Fandom: Guardians of the Galaxy (not Vol.2-compliant)
Wordcount: This part, 3022
Notes: I'm on a mad rush to get this done already. I may have written myself into a corner with a couple things I did here, but I decided to just run with it and untie the knot later.
The scientist’s body hit the floor before he had spoken whatever word was forming on his lips. Rocket paused and looked down from Groot’s shoulder at Peter. “Is he dead?” He didn’t know why he asked. He had a job to do, and he shouldn’t be letting the fate of a maker distract him.
Peter shoved his smoking blaster back into its holster. “Not yet, but regaining consciousness in time to save his ass is his own responsibility.” He sounded as deadly serious as Rocket had ever heard him. “We’re at war, Rock.”
Turning back to the locking mechanisms that he had been disabling, Rocket felt himself grinning savagely. For once the makers didn’t have any advantage. Even the moral high ground.
The first door opened, and Rocket leaned back to see the screen that had a camera on it. Peter checked the area around himself, then took a cautious step back to watch along with Rocket. Gamora stepped into the frame, sword in hand, and continued into the room once she saw that there were no guards in the corridor.
Rocket moved the screen aside and pulled up the one for the camera on the inside of the room. There were a number of glass enclosures sized for humanoids, and there were at least six prisoners visible inside them, but Rocket didn’t see anyone else. Gamora ought to be able to free them and keep moving, although some might be difficult to move. Rocket tried to make out the condition that the victims were in, but there were too many ways that they could have been hurt, and their bodies were all partially concealed by their cells.
“Gamora’s got this,” Peter reminded him gently. “Keep going.”
He nodded. After getting the next door open, he didn’t stop to look inside. Gamora would have to tell them if there was anything in there they had to see.
“Can you find a camera on Drax?” Peter asked. Rocket flipped a single switch and pointed across the room, and Peter headed over to the newly opened screen to get a closer look. “Dammit, Drax!” he moaned as soon as he got there, and Groot lurched anxiously under Rocket’s feet.
“What?” Rocket snapped at both of them. He knocked on Groot’s head. “Get back where I can reach.”
Instead of answering him, Peter held a comm to his face and said, “Drax, you better as hell have kept your comm on this time. What are you doing?”
Drax’s response came into the control room’s speakers, as Rocket had arranged. “I need this door opened immediately, and it’s the last one that Rocket will get to according to his sequence, so the fastest way is to break it down manually.”
Rocket could no longer resist; as soon as he had finished opening the third door, he turned to look at the screen showing Drax. Right away, it struck him that it was stupid to have thought that he might see anything other than Drax manually breaking down the door. He had barely made a dent in it so far, but it was possible that he would succeed after another twenty minutes of constant pounding. Wuul was standing nearby, watching with a worried expression and casting frequent glances at the wall as if he could see through it.
“Why is Drax being an idiot?!” Rocket yelled at Peter. “The guards are gonna come down on him like frickin’ seagulls!”
“Drax!” Peter shouted into the comm. “Why are you being an idiot?”
“I need this door opened,” Drax repeated, punctuating his words with reverberating blows to the door. “Wuul’s children are inside.”
Peter looked at Rocket, eyes wide with shock. For a few seconds they were both lost for words, and then Peter said, “We’re not gonna drag either of them away from there. Can you open that door out of order?”
“If I do, the system’s gonna read it as a random error and alert the IT guys, and the IT guys are gonna see our interference and send all the toughs they got straight to here.”
“We have to risk it,” Peter started to say, but then Gamora’s voice came into the control room.
All she said was, “Peter?”, but he and Rocket both turned to look at her on the other screen, and the trouble was immediately apparent. She was still in the first room, and the humanoids who had been imprisoned there were now moving freely, but instead of running they were surrounding her, blocking the door and holding poses full of menace. Gamora was in a defensive stance, her sword drawn but held close to her body, and one hand up in a suppliant gesture.
“What’s going on?” Peter asked. “Are they brainwashed?”
“No,” Gamora replied, keeping her eyes on the threat instead of trying to look at the camera. “They recognized me.”
With a sudden chill, Rocket remembered the day that they had all been detained at the Kyln. Gamora’s reputation spanned the entire galaxy, and the people who Thanos was keeping here were all too likely to have already suffered at the hands of his daughters. Gamora was in no physical danger from them, but it looked like they wouldn’t let her out without forcing her to hurt them, and there was no chance they would follow her instructions to help them escape.
Rocket caught Peter’s eye again. “You gotta get over there and help her.”
Peter looked from him to the screen with Drax on it to the one with Gamora. His voice was as conflicted as his expression: “I can’t leave you here if you’re opening the door for Drax and the guards are coming.”
“I am Groot,” said Groot, and Rocket nodded sharply. “Exactly. I got enough muscle with him here. Get movin’!”
Finally Peter agreed. He turned on his faceguard and drew a blaster, saying, “I’ll take her place and send her back here,” before leaving the control room at a run.
Rocket trembled a little at his departure, but Groot offered a few words of reassurance and moved forward to get him in front of the controls for the door that Drax was still pounding away at. Rocket didn’t bother getting on the comm to inform him before overriding the locks and letting the warped piece of metal wrench itself open.
Drax stumbled back, and Rocket stayed watching the screen just long enough to see two Astran children scramble out of the cell and into Wuul’s arms, followed by four adults. “I am Groot!” Groot cheered.
“Yeah, good for them, but now they all gotta get back to the ship, and Drax is gonna have his hands full.” Rocket glanced around and saw the confirmation that guards were already running toward the opened door. He pushed the comm button. “Drax, you got company!”
There was no time to see how it would play out. Rocket had Groot take him back to the other side of the room, with the controls that operated the first few doors in the sequence, and the cameras that revealed Gamora and now Peter. It looked like Peter had successfully convinced the prisoners that he was on their side, and Rocket could guess how he had done it when he heard him speaking to Gamora in a threatening tone: “Back off. They’re coming with me.” She was following his lead, glaring but stepping away, and when she had cleared the doorway and was out of their line of sight, she turned and rushed back the way that Peter had come.
Peter raised a hand to his faceguard. “Rocket, these folks need an escort, am I clear?”
Rocket checked the corridor; it was a clear path from the first door to the ship. “Have ‘em go on their own. You gotta keep movin’, there’s somethin’ trying to bust outta its cage next door.”
“Okay,” said Peter. He didn’t sound happy about it, but Rocket was relieved that he wasn’t going to argue. “How are you doing?”
“Fine so far. Drax must be holdin’ ‘em back, but if they get through him they’re gonna mob the control room, so I gotta get these doors done fast so we can leave.”
Peter gave a nod and salute in the general direction of the camera, then began giving directions to the freed prisoners. Rocket moved to the next door, hoping that the ones in between weren’t going to cause any disturbance while they waited for Peter to get to them.
“I am Groot?”
“Can’t barricade ourselves in here. If things go south we’re safer gettin’ out than bein’ trapped in.”
“I am Groot.”
“They have not already gone south, and we ain’t leavin’ until the job gets done.” He hopped from Groot’s shoulder to the rack bearing the controls he needed. “Keep your eye on the monitors, tell me if somethin’s up.”
Gamora appeared in person, retracting her sword as she took a last look over her shoulder and then entered the control room. She had to step over the unconscious form of the scientist that Peter had shot when they first took control, and the first thing she said was, “Don’t you think this makes your position rather conspicuous?”
“I don’t got the time to rearrange bodies,” Rocket snapped, both of his hands darting among various levers and buttons. “Go make some more of ‘em, if you wanna be useful.”
“I am Groot.”
Rocket froze. “What?” He abandoned the locking mechanisms and scurried across the structure of racks connecting the room, returning to Groot’s shoulder to view the screen he was standing in front of. “Oh, flark. Gamora, you need to get out there. The guards are goin’ in both directions now and they’re gonna head Quill off.”
Gamora rushed over and looked up. “It seems there are more of them than we anticipated.” She placed a hand on Groot’s bicep, close to Rocket. “I can’t leave you alone in here.”
“I ain’t alone in here!” He hissed out a frustrated breath. “Geez, you and Quill both. Groot’s gonna watch my back, a’right? Go back the way you came, it’s cleared out now. Just stay in the corridor and fight whatever’s in there so you don’t scare anyone else.”
She crossed her arms, giving him a skeptical look. “I’ll ask Peter what he--”
“He’ll tell you ta stay,” Rocket cut in, desperate enough to make use of the truth. “He can’t handle it on his own but he’ll say he can so you’ll stay with me.” He was pleading with her, and wondered if she knew it. “Don’t ask him.”
Gamora hesitated a second longer, then left, stooping to drag the scientist’s body out with her and leave him on the other side of the open door. Rocket took a deep breath and assured Groot, one more time, that they were going to be fine.
He checked the camera on the second room; Peter had entered and released a pair of quadrupedal beasts that stumbled past him trailing tubes and wires. The sight of them, so different from the previous victims, was alarming. “What are those?” Rocket asked through the comm. “Did they talk to you?”
“No, but they understood me. I think. If they can make it to the ship, we’ll take them with us.”
It was likely that they had been detached from some kind of life support and would die quickly, but Rocket remembered the fear and agony of that stage of modification, and he appreciated that Peter had liberated them anyway. He tried not to think about it anymore. Peter was still exploring the room, which had enough corners and compartments to hide additional victims. Rocket went ahead to check the next room, which he had already opened, and his fur stood on end. “Pete, there’s a make-- a scientist comin’ up. He’s hidin’ in the back. Probably armed.”
“Okay, thanks.” He continued searching around himself.
Rocket waited for more, vexed by the calm acknowledgment of danger. “Skip that room and go back at the end,” he suggested.
“It’s one coward in a lab coat, Rock, I can handle it. Are the others okay?”
Groot was still watching the screens that Rocket wasn’t, but they needed his own attention too, and it was embarrassing that he needed to be reminded of that. Reluctantly he turned from the view of Peter to give a cursory glance to Drax’s and Gamora’s conditions.
Drax was visible on the same camera where they had last seen him, though now he was fighting four guards at once, and three bodies were piled around him. It was the first time Rocket had gotten a good look at the guards, and he was troubled to see that they were all as big as Drax and armed with blades as well as knockout blasters. He was holding his own with his pair of knives, but his only major advantage seemed to be their refusal to use their blasters at short range.
Panning down the corridor showed that Gamora had somehow slipped past the melee and was engaged in her own battle, at the bend of the complex roughly equidistant between Peter and Drax. She was fighting two guards -- two who she had almost definitely distracted from pursuing Peter, so it looked like Rocket had made the right choice in sending her there. Once she got through them, she should be able to take on any others and meet up with Peter so that they could protect each other from anyone else lurking in the rooms.
With that assurance on his mind, Rocket returned to unlocking the doors. He finished one more before Groot spoke the last words he wanted to hear.
“I am Groot.” All four enemies engaging Drax were down, but so was Drax himself. Apparently there had been one more all along, concealed in the room where the Astrans had been held, waiting for his opportunity to come out and blast everyone with an enormous beam that left the walls still quivering.
Rocket swallowed. Drax wasn’t dead, but the guard with the beam cannon was right there and ready to administer the coup de grace.
“Go get him,” Rocket commanded.
“I am Groot!”
“He’s gonna die, Groot! Take him back to the ship and hurry! I’ll be fine!” Another precious second ticked by with Groot’s tormented eyes on him. “GO!”
Groot went. Rocket immediately closed the door behind him; there was no point in leaving himself an escape route anymore. If anyone found him here -- and they would, now that Drax wasn’t there to block the way in -- he wouldn’t be able to get past them anyway, and he couldn’t leave yet.
He contacted both Peter and Gamora to tell them what had happened, but Gamora was still too busy fighting to respond. Peter volunteered to come back, of course, so Rocket explained that he was safely locked in and that the doors would keep opening so the remaining prisoners could be freed. “Just one problem,” he added. “Them Astrans are all back on the ship by now, and they know how to activate the teleporter. Wild guess, Groot’s not gonna manage to talk ‘em outta waitin’ for the rest of us.”
Peter cursed softly. “We’ll send Gamora as soon as she finishes up here. I’ll swing around to come get you and we can sweep the rest of the rooms together. That sound good?”
“That sounds awesome,” said Rocket with grateful sincerity. He wasn’t panicking, but this was the last place he wanted to be alone right now. There were only two doors left to open, and he could get them done by the time Peter made it back. “Hey, what happened with that coward in a lab coat?”
“Out cold. What did I tell you?”
Rocket chuckled and returned to his work, taking quick glances at the two screens featuring Peter and Gamora so that he could keep one eye on both of them. Gamora got past her current opponent and encountered and dispatched another before she reached Peter. The two of them exchanged a few hurried words, and she passed him and continued on to the path that led from the center of the complex to the parked Lotus Leaf.
“All the doors are open ‘cept this one,” Rocket announced. “How’s it look where you’re at?”
Peter was at the entrance of his fourth room. “Looks empty in here but I’m gonna give it a once-over and then I’ll head back your way. You see anything on your end?”
Rocket examined the camera. None of them really gave him a satisfactory all-over view, but they had sensors as well, and this one was showing something that made him slightly suspicious. “Movement. Can’t tell if it’s a baddie or a victim. Be careful.”
The ominous feeling increased as Peter went further in, even though he was clearly heeding Rocket’s warning. The lights had been on in the other rooms, but they were off in this one, and there was a shining metal antechamber that the others lacked, too. Peter had both feet on the silver plate when Rocket suddenly had a memory click into place that told him exactly what he didn’t trust about this room. “Get out of there right now,” he said urgently.
Peter snapped to attention, but the movement at the back of the room materialized in the darkness at the same time, and his reflexes made him point his blaster at it instead of running. “GET OUT!” Rocket screamed helplessly.
There was a screech of metal as the maker who had been lying in wait pulled a handle on the wall. The entire antechamber where Peter was standing was sealed up in a forcefield, glowing bluish-white and lifting his body off the floor, where it hovered, vibrating. Rocket knew exactly what he was feeling. He knew he would take no lasting damage from it. He knew the paralysis would come first, starting at the extremities and working its way inward, and unconsciousness would follow.
The forcefield vanished and Peter fell in a limp heap. Rocket was alone.