Memories are a Bitch, Aren't They?
Rocket's nimble fingers worked the clasp free on his tobacco pouch. The warm smell of tobacco filled the the room, mixing with the smoke from Aisha's pipe. He pulled free a short stemmed pipe, handcrafted from the Kali tree, which was native to the very planet he was on now. Aisha's eyes grew larger.
“I don't believe it, is that the pipe Alicia made for you? Good Gods, I remember her working on that thing so hard.” Aisha said, choking a little on her smoke.
Rocket jumped at the sudden sound of her voice in the quiet cabin. “Yeah, it sure is. It's the most precious thing I own. I always keep it on me.” Rocket said quietly, as he took a pinch of the finely shaved tobacco and packed it into the bowl of the pipe.
“She was so in love with you Rocket. Whenever she had a moment, she would fill our ears with talk of you.” Aisha chuckled, letting the pipe rest on her bottom lip.
Lifting the pipe stem to his lips, he clenched his teeth around the stem to hold it in place. “Yeah, I know she did. I wish she hadn't left to join the military.”
Aisha had once again slipped into silence, again her age was starting to show. The wave of desperate sadness had returned as before. Rocket sought her out from the corner of his eyes. He'd found the source of the lingering sadness. Not much ever made Aisha sad, but twice in so many moments the sadness had been devastating.
Rocket closed up his tobacco pouch. In a small pocket at the front of the pouch was a device known as a Spark. This one was of his own design, it was so named because when you pushed the button on the side of it, it would shoot a very short laser burst, that would light any kindling, cigarette, or pipe. It was a very old product that was hard to find, and even harder to maintain since he'd customized it himself.
Rocket angled the Spark just right, as he'd done hundreds of times before. There was a soft hum, and a red light hit the packed tobacco causing it to light. He took a long drag from the pipe, until he was comfortable with the glow of the embers. His fingers masterfully worked the smooth wood of the pipe, as if it were second nature to him. The soft wood of the stem lightly caressed his dark lips, pulling him into images of his past. Artemis and his family were always associated with them. Alicia was the reason for some of his favorite memories, as well as his worse.
Aisha sniffled sharply. “You know she's gone now...passed beyond.”
“Yeah, I read about it. Her vessel went supernova after taking a photon blast. Two hundred souls were lost on the U.S.F. Tesla.” Word for word from the article title, he'd kept the old news tablet in his knapsack for years until he'd lost it.
“That's right, Artemis died a little that day. So soon after he'd recovered from her leaving to join the military.” Aisha said, tapping the ashes from her pipe before returning it to her bag.
“Yeah, me too.” Rocket said, clearing his throat.
Aisha chuckled a bit, it wasn't a fun loving chuckle, but more of a snide one. “You didn't just die Rocky, you reverted. You went back to your old ways. Became a thug. You broke Alicia's heart, she tried to contact you every damn day after you left. You ignored her, the last thing she ever said to Artemis before she died, was she wished she could talk to you one more time.”
“Yeah, that's what Arty told me when he contacted me about Artemis. If I had it to do over again, I would, you have to believe me.” Rocket closed his eyes and tried to retain his composure, his temper was pounding in his ears now.
“I sure as hell hope you would. I can see that you're making an effort now. But you have to work harder. My brother doesn't have long for this life. Seeing you succeed would do him a world of good. It might help him get over all the bad blood he's been passing around for you.” Aisha said, waving the smoke from Rocket's pipe out of her face.
“I'm trying...” Rocket said softly as he took another puff off of his pipe.
“What the hell is that tobacco you're smoking? It smells terrible.” Aisha snapped, changing the subject.
“I got it from a place called Earth. I bought it in bulk, and still have so much of it to smoke. I'm not really fond of it.” Rocket said, doing his best to sound sincere and play along with the conversation.
“You could just order from Ar'Leir, I know they ship all over the galaxy now.” Aisha said, nudging him in the side softly.
“I know, but it's so expensive. Being a Guardian doesn't really pay well... or at all for that matter. So I bounty hunt on the side to make my wages. I've not really gotten to do it much recently.” Rocket turned his pipe over and tapped it on the arm of the seat.
Aisha noticed how much care he took with the pipe, it was indeed precious to him. “I'm sorry Rocky, I didn't mean to lose my temper with you. I'm just still having so much trouble dealing with everything going on. After Alicia passed away, things have gone downhill. My two boys have been shipped off to Nova Corps, and I've not heard from them for months. Once Arty took over the farm, he's changed everything. Sure we make more money now than we ever did before, but we're losing our traditional ways. And he's up to no good...”
“What do you mean?” Rocket asked, placing his pipe back into the tobacco pouch.
Aisha sighed deeply, and shook her head the grim look had returned. “It's nothing, don't worry about it. I'm sure Artemis wants to be the one to fill you in on all of this.”
“To make matters worse, Artemis is bedridden now. Arty tells me he has to be quarantined so I can't even go up and see him.” Aisha whispered softly.
“That's terrible, I'm so sorry.” Rocket turned his head to look at her.
Aisha was fumbling with her hands. “No, It's alright now. Arty assured me that after you'd come to see Artemis, then he would work something out with the doctor.”
Rocket didn't say anything, he just leaned back in his seat wearily, the back of his head sinking into the rolled up poncho. After spending so long trying to dodge his past, it was always emotionally draining to deal with it. Alicia and he had been so close, the first woman he'd ever loved. She was the woman who every other woman was stacked up against. Whenever he would hold her, he honestly felt safe. That little boy who was tortured in the lab and abandoned was gone, leaving Rocket as he was meant to be. As much pleasure as she'd poured into his life, she also caused the most pain, and left a hole in his heart larger than possible. When she left, he became empty, angry, and confused.
“Rocky, I've decided to follow in my mother's footsteps. I'm leaving to join the military so I can protect and serve the galaxy.” Alicia said firmly, a light breeze pushed through her dress sending it flowing outward.
“Why? Why do you have to go? What's going to happen to me while you're gone?” Rocket could feel a fire rising inside of him as he slammed the axe head down upon the log he was chopping.
“Rocky, don't be this way. You knew something like this was bound to happen. Remember all the war games we used to play? They weren't games to me. Remember when I told you years ago, that if I could I would join the military just like my mom did. This isn't new. This isn't a phase.” Alicia took a step forward.
Rocket bit his bottom lip and chopped down into the wooden stump, leaving the axe there. “I know, but that was before there was a you and me.”
“There will always be a you and me Rocky. You can come with me, we can fly around the galaxy together. If you like it, we can even get married. Hell, if you want, you can enlist, so we'll always be together.” Alicia hugged herself against the growing evening breeze.
“What about your life right here? Your dad wants you to take over the farm and run it. We can do it together. I don't want leave it behind.” Rocket tucked his hands in his pocket.
Alicia could see that he was withdrawing into himself as he so often did when dealing with emotions and stuff he couldn't control. “My life isn't with the farm. Arty will take over and do what he has to do, for this place. As for leaving this place behind, it won't be like that forever. We'll still come back here every chance we get.”
“I don't think you're being fair, what about my feelings on the matter?” Rocket asked, a childish tone hitting his voice.
“This isn't about you Rocky. This is about wanting to make this galaxy a safer place. Wouldn't you like to be able to say you've made a difference? I know I would.” Alicia spoke softly as she took another step closer to him.
“Screw this galaxy, what has it ever given you? Or me? The only difference I want to make is being with you.” Rocket said softly, trying to draw even further into himself.
If he could, he would just implode into himself like a collapsing star. Maybe even pull her in with him. Rocket knew it was selfish and destructive thinking, but love sometimes meant being selfish and a little destructive. Alicia took another step forward, wrapping her arms around Rocket's middle. She rested her head against his. He was little shorter than her so his face was pressed into her neck. She couldn't tell if he were crying, it was hard to tell from his even breathing. She'd liked to believe he was. Some other emotion other than anger. Her father had warned her about getting involved with someone who was “damaged”, she believed that Rocket was worth that risk. Now she had to deal with him the only way she could. Tenderness was what he needed most of all.
“I'm not leaving you Rocket, I'm just growing up. Growing up for both of us, so we can have some semblance of a future together, a happy life.” Alicia whispered softly in his ear.
“I know. I'm sorry, I can be so selfish sometimes.” Rocket believed he understood, but still felt terrible inside.
“It's alright, we all can be selfish sometimes, it's what makes us different from fish or beast.” Alicia rubbed his back slowly.
“I just want you to know that I'm not fine with this, and it'll take me a long time to be fine with it. I will try though, I promise. When do you leave for training?” Rocket gave her a soft kiss to her throat.
“I don't expect you to be fine with it. But I know you're strong so you will overcome it. I will be leaving in two weeks.” Alicia stepped back so she could see his eye, he had been crying, she could see it now.
“Alright then, lets make the best out of these last two weeks together. Starting tomorrow of course, we should get back before your dad worries.” Rocket said taking a few steps away, only to feel her pull him back.
“Not yet, I want to give you something first.” Alicia pulled Rocket back into her and they kissed deeply.
It had been the first real kiss he'd ever had. It was clumsy to say the least, neither of them had ever done it before. But her lips were warm against his, it was a feeling that he couldn't explain, but secretly yearned for. A feeling he wanted to get use to. Alicia wanted it too, she wanted to make him happy, make him feel safe.
The kiss lasted only a few seconds, but it felt like so much longer. When they pulled away, both of them shared the same shocking cold feeling on their lips.
Unfortunately the next two weeks passed in a blur. Rocket and Alicia had shared so much with one another. Feelings that they felt for one another. They had a life time to talk about it before. But now that she was going away. It felt like time was short and so much to say. Alicia had urged him to open up to her, not that she foresaw anything bad happening, but nothing was for certain. Even he understood that the likelihood of something happening was slim, but he didn't want to miss anything.
Gifts were exchanged between them. Items that were precious and would always be carried on their person. Alicia had made him the pipe with her own two hands. It was clumsily crafted which was part of the charm. Despite that it was sturdy and beautiful. Rocket had made her a tiny holographic projector. It was about the size of an Earth USB drive. Rocket had loaded it down with pictures of her family, pictures of him. So that no matter where she went, she would always have her family with her.
On the last night, Alicia had given him something else. Something special, something he would never forget. It was a precious gift that a lover could only give once. They both admitted with shy giggles, that it sounded so cheesy being talked about like that. But they both believe it, more than anything else.
The intimate moments they had shared were like something from a movie or a novel, except more clumsy and inexperienced. They had shared a few laughs at their own inexperienced expenses, but the heart was still there. Rocket had fallen asleep in her arms, clinging to her. Hoping, as he drifted to sleep, that if he could hold her tightly enough, he could keep her from leaving. Still somehow she'd managed to escape into the night, leaving behind a note.
Rocket woke up feeling a cold emptiness, much the same as he thought he would. He cried a little, did his best to overcome it. Then he got up and went outside to start his morning chores. He never opened the note, he'd just squirreled it away in his underwear drawer for a rainy day. As much as he wanted to open it, he was more afraid of what the letter had to say. For six long weeks he worked his fingers to the bone. Putting away ever ounce of units Artemis paid him.
Artemis wasn't a fool, he could see how bad Rocket was suffering. Their pains were a mirror images of one another. Artemis had felt the same way when Alicia's mother joined the military. So many times he tried to reach out to Rocket to tell him everything was going to be okay. To stay strong, that Alicia was going to return, and everything would be better. But Rocket withdrew further and further away. Artemis felt as if he were losing two children instead of just one. It was sad, but Aisha reassured Artemis that it was something Rocket had to go through. That it would make him stronger for Alicia and for himself. So Artemis let the lad carry his burden, hopefully Aisha was right and it would strengthen him in the end.
Then one day Alicia came home. Just as Rocket had been so worried about, she was different. Not a little girl anymore, but a woman. Rocket could see it from the shadow of the front door when she climbed out of the tram. The way she walked, her head held high and her back straight. She wasn't his Alicia anymore. It was hard to take in at first. But then he felt the crack move through his heart. He felt like he couldn't breath, that his legs would give out at any moment. He felt weak, as weak as he felt when he climb out of that pod ten years prior, naked and alone. The distance he'd been working on since she left was now all around him. She was closer to him that she'd been in six weeks, but further away than she's been in years. The note he'd saved, he knew now what it said even without opening it.
Alicia stepped through the door into the entry way. From head to toe, she shined with pride. Her crisp navy blue dress uniform demanded respect. The black beret cocked slightly to the side covering her right eyebrow. Those deep green eyes, were well known for piercing the hardest of hearts. They'd pierced Rocket's heart more times than he would have admitted. But now those eyes were filled with something more, something strong and fierce. Artemis choked up when he saw her. A grown man that had offered only strength and stability to Rocket was now shrinking into the soft old man he may have always been. The anger was growing inside of him.
Aisha wrapped her arms around her brother, offering him a shoulder to cry on in this hour of need. Arty was the first to move, not in sadness, but in pride for his sister's brass behavior. He stepped forward and gave her a strong salute, which she returned, giving him a smile. Then a handshake that melted into a hug.
“Mom would have been so proud of you, sis.” His voice echoed in Rocket's mind.
“I know she would have.” Alicia's beautiful voice filled Rocket's ears, stinging his brain and threatening to weaken the wall he'd put up.
“Hello Rocky, it's so nice to see you again. I missed you so much.” Alicia dropped her duffel bag at her feet and looked at him, still standing there in all her glory.
Rocket couldn't believe his inability to react to her. This wasn't news to him, she'd told him two months ago that she was going off for training. That if she succeeded, she would become part of the military and work to protect their planet and many others, just like her mom had done before her. Rocket still stood their with a dumb struck look on his face. Instead of saying something, he slowly turned and walked away.
That night Rocket filled a bag with all of his belongings, some food, some water, and all the units he'd been saving from Artemis. The last thing he'd grabbed on his way out was the still unopened letter that she'd wrote. In the dead of night he left, and caught the tram to the station. Once there, he bartered with the first pilot he came across. It didn't cost him much, and he was sure to learn something new. Either way, his only wish was to disappear, much the same way that Alicia had done that night.
Less then a year later Alicia had died. How, wasn't as important anymore. What was important was that she died aboard her military vessel. All Rocket could think was that if she would have stayed at home and not joined the military. They would have been together, and she would have been alive. A terrible thought, for sure. In a way he was just looking for someone to blame for the whole thing. Did he think that she was responsible? If so, it was a tragedy, but the fact that he carried around the letter that she wrote still unopened said otherwise.