In which Kraglin puts his plan into action, everything goes excellently, and nobody gets hurt.
Kraglin bounces through first shift as if his rubber bootsoles have been replaced with compression coils. He’s trawling the ammunition stores with Lizard Guy and a few of his buddies, sorting working blasters from the duds. This requires a lot of tense trigger-testing, and more than one shot gone awry. Thankfully, they’re all on their lowest setting and won’t do more than sting – when Lizard Guy discharges one pointblank against his shoulder with an unconvincing ‘oops’, it doesn’t singe the leather.
“What’s got you so bouncy anyway?” he asks, as Kraglin all but bolts for the door the moment the shift-switch siren on their wristwatch blares.
Kraglin pauses to grin. “Hungry, I guess!”
Hungry for Dagada’s downfall. Hungry for one goddam plot the endgame of which won’t be someone getting an arrow through the skull. Lizard Guy sniffs and slouches after him, his posse of hulking goons in cohort. More and more Ravagers gather as they near the canteen – word must’ve gone out already, that something’s about to go down. By the time he pushes through to the front of the crowd, Kraglin feels like a centurion leading a battle charge.
The middle of the canteen is cleared. Oh, there’s still chairs and scuffed tables and such, but it’s empty as a plague circle; an amphitheater that stands a good six meters in diameter, with walls of tight-packed scruffy red leather. In this Ravager-formed corral stand two gladiators – one tall and buttercup-skinned, his bare arms crisscrossed with orange flames and silvery coolant burns; one shorter but no less brawny, flexing his blue fists where they rest against the back-flipped edge of his trenchcoat.
Uh-oh. The arrow’s out. That’s… not a good sign. Kraglin pales.
This entire plan resides on Yondu keeping his cool while in close proximity to Dagada. Knowing Dagada – and moreso, knowing Yondu – Kraglin’s starting to wonder if that might be too much to ask.
“I think,” he says, as Lizard Guy hustles to stand by his side, “that I mighta made a mistake.”
They’re talking, voices low and quiet. Hraxian hearing’s better than most, but Kraglin still needs to crane to hear –
“I killed the old hag,” Dagada whispers, using the extra inch he has on Yondu to loom. “Don’t think I won’t do the same to you.”
Yondu gives no ground, sneering into Dagada’s face at close range. “You wanna play that game, Dags? I’ve gotta winning hand.” He pats the arrow at his hip; the crowds ooh. Like they’re standing in the bleachers of a Xandarian wrestling match – that whole tamed bread-and-circuses fare – rather than witnessing a potential cage-fight, without any cage in which the casualties might be contained.
And dammit, but this is not how this was supposed to go.
Kraglin shrinks behind Lizard Guy’s shoulder. He spots Morlug and Isla across the row; Isla grimaces; Morlug shakes her head as if she actually suspects he’s dumb enough to fling himself between them and ask why they can’t all just get along. Kraglin surveys the angle of Dagada’s thick neck, the pulse point jumping under Yondu’s jaw, and banishes any thoughts that might have been edging in such a direction. Oh hell no. He is not wading in there. Yeah, yeah, he’s the one who’d staged this whole trainwreck – but he sure as heck ain’t gonna referee.
Then, of course, Dagada spots him. He beckons him forwards. Kraglin pretends not to see – difficult, when the captain’s the focal point of every Ravager in the room. Lizard Guy prods him.
“Oi, captain’s wanting you.” He sounds disturbingly gleeful. “The fuck’ve you got yourself messed up in this time?”
Kraglin wishes he had an answer.
“Obfonteri,” says Dagada. “Here.” Kraglin’s world narrows to the space indicated by Dagada’s outstretched finger. It’s a square foot of floorspace, one corner tinged off-red by the congealing remnants of one of Shorro’s infamous puddings. He rubs sweating palms over his ribbed jacketfront, and steps forwards. Yondu glowers at him the whole way.
“Thought you said this was gonna work.”
Dagada blinks. Then turns on Kraglin slowly. “Really? That’s interesting.”
“Interesting,” Yondu repeats flatly, as Kraglin quails under Dagada’s stare. Yondu’s arms are crossed over his chest, weight rested on his unbraced leg. He looks as unamused as it is possible to be without an arrow sticking out of somebody’s back. Swallowing, Kraglin can’t help but run his fingers over the rip in his leather jacket breast pocket, which corresponds to the scar beneath.
Dagada’s smile is a grey-yellow knife blade. “He said the same to me.”
Aw hell. Because Kraglin doesn’t expect, not for one minute, that Yondu’s gonna trust him. Why should he? He doesn’t let Kraglin kiss him, for fuck’s sake. Right now that stupid, hard-boiled mind of his, which fortifies at the slightest hint of softness, is probably informing him that Kraglin’s been playing him all along, that he’s Dagada’s double-agent, that he’s been manipulating and lying to him and using their not-a-relationship to worm into the captain’s good books… Never mind that he’s got it all topsy turvy. Never mind that Kraglin’s been putting his life on the line (as usual), and playing Dagada for him.
As Yondu’s sharp red gaze snaps to him, stony as a cairn, Kraglin throws up his hands and storm out. It ain’t worth it. Let nature take his course.
Or at least, that’s what he’s tempted to do. Somewhere in the depths of his mind – the notion’s thoroughly drowned by the pressure of the thousand eyes that have made him their target. Every Ravager in the room is watching him. Like he’s game. Like he’s meat. And if Dagada gives the order, if Yondu doesn’t stop him… That’s exactly what he’ll become.
Kraglin latches onto Isla, praying for a lifeline. She turns her face to the side. But Morlug’s there. Morlug’s mouth is tight and bloodless and her fuschia skin blanches to pastel, but she’s there. Kraglin’s still looking at her, desperately clamping down on the anxiety shivering through his stomach (which is screaming for him to escape to a nice dark corner and hyperventilate until all this blows over) when Dagada twists at the waist to trace his stare.
“Oh no.” His voice rumbles like disant thunder. Hairs prickle to attention along Kraglin’s forearms, static zinging in every nerve. “Oh no. Don’t tell me – don’t tell me you’re doing this for her.”
Kraglin finds his vocal chords, somewhere in the vicinity of his bowels. He dredges them up long enough to croak – “I dunno what you’re talking about...”
“Not her!” Dagada lunges. He’s so fast that Kraglin only catches a whisper of movement – but he can’t miss when the captain fastens a big scarred hand around his throat. They’re of a height, but Kraglin’s wire and twig where Dagada’s brick and mortar. The fingers constricting his trachea are tighter than steel coils. “Not. Her,” he repeats. Lifts his hand two inches, Kraglin with it. His heels skitter helplessly along the tiles.
Kraglin chokes. Sputters spit, yanking Dagada’s wrist. The pressure increases. His head tips back and he coughs at the greying ceiling lights, feet kicking like a man in the noose.
Somehow, his vision swims to Yondu. Kraglin’s eyes are watering too much to make out any expression: only a blue and red marionette, held rigid by petrified strings.
“Stop it!” Morlug screams. Runs forwards to pound Dagada’s back. She might have a mean hook, but Dagada’s trunk is all muscle and about as fragile as the Eclector’s five-foot-thick hull slabs. Morlug causes less damage than a dud missile. If she had a chance to whale on his face she’d get further, but Isla grabs her collar and hauls her back before she can fit in more than one swing. She goes spitting and shrieking, clawing at the air.
Kraglin ought to be grateful for Isla’s intervention. However, right now his need for air wins out over any gladness that Morlug’s not gonna die today.
He stares harder at Yondu’s form, trying to solidify the wavering lines of his coat, his implant, the shape of his mouth. Which seems to be… pursed. Well, if he wants that kiss now, he’s picked a helluva time…
Dagada – unfortunately still in the midst of wringing Kraglin’s throat. Everyone except Kraglin, who keeps up his hanged-man’s dance, and who finally loses track of Yondu as his eyes roll back into his skull.
The next moment – decompression. Release. Oxygen.
Kraglin crumples, a rag-doll of bones, and winds up on his hands and knees, gasping and choking over Dagada’s boots. He dredges up a messy wad of spit and sprays it across them, feeling the gesture from the bottom of his heart. Dagada’s snarl resounds louder than shuttle thrusters in a bell-jar. But there’s no slam of a steel toe-cap into his cheek, no splatter of a plasma round being emptied into his crown. Kraglin decides to make the most of the opportunity and scrambles rearwards, dragging air through a bruised and swelling windpipe – and sees Dagada nose-to-tip with a glowing arrow.
Yondu waits until Kraglin’s out of kicking range. Then whistles the arrow back to his belt. “That were a stupid plan,” he tells him. Kraglin couldn’t agree more.
“Shut up!” Dagada yells. An imperious finger vacillates between them. Settles on the greater threat; Yondu sneers at it, and if it were any closer, Kraglin doesn’t doubt that he’d bite it off. “Ravagers! Take him to the brig!”
His confidence, increased exponentially as Yondu’s arrow returned to its sheathe, wavers as the crew exchange glances. Tension is tighter than a tripwire. Kraglin, if he wasn’t busy swallowing as much air as his lungs can take, would have held his breath. “Do it!” Dagada screams. Lips pulled back so far that his cheeks convulse, his furry teeth gnash like the symplegades. Kraglin can smell the crazy – although that might just be gum decay.
For once, it appears that Yondu’s having a normal reaction to the threat of immanent attack. That’s a thousand times more terrifying than Dagada could ever hope to be. The Centaurian’s eyes skate to and fro along the assembled ranks of Ravagers, and Kraglin sees him considering – Could I do it? Could I kill them all, if I had to?
But what use is a captain without a crew?
Slowly, Yondu raises his hands.
The spell shatters. Dagada’s smirk regrows, crueller than ever. He restates his order – “Brig. Now.” And this time, Ravagers surge forth to obey.
Lizard Guy’s among the group that steps out. So’s Isla. She gives Yondu an apologetic shrug, which he doesn’t return. Lizard Guy grabs one shoulder and Isla his arm. Between them, he’s frog-marched away.
Kraglin watches until he’s around the corner. He presumes Yondu will drag on his captors’ arms, snap at their fingers, make it as difficult as possible to haul him along without actually resisting. But Yondu knows that’ll only get him trussed and carried, so he walks of his own accord with his head held high, braced leg stiff at the knee. If he does decide to be irritating, he has the grace to wait until they’re out of eye and earshot. He never looks back – but really, Kraglin doesn’t expect him too.
His attention’s drawn by Morlug, whimpering as Dagada pinches her by one pink ear. “You two,” says the captain, standing over him. “Are in trouble.”