a long time.

"<Understood, Viktoria Dmitrievna.>" He flips the phone closed and drops it into his pocket; frowns and looks toward the northwest, where he had come from.

With a shrug, he circles to the back of the truck, climbing up to sit on the end of the bed, feet dangling off. He plants his hands on the truck bed behind him, looks up to the subarctic sky, and sighs, the tundra and the shoreline reflected in his mirrored aviators.

The detox regiment isn't really encouraging, either. By the kinds of things used in its ingredient list alone, it's going to make Makarov absolutely miserable before he feels human again. It might even be dangerous, with how deeply the Heliosphere has its chemical claws sunk into him.

It's a six to one, half dozen the other situation.

Gradually, the aircraft comes over the horizon – but it's not a helicopter. It doesn't look like a helicopter, anyway. It looks like someone threw a small, high-performance fighter and a helicopter into a blender, and came out with something like a quinjet on a very small, very personal scale. It looks sleek and predatory – sharp-nosed, swept-winged like the Tchernobog.

Its afterburners are flaring blue as it banks closer. It's not travelling nearly as fast as a supersonic fighter should. It has the low-speed stability of a helicopter.

It's also bristling with weaponry.

It touches down a short ways away from the truck. Out hops a small blonde woman in a flight suit, wearing a pair of mirrored aviators of her own. She looks angry as she marches over towards the crippled truck.

"<Mikhail Nikolayevich!>" she barks, jabbing a finger at the truck and then at Mikhail himself. "<What in the hell did you do to my truck?!>"

There is a low whistle from Stark as the attack plane comes rushing over the treetops. "Oh now isn't that pretty. JARVIS gimme a quiet little scan if you would. Lets see what she has under the hood."

"The plane or the woman, sir?" Comes the AI's dry reply.

"You know what I mean!" Stark replies testily as he starts to cautiously move forwards. Looking for a second pilot in the attack plane. If he can get them both in the truck. Well. That's the ideal end of this. At least for him.

Not for him.

"Prep some med-tech back at base. I think these two are gonna need it, just from the detox. Its gonna be rough from what I can tell." The man replies as he starts to ease closer, making sure that plane is well and truly unmanned for the moment. "If they send some of those things after us, can we outdistance them?" He mutters mostly to himself.

"…without carrying a truck, yes. With the truck, possibily." JARVIS is helpful.

"<I did not do anything to your truck!>" Mikhail spreads his arms wide in a gesture of aggravation. "<A tree fell across the road, and I was forced to swerve to avoid it. The wheel ran into a rut and the hood ran into a rock.>"

"<Look, just because you managed to get into some kind of favour with the program director, that doesn't mean I'm going to let you ruin the tools I have to use, too,>" Viktoria Dmitrievna snaps. She marches over to the truck, bangs the hood open, and starts rooting around the engine with gloved hands. "<Just because you can afford to be careless with the Heliosphere doesn't mean that you can be careless with everything else.>"

He only sighs and rubs at his forehead, muttering under his breath.

"<Maybe you can take that your tone with your wife, Mikhail Nikolayevich, but not with me.>"

Mikhail grins and lounges against the door of the truck, but the expression has a slightly sour note to it. He's starting to really feel bad. "<Viktoria Dmitrievna… when's the last time you were in the Heliosphere?>"

The engine bangs as Viktoria continues digging through it. "<I don't know. Yesterday, maybe.>"

"<Lucky you. They have had me grounded for days. I'm beginning to feel it…>"

"<Then sit down. I'll see what I can do. If I can nurse this radiator back to the airfield, someone should be able to bludgeon some life back into it.>" A piece of something is thrown backward from where Viktoria bends over the open hood. Mikhail eases back into the passenger seat, sighing and slumping onto the upholstery.

He eyes the truck somewhat balefully. "<I'm starting to hate the way this feels, when I can't fly.>"

"<I think I hear you.>" Viktoria hits something in the engine. "<Can't argue with the pay, though.>"

"<There's that.>" Despite his agreement, Mikhail sounds troubled. "<What if we just leave the truck here and come back for it later?>"

Viktoria sighs. "<I could. I just hope the weather doesn't turn.>"

By the medical scans, it looks like Viktoria isn't in as bad a shape as Mikhail. She still has some colour in her face. But, there's no denying that there's a cocktail running loose in her veins, too. This Heliosphere they're talking about has its claws in her, too.

In the meantime, she climbs into the truck's driver's side, attempting to start the engine.

The perfect moment to pounce, if Stark wanted to…

"Well, if thats not an invitation I don't know it is." Stark comments as he notes Viktoria clamber on up into the cab. Slipping out from behind the tree, the cloaked suit starts to approach carefully the poor truck.

Soon to be poor truck at least.

"Sir," JARVIS says with the infinate patience of someone who is sure to be ignored but has to say it anyway. "I have to remind you that kidnapping a pair of russian nationals isn't exactly the easiest way to keep a low profile. Espicially when they have the backing of a mysterious coporate group and access to advanced intercepter style fighters."

"It'll be fine. Gimme an EMP blast readied up just in case and lets do this."

So the pair in the truck might see some odd things in the next few seconds. Footsteps in the snow where nothing is near the back quarter of the truck. A soft hiss almost as if metal is being scored as Stark uses an ever so miniscule beam to melt the door handle closed.

…then the whole truck might just shift. As if something is…well…lifting it off the ground.

BUT NOTHING IS THERE?!

Mysterious.

In the cab, Viktoria tries the ignition, listening intently for any sign of life in the half-destroyed truck. It's taken a pretty good beating, but those are tough old trucks. It might be able to limp back to the airbase as it is now, if only she can get the engine to turn over…

"<What's that?>" Mikhail frowns, looking slightly to one side. He has a very slight five o'clock shadow, as though he hasn't really had time for a decent shave, though the fact that the shadow on his jawline is blonde helps hide it a little. He squints, which makes him look even more sleep-deprived. "<Hey! Who's out there?>"

When he tries to open his door, it rattles, but it doesn't move. Mikhail frowns even more deeply and jostles it even harder. "<Viktoria Dmitrievna, what the hell did you do to—>"

"<I didn't do anything!>" Viktoria slaps at the holster at her belt, producing a Russian-made sidearm that looks every bit as new and well-maintained as Isa's is old and battered. "<What the hell.>"

"<I could always start shooting.>" Mikhail draws his own pistol, leaning out the open window and twisting to look toward the back of the truck. "<Uhhh…>"

There are footprints. And nobody's there. He turns a little pale. "<Viktoria Dmitrievna—>"

"<Stop wasting time and spit it out,>" Viktoria advises irritably, still trying to get the truck to start. It's a lost cause at this point, but struggling with the engine helps her not focus on the fact that her door is welded shut.

Mikhail clutches his pistol and rolls back into his seat, sitting stiffly upright in it, eyes wide as he glances to the side, trying to watch for signs of their invisible assailant. "<Someone is out there…>"

"<Evening folks!>" The cheerful comment comes in russian, but the speaker is defintally not. Though the accent is nearly non-existant, as good as a native speaker. Something about the tone and the timbre gives it away.

The truck slowly rocks for a moment, and then bodily is lifted from the earth. Metal groans as something under the truck picks it up as if its a childs toy. "<I'd recommend not shooting, you might hit something important.>" Tony is kinda enjoying this a bit as he diverts power to his repulsors. There is a whine of power and a rumble of engines as he starts to take off.

"<And I hope this goes without saying but keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times. We are going on a bit of a ride!">

The repulsors are impossible to stealth as the propultion systems of the suit that Tony calls the 'Disco' flare to life to send Tony and his new guests up into the air at a fairly sedate pace to start with.

There are two Icarus Dynamics pilots in the truck as it's hefted above the short grass of the tundra, and two sets of blue eyes are perfectly round in shock behind mirrored sunglasses. Mikhail's jaw hangs open. Viktoria looks like she doesn't really know what to do.

Both of them clutch their pistols, but neither are committed to firing. It's assuredly more out of shock than from listening to their captor's sagacious advice.

"<Great God!>" Mikhail finally finds his tongue, twisting in a single movement to look behind to see what's carrying the truck. Except the ground falls away, and the truck is not being lifted or carried so much as flown.

Mikhail Nikolayevich Makarov looks down at the ground, and he loses all semblance of colour.

"<Don't you dare throw up in my truck,>" Viktoria snarls, but there's no mistaking the fact that she's more or less terrified, too. One hand is still on hte keys, where she'd been trying the ignition, and only now does she remember to take her hand off the keys, and grip the gun with both.

Pointing with his gun at the landscape sailing by below them, Mikhail looks left, then right, then down again; and he makes a slight, panicked sound, because he doesn't have a parachute with him, and he isn't really used to flying in things that aren't meant to fly.

"<What do we do?!>" Viktoria seems to have encountered a critical error, and threatens to panic.

It's Mikhail who manages to find his wits, slamming the butt of his pistol against the inside of the doorframe. "<HEY! Who the hell are you?! Put this truck down! This is abduction, you bastard…! Viktoria Dmitrievna, the thing…!>"

What's he on about?

There's a whine of electricity. Of turbines warming up. If Tony looks behind him, that jet is closing its cockpit canopy, starting up its engines, and lifting into the air… without a pilot. Viktoria is fiddling intently with something in her lap. It looks like some kind of remote control device…

"<Sorry to suprise you two, but I'm pretty sure someone would have shot me if I just wondered up to the gates there.>" Stark blithely continues. "<And I suppose its abduction, but its for your own good really. I mean you're both dying. You realise that right?>" The tone doesn't even pause a beat as Stark continues to fly them away, past treetop height.

Then he hears the engines warming up behind him.

And he sighs.

"<Right. So. Remote system? VR or just standard joystick system. I build full VR rigs myself. But anyway, I digress. So if you fly up here after me and try to engage, I'm gonna have a real hard time keeping this truck from falling. Which is a problem from all of us.>"

A beatpause.

"<And really, that is a beautiful piece of tech down there. I'd really rather not put some holes in it.>"

Sometimes logic works…

…but incase it doesn't.

Killing the outside speaker system Tony swiches to internal systems. "JARVIS if that thing gets lock on or starts trying to put bullets into me, lock on the EMP burst just in case."

Mikhail looks around with all the paranoia of a combat pilot, trying to see in all directions at once. It's considerably easier when he's at the controls of the Heliosphere, with a real-time holographic HUD that shows him everything around his current position.

It's a lot harder when he's in a banged-up old truck that's currently doing things trucks were never meant to do. He flips his sunglasses down, trying to see what's carrying them.

"<No. Stop!>" Mikhail doesn't quite swat the controls away from Viktoria, but he does turn something the colour of chalk when Stark reminds them that they're at cruising altitude, and if he gets shot at, he might not be able to carry the truck. "<I don't know about you, Viktoria Dmitrievna, but I don't have a parachute with me.>"

"<Neither do I.>" White-faced but frustrated, the smaller pilot puts the controls away. "<Now what? Who the hell are you? Where are you taking us? Are you going to start talking, or am I going to have to put a bullet in you somewhere non-lethal? I can do that, you know.>"

Something he'd said catches Mikhail, though. The taller blonde frowns a little. "<Dying? What do you mean? And who am I speaking to?>"

They're getting pretty far away from that sleek little fighter. Viktoria digs into a pocket, flips open a phone, and—

—and Mikhail claps a hand over her wrist, shaking his head emphatically, until she puts it away, though she's still bristling. "<Don't touch me,>" she adds under her breath, venomously.

But Mikhail's already trying to turn again, to see what's carrying the truck. It's an old truck, a standard workhorse of Soviet make, and it's probably long since outlived its shelf life. Careful maintenance and repair has kept it alive this long, though it looks like it's taken its last ride.

It'll probably be done by the time Stark's done with it, anyway.

"<Where are we going?>" Mikhail's question is directed back towards the thing with the engines behind the truck. He can't see clearly what it is, but there's obviously something there, and it's where that irreverently cheerful voice with the American Russian is coming from. "<Who are you?>"

Viktoria leans out the other window. "<And what the hell do you want from us?>"

"<Hrmmm. Lots of questions, let me answer most of them for ya real easy.>" The mysterious voice replies. That image above the jets shimmers for a moment before resolving itself into a suit of armor. A suit of armor with very well known styling. The glowing triangle in the center of its chest revealing the ARC reactor. The helment styling. Its very obvious just who decided to pick them up.

Iron Man.

The colors of the armor swim for a moment before resolving into a more familiar red and gold color, but way brighter. More vibrant than the usual suit.

"<So. You two can call me, Tony.>" His voice still conversationally. "<Any yes, dying. I'd give you Mikhail at least…lets say three months. Tops. Viktoria you're not quite as bad. Fixable, but you know. Ya have to know about it first, and I'm going to guess no one told ya that 'side effects might include death'.>"

As he talks he continues to speed away. "<So where to take you, I'm going with 'away from here' right now and I'll figure the rest out later.>" A beatpause before he smirks. "<Mostly I want to talk engineering. Thats not so bad is it?>"

Both pilots are now attempting to twist around to see what's carrying the truck, and both pilots turn the approximate colour of chalk once they're given the answer to that question.

"<Oh, Great God,>" Mikhail mumbles, leaning back into his seat and looking straight ahead with the quiet despair of the condemned.

He might as well be facing a firing squad, as far as he's concerned. Sure, Iron Man doesn't have quite the same reputation in the Motherland as he might have elsewhere, but they've heard of him, and it's pretty patently obvious that the suit is well beyond human capabilities.

Both pilots exchange a glance. It's probably fair to assume that neither of them will be returning to Murmansk, at this point. Viktoria seems to be holding out hope against hope that this is just some kind of bizarre nightmare. Mikhail seems oddly… relieved.

"<I know, Comrade Tony.>" His admission is soft, and the truth in his words is genuine. He knows he's dying; can feel his body breaking down. They've made a nice little means to secure pilots in Project Heliosphere. There's no quitting from that job.

His smile is just a little wan. "<I regret not seeing my wife again, but…>" Mikhail risks another look back. Viktoria is still white-faced beside him, as though wrestling with whether or not she wants to tell them anything. "<Sorry. But I can't tell you anything. Yevgenia Grigorievna will have my head on a pike, and I do not put it past her to make it literal.>"

"<I don't see the point.>" Viktoria folds her arms, and leans back in the driver's seat, still somewhat chalky-coloured but apparently willing to trust the fact that Stark didn't just come in shooting. "<Corporate espionage, is it? Really? Or are you here for a different reason?>"

She glances back, although not far enough to actually twist. "<What do you want to know? Mikhail Nikolayevich is a coward, but maybe I can tell you something useful, and then you can put me down, and we can go back to what we were doing before you showed up.>"

Mikhail's started drumming his fingers against the truck's door again, nervous.

<"Well its a bit more than just corporate espionage,>" Tony's reply is cheerful and irrepressible as ever. "<Maybe I just like you two too, and would rather you two not die. I'm a flighty american and I'm allowed to do that. Right?>" He's just an amused little bastard right now isn't he? Yes. Yes he is.

"<But yes, your wife is really mad at you. Like really mad. But I'm also pretty sure I have a good read on her, and she doesn't want you to die either.>" A beatpause. "<But she's totally might knock some teath out, just fair warning.>"

A beatpause again.

"<Well he's a drugged up and hug over coward right now.>" The man in the suit continues to go. "<And what were you doing? Dying to chemicals, getting food for a development out in the middle of no where, and trying to break-air-speed recoards? Getting paid for test piloting some kind of superfighter. They arn't the only ones with superfighters. And I pay better. And mine don't kill you for flying them.>"

"<What?>" Viktoria glances out the window, trying to orient herself and figure out where they are. She seems to be increasingly suspicious, but there's not much she can do about it. "<So, you want to spirit us away to America, and take us to another company. Given who you are, and what you're doing… I'm going to guess that company is Stark Industries.>" Smart cookie. Shrewd, too, by the way she's weighing her options.

She seems to consider this quite seriously for a moment or two, looking at pale-faced Mikhail, then at the truck, and then down again.

Viktoria Dmitrievna Ryakhina shrugs. "<I never liked what they were doing, anyway, but I couldn't argue with the pay. Very well, then. We'll talk. What do you want to know?>"

For his part, Mikhail just makes a quiet, uncomfortable sound. Where the ice seems to be a little cracked for Viktoria, he's only gotten a little more suspicious. But, try as he might to stay aloof, he can't help himself. Concern for her welfare comes before his own discomfort. And he's in some pretty clear discomfort right now. "<How do you know my wife? Is she alright? Where is she? Will you take me to her—?>"

He seems to realise he's chattering like a wacko and clears his throat, a little embarrassed. "<I am sorry. All in good time.>" So, this guy can't be all bad. He can recognise that much through the haze of withdrawal. Despite the physical symptoms, he prefers withdrawal – when the Heliosphere doesn't have its claws sunk into his very mind; when he can think more clearly. The limiting factor is his physical strength. The more sober he is, the weaker his body is; the more his system craves the addictive substance the aircraft releases. It's been days since his last outing in the Heliosphere. How terrible must this addiction be, if he already looks this sickly?

She totally might knock some teeth out, Tony says, and Mikhail smiles; the expression a little melancholy. "<I know. She deserves no less. I have put her through hell as much as myself…>"

"<Stop turning into a simpering idiot, Mikhail Nikolayevich.>" Viktoria rolls her eyes, and goes so far as to reach out and smack the offending test pilot. He winces a little, but doesn't complain. "<We'll tell you whatever you need… on the condition that you don't take us back to that hell-hole of a company. I think they'll skin us alive if we ever show our faces around there again, and that's probably putting it lightly.>"

Tony points out that Mikhail is both a drugged-up and hungover coward, and Viktoria sighs. "<Yeah. I know. I'm not too far behind, honestly. A few more weeks on the Heliosphere, and I'd be looking about as miserable as him.>" She prods at him with a forefinger. "<It's rough on a body. Really rough. Not as rough as flying without it, but there's no two ways about how dangerous it is. They don't care. All that matters to them is the end results.>"

Viktoria looks out the window again. Where the hell are they? They're going fast, wherever he's headed. "<Uh huh. But we're not interested in airspeed records,>" she points out. "<Well. Icarus isn't. They want to do something a lot bigger than that. It's more than just a superfighter. They're insane.>"

Mikhail manages a vague sound in the back of his throat that says he'd probably rather be unconscious right now. He looks a bit colourless, more than should be accounted for being suspended in a truck while being carried at speed by Iron Man. In fact he looks a bit greyish.

"<May I make a recommendation?>" he points out. "<I do not know how you found out that the Heliosphere is ripping us apart from the inside, but… if you have access to medical facilities,>" Mikhail says, very softly, "<I will tell you everything you need to know if you will take me to them.>"

"<The longer we're apart from it, the worse it is for us,>" Viktoria explains. "<They rotate the test pilots. Make sure that all of us are at least a little strung out. Mikhail Nikolayevich has it worst, I think. It's been a few days, probably closer to a week. Maybe a week and a half. They keep us so exhausted, it's hard to keep track of time too closely.>"

Mikhail manages a wan smile. "<I would like to see my wife, too, but I will understand if you do not want to afford me that much trust. May we request asylum?>" He swallows, throat dry. "<We cannot go back to our country, not after working for Icarus. And we cannot return to Icarus… we will go to your company, Mister Tony. We do not have any roads left open to us.>"

"<But if it is not too much trouble…>" He doesn't sound so good. "<I would really appreciate it if you brought us to a medical facility of some kind, first, or I cannot promise how long I will be able to talk to you about engineering.>" Urk. "<Ohhh,>" he mutters, under his breath. "<This is the worst part. Viktoria Dmitrievna, how did I ever get myself into a mess like this?>"

"<Because you're an idiot,>" Viktoria points out, twisting around and looking out the window. "<Look. If you just take us to medical, I'll tell you what you need to know, because I guess He Who Can Do No Wrong is busy trying not to heave up his guts in my truck. Speaking of which, if he does heave up his guts in my truck, I'm going to dump him out over the tundra.>"

Mikhail just leans back, swallows, and puts his shades more firmly over the bridge of his nose. "<I'm beginning to think Icarus was a terrible mistake,>" he mumbles; the kind of understatement that would do the English proud. "<A terrible, terrible mistake. Ohhh. Viktoria Dmitrievna, I do not feel well.>"

"<Look, can you try not to puke all over my truck until we touch ground? I don't have any way to clean that up,>" Viktoria snaps, jabbing a finger at Mikhail, "<and I've about had it with you. Honestly, I don't understand what the Queen Bitch saw in you.>"

"<A means to an end,>" Mikhail mumbles.

"<Well after you shot her down.>" Tony decides to handle Mikhail first, and to just rub it in a bit. Because he can. "<She got a bit obsessed with getting into something that could actually catch you and return the favor. I figured if she was obsessed she wouldn't let it go. She's a bit obsessive. If you havn't noticed. So I made her my test pilot. She was tough to crack. But I'm stubborn.>" He chatters on as he starts to angle towards a very specific location.

"Hey JARVIS, radio the Trisket and tell them that I'm bringing Phil an actual gift." He asks of his AI as he directs more power into the boosters, trying to figure out just how well this truck will stay together for a trip.

"<And don't worry, you two are going to get some medical attention. Soon as we get where we happen to be going.>" Tony assures the man as he pushes the vehicle just as far as he can.

There is a snort though. "<Chemicals is the simple ways, my designs can go hypersonic without having to resort to that. But I supose for a group like that keeping you all drugged up only makes sense.>" The inventor adds as he frowns inside his helment. "<Suprise me though, what do they actually want?>" This to Viktoria as he continues on.

There is a smirk as they go back and forth though before he chuckles. "<Well asylum with me is granted, and I'll talk to Phil about it I'm sure he'll be happy about it. At least he won't shoot me this time. Which is about the same as being happy.>"

This is Tony's life.

"<Anyway, I'm taking you two ta medical right now. So don't worry, and Viktoria you can tell me all about it while we fix your truck." A pause. "…I'm sure that wheel was about to fall off anyway."

"<Did I do that?>" Mikhail mumbles, rubbing at his face. "<I do not remember it well. Was that her? I do not remember her… I would have remembered her.>"

Apparently he was pretty far gone into happy hour once he had been ordered into the sky. It seems he hardly has any recollection of the event at all. Scattered fragments, at best.

"<Oh, for God's sake, Mikhail Nikolayevich, just shut up.>" Viktoria bangs her fist against the outside of the truck door. "<Look. I'm fine. Just make sure he doesn't puke all over my truck. Well, it's Icarus' truck, but I guess it's my truck, now.>"

Waste not, want not.

To the issue of pilot addiction, Viktoria only shrugs. "<Why wouldn't it? It's an easy, and relatively cheap, way to control large groups of test pilots. It ensures we aren't going to talk to anybody. It also ensures that we aren't going to leave Icarus Dynamics, pretty much ever. I mean, hypothetically. He and I, we're out of there, obviously, but nobody else is going to be able to leave of their own volition.>"

What do they actually want?

"<I don't know,>" Viktoria says, with another shrug. "<You'd have to ask the head bigwig herself. But I'm not going to give you that one so easily. I mean, it's fine and well to say you're going to take us someplace safe, but—what?!>" Viktoria hits the door with a bang, draping over the driver's side door to see what kind of damage was done. "<Stop breaking my truck!>"

Mikhail manages an unhappy sound, sinking further into his seat. "<What they want is power. Influence. Money. They have a lot of the latter. Too much of it. What they want is the former.>"

Viktoria punches him in the arm for his efforts, which he stoically ignores, because he's trying valiantly to make sure his innards do not become outards.

"<Test piloting sounds right,>" Mikhail mumbles. "<She is a magnificent pilot, but there are no better test pilots. Raisa Ivanovna is better than I am. Better than Viktoria Dmitrievna.>"

Viktoria bristles. Mikhail ignores her.

Ah, but then Tony says the magic words. A smile curls Viktoria's lips. "<Splendid.>"

In the passenger's seat, Mikhail makes a quiet, fundamentally unhappy sound. "<Comrade Tony… are we there, yet…?>"

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