"Don't walk like that," Bucky hissed, tugging his sleeve over his vibranium arm.
"What like what?"
"Like a king. Hunch over or something. If the Reapers see you looking like you own the place…"
T'Challa grimaced. That would only bring more trouble on their heads. They were supposed to be slaves. Yet he doubted hunching over would bring his height down much and it felt awkward and unnatural. "Better?"
"Eh…" Bucky shrugged.
"What is that supposed to mean?" He could already feel his spine trying to uncurl and fought the urge. There were Reapers nearby.
Bucky had told him about the unrest in the slave camp, of those who were interested in fighting the Reapers, but it was hard to see. These people weren't fighters. And he didn't want them to be. They just needed enough distraction to escape.
"That's suicide," more than one slave told them outright when they hinted at the possibility of revolt.
"You're already dead," Bucky pointed out.
"You're right in that it is risky," T'Challa said. "As all worth while things are. But you must ask yourself, is it more risky than doing nothing?"
It was hard to spread the word discreetly. Reapers lurked at the edges of everything. They couldn't say too much for fear word would reach the Reapers but it was important also to gauge the attitudes of the slaves. And though they were beaten and resigned, many could not hide the glimmer of interest in their eyes even as they rejected the very thought of escape.
"If things work out, we'll be doing all the fighting," Bucky said. "All you need to do is run."
"If," one of the slaves said. T'Challa and Bucky had started attracting them in groups which had alarmed them at first, afraid the Reapers would notice. So far they didn't and the groups were small. "Seems to be you need a distraction and we're the fodder."
"No, that's not what this is," Bucky said. "This is a chance to escape. If we want to get everyone out, we need to be organized, we need to spread the word."
"But it wouldn't bother you too much, would it? If some of us don't make it. There are a lot of us, after all."
"Sir, you need to calm down," T'Challa said for the slave had raised his voice and to T'Challa's alarm, a few of the other slaves seemed to be agreeing with him.
"No," the slave said. "We're just going to run at the perimeter and hope some of us make it past the Reapers, is that it? Like so many sea turtles to get picked off. Except the Reapers will chase us down and when they catch us – because they will catch us – they'll make sure we suffer before we die or whatever the hell it is that happens when we dissolve."
"Hey." Bucky reached out to grab the man's arm but he pulled away.
"No! I want no part of this. And neither should any of you!" He looked around at the other slaves.
"You guys need to break up. Now," Bucky said, urgency lacing his voice and T'Challa's heart beat just a little bit faster when he noticed the Reaper looking in their direction, attracted by the commotion.
Some of the slaves were starting to panic. Some of them bolted before T'Challa could tell them to walk, to look guiltless. And amid the new confusion, a young woman, wide-eyed, latched a hand to the hysterical man's shoulder from behind and said, "Sleep."
The man crumpled to the ground.
But it was too late. More Reapers were coming and they had numbers on their side, now that most of the slaves had scattered.
T'Challa prepared to activate the suit in his necklace even though they weren't ready, they needed to warn the others. The Reapers meant business.
A rock sailed through the air, catching one of them in the side of the head.
T'Challa twisted to see who'd thrown the rock and realized he and Bucky weren't alone in this after all.
Several slaves stood their ground, men and women and even a child peeking out from behind their leader, a woman with green skin and fire in her eyes.
Quill paced a furrow into the grass. He was tired of waiting. There was no reason for him to stay here and wait for some signal or for T'Challa and Bucky to return. In fact, he was pretty sure they'd insisted on going themselves because they wanted all the glory. They knew that if Quill had gone with, whatever he did would outshine whatever they did.
"This is stupid. I'm going down there," he announced.
"We should wait," Drax said. He'd hardly moved at all since T'Challa and Bucky had left.
"What?" Quill rounded on him. "You're the one who's always charging in and now you want to sit still just cause some cat man told you to?"
"He is very wise."
A ring of sparks blossomed in the air, widening into a very familiar portal through which several people emerged.
"Doc?" And that spider kid. They were alive. Well, dead. But alive! Along with some other people.
"Quill." Once everyone was through the portal, Strange gave a flick of his wrist and it spun itself into tighter and tighter circles until it disappeared. "That's one job done."
"What?" Quill said.
"That was surprisingly easy," Peter said.
"I'm sorry, who are they?" Sam asked.
Introductions were passed around though Quill was much more concerned with the fact that Strange could still utilize his portals.
"Why the heck are we still on this planet? Can't you just whip us up another portal and get us out of here?"
"Yeah, that was the first thing I tried."
"Hey, you never know." A bit defensive, that one. Though Quill couldn't fault him for it. It was rare to come across someone as confident in his abilities as Quill was. Maybe Rocket, but that was more stupidity than anything else. "So what are you doing here?"
"We're trying to find some friends of ours," Sam said.
"You haven't happened to see, like, a prison camp or anything around here, have you?" Peter added.
Oh. Quill fixed his expression into something nonchalant with just a bit of self-satisfaction. "As a matter of fact, a couple of guys I know are getting ready to bust everyone out."
"Everyone?" said the woman Strange had introduced as Wanda. She and Strange exchanged a look.
"I think we can help with that," Strange said. "Care to fill us in?"
Gamora let out a throat war cry as she drove the scythe deep into a Reaper's chest, turning it into dust. Pulling the scythe back, she swung it around, catching another Reaper in the side.
"We can't keep this up forever." Bucky crushed a Reaper's skull with a powerful squeeze of his vibranium hand. "Not with their reinforcements. Not with all these civilians."
Gamora gritted her teeth and gripped her scythe tighter. She'd grabbed it from the first Reaper she'd killed. Bucky was right. Starting the fight now hadn't been ideal but she really didn't have any other choice. But most of these people weren't fighters and it was them who would pay the price.
"He's right," T'Challa shouted and then ducked into a roll to avoid the swing of a Reaper's blade. "We need to get these people out of here."
"We're not getting everyone over the fence," Bucky pointed out.
Gamora charged a Reaper and stabbed it in the back before it could kill a man who clearly didn't know how to wield the weapon he'd picked up. "Which leaves us with the front gate. We need to get their attention. All of them. Mantis! You take care of the slaves. Make sure they get out as soon as we get that gate open."
"I'll try," Mantis called back.
"Can you signal your friends?" Gamora asked, turning back to Bucky.
Something smashed into Gamora and she dropped her scythe. The wind was knocked out of her and a Reaper was on her before she could scramble away. It brought down a blade straight for her head and she grabbed it by the handle, keeping it at bay.
Without warning, the Reaper was yanked off of her and then Bucky was there, cracking the creature's sternum with his fist before throwing it away.
Gamora got to her feet. "You planning on using that thing any time soon?" She jutted her chin at the gun strapped to Bucky's hip, half-hidden by his jacket.
"Only one round left," he replied. "I'm saving it."
He stooped to pick up the fallen Reaper's scythe when a blast of black energy threw him several feet.
"Bucky!" Gamora spun in time to see an armored Reaper, this one hefting a bulky, very heavy-looking gun. Wielding her scythe, she charged the Reaper before it could line up another shot.
Changing tactics, the Reaper used its gun like a club, battering her into the nearest wall where she collapsed on all fours. From here, she could see Bucky still on the ground, the edge of his jacket singed. He was out cold.
"You should have just obeyed," the Reaper said, approaching and aiming the gun at her.
Gamora wiped at her mouth, smearing blood across the back of her hand. "I'm dead either way." She grabbed a rock, throwing it at his face and the momentary distraction allowed her to slide in under his guard and yank the gun down. But he didn't let go that easily and tugged it back. It forced her several steps backward until she could feel the wall behind her.
"This isn't the first uprising we've had," the Reaper said. "And it will end no differently."
Gamora was too busy trying to gain control of the gun to reply. It was currently aimed over her left shoulder but the Reaper was fighting to point it at her face and if it managed that, it would all be over. Gamora would finally learn what death after death looked like.
Clenching her teeth, she pushed against the gun with all of her strength and then twisted it sharply in the Reaper's hands. In a moment in which neither of them was in full control, the gun jerked upward and went off, bucking in Gamora's hands.
A bolt of energy careened upward, darkening the sky as if a black hole had just blossomed over the camp.
"Well there's nothing subtle about that," Loki said.
"Alright, it's showtime," Quill said, drawing his blasters and lowering his faceplate. "Those skeletal assholes won't know what hit 'em."
The Reaper slammed Gamora back into the wall with enough force to loosen her grip on the gun and smack her head against the stone. He struck her again for good measure, sending her to her knees.
"This ends now," it said. "Just like all the others." It dug the muzzle of the gun into the back of Gamora's skull.