Fandom: Guardians of the Galaxy (not Vol.2-compliant)
Wordcount: This part, 2399
Notes: Wrapping up the action part though not entirely.
If Rocket had been in a rush before, now he was a whirlwind, dashing from room to room to get what he needed and putting it together so quickly he could barely see his own hands. It was taking a toll on him, but when this was over he could either rest for a few days, or rest eternally.
His first stop was the place with all the cages, now occupied only by corpses. Steeling himself against the horror of what he was doing, he chose one large enough to fit himself inside, tore off its door, and tipped it over to dump out the bodies of two rabbit-like creatures. The cage was connected to the central console through various wires, some of which he needed, so he cut and stripped them selectively before hoisting the whole thing over his head and carrying it out and into the next room.
The remains of the Nova Corps pilot, Tetrouni Raas, were laid out on the table looking as ghoulishly wrong as they had when he was alive. Rocket set down the empty cage with a clatter and murmured an apology to the dead man before detaching the cybernetic legs from his torso. He had all of the tools he needed on a nearby tray, but it was impossible to get the parts of the legs that he needed without touching human flesh, and he felt like a butcher. “Sorry,” he whispered again without slowing down.
Finally he was able to push both of the jointed metal bars down to the floor, realign them, and set them upright again, side by side. He had to pull the cage up to the table to set it on top of the legs, but then it was easy enough to attach it securely and connect the wires so that commands could be entered from inside the cage.
His gun went on top, hooked up and tied down with additional cables from the cage, and Rocket climbed inside. He couldn’t replace the door, which left a large opening behind him, but the cage itself wasn’t going to afford much protection anyway. What he needed from it was its framework, and the electronic system that he had used earlier to murder all of the lab animals. The cages were probably designed to self-clean, dispense food, and restructure themselves at the remote commands of the lab attendants, but Rocket had reprogrammed this one for something entirely new. If it worked, of course. This was the moment of truth: he made a few final adjustments, pressed the right buttons on his control pad, and held his breath.
Right on cue, a bubble of blue light appeared around the cage, forming a shield that would deflect any projectiles or rays aimed Rocket’s way. He sighed in relief and tested the legs. They moved, if awkwardly, and Rocket took his new vehicle in a walk around the room to get used to its bumpy gait.
That was all the time he could spare. The makers were still waiting to ambush him; it was now or never.
It gave him some satisfaction to imagine how this was going to look from their perspective: a cage with an automatic weapon on top, walking on two cybernetic legs, with a force field around it and Subject 89P13 inside. He steered it into the corridor, picked up some speed, and let out a battle cry as he burst into the final laboratory room.
A chorus of panicked shrieks greeted him, along with a hail of blasts from various handheld weapons, all of which dissipated against his force field. There were prisoners among the scientists, Rocket saw, and some were clearly intended as hostages, but the ones who were restraining them didn’t seem to have the wherewithal to announce any threats. Instead they fired shot after shot at Rocket, while the hostages made the most of the opportunity and struggled to get free of their bonds.
Rocket was willing to sit there passively while his enemies depleted their ammunition, but when one of the prisoners ran for the door and a scientist turned his weapon on her, it was time to fight back. He stomped closer in his makeshift mech, fiddled with the controls until he was able to aim his overtop gun, and activated the trigger.
For a few seconds after the blast, the room went perfectly silent. The human in the white lab coat had fallen stiffly with no visible mark on him, but he was dead all the same. One of the captives screamed, two of the makers started shooting at Rocket again, and coherent words were spoken for the first time: “Shoot to kill! Kill it! Kill it!”
Another voice countered from behind him. “No, you fools, we’re not supposed to--”
Rocket wished his transport had arms as well as legs. He needed to get the victims out of here, and he didn’t see any way that he could do it without leaving the cage. He fired two more blasts, one to each side of the last scientist to shoot at him. “Drop it!” he growled, and for a wonder, the man obeyed, or maybe he just lost his grip on his weapon. “Take the chains offa them,” Rocket added, pointing through the force field at the nearest prisoners.
The disarmed maker only released one of the captives, but that was enough: once his wrists were freed from their restraints, he went right to work on the others’. “Everyone out!” Rocket yelled. “If ya didn’t come here on purpose, you’re leavin’ now! Everyone else, let ‘em be! That’s it, get goin’, we got a ship waitin’ for ya outside! Don’t stop runnin’ til you get there!”
Through the chaos he could see that the people he had come to save were getting out, one by one, and he would soon be alone in here with the makers. They were already starting to take cover wherever they could, having apparently given up on taking him alive. He wasn’t sure how long the force field, slapdash invention that it was, would hold. If he didn’t take out the rest of the threats in here now, he was sure to be pursued.
An arresting voice rang out from behind a counter. “Rocket Raccoon!”
Rocket wheeled the mech to face the speaker, astonished, but it was nobody he knew, just another maker standing up slowly with his hands over his head. He kept talking, clear and steady. “That’s what you call yourself, isn’t it?”
It had to be some kind of trap, but Rocket was keeping a close eye on his surroundings from every angle, and he couldn’t see anyone sneaking up on him. Instead of answering, he pointed the gun and raised an eyebrow, although he wasn’t certain if that would be noticeable through the blue glow of the protective shield.
The man shrugged, still holding up his arms. “Well, if it is, then don’t shoot, Rocket. You’re free to go, just don’t kill anyone else.”
“Are you mad?” hissed one of the others. “If they found out we let it get away they would--”
“We only need one,” the first speaker snapped back at him, then turned to Rocket again and continued in that persuasive tone. “Look, I don’t want to die. You got what you came here for, right? Take them and go.”
Oddly, Rocket had the sense that he was telling the truth. It wouldn’t be that difficult to hash out a truce with him if it only had to last long enough for Rocket to escape the laboratory with all of the freed test subjects. It would mean that he didn’t have to kill again.
Those thoughts flew through his mind in the space of a second, leaving him with one pressing question. “You only need one what?”
All of the scientists looked surprised to hear him speak. One reached for a blaster again, and Rocket fired a warning shot from his own weapon and repeated, “What do you only need one of?” They weren’t answering, just casting alarmed glances back and forth at each other.
For one fleeting, pathetic moment, Rocket hoped this meant that there was another cybernetic raccoon in the works, just like him, but he knew better. The lab may have been collecting all kinds of random test subjects, but the Guardians had been sought out personally. Thanos wanted them so he could examine the effects of the Infinity Stone on the only known survivors of holding it. They only needed one Guardian to suffer through whatever sick experiments he had in mind. And if it wasn’t Rocket...
“Peter,” he breathed, and turned the mech around, stomping back out through the door. He took the corner too fast for the top-heavy construct to handle, and it toppled over, the force field winking out as the cage hit the floor. Rocket scooted out the back and kept running on his own four legs, never looking back, until he was back to the room where he had left Peter.
The good news was that Peter was still there. The bad news was that he was no longer alone, that both of the men in guards’ uniforms who were picking up his unconscious form were armed, and that Rocket wasn’t. He hadn’t had the time to detach his gun from the cage, or to retrieve Peter’s blaster from the other room, so now he was empty-handed in a standoff with a couple guys who were in the act of abducting his friend. Behind him, he heard hesitant footfalls -- the makers were going to cut off his exit.
Rocket didn’t pause long enough for them to process the situation. He went for the man who was grabbing Peter’s ankles, causing him to drop them as Rocket scaled up his back and snatched his blaster out of its holster. The guard was still flailing and stumbling as Rocket shot down the other one from his shoulder, then pistol-whipped his head and jumped off as he was falling.
Peter seemed to be in good condition, considering. After what he had been through it was best that he slept through the next few hours, and it would probably be impossible to wake him anyway. The paralysis had worn off, so at least he was resting naturally instead of in his rigid pose from earlier. Rocket found his second blaster under the table, too, which was a relief. At least he wouldn’t have to lose both of them.
In the few minutes he judged that he had before the scientists followed him in, he found an operating table with a removable top, meant to be used as a stretcher while the subject was moved from one room to another. Rocket didn’t have the support structure on wheels that it was meant to be placed on, but it would still hover just above the floor.
He got it down and dragged Peter onto it, standing up with the blaster in his hands just as the first of the staff from the other room showed his face. Rocket didn’t think twice before firing, although he did his best to make it non-lethal. “Okay, Pete,” he said as the scientist fell backward into the corridor to the sound of dismayed muttering from others waiting out there. “Time to blow this joint.”
Fortunately, Peter was still wearing his jet boot attachments. Rocket made sure he was centered squarely on the table, hands folded over his stomach, blaster back in his holster, before laying down on top of him. There were handles at each corner of the table, and if Rocket stretched he could reach one in each hand while his head was down on Peter’s chest. He found the catch on the boots with his toes, nudged them into action, and flattened himself onto Peter, grabbing the handles to steer through the door as the sudden thrust had the hovering table zooming across the floor like a magic carpet.
Shouts followed them down the corridor, but they were moving too fast for anyone to catch up, and if there were shots fired, they all missed. Steering the hoverboard with the two corner handles took some brute strength, and it was extremely hard to see where they were going from Rocket’s low vantage point, but he found the intersection in front of the control room and made the turn without tipping over.
The only thing solid and real was Peter’s warm body beneath him, which was surprisingly comforting for such a deadweight in a time of need. When they got out of this, Rocket decided, he was going to pretend that Peter had just been lazy, and mock him mercilessly for sleeping through their daring escape.
There were no more guards in this part of the compound, but getting to the Lotus Leaf from the laboratory’s entrance wasn’t a straight shot. More than once, Rocket had to stop the hoverboard altogether and change its position to accommodate a sharp corner or an incline before continuing. But there were no more sounds of pursuit behind him, so instead of staying low he could kneel with one knee on Peter’s chest and one beside him.
When they made it to the dock, he had never been so happy to see such a lousy ship. There was a hatch that opened directly into the cargo bay’s entry chamber, but he had to leave the hoverboard behind, so he hooked his arms under Peter’s armpits and walked backward, dragging him into the chamber.
The door closed behind them, and Rocket allowed himself to believe, for the first time, that they might just be safe. He checked Peter’s vital signs again, straightened his clothing, and opened the door to the Lotus Leaf’s cargo bay, striking a triumphant pose so Groot and Gamora -- and Drax, if he was conscious yet -- and what the hell, those Astran losers too and everyone they had rescued from the lab -- would see that he had done it, he had brought Peter back to them, he was ready to be hailed as the hero of the day.
A spiralling twist opened the hatch, bringing the cargo bay into full view, with its ring of beam projectors all secured around the ceiling to activate the teleportation device, just as he had left it.
Not a single person was there.