Space is cold and quiet.
A lot of people can wrap their minds around the cold part; they know they’d freeze instantly in the void. But the quiet, that has to be experienced. The sound of nothing.
Carol opens her eyes and regards the expanse before her, stars twinkling in the vast darkness. Most people will never experience this quiet. It wouldn’t be survivable. For her, though, it’s sometimes her greatest peace. At other times, it’s maddening.
This is one of those times.
Zipping through the black, she heads for a nearby asteroid field, where she can smash through the massive space rocks and reduce them to dust. It’s a nice way to calm her mind. Or, it might be, if Yon-fucking-Rogg hadn’t requested a visit out of the blue after nearly three decades without contact.
She’s never actually been to the prison where he’s held. Never had any interest in going. But a year ago, half the galaxy turned to dust, and that changes things. Just a bit.
Apparently, Yon-Rogg is alive. The thought stirs no specific or strong emotions, except maybe “that figures.”
Carol cuts her hair first. She’s been wanting to chop it, and since she definitely doesn’t want Yon-fucking-Rogg to see her the way he remembers, the time is now. It’s a little gross that she’s changing something because of him, she guesses, but mostly she doesn’t care. He’s just some old man rotting in a cell, now. He has no power anymore.
She could just not go, never show up. She doesn’t owe him that. But she knows it will nag at her if she doesn’t, the uncertainty of it. She never expected to see or hear from him again, but now that she has, it’s useless to pretend.
The prison station is big. One of the biggest in the galaxy, in fact, holding mostly war criminals and others serving life sentences. From a distance, it sort of looks like a nice place to visit—the station is in a blossom configuration, with six zones branched off the middle hub like petals.
“Alright,” she says to herself. “Let’s get this over with.”
Carol rarely needs to introduce herself. Not out here. Her light trail and lack of spacesuit are introduction enough. So, it comes as no surprise when she’s given access to the complex without so much as a facial scan.
At the first opportunity, she presents the code she received in the invitation transmission.
“Prisoner YR2932 is located in Sector 4,” says the bored guard at the desk. “If he’s not in his quarters, you’ll want to check the recreation area.”
Carol could turn around, she realizes. It’s not too late to bail on this whole thing. But just as she has the thought, she catches her reflection in the chrome paneling on either side of the counter. Her haircut looks badass. She’s evolved a million times over from the shell of a person she was on Hala. She can do this. She’ll get it over with and move on to a better use of her time.
As it turns out, Yon-Rogg’s cell is empty. And so are several neighboring cells, doors standing wide open. Half will have vanished, of course. Maybe all the rest are in the mood for recreation.
She’s picturing a simple workout room, with enough space for running, and perhaps an area for lounging and reading. What she actually finds stops her in her tracks.
To call it a “garden” would not do it justice—it’s an expansive park with green grass, and tall trees, winding paths and benches. And it appears to occupy the entire top floor of the station’s nucleus. For a moment, it’s easy to forget she’s not on a planet—but then, the stars outside the domed ceiling overhead are a quick reminder. She starts in, passing by flowering bushes, and the place is ridiculously inviting, the air absurdly fresh. Compared to prisons on Earth and Hala, this place feels more like a resort. Then again, neither of those worlds is setting a high benchmark for their treatment of the incarcerated.
She comes upon two people in gray jumpsuits feeding a little herd of cats—and then she stops again. No, those aren’t cats. And that’s a lot of Flerkens to keep in one place … which doesn’t leave much room for misbehavior in the recreation area. Alright.
Continuing on, she passes a thin man with a patchy beard sitting on a bench and then follows the path around a corner. She’s facing a scenic waterfall when she hears his voice.
“I didn’t think you’d actually come.”
Carol turns to find Yon-Rogg standing behind her and nearly swears when she realizes he was the man on the bench. His physique is so different now, so reduced, that she’d never have recognized him from afar. One of his eyes is bloodshot, the blue tint making that yellow iris appear to glow brighter than the other, and his lips are dry and cracked.
“Why did you send for me?” is all she can think to say.
“I figured if we were both still alive,” he answers, gaze unfocused, “I could see you one last time.”
He turns and looks at the waterfall, or pretends to do so, and she notices the silver disk on the side of his neck. It shouldn’t shock her, yet some part of her wants to rip it off. It can’t be the exact same model the Kree use, but something similar. Something to modify and control behavior. Suddenly, the reality of this charming park falls into place.
“Don’t worry,” he says, abruptly facing her, “I’m not going to apologize. I won’t do you the disservice of requesting forgiveness.”
“Apologies are only worthwhile if you regret your actions, anyway.”
That gets her a thoughtful nod. “Indeed. Walk with me awhile?”
She hesitates. “Alright.”
They start down the path in silence, at first. She could easily kill him if provoked; she knows they’re both aware of this plain fact. But he’s not afraid. That makes her itchy. Or maybe that’s just how it feels to be near him at all.
“I suppose you’re out for revenge,” he says, and her heart nearly stops.
When she doesn’t answer, he turns to look at her as they’re walking.
“Against whoever managed to wipe out half of all life in the universe?”
“Thanos,” she says. “He was called Thanos. And I already got it.”
“Did it help?”
Yon-Rogg nods without surprise, looking straight ahead again. He still carries himself with a proud posture, and he’s kept himself relatively healthy, if no longer in combat shape. She imagines, for a moment, finding him frail and weak instead, and she realizes that she’s a bit relieved that’s not the case.
They pass under a flowered arbor that feels a little too picturesque for the context.
“Hmm, new blooms,” he comments idly. “They change out the plants to simulate seasons. To help us notice time passing.”
“Wow, where do I apply? Plenty of openings, from what I’ve heard. Hopefully no wait list.”
“There’s that wit I remember.”
Carol stops and looks at him. “Why don’t you cut the shit and tell me why you actually sent for me?”
Yon-Rogg’s mouth curls into an amused smile at that. “I already told you.”
“No, you didn’t. You said you wanted to know if I was still alive. Why?”
“Why did you come, Carol? That’s a far more interesting question.”
Hearing her name in his mouth makes her muscles twitch. If he had used his old nickname for her, she might have broken his nose. Good call not giving her a reason.
“No one else did,” he goes on. “I sent out a few requests. You’re the only visitor so far. Maybe the others are all dust.”
That’s probably bullshit, but it doesn’t matter.
“Honestly,” she lies, “I came because I figured you were dying. And on my home planet, we’re raised to respect the wishes of those with limited time left."
At that, he throws his head back and laughs.
“Now who needs to cut the shit, as you so eloquently put it?” he asks, grinning like a maniac. “You didn’t come here to pay respects to me. Look at you! You have your shiny suit, your powers, your interesting haircut. You wanted me to see , didn’t you? At least a little bit. You wanted to gloat. You won. I know that! I’m stuck in here for good, to rot, and maybe that’s justice. You’re not just free, you’re better than anything I could ever dream of being. I’m well aware of how I look, you know. They let us have mirrors... But it’s alright. My time in the sun is over. Literally. I’m glad life got better for you. Truly. You may not believe me, but I am.”
He regards her for a moment as though he’s letting a profound statement sink in.
“If you’re not going to answer me, I’ll just go.”
At that, his gaze trails off and he stares at nothing for a moment.
“You’ll wish I hadn’t told you,” he says. “But if you insist on knowing, it would be better to show you something first.”
Carol rolls her eyes. “Of course it would. I’m twisting your arm, right?”
He gives her a look she’s seen many times before, like she’s a peculiar puzzle he can’t quite sort out. Only, this time, it’s unsettlingly fond, as if he’s her long lost grandfather.
“It’s down one level,” is all he says in reply, leading the way.
After a short elevator ride, Carol follows Yon-Rogg onto this other floor, which feels choked for air compared to the domed garden above—they’re in a dim corridor with another check-in desk in front of some sort of restricted area.
Yon-Rogg scans his wrist at the door and the lock flashes red.
“No more hours this quarter,” says the guard behind the desk.
“Observation deck only,” he replies.
They’re scanned in without another word.
As they pass through that door into a curved hallway, this one much longer and quieter, Carol feels a pit in her stomach. She’s not even sure why she’s doing this beyond something like morbid curiosity.
On the other side of the curve, she finds herself standing before a panoramic window. Inside is a large cylindrical column spanning what looks like two floors, and it’s covered in semi-transparent pods—hundreds of them—on all sides. A significant number of the pods have people lying inside, and there’s one empty pod in motion. It floats up the cylinder to an empty slot and hovers for a moment before docking in place beside the others identical to it.
“What am I looking at?” she asks.
“This is our sim center,” he responds. “Using the tech here, they take your memories and some other raw data and they can build any new simulation scenario you want. Well, almost any. You get the idea. Fully interactive and immersive. Amazing how real it feels.”
Carol is vaguely familiar with such technology, but hearing about it has never made her want to vomit before. So that’s new and interesting.
“And you’re showing this to me because?”
He faces her. “You’re sure you want to know?”
“No,” she says. “Tell me anyway.”
“I come here as often as I’m allowed, you see. For an escape. I have several sims that I enjoy, constructed from my memories. Of Hala. Of Starforce. Of my family. Of you.”
Carol swallows. She can’t remember ever hearing nervousness in Yon-Rogg’s voice before, but it’s there now. A slight waver.
“I’ve seen you so many times, in there,” he says, gesturing. “A fictional version of you, of course. One who doesn’t hate me. One who ... We’re happy together. When I see you there. After enough time, I felt like I was forgetting the real you. Part of me thought that might be for the best. But then, I thought, what if I could see her again, one last time? In reality. Wouldn't that be something.”
Carol isn’t sure how to process this, so she settles on being pissed off. “Needed some new material?”
“I knew you’d be angry,” he says softly. “I understand why. But no, that wasn’t the reason. The truth is just that … I missed you. I miss all of it. I miss it being real.”
For a second that feels like an eternity, Carol is frozen. Of all the things she thought he might say.
“I think we’re done here,” she says, starting back the way they came.
“Thank you,” he calls after her. “Thank you for coming. I mean that.”
Back in the peaceful solitude of the expanse, Carol looks down on the now-tiny station before she leaves it in her wake forever. She’s not sure if she regrets going. She’s not really sure how to feel about most of what she heard.
We’re happy together, he had said. But what did “happy” even mean to him? Sipping fruity drinks on a beach? Doubtful. She doesn’t want to picture Yon-Rogg’s version of a happy ending.
It doesn’t fucking matter, anyway. He’s the one who will always be clinging to the past. Carol is free.
There was a time when I would have died for you, she thinks as the station vanishes behind her. But living is so much better.