Fandom: Guardians of the Galaxy
Wordcount: This part, 2346
Notes: The delay wasn't quite as long as last time, but shame still rains down on me. I actually managed to work on it here and there while I was away, even without a keyboard to type on, but inspiration is still running dangerously low. To that ends, let's discuss the GotG2 news that came out of SDCC:
At first I'd been keeping my fingers crossed that Baby Groot would have a little growing-up montage or appearance before he returned to Big Groot, but now it seems he's going to stay small for the entire movie? (That probably means he'll sprout suddenly right at the end, like in the comics, but that doesn't really change anything.) The more the better, I guess, but I wonder how they're going to do his voice. Isn't Vin Diesel already confirmed?
Mantis looks awesome but Yondu and Nebula weren't really my favorites. I like them, but most of my affection for the characters falls directly on the original five Guardians. It's odd to think about eight Guardians, and Yondu in particular seems like he'll change the dynamic a lot.
So...Kurt Russell. Character the size of a planet
Overall I'm just really excited and happy, mostly because I follow James Gunn on Twitter and it's clear that he's not just banging off a sequel for bucks. I already miss the #whatweshot storyboard sketches. (One of them had me hoping hard that it's Rocket clinging to Peter's head as they walk into Halfworld, although now I wonder if it might actually be Yondu.)
And now on to the new chapter:
Peter’s preoccupation with Rocket’s condition had already cost him some sleep, a lot of peace of mind, and very nearly his relationship with Rocket. He had done his best to power through it, and he’d been leaning on Gamora, too, but what he realized belatedly was that it had also been taking attention that he should have been putting into his work. After Captain America’s offhand question at the end of their conversation, Peter had come away with just one thought on his mind: they had to get back to the mission.
Rocket and Gamora were both quick to concur and meet him for a Jackass Circle in the Milano’s common area. Nobody made any reference to Rocket’s condition, and Peter sensed that they all shared the same relief at putting it aside for the moment.
When it was plugged into the holographic projector, the data pocket that Keelah had left for Peter displayed an intricate web of visible secrets. After one look at it, Gamora and Rocket agreed that it was a legitimate map and not a composite designed to mask the tracer hidden within. Peter went over it with them and came to the same conclusion, so the next question was where it had been meant to send them.
“It begins with a normal trade route,” said Gamora, pointing it out on the holograph. “Access codes wouldn’t even be necessary in most of these locations, so ships can go through without attracting any attention, then use the codes to disappear through a port that’s only monitored privately. Ronan used the same tactic for his smugglers.”
So far, none of that came as a surprise. “And once we’re off the grid,” said Peter, “I take it we’re at the mercy of whoever controls the private port?”
“Yes,” she replied, “but if the assignment had been authentic, we would have played the part of smugglers ourselves, and most likely would have been waved through.” Gamora studied the glowing pattern. “I don’t see why they would plan an ambush twice. They must have known that if we survived the one on Paragon Astral Station, we wouldn’t let this map lead us into another.”
Rocket spoke up for the first time. “Yeah, so maybe the map wasn’t for us. Remember, them guys we fought at Paragon ain’t the masterminds here. Quill was already supposed to be dead, and they sure as flark didn’t look like they were plannin’ to let the rest of us finish their treasure hunt.”
“Wait,” said Peter, “you think they were just after the ship?”
“Nah, I think whosever pullin’ the strings told ‘em to take the ship and bring us along as cargo.”
Gamora nodded. “We didn’t see Keelah in the mob that attacked us, did we? So she wasn’t planning to board. She just set it up for her friends to take over.”
As the pieces came together, Peter allowed himself to hope that they could get to the bottom of this. “Then there shouldn’t be a trap waiting. Does this mean we can use the Milano as our Trojan Horse?” He nearly digressed to explain what ‘Trojan Horse’ meant, then stopped himself when he remembered that Drax wasn’t there. It was a sad thought, but he had to admit that if they were going to pose as their enemies, not being there would be the best role for Drax.
“That wouldn’t be wise,” said Gamora. “We don’t know how much contact the two sides still have with each other, and at least one of them still has a tracer on us. But let’s take a look at where the route goes; maybe we can keep a step ahead.”
She zoomed into the starting point at Paragon Station, then moved ahead through the established trade route that she had mentioned until the path veered onto a disreputable planet that Peter knew mostly for its strip clubs. “To see what’s beyond here, we would have to go through this port,” she said, pointing. “Each section of the map is activated as it’s needed. But we do have some names, and the access codes, of course.”
“I been through all those,” Rocket mentioned. “Some of it leads to the usual crime dens and the flarknards in charge of ‘em. One word keeps comin’ up I got nothin’ on, though.”
Peter had been through them all, too. “Phiggre?” he asked.
Both Rocket and Gamora made affirmative sounds. “It’s strange that it’s so prominent when none of us have heard of it,” said Gamora. “Is it a name? A place? A company?”
“I can ask Cosmo,” Peter remembered suddenly. “It’s about time to call him with an update, anyway.”
Rocket looked confused, then pinned his ears back. “Cos-? Wait, the dog? You’ve been holdin’ war meets with him?”
Peter rolled his eyes. “He’s got access to the entire Knowhere database and he offered us his help. You’re just mad because he chased you that one time.”
“I ain’t gonna shake that paw,” Rocket declared. “Gimme a day and I’ll do the research on Phiggre myself.”
“No,” said Peter, and the affronted expressions it got him from Rocket and Gamora meant he must have sounded fairly severe. “We need Knowhere with us on this. I’m not going to alienate them just because you have a personal beef with their Head of Security. If you’re part of this team you better accept that sometimes it means doing what you don’t want to do.”
He matched Rocket’s angry glower for as long as it took for Rocket to hiss and turn away. His casts wouldn’t let him stalk or hurry like he probably wanted to, but Peter could see his hackles up as he thumped his way out the door.
Gamora crossed her arms and demanded, “What was that?”
Peter didn’t soften his tone to answer her. “The truth. I’m done with sugarcoating. Ever since he got hurt he’s been trying to back out of his responsibilities, even when all I’m asking him to do is take care of himself.”
“So you are making him get the operation,” she said. “I had thought after you talked to Steve Rogers…”
He sighed. “Captain Rogers said that if the Guardians couldn’t go on without Rocket, that justified making this choice for him. Well, we need him. I need him. I don’t like it any better than you do, but trust me. He’ll thank us someday.”
She still looked doubtful, but he ended the conversation there by setting up the console to call Knowhere. Gamora hovered for a moment, then sat down at the table behind him where she could see the video conference without being in its focus.
Cosmo answered the call promptly, appearing on the screen with his tongue lolling out in a canine smile. :Greetings! Cosmo is beink glad to hear from Guardians. After last talk, Cosmo tries best to fetch news of rascals who attempt assassination on Comrade Quill. Is tricky, but at last success.:
“You’ve got something?” said Peter, startled. He remembered Cosmo saying he would investigate, but hadn’t pinned any hopes on it.
The tip of Cosmo’s tail appeared in the frame, wagging back and forth behind him, and he psionically pulled up a bulleted list that floated in a second frame beside his face. Peter scanned it as Cosmo recited the same information: :Keelah Yttulriok and her two brother, Marwek and Wuul. All siblink born on Xandar to Astran immigrants. Not seen on Knowhere since Guardians’ mission take nosedive. No criminal records.:
It wasn’t much, but Peter was already ruminating over what it could mean. “No criminal records? Why would Thanos hire someone who didn’t have any experience with this kind of work?”
:Comrade Quill is certain Thanos is havink connection here?:
Peter nodded, then looked at Gamora, who backed him up with a nod of her own. “I can tell,” she said. “If it isn’t him directly in control, we’ll find him in a power struggle somewhere higher up the same ladder.”
“Cosmo,” said Peter. “Does the word ‘Phiggre’ mean anything to you?” He brought it up on the display, just in case the verbal interpretation devices transformed it differently than the written characters.
There was a brief pause as Cosmo examined it, and then he said, :Negative. What is it, Phiggre?:
“That’s what we want to know. Think you can do some more digging?”
Cosmo agreed, and they signed off with another mutual assurance that they’d stay in touch with any new information.
Peter turned to Gamora as the screen winked out. “Well, that’s something, at least.”
She drummed her fingers on the table, looking pensive. “Once we have the full team back and in fighting condition, we can use the tracer to lure them in and at least find out who we’re dealing with. I just hope we won’t be too late.”
“Too late for what?”
Gamora’s eyes were downcast when she answered. “We may not know what it all means yet, but we know people are being hurt. I’m so tired of it, Peter. I don’t want to keep thinking it will go on forever.”
“Hey,” he said, coming closer. “That’s what we’re here for. Never gonna lose, never gonna quit. I promise you that.”
She smiled faintly. “I can make promises too.”
Gamora didn’t find Rocket in his bunk. She checked Peter’s next, but found him instead in Groot’s room. Aside from the low flat bed and a few heat lamps, there really wasn’t anything in there, which made Rocket look pathetic and lonely huddled in the corner of the bed. As usual, he was fiddling with a device, something electronic and handheld, but he voiced a quiet greeting when she came to the door.
She returned it at the same soft volume, thinking about the mysteries of friendship. She was adept at reading people, but unaccustomed to using that skill to help them. Rocket’s uncharacteristic behavior of late added another complication. Maybe Peter was right, and he would be back to his old self once he was healed. This shy, defeated version would be just a memory.
Rocket didn't seem to object to her presence, so she sat down next to him and laid a hand on his head. “Peter is done speaking with Cosmo,” she said in a normal tone. “We could call Groot.”
“No point. He won’t be able to talk yet.”
Gamora pondered that as her hand fell into a stroking pattern. She had never seen Rocket holding a grudge against Groot while they were apart, but it was hard to know what to expect anymore. Tentatively she inquired, “You know why he didn't want you to stay on Blossomor with him, don't you?”
“‘Cos he’s a dipshit,” Rocket replied, sounding irritated.
“You’re using Peter’s Terran insults now? On Groot?”
Rocket sighed. “I know, I know. He made me leave so’s I could get patched up by your specialist.”
A silence followed. Gamora still couldn't quite tell what Rocket was feeling, but she kept petting, and Rocket kept allowing it. “What are you doing in here?” she asked after a moment, knowing that he and Peter were seldom verbal about their sleeping arrangements, but hoping their implicit rule about it didn’t apply to her.
Rocket sounded reluctant, but still answered. “I can’t get up my wall.”
Of course. Rocket’s bunk had a hammock instead of a bed, strung too high up for him to reach with his current handicap. “Peter doesn't mind when you stay with him,” she noted, taking care to phrase it neutrally rather than asking if Rocket was avoiding Peter.
“No,” he said quickly. “This is fine.”
Gamora stopped stroking and just sat there, both of them staring at nothing. She wondered what Peter would say now in her place. He was Rocket’s real confidant, even more, in a way, than Groot was. The two of them had spent untold hours excavating painful memories, and she knew they had both found catharsis in it that they had never been able to get before the team had formed.
Maybe that what Rocket wanted from her, too. “Do you want to talk about the lab?” she ventured.
Somehow, she sensed it was a lie. It didn’t take long for Rocket to start speaking again: “I told you about my friend?”
“Lylla,” said Gamora. That much had been covered in the stories he told to all of the Guardians after leaving Terra.
“Yeah. She used to always obey, do whatever they wanted her to. She thought I should, too, so they’d treat me better like they did her.”
“I suppose you disagreed?”
Rocket released a sad chuckle. “It wasn’t about pride, y’know. Hell, even I thought it worked in theory. Walk in the right direction, get a cookie. Wrong direction, get hurt. No brainer.
“But then they tell me, the right direction’s up the ramp so I could get tied down for a procedure. Ramp, then cookie, then dismemberment. And I decide right there -- not worth it. Never gonna submit to that. Never did.”
Gamora tried to relate, but her own experience with having her body modified was vastly different. She had never hesitated when a new enhancement was proposed. In fact, she had requested most of them herself, eager for the advantages they would provide. “Didn’t they make you go through with the procedures anyway?” she ventured.
“Obviously,” he scoffed. “Thing is, two minutes on the floor bein’ shocked till I went numb was still two minutes of not bein’ on the table. Anyway, eventually they got fed up tryin’ to train me and just skipped that step.”
There was a silence, but it was pregnant. Gamora lifted her hand to pet him again, then sensed it was the wrong time for that and dropped it. “Well, your way did pay off in the end,” she told him instead. “Now that you’re free, nobody can ever try to train you again.”
Rocket’s response came low and foreboding: “Tell that to Quill.”