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A Song Among the Stars, Vol 1 : The Heart of the Sky

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Ayesha, who remained unconscious for the entire process of being restrained and brought onto Aurora , only awakened when the ship was breaking the Sovereign atmosphere to head home.  Gamora, sitting nearby, watched her closely as she came to. The woman, who was handcuffed to an iron strut, let out a pained breath and opened her eyes; she stared around in obvious confusion for several moments, taking in the interior of Aurora with hawkish golden eyes.  At last her gaze alighted upon Gamora, and she curled her lip.

"What have you done?" She demanded.

"Not me," Gamora replied evenly.  "Your precious Adam."

Ayesha's face went on a journey through bewilderment to realization, and finally to venomous anger.

"Then he has made complete his betrayal," she said in a low and dangerous voice.  Gamora shrugged.

"You made your bed," she said, repeating something she had heard Quill say a million times; although the meaning must have been lost on Ayesha, her expression changed once more.  Gamora saw bitter regret rise in her throat, her eyes growing glassy.

"I never should have treated him so terribly," she said under her breath, and Gamora barely restrained herself from rolling her eyes.  The rhetoric was all too familiar to her. She sighed and got to her feet, taking a step closer.

"Listen, you've got bigger things to worry about than your science project running off with his boyfriend.  You threatened a Nova outpost. They take that shit seriously."

"A means to an end," Ayesha responded, her gaze distant.

"Does Adam really mean that much to you?"

The woman heaved a sigh. "I thought he did.  Now it seems that everything I do for my people shall be futile."

Gamora raised an eyebrow.  "And what exactly was Adam going to do for your people?"

"He was supposed to lead us into a new age.  The next step in our evolution."

"And he was going to do that by destroying the Guardians for you?"

"That was only to be his first heroic act.  When he returned victorious, our people would celebrate- they would recognize him for what he was: the second coming of our first great savior."

Gamora considered her a moment.  Now that Ayesha had said this, something was suddenly occurring to her.  She had heard the name Adam before, albeit a very long time ago.  Thanos had mentioned it in passing. Now, though, she could not quite remember what he had said.  She let out a short breath. "What happened with... your first savior?"

Ayesha closed her eyes as though in an ecstasy.  " The Great Adam.   I was only a girl when he died, but I remember him so clearly.  He was a magnificent being. Tall and lean, and of course very handsome."

"That's very poetic," Gamora said, "but who was he?"

"He was the Prince of the Sovereign, back when we still had a ruling family.  When we were besieged for our resources by jealous outsiders, he led our army to defeat them.  And after that, he went on to become a galactic peacekeeper. A herald of the Gods."

Gamora considered her fingernails, trying to look disinterested.  In reality, what Ayesha was telling her was stirring memories up inside her that she had no desire to remember.

"Thanos knew him," she said softly.

"Of course.  Two princes, and of almost equal renown.  They were almost inseparable. They say that Adam's death is what caused Thanos to break.  He could not bear to lose him."

Gamora sat again.  "How long ago was this?"

"Before your time," Ayesha replied, sniffing rather disdainfully.  "Almost fifty years."

"And what does this have to do with the new Adam?"

"It has everything to do with him.  Since the death of the original Adam, my people have been struggling to recreate him.  We began to mold ourselves in his image, achieving physical perfection and societal harmony.  But he was never reborn, in all the decades we have been trying. At last, I allowed an outsider to intervene.  He had almost as great an interest in remaking Adam as we did. And it was with his help that Adam was finally reborn."

"But he can't have actually been reborn," Gamora said.  "The new Adam just looks like him."

"More than that- he is in every way like his predecessor.  When we were creating him, we programmed every gene for our purposes.  It absorbed considerable resources, and angered the Enclave- our high council.  But it worked. And now... now my creation has turned on me because of that man."

"Peter?"

"No, the man Adam calls his father.  The High Evolutionary."

Gamora's blood ran cold.  "You're joking, right? The High Evolutionary is just a myth."

Ayesha laughed unpleasantly.  "He's as real as you or I. I should have guessed his ulterior motives when he approached us offering help.  His interest with Adam is not for our people, but for himself."

Gamora chewed her lip, half-expecting Ayesha to say she was joking.  But the woman’s golden face was stony. Her fists were clenched in her handcuffs.

Richard poked his head into the hold.  “Having a nice chat in here, ladies?” He asked.  Gamora rolled her eyes.

“How far out are we?” She asked.

“Twenty minutes.  I was just on the phone with Rael, and she wants Ayesha to go directly to high security until we can organize a trial.”

Gamora heard Ayesha snort.  “A trial by the Nova Empire,” she spat contemptuously.  “That ought to be charming.”

Mulling over everything that Ayesha had told her, Gamora followed Richard back to the cockpit.

“This is way deeper than we thought,” she said under her breath, settling in behind the pilot’s chair.

“I could have guessed as much,” the man said.  “Nobody throws down with the Nova Corps over something that isn’t pretty damn important.”

“Adam’s some sort of recreated hero,” she muttered.  “And I don’t think he has any idea.”

When they had reached Xandar, Richard steered them directly to headquarters.  When they had landed, he stood up and planted a kiss on Gamora’s cheek. “We’re gonna take her in.  Meet you back at my apartment for dinner?”

She nodded.  With her hands planted on her hips, she stood at the top of the boarding ramp and watched as the small brigade of Corpsmen escorted Ayesha- looking miserable out of place among them- from the shipyard into the building.  Then she turned to look at the remaining Guardians, who had come to stand in a cluster behind her. She realized that this was the first time they had been without their leader since he had been healing from his injury.

“Well, I guess we’re taking a few days off,” she said.  “I’ll try to get in touch with Peter tomorrow, after he’s sorted out everything with Adam.”

“Who would have thought that the Sovereign would go down so easily?” Rocket said, climbing up onto Groot’s shoulder.  “I figured that was going to be a bloodbath.”

“Ayesha has turned her own people against her,” Drax said.  “I saw it with my own eyes. They betrayed her to us without any struggle.”

“No surprise there,” Gamora replied.

“I sensed great unrest among them,” Mantis murmured.  “The lives they lead are unnatural. What a terrible place.”

“Well, maybe they’ll wise up now that Ayesha’s been taken down a notch,” Rocket replied.

“I am Groot.”

“You got that right, pal.   Serves her right .”

With these words swirling around in her head, Gamora departed.  She did not walk home with the Guardians, but instead took a side street near headquarters that led to a secluded courtyard between some residential buildings.  By now it was evening, the suns sinking into the distant ocean. Night birds were beginning to sing, and from the open windows of some nearby apartment, Gamora could hear the opening tune of some Xandarian game show.  The air was hazy and still.

Instead of the restful peace she should have been feeling, Gamora was eaten up with a sort of nameless dread.  At first she thought nothing of it- whenever Thanos came up in conversation, she was on edge for hours. But as she lowered herself onto a stone bench and watched some rose-colored clouds drift by above, she gave more thought to Ayesha’s words.  Something in particular had unsettled her: the mention of the Enclave. Like so much of what the High Priestess had said, the word troubled her. She had repressed so many memories that it was almost impossible to recall why it sounded familiar, but it was a feeling she could not shake.

Just as she was contemplating pulling out her transmitter to try the word in a search engine, it began to ring.  She pulled it out and saw that it was Richard calling. As soon as she had accepted the call and his face had appeared before her, he was saying, “You gotta come back to headquarters right away.”

“Why?”

“A transmission came in for the Guardians.  We don’t know who from, but they say they have information about the… the thingy.”

“The time-slip?”

“Yeah.  They said they’re on Knowhere.  They want to meet with you.”

Gamora got to her feet.  “I’ll be right over.”

She all but ran back to headquarters.  When she had reached the lobby, scarcely out of breath, she found Richard waiting for her there.

“The transmission came in while we were away,” he said.  “The caller says they tried to contact the Guardians directly, but got no answer.”

“We were out of range,” Gamora replied.  “What else did they say?”

“Not much.  They seemed afraid to say anything too descriptive over the transmission.  They want to see you in person.”

“Me specifically?”

“Any of you.  And I don’t want you going alone.”

She shook her head.  “I’ll call the others.  We can head over right now.”

“Slow down for a second,” Richard said, placing a hand on her shoulder.  “I know this means a lot to you, but we should proceed with caution. This could be a trap.”

Gamora nodded, taking a deep breath to slow her heartbeat.  “I need to get in contact with Nebula.”

“Your sister?  Why?”

“She lives on Knowhere with her boyfriend and a few of the Ravagers.  They can back us up.”

Richard didn’t seem to think that this was the best idea, but he didn’t argue.  She followed him up to dispatch, where all transmissions were received. The dispatcher played the message for her.  There was no visual- only a field of black static. The voice was garbled, clearly in an effort to protect the caller’s identity.

“Can you call them back?” Gamora asked.  “I need to speak to them directly.”

The dispatcher placed the call.  For several minutes, it rang with no answer.  Finally, the screen filled with static once more, and a distant, echoing voice said, “Lady Gamora.”

“Can you see us?” She demanded.

“Enough of you.”

“You are the one who sent the transmission?”

“Yes.  And trust me when I say, I did not want to.  But you are my last hope.”

“Why is that?”

“I know who is responsible for the event on the mining station.  And I know who called you to investigate it.”

Gamora stared hard at the static.  If she looked hard enough, she almost fancied that she could make out the shape of a face among it.  “Why are you telling us?”

“It’s as I said.  My last hope. But I cannot say any more, in case they are watching.  Please, you must come to Knowhere. I will be watching for you there.”

“We will come,” Gamora replied.  “But if this is a trap, know that we will not go down without a fight.”

“Of course.”

The call ended abruptly.  Richard was looking at Gamora.  “We’ll all go,” he said. “I’m sure Rael can spare a few squadrons.”

“I don’t think that will be necessary,” Gamora replied.  Then she turned to the dispatcher. “I need you to place a call.”

She gave him the number, and soon it was ringing.  Gamora held her breath. She didn’t think it was terribly likely that her sister would answer a call from the Nova Corps.  But, to her relief, in a moment the screen had turned on again, this time illuminated not with Nebula’s face, but with the scruffy, unassuming visage of her boyfriend, Kraglin Obfonteri.

“Oh, it’s you,” he said at once.  “I thought it might be.”

“Where is Nebula?” Gamora asked.  “I need to talk to her.”

“She’s here somewhere.”  For a moment he disappeared from the screen.  There was the sound of a scuffle in the background, and he reappeared with Nebula at his side.

“What is so important that you had to wake me?” Nebula snapped when she saw who the caller was.

“We’re coming over to interrogate an important witness, and we need your people on standby just in case.”

Nebula raised an eyebrow.  “What kind of witness?”

“I can explain more when we get there.  Just get everyone ready.”

Nebula sighed lengthily.  But she said, “Fine. Send me a message when you get here.”

She hung up.  Gamora looked to Richard and shrugged.

Soon after, the Guardians had regrouped at headquarters.  None of them looked particularly pleased at having been disturbed again, especially so soon after hearing that they were taking some time off.

“Would Peter want us going on a mission without him?” Mantis asked.

“He’s going to have to deal,” Gamora replied.  “This is important. We could finally get some answers.”

Rocket looked especially put out.  “This whole thing is weird. I don’t trust it.”

“That’s why I called up Nebula.  She’s going to watch our backs.”

To prevent any further arguing, Gamora turned sharply and motioned for them to follow her to the ship.  Duly, they filed along behind her.

-----

The flight to Knowhere was just long enough for Gamora to catch up on some much-needed sleep.  The dark visions that typically haunted her sleep were not lessened by her chat with Ayesha, and when she awakened, she laid in a daze of unease for several minutes.  Finally she rose, heading for the kitchen for a glass of water. As she stood drinking, Mantis appeared beside her.

“Something is troubling you,” she said gently.

“You’re right,” Gamora replied.  “But it’s not important right now.  We can talk about it later.”

“It is in regards to Ayesha, isn’t it?”

Gamora sighed.  “Did you hear any of what she said?”

“No, but I know that she spoke to you at great length.  And something she said upset you.”

“She mentioned Thanos, okay?”

Mantis looked instantly sympathetic, her black eyes softening and her antennae laying nearly flat.  “I will not press the issue.”

“Thanks.”

Gamora headed for the cockpit, where Rocket was dozing at the wheel.  She nudged him awake. They were approaching Knowhere, the great head looming in the black void before them.

“This place always gives me the creeps,” Rocket muttered.  They sailed past busy mining vessels and pleasure cruisers headed for a night of debauchery.  Nebula and her gaggle of pirates lived in a mostly abandoned high-rise behind the left eye-socket when they weren’t out on marks.  This is where Rocket headed, following Gamora’s directions. The building she was looking for was easy to pick out, being very tall and in a state of disrepair.  There was a convenient landing spot for Aurora near the roof.  When they had touched down, Gamora pointed at Groot.  “You’re staying here on ship duty. If anything happens to his baby, Peter will never forgive me.”

“I am Groot.”

“Don’t complain,” Rocket said.  “You know you hate it here.”

The remaining four left the ship behind and stepped out into the damp darkness of the abandoned building.  A bright light fell on them almost at once.

“Howdy!” A voice crowed.  It was Kraglin, holding a massive lantern.  “How’s everyone been?”

He led them down several levels, the air growing warmer and dryer all the time.  Soon they had entered what could only be described as a sanctum, brightly lit and positively full of loud, drunk Ravager men.  Gamora recognized a few who had belonged to Yondu’s crew, but by now Nebula had largely replaced them all. They all made way for the Guardians, watching Gamora with a particular reverence.  She smirked a bit.

In a small room at the center of the haven was Nebula, reclined on a stone chair.  She stood up as Gamora entered.

“Sister,” she said with the faintest hint of a smile.  “It’s been a long time.”

“It has,” Gamora replied, glancing around at the walls draped in tapestries and the floor carpeted with furs.  “And I hate to see you under these circumstances. But we do need your help.”

“What is this about?” Nebula asked.

“A few weeks ago, we investigated an anomaly on an abandoned Spartoi mining station.  I’ve had a weird feeling about it ever since, but my research hasn’t turned anything up.  Now someone here says they have the answers I’m looking for.”

“I see.  One of your ‘weird feelings’.”

“This is serious.  Whoever caused that anomaly, I think they could be a real threat.”

Nebula nodded, clearly seeing the determination on Gamora’s face.  “Where are they?”

“They wouldn’t say over the transmission.  Just that they’d be watching for us.”

Nebula considered this a moment.  “I think I know who your mysterious witness might be.”

“You do?”

“We keep a close eye on who comes and who goes here.  And there’s a newcomer that’s been here for about a week, holed up in one of the inns by the nasal passage.  We can’t find out much else about them, just that they haven’t exited the inn in days.”

“Take us there.”

Nebula gathered a few Ravagers to accompany them.  As she did this, Gamora caught sight of something odd- there was a young girl with Kraglin, who was sorting through some papers in a corner.  She was hardly more than 8, with soft blue skin and dark hair. Her knees were tucked against her chest, and Kraglin was talking quietly to her.

“Who’s that?” Gamora asked, pointing.

“Rasad is her name.  We found her wandering around in the streets here, and Kraglin insisted we take her in.”

Gamora smiled at the back of Nebula’s head.  “That’s nice of you.”

When they had reached the ship once more, Nebula took up a spot in the cockpit.  She directed Rocket from the high-rise through a neighborhood of squalid huts and derelict warehouses.  After that they came to a slightly more modern part of the city, where there were a few open-air markets and, more importantly, a large inn that was probably the least run-down looking building in all of Knowhere.

“As you can see, your witness is probably on the wealthier side,” Nebula was saying.  “They’ve been staying there for days.”

“Let us off here, and stay on guard.”

Nebula did as instructed.  Gamora was the first out, Mantis hot on her heels.  They made their way across the short distance Nebula had left between the ship and the inn.  There were some people at the market who turned to look as they passed, and Gamora studied all of their faces.  One in particular, a girl of about 20, stood seemingly in awe for a few seconds before dropping the groceries she had been carrying and taking off.  Gamora took note of all this, although she did not have time to stop and ponder the implications now.

There was a doorman at the entrance of the inn, but he seemed very disinterested in attempting to stop their entrance.  Inside the building, they found themselves standing in a small lobby, where a few people were chatting behind the desk, and a few more were quietly sipping tea by the window.  Gamora paused, scanning the room.

Her eyes fell on a tall, lean figure standing at the back of the room.  She locked eyes with this person, who from this distance was entirely nondescript.  A long black coat, muddy boots, and tangled, greyish hair. The figure motioned with one hand, partially hidden by the coat.  Gamora exchanged a glance with Mantis, her silent cue to keep her senses trained on this person, before they set off towards them.

“Can you be sure you weren’t followed?” A small, wavering voice hissed as Gamora approached.

“We have a guard watching,” Gamora replied.  “She’ll alert us to any possible danger.”

There was a moment of silence.  “Come this way.”

The figure turned, black coat billowing.  Under it, Gamora glimpsed several weapons, all lashed tightly to this person’s waist.  They hurried away, and she could only follow.

The Guardians were led down a flight of stairs into a dusty, poorly lit storage room.  All around them, boxes of supplies piled up to the low ceiling muffled all outside noise.  Under the single fluorescent light, Gamora got a better look at the figure.

She was a older, gray-skinned individual of uncertain race.  Her face was gaunt, her eyes sunken and bloodshot. Her hair hung limply in her face.  She stared at Gamora for a long time, as though she were working up the urge to speak. At last she managed, “I am Kefa Nuki.  For the last 18 years, I was a member of the Universal Church of Truth.”