Rocket Raccoon #4

Jul 19, 2017 by     Comments Off on Rocket Raccoon #4    Posted under: Guardians of the Galaxy

Randy Lander presents
Marvel Rebooted – A Rocket Raccoon Christmas Special
Issue #4 – Down Under
by James Cooke

“Washington, I have the target in my sights. Awaiting further instruction. Over.”
“AF182, this is Washington. Please confirm your current location. Over.”
“Current co-ordinates are -25.788563, 129.228857, approximately 5,000 feet above Australia’s Northern Territory. Heading South West. Over.”
“Copy, AF182, your current instruction is to closely follow the target and keep it in your sights. We are unsure what kind of threat it poses and want to keep it from reaching civilization. At your current speed and altitude, you and the target will reach Sydney within the hour. We need to prevent that. Over.”

“Should I engage missiles? Over.”

“Affirmative. Over.”

* * *

I’m nearly there, but they’ve found me. Looks like some form of Terran military craft. It’s been tailing me for quite some time now and it’s making me more than a bit nervous. I knew they’d be looking for me following my escapade on their space station – humans never tend to be able to let anything go. The co-ordinates Santa gave me along with my new ship, the Rack ‘n’ Ruin V2, are taking me to the Earth city of Sydney. I’ve been flying for what feels like days – I can’t be sure, as I’m travelling across the globe in one direction and the planet’s sun appears to be going the other way, meaning our paths have crossed more than I suppose they shoulda. I must add that despite the trip being rather long, and now potentially perilous, my new ship has given me a smooth ride. Santa really hooked a raccoon up!

My on-board mapping system informs me that the land below is uninhabited by humans. One of this ship’s new features is also the ability to search for all known information about people and places, and using that, I’ve read that the country of Australia’s human population largely inhabits the edges of the land. The center is one huge area of mass known as ‘the outback’. From what I understand, it’s essentially a jungle, full of wildlife and everything dangerous on this planet that’s not human. It wouldn’t be ideal to land here, especially as it will take me a very long time to get to civilization and to Quill, but it looks as if I’m heading down there one way or another – I can either land of my own free will, or get shot down by that green winged thing behind me. One thing missing from this new Rack ‘n’ Ruin is the ability to fire back. I guess that’s what I get when Santa’s motto is ‘peace on Earth and goodwill toward men’. My only chance of escape is going to be to hide down there.

* * *

“Washington, the target just dipped approximately 500 feet. Over.”

“Stay on him, AF182. Over.”

“What exactly is this thing, Sir? Over.”

“Above your paygrade is what it is, pilot. Just know that it is a matter of national- hell, it’s a matter global security. Just be ready to fire on command. We weren’t quick enough to track this thing, and while it would have been fine to shoot it down over international waters, we need to obtain special permissions to fire at it over another country, which is proving a challenge due to the top secret nature of what we’re dealing with. Over.”

“Yes, Sir. Ov- wait… he’s… it’s…”

“AF182, are you still there? Over.”

“Y-yes, Sir. It just dropped out of the sky suddenly, as if the engine was cut and it had no forward momentum to carry it any further. I flew right over it and lost sight of it. Over.”

“Damn it! AF182, do you have visual on it now? Over.”

“Washington, that is a negative. Working on it now. I immediately looped back and remained upside down to gain a clear visual of the target as it fell. I saw it disappear beneath the trees below. As it left my sight, I saw what looked like a parachute expand over the trees. It had something on it. It…”

“Spit it out, pilot! Over.”

“It looked like the face of Santa Claus. Over.”

“We’ve got your co-ordinates and we’ll get a team out there. Is there any possible place for you to land down there? Over.”

“Not that I can see, Sir. I’ll loop back around and see if there’s a suitable patch of land big enough to serve as a landing strip nearby. Over.”

“No need, pilot. You’ll never find the target down there and wouldn’t know what to do if you found it. Head back to helicarrier. Over.”

“Affirmative. And, Sir? Over”

“Yes, pilot?”

“What was that that just landed in the jungle? Was it-“

“Don’t be stupid, pilot. Over and out.”

* * *

It takes me way longer than it should to get my feet back on solid ground. The Rack ‘n’ Ruin V2’s maiden voyage may well have been its last. It was a gutsy move on my part, I gotta say, but I got away from that Terran ship. It just cost me my ride, which kinda blew up the moment it hit the jungle floor. I felt the surge of warmth from the explosion, like the air blowing from a fur dryer (Peter always called them ‘hair dryers’ if that helps ya?), but it didn’t burn me. Just a few smoldering hairs is all I wound up with. I probably should have ejected myself earlier than I did, but I didn’t want to risk floating there in the air for too long as I sailed down to Earth. I’d have been a sitting (hovering?) duck, ripe for the Terran pilot to shoot outta the sky. Instead, I hit the big red button as soon as I fell beneath the top layer of leaves. The V2 kept falling, and my parachute, which was big and red and nowhere near as inconspicuous as I would have liked, got caught in the treetops. Hence, I got stuck in a web of parachute strings and dainty tree branches. I got leaves stuck in my pants for chrissake!

After a hell of a struggle, I manage to free myself. The final piece of the puzzle is a length of parachute rope wrapped around my left ankle. As soon as I unravel it, I plummet, my head bouncing off a skinny branch, catapulting me about 20 feet away. I land in a tree – gracefully I might add – by clutching a much sturdier looking branch. I ain’t falling to the ground. This raccoon’s climbing down nice and gentle like. A spider then makes its presence known, crawling around from the other side of the branch and onto my paw. I freak out like an idiot, lose my balance as well as my cool, and fall out of the tree. I hit the ground hard and take a nap.

* * *

When I come to, I hear the near distant sounds of footsteps, rustling and urgent voices. The humans: they’re coming for me. When a twig snaps no more than 10 feet behind me, I jump to my feet and start running. I have the advantage of being significantly smaller than the terrans and lighter on my feet. There’s a strong chance that they won’t see me if I move with complete stealth, so long as I’m careful and quick. I’m capable of accomplishing both at once; I’ve done so before and I’ll do it again.

After maybe 20 minutes of running, their voices and other assorted noises dampen enough for me to deem it safe, I look around for a spot to hide, finding a tree with a hole in the side that’s just the right fit for little old me. I climb in; I’m tired. I need a proper rest. One that’s not the kind you have when its imposed upon you after falling from a great height. Sleep.

When I wake up it’s quiet. Too quiet. Either something ain’t right or I’m becoming paranoid. I suspect it’s the latter; after all, who wouldn’t be skittish after all I’ve been through on this planet so far? I poke my head out from my hole in the tree and take a look around. I don’t see nothing but more trees and plantation. Some small creature – smaller than me – scurries along the ground below. It don’t look like a threat. I listen carefully and the sounds of leaves rustling in the breeze and of non-human life forms crawling around, sleeping and munching on plants (or each other) start to fill my ears. Maybe I was paranoid. Probably. I’m not sure how long I was sleeping, but I feel plenty refreshed, so it was for a while, I think.

I yawn, stretch, sigh and climb down from my hole in the tree. Once I hit the ground, I glance around, checking for signs of the way I came and the way I was headed, hoping I was running the right way earlier – I think I managed to grasp which direction I’d been flying in at least – and then, I start walking.

* * *

It’s been days. A lot of them. More than I can even remember. I started to lose count of them after I ran outta fingers to tally them up on. It’s been weeks in that case.

All things considered, it ain’t so bad. I might have bemoaned having to walk for so long, for such a stretch, in the past, but now, compared to my trek across the North Pole, this is like a stroll in the park. It’s nice and warm. It barely rains and when it does, there’s plenty of shelter. That shelter also comes in handy at night – so far, I’ve managed to find somewhere comfortable enough to curl up and sleep every night. Long may that continue! And, the other thing this jungle has over the arctic region is food! There are plants and bugs everywhere. I’ve even managed to poach some eggs – as in steal them, not cook them – and have caught a few critters to eat too. I think I might be cut out for living in the wild. I’m a natural at doing it natural like!

So, I’m feeling good as I walk along on this, the somethingth day of my wander through the outback. I’m in a good mood. Almost mellow. Not too mellow, mind, as there’s probably still a bunch of military type humans on the lookout for me somewhere. I start to whistle and just as I’m beginning to enjoy the sounds of my own rhythm, I trip, sprawling onto the ground, face first.

“What the?” I ask the trees. I swear there was nothing to trip over in my path. Did I trip over my own feet like a moron? The answer is no, because a thick tree root is sticking out the ground. That’s what I tripped over, but again, I swear it wasn’t there a moment ago.

“Where did that come from?” I say, not expecting any response and getting one anyway.

“I… am…”

“Groot!” I yell, cutting him off. “Where are you, bud? I’m so glad you’re here!”

“I… am…”

“Groot, where are you?” I’m so excited. I look around and he speaks again.

“I…” I follow the sound of his voice; it’s coming from above and it’s the tree with the giant root that came outta nowhere to trip me over. “am…”

“Groot, what are you doing here?” I ask him. I can see his face now, up above me. He was the tree that tripped me over. He must’ve been trying to get my attention. It certainly worked. I see his face and recognize it instantly. That kind smile looking down at me.

“I… am…”

“Groot, you’ll never believe the things that have happened to me. It was all really boring back on Halfworld, then I heard Star Lord was still alive, so I figured I’d come here and try and find him. We could then get the band back together and go defeat Thanos once and for all and-“

“I… am…”

“Groot, I know! Anyways, I flew to Earth and reached the Terran’s space station just shy of the planet, and that’s where things got really interesting-“

“I… am…”

“What is it, Groot? What are you trying to tell me?”

“I… am… not… Groot.”

“What?”

“I… am… Groot-“

“You just said you weren’t Groot. Now you are? I’m so confused.”

“I… am… Groot’s… cousin.”

“Cousin?’ Groot has a cousin?”

“I… am… Root.”

“Root?”

“I… am… Root.” His eyes shift to the ground.

I look down, remembering the root – Root’s root – that tripped me. I then realize that this can’t be Groot. Groot ain’t rooted. He’s got legs. He’s free to roam around as he pleases. This plant, Groot’s cousin, is firmly entrenched in the ground. He’s not going anywhere.

“Well, Root, it’s nice to meet ya, but I’d best be on my way.” I turn to make like a tree and leave… oh wait, the tree can’t. Snap!

“I… am-“

“Root, I know,” I say turning back for a moment. “I’m sorry that you’re rooted to the ground here in the middle of freaking nowhere, but I got places to be and people to find.”

“NO!’ Root bellows. Birds fly from a nearby tree, wings flapping rapidly. “I… am… not allowing you to leave.”

“Say what?’ As those two words escape my mouth, my body is seized by the root that tripped me. Root picks me up. He (is it a he?) holds me right to his face. The kind smile is gone, replaced by a terrifying grin.

“We… are… friends. For… ever.”

* * *

As far as being held captive against my will goes, it could be a helluva lot worse. I’ve had worse and I’ll probably have worse again. Aside from being restrained by a couple of thick branches, there’s no torture involved. Root feeds me, shelters me and keeps me alive. My sole purpose here is to be his friend. I kinda feel sorry for the guy, stuck here alone. None of the other trees are capable of speech as far as I know and none of them resemble Root. I wonder how he got here? If he’s related to Groot, he’s gotta be from Planet X, surely, but what happened to land him here? And how did he get planted? I would ask, but I’m trying to keep the conversation light and cheerful. For all I know, if I upset him, he could crush me without breaking a twig. I guess the mystery of Root is going to have to go down as one of life’s unsolved riddles.

Not only do I fear that Root could have a short fuse, I’ve also figured that he’s not the sharpest tree in the woods. And I’m using that to my advantage. You see, Root doesn’t notice everything. Insects eat his leaves. Spiders mate on his branches. Birds dump on him all over! And he never once flinches. So, when he falls asleep at sundown, I start gnawing on those branches – those shackles of bark – and have slowly-but-surely whittled them down from boa constrictors of solid wood to flimsy grass snakes. Tonight’s the night. As soon as his eyes close, I’m outta here and…

‘Zzzzzz.’

Looks like it’s time to get to work and almost time to get the hell outta here!

Snap.

I munched my way through the final strand of the first branch. One more to go.

Snap. Thud.

Dammit! The end of the second branch fell to the floor below as soon as I bit it off. That was loud. My heart is racing as I look up. Root’s still asleep. I’m in the clear.

I scurry down Root’s trunk until I’m only five or six feet from the forest floor, where I let myself drop. I turn to start making my way in the world again, rubbing my hands together with glee, when I notice how quiet it’s suddenly gotten. I can hear crickets chirping, but something’s missing. Something low and loud and- the snoring! Root’s stopped snoring.

I look back around and the tree-man’s eyes are closed. Maybe he’s dreaming and holding his breath. He’ll exhale any moment, I tell myself. Then, his eyes open. There’s anger in them.

“I AM ROOOOT!” he tells the whole freaking forest.

“And I am outta here,” I shout back as I begin to start running.

The ground starts to shake, accompanied by a low rumbling sound not too dissimilar to Root’s snoring. Either the big guy’s hungry, or he’s got something up his leaves (geddit?).

Roots start to shoot out of the ground and branches drop. I don’t think he cares about keeping me alive anymore! I duck and dodge them all, almost getting spiked in the crotch by one root-end missile. I’m stopped in my tracks by a falling tree and veer to the right, where it all begins again. I’m effectively circling Root now and the same hazards keep me dodging left and right, jumping up and ducking down. I start making a beeline to get away, running straight and he pulls the same tree-trunk-trick as before. Only this time, I’m ready for it and wall-jump off another nearby tree, catching the branch of yet another tree in the neighborhood and I swing from my little arms, catapulting myself higher into the air and over the obstacle as it drops in front of me. I land just as the tree does, separating me from Root. I remain wary for a few more moments, eyes peeled and ears on alert for any more tricks or traps that Groot’s lonely psycho cousin might have in store for me.

I deem the coast to be clear when I hear the yells of “I AM ROOT! NOOOOO!” echoing from amidst the woodland destruction. I once again start on my merry way.

* * *

The light shines brighter and brighter. More and more cracks are appearing between the trees and they’re growing wider. The sunshine trickles through, then pours and finally floods. Forget the light at the end of some made up tunnel – this is the light at the end of the jungle. I’ve finally made it. Just don’t expect me to tell you how long I’ve been travelling, ’cause I ain’t got a clue!

As I emerge into a clearing, passing the final row of trees, I allow myself the privilege of dropping to my knees and then rolling onto my back in the grass. The sun shines on my face and it feels great. I then wake up and the sun is setting. Whoops.

* * *

My mood has picked up since leaving the forest. I don’t know if it’s the total access to sunlight during the daytime or that the end looks to be in sight, but I’m feeling more positive. Life isn’t so bad, maybe. I eventually found a man-made road and started walking alongside it. I thought better of actually walking on the road the second I saw a flattened critter. I’m not sure which way Sydney is, but I decided to follow the sun and the direction it travels across the sky during the day.

After a while, I get bored of hiking (my legs have certainly had enough of it) and so I hatch a plan to hitch a ride. The plan is a simple one that involves hiding in a bush until a vehicle comes cruising along, at which point I jump and grab on to the back of it. That’s in theory though. In practice it takes me 47 attempts to make it. I woulda made it on the 26th try, but the vehicle was without one of those ledges that most Terran wheel-based transports seem to have at the rear. You know, the kind that would take the bump if something else were to crash into it?

The 47th vehicle carries me quick and I struggle to hold on at times. My free ride reaches its conclusion as the driver pulls into the parking lot of some kinda diner or bar. He goes inside and I rummage through the trash for some scraps. I find a nearly whole burger and fries – it ain’t a cheesy-pine, but it does the trick! I return the trash to the can and find half a soda. I wander across the lot, slurping the fizz-filled liquid through a straw and see a sign at the side of the road. No, I’m not talking about the one that reads ‘Big Dan’s Bar and Grille’ nor the one beneath it that’s been sprayed on rather crudely and says ‘Big Dan ain’t so big!’. No, I’m talking about the one adjacent to those; the one that says:
SYDNEY
30 miles

I drain the rest of the soda, toss the cup over my shoulder and start marching with renewed focus. I’m almost there. Star Lord, hold tight!

* * *

Sydney seems like a pretty cool place. All hustle and bustle. I do well in keeping myself in the shadows, out of sight of as many of the people as I can. There’s an abundance of vehicles filling the streets and I spot some sort of train system above the city.

I gotta find Peter. Now if I were Star Lord where would I be? And what would I do to occupy my time here on Earth? He was always obsessed with his ship – maybe he’s gone and got one here too. Where would that be?

God then gives me another sign. This one reads:
DARLING HARBOUR
2 miles

I follow the busy maze of winding roads, making my way to the harbor. I garner a few sideways glances from humans not used to seeing a raccoon walking on two legs through their city, but they all soon go back to whatever it is that they do in their day-to-day lives. One man crosses the street to avoid me, but that’s it as far as any kind of complications go.

There are ships aplenty at Darling Harbour. Though not the kind I’m used to. They’re all floating on water and I don’t think any of them fly. I run two laps of the perimeter, back and forth as the harbor is broken by its mouth, through which the ships sail out to sea. I see no sign of Star Lord and no sign of anything indicating his presence on any of the docked vessels. My shoulders slump and I start to think about getting some food and curling up for another sleep, feeling defeated once again. But, Sydney seems like a big place and being right on the coast means there’s plenty of other places that would probably serve Peter well. I tell myself to carry on – I’m so close, have come so far. This ain’t the time to give up and take a nap! I could do with another burger though…

After scavenging a burger with greasy rings of onion through the window of a place called Hard Rock Café I decided to pick a direction and follow the coastline. I can’t picture Star Lord doing anything other than tinkering with ships – unless of course he’s off looting someplace, but that would go against the whole trying to lay low thing he’s doing – and if ships on this planet means water, then I’ll find him nearby. As I follow a man-made footpath along the bank, I look across the body of water and see what looks like some giant shelled creature risen up from beneath the surface.

“Look, it’s the Sydney Opera House,” a girl says to some guy nearby. Must be some sort of home for Terran sea creatures or something. Is opera a species of sea creature?

As I’m pondering this, I’m grabbed from behind. This is what happens when I allow myself even just one moment of distraction. Outrageous! I struggle, but the guy, dressed all in black has a tight grip and wrestles me all the way into the back of a black van pulled up on the side of the road. I really shoulda seen them coming…

I continue to struggle, wriggling like a freaking maniac in the back of the van, but there’s more muscle-bound men in black in the back of this vehicle. I’m seriously outnumbered and outmatched. I can feel that we’re moving and through a small window, can see that another similarly dressed man of vague descriptive features is driving the vehicle. One of the men with me in this confined space take a tight handle on one of my wrists and as my attention turns to him another of them applies a vice-like grip to my other arm. They’ve coordinated; this is not good for yours truly. A third gentleman, the skin tight black shirt revealing pointy nipples, takes hold of one of my feet and then manages the catch the other as I flail it about. They’ve got me now. Nipple man licks his lips – I’m worried about his intentions in particular.

Crash!

I see two of everything and they’re all crisscrossing back and forth. Reality is bending. I’ve been knocked through a loop and try to stand and make sense of where I am. Everything gradually slows to a halt, the duplicates of everything I see start to merge with the originals. It’s finally revealed that the three guys that were manhandling me a few moments ago are all unconscious. I look through the tiny window and the driver ain’t looking too well either. There’s a lotta blood on steering wheel, dashboard and windscreen; he might be dead, but this is a lighthearted story so let’s gloss over that part and move along, shall we? He’s probably fine… I mean, it’s not like henchmen have families or anything and- is that a wedding ring on his finger? Nah, he’s fine. Honest.

My field of vision is suddenly saturated by light. The sliding door to the side of the van, the very door I was not so long ago dragged through kicking and screaming, opens. Standing there is the silhouette of a female human, she… she’s not standing. She’s floating. And those ain’t legs; that’s a tail. My eyes adjust to the light, my pupils constricting.

“Good to see you, Rocket-rack,” says Mermaid. “Aren’t you pleased to see me?”

* * *

I certainly was pleased to see her. Before we had a chance to catch up and for me to find out just what in the hell was going on, Mermaid told me that we didn’t have much time and that we needed to get out of there quick before the wrong people found us. And so here we are: hiding behind a rock on the beach.

“So, thanks and all, but why’d you save me?” I ask. “And I mean no offense by this, but I didn’t exactly have you pegged as someone to trust.”

“You mean no offense and yet you go on to offend me. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, saying and doing that must be universal,” says Mermaid.

“I’m sorry, what I meant-“

Mermaid cuts me off with a giggle. “It’s okay, I get why you may have thought me untrustworthy. The fact is that it is because I myself find it difficult to trust others.”

“Oh right, is that like daddy issues or…?”

“No, nothing like that. My parents both actually died when I was still fairly young.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Thank you, but it’s not your fault. The person to blame paid for what she did.”

I gulp and steer the conversation back on topic. “I see. So you were saying?”

“I don’t easily trust people, or any creatures for that matter. I was born to a loving family and for the most part had a normal, happy childhood, and then, my parents were taken from me. And it was during that incident that I was exposed to some kind of radiation and something inside me… changed. I’ve undergone many tests since and been examined by some of the brightest minds on Earth and yet no one has ever been able to determine exactly what kind of substance it was that made contact with me. I was then taken in by a school in The UK; the School for Gifted Youngsters they called it. Well, I didn’t feel so gifted. I had no parents and was labelled a freak by society because I would suddenly start floating above the ground at random. The school taught me to control my powers and I met others that were like me – not exactly like me, but, different, like me. I started to gain a little confidence and it was then that my physical appearance started to alter. I hit puberty and while I noticed growth in areas that is normal for most girls, everyone noticed the more drastic changes that were going on.”

Mermaid gestures to her tail.

“So, what happened then?” I ask.

“I had to learn how to control my floating . Eventually I graduated to flying. The professor continued to examine me, making me undergo all kinds of tests and we discovered that I could also live and breathe underwater.’

‘You have the makings of a badass superhero,’ I say.

‘That’s what Professor MacTaggert thought too, I guess. She put together a rigorous training program for me to follow and when I was considered old enough I was recruited for her team of mutant misfits, the X-Men. I fought alongside the team of so called heroes for little over a year. I encountered many villains in that time, some mutant, some alien, some low-life human criminals, but while we were battling them there was always some form of internal conflict going on within our group. Sometimes it was the other team members that couldn’t keep on the same page as each other – the stormy one and the fiery guy were always at odds, and the metal Russian one was always moping around. It was all that conflict and annoyance that made me ultimately decide to leave the X-Men and just travel the world, explore the oceans and skies.

“We were on a mission somewhere in England and had tracked this bad guy to a warehouse in the middle of nowhere. We split up to case the joint, to try and find our guy. Storm and Psylocke went off in different directions without saying a word, deciding among themselves to cover the lower floor of the building, one going left, the other heading right. That left two flight of stairs, each step formed of metal grating. Sunspot and I looked from the steps to each other and he just shrugged, taking the left-hand set of stairs. I started climbing the right-hand case.

“The stairs led up to a mezzanine of sorts; a suspended steel corridor that looped around the perimeter of the warehouse. The two sets of stairs were both a part of the same structure. Sunspot and I were going to meet in the middle. It was dark and damp and eerie in that place. It was quiet except for the sounds of water occasionally dropping onto metal and our own footsteps. The atmosphere was heavy; you could feel the weight in your legs and bearing down on your shoulders. Our guy was there alright and something was about to go down. It was just a case of when.

“I had walked the length of the building, reaching the corner at the other end. I turned to the left and saw Sunspot on the other side. We started walking towards each other, still looking from side to side, scanning the floor below. Four or five steps later and the path ahead was blown up into the air, sent crashing through the ceiling and into the cold Autumn day. The whole mezzanine rocked; I fell to the steel grate, knocking my head on a handrail as I went. I was still conscious but the world around me went hazy. The sounds of metal bending and creaking filled the air as the blast faded.

“I heard cries from below. ‘Storm! voices called. I could see the guy we’d been tracking. The sunlight that came in through the hole in the roof highlighting a grin on his stubbly chin; his eyes were obscured from the shadow of his hood. He was directly between Colossus and Psylocke. The hooded man outstretched his arms, flames sparking from his open palms. I cried out but it all happened too quickly. Our adversary bent his arms and then flung fireballs at the steel legs holding the mezzanine up. The entire structure started to come down, with Sunspot and I still on it.

“Everything went in slow motion, or at least, that’s how it plays out when I think back to it. The knock to the head had temporarily taken away my abilities – both my mutant powers and my basic human functions. Therefore, I was unable to simply hover above as the structure fell; I didn’t even have the power to hold on to the rail. I was free falling with the metal construct.”

“What happened next? I mean, you’re alive to tell the tale.”

“The next thing I remember is waking up in a bed back at the school. Several weeks had passed; I’d been in a coma. I’d broken a few bones, but had been unconscious for such a time that they were almost healed. Everyone was relieved that I was okay, although I’m sure my awakening merely eased the guilt that the team had been feeling. I found out that Storm had fallen, and they’d all ran to her instead of me. They assumed that I would be fine due to my ability to fly, but unfortunately that argument didn’t… well, fly with me.”

“How come?”

“Because Storm has the ability to fly as well. Yet everyone of our teammates ran to protect her and abandoned me. I made the decision right there, in my bed, that I was done with the X-Men and would leave as soon as I was considered fit and healthy enough to leave the hospital wing. They all tried to beg me to stay, that is, all of them except Professor MacTaggert who could see there was no talking me out of it. I left a week later and have never looked back. I can’t trust humans and can no longer trust mutants. A lot of strange things have happened on this planet in my lifetime and I decided to get out and use my powers to explore the world. I did, however, always keep my distance from anyone else. Mine is the only company that I need.”

“Then why help me?”

“I’m still not entirely sure. I think I saw a little of myself in you. A lone survivor; a creature different from any other, just trying to get along.”

“So, you directed me in the wrong direction? Lady, I feel bad for what happened to you, but I nearly died in the cold.”

“I’m sorry, but it was a test. Like I say, I’ve got trust issues and I didn’t know what you were about – and admittedly I didn’t know where your friend was. But, I followed you, all the way until you reached the ice. And in that time, I listened to you talking to yourself, trying to stay sane and though I heard you curse me once or twice for sending you into the cold, I could tell you had a good heart and were on a righteous mission. So I went off and tracked down your friend, Peter Quill.”

“You found him?”

“Yes. And I was about to head back to find you, but then there you were by the harbor, getting into more trouble.”

“That’s one hell of a coincidence.”

“That’s usually the way life works. A string of coincidences.”

“So, now that we’ve established you’re on my side, where’s Peter?”

* * *

I clung on to Mermaid’s shoulders, keeping my head down and turned away from the oncoming spray as she surfed along the coast.

“Here it is: Manly Beach,” she says, coming to stop and dropping me off on a white, sandy beach. I look up and can see a town square of sorts, like a promenade with shops selling sunglasses and hats and buckets and spades, and restaurants and burger joints and bars.

“You don’t want to go up there. Your guy is that way,” says Mermaid. I turn away from the shopping area and see her pointing along the beach to my right. The beach curves out.

“Follow the beach around that way,” she continues. “Before you know it, you’ll see a boat docked up called-“

“Let me guess: The Milano?” I ask.

Mermaid’s grin widens. “That’s the one.”

“Thank you, Mermaid.”

“Good luck, Rocket-rack.” She winks and dives beneath the surface of the ocean, her tail briefly whipping across the air.

I get to walking.

* * *

The final leg of my search is a pleasant one. The sun is shining. It’s nice and warm and I find an uneaten ice cream just sitting on a table along the path that takes me around the cove. Nothing can dampen my spirits, not even some guy who starts ranting and raving somewhere behind me about losing an ice cream or something.

As I lick away the last remnants of the frozen treat, I toss the trash in a nearby disposal unit. As I turn to continue my walk, I come face to face with a vessel painted white with red lettering spelling out The Milano. Movement from above catches my eye and I glance up to see a man looping a rope around a pole. He has his back to me.

“Yo, Peter!” I yell.

The man keeps on lassoing the pole on his boat.

“Peter Quill!” I cry and the guy on the boat noticeably flinches. “Star L-“

“Hold it,” the man says, slowly turning around. “What were you about to say?”

“I was just wondering what the mighty Star Lord is doing hiding away in the corner of the earth.”

The sun is in his eyes. He squints. “Rocket?”

“The one and only. It’s good to see you, Peter.”

The End

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