In which Kraglin has a birthday, Isla has an M-ship, and Morlug has a lot of regrets about ever suggesting this.
And so it goes.
Kraglin rolls out of his bunk in the morning, drags his carcass to stoop shivering beneath an icy showerhead, heaves on his jacket and pants and heads to the M-ship bay with his head down, refusing to scan the corridors for any hint of blue. If he does pass Yondu, he’s too busy scowling at his bootlaces to notice. That’s okay. They’re worth more to him, anyway.
Morlug, by the frequency of her glances, notices his mood as she trails after him on their maintenance shift, but she doesn’t comment on it. Isla does, extensively and to great length; but it’s all teasing and ribbing and general mockery, and asking Kraglin if Dixie’s got him preggers or something, what with all these moodswings.
Dixie… Kraglin’s been staying away from Dixie. If he sees her, he’ll only snap, and she doesn’t deserve that. As for Figs, he’s staying away from her too – for both of their sakes.
This is what they wanted, right? Her and Udonta? He hopes they’re loving every Kraglin-free second.
Kraglin furiously digs his screwdriver into the circuitboard in front of his nose, and receives a hearty zap for his troubles. “Ow! Fuck.”
On the top rung of the stepladder, her own screwdriver wedged in the ajar sliver of doorway that they’ve coaxed the botched locking mechanism into releasing, Morlug huffs and yanks until her biceps bulge. The door shifts a millimetre. “You look like a scared porcupig,” she informs Kraglin. Kraglin rakes his fingers through his shock-spiked Mohawk, and sneers.
“Dagada’s the one who stole my hair gel.” Because he caught him smuggling anesthetics for Yondu. So technically, this is Yondu’s fault too.
Kraglin locates the live connection and, after binding insulator tape around his screwdriver and up his wrists, gives in to frustration and rips. Sparks pop like miniature firecrackers. Hot needles mottle the underside of his chin. Kraglin sets his jaw, yanking… When the wires give, he’s deposited heavily onto his backside, spitting copper threads still clenched in his grip. The door thunks closed, what little progress they’d made lost. Kraglin flings his bundle at the wall.
Morlug observes him placidly. “Y’know we’re supposed to be fixing this door, not making it inoperable?”
Kraglin wishes it had clamped shut on her fingers. Then regrets it. If Dixie doesn’t deserve his anger, neither does Morlug – nor does she deserve his futile attempt at stress-relief-via-vandalism, which’ll come back to bite her when Dagada checks over her work. Aw hell. He scrubs his eyes on his sleeve, which are prickly, for some reason. Morlug ain’t never lied to him. Or tricked him. Or tried to sell him for cash. Why couldn’t he have fallen in love with her?
…Where the heck did that thought come from?
Kraglin can’t be bothered to cultivate a suitably coherent argument of denial. The idea of love ever applying to him – to him and Yondu fucking Udonta, greatest jackass to sail the aether – is bizarre to the point of nonsensical. Not even worthy of contemplation.
His mouth, formulating a spitting reply, slowly shuts. He stands, retrieves his screwdriver from the spaghetti-mess of copper entrails he’s torn from the pressure panel, and fishes out a reel from his utility belt, snipping off new wire lengths and clipping them in place of those he destroyed in silent apology. The step ladder vibrates over the grilling. Morlug’s boots thunk down. A hand hovers indecisive over his shoulder, then gives it a firm squeeze. Kraglin concentrates on the panel, two twists for each wire, overlaying the fritzed center of the circuitbox, as Morlug clears her throat.
“Ain’t it your birthday soon, Krags? Wanna do something?”
It’s a ploy; an obvious one at that. And it’s exactly what Kraglin needs. He sandwiches flat against the door, squinting sideways into the box so he can see the wire he’s picking at under the thatch of others, and answers out of the corner of his mouth – “What like?”
Morlug shrugs. “Aw, y’know, the usual. Booze. Party. We could take Isla’s M-ship – ain’t like she ever uses it anyway…”
That’s an idea. Kraglin almost undoes all his reparation-work, he pulls the screwdriver out so quickly. “Could I fly?” he asks, spinning on her in sudden eagerness. “Fly the M-ship? Think Isla’d let me?” Morlug mulls it over, then shrugs again.
“Don’t see why not. I mean, heck. You can’t be no worse than…”
She might as well have ripped the wires out of him too. Catching her mistake, Morlug shuts the sentence off, and Kraglin, expression shuttering, returns silent to his panel. Morlug worries the loose stitching capping her turned-up sleeves between long pink fingers. “Why don’t I comm her now?” she says, backing away. “Yeah. Yeah, I’ll comm her now.”
Dagada’s on duty in the hangar, which means there’s no way they’re going to get exit permission without Morlug dropping to her knees and proposing right there and then. (When Isla suggests it, she receives a mutinous scowl and a threat to solder her cockpit on backwards next time she ejects.) It takes a suitable commotion to divert his attention – a fire faucet in the hangar over, which springs a torrential leak not moments after Kraglin’s first maintenance shift finishes. Seems some a-hole’s nicked half the washers and hidden them in the scrub closet. Incredible coincidence, really.
It’s worth the risk of discovery. Dagada’s ruthless and determined – but while he’s competent when it comes to dishing out discipline, he tends to jump on the nearest conclusion like it’s a downhill bandwagon and go rattling off on it before scouting for other potential culprits. The rookie who’d been assigned that job – the one Isla had sent on an errand to the quartermaster, to pick up a nice fat tub of elbow grease – will no doubt be facing a mouthful of slimy square teeth and a trip to the whipping post when he returns.
Poor guy. But he ain’t named yet, so he’s expendable.
Kraglin smothers any vestiges of guilt as he settles into the pilot’s seat. He’d survived worse, after all.
An M-ship is a bulbous triangle of thrusters and sleek glass. It’s meant to be smooth and streamlined, able to punch into an atmosphere with the same ease with which it slides through space. Isla’s fits the bill. The design’s surprisingly humdrum – Kraglin doesn’t know what he was expecting: fringed tassles like the ones pinned around her sleeves, or possibly an array of jangling variegated hoops and studs. But Isla’s M-ship is as basic as they come. Orange paint smeared around the canopy-hood in a sharp edged V and blue stripes on the wings, each of which branches into three jagged flaps at the tip. The air under the vents wobbles as Kraglin edges the ship out of its harness at the far end of the docking bay.
“Easy,” Isla murmurs. The hand on his shoulder is tensed, knuckles bulging at the dark pierced skin. “Easy now.”
He rotates the joystick, and laughs breathily as the M-ship spins on her axis like a flicked penny, hot air blasting the hangar behind. Ahead, the forcefield glimmers: a slender spool of satin pulled taut over the empty abyss.
Isla’s fingers squeeze. "Go,” she says.
Kraglin ought to take this slow – it’s his first time, and the blackness of space has always been an unconquerable well of nothingness that lodges blind terror in his gut. But right now, that stomach-wrenching intensity is what he’s striving for. Kraglin’s doing this to forget. Buoyed on by the weight of the past couple of days, of Fig’s confession and Yondu’s betrayal, Kraglin doesn’t pause to consider before slamming his foot down and catapulting them into the void.
The forcefield smears gold ribbons across his vision. It takes several blinks for them to disappear, and by then, the three of them are encapsulated in silence. There’s no roar of engines. No rapid combustion pound as the engines strain. When he cuts them out they continue on the same trajectory, at the same speed, a silent bullet slicing the vacuum. It takes a tilt of the joystick to swivel the rockets on the M-ship’s underside so that they blast forwards as well as back. Kraglin overcompensates; rather than bringing them to a gentle halt they’re sent juddering rearwards.
Morlug, lashed to the copilot’s seat, holds her belt and looks nauseous. Isla, having rejected the suggestion to sit, does a clumsy rolypoly and lands on her stomach with an ‘oof’. She’s immediately up again and laughing with it, ruffling Kraglin’s hair until her pierced fingers yank on the strands.
Ow. It’s not like Isla to plead for a calmer ride, but what with all his recent pussy-footing around a gang of tempestuous space pirates, Kraglin’s used to reading hints.
He balances forwards and back thrust until they’re stable. Then cuts completely and lets them hover outside the pull of the galleon’s gravity, before wincingly assessing the state of his Mohawk. It’ll survive. He thinks. His scalp isn’t so sure.
“Fun?” Isla asks, pushing her own brown ringlets out of her eyes. Kraglin lets his grin answer for him, and Isla gives his shoulder a firm clap. “Alright, whizz-kid. Let’s see you do some barrel rolls. Then I’ll be impressed.”
An hour later, his passengers are thoroughly nauseated and Kraglin’s the most elated he’s been since he survived his first month.
“Yee-haw!” he screams as he wheels the M-ship through a cloud of dust and asteroids, flipping her back and forth around the larger chunks as if she’s being batted from side to side by a celestial ping-pong bat.
“Y’know, if you flew in a straight line, you wouldn’t have to do all this bouncing,” Isla tells him. Then hurks and scrabbles for the nearest waste receptacle. Kraglin shuts his eyes a blissful moment. Opens them to Morlug’s nervous squeak and an oncoming meteor the size of a shuttle. Pulls back on his ignition and angles their nose forwards, pushing them into a seamless front-flip that carries them over the rock and down the other side, Isla clinging to the dashboard so she doesn’t roll across the ceiling.
Oh yeah. He’s awesome.
“I’m awesome,” Kraglin sings as they re-enter the hangar. He pops the cockpit and swarms over the M-ship’s nose, rather than trekking through the main body to access the ladder. Straddling the lip, he drops a kiss on its rounded hull – then regrets it as he tastes space-grime and cosmic ash. “Blegh.”
“You,” says Isla, from under the pile of space-suits she’d been buried beneath, “are the worst pilot I’ve ever have the misfortune to fly with.”
Kraglin brushes her off. “Critics.”
“I’m serious. Ugh.” Her head appears, swaying dangerously. When she rubs her chin on her sleeve she brings away sour saliva and the remains of Shorro’s lunch. “Just because ya can do all that fancy flippy stuff don’t mean ya should. 'Specially if there’s a clear path through all the debris. Sorta shenanigans’ll get you caught when you got Nova on your tail.”
“Where’s your sense of adventure?”
“I lost it with my lunch,” Isla deadpans. But she quits griping long enough to give him a quick squeeze after she’s wobbled her way down the ramp. Her stout little body slots around him, chin digging into his stomach, and she treats his ass to a hearty slap. “Happy fuckin' birthday.”
Kraglin has to lean to return the hug. “Thanks.” He’s allowed a generous two seconds before Isla wriggles out of the embrace with a cough. Heaven forbid Ravagers be caught cuddling.
Morlug appears, edging down the ramp on knocking knees. Her face is an interesting shade of green-purple, and when Kraglin goes to hug her too she wards him off with a grimace and a warning hand pressed against her mouth. Right. Best not to risk it. He’d only have to sponge up the mess next scrub shift – Isla’s already informed him that he can empty all her vomit-filled bins in his own spare time. But for now, Kraglin can’t bring himself to care. The prospect of immersing himself elbow-deep in Isla’s chunky stomach contents hardly registers; Kraglin’s walking on air, ankles replaced with springs. Today, space isn’t horrifying. Terrible, awe-inspiring, yes. But Kraglin’s spun out into its dark recesses, and he’s returned safely home.
What an odd thought that is.
Above, Isla’s M-ship is winched away from the flight deck and deposited into its suspension-harness. Kraglin cups his hand over his eyes, squinting into the bright dock-lights as it’s dragged away. It settles in its customary position – one down from Yondu, three away from the captain’s prime spot. Resting besides that pitted spacewreck it looks brand new; positively shiny. The wealth of gubbins accumulated from spiraling through the asteroid field pales into insignificance when compared with Yondu’s lavish coating of dents, which reflect the light from a thousand different angles like the facets on a Flengoffan jewel.
But Kraglin’s not thinking about that. Kraglin’s not thinking about Yondu period – because hell, why should he? He’s just had the time of his fucking life. He’s twenty years old. Tonight he’s going to get piss-drunk, learn the sign language for if gravity didn’t exist I’d still fall for you, and fuck Dixie like she’s the last woman in the galaxy. He’s got his friends. He doesn’t need some blue skinned jackass to make his life interesting. And y’know what? He doesn’t want him either.
Kraglin turns his back on the M-ships with a victorious smile. He’s never going to lay eyes on Yondu Udonta, not ever again. And that thought doesn’t hurt.
Not one bit.