Welcome to Sokovia, Redbird

August 08, 2017:

In which Isa Reichert is formally welcomed to the Republic of Sokovia, once she brings her aircraft down for an emergency landing. Takes place after "6125: This is Sokovia!"

Republic of Sokovia

It is most definitely not on fire.


NPCs: Dragana Stojespal, Irja Stojespal, Mikhail Nikolayevich Makarov

Mentions: Phil Coulson, Tony Stark

Mood Music: None.

Fade In…

The sky over Sokovia has not been peaceful this night.

Stars glimmer high in the firmament, the moon a few degrees shy of full. They have stood witness to the battle only recently over. The peaceful night has been shredded by thunder, and the earth has been staggered by explosions and fire in the sky.

Thunder still roars, but it's the engines of mighty Khoro, labouring and screaming their way to Feathergrass Air Base. It's been a tense flight, with the pilot doing everything in her power to keep the straining fighter airborne. Behind her, the co-pilot has been offering words of encouragement, between fervent prayers to any deity listening.

Rusalka Stojespal's radio crackles to life with the voice of Raisa Ivanovna Yakovleva. Her voice is scratchy over the static-ridden line, and she speaks in clipped, rapid-fire Russian, even faster than Sally's own conversations in Ukranian.

«Yakovleva to Stojespal. You had better have that runway clear, because we are coming down whether you like it or not.»

It comes to life again, this time to the tune of Mikhail Nikolayevich Makarov's worried voice; this time, he's trying to raise the air base itself over his communications array. It's only polite to formally request a landing, after all.

«Khoro One to Feathergrass Air Base. We've suffered some damage, and we need to make an emergency landing on your runway; whatever you have free that is facing southward.»

Khoro struggles on in fits and starts. Altitude drops. Controllers watching from the tower might see the thick, acrid smoke trailing from the starboard engine array; electricity still snaps around the scarred engine housing in lethal arcs. Every so often the aircraft lurches and loses even more precious altitude.

The runway is tantalisingly close, but it isn't close enough to be this low. Raisa's face is grim, nearly colourless, as she fights against the controls for altitude.

"<Mishen'ka.>" She speaks the name without looking away, without letting go of the controls.

He looks just as nervous, grey-blue eyes troubled. His voice, normally so affable, is tense. "<Raya?>"

"<If we don't make it out of this…>"

"<Hush. We'll make it. We've got the best damned pilot out of Russia flying this bird, you know.>"

She chuckles, but it's more of a strangled sound, all nerves, than genuine laughter. That seems to be enough to settle the issue for her. He knows what she was going to say. She knows of his awareness, and so nothing more on it needs to be said between them.

Of course she loves him, or she wouldn't have gone through the hell she'd gone through, or fought as desperately as she had, to get him back.


She flicks her eye toward the distant hills, sidelong, shadowy and looming. The rocky outcroppings seem to grasp at Khoro's crippled flight.


"<I could use a smoke right now.>"

Always the clown, Mikhail Nikolayevich, but that's what she's come to expect; levity and absurdity in moments of gut-chewing anxiety. She finds herself cracking half a smile.

"<Yeah. Me too. I've got half a carton left—>" She grunts as the aircraft lurches again, wrestling with the controls to smooth its flight. "<Smoke all of them with you once we're out of this thing.>"


Raisa reaches up to flick a toggle, grinning, but it's more of a strained rictus than a grin.

«Khoro One to Feathergrass. Not to put too fine a point on things, but I'm losing altitude. I need that damned runway, and I need it yesterday.»

It's a voice they might recognise, those among them who are aerial enthusiasts. Familiar, but a little different, too; more grizzled and strained, transformed by too many years of drinking, smoking, and right now, by stress. Could it be that the famous test pilot has graced this backwater air base of Sokovia…?

Forming the two rear points of a loose triangle, both Sokovian MiGs – missile stores exhausted from their paired suckerpunch of the last of Icarus Dynamics' wunder-planes – settle in on either side of the crippled Stark-built machine. Khoro One gets its fighter escort all the way in, though the two Sokovian pilots are privately taking bets with themselves as to whether the smoking machine will make it all the way.

English greets the Russian, the two pilots having listened in on the battle previously and know the jet's pilot will understand. It's a lot better than their Russian. "Khoro One, this is Fury Two-One. I am on your eight-o-clock position at fifty meters. I see your gear is down. Severe damage to port side, losing…fluid." Hydraulics or fuel, he's not sure. Like the rest of the entire world, he's never seen an aircraft like this before. Repulsor engines, intense armor, the finest design money can buy.

His wingman speaks up, her voice a little more thickly accented. "This is Fury Two-Two. No visible damage on your starboard side. Holding position at your four o'clock, fifty meters. We'll guide you in. …What the hell are you?"

SIRIN, meanwhile, is doing her best. Despite the damage, it's still just as caffeinated and sugary as before. "We'll make it! There's lots of owwie, but we should make it to the runway! I'll make sure with everything in my power, okay Redbird? You can do it!"

At her second call, there's a reply from the airbase – a girl's voice, clearly no older than Rusalka herself. In Russian, this time; this one at least knows how to speak the language fluently. …One? Sometimes it sounds like a weird harmony. There's clearly some damage to the radio system. Or feedback; that same voice is saying other things over other channels as well.

"«This is Feathergrass Control declaring an in-flight emergency. Khoro One, your course is correct for final approach. Your altitude is low. Runway two-five is clear and waiting for you.»" More instructions in English, chatter for the other pilots of Khoro Two and Three – they're under orders to hold position for now, and will be brought in later.

Clearing a ridge, and with a gentle turn to the left, the runway itself is lit up and waiting – a stretch of tarmac fifty meters wide and far longer than something as potent as this aircraft would need. The only question is now, whether Isa can nurse the crippled plane all the way there.

Raisa grits her teeth as the aircraft keeps trying to slew to one side, compensating for the damaged structure. An explosion from one of the Tchernobogs' lucky missiles is enough to compromise its ability to stay level, as well as its lateral controls. It's an annoying predicament, because she might not be able to control it enough to land.

It's Mikhail who answers the escorts, not his wife; she's too busy trying to keep them from shuddering right out of the air. Unfortunately, there's not much he can do to assure their stability, aside from handling the communications and checking the radar obsessively to make sure Icarus doesn't have any more reinforcements.

He speaks Russian, because his English is even worse than the Sokovian pilots' Russian.

«Khoro One to Fury Two-One, escort confirmed. Sorry, my English is not so good, so you will have to bear with me. We are a little busy here.»

What the hell are you? the pilot asks.

«No time for that now. We will explain later.»

"<Shut up,>" Isa snaps in Russian, to the overly cheerful AI. "<Busy.>" She glares at the console as control finally clears a runway, and can't help but interject, in Russian, over her husband.

«About time. Feathergrass Control, this is Khoro One, coming in hard. Get your escorts out of my way. I'm not going to drag them down with me if this doesn't work.»

Down dips the sleek form of Khoro One, trailing smoke and God only knows what else where its engine housing had been gouged open. Even the formation lights on the tips of its wings are faltering a little, flickering.

The lights in the cockpit wink out.

"<Oh shit! Oh damn!>" Raisa sounds a little panicky.

For the last several feet, Khoro One plunges blindly, before the lights wink back on. The controls come back to life, and Raisa pulls the jet up in time to snap the top of a sapling. Khoro's landing gear brushes so close to the hill that it almost grazes a boulder.

But for all her panicking, Raisa is still focusing on flying, trying to control that energy in her desperate bid to keep Khoro at least somewhat level. A slight turn, which she has to fight every inch for, takes the runway in view. Ashphalt has never looked so good to her.

Once more the lights wink out, just a little ways over the runway.

"<God dammit! Move down, you piece-of-shit ailerons!>" Raisa's down to snarling obscenities in Russian, while Mikhail braces himself against his station in an effort to not be shaken out of his seat.

Khoro plunges the last few feet in darkness and unresponsiveness, meeting the runway hard with bone-jarring impact. Mikhail grunts, rattling in his seat; Raisa braces her legs against the cockpit reinforcement, still wrestling with the flight stick to try and keep the thing level – and to try, desperately, to brake before they run out of tarmac.

Closer and closer Khoro thunders towards the end of the runway. The comms are down by this point; the damage and the landing have managed to wreak merry havoc on the aircraft's experimental systems. Khoro's pilots are unable to respond, and all anyone else can do for a moment is watch.

Sparks fly as a piece of the engine housing shudders off its moorings, crashing to the runway behind Khoro; bouncing off the tarmac and into the field. Gradually, the lumbering hulk's speed decreases. It might be too gradual, though. They're running out of tarmac to slow down on.

Gradually, though, Khoro's front wheels ease to a halt at the very edge of the runway. The braking systems respond. There are no braking thrusters, but Raisa made sure that its design incorporated all sorts of fail-safe means by which to Stop Going Fast.

Khoro eases to a halt as smoke pours from the crippled engine housing. The lights remain off.

Did the pilots make it? Is the cockpit glass stuck?

…Yeah. If someone goes to check on them, they'll hear muffled cursing in Russian to do the fiercest sailor proud, and the dull thump of someone smacking the cockpit glass with a fist. The suited and helmeted form of the forward pilot is hammering on the glass; the second is trying to stand and push against it, but it looks like they can't get out.

"<SIRIN,>" Raisa rails on angrily, "<for the last goddamn time, wake up and open the goddamn door! We'll have you fixed up but not until you let us out of here!>"

"«No problem, Khoro One.»" That at least is in Russian, but it's testing the fluency of the pilot of Fury Two-One. "We will follow you down at distance – ah, copy that. Good luck." This to something on that weird harmonic air-traffic-control channel, and instead of following the fighter to near landing and simply breaking away then, both planes pull up for altitude.

God and Tony Stark alone know how that airplane flies, and if it crashes, God and Tony Stark alone know how big the explosion will be. Both Fury aircraft peel off in opposite directions and climb for some altitude, both pilots praying they don't have to come back to a hole in the ground.

Fortunately, despite last-second terror that silences SIRIN herself when the electricity fails, there's the relatively smooth surface of runway beneath the jet's wheels. They manage to hold, the landing gear and its supports still intact somehow despite the exceptional damage. Other things aren't so lucky, as one of the massive repulsor engines breaks free and skids into the dirt sending golden and green flame into the sky.

The response vehicles were already on the taxiway, not even waiting for the stricken aircraft to come to a stop before they accelerate to meet it at the far end of the strip. Both MiGs, circling, finally break off and head south – as it is, this runway is very, very closed. And it's the only one at the airfield.

SIRIN herself is unresponsive, though a faint blue glow finally announces the AI's return. The voice, chipper and upbeat as ever, finally kicks back in as Raisa and Misha are prisoners in the still-sealed cockpit. "Oh I'm so glad you're both okay! I knew you could do it! We made it down in one piece after all, right? And victorious!"

Several of the fire crew surround the nose of the craft, trying to find – there. The safety and escape devices that Raisa had insisted upon were less difficult to locate than the stealthy design might require, and there's a loud bang as explosive bolts fire – the damaged canopy finally freeing itself with the help of the ground crew.

Paramedics approach, intent on checking the two out as there's sprays of chemical foam, the sounds of sirens, the flashing emergency lights, the hands hauling the two aircrew out of the jet. It's a veritable cacaphony of noise, topped off with jet engine roar as the two MiGs overhead circle once and then accelerate away to the south, leading the other two aircraft to international airspace.

And amidst it all, a glacier at the center of a bonfire, stands a familiar looking woman with cobalt blue eyes and an impeccable uniform. The family resemblance to her daughter is easy to see, though this officer is clearly older and time-worn. Irja Stojespal takes in the aircraft, drinking in its strange, sleek, and hyper-performing design with barely a blink – and then turns her eye on the two that crawl forth from it.

Simply waiting.

Raisa stops pounding on the canopy, because it's not actually doing any good. The thing needs explosive bolts to separate from the fuselage. Really, she's only doing it for the catharsis, because it feels gratifying to hit something as hard as she can after all that.

"<Shut. Up!>"

That's her only comment to SIRIN.

She sags back, folding her arms and simmering in silence. Mikhail stands as well as he's able, hunching against the canopy to watch as the emergency crews come roaring in.

He shrinks back in a hurry once they find the emergency release, because he doesn't want to be concussed into the next century.

Raisa doesn't wait for someone to help her; she's already climbing out as soon as the canopy is out of her way. Mikhail crawls out at a slightly more sedate pace, accepting the help of local fire crews and gingerly extracting himself from his station. At least the cockpit appears to be undamaged. Even with its armouring, if anything had happened to it, the pilots probably wouldn't have survived.

Smoke continues belching from the hollow engine housing. From the rear of the plane comes a sharp pop and the stench of ozone as another arc of electricity snaps over the damaged part.

It's with a whump that the first pilot lands, reaching up to claw at the helmet in her way. She finally succeeds in tugging it off, tucking it under an arm and shaking her head in disgust, as though to clear it. A wave of vibrantly red hair tumbles down; a single blue eye glares out in the darkness and the floodlights.

She ignores the wreckage. Beside her, the second pilot eases his helmet off, supporting it under his arm and frowning thoughtfully at the mess that Icarus has made of their aircraft. It's true that Raisa isn't a combat pilot, but he knows her instincts are still top-notch. Was their technology really so superior? Or had they just been unlucky…?

Raisa isn't paying attention to his brooding. Her attention snaps back around to the familiar woman with eyes of cobalt and full Sokovian Air Force regalia.

She doesn't need to ask to know who it is. Those eyes make it immediately obvious. There's only one other person she knows who has eyes like that.

Irja Stojespal.

She cracks a hard-edged grin. They made it.

The harsh light of the emergency crews' floodlamps and the scarring on the side of her face make the expression seem somewhat unsightly – but she's recognisable, from the newspaper articles that had been published five years ago. Aside from the weathering of time and strain, and the disfigurement of the scarring, her features are still recognisable.

Is that an eyepatch? Does the woman who crawled out of the hyper-advanced fighter jet have only one eye?

And, still clutching her helmet under an arm, Raisa Ivanovna Yakovleva snaps off a razor-precise salute. Mikhail echoes the gesture behind and slightly to one side of her. She holds it as one would do for a superior officer; holds it just a fraction of a second more to show respect.

"We've landed, so…okaaay! Have a good time, Lovebird One and Lovebird Two!"

SIRIN, being SIRIN. Namely, being made by Tony Stark.

The paramedics take a closer look at Misha, as Raisa brushes them off and demonstrates a lack of need. Shaken, shot at, thrown around the sky in impossible maneuvers, she's fine. It's clear even to the permanently-landlocked ground crew that for a brief time, the redhead was where she Belonged. And they let her be.

The harsh electrical damage gets a lot more attention from the firefighters, the soapy suppression-foam starting to turn the end of the runway into a bit of a white blobby mess – along with a good half of the aircraft. At this point the fire crews don't know what to hit and what not to – so like all firefighters, they choose the option of absolute thoroughness followed by being sure with a helping of total coverage on top.

Irja watches as the two pilots finally climb down, though her eyes widen as the woman in front removes her helmet – and reveals the eyepatch and the long red hair. She snaps back a salute in reply, crisp and just as professional, before giving Raisa a long look and folding her arms across her chest.

She drops into Russian, having heard the conversation previously. "«It is not often that I am approached by title rather than rank in regards to military matters. It is rarer still that I find myself requiring a squadron commander to allow his aircraft to engage an unknown target, once again on the words of those who approach me by title.»"

Then she turns that hard stare to the great black and silver aircraft, taking in what might as well be a complete UFO, eyes pausing for barely a moment at the Stark Industries logo inside the wheel well. This explains much, before her eyes turn back to the redhead and her copilot. "«Isa Reichert, I believe. My sometimes-wayward daughter has said much about you lately. You are not an easy woman to mistake for another, I suppose.»"

There's the slightest quirk of an eyebrow as she continues to stare the duo down. "«And yet, I do. Your face is strangely familiar; I know I have seen you before. Yet that will wait – for now,»" she adds, as a group of guardsmen pull up. Infantry, fatigues and rifles suggesting they were just sent over from the security patrol.

There's a long, almost comatose pause as Irja stands there, before she finally blinks and turns back to the aircraft. "«For now, I would very much like to know the reasons why I have been forced to close my airbase, send my people into combat, and entertain an air battle over my country's territory with so little a warning as a phone call? I very much look forward to your explanation.» Sergeant."

The jeep-analogue disgorges its troops, two of whom remain with the vehicle while the others spread out around the aircraft. One soldier remains at the wheel, the other sits toward the back, and Irja spins on her toes to stride to the vehicle. "Bring our guests. There are many questions I will have answered this night." She looks back, not threatening yet – simply inviting the two ride with her. The kind of invitation that, refused, provdes a much less comfortable near future.

Raisa is absurdly proud of herself for not flinging her helmet at the aircraft, at SIRIN's parting remark. Fortunately her attention is taken by something a little less infuriating, and she ignores the chirpy AI.

Raisa lifts her chin, perhaps in spite of a slight being slightly shorter than Irja Stojespal. Her regard is almost challenging when the other widens her eyes, as though daring the other woman to comment on it. For a moment it almost seems like she's going to respond to the base commander with a challenge of her own. Once upon a time, she was wonderful with the press and the public, but her relations with fellow professionals had been somewhat more strained. Engineers had been terrified by her strong-willed nature. Those who had not been careful had suffered her righteous wrath for daring to cut corners when the aircraft she flew had sheltered her life, and her country's reputation, under their wings.

Now, she looks a bit more weary; more worn. Gone is the idealistic and cheerful woman of those grainy television reports and newspaper articles. Time, loss, and fire have reduced her to the essentials of survival. She has learned to live at all costs, no matter how furiously the world tries to hammer her down. Defiance is a survival skill for her.

Yet she knows her place, having grown up and functioned in the political climate that she did. So, although her eye suggests mutiny, she holds her tongue, and she watches Irja in a way that suggests the adrenaline hasn't quite bled off from her just yet.

Give me a reason, that single glittering eye seems to say. But Raisa Ivanovna holds her tongue.

That hard-edged smile stays right where it is as Irja describes her, and implies that she looks entirely too familiar in spite of the scarring.

Mikhail has stepped up beside her at this point, a silent but protective shadow. His own blue eyes are fixed on Irja, silent and solemn, wary. He still has his sidearm, though he's careful to keep his hand carefully away from it. It wouldn't do to cause an international incident, especially when they're wearing, of all things, SHIELD flight suits… in spite of the Stark Industries insignia on the side of the aircraft's cockpit and inside the wheel well.

Raisa glances over her shoulder to Mikhail. The man's head twitches, very faintly, as though to dissuade her from getting her hackles up. Her posture visibly relaxes once she's confirmed with him through whatever unspoken conversation they've just shared. Both turn back to face Irja, still silent. At least she doesn't deny her identity; presumably, Irja has her dead to rights in that regard.

It's tempting to snap at the crews to be careful with that jet, because it belongs to Tony Stark, but she's not going to give Stark the satisfaction, even if he'd have no way to know. It also seems safer not to break the silence.

This woman, she senses, is just as dangerous as herself, in a completely different way.

Mikhail and Raisa exchange another look before shifting their grips on their helmets, climbing into the vehicle without another word.

Are they mute all of a sudden? Were they hurt in the crash? Are they just in shock? Or are they just naturally taciturn? They're silent even as they buckle their seatbelts; Raisa throws herself back onto the seat with a sigh. It's not an improvement to her, not with the way she's used to the contours of an aircraft's seat, but at least they're not completely lacking in padding.

"<We will tell you as much as we are cleared to tell you,>" Raisa finally says. Her voice is grizzled, but even after the ravages of alcohol and cigarettes, even after the devastation of loss, there's something there that Irja might find curiously familiar. "<Somewhere… private.>"

"<Much more private,>" Mikhail chimes in, glancing over toward the tarmac and its veritable throngs of emergency response crews and air base security. "<But I can tell you that we are here on SHIELD business, and we would not have been able to reach the nearest SHIELD facilities.>" They're wearing SHIELD flight suits, so it's not like anyone wouldn't buy that they aren't here on SHIELD business.

Wolves. Two wolves, both dominant mothers of their pack, meeting for the first time. Sizing each other up with threat, defiance, counterthreat, and assessment. And, mutually, understanding. At the moment, supremacy leads to Irja's side – if only because it is deep in her territory that Isa and her husband stand.

There is recognition in those deep blue eyes, yet Irja isn't sure of identification. She knows, though, that she has met this woman before. More than simply 'the pilot that Rusalka had befriended at SHIELD,' there is something to that face – that eye, that fierce and determined eye – that she is sure of seeing in the past. That red hair as well.

Such things will be answered in time. As it is, she takes the passenger seat in the jeep, heels clicking hard against the tarmac as she settles in. The two passengers are given the rear seats, while the guard sits behind them all. His eyes, if either of them bother to pay the enlisted man much attention, focus on the two intruders only in small amounts. He keeps his eyes up and out of the vehicle…whatever threat he's concerned about, it's not from them.

"Da. <I understand you are limited in what you may say. Do not fear, I am well aware of SHIELD's presence. And, I am told that more information is forthcoming. But now I must decide what to do with the two of you.>" And she falls silent, since her questioning is not for other ears, whether the two infantrymen understand Russian or not. "<This is a night of dark deeds, and the night is long yet.>"

Nothing more is said to the duo, besides being provided an escort along with Irja into the operations building. It's as old, if not more so, as the MiG-23s that took off earlier, and while not dilapidated…has definitely seen better days. There is much of Sokovia it resembles, a country a little bit down, a little bit strangled, and a little bit held back. Older technology, a make-do of paper filing cabinets, typewriters, and old computers scream of its nigh-rustic nature in this modern era of a digital world.

Finally, the trio and their escort arrive at an office on the third floor, overlooking the airfield – the aircraft is visible, though it's quickly being covered by a series of camouflage nets and tarps as the retardant foam fades away. "<Sit.>" The guard remained outside at the door, exchanging only a brief conversation in Ukrainian with Irja before the heavy wood closes like a bank vault. And then…they are alone.

The chairs are comfortable enough; perhaps not the command couch of a top-of-the-line fighter but a pleasantly overstuffed pair of chairs that entertain whatever high-ranking officer has the misfortune to step in the career-meadowmuffin that is Feathergrass Air Station. Irja busies herself at a samovar, drawing tea for the trio without saying anything. Once she returns with cups, jams, and other sundries, she settles in at her desk, and rests her chin upon her fingers.

"<Isa Reichert. But I do not believe that is your only name. And…companion? I have heard of you, at least, from my daughter. You, sir,>" she adds, with a glance at Misha, "<I am unsure of. A SHIELD agent? Pilot, perhaps?>" And then her eyes turn back to Isa, a hardness and intensity present that explains the woman's worn, almost gaunt look. She draws much from her own strength, and has done so for a very long time. "<Rusalka speaks well of you. And I have a…note,>" she adds without much of an expression, "<vouchsafing your presence in Sokovia. From SHIELD.>"

Her eyes narrow slightly. "<And yet none have seen fit to tell me why you are here. And why my pilots put themselves at risk.>" She draws a breath, carefully. "<And why my only daughter from my deceased beloved husband has placed herself equally at risk to bring you here in your incredible machines, to destroy something that bore a name second only to Satan itself in this land.>"

Once in the vehicle and buckled in, both pilots slump against each other a little, with a familiarity that suggests they're comfortable in one another's company. Whoever they are. Raisa and Mikhail both each let out a sigh that suggests they aren't bone-weary yet, but they will once the adrenaline crashes hit them.

What to do with them? Mikhail shrugs with a rustle of his augmented nylon flight suit. "<Feed us and give us a corner cot to sleep in. If nothing else, we can have someone with a much higher security clearance fill you in on the details.>" He thumbs to indicate Raisa. "<I'm not actually affiliated with SHIELD, but she is.>"

Dark deeds. That's for sure. At that statement, the red-headed pilot glances back out the window, back from the way they'd come. She's a little worried about the aircraft, but it's more out of concern for the cost than its upbeat AI. That part is annoying and distracting and she's going to be having Words with Stark abou tthat.

For now, she's content to lean back in her seat as the transport bounces its way across Feathergrass Air Base.

They're quiet even as they file into the administrative building, noting the run-down quality of it. Much like the rest of Sokovia, it's proud but worn, and its glory days are well behind it. It still has some fight left in it, though. If nothing else, its fierce matriarch proves this.

By the time they reach the office, the two pilots aren't quite stumbling, but happy enough to collapse into the chairs when bade to sit down. They both sit straight in military posture, though their heads follow Irja as she circles around to sit in her own chair.

It's Isa who eyes the base commander appraisingly. There's a shrewdness about her one-eyed gaze, as though she were calculating just how much Irja knows. The commander is smart. There's no mistaking that. Isa says nothing about whether or not she has another name, offering neither confirmation nor denial. Even an idiot would know it isn't her right name… but she's not going to reveal anything more than necessary, not until she has a better grasp of the situation. Even if this is Sally Petrovna's mother in the flesh, as a SHIELD agent and a representative of Stark Industries, she owes it to both organisations to tread carefully.

Mikhail, however, raises both hands in placating gesture. "<In so many words… but I am not an agent. I have only enough temporary security clearance to fly that bird out there, and know that it exists. A temporary agent, if you will, sir.>" Given what he's gone through to get that far, he's lucky SHIELD hasn't thrown him into a jail cell for a short eternity. The thought makes him look a little unexpectedly glum. "<I guess that's the easiest answer, anyway.>"

There's a slow tilt of her head from the one-eyed pilot, eye narrowing at the knowledge that SHIELD has already called ahead and vouched for her presence. Comrade Coulson, you sneaky bastard, I don't know what I'd do without your attention to detail. She can't help a grim little smile.

Raisa sighs and rubs at the scarred side of her jaw with scarred fingers, as though deciding where to go from here. She shares another fleeting glance with Mikhail as though to seek his opinion without words. He only shrugs.

"<Sir.>" The red-headed pilot snaps her attention back to Irja, blue eye intense as a raptor's. "<Have you ever heard of Icarus Dynamics, or an organisation that calls itself Hydra?>"

The woman in the seat across from Isa simply waits. She does take a moment to sample her tea while Misha speaks, nodding once and slightly to his words. That, at least, confirms the documents she'd been given. Slim, at best. A phone call from Rusalka, another from the family matriarch. No slight shock had come to her when she'd learned about that side of the night's events…

…but those cards, for now, are kept completely under the table. Right now, in this room, she has two people who can tell her the most of what's truly happening – and it is her duty to find out what.

"<I see. Your role is temporary, then. What is your relationship to Ms. Reichert?>" It's patently obvious they have some connection – he's no SHIELD agent, simply a momentary contractor put in a place that he hadn't expected to be, clearly. And doing a job he clearly was good enough at, and could work with the steel-willed woman next to him.

She also hadn't missed that moment in the jeep, either. There's very clearly an affinity between them. Probably more, if they work that well together.

"<I imagine it is the easiest answer. But it is only the first answer, and I will have more before this night is through." Her tone is simple, as if stating that the sun is currently down. A truth of the universe. And then, by way of questions, her answers begin to come. Irja listens carefully, and raises her teacup to her lips.

A fine piece, this. One of a four piece set, fine bone china kept delicately and lightly stained with decades – possibly more – of use. Clearly a family heirloom, and matched to the samovar behind her. The other two cups before Misha and Raisa match it, while the fourth remains a lone sentinel at the service against the wall.

"Icarus Dynamics," Irja repeats. "<A curious name. It is not one I was aware of before tonight.>" And then there is a curious flicker in those eyes, a slight narrowing that presents a hard sharpness of her vision not unlike the bloody edge of a razor. "<But that name…that name, I know. As I said.>" "<One second only to that of Satan, in this land. 'Strike down one, and two more will rise.' Yes, I know of them well.>" Why yes, she had been told of Hydra's presence at least. One hidden card of Irja's now on the table. But what else is in her hand?

"<I know them better.>" A new voice makes itself known, a much older woman's. From behind Raisa and Misha, standing at the closed doorway she'd just come through as silent as the grave. Skin wrinkled, aged, yet giving a sense of defining the word 'spry.' Eyes sharper even than Irja's bore into Raisa's soul, and moving with a control that defines the term gracefully silent, the silver-haired nonagerian takes a step forward, resting one hand on a cane.

"<Oh yes,>" she continues. "<I know them very well, and have for a very long time. Granddaughter,>" she adds, nodding the slightest acknowledgement to Irja. She doesn't move to take a seat that isn't hers; this office belongs to the Sokovian Air Force major. But the land and the people, everyone here? Very clearly belong to her. A few seconds of taking in every detail on Misha and Raisa's face, even the scars – and sharing a few of her own, if Raisa looks close – and she nods…something. Approval, perhaps.

And then there is a smile given to Irja, one ever so slightly feral. "<Your daughter has not lost her taste in people to trust, I see.>" Still speaking Russian for the Yakovlevas' benefit, though hers isn't quite as perfect as Irja's. Lack of use, you see. Turning her gaze back to the pilots, there's an intensity there that might well be that of Sally's prized patron not-deity. "<And now they will justify that trust, won't you? Tell us of what you know of the demon-headed fascists, and I will tell you why the War of Retribution has never truly ended for Sokovia.>"

Mikhail looks up when the status of his relationship is queried, arching a brow in clear surprise. The expression seems almost hapless, and at once it's eminently clear that this man is not a politically savvy person. He has survived on competence and dedication to his duty and very little more. He can no more hide his true self than the woman beside him can sand off the rough edges of her personality.

He looks to her again, as though to question whether or not he should answer. Her head moves in a nod that's almost imperceptible.

"<My superior,>" he supplies, simply. It doesn't seem like he's lying. The statement is given too plainly, too matter-of-factly, to be anything but the truth. Mikhail Nikolayevich shrugs in a manner that seems almost fatalistic. "<She is my superior officer. And she is also my wife.>"

It's not wholly a lie. He answers to her in terms of authority, where matters concerning SHIELD or the mission parameters are concerned. It just happens not to be the whole truth, but omission of truth is not lying, and so he does not seem to mind too much. And she is his wife. That has never changed, although the gloves they're both still wearing hide their respective wedding bands. The flight suits don't hide the comfort they seem to hold in one another's presence, though, even across the room from one another.

Only now does the red-headed pilot reach for the teacup that had been offered to her, sipping delicately and without evident care for the heat of the brew. The cup is admired somewhat surreptitiously. It's old, and artfully crafted. Her life may be the sky – but she isn't above admiring good craftsmanship. It's a few notches above the utilitarian designs of SHIELD's equipment.

Mikhail only shrugs in response to whether or not it's an easy answer. "<I do not know about easy, but it is the least complicated answer… in a manner of speaking.>"

Not quite resolved yet to commenting, Raisa sips her tea, content to let the blonde pilot in the other chair carry the conversation. She sips her tea while she listens to the other woman. She rolls answers over in her mind. She studies the room around her as she habitually does any place unfamiliar to her, and takes note of the exits. She waits.

"<So you are familiar with Hydra.>" Her voice is thoughtful when she finally speaks. "<More intimiately than I am, I think, but I have come to know them in the past few years—>"

Both pilots are instantly on their guard when a new voice makes itself known. Three blue eyes immediately dart to the doorway, both pilots twisting in their chairs and very nearly upsetting their teacups and saucers. Mikhail's brows arch in bafflement; Raisa's eye narrows almost in challenge when she finds herself the unexpected target of those sharp, sharp eyes.

Not once does her eye leave the aging matriarch, following as the old woman stands where she is.

After a few moments Isa stands and offers her own chair, a gesture that can only be respectful in how deliberate it is. Whatever Raisa sees in the old woman, she must approve. Even Mikhail tilts his head very slightly, as though to question her sudden change of heart from suspicion to approval.

When the old woman calls Irja by family title, that only cinches it. This is the woman of whom Rusalka Stojespal had spoken, months ago. This is the clever and cunning woman, the ruthless woman, who had personally rolled up her sleeves and set out to make an example of those who would cause trouble within, who would bring war, to her own realm. This is the woman who single-handedly ruled an empire. It was not the same as Imperial Russia in size or scope, perhaps, but it was an empire, once upon a time. That is worthy of respect.

Raisa is silent. She almost seems to bristle at the old woman's judgemental statement. She stops bristling only when she's asked to tell what she knows.

She takes a moment to sip her tea – another deliberate gesture – and consider where to start, how much to reveal, and how much of this night she's going to regret. Her eye flicks momentarily to Mikhail, though, and whatever she sees there must provide some kind of strength. Raisa sighs, sets her teacup and saucer aside, and folds her arms over her chest. It's a decidedly defensive gesture before she releases her own torso, hands at her sides.

And then she bows, low.

"<You must be Dragana Stojespal. It is an honour to meet you, Matriarch. I have heard much about you from Rusalka Stojespal.>" Her voice is wary, though, and so is her eye, in spite of her body language. "<Do you want to hear about Hydra, or do you want to hear about Icarus Dynamics? They may as well be bedfellows for all that I care. One is as offensive to me as the other.>"

Her eye flicks towards Irja, too. Oh, yes, she hasn't lost track of her, either. Both women are formidable, and worth keeping an eye on.

But the two Stojespal women, they might recognise it for what it is – a slight sense of paranoia. The red-headed woman hardly thinks of it that way. She's been that way for the past five years, after all.

Simple answers are easy, but Irja knows that they tend to cover for things left unsaid. What it is, she doesn't know – though her eyes widen a little as he tacks on the mention of their marriage. Well. That certainly fills in aspects of their relationship, and she glances up at Dragana for a moment – whose smile hasn't changed at all.

The elderly woman speaks up. "<Indeed. It is clear, to some. Others…>" She gives Irja a soft glance, one of silent understanding. "<We do not always see what is before us, because we do not wish to be reminded of some things. But that is for another time; this is a night of secrets. A foxes' night, though it is not so far to the dawn.>"

The offer of the chair from Isa gets a soft geriatric cackle. "<Ah, very good, Mrs. Reichert. I accept.>" She does indeed settle into that seat, turning now to study them both even closer – as Irja waits patiently. A nod, a partial bow in return, accepting the honor bestowed. "<And cultured as well. Yes indeed, little Rusenka has a fine eye for people. One I am proud to say that her mother instilled in her.>" There's genuine amusement on her face, as Raisa navigates a landmine-filled maze expertly.

Even Irja is smiling slightly. Though in her case concern still gnarls her brow; while she holds the title of Baroness herself Dragana remains the family matriarch and true head. And as Irja had stated, these requests had come to her as nobility, not as military officer.

"<I believe, though, that my granddaughter is quite intent on ferreting out what lies before us. A foxes' night indeed. It is, after all, upon her brow rests the sword of service. A sword that cuts both ways, as all duty does. So. Yes, I know much of Hydra. I have revisited that knowledge tonight, even.>" She flexes one shoulder slightly; there's no pop of ancient joints – something about the gesture has meaning.

In the silence, Irja speaks up. Her voice is strong, but quiet – respectful. Not abashed, not cowed, simply acknowledging her grandmother's position. And yet, a voice that's determined and hard. "<Icarus Dynamics, then. We will begin with what we do not know. Those aircraft, and we know there were more than just a few, came from somewhere. I suppose they are the developers of these…things?>"

She doesn't refer to the one outside, but rather that which it sank its teeth into repeatedly.

Dragana can't help but smile. "They do make nice campfires to gather around, don't they?>"

Tilting her head faintly as her offer of seating is accepted, the red-haired pilot inclines her head in silent acknowledgement. For all her direct nature, Raisa is well aware of the landmine she navigates, and she treads with as much care as she can muster. This old woman might not look like much but she fought against a better-equipped enemy that outnumbered her; an enemy that would not take prisoners.

And she won.

In the midst of the old woman's approval and Irja Stojespal's soft smile, Raisa lifts her chin, very slightly. Is this time yet to reveal who she is really is? No. Not yet. This isn't yet the time. There are still other matters to discuss tonight. They are worthy of knowing, though. And she is no longer compelled to hide herself, even so close to the homeland she had fled.

"<This is what we know.>" Raisa's voice is low, and she sips at her tea, watching the two women with a lidded eye. Her gaze slides momentarily to Mikhail. She's going to enjoy this wonderful tea while her husband coughs up all the relevant details, because he knows more about all of this nonsense than she does, having been inside it… but the Stojespal women don't know that. Yet.

Mikhail regards his teacup, and something about the gesture seems fundamentally unhappy. "<They are an aerospace corporation based out of Russia, but they have facilities all around the world. I am not certain when they were founded. I know only that they have managed to sink their claws into global markets and black markets alike. They are headed by Yevgenia Grigorievna Sakharova, and they are willing to do anything that is required to achieve their goals.>"

"<From what I can see,>" he comments softly, "<they are striving to create a fighter jet that does not need a human pilot. But it is not to be a remotely-controlled machine. It is to be governed by the most sophisticated AI in the world.>" Mikhail blanches, looking almost ill for a moment in his pallor. "<But it is not governed by code. It is governed by the experiences of past pilots. All the amassed knowledge and memories and know-how of twenty-eight pilots who have disappeared from their respective rosters, and they have not been found because Sakharova had them abducted. Then she had her experts go to work on them.>"

Raisa looks down into her teacup. "<I do not know how they've done it,>" she chips in, "<but they have taken their memories, their experiences, and used that to fuel their unholy winged abominations. They have also attacked SHIELD directly.>"

"<If not for SHIELD's intervention, my husband and I would have been their next test projects,>" Mikhail adds, softly.

Why would they be interested in a one-eyed pilot?

"<The wreckage outside will no doubt be reclaimed by SHIELD and dismantled to study,>" Raisa comments. "<If you speak with them, I am certain they will permit your people to study them, but I do not recommend it. There is nothing to learn from those abominations. They are fuelled by alien technology that should not be used, and driven by the ghosts of twenty-eight dead pilots in tandem… it is better to destroy them. To lay those pilots to rest. I do not think they would have wanted to exist as they are now. If, indeed, there is even any individuality left to them. I do not think so.>"

Mikhail flicks his eyes toward her once more, and the two share a glance; Raisa looks down to her teacup again, and laughs, very softly.

"<But… we should start again,>" she adds. One gloved hand gestures to herself. "<I am not Mrs. Reichert. My name is Raisa Ivanovna Yakovleva.>" The glove gestures towards the blonde pilot, then. "<And this is my husband, Mikhail Nikolayevich Makarov.>"

She remains silent, after tossing that bomb into the Stojespals' collective laps, watching them with that single eye.

…Yes. That Yakovleva.


With scars, yes. But Dragana Stojespal still stands, while the black-red-white monster no longer lives. Now only its hellspawn Hydra remains, a core of truest believers. She doesn't mind; she has plenty of time. Meanwhile, Raisa sizes herself up, and the gesture is caught – though only slightly acknowledged – by Dragana.

If she will speak, she will speak. In her own time. She doesn't mind; she has plenty of time.

As Mikhail speaks, Irja puts another card on the table – the paper on her desk becomes four, and a pen is picked up and notes begin to be taken. Comparing notes. Clarifying points. Ukrainian shorthand, and illegible to anyone outside the family – it's a written language kept within the boundaries for just such reasons. It is the Foxes' Night, and secrets will out – but they only go so far.

The names draw a blank; Irja glancing up to make sure she'd heard it correctly and shaking her head slightly. Dragana just sits, patient and as unmoving as a statue. Her granddaughter is doing the important work – she is just sitting to listen.

And then there is a feral hiss from the old woman when the dark truth behind the aircraft is revealed. Abomination is no small word in this community…yet it is entirely accurate. Irja's reaction is one of a little more shock, and an almost-spoken denial that such a thing can be possible – before reminding herself with a glance at the net-covered machine outside, similar things already are.

Dragana speaks, glancing up at Irja for a moment. Despite it being a reassurance to her daughter, it's in Russian, clear for the others to understand. "<They speak truth. I know.>" There's something more to Dragana than it seems, sometimes. Her statement is simple enough, just verifying her words – but it almost felt like a test, afterward. Something that Raisa could easily have failed…had she attempted to lie to this woman. Sally spoke often of the wisewolf of Sokovia…perhaps she was not merely passing on folk legends after all.

"<It is something they might do. It is something, once, they tried before. The chinless one believed in the power of such things. He was not wrong. But he was stopped then. If this Sakharova woman is following in his footsteps, she will follow them to hell.>" Her hand on the cane flexes, index finger following the others ever so slightly to curl around the handle – but not out of infirmity. If it was a rifle, she'd have just fired a perfect shot with a clean trigger break.

She pauses for a moment as Irja continues to make notes, names and places. There's a moment of conversation in Ukrainian, but nothing untoward – and Irja speaks, finally, after a nod from Dragana. She reads back a note like a report being filed. "<It is a shame, then, that Icarus would suffer such a great setback. Their prototypes, suffering system failures, crashed and caused a tremendous fire at their facility. Naturally, the fire departments rallied, but the flames were…too great. There were no survivors.>"

"<What a shame.>" comes the honey-sweet sympathetic voice of Dragana. This was the woman, Sally once described, who put to death a rogue member of her own family and – likely in that same voice – said 'such pretty lies' at their funeral. "<It seems there will be little wreckage for SHIELD to recover, after such a fire. Some, of course, but. Computers are such foolishly delicate things.>"

The bombshell that is dropped, however, gets a look of shock from Irja and a sudden, very hard stare. She doesn't get the chance to say anything, however – the silverhaired woman in the chair cackles with delight, and runs one hand through her hair, brushing it back on one side. "<Now! Now we have a deep truth. A good one. I like this girl! And I take it my granddaughter recognizes you now. Rusalka knows, I suspect. Doesn't she.>"

"<Indeed,>" Irja adds. "<Though it has been some time since your appearances in the press, and…with all due dignity and respect, Major Yakovleva, those years were not kind. Some of our older pilots were fans of yours, in the day.>" She gives a bit of a wry smile. "<I suppose we are honored to be in your presence after all.>"

The red-headed pilot is no stranger to scars. They are painful things, capable of such searing agony at the time of their branding, but they are also a source of wisdom and inner strength. Once upon a time, an offer had been extended to Raisa to surgically remove them, to smooth away the ravaged tissue and give her some semblance of a face again.

Raisa had refused, decisively. To wipe those away would be to wipe away everything she had fought for; all those hard years and bitter, uphill battles of rehabilitation. In an odd sort of way, it also would have wiped away the pain that she had suffered through. The scars were a reminder of what had been lost, and she had not been ready to give that up so soon, at the time.

She might think differently these days, but on the other hand, she might not. She's a singularly stubborn woman. Mikhail has accepted such disfigurement, and made it clear that he looks beyond such things, despite her lingering insecurity – of course he would look past them, she had thought at the time, and chided herself for being silly. Yet she had earned them at a low point in her life, and been forced to struggle with accepting them herself in almost total isolation.

These days, she is not so alone.

Raisa's expression darkens as the old woman shows her disgust and disapproval; an echo on the pilot's own uneven features. She had reacted in much the same way during the debriefing, when she had been told the secret of the Heliosphere's lightning reflexes. It had made more sense why it had brought down her quinjet over the hinterlands of St. Petersburg, but knowing she had been so dramatically outmatched had been no less a bitter pill to swallow for all that. Mikhail had not been himself in the most literal sense. With some pharmaceutical help, he had been channelling the experiences, memories, and skill of no less than twenty-eight dead pilots.

What Icarus had done was sacrilege of the highest order. Worse, even, than the desecration of a grave, or the denial of a proper burial, was how the deceased pilots had been twisted in death. There was nothing left of their personalities, or so she fervently hoped; only the distillation of their collective experiences and knowledge. A twisted, repulsive form of immortality.

The red-headed pilot allows herself a shudder, remembering the debriefing. They had read the debriefing and she had clutched his hand as though a drowning swimmer clinging to a life raft.

She'd had nightmares that night. Ghosts had whispered to her in her dreams, calling and cajoling her to join them in their immortality. None of them had had a face. She'd woken screaming and shuddering in Mikhail's arms, too horrified to even speak for half an hour afterward.

When Dragana reveals that she knows the two pilots are telling the truth, Mikhail's eyes slant toward her in a show of quiet suspicion. Had the old woman been testing them all this time? Of course she would. They're in her territory and treading on dangerously thin ice. He would do the same if he were in her position.

Both pilots shiver a little when Dragana gives her saccharine sympathies to the deceased of Hydra and Icarus. The brief look they share suggests they agree on one thing, and that is, this isn't a woman ever to be crossed.

As recognition dawns and Irja reacts to the name given to her, Raisa allows herself a slow, satisfied smile. It's gratifying to know that her name still has some kind of power, and that there are still people who recognise it, beyond wanting to clap her in irons.

"<Is that so? You know my name, even here in Sokovia? Well, well. That's flattering. I might have pulled something of a disappearing act,>" Raisa concedes, regarding Irja with a bland half-smile. "<It's a long story, and I do not doubt that you have more important things to attend to right now. Yes, Sally Petrovna knows. I made a judgement call some months ago, and I told her. She promised not to use my true name, while it was still unsafe.>"

"<I am to understand that SHIELD has made some… arrangements, and I should not have any untoward problems with using my birth name. However, I still prefer to go by Isa Reichert. You never know, yes?>" She gestures with her teacup, nonchalant. "<She has kept her word, and kept my secret. She is a good girl, is Sally Petrovna. I am grateful for her friendship.>"

Her smile turns somewhat bland and flat. "<Five years, it has been, since my last press appearance. And I will never appear in the pages of Pravda ever again. As it should be. They do not deserve my respect. Truth, they call themselves; hah.>" For the first time, a sliver of hostility shows, something alight in that blue eye. She is mollified a moment later by Irja's ruminations, though, shaking her head after a moment and running gloved fingers through her hair in a gesture clearly meant to calm herself. "<Still. Thank you for your kind regard, Commander Stojespal. It is appreciated. Those years were spent with many enemies on all sides, and no kindnesses. If there is some small kindness I can do for you and yours, I will not consider it any extra effort on my part.>"

Mikhail offers a half-smile of his own, a little bland, a little rueful. "<If it had been any other pilot bringing that aircraft of Comrade Stark's down, I think that it would have been an unmitigated disaster, and you would have been left with the unfortunate burden of burying two Russian pilots in Sokovian soil. I concede that my wife is superior even to my own piloting… which is why she was doing the driving, and I was not.>"

There's a long pause. Once word gets out that she's here, and the pilots here on this base learn of who she really is…

"<…I'm not signing anything,>" Raisa adds, resignedly.

It's a transparently hollow threat.

Her single eye turns to Dragana. "<I am glad that I pass muster to your specifications, Matriarch,>" she adds, somewhat wryly.

Dragana falls silent – this time, though, her attention is inward. She's still clearly listening to every word, aware of all of it; her primary thoughts are simply elsewhere for a few moments. It gives her time to consider things, and what must be done – what will be done. Prisoners, in the end. Of their own government, of Hydra; in the end, murdered. Those that an enemy of the Stojespal have slain are to be respected.

It gives Irja time to talk. "<Yes. The aviation magazines especially; the woman who could make anything dance through the air, whether it had wings or not. The valkyrie with hair the color of an afterburner's glow, marked at birth that she be given wings of some kind. And so on. I know you remember those days.>" There's a soft nod of respect given; those days are five years of pain and fire past.

"<That said, there are still a few today who remember. There's a lot of young women in our Air Force, you know. Someone was an inspiration to them. Sometimes that inspiration was you; I recall officer's quarters where there were nearly shrines for you. 'May the flame-haired test pilot smile upon you' and all of that.>" Congratulations, Raisa, you're still a little famous. The Air Force officer can't help but smile softly. "<I consider it an honor to meet you as it is – even in such circumstances.>"

She admittedly finds herself warming to this woman and her man, with their shared connections – and shared desire to see those who bear the tentacles of Hydra burn in the fires of judgement forever. Even if they have to light those fires themselves.

It's a Stojespal tradition, after all.

When she's addressed by Raisa, the elderly woman nods and smiles. "<You have. Though, I suppose it never hurts to see what kind of friends our young prodigal child has found. Irja. I will depart. A car will be here shortly for them. I must oversee the young men, and make sure that things have been carried out properly. There are other arrangements to be made as well. Give your notes to Maxim when he arrives.>"

She stands, finally, still ghost-quiet even as the chair swells a little from where she'd been sitting. "<Raisa Ivanovna Yakovleva, Mikhail Nikolayevich Yakovleva, I forgive you your patronymics and will honor your fathers as well with them. There will be an internment in the family crypt of what remains of those twenty eight pilots. We would be honored, as the ones who helped free them, if you would join us in this ceremony. They are victims of our old enemy, and we will remember them when none other will.>"

"Chest' nevblahanna, moya onuchka."

"Chest' nevblahanna, moya babusya." With that Irja switches back into Russian. "<A car will be here for you shortly, as the Matriarch said. You are to be guests of the family for a time, until you are willing to return. I am sure my daughter has mentioned the family home; it is…it is not New York. But it is a large home, and a peaceful place. For those whom we claim as our own, it is a fortress and a pasture. By Dragana Stojespal's order, you are to be given all freedom of movement and honored as family.>"

And then Irja stands, as the door clicks quietly behind the ancient woman – already gone, noiselessly, moving like a ghost in the battlefield. A hand is extended in friendship. "<And as allies. My daughter has chosen well in such people, and I am grateful she has earned your trust and friendship as well. I am afraid, however, that I can spare no more time to discuss the situation. Much remains to be done.>"

With that, the Major snaps to attention, heels clicking together on the hard floor as she salutes perfectly. "<Welcome to Sokovia.>"

"<I remember those days.>" Raisa's words are a soft sigh, as though they emerge only from a great depth, or with conscious effort. Her eye slips out of focus, remembering the sweep of wings and the flash of cameras, or the red recording lights of the television cameras and the reporters' microphones. Part of her had gloried in that attention, but more than that, she had been genuinely enthusiastic about her craft.

Once upon a time, she had honestly believed in what she was doing.

The pilot wears a ghost of a fond smile at the brush of memories. "<I used to like it, you know. Not the attention, but I didn't mind that, either. I liked the chance to explain things, and to bring the sky to the people who would never be able to experience it like I did. I belong in the sky.>"

Those days are over, though. Now, she goes up for different reasons. She still belongs there, and it's still one of the few places she can feel alive, but no more does she bridge the gap for the everyman, and bring the sky to them. There are no reporters, no cameras, no microphones. She does not formally exist. It may be that her nam has been cleared, but she doesn't trust enough to use it outside of private circumstances like this. It's one thing to use it in a place like Sokovia, where attitudes towards her homeland are lukewarm at best, but it's another to waltz right back into Moscow.

She wonders, briefly, what might have happened to her car. It's probably in a scrapyard somewhere, or been turned into compacted salvage.

Raisa shakes her head, looking melancholy for a few moments. The smile twitches when Irja confesses it an honour to meet her, and she shakes her head again, this time in low-grade protest. "<The honour is mine. Would that there were families like the Stojespal in the place I come from. It might be a better place; a place that has not forgotten tradition and humanity.>"

"<I will tell you the story of how I lost my wings, but not tonight. Tonight, I am tired. My husband and I, we want only to eat something and then sleep the sleep of the exhausted.>" Raisa half-smiles, a fleeting expression of warmth reserved for her husband; the blonde pilot returns the favour, though his own features are also wan. They've been running on adrenaline, and now that adrenaline is beginning to bleed out. "<I am not what I used to be. Even with a fine aircraft like Khoro, risking one's life is exhausting.>"

Mikhail can't help a grin at Irja's story of test pilot shrines, though, showing his teeth. "<Really? Well, well. It looks like you're famous even this far away from Moscow, Raisa Ivanovna.>"

"<Oh, not you, too.>"

Both pilots look back to Dragana when she makes her proclamation, and both their expressions sober. Mikhail's brow furrows; Raisa's eye lids even further in an asymmetrical expression of regret. All of those people, that potential, cut down like so much wheat before a scythe. Her eye gradually closes. How could those people do such a thing? What about their families? The work they will never be able to do, now?

How could anyone be so inhumane? How dare they?

Her eye flicks back to Dragana; that eye slides closed, and she bows her head in a gesture of acceptance, respect, and solemnity. Mikhail does the same. "<We would be honoured, Matriarch,>" she murmurs. "<I do not think there was much in the way of remains left, but I think that they would be honoured by the sentiment.>"

Slowly, her eye opens, and both pilots look to Irja. With the adrenaline bleeding out of her system, the red-headed pilot looks less wary and more tired, as though she's been carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders. The things Icarus has done are terrible things; things no one should ever have to learn of, and she's made it her personal responsibility to take them down for the abominations they've created.

"<I consider it my responsibility to stop these people. Do not mistake me, though. I do not want merely to stop what they are doing.>" Raisa's voice is a low growl, the kind of grave tone that brooks no argument or doubt. She is as serious about this as she is when she's in the cockpit. "<I do not want merely to shut that corporation down. I want to destroy them. They stole from me, Irja Stojespal, and they stole from me things that cannot be stolen back. I will exact from them a debt of blood, and fire. I will tell you the story later; it is related to my broken wings, and how I became Isa Reichert.>"

She smiles almost apologetically, pushing herself slowly to her feet. A knee pops in protest, but aside from a faint twitch of her expression, she ignores it. It may be that she's been pushing herself too hard, lately. It may be that she's getting older and isn't as vigourous as she once was… but she is loathe to face that possibility. She will continue to fly and to push herself as long as she has inner reserves with which to draw from.

Irja's hand is taken and shaken firmly. It's the scarred right hand that she uses, though the glove hides the disfigurement. Intensive physical therapy had helped save the quarter or so of her body that had been flame-scarred; thanks to that, she can still do things like shake hands and pilot advanced aircraft. Her grip is strong, stronger perhaps than someone her size looks capable of, but not overpowering.

"<The honour is mine, Irja Stojespal. If you see your daughter, please deliver to her the location of where Mikhail Nikolayevich and I will be staying. I would like to speak to her, after my husband and I have had a chance to eat and rest. It will give you time to tend to your work… I owe you and your grandmother a story, after that. It is a long one, but one I think that you will both want to hear. It has to do with them.>" She tosses her chin, towards the vague direction of the facility Dragana and her men had taken out. "<And… it will be good to tell it, I think, knowing that I can now speak freely of it.>"

At the salute, both pilots straighten, and snap off perfect salutes of their own, heavy combat boots clomping against the floor. They hold their salutes for precisely four seconds; enough to show a great deal of respect.

Raisa looks a bit worn, though, almost but not quite wavering on her feet. As she does, Mikhail takes a half-step closer to her, half-smiling, one arm threading around Raisa to help prop her upright. His gloved hand settles at the small of her back, and she leans on him a little. "<Thank you, Irja Stojespal,>" he says, in response to her formal welcome. "<I am sure we will enjoy our time here. Maybe our superiors in SHIELD will allow us some time to ourselves after that.>"

In the meantime, there is a car waiting, which means that somewhere in this country there is a comfortable bed waiting for the pilots.

"<Good night, Irja Stojespal,>" Raisa offers over her shoulder, as the two set off towards the entrance.

With that, both pilots are soon gone from sight, their uneven steps fading down the corridor.

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