Sakaar was the most godforsaken shithole in the entire galaxy, Aleta had long thought, but it had one silver lining. Whenever she was there she got to make a bad joke.
“What in the hell are we doing in this piss-awful place?” she asked her second-in-command, who was familiar with the punchline by now.
“I dunno, Captain, what are we doing here?” the Easik answered cheerfully.
“Because I told you ‘I want to get fucked by Stakar’ and you both misunderstood and misheard!”
There were roars of laughter from the rest of the clan, but then again they were all very drunk. Understandable. It had been a long, difficult couple of days since Udonta’s trial and exile, and it had basically fucked with everyone’s minds. Aleta thought her mind might’ve been the most fucked of all, actually, but she sure as hell wasn’t going to show it.
She figured she’d let the crew finish their drinks, maybe quiz the guy behind the bar for bounty jobs in the quadrant, and then get going. She hated being on planets where the people were complicit in slavery, but unfortunately these days that was almost all of them.
As she uncurled her legs from their position and rubbed an arm across her face, she was suddenly extremely aware that somebody was watching her. When she turned around, she saw them. They weren’t really hiding themselves.
You don’t get to be a Ravager captain without being a pretty good judge of character (or so Aleta had once thought) and she sized the newcomer up pretty quickly. Woman. Short. Hot, in a dangerous sort of way. Tattooed with symbols that Aleta thought marked her out as an employee of the Grandmaster, although she could’ve been wrong about that. Unquestionably a badass. And yet – she looked utterly, utterly traumatised and terrified.
Or she did for about half a second, anyway. Then her expression changed and she turned her back.
Aleta was curious now, so she did the sensible thing and hurled her glass bottle at her. The woman’s arm shot out and caught it without so much as a wobble. When she faced Aleta, she was smirking, although there was an undercurrent to it.
“Anyone ever told you that’s a really shitty way to pick up chicks, lady? Really shitty.”
Aleta’s crew instantly drew their guns – they were a very practised bunch – but Aleta motioned for them to lower them.
The woman came over, although she made it abundantly clear from her body language that she was doing so because it suited her and not the other way around.
“Lemme buy you a drink,” Aleta said.
“I bet I’m richer than you,” said the woman. “I’ll buy.”
So she did.
“You got a name?” Aleta asked her.
“Honestly? Not really. They call me Scrapper 142 around here.”
“A number’s not a name.”
The woman knocked back her drink, impressively, and ordered another.
“Why’re you wearing green?” she asked Aleta.
“Because it’s my clan colour. I’m a Ravager captain.”
The woman shrugged.
“Don’t care, huh? Ballsy move. All these ladies are armed to the teeth and they all answer to me.”
“I’ve seen worse.”
Aleta could have left it there. Although she was a pirate, she understood boundaries. On the other hand… she was a pirate.
“You don’t know who I am, huh?”
“I’ve heard of the Ravagers.”
“But you haven’t heard of Aleta, the killer of slavers.”
“No,” said the woman, after a very long pause and another drink-downing, “but I’m guessing that’s you.”
“That’s me.” Aleta cast an eye over her crew, who had all gone back to minding their own business. “Your face. When you saw me.”
“Yeah, it’s a good face. I like my face.”
“You were petrified.”
The woman scowled, and looked away, and then said, “You looked like someone I knew once. Just for a second. Someone I loathed and hated and want to murder, just so you know.”
Aleta considered this. She kinda dug it.
“You open to going back to my ship?” she asked.
“Sure,” said the stranger, “why not.”
“You gotta tell me your name first. No-one oughta have sex with a number.”
After a long pause, the woman said, “Brunnhilde.”
“I like it.”
Aleta climbed onto the bar, possibly treading on a few hands, and all her crew turned to look.
“I’m off to have meaningless and probably weird sex,” she announced. “Keep an eye out in case she stabs me or whatever.”
“So you’re not actually afraid of me?” Aleta asked, mid-shag. (A weapon had yet to appear.)
“I don’t tend to get this, ur, intimate with people I’m afraid of,” Brunnhilde said.
“I always thought a bit of mutual fear helped things move along.”
“That’s super unhealthy.”
“That’s what it’s like with my husband.”
Brunnhilde barely even reacted at the “husband” bit. Instead she continued to use her tongue, which she was very good at, and that put an end to any and all talk for a while.
“Don’t take it as an insult, it’s not like I have the healthiest coping mechanisms,” she said, once her work was done.
“If sex is your coping mechanism, you’ve sure honed it into a skill.”
“S’not really a coping thing. Well. Sex and alcohol I suppose, maybe.”
Aleta’s curiosity about her current bedmate wasn’t quite piqued. As Brunnhilde lay across her stark naked form, Aleta asked “This woman you hate, the one who looks like me, d’ya want me to kill her?”
“Nothing can kill her.”
“I hear that a lot, but they always die.”
“Nothing can kill her.”
“Alright. Whatever you say.”
“She doesn’t look that much like you,” Brunnhilde said. “Not anymore. I mean, you look different now.”
“Well, that’s good to know. Although it’s probably because I’m all naked and sweaty.”
Brunnhilde gave a little smirk again. It was sort of endearing. Then she said, “I guess you and your husband have an open marriage.”
“And it’s not the only thing that’s very open, if you wanna…”
Brunnhilde moved her hand southwards, where it pleasingly remained for a while.
“You said you liked your face,” Aleta murmured, “well, I like your face too.”
“I like yours.”
“Y’know, my clan’s always open to new members. Especially to ones who have your particular…talents.”
“It’s tempting,” said Brunnhilde, “but nah.”
Aleta was disappointed. Within seconds, though, that feeling was blocked out by a much more pleasurable one.
“Why’d you come to this planet?” Brunnhilde asked her after a few long moments. “It’s shit.”
“Oh, I know, believe me. But I can pick up bounties here. And it lets my crew blow off steam.”
Brunnhilde sat up and stretched. Aleta admired her from behind.
“People call you the killer of slavers, huh?”
“Some people. Many among the Kree.”
“When you said that I thought that was why you were here.”
“Why? You got any you want killing?”
Brunnhilde stared at the bedsheets as she said, “Almost everyone’s a slaver here.”
“I know, that’s one of the reasons I hate it.”
“It’s not what you think. Any of the prisoners the Grandmaster keeps, they’d have died anyway. Long as they’re in the arena they have a fighting chance.”
Aleta looked at Brunnhilde’s face, which was still very pretty, and said, “That’s a total load of crap.”
“It’s true. And some people have to do whatever it takes to survive.”
“That’s even more of a load of crap. And a boring cliché.” Aleta said. “Maybe you wouldn’t fit in so well with the Ravagers after all.”
“Because you hate clichés?” Brunnhilde asked. The smirk was back, but now it wasn’t so endearing.
“Because we hate slavery. All kinds. We’ve exiled our own before just for skirtin’ round the edges of it.” That last bit was said with a wince, but the other woman didn’t notice, or didn’t care.
“If you’ve got anything to do with the shit that goes down on this planet, I could throw you in the hold and then dump you out into the void with just one spacesuit. That’s what we do to slavers.”
“Pirates with a moral code,” Brunnhilde said. “Now I’ve seen everything.” She got off the bed and pulled a blanket around herself.
“We’re assholes, not monsters. What’re you?”
“Y’know, I came here for a shag,” Brunnhilde said, “not a lecture.”
“And you were good. And I was good,” Aleta said, “although honestly with the amount you drink you’ll probably have forgotten it by morning.”
Brunnhilde made an obscene gesture at her. It was a very complex one which required the use of six fingers, two hands, and one breast.
“Cute,” said Aleta.
“Yeah I am. And I’m going. Byeee.”
She dropped the blanket and sauntered towards the exit, making extra sure to move as seductively and sexily as possible. When she reached the door, she slapped her arse with the palm of her hand, and groaned in mock pleasure.
“That’s so childish.”
“Childish,” said Brunnhilde. This seemed to have touched a nerve.
“Yeah. You’re a dumbass child with creepy ideas.”
“I’m older than you,” Brunnhilde snapped. Suddenly something was different. Her face was no longer pretty and her nakedness seemed like armour. “I’m older than this city. I’m older than this planet. I’m older than most of the stars you’ve flown through.”
Instinctively Aleta reached for her gun, which was always by her bed, no matter who she was sharing it with.
“Oh don’t try it. It wouldn’t hurt me, lady. Nothing you apparently wanna do to me could hurt me. I’m a god.”
Aleta snorted. That was a stupid thing to do, but Ravagers were prone to a bit of stupidity every now and again.
“Well, you’ve got great tits for a god.”
Brunnhilde rolled her eyes.
“Once they called me Valkyrie,” she said. “People told stories about me and my sisters. How we had power over life and death, how we fought with honour, how we were the comforters and saviours of those who died in battle. Now look where I am! Stuck in a slaver’s shithole having sex with gross-ass pirates.”
“You seemed pretty into it.” Aleta deliberately didn’t specify whether she meant the slavery or the sex.
Brunnhilde (Valkyrie?) shook her head. She picked up her clothes from where she’d left them on the floor, and started getting dressed.
“I know what you are,” Aleta said. She’d worked it out. “An Asgardian.”
“A disgraced and dishonoured Asgardian who turned her back on her kind.”
“Exiled, excommunicated, and lost forever.”
Brunnhilde’s outfit included a sword, which too had been discarded on the floor. She picked it up and tossed it from hand to hand. Aleta wondered if she’d gone too far and how likely it was she could take an Asgardian in a fight. (The odds, she thought, weren’t actually terrible.)
However, Brunnhilde did nothing.
“Another thing that wicked old bitch ruined,” she said in a dull voice. “If you and her didn’t apparently shop at the same eyeliner place, I wouldn’t have noticed you and I wouldn’t have had this shit.”
For one second Aleta thought about letting it go and questioning her. Comforting her. Doing something, anyway. But she was a pirate and her life had been hard, and instead she said-
“Oh, just piss off, god girl. Go and fight your demons somewhere else.”
And she was gone.
Aleta stayed where she was for a bit until she was certain she’d exited the ship. The little cameras dotted around, once she flicked them back on, informed her that she had. She got dressed, had a drink, and radioed down to her crew to get their asses off the floor and to the engines. Then she called her husband.
“You look like you’ve just had sex,” he said.
Aleta was thinking about the events of the past few hours and the past few days. It was difficult and her mind was bouncing around all over the place. “I shagged some chick who might’ve been a slaver but I hope she wasn’t, and I probably should’ve killed or marooned her if she was, but also she was a god.”
“Gods are total douchebags,” said Stakar, as if this sort of thing happened every day.
“I’m on Saakar. Been discussing deals with some people but they’re all dead ends. I reaaaally wanna take down the Grandmaster, babe.” Now she was the one who sounded childish.
“You gotta give it time.”
“S’not fair. Why’s everything run by a ton of immortal dickheads with magic sticks? Why gods? What the hell.”
Stakar shrugged. Aleta hadn’t really expected an answer from him, though.
“Y’know,” she said hesitantly, “I… I guess I feel shitty about exiling Yondu. I know what he was. But he was our family too.”
“I don’t feel shitty about it,” Stakar said. But even though he was her husband Aleta couldn’t read his tone of voice.
She said, “A person rocks up and they’re an unrepentant slave-owning dickbag, I kill ‘em. And I know the Code. But I fucking hate to think about anyone just being… lost forever.”
“Yeah. I can tell what’s going on here,” Stakar said. “Go find that chick you were banging and talk to her.”
He hung up. Aleta didn’t take his advice, at first. She stuck around until all her crew were on board, and then she reloaded one of her other guns, and then she strode back to the bar. No Valkyrie. Ironically, she was most likely lost forever… in the physical sense anyway.
“God, fuck this planet,” Aleta said, and she never did go back there again.