Night had fallen.
Except it hadn’t, of course. Night can’t fall in space. But it felt like night had fallen. If anyone had asked Rocket about his state of mind, as he skulked in the shadows in the hangar, that would have been roughly what he’d have told them. Just with more swearing.
“I am Groot?” said Groot, who had followed him.
“They’re preparing the body. They won’t notice I’m gone. Or if they do, they’ll just think it’s ‘cos I’m a coward, which they probably do anyway. Go back upstairs.”
“I am Groot,” said Groot forlornly, and left.
Rocket turned to the navcomputer in the corner and started pushing buttons, before his mind could catch up with the rest of him and make him stop. There was a vague list of possible contacts in his head, people who maybe could help him find what he was looking for, but he wasn’t holding out much hope. Over and over again he entered codes.
“I need to get through to Stakar Ogord’s personal channel,” he told whoever answered on the other end. Most of his contacts - scum of the galaxy, all of them - just laughed and cut him off.
“What the hell you be wanting that for?” the last guy said. “What’s a… whatever the fuck you are… doing thinkin’ it’s important enough to talk to the leader of the Ravagers?”
“Oh, fuck off,” Rocket said in despair, and turned off the call. He decided it would help considerably if he picked up his gun and shot at the console, but when he turned around to get it he saw Kraglin was there. He was slumped against the wall, doing nothing.
“What’re you here avoiding?” Rocket asked, after a moment’s silence, although he knew the answer.
“All my friends are dead,” Kraglin said hollowly. “Thought that was shitty enough, like an idiot. Now the person I guess I loved the most is dead too, and I’ll never see him again.”
Rocket nodded. He didn’t want to get drawn into anything overly emotional, and as awful as it sounded, he sort of wished Kraglin would just go away. “S’been a shitty day.”
“Stakar won’t answer you, even if you do get through to him somehow,” Kraglin said. “He ain’t gotta pick up a transmission from Yondu’s ship.”
“I gotta try,” Rocket said. “I owe it to everyone to try,” he added, under his breath. He thought he could try calling the Nova Corp next, as much as he didn’t want to. Maybe there was a chance that someone, somewhere, could pass on a message -
“Maybe we could try Aleta,” Kraglin said hesitantly.
“Yeah, I’m not up on Ravager lore. Who or what’s that?”
“Huh. Ravagers do actual monogamy? I didn’t see that coming.”
“She’s scary,” Kraglin said, rather unnecessarily. “I don’t wanna talk to her. Not… now. But maybe if you did it -”
“Yeah. I’ll use my natural charm.” Rocket placed his gun on the console, where it would be visible during calls. Couldn’t hurt… “Right. You do actually have her code?”
“Sort of? That’s no fucking use then, is it, Kraglin?”
“Well,” Kraglin said, “y’see… Taserface usedta like to brag that he’d, um, sleptwithher.” Those last three words came out in a jumbled explosion. “He never thought too much of women.”
“Uh-huh. Big surprise there.”
“And whenever anyone backtalked him about that, which was a lot, somewhere inbetween the beatings he’d say,” and here Kraglin put on a Taserface voice, which should have been hilarious but wasn’t, “’WHYDA I HAVE HER CALLSIGN, THEN,’ and say every number with, like, a punch in the face on each one.”
Rocket tried to picture the scene. Ordinarily he would’ve found it pretty damn funny, but his mind kept kicking back, against his will, to the body lying a few floors up.
“Were you one of the people who got punched in the face?”
“No. But I remember the number.”
He recited it. Rocket punched it into the console, not daring to actually stop and think about it.
“There’s no way he actually slept with her,” Kraglin added. He seemed awfully keen to defend the honour of a woman he barely knew. “Taserface was… well, you saw him.”
“A jackass,” said Rocket, suddenly thinking of all Yondu’s loyal Ravagers, who were still floating lifelessly in space somewhere.
Suddenly, the call went through. Rocket found himself holding his breath. A woman who looked like she’d recently battled her way through hundreds of hells and then stopped to key the devil’s car at the end appeared on the screen.
“How did you get this number?” she demanded. She had had the same idea to keep her gun on the console, it seemed. Hers was much bigger and marked with the seven-flamed Ravager symbol.
“Yondu’s dead,” Rocket said, before she had the chance to hang up, or shoot somebody. Her face changed only very slightly.
“The fuck are you?” she said.
“What’s it matter? I gotta message. I told you the message. Someone you knew once is dead. It sucks and I’m pissed. You gonna answer me?” Behind Rocket, Kraglin frantically shook his head.
Aleta’s face seemed to soften a bit. Somehow that was even worse. “I’ll call you rat thing, rat thing. You know who I am?”
“Yeah,” Rocket said.
“Then you know I murdered twenty slave traders during the Siege of Hala, and twenty more when we raided the Klyn.”
“Didn’t know that, actually.” Rocket took a closer look at Aleta’s gun and saw it was marked with several tally marks. Several hundred in fact.
“But you know enough, or you wouldn’t be calling me. And yet you don’t bother speaking to me with respect.”
“Lady. I just put my life in danger, helped kill a freaking god, helped save the whole damn galaxy, and watched a friend die,” Rocket said. “Don’t get me wrong, you’re probably very good at slaughtering people and all that, but I figure we’re actually probably on the same level.”
Aleta glared at him, and then she suddenly spun her chair away from the console. A second later she was holding a datapad up.
“This?” she snapped. Somehow, that one word seemed to sum it all up quite nicely. On the screen, people on Xandar were being dragged out from underneath a great landslide of sea-blue earth, and then suddenly the image changed to a vast makeshift mortuary, hundreds of bodies covered by sheets, crowds gathering around them, people crying-
“Yes,” Rocket said, feeling like he was going to be sick. Behind him he heard Kraglin slump back down to the floor.
“And Yondu is dead,” Aleta said. “Stay there and don’t move.”
“I’m not going anywhere. Obviously,” Rocket said, but she had already turned her screen off. Kraglin walked over and sat down next to Rocket and rubbed his face frantically with his sleeve. About half a minute passed during which no-one said anything. The screen flickered on again.
Kraglin saluted, immediately. Stakar Ogord did not salute back.
“The fuck are you?” he said to Rocket, in exactly the same tone Aleta had used.
“Most people say ‘hi, thanks for calling, I know this is a terrible time for you right now.’”
“How did he die?”
“Straight to the point, aren’t you?”
“Sir,” Kraglin spoke up nervously, “Rocket’s a science experiment gone horribly wrong, and due to that he’s kinda touchy and snarky, don’t take any of what he says personal like, sir-“
Stakar (who was also, Rocket noticed, absolutely loaded down with guns) regarded Kraglin with what seemed like cool detachment.
“I remember you, boy. I almost admired your loyalty, y’know.”
“Not a boy anymore, sir,” said Kraglin.
Aleta appeared in the right-hand corner of Rocket’s screen, on a different camera, not saying anything at all.
“How many people did Ego kill, then?” Rocket asked, not looking at anybody, because he didn’t really want to know the answer. “That was his name. The god. Suited him pretty well.”
“There’s reports of all sorts of shit coming in,”
“And the death toll?”
“High,” said Aleta. A single clipped word.
All the people in the conversation, who had a combined body count of well over a thousand, considered this sombrely.
“Anyway,” Rocket said, “without Yondu around it might’ve been even higher. He was willing to fight and die fighting that jackass and he did.”
For the first time since the call had gone through, Stakar and Aleta looked… shocked. It was a weird kind of shock. Shock mixed with… triumph, Rocket would have guessed, if he thought himself good at reading expressions, which he did not.
“Thought you might want to know,” he said, hiding the catch in his voice. “That’s it, so I’ll go now. Try and make that little extra effort to not hunt us down and kill us.”
“What do you think Ravagers are, exactly?” Aleta asked. Her tone was still aggressive, but… less aggressive than it had been before.
“The rat’s only ever been around the likes of Taserface, ma’am,” Kraglin said quickly. “He don’t know the real code.”
“We aren’t gonna kill ya,” Aleta said flatly, and then her screen went blank.
Stakar’s screen didn’t. He remained staring at Rocket and Kraglin, tapping one of his guns against his leg, which was incredibly unnerving.
“What happened to the kid?” he asked.
“What?” said Rocket.
“The kid. There was a last kid,” he said, almost impatiently, as if he’d expected Rocket to understand straight away what he meant.
“Them kids Yondu was dealing in? They were Ego’s children,” Kraglin said, roughly. “The captain knew he was getting paid a ton but he did honestly want them safely delivered to their dad, sir. And, Yondu really was torn up like hell about it when he realised what was going on. Thass why he kept Quill. Well, one of the reasons he kept Quill.”
“Quill,” Stakar muttered, as if he was trying to locate the name in his memory.
“So… honestly, Peter Quill ended up being Yondu’s kid, sir. You can call it sentimental shit, but that’s what happened, and that’s why he died.”
“I told that asshole years and years ago, put the boy back where you found him,” Stakar said, in a creaky voice which was somewhere between a whisper and a snarl.
“S’a good thing he didn’t, sir, or Ego would’ve unlocked his full powers way earlier, and every last one of us would be dead. Ego needed a vessel to help destroy the galaxy, or some shit, and he ended up killing all his other kids, cept Peter. I mean. I know the galaxy nearly did get destroyed, but-”
“It actually didn’t, in the end,” Rocket interjected.
Stakar sat down on his console chair, which was lined with fur like a throne, and after relocating a couple of his guns to the table he said,
“Ravagers don’t make good parents.”
“Agreed com-fucking-pletely,” Rocket said. “And Yondu wasn’t one. But he loved Peter enough to help fight his psycho god dad and then to give him the only spacesuit when they were left floating in the void. So… you know.”
Stakar gave a strange little smile, if it could even be called that, which looked completely wrong on his face. It was there for less than a second and then it was gone.
“I gotta lot of shit to take care of, thanks to that planet-eating god of yours-”
“We stopped him and killed him, you’re fucking welcome.”
“-so, I’m turnin’ this screen off, and going down to ground with my boys.”
“Wait,” Kraglin yelled. He said it in such a hurry that he forgot the “sir”. “What – what happens now?”
“Fuck do you mean, Kraglin?”
“You know what I mean… sir. I been a Ravager since I was twelve. If taking on a god doesn’t entitle you to the colours and what comes after, what does?”
“That ain’t for you to decide,” said Stakar.
“We don’t have no gods of our own. We ain’t got nothing but each other, Yondu told me once. Where d’ya go if you die a Ravager but your own crew won’t vouch for… for what’s left of you?”
Stakar gave no answer. Kraglin suddenly stood up with a jerk, like he was squaring up to fight him.
“S’you who named yourself after the Colors. S’you who formed the Clans. So you’re the only one who can tell me. Where’s my captain now?”
There was a second of silence and Rocket decided to jump in there. “You know what I didn’t expect when I dialled that number? A friggin’ philosophical debate.”
“You’re not a Ravager,” Kraglin snapped at him. “You don’t know the code and you don’t know the… you don’t know.”
“No-one. Knows. For certain,” Stakar said loudly, each word coming out like a punch. “We got what we got.”
Those words, stark and almost sensible, hung in the air.
“You haveta give him the colours,” Kraglin said brokenly. “You said you admired my loyalty. So do it for me if nothin’ else.”
“If I’m guessin’ right, and I think I am,” said Rocket slowly, for he had only just realised this, “Yondu died for Peter knowing nothing good was coming after. That probably entitles him to…whatever afterlife you guys think you have…all by itself.”
“What the hell makes you think you got anythin’ like a say in this?” Stakar asked.
“I don’t know about the rest of you pricks,” Rocket said, long past the point where he should have lost his temper, “but the thought of someone I kinda liked lost in some stupid afterlife-less void forever, it actually depresses me the fuck out!”
Stakar laughed, sort of. It wasn’t really much of a laugh. “You got the guts of a Ravager, rat thing. But you ain’t one.” And then his screen, too, went blank.
Rocket and Kraglin were left alone. Although there were six other people on the ship besides them, there might as well have been not a single being left alive in the galaxy at that moment.
“They’ll come,” Kraglin said, in a voice that implied he didn’t really believe it, although he was trying to.
“What makes you say that?”
“They loved him once.”
Rocket had not really been expecting that answer and had to quickly come up with something cynical to counteract it. “S’got nothing to do with it. I’ve been to countless funerals, buried and burnt countless bodies according to whatever shit they believed in, and I don’t love anybody.”
“You love that little tree thingy,” said Kraglin.
“Alright. I guess. But I’m sort of his parent, so that doesn’t count.”
“And you love that green chick who was yelling at you for saving her life.”
“We’re friends, it doesn’t really-“
“And the scary big guy.”
“And Quill. Everyone fucking loves Quill. I figure like I should hate him for it but I don’t.”
Rocket had absolutely no answer for that. There was silence.
“Why do you even care so much? About Yondu. You knew him for like two days,” Kraglin said, softly.
“Guess I’m just redemption trash,” said Rocket.
“Ain’t we all.”
There was a sound in the distance like a great engine firing up. The funeral would start soon, once they were a respectable distance out into deep space.
“I should go,” said Kraglin. And then he said something surprising for a supposedly ruthless space pirate: “You tried. You tried real hard. Thanks for doin’ that.”
“For all the good it did. I don’t even know what the fuck’s gonna happen now.”
“Well,” said Kraglin, sounding gloomily older and wiser, “we got what we got.”
“That we do,” said Rocket, suddenly longing to be amongst his whole family again. Even at a funeral. Even with them all hating him. It was still something to cling to in a void. “Let’s go.”
They went. Behind them, a little white speck appeared in the blackness: it was Stakar’s ship, on its way.