You Can Leave, but It'll Never Leave You.
“This is Star Speeder X-23, requesting a docking bay to land, over.” Rocket called out through the headset.
The flight had gone off without so much as a hitch, with the exception of the flight being much longer than he'd expected it would have been. Rocket had predicted to be there the day before, but things had gotten a little out of hand at the last rest stop he'd made. The real problem he lamented now was spending the night in the drunk tank, but there was little he could do about that fact now. The good thing was that he'd had enough credits to make his own bail. Which he was told was forbidden, but when he made the offer to the right guard, he was set free shortly.
“This is Ar'Leir ground crew, we are running your vehicle's information through the system right this second, we should have an opening for you in no time. Please stand by and if you could stay clears of the freight flight path. We are uploading those coordinates to you as we speak. Lastly there will be a customs officer waiting for you when you land, he just wants to make sure you're not bringing anything dangerous onto the planet. Do you copy?” Rocket could tell that the person he was speaking with, wasn't overly excited about his job, but had all of his schtick well rehearsed to make it sound like he cared.
“I copy, just let me know as soon as there is an opening, over.” Rocket leaned back into his seat feeling his eyes growing heavy, soon he would be at the Thoke farm and with his friend.
Artemis Dagon was a friend from long ago. Friend may have even been to informal of a word. Teacher, mentor, and father would have been more accurate. Rocket had not even been a teen when he had first met the older gentleman. He'd gotten into some serious trouble when he was a kid and in lieu of jail time. He was spared at such a young age and was turned over to Artemis to work on his farm for the summer. It had been a tough summer, but he'd learned so much. Artemis was a fair master, but didn't allow for much wiggle room with the rules. Along with following the rules, he also expected his kids, as well as Rocket to do lessons every morning before they headed out to do their chores.
Rocket jumped at the sudden static in his ear from his headset. “Star Speeder X-23, this is Ar'Leir ground crew, you've been cleared to land at Docking Platform M9, we're sending you coordinates right now. Welcome to Planet Ar'Leir, please be on your best behavior, over.”
“I read you, over and out.” Rocket said through his clenched teeth, clasping the flight controls and pushed them forward, sending the ship rocketing onward.
The small cockpit came to life with a soft blip from his helm console, letting Rocket know that he was getting too close to the freight flight path. Time for rendezvousing with his friend was growing short. He thought he should just cut across the flight path and be on his way. He was well aware that it would be faster to cut across the flight path, bringing too much attention to himself might add some unnecessary delay to his time. It was almost a guarantee since the customs officer would be waiting for him to land. It was hard for him to admit, but he was going to have to play nice right at this moment.
He pulled back on the flight controls, they responded with ease and his Speeder moved effortlessly around the freight flight path. His reward for playing nice was the annoying blip from his helm went away. It would have to do, he though. Quickly he was back on course and in less then ten minutes he would be on the ground and on his way to the Thoke farm.
The speeder glided in with ease and lowered down to a gentle landing on the rather small platform. No doubt these platforms were reserved for the smaller vessels, and lower income travelers. Rocket didn't mind it much, it was a better way to stay incognito. Not that he was hiding from anyone, but he sure didn't want to run into anymore trouble than he already had.
Rocket powered down his speeder, before retrieving the Signature card key from the console. Nothing worse than someone stealing his vehicle, leaving him stranded on this planet. Besides there was no telling how long it would take Peter Quill to come and rescue him. Not to mention, he no longer had any credits left for lodging. Rocket reached behind his seat and pulled an old gray poncho out, throwing it over his head and across his narrow shoulders. This would do a good job covering up his Guardian uniform, it only did so much to comfort him. Everything about who he was, made him stick out like a sore thumb.
With one final check of his person to make sure he had everything before opening the cockpit, and sliding down to the ground. He reached back to grab his duffel bag, throwing it across his shoulders. It wasn't that heavy, thank goodness, nothing worse than carrying a heavy bag all over hell's highway. He pushed the red button just inside hatch to the cockpit, and watched it close and lock tight.
Rocket rounded his ship, he could already see the customs officer standing by the platform to receive him. A tall gaunt man, that looked like he'd seen better days. His gray eyes had no reflection of a personality. It took Rocket a second to figure out whether or not the person was real or a robot. If he had been a robot, it wouldn't have surprise Rocket one bit. A lot of customs officers were just machines that you sent your stuff through to get scanned. Rocket reached into his breast pocket under his poncho and pulled out a clear plastic card.
The customs officer didn't miss a beat. He reached down, took the card and scanned it with a little hand held device. The device let out a soft bleep. Rocket's lips grew tightly along his sharp teeth. The customs officer pursed his lips and sneered, showing rows of sharp yellow teeth. He pushed the scan button again, and there was another soft bleep. Rocket felt his muscle tense in his legs. He didn't want to have to cause harm to this fellow, but if he had too, he would do it in a heartbeat.
“This damn thing has been giving me the business all day. I miss the old scanners they use to have.” The guys voice was freakishly deep, to the point that Rocket jumped a bit when he heard it.
“Technology am I right?” Rocket said with a forced chuckle, his fingers finding the handle of his knife under his poncho.
The customs officer scanned the card once again and was rewarded with a chime this time. “There you go, Mr. Johnson. Sorry for the inconvenience.”
Rocket let out a long quiet sigh and let the handle of his knife slip from his fingers. “Please call me Slim.” Rocket shifted to loosen the tense quivering in his legs.
“Certainly Slim, here is your card back. I have to scan you now, and then you can be on your way. Are you carrying any weapons?” The customs officer handed Rocket back his card and started punching some numbers in on his scanner.
“I have a standard blaster in my duffel bag, and a dagger in a sheath on my back. They're just for protection.” Rocket cleared his throat, he'd bought the blaster off of the black market, it was registered to his Johnson alias. The dagger had been his for years.
“I understand. You can't be too careful in this galaxy of ours anymore. Pirates and what not are always out there trying to make a quick buck on the unprepared.” The customs officer chuckled as he started scanning the bag.
At first the look of the customs officer had been so misleading, but now he seemed to be a very nice guy. Rocket thought about how nice it was that everything was going smoothly for a change. It was a pleasant surprise to be sure.
“Alright everything check out Mr. Johnson, Slim. Welcome to the capital city Cenvogue, the pride and joy of Planet Ar'Leir.” The customs officer gave a very ridged smile, before turning and walking back up walkway to the station door.
“Hey. what tram do I take to get to the Thoke farms?” Rocket called as he started along the walkway after him.
“Take Tram G. It has private cabins, and shouldn't take you longer than an hour to get to the farms.” The customs officer called out behind him, before stepping through the doors and disappearing.
“Tram G...sounds perfect, thanks.” Rocket said quietly as he picked up his pace a bit.
The station was hustling and bustling, it seemed to be the main hub of merchants, students, upper class and lower class folks alike. Much of the alien lifeforms in the building were Ar'Leirian natives. Ar'Leirian's resemblance to Earth's Otters was amazing. The main differences were that they could vocalize, walk upright, and functioned much the same as Rocket did. They had a very rich history not unlike Earthlings. They joined the Galactic Civilization Council shortly after it had been founded and still remained a strong presents. One that valued peace and prosperity. They had been one of the first races to set up trade route all over the galaxy. Spices, tobacco, and homemade craftsmanship was some of the most popular things they exported. All in all Rocket found them to be quite an impressive race.
Unfortunately with time many had given up their traditions and joined the rest of the universe in the day to day norm. Their once beautiful garbs and handmade tools had been surrendered for more affordable mass produced crap that was being shipped in from off world. He remembered his friend Artemis wore clothes that had only been made by his wife, even his work clothes. The same went for his children. He couldn't help but wonder if that had changed as well.
Once Artemis's oldest son had brought home a pair of denim overalls to wear in the fields while he worked. Artemis had made him remove every stitch from the fabric, breaking it down into individual piece. Then made him sew it back together, just to show him how difficult it was. Lastly he paid his son nothing for the work that he'd done. The lesson was clear, he told his son that was how much the workers in the factory that made the overalls got paid to make them.
It was a strict lesson, but one he hoped the boy learned and held onto for all these years. Rocket moved around the crowd easily, making sure to keep his eyes out for pickpockets. It was only common knowledge that this was a perfect place for thieves to hide out. Rocket was a firm believer in stealing to get a hot meal was alright once and awhile, but he had a lot less credits now than he'd had before. Rocket moved around a large group of people and jumped up onto a bench looking through the crowds. Tram G was right up ahead. It looked as though there were still passengers waiting to ride, which was a good sign, it meant he hadn't already missed the tram.
Rocket jumped down and moved through the field of legs. The Ar'Leirians were the only other ones close to his size. It was good to see that so many merchants made their way to this planet. Maybe he would have to borrow some money from Peter Quill and go shopping before he left, maybe even get some gifts for his friends back home. A hand moved up behind him and pulled on his poncho, bringing him back to his senses. He snatched around, coming eye to eye with an older Ar'Leirian woman, someone who looked so familiar to him. For a moment he couldn't believe it, but he eased into a warm hug with the heavy set woman.
“Aisha! It's been like a million years.” Rocket said, it felt like he had stepped into a time warp and was transferred back to when he was a much younger man.
“Rocky, you beautiful boy. Where have you been? We were expecting you yesterday. My brother is overjoyed to see you again.” The woman moved up taking his arm, leading him along the way to tram G.
Rocket staggered along after her, trying to match her pace. Roughly she pushed through the people on the platform as she went on her merry way. She was a large woman even for her race and was known for being rude to strangers. It was just who she was, she'd always been that way for as long as Rocket had known her. It was only one of many reasons Rocket liked her.
“I'm sorry about that Aisha, I got detained at the last rest stop. I wish I could have been here sooner.” Rocket explained as he finally got his feet under him.
“Oh I know, I saw it all over the news this morning.” Aisha laughed heartily.
“Damn, you saw that? I thought you guys didn't have televisions.” Rocket stopped abruptly, bumping into Aisha who had also stopped before the ticket taker.
Aisha looked him in the eye and nodded. “Things at home have changed a lot since Arty...er Artemis Jr. took over.”
“Arty's in charge, that must have been pretty hard on Artemis.” Rocket said fearing the worst.
“Yes. Listen this really isn't the place to discuss this right now, lets get on the tram and I'll fill you in on the way home.” Aisha said stepping up to the ticket taker at the podium.
“Home.” Rocket said quietly.
Thoke farms had been his home for several years, until he moved away to the Keystone Quadrant. Even that didn't feel as much like home as this place did. Rocket was brought out of his memory by the sound of Aisha's boisterous laughter. Then before he could react, she pulled him onto the tram. Aisha pulled him along while she talked. Rocket couldn't make out what she was saying over the shuffling of his poncho against his uniform. He was once again struggling to regain his footing. The woman was a haus for sure and wasn't afraid to let people know it. They'd passed several open doors before stopping in front of cabin twelve. Aisha moved so Rocket could get in first.
“Hurry and get yourself comfortable boy, because there won't be much room in there once I get my rump in the seat.” Aisha chided playfully.
Rocket could barely stifle his laughter as he pulled the duffel bag off his back and slid it under his seat. Then he pulled his poncho off and rolled it into a makeshift pillow, dropping it onto the back of the seat. Quickly he turned around and sat down in the seat getting comfortable. The seats were much softer than the ones in his speeder. His back was definitely loving it.
“Alright Rocky, I'm coming in ready or not.” Aisha said moving through the doors, closing them behind her.
Just as she'd said, the room got much smaller when she entered. Surely she'd been exaggeration at just how small it was going too get once she was in. She sat down in the seat next to Rocket, wincing at how tight the armrests were around her posterior, With a quick adjustment, she pulled the other armrest up into the seat giving herself more room for comfort.
“Whew that was a tight fit, this body ain't what it use to be. Ten years ago I was quite the looker.” Aisha chuckled softly nudging Rocket in his side.
Rocket smiled, trying hard not to give away the fact that he was laughing internally. Aisha had always been a big woman, even more so now than before. She used to remark that a woman couldn't be a proper mother if she didn't have handles for her kids to latch onto. Aisha turned and looked at Rocket, while she was digging through her shoulder bag.
“Speaking of quite the looker. You've become quite the sexy little thing. Look at you all dapper in your uniform. So did they give you that for being one of them Protectors of the Universe.” There was a playful tone in her voice, she was definitely as spry as she always had been.
“Guardians of the Galaxy...” Rocket corrected her while straightening his shirt a bit. “Yeah isn't it nice. They're actually Nova uniforms refashioned for the team to wear.”
“Fancy, fancy! I can't believe bad ass Rocket Raccoon became a cop.” Aisha pulled an old fabric tobacco pouch and a long stemmed pipe out of her bag.
“Yeah isn't that swell. In truth I did it to make you all proud of me.” Rocket looked up at her and smirked.
“We were always proud of you Rocky. You weren't a bad kid, just a lonely one.” Aisha packed some of her sweet smelling tobacco into her pouch.
Rocket closed his eyes as the scent tickled his nose. Everything came back to him in a rush. It was a simple snatch and grab operation. He just needed to get some food for the week. It had been shortly after he'd escaped the laboratory. Escaped being a strong word, he'd actually blew it up while he was fleeing. Lucky for him the escape pod had brought him to Convogue. Any other planet in the Galaxy would have been worse by far. Not even ten years old and abandoned on the streets. What is a child of ten suppose to do, especially one that didn't have a mother or a father. In a way the scientists who created him were his parents, but they had been far more cruel than any parent should be. Luckily they'd taught him just enough to survive on his own.
He'd made a life for himself ducking into abandoned apartments, stealing whatever he needed to survive. On several occasions when the law enforcement did catch him, he managed to escape. Rocket didn't want to end up in an orphanage, he'd heard too many other kids talk about how terrible a place it was to end up. He would find his way on the streets if he had to.
One day he'd met a man named Miserable Mike, a bum that lived a few blocks away. Mike was a good enough sort and helped the other gutter kids when they needed it. Of course nothing was for free. Rocket had been having a terrible few days without being able to get some food. Mike had promised to take him in. All he had to do was steal some food from the local markets delivery truck. Just enough for a week. It was an easy job, Mike had said. Rocket had shoplifted before, but never anything that large, but Rocket's options were limited. He was starving and it was getting awfully cold on the streets at night. Rocket hadn't even made it to the back of the truck when he was caught. All they had to do was close the doors and wait for the law enforcers to arrive. They had been nice enough, sympathetic to his young age, but they still had to do their jobs.
The judge was fair, spend your summer on the Thoke farm he'd said, free room and board. All he had to do is was follow the rules and work as hard as he could. It seemed fair. Rocket took a deep breath and shuffled his feet along the cold metal mesh floor. Aisha reached over, resting her hand on Rocket's knee. Rocket snatched awake and looked into Aisha's eyes.
“Where you at honey?” There it was, that mothering tone he use to know.
“I dunno, there's just something about this planet. The smell, the sound of your voice. I can't help but fall into memories that I've locked away for long time.” Rocket hadn't even noticed that the tram had left the station until just then, he reached down and dug through the pocket at his thigh for his pipe bag.
Aisha took a long drag off of her pipe and blew it up into the vent system. “That how it is here Rocky. This place has a way of doing that to people.” There was a long lingering sadness in her voice.
Rocket took a long moment to study her face. It was the first time since they'd met back at the station that he realized that she was much older now than before. Not just in numbers, but in problems and worries. Aisha did so well when it came to hiding it, but now there was something wrong. Rocket wanted to know, he felt like he had to know. He ran through all the things he could say to start up the conversation. It seemed that time had slowed down, just for this moment. Everything was deathly quiet. What could he say?