This is Sokovia!

August 08, 2017:

SHIELD conducts a deadly air strike on the main Icarus Dynamics manufacturing facility in Sokovia. Takes place before "6139: Welcome to Sokovia, Redbird."

The skies above Sokovia

My god, it's full of explosions.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: None

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

A great deal of time, effort, and energy has gone into Icarus Dynamics. There have been extractions and interrogations. There have been incredible feats of engineering. Streams of data have gone leaping across screens, all to be manipulated by the one hacker Phil trusted with the effort. There have been tearful reunions, test flights, tense interpersonal dynamics. Explosions have happened, alien smuggling operations have been cut off at the knees. There have even been routine surveillance efforts, and a host of behind-the-scenes operations with spies around the world.

All of this has culminated into the mission being launched this day, at 19:00 on August 7, 2017. The primary manufacturing facility for Icarus Dynamics has been located.

The answer is guaranteed to make Sally really happy too, cause it's in Sokovia.

Phil Coulson intends to watch that facility and every one of its horrid planes burn.

To that end, there is one Khoro in the air, piloted by Raisa and her husband. There are two planes that were based off the Khoro but don't have its awesome AI, piloted by standard SHIELD pilots. They're a little like better Quinjets, which means they still have small cargo bays for in-flight supplies, a fact which has placed, unbeknownst to everyone, two Guardians of the Galaxy on the scene today, courtesy of their chosen napping location at the Triskelion.

Iron Man has also been tapped to provide air support to the Khoro and her wingmen. He's a tactical weapon in and of himself, and Phil anticipates a messy dogfight.

Below, an armored tactical vehicle rolls across the grassy hills of Sokovia. A single driver keeps three people safe. Phil is at a command station inside the vehicle, ready to issue orders. Sally is there, and her job is to watch the health of the 3 planes in the air, make command decisions on any engineering in-flight adjustments that have to be made, like 'dump some fuel', 'lose some weight', or whatever else the engineer might actually say that is far less simplistic and far more useful. Finally, there is Rin. Her job is to disrupt the drones. She has learned that the AI is rather sophisticated, changing the code up quickly, which means she'll be required to go one-on-one in cyber-battle with each drone to get it out of the air, and she'll have to be fast if she wants to be helpful. But if she can get it done, she will be an invaluable and incredible asset in this fight.

This probably won't put an end to the Tchernobog threat completely. There are always underground prototypes, smuggled plans, and other such issues. But it will definitely declaw the primary threat, and ensure that the thing faces far greater challenges if Hydra, the ultimate backer of this monstrosity, wants to continue trying to use it to destabilize the world stage.

*

The shocked swearing upon Miss Rusalka Stojespal's discovery of the Sokovian headquarters of Icarus Dynamics had been enough to blister paint. Those who would deal with Hydra, those who would collaborate with the descendants of the fascists of old…were those who bedded the Devil himself, as far as the noble House of Stojespal cared. It had not been hard to convince Lady Dragana Stojespal of the need for their presence - and the ninety four year old matriarch had given her conditions for permission. Two things, specifically.

First, a detachment of guards - strong, young, grim men with rifles that they knew how to use. They stand around the armored truck, protecting its valuable contents just in case there's an attack against it. Rusalka herself is part of the main branch of the family, and this House takes protecting its people very seriously. It also takes its history with Hydra very seriously as well, and to a man those guards are just itching for a chance to reap a few heads of the beast for their own. Second, a communications link for the matriarch herself to watch and enjoy the show.

Sally, meanwhile, is settled in at the vehicle's communications station - screens alive with telemetry, being sorted into ways she can follow. A quick radio check makes sure all are in the same communications loop, and the Sokovian heiress looks back at Agent Coulson. A quick thumbs up. "We're ready, sir. Khoro 1 through 3 are on station."

*

There are more than one prototype aircraft in the sky today, but the most advanced of the three is the one flying at the head of the wedge formation. Khoro is the first, and the one that most of the resources have been spent on, and it shows. Sleek black above, its clean and sweeping lines seem effortless in their organicness; below, its hull is polished to an almost reflective shine.

It doesn't need stealth.

In the cockpit, two suited pilots are wedged in amongst the control boards, cables, wiring, and other components into two seats that are…

«Tony Stark, I have to commend you on doing something right.»

Raisa Ivanovna Yakovleva's comment, delivered in rough-edged English, carries an edge that suggests she's been logging practise hours instead of sleeping. She sounds exhausted. Anybody that knows her knows it's probably normal at this point. It's also slightly grainy, as the audio tries to compensate for the scream of Khoro's engine.

«…The seat is actually halfway comfortable.»

Raisa sits forward in the cockpit; her husband is in the raised seat behind her, keeping busy with a myriad of displays. Despite the onslaught of data, it looks like he's following it all like a champ, and nobody's even screaming yet!

Her hands are light on the controls, because she doesn't really need to manhandle them. Khoro responds like a dream. She'll have to compliment Tony on that later… but quietly. She has a reputation to uphold, after all.

Khoro continues in a straight line towards the coordinates provided, visible from below by the bright contrails trailing its wings.

"<SIRIN, give me an ETA to the target area.>" Mikhail's words are in Russian, addressing the cockpit and its governing AI. Calmly, coolly; all business. There's no trace of affable boyish good charm, here. He has a job to do. Something of a vendetta to pay to Icarus, too. "<I want to know how close we can get before we lose the element of surprise. It'd be stupid to assume they didn't know we were coming. They always seem a step ahead.>"

"<I'd rather know what they're bringing,>" Raisa mutters, sourly.

«Yakovleva to Coulson. Is there anything on surveillance yet, or is Icarus playing dumb?»

English, again, as she addresses the radio. Clipped and businesslike; she's here to do a job, too, and that is her focus.

She allows herself a shudder, brief, gripping the cockpit controls more firmly.

The anticipation, the waiting, is the worst part.

"<I hope you're ready,>" she throws over her shoulder.

"<My dove, I wouldn't miss this for the world.>" Mikhail smiles. It's a knife-like expression behind his visor. "<I can hardly wait. When we're done, I want to take you back here. A vacation.>"

"<Hah! You've got to be joking, Mishen'ka…>"

*

It is by no fault of neither smallest nor tallest Guardian that they've been accidentally abducted and loaded onto an outgoing transport. With little else to do with their otherwise copious amounts of free time, it really was inevitable that they'd start to poke around anything and everything they'd be able to get into at the Triskelion.

Their initial endeavor had meant to be a practical foray. With all these things stored in these hangar bays, there's got to be something of interest, right? So had run the thoughts of one Rocket Raccoon, and spare parts are always something that he's in the market for. And if the storage containers are bigger, then they'd be more promising targets.

As it turned out, there hadn't really been much to catch their interest at all. Rations of some sort. Some kind of technical gear. Very little by way of making things go 'boom', although Rocket fancied he could manage if he wanted to put in the effort. Instead he'd had to stop Groot from eating all the rations and somehow or another ended up joining the walking tree, and then they'd dozed off in the crate. It's kind of amazing that they didn't wake up when the thing had been closed and moved.

Go figure they wake up (or at least one does) when absolutely nothing's going on.

For now.

"…wha…" A sleep tinged voice mumbles in the darkness, and no amount of eye-rubbing will clear anything up. Clang. "-OW! What the hell's goin' on?!"

*

Rin is perfectly happy on the ground, there is less chance of them plummeting toward the ground ball of fiery death. For weeks she's been digging into Icarus; finding their weaknesses, delving into the lives of those who run it and passing on the vital information when she found it. It's taken several long nights and cases of energy drinks to get herself into their systems, and stay hidden. However once Phil gives her the okay, she's going to hit that switch and bring down everything she can.

Right now however that is not her focus, there are drones that she's been tasked to get rid of once they're in the air. She has several laptops and tablets set up around her, and she's also got her eye-screen over her left eye that is flashing information in front of her.

"The second you see one in the air Sally, let me know." Rin says very matter of factly. She has her SHIELD uniform on, and a few extra cans of an energy drink near by incase she gets tired. She's ready, and bouncing her leg in to burn off all of the nervous energy.

*

For rations, they tasted decent. And they are quite filling once you eat enough of them. But that isn't the point. There are things going on, and these two Guardians had been rudely awakened from their nap.

Groot's sleep bubble bursts, dark eyes groggily blinking just as Rocket hits something and shouts at his normal volume. He expects to see the raccoon, but all he sees is nothing. Which is odd. He's very sure it was light outside when they had first gotten in there.

After staring at the blackness in front of him, he tries the sides. And then he turns to look behind him. Still nothing.

There's a bunch of shifting before Groot replies, honestly puzzled about their whereabouts. "I am Groot?"

*

Tony Stark for once is hanging back. He is support for this little mission. Mostly because he's lazy.

It has nothing to do with letting Isa and her husband getting revenge on Icracus. Or letting them get that catharsis of compleation. Or because it might be good for them both. Nope. Nothing to do with any of that, because that all involves people and Tony doesn't do people.

He just has a hangover is all.

Yup. That's it.

So his suit streaks along behind the trio of aircraft. Silver and sleek, the high-speed version of the Iron Man suit can at least keep pace with the planes he designed.

MEANWHILE! In the cockpit of Isa's plane.

"Of course I can, sir!" SIRIN pipes up. Sounding somewhere between a teeny bopper and a cheerleader. "I'll get that information right too you both so you can put down those nasty evil baddies! They are such no-goodniks! I don't like them very much! And I like everyone!"

*

Coulson is watching closely, with a grim expression on his face. He opens his mouth to say there's nothing, and then…

He hears Rin, but he's the one who answers. "They're in the air now. Rin, get rid of drones just as fast as you can. Coulson to Yakovleva, Henderson, Dansky, Stark; we've got Tchernobog in Fluid Four formation coming in hot at 3:00 and again at 9:00, do you read? They're attempting a flank."

For those of you following along in the home audience, that is 8 primary planes and a grand total of 32 drones. Icarus isn't going to make this easy.

As it stands, Rocket and Groot's plane will suddenly be peppered by a burst of fire. Henderson and his copilot scream as they are taken out; the windshield of the plane shatters and the two pilots simply fall over dead, riddled with enemy fire. The stench of burning flesh fills the plane, a fantastic crew to the two Guardians that their leisurely afternoon just got real interesting real fast. Sally's display lights up with the damage. The shriek of all of the planes fills the night.

*

"-Groot? Oh good. Yeah, I have no idea where we are but-" Pause. "Wait. Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait- oh flark, that doesn't sound good-"

There's a bit of scrambling in the dark as Rocket starts patting around for the walls, stubbing a toe on things here and there. "Just are frickin' luck, we're in that crate. Why would they just- okay, know what- forget it, we'll worry about that later. Buddy I need this thing open, stat!" he says, thumping a fist against the side wall for emphasis.

*

"Da. Will do. Hopefully my mother was convinced to stand down the base for the night. I don't see any patrols, so…probably." She hadn't been able to talk to the standing Baroness directly, as Irja Stojespal was part of the Sokovian Air Force and harder to get in touch with at the drop of a (very large) hat. "There's…urgh, I am not good reading these, but civilian air traffic to the north. Slow." Six other contacts, besides the trio of Stark-built wundercraft, on the screen, private aircraft and airliners on various well-worn flight paths.

She'll glance back at Rin, nodding - and then can't help burst out laughing when she hears the psychotically chipper AI over the communications network. What can you say? Tony Stark's sense of humor, especially at Isa's expense. A glance at Phil, shrugging. "I suppose it's a good thing there's only one of them," she whispers to the agent - making sure her microphone is muted. The screen continues to blip, six contacts still puttering in their various skyside roadways. A quiet night, the moon full and the stars covering the sky.

Turning her attention back to the tracking display, Sally takes it all in - the picture generated from the sensors aboard each craft backed up by the vehicle's own detection capability. It's one big networked sensor grid, and should - should - be able to find the Tchernobog. Was the aircraft still in the headquarters facility? Were they late? Were they early? Five contacts on the radar speak to the question of whether or not…

…Five?

She looks again at the last few seconds of the radar track, and Sally's blood goes cold. There's almost a whisper, voice terrified as she makes her announcement. "I have it. The Tchernobog. To the north, it just disapp-uh…oh my god. They're right on top - yob tvoyu mat." She watches the telemetry from Khoro 3 falter, the aircraft losing partial connection to the network and starting to descend. Fear tremors through her voice. "Khoro 3 has been hit! Many aircraft, at least six…possibly eight!"

The truth is clear to all of them. Ambush, and all that that word connotates.

"Khoro 3 is badly damaged, I cannot contact the pilots. Radio probably crippled. Pull up, please pull up…"

Aboard Khoro 3, the cockpit's been ventilated. Wind screams through the holes like a choral section of the damned, while Rocket and Groot will find the pilots messily dead. The controls are still intact, at least for the pilot in the front, though only the rear radio is functioning. Several rounds went through the front cockpit's screens, giving Rocket a flickering image for tracking weapons and targets - it's still working, just with a few less-than-neat holes through the screen. A holographic targeting system still functions, mostly - but whether it's still aligned with the repulsor-cannon that Stark had put on the craft is questionable.

Of course, more important than guns to Rocket - in a rare moment - is the general and increasing downward pitch of the aircraft. Something this fast is going to find the ground quickly…

*

Inside the crate? Well, that's…new and not too problematic. The tree grunts, nodding even if Rocket can't see him do so. "I am Groot!" Done and done, buddy. Bracing himself, Groot leans up against the solid walls, His wooden body expands, growing outward in a feat only tree aliens do best in such circumstances. (If they find themselves stuck in boxes, anyway. But it works.)

From the outside, the crate sits there. Then it starts creaking. Eventually, the top is popped off, sides groaning as Groot triumphantly stands up, stretching toward the ceiling. "I am— "

THEN SUDDENLY: explosions. Lots of them

"—GROOT!?" The tree and the crate lid go toppling over to one side, hitting the wall with a heavy CLunK. Shaking his head out, he glances back to wherever Rocket is, then toward the front of the plane.

Well. Newfound freedom and he's getting a bad feeling about this.

*

High above the Sokovian countryside, which is somehow still picturesque at thirty thousand feet, Khoro streaks onward like a missile locked onto its target. Their destination is a remote area of the country, blockaded by mountains and supposedly house to one of Icarus Dynamics' primary manufactories.

Those mountains are where the Tchernobog came to life; where the Heliosphere came into its own as a monster of mythological proportions. Intelligence had eventually uncovered that the aircraft had not been piloted strictly by a fabricated AI. They'd been tampering with things that never should have been tampered with.

Raids on a facility in northern Europe, and a nice long conversation with Icarus' ex-chief AI specialist, had revealed that the Heliosphere's AI is built on successive generations of pilots. Pilots that have all suffered mysterious accidents, whose records are sealed, and who don't seem to exist any more despite the finest efforts and technology in the world looking for them.

The Heliosphere is a ship of ghosts, and its learning algorithms are built upon successive generations of experience taken forcibly from dead pilots. The list that the chief specialist had divulged had been horrifyingly in its completeness.

Twenty-eight pilots had been detailed on that list, and that was only what the specialist had known of.

Eventually, Mikhail Nikolayevich Makarov and Raisa Ivanovna Yakovleva would have been fated to join that list.

Needless to say, given what a mess they've made of her personal life, Raisa has some incentive to indulge in a little property destruction and indiscriminate murder. She wouldn't have missed this outing for the world. Not at all.

Even the relentless optimism of SIRIN can't keep her away from this.

Not for the first time Raisa finds herself making a mental note to break Stark's nose later for this, but she's interrupted by the crackle of her radio.

Henderson and Dansky are down. She can actually see as the cockpit canopy is strafed by fire, and explodes into glittering shards. Khoro 3 slews uncontrolled to one side, screaming as it slowly veers toward the earth.

Isa pounds her fist against the side of the cockpit and snarls something so scathing that even Mikhail's head jerks towards her. That's two men down before the battle has even begun.

Before she can agonise over that, she has gunfire pattering over her own aircraft. Khoro's metallic skin and cockpit are made of sterner stuff, but it doesn't stop her from jerking in her seat out of reflex. "<Mishen'ka!>"

"<On it.>" Mikhail's voice is grim as he adjusts his own instruments, aiming to snipe one or two of the drones following and shooting at them. They're small fry, and really just an obstruction to the real threat.

«Yakovleva to Coulson. Engaging.»

Raisa's voice is grim and angry even over the tinny quality of the radio, and her hands are a bit snappy over the controls as she sends Khoro into a whirling, spinning descent. Combined with the spate of gunfire from the drones, it might look like they've been hit, from below…

…but she's just buying herself some distance, the better to pounce on the nearest non-drone aircraft to get close.

*

WHY IS EVERYTHING MOVING. Just when Rocket thinks he's got himself right-side up, everything goes shifting upside-down. It's a little disorienting, what with light finally being introduced to the darkness of the crate, and then suddenly it's all dark again! Not to mention you find yourself buried under ration wrappers and backpacks.

The small Guardian rips everything aside, looking around as his sharp senses pick up the finer details amidst the exhaust and the rumble of the craft's engines. Because this is the inside of a ship. No, not ship. The other thing Terran's use. "Oh, that ain't good," Rocket mutters, darting towards the cockpit on all fours as the floor beneath them lists, and soon he simply has to skid and keep his balance while avoiding the dividing walls and such to get to the cockpit. He'd smelled the blood earlier, so the sight of the two bodies isn't much of a surprise. Their situation in its entirely, now that's another story.

"Groot! Get over here, I need-" He pauses, ear twitching. "That sounds like- Oh for cryin' out loud, where's the… Groot! It's coming from back there! And find some ducttape! I'll keep us from gettin' killed!" he shouts over his shoulder before leaping into the cockpit. "Sorry man," he mutters, unbuckling the harness on one of the bodies before shoving it out of the seat so he can grab the controls. His eyes narrow as he gives the layout of the control console a quick study, grasping onto the yoke to drag Khoro 3 out of its deadly nosedive.

*

Rin turns her head toward Phil as he announces that yes, there are thirty-six drones in the air. She had expected them to send out a few, perhaps hold some back for a rainy day, but no, they sent thirty-six. "Oh fuck me right in the ass." She says outloud and over the mic, mostly because she can't e bothered to censor herself. "Look at me, I'm going to blow my wad all at once. No foreplay, no lube, just bam, thirty six drones."

Her mini rant over, Rin gets to work. Not even bothering with keyboards or normal methods of interfacing with computers she reaches out with her abilities to interact with the computers in front of her. The screen start flashing wildly, too quick for the human eye to read what's going across them. Rin sits very still as first her eyes glass over, then slowly turn white as she drowns out the world behind her and focuses on hacking the complicated technology before her.

*

Well this started poorly.

As the first of the planes in hit, Stark winces inside the confines of his suit. That did not look…surviveable. The inventor turns his attention tot he buzzing Drones and fighters.

"JARVIS, give me a direction."

His display lights up with threats and friendlies as it bathes the interior of his suit with a gentle glow. The drones have past the trio of ships, arcing back around as the concentrate on the trio of Khoro fighters.

"Man," Tony quips as weapon systems come online. Targeting vectors are plotted at a speed that would make most heads whirl as he hurls towards the combat at well over the speed of sound. "I think they are ignoring me. Seems that we should introduce ourselves."

The suit slows impossibily fast. A normal human would be turned to jelly, but advanced dampening systems channel that sudden whiplash into his weapon and power arrays. The kenetic energy charging up weapons systems he brings up.

"Hello."

The repulsors on the palms of his hands burst into light as dozens of refracted pulses erupt from the palms, scattershots of energy that aim for a half dozen of the buzzing drones.

Then he's off again, screaming though the air. "I call left side!"

"Isa! Isa! Mister Stark has called left side!" SIRIN is being helpful in multiple ways as information suddenly scrolls across both the pilots screens. "Does that mean we get the right?! Right?"

Targeting vectors, damage readouts, fireing solutions. Information both pilots need as they close with the actual fighters.

*

Khoro 3 is taking a swift nosedive through the air, perhaps tumbling the two aliens about like a pair of socks in a clothes dryer. Pressure pops ear drums and the ground begins to rapidly approach. Any and all bad feelings the two aliens may be having about this are completely, totally, 100% warranted. But then Rocket leaps into the seat and pulls the plane up mere seconds before it would have entered the point of no return, saving him and Groot from certain death! As a bonus, none of the Tchernobog or the drones are focused on Khoro 3 anymore, believing it done, dead, and gone. That might create an opportunity.

Khoro 2 is still maneuvering, and it takes out a drone even as Khoro 1 repositions itself for an assault. Isa and her husband try to pounce on the nearest non-drone aircraft, but the drones and the aircraft maneuver as one. They only get a drone, which goes spinning away in a firey ball.

Rin gets ultra professional over there and Phil just shoots her a very flat Dad look without a comment. Rin will find that the code does indeed fight her, shifting and changing, adapting to her presence and rewrites…

But she manages to slip through an exploit in one of the drones in very fast fashion; she's got control of it for the moment. It won't last long, but maybe long enough to make some noise.

Tony takes out 3 drones with his sudden surprise attack, but the things reform fast, like flies, and the half a dozen thing just doesn't happen. Drones from Tchernobog Wing 1 streak towards him, rising high above him and forming a ladder in an attempt to fire into him one after the other.

Meanwhile, Khoro 1 will find itself facing a firing run from Tchernobog Wing 2!

Phil, over coms: "Negative, Stark, don't lone wolf this! Khoro 1, Khoro 2, form on Stark's wing, let him take point in a route formation, I want the primary on Tchernobog Wing 1 taken out of the air, then break and evade. You gotta work together and you gotta keep them guessing!"

*

Out of nowhere, the title of her job comes to mind. Air Combat Controller. It's what the triplets at Kovyl Air Station would normally handle, but they're not here - she is. Sally takes a moment to compose herself as she watches Khoro 3 plummet, its pilots dead. The realization hits hard; the first time she's seen losses at all. Deep inside, a fuse burns, but for now she's trying to get her head back into the game.

"Alright…Khoro 3 is down." She lets Phil cut in and nods, paying attention to his words. "Khoro 2, one is maneuvering for Stark - make that two. Bearing two nine five your position, changing fast." She watches the Icarus aircraft make their run…and wonders. A whisper in her ear. Can they really have made…no, that's not possible. She'd seen the intelligence intercepts. The debriefings. There's no way, she desperately hopes, that they could find enough pilots for these aircraft. Trained combat pilots who…can swirl around each other like individual pieces of a mind.

Like coordinated heads of Hydra, all with one core.

"Khoro 2, Khoro 1, Iron Man! They're too coordinated. Isolate your communications frequencies, I'm going to try wide-spectrum jamming. They can't have that many pilots and aircraft together at once can they? If they're all drones…!"

As soon as she gets any sort of acknowledgement, she's activating a new set of systems on the command track - and broadcasting jamming signal as much as she can. An overloaded, looped signal, sourced from a USB drive she slips into the main processing station. There's channels left for Rin's cyber-dive, and for their team to communicate, but anything else gets a mix of static and modulated music as she keeps adjusting the broadcast. Sally doesn't dare let the AI try to get a handle on just how it's being jammed, if at all.

She may hate that damned depressing Dvorak opera, but admits it is pretty. To be able to use it directly as a weapon amuses her in a dark, dark way.

*

Earth and sky whirl together as the original prototype spins on its axis. Both its pilots are forced to narrow their eyes against the tremendous force of gravity, but the suits designed by Stark Industries are helpful. They turn what would have been a physical impossibility into a mere discomfort.

Khoro One plunges toward the pretty, picturesque hills of Sokovia as fire chatters over it again. Once more Raisa jerks in her seat out of pure reflex. The sound is so close that it's uncomfortably loud; felt as much as heard.

"<Take them out,>" she snaps at Mikhail, even as she finesses the aircraft from a controlled fall to a predatory dive. Down there, she can see one of the Tchernobog — she'll have to applaud Sally later for how apropos that name is — firing on her. Their aircraft are also black, spattered with unattractive gunmetal grey in an effort to defeat the eyes of enemy radar.

Khoro One is also painted black, but it's a much prettier look, clean and sleek rather than dingy and nondescript. Its underbelly is bright, chromed, and reflective; painting in mirror image those pretty hills.

Those pretty hills are getting uncomfortably close.

Raisa offers no confirmation or even acknowledgement. She listens, but her attention is taken entirely on piloting the aircraft and giving them as little a target as possible. It's up to Mikhail to answer, sounding grim and a little uncertain.

«Khoro One, acknowledged.»

His English is still a little clumsy. Licking dry lips, he looks to the radar, watching the unfolding battle even as Raisa brings the aircraft up on Tony's flank, settling behind and to the left of him with the finesse of a master. Not an easy feat, with such a small and manoeuvrable target.

«Khoro One to Iron Man, we are formed up on your flank. We will follow and engage when you are ready.»

There's a moment of grim silence, and it's Mikhail that answers Sally, in his broken English.

«No, Sally Petrovna. They… they are not… drone. Tchernobog, no drone. Small plane, da, those are drone. But not main aircraft. Iron Man, when you are ready.»

*

Piloting a transport set to crash in a firey ball of death? Stuck in a cockpit with a couple of dead guys? That's…probably not terribly new an experience for these two Guardians.

With their plane leveling out from their previous rapid descent, Rocket has more time to look at the readouts on the damaged but otherwise seemingly functional displays. At least this thing doesn't have an autopilot engaged, otherwise that would have been more work to disengage. He reaches over to paw at the screens, cycling through whatever weapons they have on this bird and hitting up the targeting system.

"Groot, did you get that comm? I think this end's busted. And where's the ducttape?! Please tell me they have ducttape on this thing. Wait, is my bag in the crate somewhere- maybe my sealant's in there." Rocket babbles as he begins to bring their plane back up to the firefight that's erupted above. "Okay, I'm assuming these guys are on our side," he murmurs as he studies the blips on the screen. "Which means those guys are FREE FOR ALL!"

As Khoro 3 climbs sharply back towards the position of the others, Rocket opens up fire. Let's see if Terran weapons can impress him. Either way, he's killing something today. …they woke him up and he's in a grumpy mood!

*

"Phil if you didn't bring me here to lone wolf it up you don't know me very well," Stark replies casually as the Drones form a lattice above him. The silver suit suddenly changes direction impossibily fast, going from forward to acending in-between breaths as he arrows his body at the drones themselves.

He's tougher than they are. And if they try to shoot they might hit each other.

If he can he'll reach out to rip wings off as he passes, flinging them at others as he looks around for the actual planes.

"See if you can pop an airburst EMP between two of them! I want to see how much shielding they have on them. Going this fast I'm guessing they didn't have much worry for safty features."

Almost casually he aims a repulsor blast towards an errant drone before darting off again as the other planes form up on him.

"If we break their line go right though, force them to engage and break up their formation!"

*

During Rocket's rush and the following success of leveling out in more-than-difficult circumstances, Groot stumbles about the way he usually does when things are going south, picking up the slack and getting right to dragging the one dead guy (who was unceremoniously shoved to the floor in the chaos) off to one side behind the pilot seats.

He's in the middle of unbuckling the second one as Rocket rattles off information and instuctions, barely able to nod while processing everything that's going on at the same time. "I am Groot," he confirms, remembering the pieces of that last comm as he dumps the second body next to the first.

Again he pauses, like the tree he is, hearing something about ducttape and sealant in a bag. Without hesitation, he strides toward the back, ent steps shortening the distance and long arms saving time on snatching up the bag. "I am Groot!" he calls, pulling out…the ducttape…before slinging the bag over a shoulder and setting off to work on some of the damage.

Ducttape does wonders. Will it save them from being blown out of the air? No, but he trusts Rocket has that covered.

*

It's not easy, but Rin finally gets control of one drone, and for now that is more than enough. "I've got you asshole." It only takes her a second to make herself some makeshift virtual controls for this drone. Now she may not be a seasoned pilot, but she's at least been in a flight simluator or two she knows enough.

She's tuned into enough of the conversation to know where she should be attacking, and she's picked up that these little fuckers act in sync with it's friends. So she turns the drone and fires on the other drones in it's pack.

"Maybe now they'll know what it's like dry fuck with out lube." She grumbles ignoring the DAD FACE from Phil as she works. She's focused mostly on keeping control and trying to do as much damage as possible. In an ultra professional manner of course."

*

The radio crackles, though it's entirely probable that Rocket's not able to hear it over the sound of the wind shrieking through the cockpit. Or his own gleeful yelling and cannonfire. Or that he just doesn't want to talk to Stooge's Pal right now. Either way, Sally is trying to get in touch.

"Khoro 3 is active! Khoro 3 respond, what is your situation?" She sees the plane climb fast, ignored by the other Icarus fighters. "There's two on your right, dead even with you!" A hard turn and airbrakes would be enough to line them up perfectly, something that the racing enthusiast realizes, and hopefully whoever is in control of the damaged aircraft can help.

«Roger.» Misha gets an acknowledgement, and a nod before Sally turns to Phil for a moment. Then…they did have eight pilots. And airframes. Icarus is a lot further along in their project than it seems; the only question now is whether or not they threw everything they had into this ambush? Or if they've got reserves…the look on Rusalka's face, the questioning and worry, is more than enough.

And then she can't help but stare in horror at Rin as the Japanese woman mutters. Good lord, she could be an Army enlisted - maybe she is? Well…it's Hydra. Nekulturny is the least of their worries, and if she were to admit things privately…they'd deserve it. With a hot poker.

Sally turns her attention back to the display and then yelps. "Khoro 1, Khoro 3 is back in the fight - they're on your far right side, engaging…they'll need support! One on their tail, they've been spotted!"

*

"Groot, I take back everything I said that day," Phil adds. Of course what he said 'that day' was 'You are Groot,' and he'd been informed he'd made zero sense.

But he figures it will come clear anyway.

The overloaded coms do send the Tchernobog planes into reeling confusion. Rocket, coming in with a plane that was supposed to be just gone, manages to take the first core ship out of the air, leaving only 7. Taking out one core ship sends all 4 of its drones to the ground in a firey burst.

Tony's gambit will destroy 2 more drones, and Rin's control of the drone will give her what she needs to take out two more.

17 drones left in the air. They aren't out of the woods by a long shot, but they're evening the odds hard and fast. And with Khoro 1 ready to fire…

"Khoro 1, you've got two unguarded core ships on that wing now, let me see some fire in the sky," Phil instructs. "You're all doing fantastic, keep up the good work people. Even you, Tony."

That's his commentary on 'you don't know me very well' and 'I only work as a lone wolf' from one Tony Stark.

*

"They don't have to be that big! No, don't put that there, I won't be able to see out the thing! The holes! The holes! DON'T EAT THAT!!"

Yeah, Rocket might have a bit of trouble hearing anything while he's trying to make sure Groot doesn't DUCTTAPE HIMSLF TO THE GLASS. He does hesitate a moment, ear perking. "-GROOT! You didn't get the comm! Someone's yammerin' over it- uh-oh, we got company."

He goes from RAGE to business at a hat's drop, eyes narrowing beneath his furry furrowed brow as the warnings go off on his screen. The plane doesn't handle as nicely as the Milano, or most spacefaring ships but that's probably because they're built for functioning in different atmospheres. But he's kind of gotten the feel for it, although being mindful of the precarious situation they have what with the holes in the cockpit making it difficult to keep pressurization, he can't get too crazy with the maneuvers. Plus, Groot doesn't have his seatbelt on.

But hey, when's he ever cared about that?

"Hang on-" he says, presumably a warning, but he's already jerking the controls, intent on a tight loop up and around. …can this plane do that? Welp. Guess he'll find out. He saw it in a movie! This should totally work! And ooh, what're these repulsor cannons? That sounds like a lovely set of words.

*

Oh, look, one of the aircraft is coming back from the dead. That should be wonderful news, but it's coming out of the dead straight into Raisa's airspace, and that won't do at all.

«Khoro One to Welcome Wagon, I noticed!»

Raisa is just a little cranky, because she doesn't like having her maneouvres interrupted. Having to spin out of the way of the ascending Khoro Three is a definite interruption, and that's exactly what she does, sending her own aircraft wheeling in a desperate effort to get out of the way.

He manages to take out an aircraft, though, so that's a little better.

«Khoro One. Engaging.»

It's Isa's voice that answers. Her words are clear, her focus absolute. She's in full business mode, and these guys are going to burn no matter what she has to do to them. Part of her hopes they put up a fight, because just blasting them out of the sky would be too easy.

Mikhail might be fervently hoping for every confluence of pilot's luck possible. He just wants this done so they can go home. He'd also like to go home outside the confines of a body bag.

No sooner does it right itself from its correction than Khoro One twists and falls on the aircraft that had been lining itself up to shoot — one of Tchernobog's, which might be shocked to find that the hunter has become the hunted. "<See what happens when you pull a wolf's tail!>" Raisa cries, triumphantly. "<Mishen'ka!>"

«Khoro One! Firing!»

Missiles light up bright contrails against the night sky, and the staccato flash of the wing-mounted machine gun might even be visible from the ground. Mikhail dances over his weapon controls even as Raisa fights to keep the Tchernobog lined up in her sights.

For all their bickering and argument, there's no real animosity between the two Russian pilots. Their synchronicity is splendid, and in spite of what is still a fundamentally unfamiliar aircraft, they form a formidable team.

A very focused team.

*

HE'S TRYING, HE REALLY IS. The pressure, it's crazy stuff. He doesn't need his friend yelling at him, but he kind of does? Following directions is hard when there's so many coming in at once.

Frustrated, Groot removes the piece of ducttape from his wooden maw, frowning as he goes stomping back toward the rear of the plane. Every turn and tilt of the transport makes it a little hard to keep his balance, fortunately letting him crash against the same wall that bears the radio console.

"I am Groot?" is his initial opening of the comm, listening for the words and details they need in the firefight. As Phil's voice broadcasts, Groot can't help but smile at the reacted nonsensical 'You are Groot' statement. That's like the nicest thing to say to him about that past moment and he appreciates it!

With that, the radio is promptly RIPPED away from its rear console like a wet paper towel. Groot carries it back to the front, presenting it to Rocket with the widest grin he can muster.

"I am Groot!"

*

"………………" Rocket has to look and look again. "You idiot."

*

"Khoro 3, this-" There's a squeal of static as the radio is removed from the aircraft and ripped clean out of the cockpit. Sally turns to Phil. "I don't know who's in there, but I can't contact them. They're on their own, sir…" Worried, wondering who's at the controls - but at least, she sees, looking at the displays, they're effective. She reaches to her chest before remembering she'd given that pouch as a gift to Jessica, for the PI's protection.

Maybe the patron being whose mountains these are is still listening anyway, and she whispers a small prayer to the wisewolf of Sokovia. "Everyone, Khoro 3 is off the comm. Radio is damaged, I cannot raise them, but they are combat capable. Give them space! Iron Man, can you check them?" She can't really ask anyone else to look in on just what's going on, and it's not like the Mark Speedy is incapable of keeping up with the fighter's maneuvers.

Meanwhile her prayer seems to work, as Khoro 3 under Rocket's control manages to line up on several distracted drones and downs two of them - perhaps her patron's listening. Perhaps she's whispering in the pilot's ear right now, coordinating his attack. Or maybe it's just the profligate amount of gunfire they're putting out; it seems that whoever's at the controls is determined to stress-test Stark's guns as hard as they can…

*

"I'm. A. Little. Busy. Here."

Stark's reply comes between him attempting to fly in every direction at once as it seems that many of the remaining drones are /really/ upset with him. "Wasn't there someone down there that was supposed to hack or whatever the kids call it these days these things!" He adds as he corckscrews out of the way of a cloud of them and makes a dive for one of the control ships.

Head of the snake and all that.

*

The information that killing the big ship, kills the little ships would have been useful when they started. Granted no one would have known until it happened, but still Rin is grumpy that she didn't find that information herself. Still it's useful now and she quickly changes her tactics to go after the big guns. By now she would have figured out where they're weak and that should take it out quickly.

That is if her little drone can survive the onslaught.

She didn't miss Stark's quip, and she snarls into the headset like a pre-teen boy who died in an MMO he's too young to be playing. "I am hacking them you asshat. If it were easy, I would have won the battle by now and you could have stayed home in your cushy tower getting a petticure. Or whatever the fuck you do on the top floor."

*

The shocked sporfle of laughter echoes for an instant over the communication net before Sally manages to hit her mute button.

*

"Enough. Do you jobs and stop bickering." It's the first time May has bothered to speak up since this started, and by the particularly flat tone to her voice, she's VERY displeased.

Khoro 2 banks sharply, watching the various targets and taking strategic potshots at anything that crosses her path. She might be picking where she opens fire, but she's picking intelligently.

*

"It's Rocket and Groot," Phil tells Sally, "I got a burst of comm before they went down again." This is why there are multiple people on multiple stations, because there's a lot of chaos going on and it's hard for everyone to keep track of everything.

He turns to Sally. "Can you get your relatives to send a contingent of ground troops into that facility? I'm getting some radio chatter I don't like. Ask them to clear it out and set ground charges while we take care of their air defense. That ought to be a 1-2 punch they aren't expecting, and we're having to burn up missiles on core ships. We might not have enough and we might not be able to do it fast enough without their support."

With that order given, he turns his attention back to the battle in progress. Khoro 3 takes out 3 more of those drones, Rocket's dog fighting allowing fire to pierce the air. Khoro 1 takes out its first Tchernobog, sending another core ship down, though all its drones were already missing. The control ship Tony was drawing a bead on evades, and comes zooming around to fire a pair of missiles his way. The night is fire and blood and the shriek of engines.

Rin's drone snarls into the core ship unleashing its missiles on Tony seconds after it does so, damaging it heavily but not ending it. They have lots of speed and not much firepower, those drones. Still, it causes the juiced up pilot in that ship to flag and to bank, trailing smoke and trying to right itself, lining it up for a clear shot from the Iron Man.

"All Khoros, give me a Trail Formation and take out the rest of the drone cover on Tchernobog Wing 1. Khoro 3, Khoro 2, you've got Wing 2 core ships trying to crawl up your six. Khoro 1, Tchernobog Wing 1 is coming hard at 2:00." Even as he speaks, May does for a couple more drones on Tchernobog Wing 2. "Tony, Rin, form another wing and see what you can do about the rest of Wing 2."

*

And yet she pauses - there's one drone that's doing something different. It's…actually hunting others. She looks back at the hacker, and sees the kind of focus - and sees her eyes, white on white now. Agent Nakano's doing something very special, and her comments…it's not hard to put it together. "All units, ignore drone…uh, this one - updating IFF!" A quick data burst flags Rin's controlled machine with a digital NO SHOOT I halo. "We have control of it at the moment!"

Phil gets her attention, and has a set of instructions. There's a nod - and she pulls off the headset, handing it to him directly. "I'll be right back. I'll let them know and see if they can send anyone else in." With that Rusalka alights from the armored vehicle, glancing around and calling some of the men to her side. A conversation ensues, the Ukrainian hushed, fast, hard to follow. There's a pause in the conversation, before the oldest man in the group - an distant uncle of Sally's, as it were - shrugs and says one thing.

Whatever it was gets the blood to drain from her face, and Rusalka suddenly jerks her head to face north. Ever so distantly above the sound of godlike fighter jets dueling above, a peal of thunder seems to roll…and roll, and roll. Sally makes her way back to the vehicle, clearly shaken. "Agent Coulson…they already have." She blinks, realizing just what game her great-grandmother had played. Requesting to be kept in on the communications net. Sending guards to keep them 'protected' and away from the rest of the night's events.

"She gave our family's war vow to her people, and is…already attacked it ten minutes ago."

"On your left Stark." Rin says as they've been told to form their own wing. It's hard to get these tiny machines to do all she wants it to do. She isn't a magician, she can't add better guns from afar. Still, it's not easy to keep control of the drone, it's constantly changing it's code, and while she's keeping up with it, it's becoming taxing. She barely notices that Sally leaves her spot.

"Come on you little fucker, fire!" She can feel her grip on the drone slip, and with a growl of frustration she pushes up her sleeve. She starts plugging in wires in from her laptop right into the implant in her arm. It's dangerous to directly interface with her computer like this, especially when she's diving in unprotected.

Her body tenses as if it's been jolted by a shock, but finally she grits her teeth and snarls. "You're mine asshole." She says, realizing her control over this thing is very tenuious. The only thing she can think to do is to fly the drone right into another one of those ships. Sweat breaks out on her forehead and she grips the arm of her chair tightly. If she can't have the drone, neither can Icarus.

She manages to keep control long enough for the drone to complete it's final command. She even cheers that had a tiny victory. Her all white eyes turn to Phil with a nod before she jolts forward again. "Shit! Shit shitshitshitshit!" Connections go both ways, and the bridge she created between herself and the drone is exploited and they send their own signal right back. Her whole body tenses as her eyes fade from white to black and with out a further word, she slumps over onto her console.

*

That was shockingly easy. Raisa doesn't comment as the remains of the Tchernobog crumble and smolder towards the earth, instead turning the nose of her aircraft back towards where the rest of the battle still rages.

Sooner or later, the Icarus pilots are going to figure out that one of theirs is no longer under their control. When that happens, she intends to be ready to fall on the last Tchernobog aircraft with Khoro's own divine rage. They took something from her. They stole from her, and it's a debt she intends to exact payment for, in blood and fire.

There are not enough here for her to vent her wrath, she realises, dimly. Even if she managed to shoot don all that's left by her own hand, it wouldn't be enough.

Contrails draw from the tips of Khoro One's wings. The fighter draws away from the wreckage of the Tchernobog, already veering away to acquire its next target. Raisa guides the aircraft with admirable precision, steel-true in spite of the tension. There is still the possibility that these drones and aircraft can sweep them from the sky; they aren't out of the woods by any means. Not yet.

Thunder rises again behind her as she coaxes Khoro into a climb, falling briefly into the "c'mon c'mon c'mon" face as she looks between the radar and the cockpit glass. This isn't gonna work unless she can coax the other Tchernobog into following her…

Instead, she's ordered to break off, and does so with a long and decidedly impolite spate of angry Russian cursing.

Mikhail is kind enough to check and make sure the mic is in fact muted.

"<Comrade Agent Coulson is correct. They are gaining at two o'clock.>" Mikhail's fingers slide over the touch screens, tone of voice mild, but his words are rapid-fire staccato. "<If we can catch the attention of Tchernobog Wing Two, that should buy them enough time to assist. Without any drones…>"

"<…We stand a chance,>" Raisa finishes, eye narrowing. "<Let's do this.>" She reaches up to flick a toggle over her head, even as she sends her aircraft into a seemingly uncontrolled dive. Somehow she manages to make sense of earth and night sky; the sudden and quick whirl of darkness and stars and fiery contrails.

Choosing just the right moment, she pulls out of the dive, which takes her right into Tchernobog Wing One. The serendipity of winding up right near her target brings her to smile a satisfied smile.

"<Mishen'ka.>"

«Khoro One, engaging!»

The night sky lights up as the original Khoro unloads everything it can on what's bound to be a very confused Tchernobog Wing One. There's no words from her as the aircraft lurches beneath the payload sent streaking for the Tchernobog.

There's only a peal of rage from the pilot, so intense it briefly runs to static. Mikhail hastily jabs the mute button on the radio.

Khoro streaks past, regardless of the outcome; it wouldn't do to linger too long in their airspace. They're just as agile, no matter Stark's wonderfully innovative designs, and they're still a threat. If she didn't manage to disable it, its pilot is gonna be a little angry at the near-miss.

Not nearly as angry as my copilot, Mikhail thinks to himself.

«Sorry about that.»

Mikhail's voice, every bit as polite and unassuming in the wake of his wife's incoherent, enraged shriek; she's blessedly silent, now (for the moment) and he can explain himself.

«She is working out some… anger.»

No shit, Sherlock.

And then Khoro slews to one side, abruptly, as a single little drone goes streaking for its destiny as a battering ram. Mikhail pumps a fist in salute to the little drone; the instrumentation identifies it as the one being controlled by Nakano Rin. "<Hah! Godspeed, young lady!>"

*

"Where's everyone going- Ugh, hey Groot, hold this, I'm gonna see if I can salvage this comm system."

Rocket abruptly releases the harness and the control stick at his seat, dropping down to feel about the panels of the console until he can pry a cover loose. "Just keep it level!" he says. "Follow…um… the black one and the other one- unless they try to do a barrel roll." Hopefully this won't take too long, digging around and pulling out wires that have been shorn or were jolted loose. He keeps an eye on the screen to make sure he doesn't accidentally cut that off too.

"Hey, where's my- oh!" His foot jerks out to snag the loop of his bag so he can pull it over, and he roots around with one hand until he pulls out his own communicator. Bracing himself in case Groot can't keep things going smoothly- because really, the tree wasn't the one engineered to be a pilot- Rocket does a bit of quick rewiring, powering on his comm. "Hello, hello- Deadeye, come in-" he says as he skims frequencies. Groot had mentioned something about hearing the guy. Right before he went and ripped out the radio. Slapping the communicator onto the dash with another bit of ducttape, he jumps back into his seat to wrest the controls of the plane back. "Where were you going??? I said follow- oh flark-"

His piloting may seem wild, but there's a certain finesse to it, even if he's still struggling with the differences of a plane versus a spacecraft. At least the repulsor cannon's juiced and ready, strafing fire at the Tcherno trying to overtake them.

*

"Form up on the suicide drone, yeah no. I'm not ready to check out yet." Stark replies as he watches the little drone buzz towards its destiny.

"Sir, you still have incoming."

"Thanks, JARVIS. I didn't know." Stark deadpans. "Drop flares and lets see just how fast they can go. Activate those new pieces from Jane."

"Sir, they havn't really been stressed tested yet…"

"This is good time as any, do it!"

The missiles close on the Iron Man suit. The pilots of those terror ships might just get a warm feeling of satisfaction as they think the irrpressible Avenger might just have bit off more than he can chew.

But…

The tiny form of the Iron Man suit pivots and then with a blinding roar the repulsor systems kick into high gear sending it streaking streight up into the sky. Missiles attempt to correct but they were never ment to hit something that small and manuverable.

At least Tony hopes.

…the fact that he is not going /faster/ than the missiles might also comes as a suprise.

*

"I am Groot!"

Although resigned in tone, Groot's reply is in step with Rocket's trade-off, taking the controls without strapping himself into the seat.

Who needs to be buckled in? They're Guardians of the Galaxy. They live dangerously.

Trying to follow 'the black one' and 'the other one' while getting shot at is much harder than handling the radio. Still, he does his best, yanking the control stick when things get too close to crashing in mid-air. "I am Grooooot!!"

*

"Skazhy svoyiy babusi, shcho lyudyna mozhe plakaty z zakhoplennyam za krasu dukhu svoho voyina," Phil tells Sally in flawless Ukranian, even with both headsets sort of clasped to his ear. He is very, very good at multitasking. But now Rin is down, and Phil hisses a soft "Damn it."

Then: "Sally, take the helm, take command." She's been doing good with those planes, frankly, and he trusts her to get the job done regardless of her actual rank.

As for him? He has basic medical skills; he doesn't know if she does. Furthermore, he has had years of dealing with Rin, and knows what the woman needs in this scenario. He leaps across the command van to rip wires out of arms, plugs another one from his watch right back in there, and brings up a holographic display to quickly cycle through a reset sequence on her implants. He is one of the few people in SHIELD who even has the access codes, and this is very necessary to keep her brain from flying.

Khoro 1 takes out another Tchernobog out in Wing 1, along with three of its drones. Rocket's strafing fire takes out the last of the drones on Tchernobog Wing 2, leaving only the core ships in the air. Tony's missiles crash into a distant hillside, thanks to his adroit maneuvering. He might soon discover he's without a drone partner, some distance from the group and…dealing with two very angry coreships zipping after him in a fluid two formation, even as the third Tchnernobog ship, the one Rin had damaged, rights itself and reforms with Wing 1 so it can take advantage of some of the drone cover.

This leaves 5 core ships and just 6 drones. Team SHIELD is getting close. They just gotta bring it home now.

*

Core ships chasing her? That is just fine with May. She pushes Khoro 2's maneuverability, getting the jet turned and aiming back at her pursuers, firing at them as she can while running the insane slalom of evading their return fire. She almost feels like she needs to say something about twelve parsecs.

*

The comment from Phil gets a simple nod of thanks, before she sees what happened to Rin. "I'm on it!" The headset is gathered, though she can't help but look to the north out the hatch of the vehicle. There's a fire burning, now, and the thunder seems to have stopped. A very bright fire it seems…

Finally it hits her, what Phil had said earlier. She'd been a little distracted, then downright shocked, before she manages to get in touch with the new pilots for Khoro 3. "Rocket!? How are you - nevermind! What's your status?" How much is left of your aircraft?

Meanwhile Sally turns her attention back to the battle. "Khoro 1, be advised, you now have two Tchernobogs on your rear. The drones are mostly gone, but the main fighters…" She knows Isa is well aware of how much firepower they have. "One of them is the damaged one, the rammed aircraft. Khoro 2, your tail is clear. One target high above." She goes back to her jamming work, at least trying to prevent the core ships - the manned fighters - from getting much coordination with each other.

Five miles north, a pitched battle continues - a large group of gunmen, all Stojespal retainers and family, set up a siege around the Icarus facility. Traps had been set, preparations made, before an ancient gun-carrier from the second world war opened the battle with gigantic shells against the building. What security there was went down quickly to a group of hunters and gunmen alike, while the big gun continued to pour fire into the main building. It was a family heirloom and took its place annually in parades…but like every old warhorse, there was plenty of fight left in it.

There was no quarter given to those inside the building - as far as Dragana Stojespal, matriarch of the family was concerned, they were all Hydra in some form or another. Certainly they were betraying their country and their people. High justice was delivered, with no appeal. Only flame, reflected in ancient eyes as she watched it burn with a smile. She'll have to meet their shades when she finally makes it to hell, she thinks. It is never a good thing to not know the face of your enemy. She decided perhaps she was looking forward to hunting them across the afterlife.

*

"Roger," May acknowledges Sally's update and sets Khrono 2 into a steep, near-vertical climb. She's angled directly underneath the core ship high above, hopefully a blind spot. It is for many jets. The moment she's within missile range she quick-aims and fires, not bothering to wait for a weapons lock.

Still climbing at way-too-fast speeds, Khrono 2 catches up with the core ship and the missiles she fired right as they explode, punching through the orangey ball of flames and fuselage before barrelling into a turn and levelling out.

"Call the next target, Stojespal."

*

"Oh, hey Stoogepal," comes Rocket's greeting. It's like they're chattin' up the weather. "Oh, you know, just waking up stuffed in a crate that's on a thing set to crash into the earth, nothin' new. We got things ducttaped but your pilots took the worst of it right off the back from the looks of it. Ship's still flying- er. Not ship. What's this glarkin' thing called again? Weapons still online, targetting systems… Groot kinda ripped out the rear comms."

He cycles through the screens again, seeing if there are any other goodies on this bird. He finds it woefully lacking in artillary, but that might just be him. No, no- hang on here. "We-he-he~ll, what have we here…" Oh. That might be over the comms. You can just hear the grin and it's not a nice one. Hopefully Sally won't worry. Too much.

Tapping at the screen and setting up his next target, Rocket brings Khoro 3 to bear after the Tchernos tailing Khoro 1, the one that's still fresh since he has lots of new toys to test. He keys in and sees his targeting screen light up with traced paths.

"Let's see how good the rest of this Terran tech is," he says gleefully, firing away. The micro-missiles might be a bit of overkill, but they launch and weave about, coming at different angles at their intended target, a small cloud of explosions erupting as some hit remaining drones en route to the larger Wing, but there's still…a lot of missiles left over to buffet the thing from all sides. How many did Rocket fire? Yes. Er. All of them. And the explosions are beautiful. Hopefully they don't cause too much of a distraction for Khoro 1 because everything behind them and the other Tcherno? Like a Disney nighttime spectacular.

*

The problem with doing Hyper-sonic speeds when chasing Iron Man is this.

Iron Man can stop. Fighter planes can't.

"Think they are comfortable yet, JARVIS?"

"Comfortable enough to shoot you quite a bit sir, and they are tracking missiles."

"Yeah thats comfortable enough."

In the realm of air combat slowing down dramaticly fast is not something most things can do. Iron Man isn't most things. He suddenly slows, letting the pair of planes slam past him. There is a smirk on his face as he extends his arms towards the two ugly brutes of planes. Now he knows they are armored.

He knows they are resistant to most weapons. Which is why its not the repulsor blasters that fire.

Its the solid-state laser systems mounted into the wrists.

Twin ruby beams of brilliant light cut across the sky as Iron Man scythes the seconds-long beams though the pair of screaming fighters.

The timing had to be perfect.

And it was.

Because he's Tony Stark.

For a second the pair of planes continue on as if nothing happened. Then the one of the left breaks apart where the wing meets the fusalage.

The other tears itself apart at an angle across the back half of the hull.

"I love these things." He says with a smirk as he ejects the pair of power sources and watches the wreckage fall.

…wait.

"…aw man. JARVIS tell me there isn't anything below us…"

"…well actually sir…"

"Urrrgh. Steve will yell at me if I let them crash into a barn or something." He mutters before he noses over, intent on making sure the wrecks don't fall on anything.

*

"Roger Khoro 2, uh…" Sally pauses, looking over the display. Without the drones, without their coordination, the defense is falling apart. Whatever that computer system uses, she thinks, it's never learned how to lose. And doesn't know what to do when it is. "Hold please."

She turns her attention to Rocket for a moment. "It's Stojespal! St-nevermind. If the weapons are operational you still have a large supply of small air-to-air missiles and two heavy sluggers, EMP weapons. And it's called an airplane!" And then a giant cloud erupts as the Guardian of the Galaxy fires everything IN the galaxy - the missiles all go spiraling in on the undamaged aircraft following Isa and Misha in Khoro 1.

Unfortunately, this gets some attention, and the last of the core ships had been lurking at low altitude, letting the furball overhead straighten out a little and look for a suitable target - and it finds it. Rocket and Groot in their damaged aircraft are the easy targets it picks, and it suddenly arcs upwards at maximum thrust like an arrow.

"Khoro 2! On your rear, uh, six, low! It's going for Khoro 3!"

That just leaves Isa alone with the one that Rin's drone rammed…

*

No sooner has the rogue drone streaked past than it slams into the side of a Tchernobog, which recovers a moment later and decides it's not very happy about the proceedings. In fact, Sally cautions her that there are two Tchernobogs targeting her.

She should be concerned, but Raisa can only muster savage glee. "<Mishen'ka.>"

"<Bring them to me. I will take care of the rest.>" Though unassuming most of the time, Mikhail is no stranger to loss, and he has as much reason to lash out at his former employers as his wife.

Forget risk to life and limb. There's something to be said for catharsis. He'll have to thank Coulson and Stark for this opportunity later; an opportunity he knows both he and his wife have needed. The need to strike back at this foul organisation, this cancer in the form of a corporation, has burned within them. Not just for their personal grievances — but because they understand, fully, what Icarus Dynamics has been trying to do once they've put the intelligence together.

They've been making monsters. Abominations. What he had piloted had been only the beginning. Mikhail reaches up to flick the comm toggle.

«We will pursue the—»

Mikhail abruptly cuts off. No sooner does he speak than the crippled Tchernobog hurtles past them, as though it were attempting to run away and return to its allies. Something else slams into the aircraft, a weapon by the sudden shrieking of alarm klaxons, but neither of them seem to have time to deal with it. If they can knock out this one, that's one less their allies have to worry about. Besides which, at this point Rocket's probably obliterated the thing out of the sky by now. Good God that's an explosion. In fact the concussive force of it is powerful enough to hurl both Khoro and the Tchernobog forward a fair bit.

But Raisa pays it no notice. She's beyond that.

It's with a final peal of rage that Raisa abruptly hits the afterburners. Khoro lurches forward like a sighthound after a hare, the sky lighting up as its engines scream in tandem with its pilot. She doesn't actually say anything, even though she could have been hurling invective at the nameless, faceless pilot. Yet she can't even summon up words, so confounding is her fury at these people; these cowards who took her life from her—

Mikhail finds himself thrown against his harness with an oof as Raisa abruptly steps on the gas. He still has enough presence of mind to toggle the comm switch. His narration is flawless in spite of Raisa shrieking in rage in front of him. He ignores it, voice bland.

«We are pursuing the cripple. Keep other Tchernobog off of us, please. I don't think even I can change her mind at this point.»

It's the same as putting a small creature in front of a hound. The small creature will make small, jerky motions and try to run away, and then every instinct in the hound screams CHASE IT.

So Khoro, the great black and silver wolf, gives chase.

*

No sooner is the aircraft in range than Raisa screams a command for her husband to do his goddamned job before she does it for him, even as she slews hard to keep the Tchernobog lined up. Gunfire chatters off its tail, its wing; skids wildly off the slanted surface of one thrust-vector nozzle. A few more lucky shots manage to bite into the enemy aircraft's tail, and after one of them slams into what is most probably a piece of engine, half the Tchernobog erupts into flame, and the whole of it goes spinning earthward.

Raisa's triumphant crow is probably audible over the channel, because Mikhail has just opened it to confirm the kill. He winces a little at the noise.

«Confirmed hit. Tchernobog is down. Uh…»

"<We have a problem,>" Raisa says, tightly, gesturing to the display that suggests one of their engines is compromised, badly. "<I can take us down, but not far.>" Abruptly, she smacks the comm override toggle above her own console.

«Sally Petrovna! We've been hit. I think I can make it to Feathergrass, but give me a runway, and give it to me five minutes ago! We are losing altitude rapidly!»

It's too dark to see the trailing smoke, but there are occasional arcs of electricity snapping from the engine, enveloping the damaged area. Also, it looks like something small is on fire. That, at least, is probably not a good thing.

«And tell me when you have that runway! I don't care what strings you have to pull, I will pay you back… but if you don't hurry, I will not be alive to pay you back.»

*

Phil is busy pushing a hypospray into Rin's neck, one full of a drug that will also keep her brain from swelling and frying and the like. He checks her pulse, counts it like there's nothing else going on, then nods. SHIELD medical will take care of the rest. He picks up a headset, hears what's going on, and unmutes it.

"Yakoleva, Coulson," he says, deadpan in the headset. "I've got two words for you. Those two words are Launchpad McQuack."

In otherwords, land that plane, leave it and the pilots in a condition that can be repaired or seriously, she is out of the air!

He turns his attention to the rest, nodding approvingly as Sally shows she has command ability. He's watching her, and makes no move, other than that one statement, to take control of the battle. He in fact nods at her to continue doing what she's doing. Instead, he encourages. "Rocket, Groot, this is Deadeye, that was fantastic."

Yeah, he'll own the nickname. What?

"May, great work." But he shuts up so she can take care of the one on Khoro 3.

"Tony, great stuff. Are you hurt out there?"

He is, after all, the one in a suit and not in a plane.

*

"I JUST SHOT THE THING WHY IS THIS THING SCREAMING AT M- oh. $*@-"

Rocket's transmission devolves into a trail of explicatives interwoven with whatever alien equivalents as he jukes in a seemingly wild fashion to evade as their aircraft comes underfire. Externally, the plane looks to be doing an incredible job of avoiding being hit, at least given its current capabilities. It's clearly doing its best, but not without suffering a smattering of fire that clips its wings, but considerably less damaging than what could have been.

"-this thing's controls are terrible." The raccoon's dissing your designs, Tony.

"I am Groot!" comes Groot's enthusiastic greeting as he responds to Coulson. He clings to his seat, anxiously watching the warnings light up the screen, but clearly it's not enough to keep him from responding to the Suit Guy.

"Deadeye! There you are! Thanks. You can praise me later in person," Rocket cuts in, casually. Abruptly cutting the aircraft's speed, he hopes that it'll lose him as a target.

*

"On it. Khoro 3, don't give that bird any reason to look elsewhere. Deadeye…" where the hell did THAT nickname come from? May sets Khoro 2 to dive toward the core ship currently targetting Khoro 3 despite the rather impressive evasive tactics. "…we're going to need to have a talk after this."

Mini-missiles — not nearly as many as Rocket used — flash out and away from Khoro 2 to hit that last Core ship. It's not enough to completely explode it, but certainly enough to get it to seriously reconsider its life choices. And to stop firing at Khoro 3.

"You're clear, Groot. Take them down." She doesn't know the other chatty voice's name (yet), but as Groot was so kind as to introduce himself…

*

May says they're going to need to have a talk after, and Coulson briefly mutes the microphone just so he can wonder aloud: "What am I in trouble for now?"

*

"On it!" Only two words are spared for Isa, as Sally drops the jamming in the area. She looks to Coulson, who takes over and gives orders - and the engineer-student-agent shuts off the jamming going on. No need to torment the locals with that damnable opera, the one she hates so much. A glance is spared for Rin, worry clear on Sally's face, before she gets on a scrambled satellite phone.

Maybe she can't send orders to the airbase…but she can call one particular officer. She starts to try to explain, the conversation in Ukrainian fast as she's working to get in a word edgewise around the encroaching glacier that is her mother. And then something shifts slightly in Sally, as her voice drops hard and flat, and the short speech that follows is direct and to the point. She is an agent of SHIELD, and this is SHIELD business - and right now they require the services and assistance of the Sokovian Air Force.

Meanwhile, two new blips appear on the radar scopes, a pair of fast-moving fighters in tight formation. With everyone's ammunition situation, and the damage to Khoro 1 and 3…it's going to be a rough one. Sally gives a glance at the telemetry screen, wincing at the data from the damaged engine of Khoro 1.

The conversation continues, Sally's own words fast and hard explaining the situation. A long pause, listening to whoever is on the other side. Her attitude has, though, definitely changed. Perhaps that's all the person on the other end of the phone wanted. The conversation is one-sided, whatever's being said to the heiress just gets a nod - and a sudden long sigh of relief. A moment of tenderness before she hangs up, and then Sally looks back at the radar display and the two new intruders.

There's a crackle of radio, and thickly accented English in a man's voice. "Khoro 1, Khoro 3. Break hard high and then follow us!" There's a missile warning, as the last core ship - setting up its attack run on May's own aircraft - gets caught by surprise. The new challengers are a pair of Sokovian Air Force MiG-23s, vintage technology decades out of date. They don't have repulsors, only a cannon. No minimissiles or EMP warheads, just good old fashioned explosives.

Yet the missiles they do carry, four each, are just as deadly - especially when all eight are fired in a single ripple. The Tchernobog can easily dodge one. Three, four, no problem. Six would take concentration, but between Rocket and Groot setting it up for a perfect intercept and the barrage fired by the locals, there's no chance. The final aircraft explodes in a flare of light and smoke, the wreckage trailing an arc right to the ground.

The accented english returns, much more jovial this time. "Fuck that bitch. This is Sokovia!"

*

"<Heads up, my dove. We have company.>" Mikhail frowns over the display, even as he flicks an eye back toward the rear quarter of the aircraft. He can't see anything, but he can imagine the fire eating away at the armoured flanges of the engine. If he can imagine smelling the stench of burning components, he can only imagine what must be going through…

He leans over the seat in front of him, eyeing Raisa somewhat curiously. No, she seems to be totally fine. Once the adrenaline crashes, she might not be so calm, but right now she's doing her job with admirable steadiness.

For now.

Mikhail sighs silently and shakes his head, eyeing the two blips. He's tracking them, with every intention of activating the weaponry if they can coax one more dogfight out of Khoro. "<SIRIN, how bad is the damage? Think you could make it through one more dogfight? Bad luck, two against one…>"

In fact, one of the two blips might hear the steady tone of a weapons lock seconds before they're hailed.

He opens a channel, but his other hand remains on the weapon controls. His gloved thumb hovers over the missile release toggle. In fact, he's mere reflex away from firing, but the sound of a familiar voice lends him pause. Well, not so much a familiar voice, but he recognises the cadences of that accent. That's a Sokovian voice.

Telling them to break hard and high. Raisa immediately throws the damaged aircraft into evasive manoeuvres, engines screaming in tortured protest. "<I know,>" she says tensely, patting the console. "<I know, I know. One more evasive manoeuvre. Just one more. C'mon, c'mon, c'mon…>"

The sleek form of Khoro flashes past the pair of hunting MiG-23s as they release their payload. Raisa's head actually turns as she watches the flare of missiles being released, whistling low. "<Now that's brass balls.>"

"<Those things are antiques,>" Mikhail says in disbelief.

Up goes the last Tchernobog in a blossom of fire, and down goes its wreckage back to the earth.

"<I can't believe I just saw that,>" Raisa says, blinking hard. "<Wow. Uh, let's see if they're willing to escort us down. Mishen'ka?>"

Mikhail grunts, still shaking his head in disbelief, and thumbs the radio toggle. He switches into Russian this time, mostly because it's much closer to Sokovian than English.

«This is Khoro One to allied Sokovian aircraft. Requesting permission to land at Feathergrass Air Base. Our engine is compromised, and that's as far as we're willing to push it. May we have an escort and a runway?»

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