In which Kraglin steals a planet and fools a captain.
The crime scene – Kraglin can’t think of it as anything else – would make a forensic weep. Jora’s cabin has been dug out. Stripped to the bare panels. Ravaged. Every drawer has been rootled through, every identical jacket emptied – then pared of its studs and assorted gold effects, hosed down, and sent to the quartermaster for redistribution.
Captain’s cabin’s relatively large. Nowhere near as high as the dorms, but it’s as wide as it is long: a neat cube of interlocking tap-to-open drawers, stash-boxes, cubby-holes, and glimmering forcefield safes that’re biocoded to whoever sits in the main Bridge chair. They’re for storing valuable artefacts. Most are currently empty – proof of Jora’s slackening prowess. Kraglin, peeping through the doorway, sizes up the available space with undisguised contempt. One day every compartment’ll be full, every shelf heaving. Credits will pour into the Ravager coffers like grain from a silo. He only prays that this future comes under Yondu’s rule, not Dagada’s.
All in all, the cabin’s a big room for one woman. Nevertheless, Kraglin’s amazed at the sheer volume of stuff that’s been dredged out. Jora’s personal effects have been tossed in haphazard heaps, no order or care. There’s practical equipment, trophies, small cheap tat that can only be sentimental in nature… All dumped for the perusal of greedy scavenger-hands. Inspecting the piles as he squeezes past on the wall-side feels intrusive, as if all of Jora’s secrets have been spilled, crudely displayed on these common grounds for any eye to see.
Not that Kraglin affords her the respect of averting his gaze. He could do with a new gel-tin – and Jora seems the type to stash knives.
One lopsided mound catches his attention. Kraglin squats over it, running fingers through thirty or so plastic baubles. Each has been meticulously painted, dabbled with a fine-hair brush to resemble planets, moons, gas-giants. Some are recognizable. Some are not. New worlds and old, Kraglin supposes, evening up the crooked pile. Perhaps it’s every planet Jora’s stolen from, or everywhere she’s lost someone she called a friend. Who knows? With a life this long, the connecting piece that links this sorry jigsaw could be anything.
Kraglin weighs a replica of Hrax in his hand. It’s heavier than he expects. The plastic is as smooth and cool as a marble, the brushwork delicately blending through a spectrum of red and grey. A hoop in its top suggests it’s intended to hang from a mobile; apparently, Jora had kept her hobbies too.
So. Before they’d been strung from her cabin’s low ceiling; back when Jora had been young enough to fly… Kraglin turns the bead over and over, contemplative. Had this hand-painted planet adorned the control console of another ambitious Ravager Ace, many decades ago?
“There you are,” Dagada snaps from the doorway. “Come in, already. We don’t have long.” He sounds irritated, but not necessarily at him. He’s glowering at his wristpiece like it’s done him personal offence, and Kraglin notices with a lurch that it’s projecting Morlug’s name above a blip on the holograph map. Girl must’ve skipped shift again.
Kraglin stands, secreting the planet in his palm. “Coming, sir,” he says.
Dagada keeps flicking the electrocrystal in his wristpiece as they enter. The little pings are rhythmic and vexed; when they fail to produce results, Dagada mutters a selection of the choicest insults in every language from A’askvarii to Xandarian, and heads for the minimalist array of Jora’s furniture that hasn’t been disassembled for scrap. He takes the chair. That leaves Kraglin with the bed or the desk, neither of which are suitable for a subordinate. He hovers uncertainly in the door, at a military at-ease, comforted by the crisp brush of air over his neck. Feels good, to have that escape nearby – just in case this all goes tits-up. But that minuscule relief is soon denied.
“Shut it,” Dagada orders. Kraglin, keeping his head stooped, does so. He spares one last look for the sad pile of planets, and shakes the smuggled bauble into his jacket pocket while Dagada’s distracted. Which he is. By jabbing open a private commink, and belting – “You’re due on the engine deck, Morlug! Where I will be inspecting in five minutes. I expect to find you there.”
There’s a startled meep. A sullen “Aye, sir.” Kraglin studies his feet while Dagada aborts the comm.
“Stupid woman,” the captain mutters, tipping up on the chair’s back legs. “Doesn’t know a good offer when it’s in front of her.”
Kraglin hopes he slips and dashes his skull on the edge of the desk. “Why’ve ya called me, sir?” he asks, faux-timid. “I, uh, do something wrong?”
He almost regrets diverting Dagada’s attention from poor Morlug when that dead-grey gaze, duller than the marble rolling in his pocket, settles on him. Dagada smiles. There’s dinner slops caught between his teeth. “Not yet,” he says. “You may have noticed that my promotion came about rather suddenly.”
Kraglin, face artfully confused, shrugs. “I guess? I mean, I’m pretty much a rookie; I dunno how these things go…”
He’s evaluated for a long moment. Kraglin takes care not to meet Dagada’s eyes, shooting his gaze everywhere but the captain sprawling over Jora’s chair, and cracking each knuckle and tugging on the frayed leather of his sleeve. His nervy agitation isn’t all for show. C’mon, he thinks, listening to Dagada’s measured breaths. You like to think folks’re beneath you, don’tcha? Here’s your chance. I’m dumb Hraxian trash. Made fun of you back when I was running with Udonta – but now you’re captain and Udonta’s more interested playing mutineer than fucking some rookie, I ain’t so big no more. And I know it.
Gradually, incrementally, the thoughts coalesce. Dagada’s sneer turns disdainful, but sapped of any real hostility; Kraglin watches himself fade into the throngs of faceless, nameless Ravagers who occupy minimal space in the back of Dagada’s mind. That’s right. Nobody important – some dumb upstart who gave you shit, but who ain’t worth causing fuss over. Especially not when I’ve got something you need.
“So,” says Dagada. He crosses his legs and steeples fingers under his chin. “Your name – Obfanara?”
“Obfonteri,” Kraglin corrects. Then hems into his fist like he’s embarrassed at having to do so. “But you can call me whatever, cap’n; I ain’t fussed.”
“Obfonteri,” repeats Dagada. His grey eyes sweep him head to toe: the belt that Kraglin wears laced through his high collar; the pad stitched over his right shoulder; the heavy rubber gloves he’s picked up from that unfortunate Shi’ar fella who’d been sucked into a malfunctioning jet booster last week’s hangar shift. What meager personalizing features he’s had time to add, lazy lunch hours spent stitching and tacking with his boots propped on Morlug’s lap in an empty storeroom, feel tame in comparison to Dagada’s shredded sleeves and the brass buttons pinned to the seams of his pants. But his effects are a helluva lot less garish, if he says so himself.
Kraglin stares straight ahead, bearing the inspection. It finishes with a mild sniff. “You know what I see when I look at you?” Kraglin shrugs. “Scruffy, scrawny streak of shit.” Dagada laughs. “You probably have lice. I have no idea what Udonta saw in you - but then again, unlike Udonta, I don’t make a habit of compromising myself by fucking fellow crewmembers.” A pause. “Or men.”
Good for him. Kraglin works the tension out of his jaw. What does he want: a medal?
Not that Kraglin’s bothered by the insinuation that he’s Udonta’s bitch or whatever. Or that the reminder that he's kinda somehow managed to fall for a dude still rankles. (Okay, so maybe it does. Kraglin’s working on it.) What really gets him is the hypocrisy. Because the only reason Dagada hasn’t slept with any crewmembers is because he’s keeping those eerie eyes fixed on Morlug, and she can smell the crazy a mile off.
It’s an opening though. And an opening’s all Kraglin needs.
“You call me here to chew me out about fucking folks on the High Command, sir?” he asks. “Because you ain’t gotta worry on that front no more.” He drops his head, arms crossed, and aims for somewhere between angry and offended. “Apparently, Udonta don’t know what he saw in me neither. Not that I give a shit. Ugly fucker was shit in the sack –“
Dagada practically winces. “I don’t want to know,” he says. Somebody’s het up over traditional Xandarian values – thou shalt not fuck those thou ain’t reproductively compatible with, and the rest of that pro-evolution Expansionist bullshit. Eugh – he probably wants Morlug to bear his children. Kraglin staves off the shudder. “And Udonta hasn’t been part of the High Command since Jora demoted him! He’s nothing. A nobody.”
“A nobody everyone respects,” Kraglin mumbles. Dagada’s head snaps up.
Dagada’s gaze is livelier when he’s pissed. Marginally. As he wrestles himself under control, rubbing through his short-shorn thatch and readjusting his crossed legs with a squeak of leather, those eyes deaden in tandem, going from storm-grey to gunmetal. There’s no animation there. No vivacity. Dagada might be as ambitious as Yondu, but he has no grand plan, no ideology that looks to the future. Those eyes only see the present actuality – himself, lounging on Jora’s throne, lord of all he surveys. If that ‘all’ is a rustbucket spacefleet and a bunch of dumb brutes who don’t know how to pilot their M-ships in basic goddamn battle formation, so be it. Dagada doesn’t have the vision to make the Ravagers anything else.
“You say Udonta is respected,” he says. The words are soft, calmly pitched. But Dagada can don the mask of the erudite captain all he wants – Kraglin knows that underneath there’s only self-importance and ash. He hikes one shoulder higher than the other in noncommittal answer. “It’s true. I have the grace to admit it.” Another gold star for him. “However, as I’m sure you’ll agree – he doesn’t deserve that respect. Infighting always follows a captain’s demise – people will throw support behind any idiot who makes a claim to the chair. But it would be foolish to let an ignorant, uneducated oaf like Udonta gather support. Think of what might happen if he were to succeed!”
Kraglin hums, as if comprehension is starting to dawn. “You saying, sir, that that respect what Udonta’s got ought to be, uh, transferred to a worthier candidate?”
Dagada actually appears surprised that he can use words of more than two syllables. For a moment, Kraglin frets that he’s laid it on too thick, that this is all going to come tumbling down – but then Dagada smiles. “Indeed. I wonder if you’d be able to assist?”
He can’t let his relief show. Kraglin settles for a lazy smirk. “Be my pleasure, sir. When do we start?”
Now that he’s achieved his dream of captaincy, Dagada’s days cycle around two central pivots – desire for Morlug, and a desperate, rabid terror that Yondu is going to snap his fingers and wrench the foundations of this new life out from under him. When one of these fixations clashes with the other, it’s unstoppable force meets immovable object. Dagada bandies back and forth in indecision before Kraglin makes to excuse himself.
“No worries sir,” he says. “I’ll wait.” He nods to the blinking beacon on Dagada’s wristpiece, which is tattling on Morlug for having snuck out of the engine rooms again, and quashes the guilt that’s leadening the lining of his guts. “You go get your girl.”
They dock at a station the next day. Kraglin’s assimilated into the ranks of Ravagers tasked with heaving supplies to and fro along the jetty. There’s no stock to smuggle – it’s a food-and-fuel run, and by the soggy crumbles leaking from the bottom of the protein-mash crate he’s hauling, not a very well funded one. Kraglin leers at a trio of Horde girls as he follows Morlug through the dock; he receives three middle fingers in return, snickers to himself, and marches up the shuttle gangplank, ignoring the ground mash residue collecting in the folds of his jacket. Isla’s waiting for him, playing with a new piercing in her nose. She must’ve got it while they were docked in – Kraglin’s impressed that she’d managed to locate a spare spot among the mass of silver and less sterile metals cluttering up her face.
He nods at it, as he unloads his crate onto Lizard Guy’s waiting forklift. “Nice hoop.”
Isla flutters her eyelashes. “Flatterer. Nice of you to notice, though. No one else has.” She doesn’t sound bothered – Kraglin supposes that when one has as many piercings as Isla, the novelty starts to wear. He grins, settling against the wall besides her and shaking out his aching arms as Lizard Guy chugs off through the towering packing crates.
“What can I say? Good attention to detail – the ladies love it.”
“As will the nav system.” Isla drops her piercing long enough to squeeze his shoulder in congratulation – Kraglin tries not to squirm as pus-y blood joins the rest of the grime smeared over his leathers. Then registers what she’s said.
“Yeah that’s right!” Isla bounces her hip off his thigh. “You’re back on Bridge, kiddo! What'd ya have to do, suck Dagada off?”
Behind him, Morlug chokes on a laugh. Kraglin shudders. “I’d rather die,” he says fervently, and Morlug stops guffawing long enough to add in a sober –
“You and me both.”
That kills the conversation a little. Kraglin gnaws his thumbnail and makes worried eyes at Isla. She sucks up one side of her mouth. What can you do?
Nothing’s the answer – at least, not yet. But this at least is a step in the right direction. Being promoted to Bridge means that Dagada’s been taken in by his performance. Not that he necessarily trusts him – trust is an uncertain luxury, for captains and aspiring captains alike. But at least Kraglin’s not under suspicion for being Yondu’s eyes and ears. No, in Dagada’s mind he’s a dumb Hraxian kid: green in life as well as Ravaging, vengeful after being ditched by his older fuckbuddy.
It is, Kraglin thinks, the perfect deception. Feed a man the hint of a clichéd story, and he fills the gaps on his lonesome. Nope, Kraglin’s in the inner circle. And he’s gonna use this. For Yondu. For Morlug. For the good of them all.