In which Kraglin realizes running away from home to become a space pirate may not have been the smartest decision after all.
"Oi. Fresh meat. What's yer name?"
That's the first thing the overseer asks. He's hefty, whiskered; of a height with Thrabba and certainly wider across the gut. The heat from the engine processors has made his beefy face red, and his beard is matted with sweat. Kraglin, surprised at being singled from the cast of surly laborers, pauses in his efforts to clamp a dribbling fuel valve.
"Uh. It's, um – "
The man cuts him off. "Save it. No one gives a shit." Kraglin's lips are a bit slow on the uptake and continue to mouth out the syllables of his name. The overseer sneers like he smells something dirty – which, considering the state of them all, he probably does. Kraglin doubts anyone in the room's seen a shower for a fortnight, himself included. "Now put your fucking back into it," comes the order. "You ain't on no pansy Nova planet no more."
Now that makes him bristle.
Nova-governed it might be, but Hrax is far from a pansy place. It ain't Xandar, that's for sure. Kraglin's tempted to practice his clan's traditional spine-ripping technique on this guy, just in case anyone requires solid proof. This isn't the ghettos though. You can't vanish into the throng if you kill someone important (or blast off on the next offworld ship, as the case may be…)
No – here he's confined. Restricted to four walls, a lot of scrambly corridors that ignore all logic and don't feature anywhere on his map no matter how many angles he rotates it through, and the endless vacuum-void beyond. There's an order to things here. A hierarchy. Kraglin hasn't worked with one of those before – always been iffy of 'em in fact; growing up dirt poor on a Nova planet will do that to you. He's certainly not keen on playing along now. But there's not much in the way of alternative options: it's this or the airlock.
Forcing a smile, he braces his boots on the sharp metal grills and heaves.
The valve mouth screeches in another nanometer. There's a wheeze as the pressure shifts, then a bubble bursts from the narrowed entrance, splattering Kraglin's leathers with hot fuel. The droplets eat away at the material before fizzling to smoke. When Kraglin looks down it's with trepidation; he expects to find patches of scalded skin. But there's nothing more than a new collection of scars over his jacket's worn hide.
"Huh," he says. Perhaps he is a little grateful for being pushed into a uniform. Even if it reeks of the last occupant.
Looming overhead, the overseer huffs – Kraglin assumes it's in approval – and goes to find someone less productive to harass. Kraglin leans his sweating forehead against the wrench. Just briefly. Long enough to inhale the noxious fumes leaking from his pipe; compared to the rest of the room they come as a relief.
A dozen quadrants between him and his new life? If he doesn't get access to a wash-basin in the next three days, he's cutting it to half, Cartel bounty hunters be damned.
Canteen's a noisy affair, which Kraglin doesn't mind, and a crushing one, which he does. He's packed between two rowdy huddles of Ravagers. Each are wildly gesticulating, and Kraglin has already accrued a bust lip and several bruises to his ribs. The Ravagers don't notice. If they do, they don't care. Kraglin rubs mournfully at his split mouth, and supposes he'll have to get used to it. Ravagers seem like the sort to give each other black eyes in casual greeting.
On cue, a Ravager from way back in the milling crowd spots someone he knows in the gaggle to Kraglin's front and enthusiastically plows to join them. He barges Kraglin as he goes. Kraglin shoves back – of course he does. "Oi, watch it!"
…And then regrets it, as he meets eyes slitted like a lizard's and teeth that are bigger than his but just as sharp. Four knuckles are cracked in front of his face, set into a fist approximately the size of his head. "Or continue. Y'know, either way."
"You watch it, greenie," the creature sneers. Kraglin's never seen someone like him (and never wants to again). He assumes he's from an outworld, a planet unaffiliated with the Nova Empire – although he remembers Isla's advice and doesn't ask. Dangerous, warns the little voice in the back of his mind, the one he actually listens to on occasion. Savage.
This is one of those occasions.
Swallowing around the lump in his throat, Kraglin's eyes swim as they try to focus on the nearest knuckle. He shrinks away like a shriveling cock. Lizard-guy, sensing weakness, looms closer. The amount of teeth visible between his scaly lips multiplies to a degree that can't be compatible with Euclidean geometry. Holding his breath, Kraglin prepares for a painful death. Then cracks open an eye, as a voice speaks up from behind his assailant –
"Oi, careful. Horuz bet on this hour."
Whatever that means. Still, it makes Lizard-guy pause. Kraglin watches through squinted, untrusting eyes as the Ravager considers, then blows out air in a cold huff that has hairs springing to attention all along his neck.
"Damn," Lizard-guy says, sounding almost humanoid for a second. "Well, I ain't lettin' that fucker win, that's for sure."
Kraglin has the oddest sensation of being the centerpiece of the conversation while also being ignored. Lizard-guy steps in front of him, blocking his view of the rest of the circle with an expanse of leather-clad back. He's got slits cut into the coat, Kraglin notices, through which his hide can be seen. Each bark-like scale is larger than the entire pad of Kraglin's thumb. In fact, all of their uniforms seem to have been customized. Kraglin glances around the hall, trying to be unobtrusive while keeping an ear on the conversation. Yes – everyone's done something to single themselves out from the mass of dark red leather. An extra strap here. A patch stitched there. Ribbing down the arms or a stiff-starched collar. Kraglin considers his own leathers, woefully unadorned. Perhaps that's why everyone knows he's green.
"That was – what, the lowest bet?" Lizard-guy continues. One of his friends shakes her shaved head with a chuckle.
"Nah. Udonta reckoned he wouldn't survive first shift."
Kraglin frowns. This whole betting business suddenly makes a lot more sense. Laughing, Lizard-guy rocks on his heels and lets out a low whistle. "Harsh."
Harsh indeed. Kraglin's fists clench.
They're betting on his life, and some jackass didn't think he could last four fucking hours?
He doesn't have the chance to be more affronted though – or to nurture grudges against Isla and this mysterious Horuz fellow, for setting his death-date respectively at twenty-four hours and nine. The queue's been shuffling at a zombie-pace while he's been distracted, and he finds himself in front of a corrugated hatch that tips the end of a chute like a blunt-edged fingernail.
Clunk, sounds from his right. Then again – clunk, clunk, clunk. All along the line, hatches shoot open and bowls of something that looks like mashed draov eggs comes skidding out. One crashes to slop against Kraglin's belt. He grimaces at it. But it ain't likely to get more appetizing over time, and the bellow of "Get a move on, rookie!" spurs him to grab a fork from the unit besides and scramble to find an unoccupied piece of wall, head tucked low to his chest.
He can feel people looking at him.
After a childhood of petty pick-pocketing, reliant on one's ability to saunter past a Nova patrol without attracting suspicion, that's not the most assuring sensation. He wonders if they're waiting to see him drop dead, and then wonders if this Horuz chap would poison his meal to ensure victory. But if he starts thinking like that, he ain't gonna be able to stop. A month on board's already looking like hell warmed over. Kraglin can't face adding a hunger strike to his torments. And so, he shovels down his eggs in five bites, pulling a face as they slither stomachwards. He waits a minute, just to be sure – but there's no telltale acid ache as his innards digest themselves. Horuz ain't winning this one.
Kraglin dumps his bowl into the washing chute, and goes to find somewhere he can piss in peace.