In which Dagada is creepy, Morlug hits things, and Kraglin and Yondu suck at breaking up.
The first hint is when his Bridge shift gets cancelled. The door doesn’t snap open to his palmprint, and when he comms Isla he gets a blank buzz. There’s a message, feeding through the lines when shift’s over – Kraglin spent it prowling the stretch of corridor between the Bridge and the training rooms, past the open door of the captain’s cabin (which is currently undergoing renovations), before traipsing moodily to bunk.
“Sorry, kid,” is all Isla says. Then the comm jars to empty feedback.
Kraglin smacks his watch on the bedpost hard enough to jolt his bones.
“Shuddup,” moans the gassy boy above. He ignores him. The only thing he can glean from this is a hint of satisfaction: that Figs had been wrong and that his avoidance of Yondu hasn’t actually improved anything. Although of course, it ain’t his best interests Figs has at heart. Kraglin doubts she’d give two shits if Dagada stripped him of every scrap of red leather and dumped him naked and blubbering on a Cartel-prowled satellite, for the mortal sin of having slept with his enemy. Thankfully, it hasn’t come to that. Just an endless tide of lilac scrub shift squares, which inundate his holo-roster from now until the next stardate millennium.
Somehow, that’s worse. Silly, how he didn’t realize how much he enjoys Navving – having some modicum of authority, of importance – until that privilege was revoked.
It dawns on Kraglin the next morning. He’s tramping past Morlug, who’s scampering Bridge-ways, arms overflowing with data-pads and looking as harried as if she’s been given five minutes to unclog a drain after Horuz’s passed through. “Heck. You and me. We’ve swapped.”
Morlug spins on him with wild eyes. “What d’you mean?”
Kraglin shakes his head. “Nothing. Those for the captain?”
Morlug’s teeth grind like nails on slate. “Unfortunately. He’s got me with him twenty-four seven, and it’s all brain-work. Dammit, Krags; I ain’t smart enough for this shit.” It’s true. Morlug’s good at fixing things, better at breaking things, even better at punching things, and utterly abysmal with numbers, words, or anything that requires putting pen to paper and engaging the left hemisphere. Kraglin clamps down on his jealousy long enough to pity her.
“You need a hand?” he asks, leaning on his mop. Morlug looks sorely tempted. “C’mon, anything. I’m going outta my mind here.”
“Aw, what the heck… In here!” Grabbing his sleeve – and miraculously not overbalancing and depositing all fifty holopads to shatter on the floor – Morlug tugs him to one of the empty training rooms. The green bulb above the entrance flickers in time to the bounce of their boots over the grills. It’s bare, set in an iron cage, and the filiments spark yellow-white through the tinted glass. Heat efficient, but liable to zap if you prod it. Kraglin relieves Morlug of a handful of her pads, allowing her to open the door. She gives the handkey a tap. Nothing happens. The tap is turned into a pat, then a slap, then a slow, aggrieved slide of palm over prickly biolock.
“I don’t fuckin' believe this,” she says. Shoves the pads under her other arm. “You try.”
Kraglin does, and the door squeaks open. “What was that about?” he asks. Morlug’s scowl is darker than the wheeling cosmos.
“Dagada’s new stroke of genius to keep folks from slacking on shift. Or at least, to keep me from avoidin' him like he’s got Moragian Plague. I’m only allowed where he wants me – which’s usually next to him.”
Of course. Prick who can’t handle rejection. And seeing as Morlug ain’t interested in fucking anyone who walks on two legs – and, as far as Kraglin can tell, none of the crewmates who walk on more or less neither – Dagada’s going to be facing an awful lot of those. Tensions on Bridge must be astronomical.
“Glad I could help you escape,” he says, sitting with his shoulders against the door and picking the first pad off the pile. Deal contracts. “He got any specs on what to approve?”
He’s not sure what he wants to hear. If Dagada’s an improvement on Jora when it comes to taking jobs, there goes Yondu’s incentive for the crew to approve his captaincy. Sure, Yondu’s less of an asshole than Dagada – marginally. But he’s also one of the Ravagers labelled ‘do not fuck with for fear of death, no matter how much he looks like he’s laughing along; seriously, don’t’. To the crew, all that’ll boost one higher than the other is how much green they’re bringing in.
So it’s a relief when Morlug shrugs and says “Same as always.” That means no jobs that require more than fifteen M-ships, nothing that trifles with any Empire, no loyalty to past patrons, and approximately two thirds of potential clients cut out. Kraglin scoffs. “What?”
“C’mon, ya don’t think we could be doing better than this?”
Morlug side-eyes him. “What, Udonta fuck you so hard his ideas fell out his dick and into your brain?”
Kraglin gives her an appraising smirk. “You’re getting better at this insult thing.”
“Nah, but seriously.” He spreads ten pads in front of them, scrolls through the lot, sorts them into ‘yes’, ‘maybe’, ‘no’, ‘what the fuck even is this; who would hire us to steal someone’s mucus’, and passes the piles to Morlug for inspection. “We got us a fleet. Second-biggest in the goddam quadrant. And we don’t even know battle formations! No wonder the Horde walk all over us when we clash on a job.”
Morlug shifts his ‘what the fuck’ to the ‘yes’ pile, after she’s mouthed out the letters one-by-one to herself – “Something weird t’do with cloning,” she explains. “Dagada’ll go for that sorta thing. Probably send Udonta to get his hands dirty – s’a gross dig, but it pays well.” At Kraglin’s words though, she shakes her head. “I dunno. We ain’t much more than hired thugs. Don’t do plotting or planning; only take jobs we can figure out as we go.”
Her acceptance of the Ravagers’ lot in the hierarchy of galactic organized crime is… needling. Perhaps Kraglin empathizes with Yondu’s politics more than he’d thought.
“But we could, Morlug. Don’t you see that? We could do so much more –“
Morlug puts her pad down. “I ain’t listening to no mutiny-talk,” she states, eyes on the watery holo-light trapped between the pad's grubby glass screens. “I hate Dagada, sure – but I don’t want no part in Udonta’s trouble.”
Kraglin frowns at her. “But –“
Morlug lifts her wristpiece, gives it a very pointed shake, and mimes zipping her lips.
Kraglin reverts to the alphabet Dixie’d taught them: L-I-S-T-E-N-I-N-G? Morlug’s eyes puzzle out the shapes of his fingers as slow as they do the words on the page. Then, decisively, she nods.
Fucking great. Dagada’s got her under surveillance, as well as confined to where he wants her to be. Kraglin wants to give her a hug – but Morlug’s dealing with this in the Ravager way: steadfast, absolute, and not batting an eyelid. He suspects that if he questions that resolve with pity, he’ll either direct her wrath upon himself (which would be bad) or make all those carefully-constructed walls come crumbling down (which would be infinitely worse).
Kraglin finds his voice. “Y’know what? Fuck Udonta. That guy was gonna sell me back to the Cartel.” Morlug’s eyes bug out.
“Yeah, really!” Kraglin shuffles the next decastack of pads like they’re casino-cards, pulling up the curling Xandarian script and dismissing them to the ‘no’ pile one by one. “If Dagada tosses that jackass out the airlock by the end of the day, he’ll only get applause from me.”
Because if Yondu and Figs are cutting him from their plans for securing the captaincy, what’s to stop Kraglin working on his own?
It’s the same principle as his trick with the bilgesnipe. All he’s gotta do is lay enough bait for Dagada to forget every offence he’s shown him over the past three months, in favor of the chance to one-up Yondu. “It’s a shame the rest of the crew respect him so much,” Kraglin continues, more to Morlug’s wristwatch than her face. Morlug, snappy on the uptake, tilts it so it can capture every artificially aggravated nuance. “Y’know he’s the best earner we have. We can’t just get rid of him. Heck, if Dagada’s not careful, Udonta’ll be more popular than he is! All it’d take is another job as big as the bilgesnipe...”
Morlug makes a nervous grimace. T-O-O--F-A-R-? Kraglin signs. Then shakes his head when Morlug scrunches her eyes and circles her finger for him to repeat. He neatens the teetering ‘no’ pile, before heaping on another eight contracts.
“But I know Udonta pretty well. Better than anyone, I reckon. And sure, he’s a tough bastard – but he’s got his weaknesses. Like any other man. All Dagada needs is someone to help him exploit them.”
Morlug flicks the casing of her wristpiece, as if to ensure the words have sunk in. Whatever tap Dagada’s put on her comm, it only works one way – but Kraglin can still imagine the man, hunched forwards in his seat, ghoulish smile illuminating his face brighter than the orbiting stars.
He helps Morlug sort the rest of the jobs, wiping the pads they’ve unanimously agreed as being below Dagada’s interest level. He offers to carry a bunch back for her too – just the ones at the top of the mound, which are precariously sandwiched under her chin. But Morlug shakes her head.
“Best he don’t get jealous,” she says shortly.
That’s… a good point. A disturbing one too. Kraglin’s seen what happens to girls whose menfolks keep them on a choke-leash so tight that they’re pulled back and strangled for swapping a kind word with friends or family. It rarely ends pretty. But what can he do? Nothing. Not yet. So Kraglin nods, returning Morlug’s tentative smile. He watches her leave, bent back to balance the pads against her jacket-front, and heaves a sigh.
Poor girl’s in deep. When you’re relieved to discover that a guy’s rap sheet doesn’t include rape or violent sexual assault, you know it ain’t the best situation. But if Kraglin strikes up a good rapport with Dagada, he might be able to dissuade the captain from his task of overworking Morlug’s poor brain until it snaps and she becomes a non-resisting vegetable. The promise of Yondu’s weaknesses on a platter should suffice.
Kraglin only prays that he can think up some suitably realistic-sounding lies to feed Dagada by the time he’s commed. And that Yondu doesn’t find out about this, of course.
Yondu breaks their mutually-agreed-upon rule of avoidance the next day. It’s Kraglin’s lunch break, and his hands are blistered from chafing up and down the handle of the scrub-brush. He’s got tingling legs from squatting for so long, and the repetitive circle of flannel over window has lodged an ache in his shoulders that doesn’t diminish for hours after he lets them droop. And two more scrub-shifts to go before he can fall into bed. Dang. How had Morlug survived a year of this?
The queue ambles along at its usual deadbeat pace. Kraglin’s in front of Lizard Guy, who’s ignoring him; in turn, Kraglin’s vacantly counting the ridges ironed into the jacket of the guy in front, over and over, pondering what he’s going to say to Dagada. He’s at number seven for the eleventh time when Yondu storms up behind him, crutches clacking, and scoops him into a headlock.
“The hell did ya tell her?”
“Huh?” Kraglin struggles, choking. Then realizes Yondu’s dropped both crutches and is thus horrendously off-balance, and knocks his foot warningly against the cast leg. Yondu squeezes him tighter. Kraglin raps harder, eyes narrowing in conjunction with his airways. With a sulky snort, Yondu yields, and Kraglin spins to face him –
To burst out laughing.
“Ain’t funny,” Yondu hisses. Kraglin’s mind begs to differ. Since Dagada named himself captain, he hasn’t had a chance to get out a good guffaw, and the state of Yondu’s face is as amusing a sight as any he’s seen. “I said it ain’t funny! Your girl punched me in the nose! I’m gonna have shiners for days!”
“Dixie ain’t my girl,” says Kraglin between sniggers. “And I’m kinda amazed she hit you that hard. Didn’t think she’d want to hurt her hands.”
Yondu makes a frustrated click. “Not Dix, the other one!” Then, at Kraglin’s blank face – “Y’know. Ass, legs, pink.”
“Morlug,” corrects Kraglin. Then blanches. “Shit. Did she mention something about –“
“Selling ya to the Hraxian Cartel? Oh yeah.” Yondu shakes his head in despair. “I was so darn surprised I let her punch me again.”
That is a truly beautiful image. Kraglin stops laughing long enough to check – “Uh, sir? She’s still alive, ain’t she?”
Yondu glowers. “I figured it were your fault rather than hers. So I spared her.”
How merciful. Kraglin can’t help it. He snickers again. Yondu’s left eye’s a sack of navy blood, iris eclipsed by the fat lid. When he glimpses it through the swelling, it looks like a red grape being sucked on by chubby blue lips. His right eye’s only marginally better, and there’s another bruise on his jaw, evidently from Morlug’s second swing – “She’s got a good hook, don’t she sir?”
Yondu rubs grumpily at his eye, winces, and decides to crush the life out of his crutch instead. “For a girl,” he mutters. “Hope she uses it on Dagada too.” There’s a buzz from both their comms. Yondu’s checks his and groans; Kraglin fights down a smirk. Speak of the devil. Looks like everything’s going according to plan.
“Who’s calling?” he asks Yondu, before his attention can focus on Kraglin’s flashing wristpiece.
“Figs,” says Yondu. He’s keeping his voice carefully abrupt. “I better –“
Kraglin swallows. The chronometer strapped around his forearm is suddenly made of lead. “Right. You better go.”
There’s a moment where he thinks Yondu’s going to say something else. But then he scoffs under his breath, knuckles his raw eye again, and limps unevenly off. Kraglin watches the shape of his retreating back: sturdy and strong, leather trenchcoat drawn tight over it and stiff plaster cast sticking out below. “The fuck you staring at?” gripes Lizard Guy, shoving his shoulder. “Keep the line moving, Obfonteri.” Kraglin rolls with the blow. He shoots him a glare, and is gratified to see Lizard Guy lick his lips and nervously retract his arm.
Yeah. That’s right.
He collects a bowl and peels away from the canteen crush with his head held high. He’s just been summoned by the captain, after all.