Ch14 Moments of clarity

His laying on his back in the dark. Trey has possessively latched himself on top of his belly sleeping, though Rocket knows from his son's damp shirt that it's from crying himself to exhaustion. His head throbs but not because of the drugs in the food, because of being rather harshly manhandled while being incapacitated, which in Rocket's case was by being dragged around and down the stairs and out to the street by the heels at which point the drugs were in full effect and even his cybernetic augments could no longer keep him awake.

Rocket slowly gathers up to his elbows to look around, careful to not wake up Trey.

The room was quiet and without light but like all raccoonoids, he would have an excellent nose and night vision even without the enhancements and could make out shapes and dimensions about the space they were in just from the slivers of light seeping in through the door jambs situated at the end of the staircase. They were not alone in this place. He could easily smell and hear at least a dozen other bodies with them not to mention touch them. There were two or three bodies just at the arm's length in either side of him.

"Hands to yourself pall." came the quiet but manly mumble when Rocket quietly reached out to feel the person next to him with his paws.

"sorry, just wanted know whose laying next to me." Rocket replies retracting his paws.

"iss -what they all say. Go back to sleep new guy, yer kit was noisy enough to wake the dead. We ain't getting fed before morning anyway and if you need to piss, the bucket is at the corner by the stairs- spill it an' we'll make you lick it from the floor." the guy grumbles before settling back to sleep.

Rocket sighs, wriggling a bit to get into more comfy position to lay at the hard cement floor.

" You, get up!"

Rocket is awakened by a harsh kick at the side. Three rough looking raccoonoids with Badoon-made weapons have circled them and the one talking, -a big brute with a perpetual scowl, had just kicked him to the side while a second one is keeping Trey from crying or running crawling away by holding his muzzle shut with one hand while the other hand is keeping the kit painfully in place by the loose skin at his neck. the third one has trained his weapon at the other prisoners.

"Wha- what's going on?" Rocket mutters trying to get his bearings before everything comes flooding back to him. The door up by the stairs is open, flooding the dark space with daylight, intensely bright enough after hours of darkness to make even his cybernetic ocular filters react annoyingly every time the door swings in the draft. Even when half-blinded and still half-asleep Rocket had already calculated that the three guards were likely to waste him and Trey if he'd try anything foolish, all the same his already rolling contingencies and scenarios through his mind about how to turn the tables .

"Get moving and bring the brat too. The boss wants to see them both." the kicker remarks without replying to Rocket while cuffing his but not his son's wrists to front with simple mechanical cuffs. That he could use to his advantage…

Harsh daylight at the water tower's narrow stair balcony, blessedly causes Rockets eye implants to adjust and stop from blinking erratically between enhanced night-vision and full flare protection-mode, not that he has much time to feel relief or enjoy the scenery. the 'goon squad'-leader pushes Trey for Rocket to carry when they're escorted at gun point down by the stairs that wind around the sides of the water tower and onward ending to an alley separating the metal walled maintenance shack from the tower base.

"Son, I know you're scared but I need you to do something when they're distracted with me -" Rocket whispers to Trey as quietly as he can. Trey nods trembling slightly in his lap. "-good boy, now listen up" … His father gives a quick glance over his son towards his captors, unaware of his conspirations, before continuing to explain his plan.

Inside, the shack is lit more by daylight filtering in from the ceilings light windows than the few dingy bulbs at the ceiling, causing the dust motes dance in the light. Rocket quickly takes a stock that there was at least a dozen armed raccoonoids present, several bunk beds and a few desks along with the necessary pumps, pipes and things for the reservoir -though now shut off, obviously. The goons push them through one more door at the back into a smallish office space. A mid-aged looking raccoonoid in casual clothing of pale brown pants and white short sleeved dress shirt glances from his work and stands up from behind the desk in exaggerated manner when they're escorted in. A manner which Rocket has learned to usually associate with petty gangsters and small-time mob bosses. Rocket tries not to show emotion when he notices that the man was examining his and Trey's possessions, taken from the hotel room.

"Welcome. I am Aarkon Seventh son and you're him. -the one they call Rocket." He declares. a light smirk dangling at his cheeks that does nothing to lower the threat his emanating. Rocket says nothing, glaring at Aarkon and helping visibly trembling Trey to sit on a vacant chair in front of the desk.

"And that must be the kit. They want you both, you know. Want you SO badly…" Aarkon croons staring Rocket intensely, coming uncomfortably close to invading his personal space.

"I don't know what- ", Rocket starts, pulling his head back and sideways but Aarkon clamps his mouth shut sharply with his paws and turns Rocket's gaze forcibly back to his. The goons raise their guns threateningly when Rocket raises his paws in reaction, forcing him to tolerate Aarkon's manhandling while Aarkon continues to monologue like nothing happened -still clamping now fuming Rocket's muzzle with his paw, though he is now moving Rocket's head slowly from side to side.

"Do not interrupt, I was not finished. The Badoon… They want you, but why? You don't seem so much to me. Sure, you're big and well-grown but so is Binny and they don't want him enough to pay for one's weight in gold…" Aarkon muses aloud while the brawny thug at the back, designated as Binny, gives a nervous glance at being singled out by his boss.

Suddenly Aarkon nods to his goons and they grab Rocket's arms holding him tight despite the cuffs. Aarkon then produces a lighter from his pocket, bringing it uncomfortably close to Rocket's left eye and painfully holds the eyelid open with a finger, looking for something in Rocket's eyes who's quickly starting to feel alarmed under Aarkon's intense scrutiny. And he can feel his traitorous retinal implants reacting to being exposed to sudden increase of light.

"yes, yes I see now why they want him. Alive yes, but they said nothing of the condition when they're brought in. Fetch the Doc, these two are going to bring us a great harvest." Aarkon nods to his goons, satisfied with what he saw, releasing his hold on Rocket while his goons grab Rocket's arms tighter, holding him tight despite his struggle. Aarkon merely quirks a smile at him but it's enough for Rocket to feel a shiver of dread running down his half-artificial spine. Trey begins to sniffle, trying to hold back a tear.

Last stand at Alftand

Roork wrung his palms together in washing pattern ears flattened against his skull while studying the map of Alftand -or what remained. He was sitting at the back of one of the several trucks their regiment were riding on. Alftand had once been an important town now not so much -but even when mostly ruined it held the last major bridge over the stretch of the beginning of the eight hundred miles that was the widely meandering course of the end run for the great river Alft.

The Zoms couldn't swim too well… especially not here where the river was widening from running fast in deep but narrow gorges to a shallow but lazy river, almost two-mile-wide, before it would reach the southern Tharmol sea. If only they'd still had an Air force left it would have been an easy task to scout the area and destroy this last bridge between the continental heartlands and the already doomed Olzaba region.

He folded the paper map -one that he assumed 'the boss' would have affectionately called as 'cute but old fashioned' if he'd seen it. He stowed it back to his pack before looking at the cadets with him. He'd picked these younglings himself with Vren, stoic and hard-eyed to the last in their brown, hooded monk's robes.

The convoy lurches to a halt just as Roork is informed through his link via battalion channel that they've arrived and Roork can't help but silently marvel at that piece of technology; the receiver was snugly wrapping the base of the outer lobe of his left ear while the transmitter piece nestled below the chin against his neck just above the larynx. Another one of the many things they'd gained from the Galactic Guardian-Ranger Rocket to fight the lizard people invading their home planet. With a bit of practicing they could take and send messages almost without a word being spoken aloud. He stretches to grab his flechette riffle from the rack, refocusing on what he must do and rolls his shoulders a bit before standing up. He still wasn't quite used on the weight of the body armor they'd been provided with -the new design was unmistakably Guardian ranger's doing, Roork was sure of it.

"Alright then kits, move out! Defensive perimeter fifty meters out!" He calls fastening the chin strap of his helmet before jumping out after the cadets.

"The charges are set Commander." A cadet informs Roork who affirms and turns back to watch the citizens being loaded into trucks. He glances up in thought, if the sky would remain heavily overcast they wouldn't need to worry about the Badoon making an air strike from orbit against the convoy. The air had a humid quality to his nose and sure enough the pitter-patter of raindrops announced the coming rain while another kind of pitter-patter at his earpiece told him that the first waves of Zoms had been spotted.

"Battle stations! the Zoms are advancing from the south-west and heading up by the west bank." He announces through the commlink and cocks his riffle as a Go! -sign for the first convoy to ready to leave with the civilians.

The lead truck revs its engine a bit- Roork turns his attention back to his commanding of men when a sudden blood curling jabber is heard from a distance. He turns around towards the sound asking through the comm-link what's going on.

"Oh Fo- fuu—ck sh-akes!" Roork spits after a short dispatch through the commlink, realizing how his previous plan has been laid to shambles in but a few moments.

The Zoms were already at both sides of the river and closing in the trap. Roork gives yet another curse before ordering his men at the west bank to retreat back across the bridge and then to blow it up as planned. Not much else he could do, but this way they would only fight the flanking force.

"Call those trucks back and place them in semi-circle against the river bank. Then take positions inside it." He orders with a bad feeling at his gut. It was better to have the trucks with them than having them cross a terrain with only minimal escort and an unknown number of Zoms running loose. The ruined town would offer no shelter either.

Roork takes a deep breath and hefts his gun while most of the Cadets take positions at the outer rim of the truck circle and ignite their signature Photon blades forsaking the flechette guns at their loins and rifles slung at the backs. he looks at his weapon and then counts the number of properly armed men before deciding.

"Give your guns to the civilians if you're going use a photon blade, we're going to need all the firepower we've got." The Cadets look at him for confirmation before nodding and each giving their gun to an able looking civilian. Civilians in turn nod or thank quietly realizing the situation. He then instructs their hastily marshaled 'auxiliares' to take positions on top of the trucks with his cadets staying on the ground and to only shoot if they think they can hit a Zom in the head for sure. Kits and infirm they've stuffed inside the cabins.

The only sound is the patter of fat rain drops hitting the ground and the low hiss against ignited Photon blades. The civilians clutch whatever weapons they've managed to scavenge, sensing the mood. Roork squeezes the weapon handle nervously, anytime now, and nods to himself when the first ragged shadows begin to move at the forest edge. An ear-splitting cry echoes from the treeline and another one returns it from the west.

"Blow the bridge when the first hundred are on it." Roork orders calmly into his ear piece. a strange but not uncomfortable feeling of peace engulfs him when a loud boom signals the bridge being destroyed. He was being how he was meant to be and supposed to be.

As the great gibbering horde advances from the treeline, Roork felt like he wanted to strangle the idiot that wrote the scout reports; there were at least thrice as many Zoms than what had been estimated. Though they now had twice as many men in arms than what they had had at the beginning, he wasn't sure if it would make a difference at all.

"Think they're going to sing about us later?" One of his Cadets whispers nervously, probably intending it more for himself than anything.

"Sure they will kid." Roork whispers back and pats the Cadet reassuringly between the shoulders – 'assuming there's anyone left to sing the songs…' but the last part is voiced only in his mind.

After carrying Trey and escorting Rocket in to a green garden shack-like building near the main housing unit, the thugs splay Rocket on his back, arms and legs spread eagle, on the metal operation table and tie him securely to wait on it while throwing fussy Trey into a 'tiger cage', - Rocket tugged the thick leather restraints experimentally -they wouldn't budge. The still present faint smell of old petrol and grease hanging in the air despite all the refurnishing and heavy scent of bleach and old blood on top, told him that it indeed must have been a garden shed once. He could feel his pulse quickening. It took a lot of his willpower just to avoid snapping right there. He took several more calming breaths and slowly raised his head to look at his son inside the cage who grins proudly, holding a set of keys palmed from one of the guards. Rocket felt like he could've fainted from relief watching Trey fiddle with the keys one by one to find the right one.

"They don't fit daddy!" Trey whines in distress when even the last key in the ring fails to fit.

"Okay son, look if there's a -a nail or stout piece of wire or- something else sharp and thin you can use to pick the lock." Rocket tries amid his rising panic. They really didn't have much time to waste before he was going to start losing organs. Trey scrambles looking frantically around the cage.

They both freeze at the sound of latch being rattled.

Trey wasn't sure what that 'Doctor' was doing to daddy but after he had used scissors to cut off daddy's clothes and put a drip pouch on his arm, it must have hurt an awful lot judging from the way daddy had been shaking and hissing sharply between arduous inhales. Shaking and hissing but not screaming or even cursing, not even once… His daddy was really brave even when stripped naked and bound tight to the table the way he was.

The 'doctor' curses loudly before pulling the long big needle out from daddy's hip. Daddy gives a lopsided grin in return.

"Smile all you want, freak. I always get want in the end." the 'Doctor' grumbles in return.

Daddy just keeps smirking knowingly and the 'Doctor' grits his teeth in thinly veiled frustration and throws the needle way over his shoulder without looking or caring where it lands but Trey does…

"I'll be back," He declares vindictively before leaving the room and slamming the door shut behind him.

"Bastard, wants a sample of my bone marrow… the jokes on you fucker, I've got fuso-carbon and metal infused bones, some shitty extraction needle isn't going pierce them." His daddy whispers, earlier smile slipping into pained grimace at his face before softening again when he looks at Trey wearily. He gives a toothy grin when the latter raises a questioning eyebrow at the slowly dripping wound at his father's pelvis and the ghastly blood caked needle, now resting at his paws.

"Good kit… Now let's get to work. He'll be back soon… With a drill bit, I wager." Rocket advises but Trey doesn't find his daddy's muddled encouragements nearly as reassuring as the former probably hopes it to be, focusing into picking the lock the way daddy has taught and he has seen him doing it.

They were winning, that much was obvious to anyone, so that can't be the reason why Peter seems so anxious. Gamora surmised while glancing at her team mate's face. The current battle had dwindled to a short lull as both sides were regrouping to count their losses before taking another pass at their each other's. The Milano had taken some damage but nothing Rocket wouldn't be able to fix once they'd reunited. Speaking of which…

"You seem troubled Peter." She opens. Quill glances at her direction, stopping the nervous opening and closing of his fists that he'd been caught doing.

"I'm just – we'll not really worried just a little anxious to see Rocket again. His personal comms are down AND you know how anal that furball gets if any one of us ever fails to answer ours when he calls us… it could be nothing or it could be really bad."

"His ship's beacon still works. So, he probably made it safely back to the planet" She says not letting nary of her own worry show.

"We both know that means jack shit… Milano's beacon was working fine too after the battle of Xandar, despite the ship being completely trashed, remember?" Peter denies, rising from the captain's chair to stretch his back in languid manner.

"Aww, just fuck it with this stalling. This fight will go fine even without us. Let's get down there, grab Rocket, kill a few Badoon up close and personal and find a decent dive bar after."

That sentiment is something she can get behind even if it went against what had been agreed with Denarian Dey.

"Dey won't like it if we break the Nova core first contact rules." She replies already locking the signal from Rocket's ship beacon to the nav station readout she'd been handling at the co-pilot seat -something which would've normally been Rocket's job not hers.

"-And when was the last time we followed their rules to the letter? Besides, Rocket has probably broken at least fifty of those rules already by just being down there in the first place." Quill scoffs, his mind made up.

"Good. I'll message Dey that we're going to scout the situation on the planet." Gamora agrees without a hitch as Quill harnesses back to his seat and grabs the flight sticks.

"He was here. Landed maybe two-three days ago and I think those three corpses tried to apprehend him and who ever it was that was with him at the cockpit, as seen in the message." Gamora informed Peter who was going through the burned wreck that had been Rocket's ship.

"Nah- definitively crashed, I think the Badoon shot him down, there's starship-grade blaster gashes on the wings and mid-section." Peter says shaking his head a little.

"There are two sets of tracks here, faint though they are, one for the Badoon and ones for Rocket and his company. I believe Rocket's companion is wounded and he had to carry him. His tracks get deeper while the marks of a tiny person pulling himself forward with his hands end." Drax indicates the tracks with a tip of one of his knives. It had taken some time for the other Guardians to realize that Drax was in fact a very good hunter & tracker who took much joy from the rare occasions that allowed the showcasing of his skills.

"Great job, man. Can you follow them further?" Peter congratulates clapping Drax on the back in passing.

"Of course I can. He has not attempted to hide them which is why six or seven Badoon have also found them and followed him some time later, likely the rest in their own craft with trackers following him on foot." Drax informs conversationally.

"I am Groot?" Groot asks with slight worry.

"Yeah, you and Gamora go with Drax, I'll stay behind with the Milano, pull in what's left of Rocket's wreck and pick you up at the end of the trail." Star-lord commands and the trio sets on the trail while Peter begins to fuss with towing the wreck into Milano's loading bay.

Star-lord lands the Milano on the front yard of the building the other Guardians had called-in as the place where Rocket's trail ends. He immediately notices how the architecture of the building is strangely familiar yet also very odd.

"What is it with these weird dimensions. I feel like a frickin' giant? He grumbles after almost hitting his head on the light fixtures hanging from the roof by just crouching through the annoyingly low doorway and rising back to his full height when inside. the inside was a mess of broken glass and furniture. "Weird, it's all kid-sized too." he remarks to himself looking around the room.

"In here." Gamora winks him to walk further in and through the house.

"Kilroy was here…" Peter snorts not entirely surprised at the sight of the dead Badoon battalion haphazardly piled outside by the backdoor.

"I still don't know who this Kilroy is, but Rocket was here for sure and I think he gassed these poor bastards before shooting them for good measure." Gamora smiles with the self-assured smirk of someone who is overly aware of their groups collected talents.

"The tracks end here in any case. He took a shuttle from the Badoon-." She says sheathing her sword she'd been fondling by the crook of her arm.

"-And, there's no way knowing which way he left with it. Literally gone with the wind." Quill finishes her sentence with a disgruntled nod. They really needed to find Rocket, he would be the only one with the knowledge to properly discern the situation the planet was in but as much as Peter felt frustrated he also understood that there really was nothing else they could do for the time being.

"Okay gang, lets report back to Dey what we've found so far." Quill suggests when they're all gathered back together to stand outside the Milano to decide what to do next.

"Not much to report. We haven't seen even a single person belonging to local populace so far and there's no signs of Rocket" She sums up and glares at Drax who's about to open his mouth, "Shut up Drax I know we have the tracks and that alone isn't good enough."

"Well it's not like we can do much here either." Peter reminds them.

"We should help the locals." Drax proposes and Peter is pretty sure it's mostly because Drax is just wanting to pent some of his energy in fighting and not for being altruistic.

"I am Groot?" Groot asks to which Peter nods agreeing. "Yeah, you're right. We don't know if or how far they've fortified the planet yet, but I don't think they have completed it or Rocked would have told so in his message…"

"True the Badoon would've already blackmailed us into leaving by threatening to blow the planet if they could." Gamora agrees with Groot & Peter.

"Tell you what guys. We tell Dey what we've found so far and use orbital scans to locate the drill sites, so the Nova can bombard then from orbit. Since we're already here we can use our ship to survey the effects for Nova from the ground while waiting to hear from Rocket.

"Sounds good enough." Gamora accepts without further comment. Groot, as usual, easily agrees to what's been discussed leaving only Drax to grumble about how he hasn't agreed on merely sitting around yet has no reason to continue advocating for his point.

The padlock clicks open and drops on the floor with a low 'thunk' and Rocket feels like he could do the same from sheer relief. Trey throws the icky needle way and drags himself to Rocket's side. As soon as Rocket has his left paw free he grabs for the intravenous needle that was placed on his right arm cephalic vein.

"Now son, I'm flarking mad and when I'm mad…" Rocket hisses dangerously from between clenched teeth, rising shakily to sitting position at the table. ignoring the slow bleeds in his arm and hip.

"Daddy, you're bleeding." Trey whispers when Rocket scoops him up from the floor to sit at his lap.

"Don't worry, son. It's nothing I can't fix." He reassures while rummaging around the room for something to be used as a weapon when the "doc" eventually returns.

Unfortunately, the room inside the shack is rather bare except surgical equipment but despite scalpels, bone saws and other medical tools laying abound none of the bladed instruments were worth it as melee weapon against an armed opponent and he didn't have the time to start figuring out which of the chemicals were volatile enough to be used as explosives except, -except the extension cord. Extension cord, brass door handle and the 400v power outlet to be more precise… yes, those he could use for a bit of 'fun' when the Doc returns.

"Stop gawking Trey and hand me the string." Rocket hissed at Trey for the third time who can't seem to stop staring at the slightly charred remains of the man whose name they never learned and assuredly don't even care to learn. Only ever knowing the sadistic man by the moniker 'Doc'. Trey blinks handing the surgical stitching string for his father to sew close the deep but cleanly cut surgical wound at his hip, but he keeps giving sidelong glances at the corpse who he feels is staring at him. Those opaque eyes remind Trey of baked fish mommy used to make in the oven at the weekend. Eyes used to be his and his brothers favorite part of the dish but his not sure if he can stomach eating fisheyes ever again.

"Alright son, you stay here, I'll be back in a bit." Rocket says testing the weird looking 'bow' he has created from metal bits, surgical tubes and other odds and ends at the room, fashioned into a cable-backed bow design. Trey looks at his father pleadingly.

"Do I have to? his staring at me daddy. I don't want to stay with him."

"Who is...? For crying out loud, fine, just stay quiet then." His father relents with barely hidden exasperation in his voice and scoops Trey to sit between his shoulders, Casted legs divided on both sides of the neck. Even when sitting like this Trey is barely big enough to be seen from above his father's head.

Rocket peeks out carefully, noting that its already night and the few guards posted outside around the tower premises haven't noticed anything out of place yet.

He might be naked, wounded and nearly unarmed but these drekk-heads had another thing coming if they thought it was going to stop him...

Roork was tired, so very tired but the damn creatures just kept on coming, His gun had run out of fletchettes over half an hour ago and he'd had to resort to plasma blade -a weapon he'd never felt as his own and it was showing. Though the weapon itself was light as a feather it was also its downside. A blade so light that you wouldn't even feel it moving yet able to cut through steel without effort meant that you had to constantly concentrate on it or you risked taking a limb -yours or someone else's. He inhaled sharply, focusing to cut yet another Zom into half -as noted the blade swished through the creatures like nothing, freeing whatever dark science had entrapped the life within.

He spun the blade and almost hit a Cadet at his left flank when he lifted the blade up to guard against the claws of another Zom attacking him with a downward slash. The Zom nor flinched nor slowed despite having its both palms cut off from the wrist -they never did. Roork finished the maneuver with a slight upward rising of the blade tip. With the momentum of its own body combined, it was enough to slash the forward pushing creatures head messily off. Ending its charge then and there.

He had barely enough time to register the moment when something jumped on top of him, biting at his shoulder arm, forcing him to drop his weapon. He crashed forward screaming in pain, twisting desperately to dislodge the creature but the beast bound him down to the ground with inhuman strength, clawing at his armor to get its fangs past the neck plate and Roork knew that the next bite would be it – But the final blow never came. The Zom fell limp on top of him -a black shafted composite arrow having pierced its skull. Roork blinked owlishly at the sudden turn of fortunes but quickly scrambled back to his feet and grabbed his sword and immediately aborted what he was about to do, staring surprised.

The relentless Zoms had been nearly destroyed and his men were warily eying at another group of raccoonoids closing in from the woods.

"Stand down boys, stand down, they're friendly." Roork orders before taking of his helmet, panting and sinking down on his knees to lean against a truck tire. He felt queasy, blearily watching the newcomers approach. Relief washed over him, and It felt like he could sleep for a year or more.

"figured it might be you." He croaks at the sight of a familiar redhead separating from the main group.

"yeah, I know we're technically not supposed to be here and all… but they really couldn't let you guys just leave and neither could we really. So, it was an easy decision for us to join forces and me and the lads volunteered as scouts." Eir the Red explains and pulls his arrow free from the Zom with a sickening crunch.

"Whose they?" Roork asks, feeling strangely dizzy not just tired. Must be the fucking blood loss… or an anaphylactic shock from an infected wound, great.

"The guys from the Last stand at District 16- you know, those guys." Eir supplies helpfully.

"Oh them, but how'd you get here so fast...?" Roork sighs closing his eyes just for a moment. Already deciding the answer to be rather irrelevant in the larger scheme of things.

"Hey boss, come on stay with me!" A voice yells at him. He looks at the face in front of him, it all looks kind of hazy. Eir? Why is he yelling and how come his laying down all of a sudden? Someone yells from far off about needing a medic. Roork doesn't care, he really needs to rest and closes his eyes, just for a moment.