Blame It On The Stars

Chapter 24

In which Morlug tries her hand at counselling, Kraglin is so totally an adult, and Yondu is nowhere to be found.

“I’m not your counsellor,” says Morlug as Kraglin settles his mop moodily besides hers and swipes dirty water over the patch she’s just cleaned. Kraglin, not concentrating on his handiwork, shrugs. “Seriously. I’m so bad at this shit. You’d be better off talking to Isla.”

“Isla don’t know,” Kraglin replies. Concentrates on painting sticky circles over the grimy red. Morlug pushes air out her nose, grabs him by the elbow, and relocates him so he’s messing the floor in front of her rather than behind.

“Isla ain’t the most observant in the bunch, but she’s smarter than she lets on. And anyway, why’re you complaining? Ravagers don’t do nothing more than casual – I mean, heck, you banged Dixie, didn’t you?”

“And it was awesome. But…” Kraglin leans on his brush with a melodramatic sigh. “I dunno. Guess I’m just pissed ‘cause I figured we was gonna handle Baby together. I kinda saved his life back there, and all.” Morlug looks at him. Kraglin pouts. “His leg, at least. Aw heck. What’m I telling you for?”

“Wish I knew,” says Morlug. Kraglin wrings his mop-head in a tight circle.

“Fact is, I don’t like this. Ain’t normal for the Collector to buy a basic Bilgesnipe. There’s something else going on, and either Yondu ain’t telling me everything or he’s being duped as well.”

Morlug snorts. “Day Udonta tells anyone everything, the galaxy implodes.” She catches Kraglin’s look. “What? Goes against the basic laws of nature, that does. Have you met the guy?”

“He ain’t that bad.”

“Yeah. And you’re worried because you think this job might go tits-up. Not because he left you behind.”

The sarcasm bites deep. Kraglin’s got no answer for it. He rests his forehead on the mop, staring past the handle that’s wedged through his field of vision. “You’re really bad at this,” he tells Morlug. She shrugs and keeps scrubbing.

After that, he doesn’t see Yondu for a week. Not that Kraglin’s been counting. Or become mildly obsessed with the worry that Yondu’s avoiding him.

Because alright, Eclector’s a big ship. But nowadays he rotates between Bridge shifts, repair shifts, and the occasional scrub around the canteen and central corridors – half his life is spent stalking through the most densely inhabited tunnels and being batted about like a pingpong ball when he gets in folks’ way. Before, Yondu’s always sauntered up casual-as-you-like, crowd parting to let him through, and cancelled his shift so he can drag Kraglin off to accompany him wherever he’s going – whether it’s to the quartermaster because he’s stocking for another solo and needs a hand lugging equipment to his M-ship, or to the ammo decks so he can bitch to someone about how much firepower they’re packing and how little Jora utilizes it. Or just to a random supply closet for a handjob. Going for seven and a half day-cycles with neither hide nor implant of him, while Yondu's not on a mission and is injured too badly to be actively sprinting in the opposite direction whenever Kraglin turns a corner, is odd.

More than odd. It’s disquieting.

Kraglin’s started to entertain the possibility that Yondu got dissected by the Collector and everybody’s not talking about it – but nope; there’s his M-ship, docked in hangar, shiny new dent from where he’d bounced it off one of the cosmic titan’s teeth and all. When loitering around it yields no more results than making him feel like a stupid teenager (stupid almost-twenty-year-old), Kraglin abandons his efforts and decides Yondu must’ve been gutted by Doc instead, for handling Baby’s sale himself when he knows he’s supposed to be resting his leg for the next month.

Things are boring, without him.

Isla stops off to chat whenever she’s not in a rush, and there’s always Morlug – but all in all, Kraglin might as well have been bumped back down to rookie again. He’s not helping himself, either. He politely excuses himself from Dixie’s embrace, when she attempts to tug him in the direction of a conveniently abandoned bog block – wondering if perhaps that has something to do with it, and if Yondu’d been more pissed about him fucking her than he’d let on. That thought’s dismissed immediately. Yondu’d as good as wingmanned him himself. No, it ain’t that. But if he ain’t mad at him for sleeping with someone else, and he ain’t dead… Maybe he’s just busy?

…Maybe Kraglin should stop thinking about him, before he drills a hole in Dagada’s ship.

Although the a-hole’d deserve it. After a quick stint swapping between brig and hospital wing, the bastard’s back and crabbier than ever. Jora hasn’t demoted him – yet. But he’s on borrowed time and he knows it – which means he’s also voiding his offended cantankerousness at anyone whom he deems worthy of his ire. Right now, Kraglin’s top of the list.

“Stop slacking off!” Dagada yells from below. His voice is back. Damn it. Kraglin yanks his multitool from the hole with a little too much vigor, metal bore-chips spitting in his face. He pops off the drill bit and clicks the screwdriver head in.

“Sir, yes sir.”

“And sound a bit livelier, would you? You’re making me depressed just watching you.”

“Sir, yes sir!”

Kraglin’s holding onto the ridge above Dagada’s cockpit with one hand, feet braced on the curved nose like he’s abseiling. His harness cuts under his arms and over his ribs. The cracked glass panel has been removed – he didn’t ‘accidentally’ fumble and drop it on Dagada’s head, although it had been tempting – and he’s in the process of replacing it with one they’d salvaged from the burnt-out husk of a Horde craft a few days back, sliced and sandpapered to fit. He screws it onto the opening piece from the inside and outside, so that it doesn’t blast off completely when the pilot needs to eject – no sense wasting valuable material. Then it’s a layer of sealant around the rim, and a test of the locking mechanism to ensure that it’ll slot into the sealant-coated notch designed for it, rather than violently depressurizing as soon as Dagada breaches the hangar forcefield.

What a crying shame that would be.

Kraglin winches himself to ground-level once the task’s complete, and lours darkly at the wall while Dagada makes a show of going over his work and picking out every tiny flaw.

“Look at this scratch! Do you want me to be slurped out into the vacuum?” More than he knows. Finally though, it’s over. Dagada assigns him a week of scrub-shifts for his shoddy workmanship, and releases him to his down-cycle with a hissed threat. “Don’t think that you can set your eyes on my girl now that Yondu isn’t fucking you anymore.”

Kraglin, confused, blinks. “Dixie?”

Dagada’s scowl is volcanic. “Don’t play fucking coy. I’m talking about Morlug. You stay away from her – she’s not interested in bitches.”

Oh boy. Kraglin shakes his head. “Pull your head out yer ass. She ain’t interested in anyone – not me, and sure as hell not you.” The sneer on Dagada’s lips spasms. Kraglin presses forwards. “And you know it. Leave her the fuck alone.” He squeezes the hand that’s fisted in his collar, tipping his wrist so Dagada can see the tip of the knife-blade, glittering in the shadow of his sleeve. “Leave me the fuck alone too.”

Dagada pulls himself off. “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” he says. Bares his stinking tombstone teeth. “And I’ll show you all, just you wait. You’re lucky Yondu’s not interested in you any more. I might be tempted to take you out otherwise – kill two birds with one stone.”

“You’re the one who don’t know what you’re talking about,” Kraglin begins hotly. Then pauses. Reassesses. Starts again. “Yeah, Yondu don’t give two shits about me. And Morlug don’t neither. And you’re fuckin' delusional and looking for someone to bully. Go find a rookie.”

He turns, and walks away. The multitool slides in his sweaty grip, and he fantasizes that he’s left the drill bit sticking out of Dagada’s skull.

Yondu’s not interested no more. Of course. There’s always that.

“You’re pathetic,” Morlug informs him, before dropping him at the Bridge door to start his next shift. Kraglin’s inclined to agree.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” he admits. But Isla emerges and hooks him by belt he’s begun wearing threaded through his high collar before he can get more out of Morlug than a wry: “Want the list?”

Life on the Bridge is removed from the clamor and flurry of the corridors. It’s busy, sure; but locked in his spieling cocoon of constellation charts, Kraglin’s cut off from the chatter. Not cut off from thoughts of a certain blue jackass, whose post by Jora’s side is conspicuously vacated. But not even Kraglin’s a good enough multitasker to fret over Yondu when he’s twisting them through a gauntlet of floating space debris, so he sucks it up and – for the moment – forgets about him.

After his initial fuck up on the nav equipment, he’s progressed quickly. Isla’s got an eye for aptitude, and under her brisk tutelage he’s gone from wobbling them out of the way of oncoming stars to plotting their course lightyears in advance. It’s not challenging work, not physically. But Kraglin enjoys the mental flex. Calculating the orbits of the ever-animated cosmos requires a fair amount of maths; the computer takes care of the algorithms and the more complex algebraic equations he never got taught, but he’s left with the basic logical legwork. Luckily, Kraglin’s always been quick at snap calculations – haggling your way through the Hraxian underworld gives you a sixth sense for when the numbers don’t quite add up. And he’s got a good enough survival instinct to know not to sacrifice safety for speed (to Isla’s constant aggravation).

The manual part of navving is taking a bit more time to get used to. These controls crop up whenever something goes awry – undocumented Kree outpost, surprise meteorite, whatever throws the pre-configured nav plan off. Kraglin’s at it again today, as they dodge the Ravager fleet through a new asteroid belt, left in the wake of a moon-sized colony that had crashed into its orbital planet.

Eclector takes lead. Thankfully, no one on the Bridge looks up from their posts to gawk as Isla thumps his shoulder and he steps up to the nav platform – they’ve got their own jobs to do, manning communications between the flagship and the Ravagers’ smaller long-distance space transports, sending out probe-scans on the frequencies of every known Empire and liable Scavenger threat. Who knows what could be waiting for them, in this silent minefield of dead rock?

Whatever’s out there, it’s Kraglin’s job to guide them through. He feels the pressure of their unspoken expectation, weighing in the pit of his stomach. He can do this, though. He knows it.

And he does.

There’s something unspeakably nerve racking about twisting your hand in a star chart and having the actual engines respond beneath your feet, in the now rather than a few weeks later. But once you’re over that initial holy fuck I’m piloting a million tons of steel and Ravager, it’s kinda fun. Eclector’s no spring chicken but she turns on a fucking needlepoint, and her bulky hull noses between what meteors it can with the grace of a blue whale. What ones it can’t, shudder soundlessly off her forceshields. Kraglin watches them spin past: mighty clumps of earth and twisted chrome, each larger than two M-ships wedged back-to-back, which are granulated to powder and whipped by the force of their engines to smatter on the shields of the frigates behind.

His four hours pass in tense silence. Even Isla is cowed by the scale of the devastation. What remains of the satellite civilization has been scoured and twisted beyond recognition as the impact welded metal to clay, glass to burnished rock. All that’s left of the space station and the planet is their thousand hybrid offspring, natural and artificial mashed together in haphazard abstract sculptures. It’s brutal and beautiful. A derelict exploded diagram of matter. Kraglin’s pulse hammers in his ears as he glides them across the field, then out into open space beyond.

Isla’s the one to break the silence. “They’re waitin’ on us,” she says, thumbing at the hovering fleet. Kraglin nods. Shuts his eyes. Opens them again, and engages the Eclector’s lightspeed drive. The fractured planet shrinks to an atom speck, and they’re sucked into oblivion.

Kraglin exits the Bridge on shaking ankles and takes a minute to refamiliarize himself with the solidity of the walls. His mind’s been left behind, swallowed by the aether. Space’s gargantuan magnitude is sucking on his toes, compelling him to… He doesn’t know what. To jump? To what? To where?

All he knows is that he’s never going to feel this determined again.

He’s got his free hour before the night cycle starts, and he’s not going to spend it floating around the Eclector’s labyrinth like a ship left unmagnetized to dock. No. Kraglin’s going to be proactive. Productive. He’s going to hunt Yondu down, and he’s going to get the explanation that he goddamn well deserves. And for once, he knows exactly where he’ll be.

Their day and night cycles are close to coincided – Yondu starts earlier, Kraglin finishes later, but only by an hour each way. So when Kraglin creaks across the grilling in the D-block dorm, locates the third bunk stack in from the door, and toes off his boots so he can swarm the ladder without bringing the wrath of foot-guy and Figs down upon him, he’s expecting to be met with a bed full of snoring blue Centaurian.

What he finds is… well, it’s snoring, but it’s neither blue, nor a Centaurian.

Kraglin blinks at the rookie girl with the jacket freshly stripped of all its individualizing paraphanalia. Then peeks into the bunk overhead to find another rookie – Varra’s replacement – and Dixie above him. Nope. Definitely the right stack. Just… no Yondu. Where is he? Is he sleeping in his M-ship again? He’ll just be cranky if he wakes up with a crik in his neck, and – y’know, even if he is in his ship, why’ve they put a rookie in his bunk?

Kraglin’s musings are cut off as a scaly hand closes over his socked foot. He stifles the squeak, and manages to save himself from falling face-first onto Dixie’s crotch – not that she’d mind much, after last time. He schools his features, and looks down on a familiar froth of upside-down jellyfish hair, glowing luminescent around a frilled green chin.

“Outside,” says Figs grimly. “You and me. We need to talk.”

The talk goes something like this.

“Stay the fuck away from here, Rookie. Next time I catch you lurkin', I’ll eject you from the nearest airlock.” And Figs turns and shuffles towards her bunk. Kraglin catches her arm.

“Hey, you can’t leave me with that! And my name’s Kraglin, okay? I got one now; least ya could do is use it.”

Figs assesses the hand on her shoulder. Her chin frills flutter, undulations of dry green scales that start from the middle fold and ripple outwards. Kraglin hasn’t met many skulls, but he’s sure that's not a happy sign. He doesn’t let go of her though, tightening his grip and narrowing his own glare to match. He’s had enough of backing down. He’s getting his answers. Now.

“Tell me what’s going on,” he says. “Tell me where Yondu is, and I’ll leave you alone. I swear.”

Figs wrenches her shoulder away. “Yondu ain’t here.”

“I can see that. But why’s there another chick in his bed? Did he do something?” Kraglin’s throat clams up. “Has Jora brigged him? I mean, he was kinda rude to her, but I figured he was always like that and she was used to it… Shit, is he okay? He shouldn’t be doing much with his leg all broke an’ all, and if Dagada’s got him in the brig…”

Figs slaps his hand off when he makes to reach for her again. “He ain’t in the brig. Fuck off.”

That’s a relief, at least. Kraglin’s fingers curl, retreating before they can latch onto Figs collar. She doesn’t make to walk away though, and neither does he.

“Where is he, then?” he asks. Figs’ mouth is tighter than a fresh scar.

“Dorm Block L, Bunk something-or-other,” she says. Kraglin frowns. So Yondu’s switched dorms? Okay, that explains the bed, but not the general lack of him during his day shift.

His day shift.

Kraglin, hit with a wave of premonition, opens his map and scrolls until he’s located the block. It’s the one right next to the canteen, which is bustling at all hours – anyone who’s assigned there is going to be one grouchy fucker unless they’ve stolen any noise cancellation sets recently. It’s also the dorm block that operates on the other end of the cycle shift to his. While he’s going to sleep, Yondu’s waking up. He spends the last two of Kraglin’s down-hours and one-and-a-half shifts before it deep in night-cycle, and then sets about on his own day. There’s still eight hours of crossover in Kraglin’s morning, when Yondu’s getting to the end of his shifts – but the Bridge is Yondu’s first placement of the day, and Kraglin’s last.

Folks don’t swap shift often. Ravagers don’t have the patience to iron out disputes – usually, if you gotta beef with someone, you punch it out between you or you suck it up and deal with it. You don’t just… avoid them. Changing shift is as big a snub as it gets. If Kraglin was anything less than the mature and savvy space pirate he is, he might be a little offended. Because while all of the crew are a team, in theory, your shift-mates are the ones you work with day-in, day-out. They watch your back as you watch theirs. The work’s tough enough that there’s no real time for slacking and chatting, and most Ravagers have their own posses who they abide by shift-in, shift-out; but griping over your supervisors together makes for many firm acquaintances, if not friends.

Kraglin knows though, that those he nods at in the corridors are only a fraction of the Ravagers on board. And the crew of the Eclector’s a fragment of the total Ravager fleet. Heck, if he’d been assigned anywhere else, to any other ship or shift – he’d never have met Yondu at all.

Apparently, Yondu’s trying to rectify that.

“Did he request it?” he asks Figs, keeping his voice level. Her poker face is exquisite. When she looks him up and down, he senses something in her eyes – something cold and hard, resolved not to pity him.

“Yeah,” she says. “I guess ya could say that.” Kraglin’s expecting the answer, but it still smacks like an arrow to the chest. Figs sighs. “And rookie?” She’s leaning on the wall outside the doors, eyes trained on the crusty vents of the tunnel wall opposite. Every time a Ravager breaks her view she has to refocus them, lids clicking dryly over her dark green irises. “It’s for the best. Leave it be.”

Perhaps he should listen to her. Perhaps he should fade back into drudge work and nav training, teasing Isla and irritating Morlug; pretend that he’d never met Yondu and move on with his life. Perhaps he should jump ship at the next landfall, and get to work on that retirement bungalow.

You ain’t going nowhere, kid. And if you do, I’ll come after you and finish the job.

No. He can’t do that. Kraglin squeezes his fists. Forces himself to remain calm.

“I don’t understand,” he says, starting slow. “There’s something goin' on here, Figs. I can tell. Just – just tell me straight –“

But what little emotion Figs has shown has closed itself off, drowned under stiffened green scales. “I’ve told ya all you need to know. Yondu don’t wanna see you no more. Don’t go looking for him. And don’t come talking to me neither, if you know what’s good for you.”

Kraglin’s mouth opens and shuts. “What about Baby?” he asks weakly. “Did he get Baby – uh, I mean, the bilgesnipe – back safely?” He’s seen the M-ship. But he still wants to know. That was the last proper job he worked with Yondu; he needs to hear it’s gone off without a hitch. Closure, or something. Although – hell, Kraglin’s trying to be grown-up about this and all; respect Yondu’s choices and such. But right now he doesn’t want closure. Right now he wants to barge into L-block, grab Udonta by his stupid blue head and shake him until he explains what the fuck this is all about. Throwing a tantrum isn’t any more likely to get Figs to open up, however – and right now, she’s the only link he has. Kraglin stares at her beseechingly. “Please?” he begs. “Tell me how the job went?”

Figs considers him. Her arms are crossed over her flat chest and her hair is wilder than ever, a lightning-bolt puff of crackling white. Kraglin knows she’s weighing up telling him to shove off, just to be done with him. He adjusts his stance to a stubborn mirror.

“Good,” she says, eventually. “It went good. Although he oughta have taken you, by my reckoning.”

Kraglin remembers that she’d commed him that morning. “Thanks, I guess. For trying. I appreciate it.” The look Figs shoots him is… well, confused would be putting it mildly. “What?”

“You’re thanking me?” she asks. Her eyes are bewildered but her mouth’s a hostile twist; a strange conflation that puts Kraglin on edge and has him checking his back pocket for a knife.

“Uh, yeah? I mean, you commed when I was asleep, but it mighta worked otherwise –“

Figs laughs. It’s not a pretty sound. “You wanted to go with him? Fuck, rookie. You really do got a deathwish, don’t you!”

Okay, now he’s the bemused one. “I… guess? I mean, I’ve heard of the Collector but I ain’t never met him before. And I wanted to, y’know, make sure he had a large enough cage for the bilgesnipe and stuff – Baby’s a big girl, but she’s still growing, and I think she’d like space to play…” He trails off. “What d’you mean a deathwish?”

Figs’ smile is barren. “He told you that he was commissioned by the Collector. To deliver a bilgesnipe.”

Okay. There’s definitely something else going on here. Kraglin swallows. “Yeah.”

“A basic, non-genetically modified, pure-blooded, bog-standard bilgesnipe.”

It’s what’s been bothering him. Kraglin stoops towards her in anticipation, eyes wide. “Yeah!”

There’s a long silence. Then Figs scoffs, claps him on the back, and makes for her bunks. Kraglin stumbles after her, calling out – “Hey, wait! What d’you mean? If it weren’t the Collector, who was it?”

“Work it out!” The dorm door slams, a thrown boot bouncing off it from the other side, echoed by a muffled ‘fuck off’. Kraglin, marooned in the hallway with Ravagers sidestepping to his front and back, stutters dumbly at the door, and rolls her parting words over in his head until a burly Kree elbows him in the gut and tells him in no-nonsense terms to step to the side or get walking. He walks. Mind in a daze.

Work it out.

Work it out.

What are bilgesnipe used for? Illegal animal baiting, exotic pet trade, narcotics and medicine.

Who specializes in all of those?

Kraglin’s palms clam up. He knows. Of course he fucking knows. He’d worked for them… For how long, before his attempt to rob them blind with a forged Flengoffan diamond necklace had gone horribly awry? Heck, since he’d first crawled out the gutter! The goddamn Hraxian Cartel. Who have a bounty on him about as pricey as the tag sprayed on Baby’s back.

But… why? Why had Yondu lied? Why even bother with the fabrication about the Collector in the first place – unless he wanted to keep Kraglin in the dark, lure him in, parcel him and Baby up together and deliver them both in exchange for his precious credits…?

For a moment, Kraglin is filled with a pain so wrenching that the only way he can extinguish it is with an equally festering rage.

Fuck that Jackass. Had it all been… what, a trick? A plan to – to what? Get him close, get him trusting, sell him for profit? But fuck with him a bit first, just to make it that bit harder to bear? He wants to say Yondu wouldn’t be that cruel. But he’s gotta admit – after today, he ain’t sure he can say anything accurate about Yondu, not anymore.

Keep walking, he tells himself, as he stomps past L-block dorms. The queues straggling out of the canteen breach and reform around him, Ravagers shuffling out of his way. Keep walking, and don’t look back.

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