Blame It On The Stars

Chapter 14

In which Kraglin has a name, Udonta has an enemy, and Isla makes another bet.

He wants Morlug to be the next person he tells. Failing that: everyone.

Isla has to explicitly forbid him from making an announcement over the comms, although Udonta is all for it. “You’ve met about a hundredth of the fleet crew,” he says, by way of explanation. “And only a tenth of them lot might give a damn about who you are. But what the heck. It’ll piss off Dagada.”

“That,” says Isla through a gritted smile, “is why we ain't doin' it.” Her hair’s all frazzled. It must be tiring, being the sensible one in the room – especially when Isla has had so little practice.

Doc gets tired of them now that Kraglin’s not in need of immediate medical attention and Udonta’s no longer spilling secrets liable to get him tossed out an airlock. They’re hustled out the medbay through a combination of swearing, glowering, and four very insistent arms. Kraglin’s got one elbow protruding at a right angle so his bicep doesn’t bump the tube keeping his lungs inflated, and has been left with an order to return in a week to have it removed, and to try not to get himself mortally wounded again in the meantime.

For now though? He’s going to find Morlug. And then he’s going to bed.

Udonta saunters along on his tube-side. Kraglin’s grateful – the march to his dormitory takes them past the canteen, along the central strut that joins one end of the ship to the other like a hollow rusty spine. The corridors go from jostling to jam-packed within seconds of leaving the lift (he doesn’t want to contemplate a ladder right now, and thankfully Isla doesn’t force the issue). But with the ex-first mate and a senior Ravager besides him, the crowds part faster than a shoal before a shark. He’s not elbowed once. Heck, he spots Lizard Guy and his clique scurrying for the walls.

His bodyguards can’t prevent people from looking at him, though. No doubt wondering what an unnamed Hraxian rookie is doing on Udonta and Isla’s heels. Usually, Kraglin’d be shifting uncomfortably under the scrutiny, but right now he’s too tired to care. And chilly. It’s cold without coat or shirt, and the bandages do little to insulate. His strength drains with every wheeze pushed out of nose and tube. Rather than assessing the stares directed at him to discern whether they’re curious, envious, or laced with animosity, Kraglin blocks out the lot and concentrates on placing one boot in front of the other.

Bed – yes. That’s what he needs. But first…?

“Where’s Morlug?” he asks, listing to the side Isla’s assigned herself. She nudges his hip, letting him find his balance without providing any actual support. Ravagers are prideful bastards: if Kraglin can stay on his feet, he’s expected to use them. Isla shakes her head.

“Oh no. You’re headin' straight to bunk before ya fall over.” She sees Kraglin start to protest, and interrupts him before he can begin – “I’ve cleared your duties for the rest of the day. But you’re back on tomorrow – startin' at the Bridge and all. I expect you to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and so forth.”

The Bridge? The Bridge? Kraglin gawps at her. “The hell do you want me on Bridge for? Cleaning?”

Isla’s smile is hidden behind a curtain of brown ringlets as she shakes her head. “Nah. Because you got a brain on you, Krags.” This… is news to him. As is the nickname. He’ll decide how he feels about that later. “Although damn,” Isla continues, marching blithely onwards, “do you do a good job of hiding it. What with all these near-death experiences and all.” She’s not wrong there. Kraglin has been through enough scrapes over the past month that he’s started to challenge his own perception of his intellect. “And now you're not expendable no more – well, a little less expendable, anyways – we better find ya something you're good at. I reckon you’ll have an eye for the star-charts.”

Udonta makes an undignified noise. “Have you seen this kid read a map? We’ll wind up in Chitauri territory if we let him Nav.”

Kraglin doesn’t get a chance to protest. Isla dances ahead and sticks out a bandageless hand, smile wicked. “Wanna bet on it?”

Udonta almost slams Kraglin in the chest with his eagerness to slap Isla’s held-up palm. “You’re on!”

“I thought we was past this,” mutters Kraglin. Isla throws him a patronizing look.

“Aw, Krags. We’re never gonna be past this. Learn to take a joke.”

Kraglin would very much like to say that he can take a joke, thank you very much; that in fact, he’s been the butt of them since he strolled on board. Sure, perhaps it’d been naive to hope that he’d be elevated to equal status once he’d earned his name. But right now he’s got a wind tunnel bored in his chest and has lost (by his reckoning) half the blood in his body, and the only things on his mind are comming Morlug and sleep.

Kraglin says none of this – mostly because the next moment, the milling Ravagers part from the other direction, and everyone in the corridor remembers that they have a job to do elsewhere. Isla, Kraglin and Udonta are islands in a rushing river: Udonta with his hands in his pockets, staring disinterestedly at a vent in the overhead pipes; Isla subtly enticing Kraglin out of the oncoming Ravager’s path; Kraglin blearily wondering what the heck’s happening now.

A pair of boots advance. They clomp to a close-heeled halt under Kraglin’s nose. Kraglin, with a fuzzy sort of clarity, remembers how he’d first encountered Morlug: brush in hand, soap fuzzing up her wrists, crouched over a stubborn shoe-scuff. His memory’s pretty sharp, and for some reason, it’s informing him that that scuff would fit perfectly beneath the boot that’s parked under his nose.

“Lancia.” Isla looks up – Kraglin supposes that’s her surname: although why she shares it with one of the leading merchants in Xandar’s bustling refugee district, he has no idea.

“Howdy sir,” she says, smiling. From his angle, it looks more like a grimace. But perhaps that’s the light. “How’s life?”

“Excellent. Being first mate is certainly invigorating.” Udonta scoffs. Dagada swings to face him, blinking. “Oh. Udonta – I didn’t see you there.”

It’s petty. It’s stupid. It’s so obviously just to get a rise out of Udonta – and judging by the unpleasant smile creeping onto Udonta’s face, it’s working. And really, truly, Kraglin just wants to go to bed.

”’Scuse me,” he says. Udonta’s mouth, readying to spit some incendiary insult, snaps shut. Dagada – the yellow guy who’s chopped off his jacket’s sleeves at the shoulder to show off a host of scar-embellished tattoos, which Kraglin refuses to admit are just the tiniest bit cool – turns slowly. His heel creaks over the lumpy cross-stitched wires of the grate.

“And you are?”

“He ain’t nobody,” says Isla quickly. “Getting named tomorrow, in fact. But he’s injured pretty bad. We’re supposed to be haulin' his ass to bunk, so –“

“I’m sure someone of lower rank could handle… this,” Dagada cuts in, scanning Kraglin from his Mohawk to his unpolished bootcaps. Whatever the results of his assessment, they’re not complimentary. “You Isla, at least, must have something important to be doing.”

From a distance, Dagada cuts a pretty decent figure; all burly and golden and slathered in painted flames. However, once that space closes, this impression starts to falter. His eyes are a cold grey, the iris devoid of any blue or silver. Just lusterless circles; no colorful flecks, no hints of tone. Dead eyes. Eyes of a blind man or a corpse. They don’t seem fitting for a guy who’s nicknamed Detonator.

Kraglin meets them with the dull stagnation of the bone-tired. If he didn’t have a hole in his lung and a tube in his armpit, he might've been afraid; as it is, all he can dredge up is irritation at the big goon blocking the corridor.

“No biggie,” he says. “I’ll just walk myself.” He leaves off the ‘sir’ in a moment of spite, deciding he can blame it on medication-daze if Dagada gets offended – he sure seems the type. Then he scoots past Dagada, and continues on his way.

Udonta bursts out laughing.

Isla at least attempts to corpse quietly, although she doesn’t do an especially good job. Dagada freezes, stunned – unfortunately, not for long enough to let Kraglin escape. When his voice blares, it’s louder than the alarm on his chronometer –

“Rookie! Back here! Now!”

Offence it is. Kraglin congratulates himself on an accurate character-read, and lopes lopsidedly towards them, being sure to give the still-cackling Udonta a flat look which contains a little too much mirth around the eyes.

”What?” he whines. Then, after deeming a long enough pause has passed to deliver insult– “Sir?”

Dagada just looks at him.

He would be formidable, but it’s hard to take any threat seriously when Udonta’s snickering in the background. There’s something infectious about it – not least because Udonta spends half his time acting like the big scary space pirate he is and the other half more akin to a hyperactive and filthy-minded kid, which by itself is inherently amusing. But Kraglin’s done enough tempting fate for a lifetime; the last thing he wants to do is take sides in a bid for captaincy. And so he sags, making himself look every bit the worn-out patient –

“Sorry, sir. I ain’t used to this title-stuff yet.”

“We ain’t the Nova Corps,” Udonta corrects him, wiping his eyes. “Only ‘sirs’ here are earned ones.”

“It’s a sign of respect,” grits Dagada. “One you would do well to learn.”

Okay. Kraglin might not want to take sides. But damn, if he doesn’t like Udonta a whole lot more. He nods in placating agreement. “Right-o, sir. If that’s that, can I fuck off now?”

Dagada’s expression darkens further. Thankfully, Kraglin's impending doom is diverted – by Isla, this time. “He’s still high as a kite,” she says, glowering at Kraglin with a look that clearly reads ‘you’ll be quiet if you know what’s good for you’. “Ain’t no point in dragging a drugged-up rookie to the brig, is there?”

From the sneer on Dagada’s face, he’s tempted to try. “Yet, if you and Udonta have deigned him the presence of your company, perhaps his punishment could be a lesson to all of you.”

Kraglin shrinks a bit inside. Shit. He hadn’t even considered –

“You kiddin' me?” Udonta says. He scoffs through his teeth like Dagada’s told a bad joke. “Kid ain’t got a name yet. Doc asked Isla to drag him to his bunk cause she was getting her hand looked at, then I saw her and tagged along. As if we’d give two shits about him.”

Dagada stalks into Udonta’s space. He utilizes every millimeter of the inch he has on him to loom. From the crook of Udonta’s eyebrow, he’s unimpressed. From the artery ticking in Dagada’s neck, he knows it. “So you wouldn’t object if I were to strap him up and whip him here and now?”

Udonta smiles sweetly. As sweetly as he can. It’s not especially sweet, to look at or to smell, but it gets the point across. “Be my guest,” he says. “I always knew you were a kinky fucker.” Aw shit. Dagada snarls. Before he can work up a reply though, Udonta’s sticking his chin up in a way that makes him grow a whole meter, dwarfing Dagada in fury alone, and hisses in his face – “You weren’t expecting me to call you ‘sir’ too, were you? C’mon, Dags. Even you ain’t that stupid.”

Kraglin sees Dagada’s fists clench, and has a sudden awful premonition of Udonta’s arrow embedding itself in the Xandarian’s skull. Dang. He’s already cleaned up one murder. With his chest in the state it is, he doesn’t think he’s got the strength to lug Dagada to an airlock. Surprisingly though, Dagada’s the one to break their deadlocked stare.

"You’re not worth it,” he says. Then – of course – has to elaborate. “First mate’s next in line to be captain, after all. I wouldn’t want to get myself demoted over a moment of idiocy.”

For someone who’s just made that jab, Dagada doesn’t have much of a brain on him, either.

Udonta stares at Dagada for a long moment, eyes magma pools. The Xandarian’s started to sweat; his cruel smile is twitching with the strain of holding itself in place. Nervously flexing his upheld arm – which by now, is noticeably stiff – Kraglin judges the distance to the nearest airlock and bites down a groan. But the whistle he’s expecting never comes.

“You ain’t worth it neither,” says Udonta quietly. Kraglin can smell Dagada’s relief; animal and odorous, belied by the feral slant of his jaw. “Now get outta here, before I change my mind.”

Dagada postures a moment longer. But really, there’s no standing up to Udonta. Not when he gets like this. Not when you know how much damage a single whistle could do. He retreats, but not without a snarl – “This isn’t the end of this, scum.”

“Watch me piss my boots,” says Udonta. His smile’s creeping back, lividly victorious, and Kraglin feels himself emulating it. Dagada’s lips roll back from a set of square, tombstone teeth, furrier than usual Ravager fare and just a little too big for his face. He includes all three of them in his parting glare.

“That’s it,” Udonta mutters under his breath as he marches away. “Run to mummy.” Kraglin’s just glad he doesn’t shout it at Dagada’s shrinking back.

Really, he should keep his distance. Thank Udonta and Isla for their company, but politely request that he make the remainder of the journey to his quarters on his lonesome, because while he may be in danger of tripping and re-collapsing his lung, the probability of becoming embroiled in fatal skirmishes with the Ravager High Command is significantly higher when they’re around. Udonta’s obviously involved in… something, something pertaining to Dagada and Jora and a soon-to-be-vacated captaincy. And sure, Kraglin could put the pieces together if he thought about it hard enough. Doesn’t take much effort. But if he does so, that’ll make it real, and that’ll make him a knowing collaborator instead of just an accidental one.

Yes, he thinks. Innocence through ignorance. He doubts it’d hold up in a Nova court – but heck, they ain’t on Xandarian soil no more.

So when Udonta and Isla walk him all the way to his dorm’s door, claiming they’ve got business with the supply rooms on the same level, he doesn’t protest. “I’ll see you tomorrow, I guess?” he says. Isla nods. Udonta shrugs. “Alright. Um. G’night.”

“Night, Kraglin,” Udonta says.

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