In which Kraglin is Not Dead.
“Oi. Rookie. You dead?”
Yes, Kraglin thinks. He’s proven wrong; someone pokes him in the forehead, hard enough to make his nose wrinkle.
“C’mon, I’m talking to ya, you ass. Don’t you fall asleep on me. Show a bit of respect.” If he’s dead – or at least, dying – can’t they just let him get on with it? Apparently not; the poke reoccurs, significantly harder. “Oh, so you’re just gonna lay there, huh? No comeback?”
He knows that voice. Or perhaps it’s just that brand of affronted dickishness. He can’t put it to a name, but… That Jackass.
There’s a loud snort. “You really gonna die here? Pathetic. Kids these days, I swear to –“
Kraglin licks his cracked lips. “Not a kid.” It takes all his strength.
The poker, whoever they are, crows in delight and claps their hands. Kraglin might not be able to breathe, but he can still smell their breath; sour and mildly fetid, right up against his face. They’re too close, intruding uncomfortably on his personal space. Kraglin’s smothered by their presence without a single touch. “What was that? You say something, kid? You telling me you ain’t dead after all? That you ain’t some sad lil’ bitch I had t'lug about on my back like a fuckin' baby? Huh?”
That’s who it is. Kraglin gurgles in a breath to tell Udonta to go fuck himself. He gets halfway before he chokes.
“Look atcha,” says Udonta in mock disgust. “Drowning in your own blood. Heck, I ain’t seen such a sorry sight since...” He trails off. Kraglin uses the reprieve to slide back towards the numb darkness of unconsciousness, but is prevented by a muttered curse and the sharp introduction of a palm to his cheek. Smack. Oddly, the pain doesn’t register as much as he thinks it should – but it still jerks him out of the encroaching stupor.
”Stop slapping me,” Kraglin groans.
“Stop dying then!” shouts Udonta, and gives his cheek a ringing back-hand in the other direction. Kraglin’s head thumps sideways onto the bed. He wants to tell Udonta that he’s not helping, but can’t find the air. Udonta continues his rant, undaunted, leaning heavily on the platform besides him. “Doc’s on his way. But y’know what? If you don’t open your eyes now, I’m gonna comm and tell him not to bother.”
Kraglin is, for a moment, tempted to ignore him. He’s fairly sure that if Udonta wanted him dead, he would be by now – the man’s definitely had enough chances. But then he remembers that he’s equally sure of his inability to guess when Udonta’s bluffing.
Alright, he might not kill him himself. But if he thinks there ain’t a prayer, that Kraglin’s drifting aimless through a comatose sea and isn’t ever gonna wake up again… Of course he’d give up hope. Who wouldn’t? Reinvigorated, Kraglin makes a co-ordinated effort to force his eyes open. He succeeds only in pushing more blood out of his airways. Udonta, however, takes this as a hint to continue his taunts.
“Croak now, rookie, and you die nameless with no friends. That ain’t no way to go! Don’t you want to tell me your name, so I can cuss you out proper-like?”
He does. He does more than anything. But his mouth’s not responding. His throat’s been reduced to a vessel for pumping blood out of his ailing lungs. Kraglin coughs weakly. The movement’s enough – just – to make his eyelids twitch. Udonta must have caught it.
There’s a creak of leather as he checks the perimeter. Then, after ensuring nobody’s watching, a thumb skates across Kraglin’s underlip and smears the bloody spit away. Udonta’s skin is a little chillier, a little tougher than Kraglin’s own; calloused and scarred too. Kraglin lets his mouth fall open, and Udonta starts as his thumb brushes piranha-sharp teeth.
“Come on, you bastard,” he hisses, close to his ear. His voice is rougher than ever, gravel and gasoline. “Just one more goddamn minute. If you wake up after the Doc’s done with you, you can tell me your name a whole day early, right there and then.”
Kraglin wheezes through his nose when the thumb retreats, face falling into the cup of Udonta’s dry palm. They’re back on the Eclector. Must be – no space gloves. All Kraglin remembers of the journey is pain and breathlessness, of Horuz calling him ballast and Udonta whistling his arrow around them in an elegant, red-trailed death-dance until the big Ravager retreated swearing to the cockpit. He’s grateful – or at least, he is until Udonta gives a cocky chuckle.
“And you can thank me too. I deserve it, after everything I done for ya.”
Still a jackass.
Somehow though, the fingers curling under his shaved temple leach what little irritation Kraglin can summon.
Then the door clicks open. Udonta’s hand yanks away from his face, and Kraglin flops onto the gurney with a whoof, chest jarring. “Hey Doc,” Udonta says, casual like he’s meant to be here.
“Out the way, out the way…” There’s a bustle of movement, of chairs screeching on a metal floor and leather flapping on leather. Then hands – four of them – prizing and prying at Kraglin’s chest. At the doctor’s direction, a second set of limbs – tentacular this time; is it A’askvarii-girl? – lift Kraglin’s arm and pat the inside of the elbow until a vein raises. “I’ll sedate him before I operate,” says Doc, all in a rush. “He’s nearly named, after all.” Then, tone dipping: “Sir… I mean, Udonta. With, uh, all due respect…”
“Yeah, yeah. I’m leavin'.”
Kraglin isn’t overly fond of needles. Isn’t overly fond of any stabby things that aren’t his knives, to be honest. But this might be the last chance he gets. He slaps his mental self into shape, breath rattling, and forces his eyes open so he can affix his gaze to Udonta’s retreating skull. He can’t call out to him. Can’t whistle or wave or shape his mouth around a single word. But Udonta raises a hand anyway, without looking, implant glimmering dark as the blood around Kraglin’s mouth.
“See you tomorrow, rookie,” he says. The medbay doors whoosh shut after him. Kraglin eyes droop, and he glides into blissful black before the needle pricks in.
Udonta never shows.
Kraglin is pissed. However, he’s more pissed about the fact that he is pissed than anything else. When the medbay door finally bings (the chirpy electronic squeak that means someone other than Doc, a four-armed guy of indeterminable species who prowls silently through his territory and delights in making Kraglin jump, has activated the doorpanel) he scrambles upright, beaming – only to be met with Isla. The smile falls off his face.
“Hello t'you too, Rookie,” Isla says, eyebrows raised. She saunters on in without invitation, hoops bouncing in her glossy brown forehead. “Aw, you expectin' someone else? Morlug’s got better things to do than pine over your sorry ass.”
‘Better things to do’ translates as ‘dubious stains to scrub’. Kraglin grimaces, one hand pressed to his tender chest.
“She piss off bo’sun again?” he wheezes.
Isla’s eyebrows winch higher. The movement is accompanied by a percussive clatter as every one of her forehead piercings flips and resettles. “The first mate, you mean? Dagada the so-called Detonator?” Of course. Udonta’s demotion. That had happened. How could he have forgotten? “- And yeah. Your girl’s gotta mouth on her a mile wide.”
“S'not my girl,” says Kraglin. “She’s a friend.” He’s surprised to find that he means it. Not that he would say no to getting his hands under that tight leather skirt, but…
Isla chortles and squeezes his shoulder – thankfully, on the opposite side to where the arrow passed through. The hole (patched, vacuumed, swabbed, stitched, and liberally doused in antiseptic) twinges nevertheless. Kraglin fails at stifling a wince. “Whatever you say, rookie. She’ll probably be along on her lunchbreak though, so don’t you go falling asleep or dying on us or nothing.” She narrows her eyes. “You ain’t gonna die now, right? Doc patched you up good?”
Kraglin ruefully strokes the edge of the bandage. “I got an air-tube sticking out my armpit. And I’ve been pissing in a pot. But Doc ain't the sort to waste no shit on a dead man. So got lucky, I guess.” His sentences are short, clipped. But that’s more down to tight breath than irritation; Isla’s grin is buoyant and he can’t stay grumpy, not even when she chucks him under the chin and the stud in her finger scratches like a cold, horny wart.
“Lucky... You’re right about that,” she says. “Nice to have ya back in the land of the living. I was worried Figs was gonna win that damn bet.”
Kraglin smiles. “You and me both.”
Time passes quickly with Isla around to bounce snark off of. They wind up sitting opposite each other on Kraglin’s makeshift bed – which is little more than a metal pallet clothed in non-stick sheets, surrounded by a hodge-podge assortment of medical equipment that’s been looted from every damn Empire in the galaxy. Isla toes her boots off when Doc waves a scalpel, after five increasingly irritated threats have gone ignored. The socks underneath are patched, worn, and not much cleaner. She chatters away, filling him in on the latest gossip – Kraglin’s amazed that so much can change over two days, but that’s Ravager life for you. Live fast, die young; miss an hour, miss a whole fucking soap opera. Apparently, Dagada’s been swelling into his new posting like a pussy blister.
Speaking of which –
“Your bandage’s off,” Kraglin blurts. It’s halfway through Isla’s impersonation of the first mate as he chews out an unrepentant Morlug – which he’s sure is excellent, but having never spoken to the man, it’s hard to tell. He supposes he can be forgiven the non sequitur, what with medication and all; Isla certainly doesn’t seem to mind. Her mouth keeps blabbering for a second, then her brain catches up and she turns her dark palm over for inspection.
“Yah. Infection’s gone – them new antibacterials Doc put me on sorted it right out. Hell, gimme a week and I’ll be able t'repierce it!”
“You’ll do no such thing!” calls Doc from where he’s been unobtrusively eavesdropping as he reorganizes his collection of rusty bone-saws. “Next time, I amputate!”
Isla carries on like she hasn’t heard. “Anyway. Ain’t here to chat about me. It’s your second time in the medbay in three-odd days, and both because of Udonta.” She whistles; whether it’s in mockery of Udonta or himself, he can’t tell. “Heck rookie, what did ya do to piss him off so bad?”
“You’re the one who dumped me in his bed,” snaps Kraglin. Then sighs and toys with the corner of the bandage. “Anyway. This time he weren’t mad. Not much. Only when he thought I weren’t gonna make it.” The door pings again. Isla’s gaze fixes beyond him, but she nods along so Kraglin doesn’t bother to turn and look. “He saved my life, y’know? If he hadn’t shot me… I would’ve died. Right there and then. In the tomb of some old rich mob codger. Sure, it hurt. But…” He can feel himself smiling, he can feelit. “But it was kinda awesome, too.”
“Whatever you say, rookie,” says Isla, still looking over his shoulder. The corner of her mouth is twitching.
Kraglin is, perhaps, still a little high. He’ll blame it on that later. “I think he likes me,” he muses. Because heck. How many folks can say they’ve been shot by Udonta’s arrow and survived? “And… and he ain’t so bad neither. I mean. Sure. He acts all grumpy. But –“ Isla’s mouth is really, really twitching. And she’s holding her breath too. Kraglin squints at her. “Hey. You havin' a stroke or something?”
“Nope,” says Udonta cheerfully. “She’s just amazed that you survived all that, only to die the day before ya get named.”
Kraglin freezes. Then drops his head into his hands. “Y’know what? Don’t bother. Just leave me a knife and I’ll do the job for you.”
There’s a laugh. Udonta ruffles his hair before Kraglin can duck away – although he still tries, and is rewarded with a stabbing blaze between his ribs. “Ow!”
“Don’t bitch; ya did that to yourself.” Udonta drags a metal stool over that’s far too spindly to bear his weight, then proceeds to prove this hypothesis incorrect, tilting it onto its back legs and propping his boots besides Kraglin’s ass. There’s grease sliming his toecaps, and something organic, green and unidentifiable wedged in the left sole. “Anyway, I ain’t supposed to kill no one in the medbay. Doc don’t like it.”
“Indeed, Doc does not,” Doc agrees. “Doc would also appreciate it if you took your shoes off the bed, Udonta.” Udonta just gets more comfortable. Hygiene, apparently, does not concern space pirates. Even hygiene of the medical variety. Kraglin looks at Udonta’s boots, then up at the Doc.
“You, uh, didn’t operate on me in this bed, did you…?”
Doc stares at him like he’s been shot in the head rather than chest, one pair of arms folded over his belly while the others continue scouring orange powder from his sawblades. “No! I operated on you over there.” He points to a gurney in the corner. It’s completely open, no sealant cloth or medical-grade anti-bacterial glass. And it definitely hasn’t been washed. Kraglin balks.
“So, you going to scrub that down before the next person’s dragged in, or…?”
There’s that look again. “We’re on a spaceship, boy! Water doesn’t just grow in stars, you know!”
So he’s not going to die of a punctured lung, but the jury’s still out on gangrene and blood poisoning. Great.
Udonta’s boot pokes him in the thigh. “Cheer up, rookie. We’ll steal a coupla crates of antibiotics next time we pass a medicenter.”
If anything, Kraglin gets paler. “You mean… we don’t have any? None on ship?”
Isla pats his knee. “Sorry, kid. Think I used the last of them on my hand – woulda spared you half my needle if I’d known.”
Because of course, needle-sharing’s all fine and dandy. Kraglin is from Hrax; ergo, his immune system can take more of a pounding than most. It’s still… disturbing though, to know that they’re facing serious injury on a biweekly basis and there’s not enough vacc-shots to go around. “Ain’t this the quartermaster’s job?” he asks. “To keep us supplied, I mean?”
There’s a sudden lull in noise – like the others are holding their breath. Isla is, for some reason, shaking her head in a universal abort motion. She jangles most distractingly, like one of them fancy bell-dancers in the Xandar parades. But the warning comes too late. Udonta sets his stool legs down with a clang.
“You can’t do much when you ain’t got nothing in the stock hangars to begin with,” he growls. “This’s what I been talking about. I keep telling the captain that she needs t'branch out – expand our enterprise, like. Fuck knows, we got the guns and the manpower. But does she listen t'me?” His demon-red eyes glare into Kraglin’s, demanding an answer. Kraglin, unfortunately, doesn’t have one to give. He wets his lips and wishes he had enough motion through his shoulders to shrug.
Udonta snarls. “No she don’t! Every fuckin' time. Damn bat can’t take a word of good advice.” His expression twists nastily. “And Dagada’s worse. All bark and no bite, but proud to boot. Thinks he’s better than the rest of us because of his fancy Nova education. Fuck that. Two years in a barracks don’t make you no smarter than no one. Just more annoying.”
“Yondu,” says Isla, glancing at the Doc. Kraglin’s not sure if he’s glad to be included in the discussion without a full vetting, or just plain terrified. Fuck, if he ends up implicated in a mutiny… But Udonta’s off again before Kraglin can think of anything to change the topic, blue lips drawn up from his teeth.
“Sell-outs, the both of ‘em,” he spits. “Sending the Ravagers after easy prey when a fleet our size could take on Nova platoons… Trawl the whole fuckin' outworlds! We could be bigger than the goddam Horde, but no, Captain Jora and her pet bitch Dagada have always gotta play it safe…”
Isla smacks his shoe. “Shut it! If you get tossed in the brig again… If the Detonator’s in charge of punishment…!”
“He can kiss my bright blue ass, thas what he can do.” Udonta’s teeth have been broken enough that they’re probably as sharp as a Hraxian’s. When he bares them at Isla, glancing at Kraglin from the corner of his eye, it’s like being caught in the peripherals of a hunting shark. “I don’t give a shit if he smacks me about. Look, you gotta admit it. Even the rookie can see this ain’t right.”
Kraglin leans away. “Oh. Oh no. I ain’t getting involved –“ He is, as usual, ignored.
Udonta takes his feet off the bed. He replaces them with his hands, leaning into their little circle. There’s something earnest about his anger, a note of sincere gravity that’s not there when Udonta’s threatening Kraglin for the hell of it. Whatever he’s doing, whatever he’s planning, he’s convinced that it’s necessary. “Things need to change, Isla,” he hisses. “Gimme a week and I’ll be first mate again, and then… Well, I’ve been waiting for the old bag to croak long eno-“
Isla grabs Kraglin’s pillow, which is, after a night spent sweating through drugged sleep, not the most pleasantly fragranced of objects, and wraps it around Udonta’s face.
“Shut up, I said. Not here. We don’t talk about that here!”
Doc’s still scrubbing at his saws. His movements pick up when he notices the lull in conversation. There’s no telling how much he’s heard, and Kraglin’s neck hairs start to prickle. This could be bad. This could be really, really bad. It could be worse if Isla actually smothers Udonta, and he ends up an accessory to murder as well.
“Hey,” he says, breaking the near-silence of Udonta’s scratchy, muffled swearing. “Who wants to know my name?”
He injects his voice with a little too much jubilation. Doc breaks his pretense at apathy to give him a weird look, but Udonta lifts his head out of the pillow with a grin.
“It’s a day early,” Isla starts, although she doesn’t sound like her heart’s in it. She gives immediately when faced with Kraglin’s pleading stare – “Aw, what the heck. You’ve made it this far, you’ll last another night.”
That seems a little optimistic for Ravager standards. But Udonta’s already nodding, fury diverted with toddlerish ease. “Let’s hear it, rookie!”
Their faces are expectant, eager. This is it. The moment he’s been waiting for. His breath is dry, and there is, for some reason, a lump in his throat. He’s been looking forwards to this for so long that his tongue’s forgotten the shapes of the words he needs to say; sounding them out is like being born again.
“Kraglin,” he croaks. “I’m Kraglin Obfonteri.”
Doc’s cloth sends an uninterested scatter of rust to speckle the bloody tiles.
“Huh,” says Isla.
“Weird,” says Udonta.
But Kraglin doesn’t care. His smile stretches to aching point, and he couldn’t swallow it if he wanted to. I’m Kraglin Obfonteri. And I’m a Ravager.