Mission Report: Impossible
In answer to some of the Starmora issues that were raised in the reviews, I definitely agree that it would be out of character for the pair to effortlessly trade 'I love you's, hold hands, and fly off into a sunset paradise right at the end of the film. Three months after the end of the film, though... who knows? In terms of a relationship, a lot can happen in three months: personally, it's not too hard for me to imagine that Starmora might be an established pairing by then. That's just my opinion. Anyway, enjoy!
Fifteen minutes to deadline
Almost noon on Xandar. The city thrums at the height of the workday, pulsing, moving, thriving. And at the center of it all, at the top of the tallest building... a frustrated Nova Prime sits in her office. Staring at a blank computer screen. Contemplating the fate of the Guardians of the Galaxy.
Which is ridiculous, really, considering the long list of calamities that demand her attention, as usual. Peace and war, life and death, oh-stars-it-may-actually-be-the-end-of-the-world calamities.
In the past day alone, she has received notice of an escaped war criminal on Yormot, a pending civil war in the Thel-Caria quadrant, and a broken disarmament treaty between the two leading exporters of hadron-weapons in the Federation of Erida. Not to mention, another Infinity Stone in the wind, last seen in the hands of a self-formed team of Terrans who had apparently harnessed its power to fend off a Chitauri invasion. But is Nova Prime dealing with any of the above? Is she preparing official statements, revisiting treaties, or worrying over the fact that a primitive planet like Terra may have advanced to a higher form of war? No. No, she is not.
Because her mind is stubbornly—inexplicably, frustratingly—fixated on the Guardians of the Galaxy. The ragtag team of ex-criminals, ex-assassins, and ex-God-knew-what-else, and the fact that she might have to let them go.
Firing any special ops team is an unhappy task. Firing a special ops team of criminals turned heroes—a redemption story, if ever she has heard of one—is almost unthinkable. But her duty is to act in the best interest of Xandar, regardless of her own personal sentiments.
Perhaps she doesn't have to fire them, per se. She could simply cut them down to four jobs a year, then three, and so on, until the bounties from the Nova Corp stop trickling in altogether. The team could slowly ease into some other means of livelihood—hopefully, not a criminal means.
Ten minutes to their deadline.
She had stressed the importance of the Delta Cepheid mission report. She hopes that, wherever the Guardians are, they will remember to submit it on time. Hopes, but highly doubts. And even then, their efforts might be too little, too late.
Of course, she wouldn't have to consider firing them at all, if they would simply get their act together. Because despite having worked together to save the galaxy, the Guardians are still at each other's throats more often than not: arguing, disregarding orders, picking apart each other's sensitivities. Even Peter Quill and the Zen-Whoberian woman, Gamora, who are purportedly in a romantic relationship, rarely see eye-to-eye on anything, from what Nova Prime has observed. And she cannot, in good conscience, continue to pour funds into a vanity team that is constantly on the verge of self-destruction. The Guardians are a loose cannon, a volatile unknown in the otherwise pristine order that Nova is founded upon, and something has to change.
She and Rhomann Dey had initially hoped to entrust the team to the leadership of Peter Quill. Perhaps they were to blame for laying such an impossible task on his shoulders. Because from what she can tell, Quill has proven hopelessly inadequate at reining in his teammates. They tend to rush in headlong, acting on impulse, with no clear leadership. As their almost-impressive collection of injuries from past missions will attest, the Guardians have been lucky to survive this long.
Five minutes to deadline.
Nova Prime sighs.
Unreliable. Unorganized. Unapologetic. The so-called Guardians of Galaxy, summed up in the space of a note card.
She wants to honor their past accomplishments—their bravery against Ronan—but as the leader of Nova, she needs to look to the future, not the past. She wants to give them a fighting chance as a special ops team, but she's already given them three months... Three stressful months of nearly botched missions, harrowing escapes, and not a shred of evidence that they are capable of changing their ways. Enough is enough.
Beep. The quiet sound of the intercom. She answers.
"Nova Prime speaking."
"Nova Prime, this is Denarian Dey. We've just received, uh, an unusual communication. I think it's a fax, to be exact."
"And who sent it?"
"The ID number came up as unknown, ma'am, but... I think it's from the Guardians. And I think you're going to want to see it."
Five minutes past deadline
"So... are you going to fire them?" Rhomann Dey asks, sounding disappointed.
"I haven't decided yet," Nova Prime answers. "I'll say this..." she adds dryly, "I doubt this report will win them any points." Flipping through the pages, she takes in the train wreck of colors, the haphazard editing marks, the blatant use of all-caps... And is that a line drawing of her in the margins? She shakes her head, at a loss. "Rhomann, give me a moment to look this over, would you?"
"Of course," he says. "Let me know if you need anything else." He exits the room and closes the door behind him.
Nova Prime certainly hadn't been expecting this. A missed report—or even a cleanly typed, one-page report—would have been far less surprising than this. Whatever this is.
She flips back to the first page. It looks like it was originally written in red pen, then edited in heavy black ink, in a different hand. She reads an excerpt. Dear stars, there are almost as many words crossed out as original words left in:
"The —perpuss— [purpose] of this —meshun— [mission], as —givin— [given] to us by the —nova corr— [Nova Corp], was to —retreev sinsitiv intell— [retrieve sensitive intel] that had —fallin— [fallen] into —enimy— [enemy] hands. —Becuz— [Because] the —intell— [intel] was —rumered— [rumored] to be in the —paseshun— [possession] of a —diplamat— [diplomat] from —delta seffid— [Delta Cepheid], —eny envolvmint— [any involvement] on the part of the —nova corr— [Nova Corp] had to be off the —buks— [books]. —Therfour— [Therefore], we —wer imployed— [were employed] to —pinpoynt— [pinpoint] the —locashun— [location] of the —intell— [intel], —brake intwo— [break into] the —diplamatic— [diplomatic] base if —nesisary— [necessary], and —sucksessfily iscape— [successfully escape] with the —targitt— [target]. The —marc— [mark] had to be —cept alife— [kept alive] at all costs, or the —alridy fragill peese— [already fragile peace] between —delta seffid— [Delta Cepheid] and Xandar would be —fourfitt— [forfeit].
"—Owr furst leed— [Our first lead] in —pinpoynting— [pinpointing] the —locashun— [location] of the —stolin intell— [stolen intel] was an old —siborg— [cyborg] from the —owter sistims— [outer systems], who had been —preeviusly imployed— [previously employed] by the —diplamat— [diplomat]. He told us of a —hiddin bas— [hidden base] within the —forrist— [forest], where the —marc howzed— [mark housed] his most —tresered paseshuns— [treasured possessions]"...
Nova Prime rubs at her eyes. The constant back and forth is giving her a headache. She turns the page, hoping that the second section will be an improvement on the first...
Before her is a sea of bright blue letters, all capitalized, written in a wide, uncertain hand. The letters do not appear to be written in ink: when she gently scrapes at the page and examines the substance that gathers under her nail, it appears to be some kind of wax. Woven throughout the blue letters is an occasional splash of green, printed in a neat hand: the green pen appears to be 'translating' the worst of the handwriting, as well as stripping the original text of its overly negative tone:
"—AGAINST OUR BETTER JUDGMENT,— WE FOLLOWED —OUILL'S— [Quill's] PLAN, APPROACHING THE BASE FROM THE SOUTH. OUR ENCOUNTER WITH THE DRONE HAD PUT US —SLI6HTlV— [slightly] BEHIND SCHEDULE, BUT WE STILL HAD MORE THAN ENOUGH TIME TO RETRIEVE THE TARGET BEFORE THE NEXT CHANGING OF THE GUARD.
THE —MORONS— [guards] POSTED AT THE GATE WERE COMPLETELY —OBLIVDUS— [oblivious] TO OUR APPROACH. UNFORTUNATELY FOR THEM, THE SURROUNDING FOG CREATED AN —IOEAL— [ideal] SETTING FOR AN AMBUSH: IT DISGUISED OUR MOVEMENT THROUGH THE UNDERBRUSH AND KEPT THE AERIAL SCOUTS FROM DETECTING OUR POSITION. WE REACHED THE GATE WITHOUT INCIDENT, AND MADE OUR MOVE. WITH A FEW CAREFULLY PLACED VINES FROM GROOT, SEVERAL ENTHUSIASTICALLY DELIVERED HEAD-SHOTS FROM DRAX, AND A WELL-TIMED KNIFE —THRcVV— [throw] BY GAMORA TO INCAPACITATE A RUNNER, WE SUCCESSFULLY CLEARED THE AREA.
I GOT TO WORK UNLOCKING THE OUTER DOORS. MY PREFERENCE WOULD HAVE BEEN TO —BLcVV— [blow] THEM WIDE OPEN, BUT SINCE STEALTH WAS A PRIORITY, —THE KILL-JOY— [Gamora] OVERRULED ME: I HAD TO USE AN ADVANCED —DECRVPTDN— [decryption] UNIT INSTEAD. A BOMB WOULD HAVE BEEN FASTER, BUT STILL, THE LAYERS OF BIO-LOCK TECHNOLOGY WERE —SO INCREDIBLY SHITTY THAT WE— [surprisingly outdated, so we] BROKE THROUGH IN RECORD TIME. FROM THERE, ACCORDING TO QUILL, IT WAS A STRAIGHT SHOT DOWN THE CENTRAL CORRIDOR TO THE TREASURY, WHERE THE TARGET WAS KEPT"...
All right, that was enough of that. Nova Prime looks up from the blue text, blinking away the orange afterimages.
Readability aside, though, the report tells an unexpected story. Thus far, the mission events were not nearly as disastrous as she had imagined: no reckless ex-cons deviating from the mission plan, no in-fighting, no crashing and burning.
In fact, if this report was to be believed, then not only had Peter Quill put together a plausible plan of attack that played to the strengths of each team member and used the surrounding environment to their full advantage, but the Guardians had also executed that plan successfully. Had their victory against Ronan been more than a fluke, after all?
She decides to skip ahead to the next section. The third page appears to have been penned in thick black cursive, then overwritten with corrections in blue all-caps. Nova Prime flips back a few pages, comparing the handwriting. Ah. She was starting to get a clearer picture of how this report had come about. The owner of the black cursive, who had spell-checked the first section, was now having their work edited by the user of the blue all-caps—most likely the raccoon-hybrid, by process of elimination. Nova Prime can't help but smile as she reads on...
"Unluckily, the mark was prepared for our arrival. —According to Quill, he must have had ears everywhere, although I failed to understand how that could have been possible, biologically speaking.— [WE MUST HAVE TRIGGERED A HIDDEN SURVEILLANCE SYSTEM: LIKE QUILL POINTED OUT, THE MARK WAS KNOWN FOR HAVING EYES AND EARS EVERYWHERE.]
"I —observed the mark like an eagle—, [WATCHED THE MARK LIKE A HAWK] since I only trusted him —inasmuch as I could toss him to the wolves in a wet paper bag— [ABOUT AS FAR AS I COULD THROW HIM]. Sure enough, the mark was —armed in the bicuspids [ARMED TO THE TEETH]. —He was a walking arsenal, except that of course, he was not actually composed of guns or blades or explosives— [HE CARRIED AN IMPRESSIVE ARSENAL OF GUNS, BLADES, AND EXPLOSIVES]. Even so, we could have easily —hit him until his body passed through the various layers of metal, concrete, and insulation that composed the floor, to reach the dirt below— [PUMMELED HIM INTO THE GROUND].
"However, my teammates reminded me that the mark was —covered in invisible red tape, which I assumed would somehow deflect our weapons— [PROTECTED BY A RED-TAPE TECHNICALITY, THAT GRANTED HIM DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY]. Figuratively speaking, —our appendages were bound— [OUR HANDS WERE TIED], so instead of —putting our finger to— [SLICING] his throat, we elected to —hello-tale— [HIGH-TAIL] it past him.
"We made for the treasury like a bee to a flower, if that flower were all the way across the galaxy and would wilt that night, and could only be reached in time if the bee stowed away on a shuttle, and that shuttle took him to a spaceport where he boarded a ship and stung the pilot to make him accidentally hit the button to enter hyperdrive."
Underneath is the following text:
"EDITOR'S NOTE: YOU KNOW, I WAS GONNA SCRAP THIS, BUT I KINDA LIKE IT. LET'S LEAVE IT IN."
Dear stars in heaven.
She bites at her lip.
She is the Nova Prime. She is stoic. She is self-controlled. She is stone. She is...
Bursting into peals of laughter. Bent over that ridiculous report, hands to her mouth in a pointless attempt to stifle herself, she laughs and laughs and laughs. She laughs until her eyes run and her abdomen aches.
Beep. The intercom sounds.
She fumbles for the button, trying to pull herself together. Think of civil wars, she tells herself sternly. Civil wars and escaped terrorists. "Yes, what is it?" she manages, wiping away a tear.
"Are you... are you all right, ma'am?" comes the tentative voice of one of her junior officers. She can almost picture him now: pecking nervously at a keyboard, blinking owlishly behind his glasses, and wondering what the standard protocol might be for his supervisor flat-out losing her marbles.
"You mean 'have I snapped yet'?" she chokes out. "Ask me again in ten minutes, I'll let you know." She pushes the button again, ending the conversation.
Underneath the tragic 'beeline metaphor', the string of editor's notes continues:
"EDITOR'S NOTE: YOU KNOW, I WAS GONNA SCRAP THIS, BUT I KINDA LIKE IT. —LET'S LEAVE IT IN.—"
"Editor's note: Thank you, friend Rocket!"
The phrase "let's leave it in" has been vigorously crossed out in green ink and answered with a firmly penned "No."
Under that, in red pen: "E.N. Cut them sum slak, Gamora."
"Editor's note: Fine. But you still can't spell."
"E.N. Luv you too, baib."
"Editor's note: Obviously. ;)"
"EDITOR'S NOTE: YOU GUYS ARE MISSING THE POINT OF EDITOR'S NOTES. IF YOU WANNA PLAY LOVEY-DOVEY, THEN JUST FRICKIN' DO IT IN PERSON: YOU'RE LITERALLY SITTING ON TOP OF EACH OTHER. ACTUALLY, NOW THAT I THINK ABOUT IT, I DON'T WANNA KNOW WHAT THAT 'OBVIOUSLY' WAS SUPPOSED TO MEAN..."
"Editor's note: Yet you could have said all of that in-person, as opposed to writing yet another note."
"E.N. YEAH... NOW THAT I'VE STARTED, IT'S HARD TO STOP. PLUS I NEED A BREAK. I CAN ONLY TAKE SO MUCH OF YOUR WRITING BEFORE MY BRAIN STARTS TO FRY."
That more or less describes Nova Prime's sentiments about the page, as well. She flips ahead.
The final page looks like a box of green text, wrapped in an uneven border of red chicken-scratches. Nearly every original sentence in Gamora's green has been replaced by a counterpart in Quill's red, and it's not hard to see why:
"—Upon securing the target in an infallible and timely manner befitting of world-class assassins and operatives, the alarming, disquieting revelation was discovered of the blockage of the initial entry point: the blockage being contrived by remote directive by the mark and composed out of advanced robotic units, that, once brought to light, were a distressing hindrance in preventing the team from traversing the predetermined route by which Star-Lord had schemed to have the team escape, impervious and intact, toward the vessel of interstellar transport commonly known as the Milano and thusly dubbed by the riders therein.—"
The entire paragraph has been crossed out and replaced by the following statement in the margins:
"[After securing the target, like the awesome assassins and operatives we are, we stumbled into an obstacle. Literally, we stumbled into an obstacle: the mark had summoned a robot barricade to cut us off from the Milano.]"
"—Despite the unexpected formation of the robotic barrier, summoned without our knowledge by the mark while we were otherwise occupied by the target, we reacted and responded to the problem as expeditiously and promptly as possible, as the robotic unit in closest proximity to Drax was snatched out of its aerial path by the aforementioned enraged Destroyer and he applied pressure to it until it gave out in his hands, crumbling into a myriad of innumerable metallic pieces that shattered across the ebony floor like glass over stone, resulting in its immediate destruction.—"
"[We reacted as quickly as we could. Drax snatched the nearest robotic unit out of the air and crushed it in his hands. The pieces shattered across the floor like glass over stone.]"
"—Of course, in the ensuing chaos from Drax's preemptive strike that diverted the attention of the robotic units away from the horrified remainder of the team and towards himself in the minuscule span of less than a second, the remainder of the team acted wisely to take advantage promptly of said fact, and Peter, firing shots in rapid succession from an above vantage point from his blaster weapons, took advantage of the use of his jet-propelled devices that had been affixed to the outer layers of his costume to launch himself into the air to provide cover fire from above.—"
"[As the remainder of the drones turned on Drax, we took advantage of their distraction. Boosting himself into the air, —the great and awesome— Star-Lord peppered the drones with spray fire from above]"...
Nova Prime is distracted from the remainder of the page by another trail of author's notes:
"Editor's note: Quill, if I had known why you were inquiring about the words 'great' and 'awesome', then I would not have told you how to spell them."
"E.N. YEAH, MR. VOCABULISTICS IS RIGHT. NO FAIR DUBBING YOURSELF 'THE AWESOME' UNLESS THE REST OF US GET SIMILAR NAME TREATMENTS. 'STAR-LORD' IS BAD ENOUGH. MAYBE I CAN BE 'ROCKET THE GREAT AND POWERFUL'."
"E.N. U do no your kwoting the Wizerd of Oz, rite?"
"E.N. THE HELL IS A WIZERD OF OZ."
"Editor's note: Irrelevant. Focus."
"E.N. OH, SO WHEN IT'S THE EDITOR'S NOTES, YOU'RE ALL 'MISS CONCISE', BUT WHEN IT'S OUR NECKS ON THE LINE, YOU DECIDE TO WORD VOMIT?"
"E.N. Shes got a poynt, teem. Let's focuss."
"Editor's note: I would take your order to 'focus' more seriously if it were spelled correctly. You have no excuse: Gamora just wrote it out for your benefit, two lines ago."
Nova Prime's shoulders shake with silent laughter. To the group's credit, though, the rambling thread of editor's notes ends there.
Oddly enough, the thing that finally does it for her—the thing that finally tips the scales—is a clumsy charcoal drawing at the bottom of the last page: a sketch of the Guardians on their ship.
The sketch demonstrates very little artistic talent—if any at all—but it has been drawn with great care. The defining features of each teammate have been painstakingly penciled in. The edge of the scanned image is punctuated with a bit of twig taped to the page: literally, a 'stick figure'.
Additionally, it appears as if each Guardian took the time to embellish his or her stick figure:
The signature headphones and musical player on Quill's figure have been shaded red—the same red as the chicken-scratch edits on the page.
Gamora's figure is holding a very detailed, accurately proportioned reproduction of her signature blade, drawn in green pen.
The charcoal smudges on the upper body of the Destroyer's figure have been edged in black ink, to improve their resemblance to his tattoos.
As for the figure of the raccoon hybrid, horizontal blue rings have been added to the tail. And in the same shade of blue, in the familiar all-caps, the following caption is printed below the image:
(TRANSLATED BY ROCKET)
Nova Prime shakes her head, and she can't help but smile. She reaches for the intercom. "Denarian Dey," she says, not quite able to hide the amusement in her voice, "would you please stop by my office? I have a message for the Guardians."
Twelve minutes past deadline
"So... you're going to fire them, aren't you," Rhomann asks ruefully. As their handler, he has been pushing for the Guardians to survive the cut—he owes them his family's lives. But if their mission report was abysmal enough to induce hysterical laughter from the otherwise unflappable Nova Prime... then that couldn't be a good sign.
But Nova Prime smiles. "Actually, no," she says. "No, I think we will be employing their services for a long time to come. In fact, I'd like you to offer them the Yormot job. After that, maybe even the reconnaissance mission on Terra: observing the 'Revengers' or the 'Assemblers' or however they are called."
"Oh!" Rhomann breathes. "Uh, good!" He's relieved, but also very, very confused.
"You think I'm making the wrong call?" his supervisor asks.
"No, not at all!" he says. "The Guardians are a little rough around the edges, sure, but the potential is there. I'm just curious... What did you see in that mission report, that made you change your mind?" Other than scribbles and sarcasm and second-grade spelling.
"What I saw," Nova Prime says, "what I finally saw, for the first time since Ronan, in fact... was a team." She smooths out the pages in front of her. "Seeing this report come together—seeing the Guardians use their strengths to balance each others' weaknesses—has more than answered my questions about their place with the Nova Corp. The first step towards successfully managing a team mission is successfully managing each other, and the Guardians have finally demonstrated to me that they are capable of that. They have shown that they are capable of working together—and I couldn't be more pleased," she finishes with a smile.
Rhomann blinks. "All that from crayon drawings, ma'am?"
Nova Prime shrugs. "I read between the lines."
"That's... that's terrific news," he beams. "I'll contact them right away about the Yormot job. If they take it, I can bring them in, prep them as usual."
"Perfect," Nova Prime smiles. "Send them my regards, and inform me if they accept. That will be all, Rhomann," she nods, dismissing him.
He turns to leave, then pauses. "Ma'am, one more question, if I may."
"Yes?" She waits expectantly.
"Shouldn't we tell them how mission reports are usually written? That they're a hundred words, if that, and follow a format that basically goes: Here was the mission, we did it successfully on such and such a date, if there were any complications we'll lie and say there weren't... the end?"
"Denarian Dey, I'm surprised at you," Nova Prime says, feigning shock. "You would pass up the opportunity for more of this?" She indicates the report in front of her, in all of its haphazard glory, and her lips curl up into a smile. "Where would be the fun in that?"
So, there you have it! I'm following my gut and considering this story complete for the time being. (Although if the plot bunnies attack, I can't make any promises that future mission reports won't pop up...)
Also, to give credit where credit's due, many of the planets and systems mentioned in this story are a nod to the lovely little story "In the Rays of a Beautiful Sun" by xahra99.
As always, thanks for reading and reviewing!