In which Kraglin and Baby enjoy some quality bonding time, Dagada shows off his pistol-whipping skills, and Yondu gets a boo-boo.
“Don’t trust him,” Yondu mutters, as they lug the tranq cartridges through the ship’s pipe-lined underbelly. He doesn’t appear overly concerned about the fact that a spiked tail could smash through walls and them alike at any moment. He’s sauntering along with a jaunty gait – admittedly, that might be more to do with stiff legs from falling asleep wrapped around Kraglin like a constrictor than bravado, but it fills much the same purpose. Kraglin, who (as he keeps pointing out) isn’t completely stupid, takes a break from double-checking each shadow to sneer.
Trust Dagada? As if he would.
They meet Dagada under the ladder shaft to the floor above. Jora’s left two levels for them to explore – the hangar bay and the crawlspace, which is really too cramped for even the baby-most of bilgesnipe. The trapdoors to the engine rooms have been sealed. Far above, a heavy red-painted manhole blocks out the light. The only place that’s not cordoned off is the lift – but Kraglin figures nobody’s dumb enough to risk getting trapped with a raging bilgesnipe while wobbling about in a cage several hundred feet up in the air.
Dagada emerges from the North Wing corridor, boot grips scraping sullenly over the bundled pipes. The first thing Yondu does is grab him by the throat and slam him against the wall. Dagada chokes for a glorious moment. Then winds his forearms between Yondu’s and wrenches them apart, shoving him off. He sucks air, before dissolving into well-deserved, pained hacks.
“Stop!” he spits, when Yondu prepares to whistle. “Stop. You need me.”
“Do I?” Yondu asks. Dagada nods, massaging his bruised neck. “Ain’t no one got eyes on us down here. I could chop you up and use ya for bilgesnipe-bait, then say it got to ya before I could. Who’d be wiser?”
Kraglin undergoes a brief but intense internal conflict. Then resolves that if he’s not dead at this point, the universe must be keeping him alive for a reason, and steps forwards. “I would,” he says. Damn it, he’s not sending any more bloody bins out into the aether. Yondu’s grin is ruthless and without a hint of humor.
“That’s easy enough to fix.”
Kraglin demurely relocates his gaze to his feet. “Sir, all I’m sayin' is that you oughta ask him how far he dragged the damn thing before it woke up. Gives us a place to start. That’s all.”
Humming to himself, Yondu considers. Then nods. “Good idea.”
Kraglin pretends that the praise doesn’t make him light up like a fucking fairy light at a Nova parade – then thinks what the hell, and embraces it. He’s hunting bilgesnipe. Ain’t the time to be lying to himself. He likes impressing Yondu. He wants to impress Yondu. And he wants to watch Yondu slowly eviscerate Dagada until he’s filleted thinner than meat portions in canteen – but that can wait until after their bilgesnipe’s safely under lock and key. And there’s another scrub-shift worker around to sponge up the mess.
Five minutes later, they’re standing at a crossroads situated smack-bang in the middle of the hangar level. Four corridors angle out like spokes on a wheel. The bulb above them rotates lazily in its socket, intermittently sweeping their faces with shadow and glaring red; Dagada’s skin catches the light and throws it back burnished orange, while Yondu flushes an unflattering aubergine.
“We got enough gear?” Kraglin asks, thumbing over his shoulder at the pile that’s been liberated from storage closets, cleaning cupboards, and any unlocked M-ship they could find. Yondu eyes it up. Counts one tranq gun for fifteen bilgesnipe-sized shots. There’s a hefty length of chain – thirty-odd meters that snapped off a cagelift last week and decapitated a rookie, but which hasn’t been dumped out the airlock on the offchance it’ll sell for decent scrap – and some of Doc’s needles. A lot of Doc’s needles. They’ve drained one of Kraglin’s boxes to fill the two empty syringe cartridges that Yondu’d already injected the monster with, and so the rest are small, delicate, and utterly ineffective against anything with a hide thicker than Kraglin’s jacket – but good for moral support. Kraglin’s already dug himself out a handful to replace a few of his less well-loved knives.
“Think so,” Yondu says, propping the rifle on his shoulder. “I can’t track the damn thing surrounded by all this metal. So better safe than dead.” He drops to one knee and starts fitting it with capsules. Dagada snarls.
“Hey! Why do you get the gun?”
Yondu keeps snapping cartridges into place. “Why shouldn’t I?”
“It’s your monster!”
“You let it loose.”
“You’ve got a fucking radioactive arrow!”
“Which I’d use, if I wanted it dead.”
Dagada sputters, struggling for an argument. Looks helplessly to Kraglin. Kraglin shrugs. “He’s first mate.”
“I’m first mate!” yells Dagada. Yondu shoots Kraglin a glare, who shrugs again.
“Not,” he growls, popping the last cartridge in with a distinctive plastic-on-plastic clack, “for long.”
Oh, because that bodes well. Whether or not they meet the bilgesnipe, Kraglin has a suspicion that things are going to get messy – judging from the way Dagada fingers the hilts of his twin double-barreled blasters, he thinks so too. Yondu just glares at the both of them and starts filling his pockets with syringes. He’s generous enough to leave Dagada a handful. Dagada claims them with a snarl, and pointedly wraps the chain around his arm for good measure. Ignoring him, Yondu clambers to his feet and assumes a commanding stance in the middle of the four-doored atrium.
“Alright,” he says. “We split up. Dagada dumped it in the North East, so I’ll scout those wings. Might have a chance of taking it alive if I get to it first.” He nods to each of them in turn. “Dagada, South. Kraglin, you’re on West. Private comm-line, stay in contact at all times. You see anything… scream.”
Pep-talk over, Yondu sets the butt of the tranq rifle under his collar bone, its slim black barrel menacing the shadows before him. He selects his door, and prowls forwards. Kraglin wonders if he can fake his own death and find a nice quiet broom closet to hide in until all of this is over. Yeah, he’s grateful that Yondu’s assigned him the wing they’ve just come from – which is thus the least likely to contain a raving bilgesnipe, as they’d seen hide nor hair of it during the tense walk over. But it would’ve been much nicer to be up on the Bridge with Jora and the rest, watching the carnage from afar.
Okay. So maybe that’s a little misleading.
Kraglin blames Isla. And Morlug, and Varra and Figs, and especially Yondu, for being terrible influences on his formative pre-twenty years. Why else would the prospect of stalking through an ancient rustbucket of a ship, hunting and being hunted by a demonic beast dragged directly from a childhood nightmare, make him excited?
He pats the knives in his belt. Then the Skrull bazooka strapped over one shoulder, the plasma rifle dangling off the other, and the two rapid-fire blaster pistols tucked down the back of his pants. The West Wing door is a bland circle of red-painted iron. It opens at a push. Steeling himself, Kraglin copies Yondu’s bent-kneed creep, and steals soundlessly into the dark.
At least, he tries to. It turns out that stealth is out of the question when you’re covered in more weapons than a goddamn mod-addict. Kraglin swears and strips off the bazooka, propping it against an airlock for some lucky scavenger to find. Ain’t like he’d be able to use it indoors anyway, not without risking perforating the walls and sucking them all out into the void; the thing’s an antique, and as liable to misfire as it is to gum up completely. Still, having it had made him feel better.
“Kraglin.” Yondu’s voice, from his wrist. The camera shows the underside of his jaw, flickering bruise-purple in the poor light. “You alright?” He must’ve opened another comm, one between the two of them. Kraglin weighs his answers.
“As much as is possible right now sir,” he settles for. If he mentions that his heart’s pounding and it’s not all fear, Yondu might take the chance to fuck with him and order him to handle this solo. On the holoscreen, Yondu comes to a fork and spins – once to menace the empty hall to one side, once to the other. Kraglin can hear him breathing, fast but controlled. “You?”
Yondu’s grin is a sunshine slice of yellow. “Time of my life. Hey, Kraglin?”
Kraglin aims the rifle up into a ladder shaft – clear, thank fuck – and creeps onwards. His ears strain for a rattle of claws on grill, of animal muscle shifting smoothly over bone. “Yeah?” he whispers.
Yondu’s eyes flick to the camera. “Try not to die, willya? I ain’t there to save you this time.”
Despite himself, despite this situation, despite everything – Kraglin’s smiling. “I’ll do my best,” he says.
When two dark cupboards and a trapdoor to the engine rooms reveal nothing more dangerous than an unsignposted wet patch – some poor soul must’ve been scrubbing when the order to evacuate had come – Kraglin lets his plasma gun dangle, working out the kink from his shoulder. Perhaps he should ditch the rifle too. Damn thing’s heavy, and heck, it ain’t been that long since he had an arrow stuck through there. The Eclector isn’t the smallest of ships, what with being the command-hub of the entire Ravager fleet. It could be hours before they come across the damn thing.
He turns the corner.
…Or maybe not. Maybe dropping the rifle is a stupid, terrible, godforsakenly awful idea. Because as it turns out, bilgesnipes have a half-decent homing instinct, and right now, the only way its scent is leading is back the way it’d come.
Or at least, he does in his head. Loudly. Very, very loudly.
In actuality, he manages to clap a hand over his mouth before the sound emerges – the only thing that stops the napping bilgesnipe shredding him there and then. He’s petrified, knees of stone and legs of jelly. When he’s certain he’s got the muscle control to shift his weight without falling in a clattering heap, he backs away. Carefully. Every one of his footfalls booms louder than a thunderclap. He’s only taken two strides into the corridor, but has to shuffle back in baby steps to avoid tripping on stray pipes. The five seconds it takes him to cover the distance are the longest of his life.
Finally though, he makes it. Kraglin flips onto the other side of the wall, out of sight in case those scaly eyelids open. Air forces raggedly through his nose. He fumbles with his wristpiece and pushes the receiver close enough to his mouth that he doesn’t have to raise his voice above a whisper.
“I found your pet.”
That’s when Dagada dashes up behind him and clocks him over the head with his pistol.
“Knocked out… leave him… quick.”
The words filter into Kraglin’s brain like they’re being strained through cotton wool. He squeezes his eyes open, one after the other, managing not to moan as the back of his skull throbs. Fuck. Is there something embedded there, or something? Fingers shaking, Kraglin quests out his cranium. He discovers no leaking brain matter, but a bump the size and rough shape of a draov egg that sends hot splinters lancing through him at the touch. He’s… he’s… where is he?
There’s something in front of him, about a foot in front of his face. His eyesight’s fuzzy; he can’t make it out. All he can tell is that it’s serrated, smells faintly of congealed blood and carnivore-breath, and it appears to be snoring.
Kraglin rubs his eyes. Blinks several times, until the warring images leaking through each optic nerve coalesce. Then regrets it.
“Hey there, Baby,” he whispers, as the bilgesnipe he’s near-on eskimo-kissing rumbles in its sleep. “Ssh… ssh. Don’t wake up. Please, please, don’t wake up.”
He starts to wiggle away. It’s an infinitesimal movement – made all the moreso by the fact that he can’t move his legs. Kraglin, frowning, looks down. Don’t say he’s broken his spine. This would be a very bad time to break his spine. Because sure, they can fix that kinda thing nowadays, if the Ravagers have robbed a Nova med-station in the past moon. But not even Doc can stitch you together after you’ve been mauled by a bilgesnipe. Thankfully, the source of the petrification is immediately apparent – the lift-chain has been doubled three times around his legs and knotted around a loose loop of pipe that’s hanging from the ceiling. That chain’s a helluva lot sturdier than it looks when it’s suspending you above a bottomless shaft. Kraglin swears to himself and starts to shimmy. Then freezes as the chain clips ringingly off the pipe, and both the bilgesnipe, and the person speaking to their wristpiece in the background stiffen.
Shit, shit, shit…
Kraglin doesn’t breathe. He doesn’t move. He’s fairly certain that his heart puts in its best efforts and skips a couple of beats too.
When you don’t have the mobility to fight or flee, sudden surges of adrenaline do little other than fill your head with overwhelming panic, which is why he doesn’t notice the tinkle of a disintegrating hologram or the sound of footsteps rapidly receding. The galaxy has shrunk to a space of approximately eight meters squared, which is currently being occupied by himself, a bunch of pulsing translucent pipes, and a bilgesnipe.
A bilgesnipe which is waking up.
Eyeballs roll beneath heavy lids. Kraglin spies a hint of red, the tic of muscles in its mighty jaw as it staves off a yawn. Fuck. One bite, that’s all it would take. One bite, and bye-bye to head, shoulders, chest, torso in its entirety.
Mind garbling panic, Kraglin abandons all attempts at delicacy and crashes his feet into the nearest wall, praying that the chains will rattle loose. They rattle – they certainly rattle – but little else. Behind him, the bilgesnipe starts to growl. Flecks of drool spatter the back of his neck, along with wafts of hot, moist, meaty breath.
Kraglin doesn’t dare check to see if its eyes are open now – it wouldn’t make any difference if he did. He sits, grasping the end of the chain in both hands, and yanks desperately on the pipe. It’s not gonna come off his legs, that’s for sure. But he will fucking caterpillar-crawl his way out of this if he has to. The pipe creaks – wringing another waking grumble from the bilgesnipe. Kraglin’s palms slip, sweat slicking the chilly chain.
Dagada… that had been Dagada. Talking on the comm.
Kraglin spares a second to assess his own wrist, and discovers it devoid. Dagada must’ve stolen his piece. Must’ve… must’ve contacted Yondu. Which means Yondu’ll be coming. For the bilgesnipe, most likely – but if he saves Kraglin as collateral, Kraglin’s hardly going to complain. Only one problem. If he ain’t here already, there’s no way that he’s going to arrive in time to stop Kraglin becoming chow.
And heck. Kraglin’s had quite enough of being the damsel in distress.
Dagada’s stolen his pistols – of course. The rifle’s nowhere to be seen. He’s even frisked him for knives, evidently having learnt from experience. But Kraglin’s still got his syringes, and – he rubs his legs to make sure – the slim file he stows in the homemade thigh holster under his pants. If he can get to it… If he can saw his way out…
Fingers shaking, he yanks down his fly. He has to dislodge a syringe from his belt before he can wriggle his hands under the chains and fish the file out. The needle rolls onto the floor besides him, a gentle click as it settles between two humming energy lines.
The bilgesnipe’s eyes open as his fingertips scratch the file. He scrabbles to reach it, hands straining against the tight-wound chains and his fitted trouser leg – fucking leather pants – and is blasted by an angry bellow before he can catch hold. His grip slips. The file is a millimeter out of reach, and if only he had more time…
Only there’s no more time. The bilgesnipe curls its sleep-heavy limbs and lunges.
And Kraglin whirls around, screeching louder than a banshee, and empties the syringe into its eye.
The bilgesnipe screams too, and thrashes. Its leg catches him in the midsection. The claw rends – thank fuck – through the tether between him and the ceiling pipe, rather than his calves.
Kraglin’s batted into the opposite wall as easily as a swatted fly. He scrambles into a seated position, gulping air, more winded than he’s ever been in his life. Hot blood sluices over his fingers. He can’t tell if it’s the bilgesnipe’s or his; all pain has been obliterated in the present actuality of fear.
That fear hones into terror as the bilgesnipe advances.
It’s snarling louder than a rabid Kree, froth bubbling from the corners of its stretched lips. The tranq needle prongs from its eyesocket like a miniature javelin, pathetically tiny, inconsequential in comparison to its bulk. Kraglin scrabbles along the wall. His feet are still tangled, and there’s no way, just no way, that he’s getting out of this one.
And so… Well, what’s he got left to lose?
Kraglin grabs another syringe. It’s cracked; there’s sticky blue liquid leaking over his fist. But the bilgesnipe doesn’t know that. All it recognizes is the instrument in his hand, and the fact that another such weapon is currently lodged in its eyeball and delivering a concentrated dose of anesthetic metatoxins direct to its brain. It sways to one side, then the other. Conflicted. Hesitant.
“That’s right,” Kraglin gasps. “You better be scared.”
He grabs a syringe for his other hand, and brandishes them akimbo, as threateningly as he can. The bilgesnipe paws at its gushing eye. The other squints at him with a dark animal intelligence. Its nostrils flap like gills; Kraglin, breathing through his nose, prays that it can’t smell fear. He keeps talking, mostly to keep himself sane.
“C’mon then. C’mon. You think you’re so big? You think you’re scary? Yeah? Well, I got news for ya, Baby. You ain’t nothing.” His voice raises. “I beat the betting pool! I’ve lasted two fuckin' months. Heck, I’ve pissed off half the most deadly people on this crew, and survived! Course I ain’t afraid of you!”
The bilgesnipe… wobbles. Just a little. It claws scrape the pipes as it resettles its balance, and snarls in Kraglin’s face. Kraglin holds his ground.
“I ain’t afraid of you,” he repeats. Looks it dead in the eyes – in the eye. Holds his syringes firm and steady. “I got two more of these, but you only got one eye left. You wanna keep it? Get the fuck back.”
“You know it can’t understand you, right?” Yondu calls. Kraglin can’t be distracted, not now. Break that gaze for an instant, and he’s dead.
“Just shoot it,” he says.
Yondu, eclipsed by the bilgesnipe’s spiny hulk, laughs. Kraglin can hear him jumping around, avoiding the lashing tail, searching for a place to aim his shot. “You sure ya don’t wanna keep talking? You were havin' quite the lil moment.”
Kraglin’s eyes are watering. He needs to blink. But the bilgesnipe’s pupil is searing a cold scour into him, and he doesn’t dare lower his eyelids, not for a fraction of a second.
“Shoot the fucking thing, sir,” he says. “Please.”
There’s a grunt and a scuffle of leather over pipes. Then he spots Yondu’s head in the shadows between Baby’s legs – crazy bastard’s dived under its tail, getting himself a sighting of its soft underbelly. Kraglin, deadlocked by the bilgesnipe’s gaze, can’t watch him plaster on a cold smile – but he can hear it in his voice.
Yondu squeezes the trigger. The tranq bites Baby’s throat.
After that, everything is immediate.
Baby’s eye whips from Kraglin. It screams, an earsplitting, awful roar of anger and agony that has Kraglin slamming his palms over his ears and cringing against the wall. Its fangs gnash, the only warning before it lunges for him. Kraglin flings himself sideways, chain whipping out and slapping it over the snout. He gets a gobbit of drool in his eye as jaws snap above his head. Baby, already doddery from the syringe in its eye, senses its nerves failing and thrashes harder than ever, beating itself off the walls. Kraglin’s too busy curling into a defensive ball to see what happens to Yondu, who’s trapped under the bilgesnipe’s main body. He can’t imagine it’s pleasant.
It's no more than ten seconds between the punch of the dart through scaled skin and the moment Baby crashes chin-first onto the tunnel floor. But it might as well have been hours. Kraglin uncurls slowly, barely daring to believe it’s over. His legs are raw from the rubbing of the chain, wet grazes sliming the inside of his leathers. He tests his throat and finds it ragged.
“Y-Yondu?” he stutters. Coughs. Tries again. “Yondu? You alive?” There’s a moan, from the region of the bilgesnipe’s hind quarters. Kraglin, deciding that a little vindictiveness is well-deserved, nevertheless can’t hold back his relieved smile. “What was that? You say something?”
The moan becomes a growl. “Get… This… Offa… Me…”
Kraglin works his pants over his hips, unclasps the file, and zips up again before setting to work on the chains. “It’s your pet,” he singsongs, over the scritch of metal on metal. “If it’s too heavy, you oughta put it on a diet.”
There’s a drawn out pause. Kraglin, eardrums dampened from that last awful bellow, doesn’t hear Yondu shift, or bite down on a yelp.
“Dammit, Kraglin!” There’s a boot, if he looks closely; sticking out from under the bilgesnipe’s tail. Kraglin smirks at it, and files harder. Chips of metal bastion his knuckles. Let Yondu squirm a while. He certainly deserves it.
The boot twitches, followed by a sharp intake of breath. “What is it?” Kraglin asks. Then sniggers. “Don’t tell me ya didn’t have it housetrained.”
Yondu, sandwiched between the floor, the bilgesnipe’s squishy underbelly, and its decidedly less squishy haunches, clenches his fists and wishes he could move enough to wipe the sweat out of his eyes, or failing that, flip Kraglin off. “Think my leg’s broke,” he croaks.
Kraglin jerks, halfway through his sawing. The file gashes his thumb. “Fuck! You serious?”
There’s a pained snort. “Nah. M'being squished by a bilgesnipe for the shits and giggles.”
Clenching his jaw, Kraglin resets the file and scratches harder. Fresh blood dribbles from his thumb, staining an already crusty sleeve. “I’ll getcha out. Just… just gimme a sec. Kinda tied up, here.” Everything’s sticky and sweaty and smells of bilgesnipe-breath; his grip slides about the unbound metal handle of the file like he’s trying to jerk it off. It skids over a rough weld-scar between chain links, spitting sparks. Kraglin hunches and puts his back into the task, working his arm back and forth until his scarred chest protests. “Hey, uh, can you keep talking to me?” he pants. “Probably best if ya don’t nod off just yet.”
Yondu’s boot wiggles again. There’s a whimper of a laugh. “Kinda hard t’talk… With Baby on m’back…”
There’s an innuendo in here somewhere, but Kraglin’s not in the mood to find it. He flexes his aching fingers and drops the file, twisting the remaining segment holding the chain together until it snaps. “Alright, I’m out. Uh.” He scopes all fourteen muscular meters of Baby, from snout to tail. “How’m I supposed to get it off you?”
Yondu’s groan is muffled, but no less exasperated. “I don’t give a shit.” A pause. “An' Baby’s a she.”
“How can ya…” Kraglin trails off. “Tell. Right.” Kicking the chains away, he sidles over, inspecting the nearest clawed foot. “I’m gonna try something. Uh. Scream if it hurts, yeah?”
Another groan. “Aw, just geddon with it. I can’t feel my fingers.”
Get on with it. Oh-kay. Kraglin crouches down, thinks for a moment, and loops the end of the chain between Baby’s toes. “She could use a manicure,” he tells Yondu. It’s not funny but he laughs anyway, just a little grating puff that makes his boot shake. Kraglin winds the chain out, finds the splintered end, and feeds it through the loose pipe next to where the rest of it is tied. For once he’s grateful that he’s tall enough to reach without a stepladder. He’s not so grateful about being a lanky twig though, when he heaves on the makeshift pulley with all his strength and Baby’s leg budges barely an inch.
“Shit,” he mutters, pulling again. And again. Then, wiping sweat and blood off his palms, rubs his hands and jumps. He swings on the chain like a pendulum. Baby’s foot hoists a half-meter. “Any better?” he yells. He can see more of Yondu’s leg now, and – well, it sure ain’t supposed to be bent in that direction. But at least it’s no longer being crushed under Baby’s pelvis. “Yep. That’s broken. Definitely. Quite. Broken.”
“Cheers, Doc,” Yondu says. Kraglin slips down the chain, bootsoles brushing the floor, but manages to keep the tension so the leg doesn’t go crashing down again.
“Can ya move? At all?”
There’s a ripple in the folds of skin gathered where Baby’ belly sags across the floor. “Lil bit.” His breath sounds like it’s coming shorter. Kraglin’s arms are straining at the shoulder socket, and he has to fight to keep his heels on the ground.
“I gotta put this down,” he gasps eventually. Then, forcing his tone to be cheery – “Don’t worry. Don’t worry. I’ll try something else. There’s gotta be something else.”
“Ain’t worried,” Yondu grumbles. Although the noise he makes when Kraglin carefully releases the chain and resettles Baby’s weight on his crooked femur suggests otherwise. Kraglin winces.
“Just… stay there, yeah?” he says, backing away. Yondu pants out something that might be a ‘duh’. “I’ll go get… something.”
And off he trots.
He comes across his discarded plasma rifle, and dithers over the selection of knives that Dagada’d stripped from his person. He could always chop Baby off of him. But if Yondu wanted her dead, he’d have whistled by now. It’s while he contemplates this that he remembers that firstly, Dagada’s still out there, and secondly, he’d made a very passable attempt at killing him. Making him bait. Whatever.
And Yondu, the target of that bait, is currently being squished under a convenient immovable ton of bilgesnipe.
Kraglin slips a knife up his sleeve, and smiles.