"We'll follow your lead… Starlord"
Peter Jason Quill grinned, roguishly as he powered up the forward thrusters on the Milano for take off as the music blared out of his rebuilt custom speakers. "A bit of both." He declared, and he thrust-off into the sunset, the Milano rising like a great and terrible bird leaping into the darkling sky-
"Did you have any specifics on this that you would like to share?" asked Drax. "That statement doesn't give any clear plan as to your intentions."
"Question:" asked Rocket "What's this about 'something good'? Are we doing the good thing first, or the bad thing first? Just out of professional interest."
"We're not actually going to do anything bad!" Snapped Gamora. "Peter just meant that in a roughish, lovable outlaw sort of way, Didn't you!" she said, turning to him so suddenly that he nearly ploughed the Milano into Nova-Prime's office out of shock.
"And would the good thing have to be morally proportionate to the bad thing?" asked Drax.
"Proportionate?" snorted Rocket. "We just saved Xandar, I'm banking on that counting as our 'something good' for now. Right? I mean it's twelve billion people, so by my reckoning we would have to do something pretty d'asted horrific to even get close to balancing that out-"
"I do not believe we should be intentionally endangering twelve billion people-"
"Whoa now Drax, that's not what I was suggesting, right? What I'm saying is we're the heroes of the hour! We could get away with pretty much anything! We should seize the opportunity and rob the Xandar Central Bank: it's had the vault ripped wide open from the Dark Aster's crash, and it's only 'cause the city was evacuated that it's not been looted already. We could land on what's left of the roof and be in an out before anyone notices."
"Rocket! That's not what we formed this team for" yelled Gamora. "besides, the Nova Corp re-built this ship for Quill, how do you think they'll feel if we use it to rob them?"
"That's not what I meant!"
"Hey, I'm as grateful as the next…. One of me…" said Rocket, shifting Groot's pot from one paw to the other to gesture. " that they gave us this ship, but unless you've got a bank account I don't know about, we didn't get the four billion credits we could have for that orb, and on top of that Yondu canned the bounty on Quill, so I'm kinda out of pocket here. All I'm saying is the Nova Corp are likely to be far more forgiving now than if we rob them in a years' time. Besides, they lost a lot of their manpower and equipment in that fight, so now's the best time all round. They're pretty much down to Rhomann Dey and Nova -prim's interns, and they were there to see us off. It was like eight flights of stairs to that launch pad with the elevators out, we could have the money and be out of the atmosphere before Dey gets back to his desk!"
"Those Nova Pilots died to save us, and you want to repay them by stealing from their world!?" asked Gamora, horrified.
"I want to repay the people that I want to repay! In cash! It's not like those guys will need the money now." Exclaimed Rocket.
"Unless their afterlife specifies the bribing of devils to avoid punishment." Said Drax. "Many do."
"Stay out of this!" said Gamora waving a finger. "We can't rob Xandar Rocket! How do you want these people to remember us?"
"What percentage of our activity do you then propose we spend being good or evil?"
"Oh don't you start that again Drax!" said Gamora. "Quill, you tell these reprobates that we are not robbing Xandar!"
"Hey, nobody calls me reprobate! Quill, you tell this green bald-body that-"
"Quill, What percentage of our time do you suggest we allocate to tasks that could not be classified as either good or bad?"
*Groot waves frantically*
Peter Jason "Starlord" Quill took his eyes of the Xandarian sunset and looked down to his control panel. According to the flight log, it had been exactly 91 second since take off.
Without looking back to his crew, Quill took the headphones for his Walkman from around his neck, and put them over his ears, turning up the volume as far as it would go whilst staring dead ahead out of his cockpit.
It was going to be a long flight.
Chapter one: cabins
"Okay team." Said Quill, clapping his hands together to get their attention. The bickering had moved into the Milano's common area after the first hour or so. "Thank you for flying Starlord airlines. The autopilot is on, the emergency exits are here, there and there, the hole we'll all get sucked out of in an explosive decompression is there, Galley is there, head and particle shower there and there, med-bay down those steps, and in the unlikely event of an un-scheduled planetfall your fellow passengers double as a floatation device."
The "team" stared. Drax looked nonplussed, Gamora confused, and Rocket was staring at Quill with his mouth part-open in stunned horror as if he'd just sprouted an extra head. Mini-Groot , on the other hand, appeared to be loving it, so Quill continued.
"Just a little earth humour to break the ice. No, Drax, the ship does not have an icing problem, you can put your hand down."
Drax put his hand down. Quill continued.
"Okay, the autopilot is set for our rendezvous, but it'll be a long flight, and we've got some time to kill. So I figured that as we're all here we may as well get some things straight. Sort out what we're heading there to do, what our plans and goals are, and get some living arrangements sorted now that it looks like you'll be guests on the Milano for a prolonged time. Yes Rocket?"
Rocket kept his paw raised. "Yeah I got a question. What rendezvous?"
"Rocket, do you really think anyone else has that questio-"
"What rendezvous Quill!" chorused Rocket, Gamora and Drax. Mini-Groot waved.
"Okay! Okay… while you were all in the infirmary getting bandaged up or dosed up to the gills or whatever, I had a little chat with Rhomann Dey about some old underworld contacts he busted a while ago. Ones who might have info on Thanos and this whole 'glowing stone o' doom' business. Turns out they're only a few systems over, city called Fairport, and they'll only be there for a short time. So whilst you were all arguing, sharpening knives or re-potting chunks of Groot, I called them up and arranged a meeting."
"Surely this is unnecessary. We already have all the information we could possibly need on Thanos in the form of our green-skinned murder." Said Drax.
"Don't call me that."
"At least it's an improvement on whore." Pointed out Rocket. " 'specially given his lack of metaphorical facility's an' such like meaning that if he calls you a whore he literally means he thinks you-"
"All right!" said Gamora. "Yes, I have info on Thanos. More than just about anyone. But it's not that simple. And who even told you about that Rocket?" asked Gamora. Quill had the good grace to look guilty. Rocket didn't.
"What, you let us in, we surprise him, Drax tries to knife him and gets beaten up, Quill distracts him with his… Quill-ness, I shoot him in the head. We're drinking over his body and sell our story to the press for billions in half an hour, forty min tops." Said Rocket. "Seems simple. I mean, if you've got any unresolved daddy-issues and you take exception to killing him, then you only need to get us in. I'll do it. I'll even give you a discount."
"No one is taking my vengeance on Thanos for me!" declared Drax. "And he would not necessarily beat me up! What happened on Knowhere was an aberration: I had been consuming large quantities of intoxicant liquids with you and what happened afterwards doesn't count!"
"Tell me about it, but you try telling that to the nova-corps and they still try to charge you with arson…"
"It's not that simple and for the record, no-one wants to see Thanos dead as much as I do. Your family isn't the only one he's responsible for killing, Drax." Replied Gamora.
"… I mean it was only one orphanage, and it was run by lascavarian nuns. The kids were better off on the street if you ask me…"
"Shut up Rocket." Said Gamora. "The point is, not only is Thanos one of the strongest beings in the universe and nigh on unkillable, Thanos is smart. He never gave any of his daughters more information that they needed to complete their chosen mission. I don't know any more about his plans than Groot, because I didn't need to know anything other than 'Aid Ronan until I tell you otherwise.' I had never even heard of an infinity stone until we wound up with one in the Collectors place."
"Oh yeah, out of interest, is he dead? The Collector I mean?" asked Rocket.
"Who cares?" Said Quill.
"Well, speaking as a long term bounty hunter, when you're indirectly responsible for blowing up a sadistic billionaire's prized stuff, you kinda hope he dies in the process otherwise that can come back to bite you in the ass." Said Rocket, leaning back and throwing a ball up and catching it repeatedly, much to mini-Groot's amusement. "Then again if he's too cheap to pay for decent help he deserves what he gets. Just a point to consider. So basically, Gamora don't know squat? I find that a little hard to believe."
"Surely you could at least locate Thanos base of operations?" asked Drax.
"He has several bases that he uses intermittently to hide his location. His main base on titan is made almost unreachable due to bizarre localised space-time anomalies. He can be reached by various wormholes or localized anomalies, but plotting a safe rout though would require his assistance." Gamora looked to Quill. "We'd either need to get him to come to us, or we'd need something he wanted to get through."
"Which brings us to our contact." Said Quill. "a certain Mr J Star'l'in, reporter. Dey says he's an expert on Thanos, been interested in him for years. Colleting reports, interviewing survivors of attacks or witnesses to assassinations Thanos is suspected of having an hand in, he even approached our broker on Xandar; Dey thinks he heard rumours of an infinity stone and had got old Eyebrows bugged just in case the person he was selling to was Thanos."
"That would probably have worked." Said Drax. "If Thanos had simply attempted to purchase the stone himself instead of sending Ronan after it, he would certainly possess it by now."
"You saying he should have put out a classified add? 'Wanted, stone of doom, no take-backies? Payment and possible murder on delivery?'" asked Quill. He then considered this "Yeah, that would work, I'd have fallen for that: I've answered worse personal ads."
"But instead" said Rocket "he sent Ronan to get an Orb, without telling him what it was, and he eventually betrayed Thanos when he found out. But Ronan sent Nebula, who would eventually betray Thanos, who was replaced by hers truly" said Rocket, pointing to Gamora between throwing and catching the ball. It was making annoying dull Ker-clunk Ker-clunk noises as it bounced off the bulkheads. "Who would eventually betray Thanos, but instead failed to get the Orb because somehow one of the universe's top assassins failed to defeat him, of all people. No offence Quill."
"Is there a point to this Rocket, or are you just being rude." asked Gamora.
"Oh, there's a point sister. My point is, if this last operation is any sorta' indication of how this Thanos does business, why do we have to do anything? Can't we just wait for the guy to stab himself in the back? It must be his turn by now. " Ker-clink Ker-Clunk "Then again, if that turns out anything like your fight with Quill he'd probably miss-"
"RIGHT! That's it!" Said Gamora. "You have a problem, Rocket, you spit it out!"
"Hey" he said, holding the ball one-pawed as he held his paws apart in the gesture universally recognised by people other than Drax as 'chill'. "I don't have no problem. I have several problems, one of which is, I don't like people doing stuff I can't predict."
"Are you calling me unreliable?"
"You couldn't rob QUILL! No offence. There was a four way brawl between you, me, Quill and a literally unarmed Groot and I was the last mammal standing! Me! Without using guns! Other than tazering Quill. I'm just saying it's a band indicator of how competent we are if I'm winning in the brawling stakes, even against him. No offence Quill. And sorry about tazing ya ass." Said Rocket, leaning back, tail resting casually over his legs, throwing the ball again. Ker-clunk Ker-clunk
"None taken. If I held a grudge against everyone who tazed me I wouldn't have the time to do anything else."
"So you're saying we can't fight?" asked Gamora, arms folded dangerously. "I was trained for decades to be an assassin, a living weapon. I've got enhancements that easily exceed yours." She eyed the ball Ker-clunk Ker-clunk "Do you know how fast my reflexes are?"
"Pretty good?" said Rocket, disinterestedly. Ker-clunk Ker-clunk
Rocket looked puzzled, paw outstretched to catch as the ball failed bounce back off the bulkhead. He checked the floor, but it was nowhere to be seen. Gamora leaned over and without taking her eyes of Rocket unfolded her arms and opened her hand, revealing a-
"Quantum grenade. Don't worry it's not live." Said Rocket, moving his tail aside to reveal the ball without breaking eye contact. He grinned, nastily.
"Fun fact: I'm alive because I surprise other folk more often than they surprise me. I like you, Gamora: you're a driven killer and I respect that, and you stood by me and fought with me. But you were the first to say that you're willing to die for a cause out of us, and that scares the crap out of me. I like bein' alive: it's pretty much all I do. I don't want a martyr watching my back. And I don't want a maniac watching my back, No offence Drax, or a potted plant, no offence Groot, but at present I'm the tall one in our partnership and that ain't right. The guy I want watching my back is someone like that idiot." he said, pointing. Quill looked behind him to see who Rocket was pointing at and then caught on. "Well Kinda." Sighed Rocket. "The point I'm trying to make is we're all individually really good at what we do, but being able to fight's not enough anymore, we need to work on pulling it all together some. Otherwise we'll all end up in little pots." He said, picking up Groot. "Water." Rocket declared.
"I… You…" Gamora held the grenade, and turned her head sideways, as Rocket waddled over to the tap with Groot. She replayed her hand gestures to herself, the way people do after street magicians confuse them. "I know you didn't see me grab the ball!"
"Yep. Partly because it wasn't a ball. Mostly because I blinked. Come on. Throwing the ball like that? That was annoying. I'm surprised no on tried to grab it before that. You were so careful too" He snickered, turning on the water. "Never looking at the ball in case that gave it away? Bad move. I make the swap, knowing you're watching my eyes not my hands, I throw the grenade, I blink, giving you the chance I know you're waiting for. You take that chance. Good thing you caught it too, not too stable those. Probably shouldn't let one hit the bulkhead."
"Okay." Said Quill. "New ship Rule: no demonstrating important points on teamwork with unstable quantum grenades!"
"So stable ones are good?" asked Rocket, half turning to Quill as he held Groot under the faucet.
"No grenades Rocket!"
"Spoilsport. It's like I'm living in a frickin' nunnery." Muttered. Rocket. "But you see my point? Gamora could snap me like a twig, if she wanted. That move in the street, where she took both of Groot's arms of with a sword. Ugg. That scares me: just think of the mess if he'd been made of meat like the rest of us. And Drax with those knives? And Quill and me and Groot in the mix, once he's bigger….We're a pretty badass bunch. If we could actually get the whole teamwork thing to… yanno…work. Are you honestly saying that we still couldn't take on Thanos directly and win?" asked Rocket, turning to Gamora. "because if we can't I kinnda like to find out before it kills me."
"Seconded." Said Quill. "I agree with that man. That Racoon… that- look I agree. I'm agreeing with you! What's with the death gaze? It's like an evil care-bear stare! Gamora answer the man….mal. mammal."
"Rocket: us taking on Thanos directly, without knowing what his plan is, would be like insects trying to take down the Milano by hurling themselves at its air intakes: we'd theoretical rob him of a little momentum, but not so much that anyone would notice other that if bits of our mangled, crisped bodies happened to fall out of the sky and into their drinks. With some info on what he wants with the infinity stones, what they are and what they do, we might stand a chance. Might. Without it, It would make us taking on Ronan, if he had the nova corps Yondu, the collector and the prisoners from the Kyln on his side, a walk in the park by comparison."
"With or without our mangled insect bodies falling down onto this park?" asked Drax. "Your metaphor is confusing and I do not like it, try another one."
"What like 'a finger on the throat means death?'" asked Quill.
"Yes, I like that one." Said Drax. Quill facepalmed.
"So without more info on what Thanos is up to we're screwed?" Asked Rocket.
Gamora nodded. "So much."
"And his guy were going to meet has info?"
"Price of fuel, I sure hope so." Said Quill.
"Okay. Next Question." Asked Rocket. "Where's the food, and where do I bunk?"
Quill opened up the narrow draw and the light flickered on. Gamora, Rocket and Drax were all outlined in its light as they leaned over to look at the tight tumble of metal, plastic and folding bedroll inside.
"Oh look. We'll all fit." Said Gamora, in tones of leaden sarcasm.
"Doubtful. I believe Rocket might." Said Drax.
"Bite me, baldy."
"Would that help you to fit?" asked Drax seriously, still examining the draw in some detail. Gamora and Rocket both stared.
"It folds out into a bed!" said Quill. "Dey got Nova to fit them when they rebuilt the ship, you see this ship is-"
"An older model XT-5 Badoon patrol vessel, medium to long range, low to medium payload multi-roll combat vessel, of the type commonly used by pirates such as the ravengers." Said Gamora. She looked to Quill. "Thanos thought a familiarity with most major weapons systems was a required part of any education."
"Um, yeah." Said Quill "Anyway the thing about the Milano is-"
"She was built for long-range recon and patrol, including light bombing against any nice fat enemy merchant shipping that might be hanging about, operating with a crew of pilot, co-pilot, navigator and weapons officer." Said Rocket, relishing the term weapons officer a little too much. "Built with two bunks in sleeping quarters to the aft, so there's one warm body on helm, one on standby and two at rest at any time, hot-bunking. Earliest models had one bunk, but that doubled as the med bay, so if someone got hurt, where did the rest sleep? Handles pretty well as a fighter if you strip out the torpedo rack from the undercarriage to save on some weight and replace those frickin' Badoon fuel injectors with somein' with a little bite like these ten-eighty's here." He said, patting an ugly bulge in the overhead trunking lovingly. "Yondu might be a hick, but he knows how to treat an engine right."
"He's not a hick!"
"Yeah like you'd know, earth-boy" muttered Rocket under his breath. "Kree teenagers are still dropping by Terra an' probing people for a laugh. So it folds out? Why? We've already got two beds."
"Yeah, which is fine if we were on a long rage patrol like this thing was made for, but we're gonna be on planets a lot, and as much a sleeping in shifts kinda works, I'd like us all to be awake at the same freaking time if we're going to have to fight someone!" said Quill. "Plus, you know. Some people might have issues with hot-bunking."
"So we can't sleep in shifts, fine I get that, but surely there's enough room to share." asked Rocket.
Gamora, Quill and Drax stared. "What?" asked Rocket, nonplussed. "Seems like there more than enough room on one of those beds.
"You really don't get people, do you?" asked Gamora.
"Woah now, I think that you know, maybe he has a point." Said Quill, truing to Gamora. "I mean it is an efficiency thing after all and you know, we should hear him out- OWWWW! A dead arm, oh come on!" said Quill, grabbing his arm and hopping around. "I thought an assassin would be more mature!"
"Hey I never said you two lovebirds should share: I thought maybe Quill and Drax might make a cute couple." Said Rocket. "Funny how your mind went there."
"He has a point." Said Quill, who then said "OWW, quit it!" as Gamora deadened his other arm.
"Just you wait, Quill!" Gamora hissed. "I'm not sharing with them, Rocket, and if you understood real people you'd know why!"
"Oh, and I don't understand real people now, is it? Since when did I stop counting as a real person?"
"Anyway!" said Quill, changing the subject. "I figured we'd need some more space so I had Nova fit two of these fold flat AKia beds. Put a folding divide in the middle of the med-bay bunk-room too. All we need to do is fold them out…" said Quill grasping with both hands and pulling. "Fold them out…" he said, fumbling with two dead arms. He paused for a second. "Oh wait, I know what was as doing wrong." He said, lightly. He then begun violently shaking the bed and pulling at it furiously. "Oh come on!"
"You need to twist that bit." Said Gamora pointing.
"I do not believe that is the case." Said Drax. "I believe that bit needs to be raised up first."
"Which bit?" said Quill. "That bit!" said Gamora and Drax at the same time, pointing to different bits. They all looked at each other for a moment. Drax grabbed the bed alongside Quill, and they both begun pulling at it furiously. "I'm going to get the instructions!" said Gamora, as she stalked off towards the med-bay/bedroom.
Rocket watched amused for a few moments, before getting bored and turning to the other side of the common area. An identical fold out draw-bed had been added. He looked at it. He looked at the wall. The walls of the common area were high-strength wire mesh: you didn't want people leaning on all the various gadgets in the wall, but most of them were air cooled and anyway, it saved on weight compared to sheet metal. He looked up, and noted that the reinforcement rings of the ships scaffolding were perforated, not solid metal: they had circular holes punched out to save weight. He stuck a clawed finger delicately through the mesh, turned it around, and gave it a sharp tug. He then put down Groot and repeated it with the other hand, testing the mesh until he appeared satisfied. He then went and got the meagre sack the contained all his worldly possessions, discounting those that he hadn't stolen yet, pulled out some equally heavy gage wire and a pair of tiny folding pliers made especially for his clever little paws, and got to work. Behind him flat-pack furnishing happened.
"Where the hell has Gamora got with those instructions?"
"I'm right here!"
"Okay had them over… these instructions are in Kree!" said Quill. He handed them back to Gamora. "You read them."
"Okay: to start, insertee tabee A into slotee b"
"… what the heck is tab a?"
"I believe that might be it!"
"Drax, that's my finger!"
Rocket finished bending the wire into hooks, and started getting out the roll of thinner wire and cutting it into lengths.
"…After inserting Lug E into groove g, take leaver ₪ and twist upwards vigorously…"
"Oww oww oww! Finger, Drax!"
"It's okay, let's try that again. Oww oww oww! Try that again with the actual lever!"
Rocket twisted the last wire into place, and taking the final two hooks in hand, started to climb.
"Okay, everyone together now, on my mark. One two… three!" Quill pulled on three. Gamora and Drax, who had both been waiting for him to say "mark" watched as the handle he was pulling on came off in his hands and he went over backwards. They then looked at each other, and pulled together. The bed folded out neatly. Quill jumped back up and started slapping them on the backs.
"Whoo! Okay go team. Good… good team stuff team. Okay, now that we've got that sorted, know how it's done, we can do yours in no time Rocket." Said Quill turning around. He and the rest of the crew stared.
Rocket's Main Gun, the Hadron Enforcer, and a sinister back box that looked suspiciously like the computer core from the Dark Aster and been neatly hung from wire hooks threaded through the opposite wall, and strapped down with the monomolecular retractable cords that Quill as a terran would always think of as "Bungee cords," to stop them floating off in the event that the artificial gravity failed. The rest of Rockets stuff, all much lighter, had been neatly wired in place around these three items with thin twists. Rocket was nowhere to be seen. Click. Quill looked up just in time to see Rocket clamp on the second home-made cambina and swing effortlessly into the hammock now hanging between the ships reinforcement rings, booting up his info-glass to read this month's rayguns and fuel cells as he did. They stared.
"What?" he asked. "Ain't you never seen a guy read in bed before?"
"You were just so fast to do that! Well." Said Quill. "I guess if you don't want it, Groot can have the other bed when he's grown out of the pot."
"Nah, he sleeps sitting or standing up: something about his xylems stop working if he don't. Big baby. Besides, he's on it now. Thanks' for the work bench, by the way." Said Rocket. Quill and the others looked down. The metal and plastic tubing of the bed's structure had somehow been repurposed into a workbench, complete with a beach mounted vice that Quill was pretty sure he'd never seen on his ship before. Groot sat happily basking under a sunlamp next to the vice, also bungeed in place.
"I take it food's in the fridge?" asked Rocket.
The team ate what was objectively a pretty good meal in stony silence. Well, Quill, Gamora and Rocket ate in stony silence: Drax seemed pretty oblivious to it once food was put in front of him, and Groot didn't eat so he just played floral centrepiece, because he seemed to get upset if separated from Rocket.
("How can you tell?" asked Quill. "He can't even talk."
"Shows what you know." Answered Rocket, evenly. "You can't even listen.")
Part of the silence was Gamora and Rocket's argument from earlier, and Quill was very aware that they were probably the two most dissimilar personalities on the craft and would never see eye to eye on some things. Part of it everyone's anger at him when he answered all their questions about their contact on Fairport with "I don't know, Dey gave me a bar he hangs out in and a mug shot, we'll look for him." Part of it was the sleeping arrangements: due to Quill's 'reputation' Gamora had decided, for now, to take a shift at the helm that meant that the two of them were sharing a bedroom only for the moments when he was going to bed and she was getting up. Part of it was the ridiculous fold down dining table that forced your knees into your spine if you were taller that Rocket (and, currently, Groot). Mostly, however, it was the food.
Ronan's attack on Xandar city had left the civic infrastructure pretty much wrecked. The evacuation had worked and civilian casualties were light, all things considered, but the CBD was a wreck and there were still far too many office workers stuck in the city when the power to the mag-trains failed. That and people flooding the inner city hospitals, there were still a lot of mouths to feed in the city, and no produce reaching the shops. Nova had been as efficient as always, shipping in the disaster relief wonder team of little white tents, silver blankets, water purification tabs, the super-nutritious miracle that was GeGeNut butter to feed the hungry, and epi-pens to stab the allergic because the GeGeNut is a harsh mistress at times. The nova corps was good at what it did, but still food supplies were more than sufficient in volume but severely limited in choice. As heroes of the hour Quill and the team had eaten pretty well, but as perishable goods perished he'd had to make a call. The fruit and pastry they were eating was the contents of the buffet table at one of Nova-Prime's ridiculously early morning de-briefing sessions, and had been kindly offered to them to take with them when she realised that not a word she said was being heard so long as the table was there distracting everyone. Quill could have filled the ship with more of the same, appropriated from Nova's offices, but he realised that life as a criminal hadn't paid all that well and he had no high expectations of life as a hero, so he'd stuffed every corner of the ship he could with Nova Corp "Macroscopic Rations, Emergency" packs and commercial long-life sculpted protein. However good a meal, knowing it's your last before a long stint of MRE packs and protein bars can kill the mood. However the empty space in the fridge left when Quill decided to take shelf-stable rations hadn't gone to waste: Nova had kept them in a hotel throughout their de-briefing, and what with the city still largely evacuated they had the place mostly to themselves. Dey had to cover his eyes with shame as they shovelled the contents of a half hundred min-bars onto the ship, plus a keg of Asgarian brandy Rocket "Found" on one of his late night jaunts. If Thanos didn't kill them then they were at least giving cirrhosis an outside chance.
After Dinner, Quill gave up and went to bed. He just hoped they made the night without anyone murdering anyone else.
Gamora woke with a yelp and clutched at her eye. For a dizzying vertiginous moment she wasn't sure where she was. Then the dream faded, and she realised that she was clutching her sword in the other hand. Shaking, she put it back. She looked over to Quill's empty bed: he kept his area surprisingly neat. She was glad he hadn't seen that. Sweating, she sat up and rubbed at her eyes until the image faded from her mind. It took quite some time before Thanos's grinning face left her.
Unable to get back to sleep, Gamora decided she needed water.
Moving quietly, she headed for the galley. The communal areas of the ship were small, and she had to squeeze past Drax and Rocket's area to get to the faucet. She grabbed a relatively clean glass, poured, and downed it. She poured again. Finding the clean glass was the hardest part, the galley was a mess, dishes unwashed despite the fact that Quill promised to do them, MRE packs piled in random heaps, the fridge door was even open. Gamora moved to close it with an exasperated snort, until she saw the paw.
Rocket peered out from behind the door, suspiciously. She realised that she still hadn't got used to keeping an eye out for someone three-foot-nothing tall. She turned back to the sink. He turned back to the fridge. She realised she must look a mess. That said, in the bleary light of the fridge, Rocket didn't look any better. He was wearing a child's-sized pair of white and blue boxer shorts worn back-to-front to accommodate his tail via the fly, and a frown. The scarring on his back and the level of fur loss was prominent under such conditions. As were his enhancements.
"Does it hurt?"
"Huh?" asked Gamora.
"That orbital implant. It's slightly misaligned. Does it hurt?" asked Rocket, staring intently into the fridge. He squinted at some of Quill's Tupperware. It squinted back, so he returned it to its shelf.
Gamora took her hand away from her eye. She hadn't realised she'd been rubbing the implant.
"No, no it never does it just-"
"Just feels like it should, yeah." Said Rocket. "Like you've been given novocaine or some shit. No… like you haven't, because there no pain to mask, just fells there should be. I dunno. Like a void." He glanced slyly at Gamora out of the corner of his eye. "What's with you sneaking about in the middle of the night? You spying?"
Gamora was tempted to ask what it was to him if she was, but she was still feeling shaken from the dream and in no mood for this shit so she settled for a non-comitial "Couldn't sleep."
"Figures. Seeing as you're awake and all." Said Rocket, pulling out a carton from the fridge door and helping himself to the other clean glass. He kept the fridge door between them at all times, like an enamelled DMZ.
"Why are you up." Asked Gamora. Rocket smiled.
"Couldn't sleep. Water's okay but frankly, if you can't sleep nothing's going to beat the old all-purpose spacers insomnia cure." He said pouring. "Blue milk. Fresh from the moisture farm." He held the carton out to Gamora. "Want some?"
Gamora snorted as she took the carton, weighed it carefully, and put it on the side. "Kind or a Hockey cure all. Does that actually help you sleep?" she asked, turning back to Rocket.
"Does if you make it my way." He said, pouring the contents of a minibar liquor bottle into his glass. He held one out and shook it at her temptingly. She bit her lip, then shook her head. "Probably shouldn't."
"Huh? Oh, no, this one's for me too. They distil this stuff from tubers: Ya gotta shake them otherwise you get this oily scum on the top. Surprised it doesn't curdle the milk, really." Said Rocket, lifting the glass to his lips and downing half of it in one gulp. With her enhanced hearing, Gamora could hear the servos in his arm as he raised the glass.
Gamora watched. "How…How much work did they do?"
She nodded. Rocket shrugged. Gee, What makes you think I've had work done? Has my cosmetic surgeon been shooting off his mouth to the paparazzi again? Well, Ain't standards just slipping everywhere sister. Can't even trust real people these days. Said Rocket, which was why it came as a complete surprise to him then the words that actually came out his mouth were:
"Dunno. Ain't sure. Is this fruit? Is fruit supposed to be this color?"
"You don't remember?"
"Not all of it: wasn't exactly me when they started. No real basis fur' comparison." He put the glass down and flexed his arm, watching his fingers move and cast long shadows in the cold light of the fridge. "Sometimes, it's thinking about what I must have been before they started. Other times it's wondering whether or not they ever finished, and I don't know what scares me more. What keeps you up at night? We can both pretend we just 'couldn't sleep', but frankly you ain't falling for that and I don't see why I should pretend to for your sakes." he stopped and turned to her. "What is it gets you real people up at 0300 standard?"
Gamora looked at Rocket, searching his face for some sort of trap. Was he being honest with her, or was this another game. "Nightmares." She said. "I have bad dreams." He regarded this dispassionately for a moment, and then nodded. Based on the medical reports she had read at Nova, she guessed he could at least partly smell if you were dissembling. "You're right Rocket; I apologise if I've ever implied you are a lesser life form, and just because we argue that's no reason to be childish about this and pretend we don't have problems out of some sort of misplaced bravado." She said.
"Misplaced what?" asked Rocket, suspiciously. Gamora mentally re-adjusted (highly intelligent =/≠ formally educated, not Drax so can use metaphor, not Quill so don't pre-screen for childish innuendo) and spoke again.
"We shouldn't lie to each other just because we want to look big. Not on this ship." She ran this though her metal filters again "That's not a height crack." She added. "I have nightmares about what Thanos did to me. Did to my family. Even now. I cope pretty well, but that's it. I'm coping, not fixed."
"Well, if it helps, neither am I. Well, there was this one veterinarian who offered once, but turned out he meant something different. Words were exchanged. And Tasers. Anyway, yeah. Thanks for sharing your…. Stuff." Said Rocket. Gamora looked at him. Clearly this wasn't enough so she prompted "and you know Rocket, if you ever need to talk-"
"Then thank the stars I've got Groot. Look, I see what you're trying to do and I'm grateful, and yeah, I'll admit I'm pretty spectacularly screwed up. No shame in admitting it, and I'm sorry I was trying to bait ya' an all earlier. But can we just, I dunno, settle for some awkward silences? I think we just need one of those unspoken understanding understandings at night and then we can go back to sniping at each other by day. "
"If that's what you want, Rocket."
"Yeah well, what we want and what we get ain't met up so far. Why start now? I mean, yeah I'd like to be normal but no-one's normal: Look." Rocket dropped his stance and went into a classic gunfighters pose and drew on Gamora. She had a kitchen knife in her hands before she even registered that he wasn't wearing any guns.
Rocket pointed a finger at her sadly and said "Pow. See what I mean? We fought together, you're part of the closest thing I have to family, uggg, I can't believe I just said that, and yet when we see something like that, the instincts from our old lives kick in. You still watch my jugular and I still track your centre-mass, let's not pretend we've not noticed. You still have nightmares about your family and me about… well. I want to think that talking about it can, I dunno, fix things and make people into better people. I want that. But everyone in this galaxy is at least in part what the world makes them into, good or bad, whether they like it or not."
He made a rapid two-fingered pointing gesture back and forth between them "Pretty much literally in our cases."
"I can't think like that Rocket. I'm sorry, but I have to believe that we're more than that."
"I know. What's worse, I'm pretty sure that you at least are. Goodnight."
"Goodnight Rocket." Gamora took her glass of water and made her way back to her bed. As she was about to leave the kitchen area Rocket called out and she stopped.
"You, you remember your family well? Think before you answer. Do you remember what happed to them, or do you actually still have any good memories of what it was like before that?"
"I… I remember a lot. Not all, but I remember them, the good times, yes."
"Does… does that make it better or worse? I mean you've lost more, yeah, but at least you know…"
"Knowing that there's just you. Knowing that…. That you're the only one. You're the last of your people. And I'm… well. We're both us. Just us. All alone."
Gamora came over and, not quite sure why, knelt and hugged her shipmate.
"You're not alone Rocket."
Now let go of me before I bite you. Or Someone sees. Seriously. That's enough."
He said as he looked around desperately, making sure no one was watching. He caught a face looking at him and panicked momentarily, but it was just a missing persons on the milk carton. He froze up and didn't hug back, but made no move to escape.
"If you let go now I'll help you look for that bravado-thingy you lost. It's probably under the fridge." He attempted, followed but the ever popular. "Hey, I think I know that guy on the carton. Biting is still an option, by the way."
Gamora stood up, smiling. She was pretty sure the bit about biting was a joke, but still. Rocket practically fled back to the fridge and busied himself with ignoring what had just happened. "Awww hell." He said as she walked down to her room. She smiled, confident she had reached out to him. Rocket raised the carton to eye height. "There was a reward? Shoot: If I'd known that then I wouldn't have." He grumbled as he shut the fridge and vaulted back into bed. Within two minutes he was out, and sleeping more peacefully than he had in months.
In the cockpit up the steps from the kitchenette, Peter Jason Quill smiled to himself in his pilots chair and turned on his Walkman. Small steps.
Awesome Mix Tape 2 Track: Herman's Hermit's -There's a Kind of Hush (all over the world)