Fandom: Guardians of the Galaxy
Wordcount: This part, 2482
Notes: Worldbuilding and actual sci-fi elements, HALP.
The two ships left Blossomor together, but the Astrans joined the Guardians on the Milano, leaving their own non-combatant ship, the Lotus Leaf, unoccupied for Rocket to control it remotely. There was a shared sense of “but we don’t have to like it”, which was said out loud at least once by almost everyone, but they managed to tolerate each other’s presence as long as they kept their conversations restricted to the mission. Peter made sure that for every meeting with Marwek and Wuul, there was a follow-up that excluded them. Rocket and Gamora were the ones with the most to contribute in terms of knowledge and tactics, and he wanted them to speak it freely, which they wouldn’t do with outsiders around.
“Getaway’s gonna be the tricky part,” said Rocket confidentially to Peter. They had retreated to the cockpit, where Marwek and Wuul were forbidden from entering without express permission. “I think I’m gonna have to set up an installation in both of our rides, so we can leave their piece of crap nearby with the motor runnin’, then port out of it into the Milano.”
“You can make a mass teleportation device that fits in our ship?” asked Peter. He supposed it shouldn’t surprise him that Rocket could build anything, but he had only ever seen personal teleportation rooms when they were in huge buildings, backed by governments or wealthy corporations. They weren’t available to the public unless they were unregulated, which meant unsafe. Nobody was stupid enough to use an unsafe teleporter, unless they were jonesing for a severe deformity or two.
Rocket didn’t take his skepticism as an insult, for once. “Same basic idea as an FTL port, just modified so it won’t scramble our guts when we use it without havin’ a ship around us. It won’t last for more than a couple uses, but we only need it for one. There’s just one problem.” He sighed. “I’m gonna need some parts. It’s more or less on our way to pick ‘em up, but they gotta be ordered in advance, so we can’t get ahold of ‘em without payin’.”
“That’s the problem? That we have to buy something instead of stealing it?”
“I don’t want my hard-earned units goin’ into some toy we don’t even get to play with after the job’s done!”
Peter laughed. “Order the parts. You can put it on my account until someone starts coughing up rewards for our services.”
Privately, he wasn’t sure if that would ever happen. Marwek and Wuul were the closest thing they had to patrons, at the moment, and they didn’t seem to have much in the way of money or resources except for their ship, which Rocket was now planning to abandon once they had used it to complete the rescue. There was always a chance that some of the other captives had a nice ransom attached, though.
Rocket put in the order, pointing at the total due and raising an eyebrow at Peter to see if he’d reconsider. For a moment, it was touch and go – they were looking at a lot of money, and Peter’s account was already hurting from Rocket’s surgery, which he had taken entirely on himself rather than bring it up with the rest of the team. “I bet Gamora and Drax will chip in,” he muttered.
“I knew it.” Rocket sounded exasperated. “You’re broke.”
“I’m not broke, I just—“
“Didn’t want to admit it. Uh huh. Look, I got this one, but some of them captives better have a nice ransom attached to pay me back.”
Peter gave up the argument prematurely. There wasn’t even any real reason that the Guardians kept separate accounts; they all ended up paying for the same things anyway. If Rocket wanted to take on this particular expense, it was probably his way of covering the surgery without needing to actually talk about it.
So it was that they landed on a mechanical supply ship the next day, and Peter left Rocket and the others to pick up the parts they had ordered. Peter himself had some diplomacy to attend to. He found Marwek and Wuul sitting quietly in the shared room on the Milano that they had been given, and told them they were going to have a drink with him.
They followed him dutifully to a bar where customers waited out the repairs on their ships. It smelled like engine grease, but so did everything here. Peter found a table near the center of the room, ordered three beers that smelled like engine grease, and sat down across from the brothers, smiling sardonically as he remembered sitting down in a bar like this the first time he had met them. “Too bad Keelah isn’t here,” he said. “It would be just like old times.”
“Keelah calls us every day in tears, asking if we’ve learned anything about possible survivors,” said Marwek flatly. “Would you like me to tell her you said hello?”
Peter’s smile left him. “Sorry. Bad joke.” He tried a sip of his beer. It tasted like engine grease. “I know you don’t want to be working with us. I’m not going to ask you to trust us. I can’t say we trust you, but I do believe that all you want is to get your family back, so I think we can get through this if you believe we have the same goal.”
Marwek was nodding hesitantly, but Wuul replied, “Then tell us why you’re doing this. You don’t have people of your own in there to rescue.”
“No.” Peter looked each of them in the eye. They didn’t show much family resemblance to each other, but their dolorous expressions were so alike that he would have known right away there was a connection. “We’re the Guardians of the Galaxy. This is what we do.”
“Not good enough,” said Wuul.
In one sense, this negotiation wasn’t that different from the kind Peter’s former trade had required, and it wasn’t an idle boast to say he was good at it. He could keep his cool and get what he wanted. But there had also been times that the negotiations called for threats of violence, or actual violence, or anything but keeping his cool. Wuul was reaching what would have been Peter’s threshold if this had been a crime deal, and it called up a corresponding reflex of anger that wasn’t going to be useful here at all.
He kept his voice serious but civil. “One of us, and I won’t say who, escaped from a place like where your family is being held. One of us escaped from the actual mastermind responsible for that place existing. One of us had a spouse and a child once, both murdered. Are you hearing me? We have our reasons. We want you to get your people back.” He noted their surprised eagerness, and fixed them with a stony glare. “But here’s what you have to understand: we’re not doing this for you. We’re doing it for the victims, and that means all of them, not just the ones you care about. If you’re going to help, expect to help until the very end, because I’m not going to give you a chance to cut and run once you have what you came for.”
Marwek nodded in satisfaction. “We won’t cut and run.”
“I said I’m not giving you a chance to. No promise needed on your part. One of you is staying with the ship the whole time. One will stick with our team until he dies, or we all regroup on your Lotus Leaf together, whichever comes first. You guys can flip a coin for it. I don’t care.”
The two men exchanged a worried look with each other, but neither protested. “I’ll come with your team,” said Wuul. “To be clear -- we part ways as soon as this is over? Our family will depart on the Lotus Leaf, and you’ll take the remaining survivors on your ship?”
Peter grimaced, unable to help feeling a little apologetic about this part. “Actually, you’re coming with us on the Milano too. Your ship gets left behind. Rocket’s designing a teleporter for our grand exit.”
They both made some sounds of disbelief and outrage. “A teleporter?” “You’ll kill us all!” “Why do you have to sacrifice our ship?” “We need a new plan. This will never work.”
He let them run out of things to say before he answered. “If Rocket says it’ll work, it’ll work. Yeah, there’s a risk. Did you think there wouldn’t be?” There was a short silence, and Peter continued, “As far as I can see, you’ve got nothing to lose but your ship and your lives. I’m pretty sure we only need your ship. Are you in?”
They grudgingly agreed that they were, and Peter left them to finish or ignore their engine grease beers without him. He left the bar feeling somewhat more grim than he had when arriving. Marwek and Wuul could be trusted to not stab them in the back, he was sure of that, but they couldn’t be trusted to stay out of the way and not do anything stupid.
He would have liked to leave them both behind and deliver their people to them when the job was done, but pretending to be captured by the Lotus Leaf would get the Guardians deeper into the enemy territory than just using the access codes on the Milano. And they did need someone to stay on the ship and operate the teleporter for the getaway.
Peter walked back to the hangar wearing his Walkman but not playing it. He knew what song was up next; he always did, but it wasn’t quite what he wanted at the moment and he couldn’t decide what he did want. He fast-forwarded through the next three songs, stopping precisely each time where he knew they ended, but before he was settled enough to hit the play button, he was back inside the Milano. The other Awesome Mix was playing on the tape deck, making him realize instantly that this was the song he had wanted.
Headphones lowered to his neck, he stopped just inside the cargo bay door and stood silently, enraptured by the scene in front of him. A number of large crates were piled in the middle of the bay, and Gamora was slicing into one to remove its lid. She lifted out a very heavy-looking beam projector and handed it to Drax, who tossed it clear across the room to Groot, who held it flush against the wall for Rocket, perched on his shoulder, to fasten it into place. When Peter looked back at Gamora, she was already handing off the next projector, and Groot was turning to catch it from Drax, and then Rocket was pointing out the spot where it should be installed. They were perfectly synchronized, even keeping time with the music, and none of them seemed to know it. Peter’s heart swelled. There were only three more projectors to go, but he could have watched this all day.
“Hey, slacker,” called Rocket, whose high vantage point made him the first to notice that Peter had entered. “You gonna help or what?”
“Nah,” said Peter. “You guys look like you got it covered. Same thing goes in the Lotus Leaf?”
Gamora looked up from the final device that she was unpacking. “Yes, that’s where we’re headed next. How did it go with Marwek and Wuul?”
He shrugged. “They’re bummed but they’ll deal with it. They should be around soon to unload all the stuff they want to keep.”
She passed the projector to Drax and straightened up, dusting her hands on her pants. “It’s not going to be easy to fit everyone in here for long. I wish we had a better estimate of how many people we expect to save from this lab.”
Drax made his toss and turned to address them both. “Some of them may die. Some of us may die too. That will make it easier to fit everyone else.”
“Can’t argue with that,” Peter snorted. “Did the rest of the stuff get delivered right to the Lotus Leaf? Let’s go get it set up.”
“I gotta finish with the calibration in here,” said Rocket. He scaled down Groot’s back and leaped the rest of the way to the floor. “I’ll catch up. Go with them,” he told the tree, pointing to Drax and Gamora. “Pete, hold up a sec.”
Peter obligingly waited where he was, examining the circle of mechanical equipment that had just been added to the cargo bay. Each device, when activated, would project a beam of energy to each side of itself and into the center, connecting to create a zone where everything inside the circle would vanish and reappear in the identical ring they were planning for the other ship. About fifty humanoids would fit in the zone. Gamora was right -- a better estimate on numbers would have helped, but if anyone was left after the mass teleportation, they could still attempt a getaway by flying the Lotus Leaf away.
“I been watchin’ the video,” said Rocket with no preamble, standing with his arms crossed and tilting his head up, as he so often had to when speaking with someone much taller than him. “Some of it’s...confusing.”
Peter blinked. “In what way?”
“I can’t figure out what they wanted to make outta me. I used to think it was just whatever they felt like tryin’ that day, no end result in mind. But now I’m hearin’ some stuff they said that I ain’t never heard before, and...I dunno if maybe it would help with what we’re doin’ here. Prob’ly not. I don’t know. But maybe it would.” He scratched his muzzle and looked down, but his eyes darted back up to Peter’s face. His next words came out in a rushed mumble that Peter just barely made out: “Wonderifyoucouldwatchwithme.”
Without hesitation, Peter touched his comm and contacted Gamora. “Can you guys manage this part on your own? I need to help Rocket prep something on the ship.” She responded promptly, and Peter nodded at Rocket. “Let’s go.”
“Didn’t mean it had to be right now,” said Rocket, still sounding a little bashful.
“It does, though. This is the last time we’ll have the Milano to ourselves for a while. I don’t want to try watching something while one of those Astrans is knocking on the door asking where we keep the plunger, or whatever.” He winced, remembering how much worse it would get if the mission was a success. “And soon we’ll be tripping on their kids. God, where are we going to put them all?”
Rocket gave him an amused smile, a little warmer than he usually managed. “They can have my bunk.”