In which Kraglin thinks running away from home to become a space pirate is an excellent decision.
Only thing worse than first night in prison? First night on a Ravager ship.
Kraglin, who has had the misfortune to suffer both, believes himself to be in an optimum position to make this comparison. Alright, so it hadn't been a bad prison – not by the galaxy's standards. It was no Kyln, that was for sure. But it had been dark-lit and starkly decorated, all bare steel walls and humming energy bars, built with intimidation in mind. And it had worked. Because he'd been young and scared and he'd never been caught before, and he hadn't closed his eyes for a week because he was convinced that his bunkmate – a Kree hauled in for mugging – was going to shank him in his sleep.
It had been, to put it simply, utter hell. After seven days and nights spent jerking himself into sweaty, paranoid wakefulness every time he felt himself nod, Kraglin had been ready to crack. Seeing as if he carried on that way he was going to die of a heart attack the next time someone electrocuted themselves on the cell bars, he decided that he might as well catch a kip before the inevitable. Thus, when the guard belted the order for lights out, he had boldly let his eyes drift shut and bid adieu to the underside of the bed above, never expecting to look upon it again.
Only he had. The next morning, in fact.
Kraglin had rolled out of his bunk in time for the breakfast buzzer, narrowly avoiding cracking his knees on the ladder and feeling… well, not quite refreshed, but at least less likely to keel over and start twitching. Kree fella grunted, informed him that he snored, and proceeded to ignore him for the rest of his month-long stint.
After that experience, Kraglin felt ready to conquer anything. He'd survived lock-up. He could take on the whole fucking galaxy: deepspace worms, mad titans, and all. Space pirates were nothing.
But nothing could have prepared him for this.
The Ravager's galleon – the Eclector, it's called, whatever that might mean – is an ugly trapezium, patched together with rust, solder, industrial-age masonry and hope. Its floors are spaced at uneven intervals, some sprawling and spacious, some so cramped Kraglin can't walk without hunching his neck. There's only a few lifts, fewer that work with any degree of regularity. Those that are operational clank along their shafts so slowly that you might as well suck it up and climb the ladders anyway. The lights always verge on flickering, and the grills over the vent chutes have a worrying tendency to creak when you put your weight on them.
Now, Kraglin's been on a spaceship before. Of course he has. It ain't like he's planetbound or nothing – heck, the very insinuation would make him bristle. He's just never felt quite so unconfident in a spaceship's ability to stay in space.
He knows, logically, it ain't likely to fall out. Not unless someone does something really stupid, and makes gravity invert galaxy-wide again. Yet he still can't halt that jarring, empty feeling, that hollow pit in his stomach which gapes open as he presses his palm on the convex glass porthole between him and the star-spangled abyss.
Again, this is nothing new. Kraglin can handle himself. When you run with a Hraxian street gang you learn early on that it's wisest not to get attached. But he's never faced his solitude before. He's never had it laid out before him, so simply and clearly arranged.
It'd been a long and hectic flight from Hrax, peppered with gunfire and smoke and panic and the beeping of his failing life-support system. Heck, Kraglin hadn't had time to consider what it meant, leaving everything he'd ever known. Now that he's got the chance to stand still and rest a while, to stop running as the universe clatters on around him, it's finally started to sink in just how alone he really is.
"Gorgeous, ain't it?"
Kraglin whips around, embarrassed at being caught mooning after a home planet a thousand lightyears behind. He sees a dark-skinned person about half his height and twice his breadth, gender uncertain, swaddled in a patchwork leather coat that looks like it's been passed through more Ravagers than they have piercings. Which is a lot. Kraglin assesses the hand held out to him. It's wrapped in a dirty bandage, and smells faintly of infection. He takes it, tentative, and metal-studded fingers encircle his wrist.
"Isla," the person says. Gives his forearm a squeeze – the hoop on the underside of their knuckle digs – and quirks their mouth in satisfaction. "You're Hraxian."
Kraglin blinks. "You could tell that from touching my hand?"
Isla laughs. It almost sounds friendly. It would sound moreso, if they were looking at him rather than the passing nebula; as it is, Kraglin can't help but feel like an obstacle, and relocates to clear Isla's view. "I wish. It were the teeth that gave it away. That, and Thrabba mentioned he'd recruited one of ya on the last station." They glance at Kraglin from the corner of a crinkled brown eye. "You got the look of a greenie about ya."
"Not somethin' you should thank me for." Isla breathes mist onto the glass. "Word of advice – stop daydreaming by the windows. Home's out there, somewhere, but it ain't never coming back. Not for me, and not for you neither. Sooner you learn that, the longer you'll last."
Kraglin decides not to point out that they're hardly following their own advice. They're speaking to him - of their own free will! And it's not all snarls and insults! That puts them above ninety percent of the Ravagers he's met so far. "Where're you from then?" he asks instead, figuring small-talk's the best bet in lieu of more concrete subject matter.
His words earn him a stiffening of the alien's shoulders. This time, the look that's leveled at him isn't half so light and teasing. "And don't go poking your nose where it don't belong. Christ, kid, don't you know nothing?"
Shit. He's pissed off the space pirate. The experienced space pirate, he should say, seeing as technically now he's a space pirate too. Kraglin balks, fist balling in preparation for a fight – but the punch never comes. Isla pushes off the glass. Their expression shifts to pleased so smoothly that the previous anger must have been a figment of his imagination. Nerves, or something. He's still finding his spacelegs, after all. But nevertheless, Kraglin can't shake the niggle that if he's offended them he's liable to regret it.
"Alright," they say, rubbing their hands. The piercings between their fingers scrape like sandpaper. The bandage peels up; Kraglin catches a glimpse of flesh swollen in a tight pucker around a flaking stud. "I got what I came for. My money's on a week."
"A week?" Kraglin wishes his bewilderment wasn't written so obviously on his face, as Isla's smile turns vicious.
"Or p'raps twenty four hours." They give him a hearty pat on the shoulder – their stringy cuffs slap like cat o'nines. "Especially with the cabin I'm assigning ya to. Thanks in advance, kid – you've won me a whole week's worth crate of moonshine."
"What're you talkin' about –" But with a second slap and a chuckle, Isla breaks away. They shuffle off, merging into the fluxing shadows until the light that glints from their silver studs and hoops is swallowed. Kraglin stares after them. His mouth works around imaginary words. Under a week? Twenty four hours? And why shouldn't I ask folks where they're from? Ain't these people never speed-dated before?
All he can figure for certain is that Isla might've been a tad more important than they'd come across, if they're in charge of sorting sleeping quarters. And that Kraglin's almost definitely made an enemy. Still, he ain't got time to fret. Next shift's in fifteen minutes, down in the ship's throbbing engine pit. He's still got to find his way, although he's fairly confident with the map they've coded into his wristpiece. When that's over, he's only got one more assignation before his first twelve designated duty-hours are up. He can worry about Isla's unspoken threat after that.
Sparing one last wistful look for the spiraling starscape, Kraglin pulls up his holograph of the ship's interior, orientates himself, and starts to walk.
His legs hurt.
That's the first thing he notices. But the inventory soon adds up. His back hurts too. So do his fingers, from gripping the joystick in the crappy junker craft tight enough to make his joints creak. His arms ache like he's been lashed to a Skrull torture rack. He's already spent the morning hauling stock at the back of the ship, after scouting out that hefty red-coated fella with the metal eye – Thrabba? – in the station bar and selling himself to him as an able-bodied recruit with experience in matters not-quite-legal, willing to do anything and everything to pull his weight, but who really, really couldn't be out on the docks. (For certain reasons. Reasons which involved the gang of armed thugs patrolling each bay with his picture in their bounty-books.) And before that, he'd been crammed into a tiny spherical junkship, the smallest and most unobtrusive craft he could afford. His muscles have atrophied to the shape of the pilot's seat.
All in all, it's been a busy week. It's alright now though, Kraglin tells himself. All of that's over. He made it. He's gonna be fine.
He survived the auction-gone-wrong. He went on, against all odds, to survive the kamikaze-run through the checkpoint stockade, and the first wave of the manhunt that the Cartel have put out in his name. Living with a gang of Ravagers can't possibly trump all of that on the leaderboard for the worst time of his life. And it ain't like this situation is permanent or nothing - nope, Kraglin's just here for the short-haul. In again, out again; ready to pop off at a space port and make his own way as soon as there's a dozen-or-so quadrants between him and his pursuers.
Sufficiently reassured, Kraglin gives his map a quick swivel and follows the flashing beacon that guides him forwards.