Two weeks out from Xandar, Gamora starts to suspect that she may have been hasty in appointing Quill as their Fearless Leader.
In hindsight, she should have seen this coming. She blames her momentary lapse in judgment on the multiple concussions she's sustained. That and the temporary euphoria caused by surviving a spaceship crash, bringing down a crazy warlord, and briefly channeling one fourth of an infinitely destructive power through the palm of her hand.
But it's been weeks now; the ringing in her ears is almost gone, the peripheral vision in her right eye is back to full range, and she's stopped randomly smiling at things and people for no apparent reason. With her returning senses, the flaw in her plan is becoming increasingly apparent.
As far as Gamora can tell, over the past two weeks, Quill has:
- committed the entirety of his mother's Awesome Mix Volume 2 to memory;
- committed the entirety of his mother's Awesome Mix Volume 2 to everyone else's memory;
- gotten into more than dozen fights with Rocket over the volume Quill finds appropriate for blasting his mother’s Awesome Mix Volume 2;
- gotten into more than a dozen arguments with Drax over various songs found on his mother's Awesome Mix Volume 2, the latest of which involved Drax explaining to him that lyrics don't cross over all that well through the universal translator, and that, no, Cathode Ray Tube Television Systems Killed the Wireless Transmission of Electromagnetic Waves Star is not an especially catchy title;
- failed to persuade Gamora to dance with him to his mother’s Awesome Mix Volume 2 (she might have caught herself moving her hips along to Walking on the Moon, once or twice, but only when no one was looking);
- most recently, decided to undertake Groot's language reeducation, through his mother's Awesome Mix Volume 2
- in short, failed to produce anything good, bad, or any combination of the two not directly associated with his mother's Awesome Mix Volume 2.
It has been a very trying fortnight.
Quill is currently crouched in front of Groot's pot, which is resting precariously close to the edge of the mess table. He is singing along to a man called Pink Floyd, who is expounding —through the ship's brand new, state of the art and extremely loud sound system— the virtues of possessing large amounts of--
"MONEY!!!!" Quill yells, leaning so close to Groot his eyes are crossed. "GET BACK!!! I'M ALL RIGHT JACK KEEP YOUR HANDS OFF MYYYYYYY STACK. Come on, Groot, sing it!"
The singing is accompanied by what Gamora assumes is a traditional Terran dance, in which the dancer pretends to scratch a terrible itch somewhere around their crotch, complete with full-body twisting and turning, and agonized facial expressions. Quill calls it Air Guitar.
Not for the first time, Gamora is hit by the fond memory of her brief spacewalk above Nowhere. She never thought she would miss the silence and stillness of interstellar vacuum.
She looks around the room at Drax, who is gazing sightlessly at the neat row of overly-sharpened throwing knives laid out in front of him at the other end of the table, and Rocket —on the floor, surrounded by a mountain of spare parts higher than he is and sporting a pair of gigantic, industrial grade ear-protectors. Gamora would bet good money she's not the only one currently rethinking her life and her choices.
She sinks a little lower into her makeshift seat at the far end of the mess. The seat is nothing more than laundry bags —most of which, inexplicably, belong to Drax— but it's the furthest point in the room from Quill's antics. She lowers her gaze to the tablet in her hand. Trying to tune out the Terran’s racket, she scrolls down the brightly coloured display.
Xandar Fashion Week to be held despite damage to convention center. Event to go for "Post-Apocalyptic Look"
Royal Virgin Birth! The Magestrix of the Shi'ar Confesses: There Was No Father"
*scroll, scroll, scroll*
A Wedding of Epic Proportions: Entire Party Transformed into Horses, Loki Prime Suspect
Spending every morning going through the pit of despair that is the Nova Mail's Breaking News live feed is not exactly how Gamora pictured this whole Guardian of the Galaxy endeavor working. But it turns out that Quill's idea of 'leading' a group of ex-cons with dubious morals and an assortment of very short fuses is to "wait until something interesting and/or terrible happens, then, depending on the likelihood of success and/or monetary reward, run towards or away from the thing in question."
This is, theoretically, not the worst plan Quill has come up with. It has worked fairly well for them so far. The problem, Gamora is only now realizing, is twofold.
1) This plan relies on the underlying assumption that interesting and/or terrible things *will happen*.
It apparently never crossed Quill's mind that terrible things might *not* happen, and Gamora admits she can't exactly fault him for it. There is, after all, overwhelming evidence that each member of their group is extraordinarily skilled at attracting attention.
But it turns out that having your names cleared by the most powerful police force in the quadrant tends to lessen the number of people interested in messing with you. In the past two weeks, no vengeful parental figure, no shadowy organization looking for payment, not even one jilted lover has made contact. In the total absence of any mission, the second, entirely more unbearable part of the problem with Quill's plan has come to light, mainly that:
2) Quill is completely, absolutely, abysmally terrible at downtime.
"MONEEEEYYYYYY," the man in question belts out again, startling Gamora out of her dark musings. She looks up from the screen currently displaying a very distressed-looking mare in full Vanaheim nuptial regalia.
The only member of the crew that seems unfazed by the onslaught of Peter Quill's boredom is its current victim. Groot is swaying his trunk in time with the beat, smiling evenly. He mostly seems interested by Quill's nose, which he is attempting to grab every time Quill' face comes close enough. "SHARE IT FAIRLY BUT DON'T TAKE A SLICE OF MY PIE," Quill continues, over-enunciating each word for Groot's benefit. "MONEYYYYYY, SO THEY SAY."
Gamora thinks idly of force-feeding him his damned reward, one Unit bill at the time.
Drax seems to be having similarly murderous thoughts, as he suddenly slams a fist on the table, sending knives and treepot rattling. "Peter Quill," he growls, "your incessant yammering is weakening the structural integrity of my patience, if my patience were personified by a piece of fabric, or perhaps a sheet of ice resting upon a freezing body of water."
Quill's eyes barely leave Groot. "You just keep on working on those metaphors, big guy. You'll get there, eventually." He goes on, "BUT IF YOU ASK FOR A RISE IT'S NO SURPRISE THAT THEY'RE GIVING NONE AWAY, AWAY. AWAAAAAAAY, AWAY. AWAY."
The air guitar gradually comes to a rest as the song fades out. "Anyway, I am conducting an important experiment here," Quill says finally, getting up from his awkward crouch."Infancy is a crucial stage in language acquisition, Drax. Groot here is getting a second chance to expand his previously limited vocabulary."
"Quill, you do realize he's just tiny, not actually de-aged," Rocket says from behind his mountain of junk, having taken his earmuffs off in the temporary quiet.
"Whatever, dude," Quill says dismissively. "His vocabulary increased by like, 66% since the first time we met. I have a plan! You'll have all noticed I've chosen a song that falls right into Groot's interests." Quill smiles winningly. He turns back to face the table. "Hey Groot, how do you feel about The Flying Lizards next?"
"Oh fucking hell," Rocket groans. "All right, that's it. Give him here." He rises to reach the table, which prompts Quill to lift Groot off, hands above his head and dangerously tipping the pot sideways. "What are you playing at, you moron!" Rocket yells as he jumps on the table, arms outstretched.
Drax, rounding the table to step behind Quill, mercifully rescues the pot in time to avoid Groot crashing into the bulkhead above. "I will protect you, my temporarily miniaturized friend," he says, cradling the pot in one arm as he steps backwards, batting away at Quill's flailing arms and bumping violently into the table. Rocket goes flying through the air, as a symphony of clanging daggers fall to the ground.
Gamora has the suspicion that no biotechnical enhancement will keep away the impending tension headache she feels lurking behind her eyes. She gets up and makes a measured tactical retreat to the cockpit as Quill's verbal diarrhea continues. "Hey, hey, wait, does that mean Groot is technically a Bonsai, now? Hey, Groot, are you—get off my arm, you vermin—"
The sound cuts off as the doors slide blessedly closed, and Gamora sits down into the pilot's seat with a sigh.
She takes a second to close her eyes and slowly massage her temples, before turning her tablet back on. Someone, somewhere in this entire galaxy must have some use for three lethal warriors, a faithful office plant (and recovering fourth lethal warrior) and a walking, talking soundtrack.
Heimdall Elected Sexiest Man Alive for the 328th Year Running
*scroll, scroll, scroll*
Thanos' Newest Daughter: Has our Noblest Overlord Reached the Bottom of the Barrel?
Gamora's eyes glaze over the words.
She hasn't let herself think about Thanos since Ronan's demise. Nor has she let herself think of her confrontation with Nebula, or the uncertain accounts of her fate. She hasn't survived this long, or stayed this (relatively) sane by cultivating a habit for introspection, or dwelling in the past. She doesn't intend to start now.
She's not kidding herself by thinking this new adventure is a ticket to redemption. Regardless of what magic trick the Nova Corps performed on her criminal record, Gamora knows that won’t mean much to the people who were ready to cut her throat back at the Kyln, or the countless others across the Galaxy who would give anything for a chance to do the same.
This is... a change in direction. A new purpose so she can set aside the old one, if only for a little while. One day, in the privacy of her mind, she'll revisit those few instants when there was nothing between her and the coldness of space, and she'll let herself feel grief, and horror, and shame.
In the meantime, the one thing she can't bear feeling any longer is useless.
A new headline appears on her tablet's screen and Gamora blinks her eyelids rapidly over dry eyes.
Sisterhood of Badoon Calling for Intergalactic Intervention Against Returning Brotherhood Assailants: "Those Useless Thugs Can Go Lay Their Own Damn Eggs Elsewhere, If They Want Sons So Badly," Says Queen Aladi No Eke
Gamora swipes at the screen to display the full article.
The Sisterhood is a peaceful society with very little in terms of planetary defenses. And the Brotherhood... well. Gamora remembers them well enough through the ruins of her homeworld.
Those are, objectively, terrible odds.
She enters Lotiara's coordinates into the navigator in front of her. It's a two days journey if they change course now. She can probably survive two more days of Quill's singing. Maybe. They can sedate Drax, if necessary.
The door behind her slides open.
"Why is it that every time I come in here, you're in my chair," Quill's voice says.
"Who said this was your chair?" Gamora replies without lifting her eyes from the navigator. "This isn't really your ship, technically."
"Excuse me!" Quill splutters, coming closer.
"Gamora is correct," says Drax, moving in from behind Quill and taking his usual, unchallenged seat at the back of the cockpit. "Apart from your infernal sound machine, there was very little to salvage from the wreckage of your vessel. The Nova Corps rebuilt it and gave it to the Guardians of the Galaxy, not Peter Quill alone."
"And don't even think about christening it the way you did the original model," Rocket says as he pushes past an indignant Quill, Groot's pot held carefully level in front of him. "No calling dibs with bodily fluids, you animal."
"Pfffffffffttt!" Quill splutters. "Oh yeah? Well how do you know I didn't already, huh?" He ambles over to lay an arm over Gamora's headrest.
"If you did," Gamora says, turning to look up at him just in time to catch the most exaggerated wink possible, "the inside of this ship would be painted with your innards, and I would still be sitting in this chair." She gives him the widest, toothiest smile she can muster.
Before Quill can respond, the highest-pitched, gentlest sigh Gamora has ever heard comes in from her right.
"Aaaaahhhhh," says Groot.
All eyes turn to the pot resting between Rocket's legs, where Groot is beaming up at the starry sky above their heads, arms stretching out.
"Aaaaaayyyyyyy," Groot says again, tiny, smiling mouth stretching around the sound, arms flailing around to grab the edge of the pot, lower body wiggling around in the earth.
Gamora catches herself holding her breath along with her comrades, leaning closer.
"Aaaaaaaiiiii," Groot goes again, as Quill start's muttering cmon, cmon, cmonnnn under his breath.
"Aaaaiiiiiii am Groot!" Groot says, triumphantly, and with a final push, uproots two wobbly wooden legs from the earh.
"Buddy!" cries Rocket. "Friend!" booms Drax.
"Aw maaaan..." Quill whines, slumping against Gamora's chair. "Here he goes again."
"I am *Groot*!" Groot replies, indignant, tiny hand bumping his chest emphatically.
"Huh," says Rocket, "well, that's different."
"No it's not!" Quill carries on, pouting. "All those efforts wasted. I was really hoping Stevie Wonder would stick, at least."
"I meant her, moron," Rocket says, pointing at Groot, who is climbing over the edge of the pot and reaching for Rocket's waiting arms. "She's changing things up!"
"Come again?" says Quill.
"I am Groot," Groot confirms, fingers in Rocket's fur, making her way to one shoulder, then the other, before grabbing onto one of Rocket's ears to climb up and make herself comfortable on the top of his head.
Rocket is apparently too happy to talk to his friend again to protest the indignity. "Groot is monoecious. If she wants to redefine how concepts barely relevant to her species and imposed by crappy and biased universal translators apply to her, it's really her prerogative."
"That makes like, negative amounts of sense, dude," says Quill in disbelief.
"Peter Quill, I believe your statement is grammatically and mathematically impossible," Drax points out.
"Yeah, well so's his!" Quill exclaims, waving a hand at Rocket.
"It means members of her species are both male and female simultaneously,” Gamora cuts in. “Or more accurately, they are neither. It’s not that unusual for them to change gender expression throughout their lives.” She smiles at her, “It's good to have you back with us, Groot." She means it.
She straightens up and turns to Quill slightly, as she continues, "You'll be happy to know I think I've found our next destination."
"Why do we need a destination," Quill asks. "We've been doing fine up until now!"
Gamora ignores this. "The Queen of Lotiara is making a stand against the Brotherhood of Badoon," she explains.
There is a beat of silence. "Well that's an even dumber plan than anything Quill has come up with so far," Rockey says, finally, a trace of admiration in his voice.
"I disagree," says Drax. "They will know the end of true warriors. Their demise will be remembered and their brave and noble stand celebrated for ages to come."
"I am Groot," Groot adds, dubiously.
"Gimme that," Quill says, taking the tablet from Gamora's hand. "Woah, check out the Queen's press secretary," he says with a smile, scrolling down the article. "So the planet has an entirely female population, huh?" Quill asks innocently.
Gamora freezes. She might not have thought this thing through.
"Yeah, and their entirely male counterparts are a bloodthirsty horde of intergalactic conquerors," Rocket points out, but the resolve is slipping from his voice, as Quill turns a mischievous and utterly ridiculous smile on each of them.
"The presence of the Mighty Guardians of the Galaxy should put the fear of the Gods in their faithless hearts," says Drax, with growing confidence.
"Anything in there about a reward for services rendered?" Rocket asks, grudgingly.
"I am Groot!" Groot insists from her perch.
And maybe this is what Gamora's concussed, euphoric past self was thinking when she elected Quill as their figurehead. He'll make her bad ideas palatable, and together, the five of them will make them work.
Gamora gets up from the pilot's chair, smiling at Quill as he moves past her eagerly. For the moment, her work is done.
She looks up at the stars as Quill sets up their course. They have two days to come up with a plan. That's much more than they had the last time around. Already, she makes a mental note to keep an eye out for Quill and that press secretary, to try and keep the diplomatic incidents to a minimum.
"Hey, does that mean Groot's gonna grow boobs now?" Quill asks, as the stars above blur into the oblivion of hyperspace.
All right, two eyes, then.