‘Hey you, Medicine Man,
Set me free and change my ways,
Hey you, give me a holler, give me a harbor,
What do you say?’
The Mess Hall was chaos incarnate. Yondu had hoofed it there after being hailed by his first mate on the ship’s interface.
“Sweet mother of – KRAGLIN! Front and center!”
The Captain shoved through the throng. Obfonteri fell in step next to him, anxious and fumbling.
“Plain and simple for me, Kraglin. When n’ how’d this ruckus start?”
The crew were gathered around Quill. His twenty-year-old top thief was bent double over the metal that served as the Mess’s slop-sieve flooring. The Terran could not seem to stop vomiting. That and he was turning purple and spotty in a way that did his complexion no favors.
“It’s Quill, Captain! E’s taken a bad turn!” Ace called out. He was new – from Xandar and he liked to wear war-paint. Udonta pushed him out of the way and crouched next to Quill.
The boy heaved again before realizing who it was holding his mullet out of his face. He looked to Yondu, uncharacteristically timorous. Then he landed in his own sick and began clawing at his skin where the rash had sprung up.
Yondu took off his belt and started binding Peter’s arms to his sides.
“It was just lunch, Cap’n. Swear it!”
Peter fought Yondu.
“It’s never just nothin’ with Quill.”
“He mighta picked offa Dunlee’s plates. Er – one of ‘em at least” Kraglin admitted.
“I knew he pinched my mashed yarm!” exclaimed Dunlee.
“Quit your bellyachin’ and help me hold him.”
The tubby and bearded redhead glared at Peter but did as commanded. Yondu called the new guy over.
“Lash his legs, Ace.”
Ace took off the sash he wore and immobilized Quill, who was wheezing now. Anaphylactic shock.
Yondu barked orders.
“Lithjaio, be useful and clear the passages. Kraglin.”
The Skrull utilized his bulk so Udonta and Ace could carry Quill unimpeded. He parted people like wheat. Kraglin remained close.
“Aye, Cap’n?” asked his first mate.
“Crewmate’s dyin’. Bring the Med Bay up to speed.”
Tiny feet swung back and forth under a hallway bench. Hospitals were zero fun. He was outta pocket change for the vending machine and he’d been scolded playing with Hot Wheels where the nurses could trip on them.
Peter could see his mom’s silhouette in the frosted glass of the door across from his bench. He warded off the silence clacking his neon sneakers together.
Dr. Calvert, mid-forties and pleasant, joined him.
“She won’t be long, Peter.”
“Why’s she gotta talk so much?”
“Well, her illness is complicated.”
From nearby they could hear Mr. Jones arguing with a nurse. The cantankerous vet had Spirit in the Sky by Norman Greenbaum turned up in his room.
Peter clacked until his half-tied laces came fully undone.
“Dr. ‘Kenzie says it’s got levels. Like Pac-Man.”
“The cells come back like pac-dots but Pac-Man’s not there to eat ‘em, right?”
A cafeteria tray catapulted out of the patient’s room and into the hallway. Dr. Calvert shielded Peter’s ears while Mr. Jones cussed himself blue.
“Mr. Jones hates the green Jello” said Peter.
Dr. Calvert continued their conversation as if there were no interruption.
“It’s, um, more that she shouldn’t be making the ‘pac-dots’ in the first place….”
“He told me green Jello reminds him of the war,” Peter informed him, picking up today’s pop-up book: Mariner’s Second Dive.
The child didn’t note the doctor’s irritation as he read about barnacles and how they attached themselves to this and that.
“Everything reminds him of the war. Have you been visiting him?”
“Yup. He lets me play Hot Wheels and sometimes I whup him in Crazy Eights. His card deck has naked ladies on it. He won it-”
“In the war. Listen, Peter, Mr. Jones shouldn’t be disturbed.”
Peter glanced up from his book, aghast.
“But his family won’t come see him! Not even on Turkey Day!"
“That’s not your fault. Furthermore, among other ailments Mr. Jones has pneumonia which is contagious and very easy for children to contract. Do you understand?”
Dr. Calvert’s normally cordial demeanor vanished when Peter opened his mouth to object. He repeated his question in full-blown ‘adult’ voice.
Peter nodded and shifted his gaze to the pages. The Mariner was bragging to sailors on the surface about how he didn’t need lifelines anymore now that his best friend was a magical skate.
“You can visit him once he’s recovered.”
Peter snuffled. Fat tears plopped on the Mariner’s picture.
“Scout’s honor. Oh – no water works, now. He’s not going anywhere.”
Peter pulled his feet up and tied his shoes.
“Me neither” he remarked forlornly. Dr. Calvert went to squeeze Peter’s shoulder but hesitated. In the end, he just patted the shoulder awkwardly.
When Meredith exited Dr. McKenzie’s office, he fled the bench and the emotive child atop it.
“Ah – Miss Quill.”
Peter left the bench too and hugged his mom’s knees.
“Sorry for the wait, Petey. Was he okay out here?”
“Fine, just fine,” Dr. Calvert gushed. “I must compliment you on what a well-behaved boy you have.”
“Oh. Thank you, doctor.”
“Do you have any more?”
“Only Peter. You?”
Dr. Calvert chortled.
“Five college funds. Another on the way.”
Meredith carded her fingers through Peter’s hair. She locked eyes with her precious son.
“Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.”
“Psalms one-twenty-seventy-seventy” Peter informed Dr. Calvert.
“One-twenty-seven; four" Meredith corrected.
She smiled wanly at the doctor with a growing family.
An older fellow in a white lab jacket, Dr. McKenzie exited his office. He wasn’t pleasant but he was resolute. He handed Meredith a post-it.
“Meredith, please be sure to follow up tomorrow. Reach me with this number, alright?”
Dr. McKenzie shook her hand, firm and reassuring.
“We’re going to chart your progress through each treatment; each step of the way.”
“We’ll see you through this.”
Peter collected his various belongings and soon Meredith was tugging him out of the hospital.
They were transported from a sterile world into sunshine. Their blue Trans Am Firebird waited in the parking lot like a wild and sparkling beast.
Meredith swung their joined hands between them.
“Now, what’s your heart’s desire for being so patient Star Lord? A candy bar?”
“Ice cream!” Peter decided.
“Dairy Queen it is!”
Peter awoke on a shabby cot. His head was killing him.
“Braaaaaain freeeeezeee" he groaned.
Doc, a brusque and bristly Krylorian, injected Peter with another dose of murky orange serum via a syringe.
The purple hives were disappearing and his temperature was under control. More than half the crew milled around the Med Bay, eager to learn the Terran’s fate. Kraglin was one of the few not placing bets.
“Is he gonna live Cap’n?”
“He won’t be able to breathe if y’all don’t quit hoverin’. Backtrack some of ya’!”
Ace and Kraglin corralled the former lunch-goers in a group away from the cot.
“Ye ‘eard the Captain, lads! Givvem’ room!”
Gradually, Quill became more lucid. Doc checked his pupils for dilatation between bouts of piteous moaning.
“What a trip” Peter groused.
“You ingested Takbo peas” Doc stated.
“Terrans are allergic to Takbo peas.”
Peter pointed accusingly at Dunlee as Doc carried out his ministrations, nonplussed.
“Dunlee! You told me they were a delicacy!”
“To Xandarians. Look Terran, sometimes, but they aren’t,” Doc explained. His neutral tone beat Dr. Calvert’s patronizing one by a mile.
“Do you understand?”
Yondu didn’t get to bask in any shred of relief over the boy’s recovery. Lithjaio and Tasferface were on his case almost immediately.
“Ravagers don’t steal from Ravagers,” Lithjaio rasped.
“Walk the whelp out of the airlock, Udonta!” Tasferface yelled.
These suggestions ignited murmurs of dissent and agreement but they were suggestions which were costly to make in the first place. Yondu whistled his arrow out of its holster.
“I hope n’ pray that’s multiple targets who piped up and not this room’s mighty echo.”
Ravager captains could deal with insubordination in ways not as nice as the Nova Corp and, imbecilic as they were, Lithjaio and Taserface knew it.
“The boy-” Yondu began.
“M’ a man, jerkoff” Quill grumbled, head in his pillow.
“Can scrape comet-dust off the hull.”
Peter’s head shot up. “That’ll take forever!” he wailed.
The murmurs of agreement went Yondu’s way. He sweetened the deal.
“Then he’ll charm us through security on a bank heist.”
“But being the distraction sucks!”
Ace wagged a finger at the affronted Terran.
“Och! Y’dinnae complain when the A’askavariian made goo-goo eyes at ye.”
“Which I didn’t make back! She wasn’t even my type. Tentacles don’t do it for me!”
Doc shoved Peter back onto the cot. No bedside manner there. He gave Yondu his report.
“If he’s to see to his duties, he requires rest.”
The Captain made his arrow indicate the Med Bay exit.
“Show’s over. All hands to your stations!”
The buzz of excitement was waning anyway so the crew dispersed without much fuss. Taserface left the room enraged but Lithjaio, his bosom buddy, lingered. The Skrull stalked towards Peter and Yondu put himself in his path.
“You leaving too, Captain? Or do you need to tuck him in?"
Udonta did not back down.
“I’ll tuck you six feet under the planet we next set down on since it’s what you’re clearly after, Lithjaio.”
Lithjaio was dense but not that dense. His Captain’s expression cowed him and he quit the Med Bay, tail twixt his legs.
Yondu’s hackles were still rising when he turned to Quill.
“Scrub that hull once you’re fit. And don’t throw up in the space suit.”
He stormed out of the room, red coat rippling.
“Dick” said Peter when the Centaurian was well out of earshot.
“You nearly gave the Captain a heart attack” Doc commented. He handed Peter a glass of water and a pain pill.
“He’s got one of those?”
Doc left and Peter marveled at how…… safe he felt on his crappy cot. The Eclector was where’d he’d been “raised” for the last twelve years. He knew its every corner and all the weird creaks and bumps it made at night.
Stockholm syndrome, Star Lord. Stockholm syndrome. You are not allowed to love the mothership of your alien abductor.
Ship of the line, he reminded himself. Yondu said it was a ship of the line, not a mothership. This was preferential to Peter. He didn’t care for the subject of mothers being brought up – even inadvertently.
Peter punched his pillow into a shape he liked. There wasn’t anything for it but to catch some z’s. A whole nightmare of hull-scraping awaited him – over sub-par freakin’ space peas! What a joke!
Soon the lights of the Eclector dimmed and crew members entered their sleep cycles.
Quill snoozed for several hours, maybe three at the most when heavy snores woke him up. Yondu had pulled a chair next to his cot, gotten comfy in it, and was sawing some serious logs.
Peter folded his pillow over his ears. There went his aspirations for recharging his batteries.
Wait a sec!
Yondu had brought his Walkman and set it on the cot next to him. Peter was sort of touched. Perhaps the Captain had a heart in there somewhere. A dinky one maybe, Grinch-sized.
Peter put on his headphones but forgot he’d had the volume up from his previous air-guitar solo. The music roused his visitor.
“My bad,” Peter muttered, ducking his head.
Yondu squinted at him and then closed his eyes. The Centaurian’s body language broadcast that he wished to drift once more into slumber.
“Are you awake?” Peter asked.
“Are you asleep?”
“Give it up, son. I’m not in the mood.”
“Tomorrow can I use the Nuc-2 Super Sprayer to clean the hull?”
Yondu’s lids rose a fraction again and took in Quill’s human excuse for fur.
“If I can shear off that gross hair you grew.”
“Ditch my mullet?!”
“You’re tellin’ me you want to keep it after retching into it?”
For the first time since his reaction in the Mess, Peter noticed the dry flecks of vomit clumped in his hair and gagged.
“Okay, I cave.”
A moment of tranquility passed.
“Sleep! Or Taserface wins and you go out the airlock.”
Peter grinned and lowered the volume on his headphones to listened to Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.
The stars had faded from Peter’s eyes both literally and figuratively. Everything he loved was getting pummeled by Ego who demanded he tell him what else life could possibly have to offer outside of his fucking expansion.
It wasn’t fair that his mother had gone through so much hurt. It wasn’t fair that because of this jackass her cells had multiplied and multiplied, causing her own body to betray her. Like his did when he ate alien grub and paid for it by almost swelling shut his esophagus. Ego couldn’t know what that was like, being a Celestial. He loomed over Peter, unreachable.
“I don’t use my head, boy! I use my hear-!!”
Yondu’s words were muffled with rocks and tendrils of energy. No one interrupted Yondu when he was teaching Peter a lesson. It was a slap in the face to reality!
Reality. Ego was beyond such things.
Or was he?
Peter was of Ego. Peter didn’t have to listen to Ego. And Peter WAS. PISSED.
Not logic but a ruthless love for everything he cherished welled up in him. Power from the Light laced under his fingertips and shot through his veins.
Ego would know what it meant to have his own flesh and blood turn against him. And he wouldn’t take ONE. DAMN. THING. MORE. from the last Quill standing.