Blame It On The Stars

Chapter 31

In which things are awful.

Morlug’s lucky Dagada likes her.

Okay, okay. That’s a mite exaggerated. Dagada’s a creep to top creeps, and Morlug’s too awesome for a man ten times him – although Kraglin suspects that if such a fella ever propositioned her, she’d reject him too.

But still. She just gets locked in the engine rooms. Kraglin has to polish every instrument on the Bridge until Dagada can pick his tooth-gunk in them, and that’s while avoiding coming face-to-face with Yondu’s dim arrow, which holds pride of place above the captain’s console. Dagada’s commissioned a trophy stand. Every time Kraglin catches it in the corner of his vision his fingers itch to dash the holocrystals he’s shining on the ground. Or better yet – against Dagada’s skull.

But he can’t. He mustn’t. Hasn’t he learnt by now, that he’ll only make things worse? No, this is his life now. Skulking. Grovelling. And, of course, wincing whenever his jacket rubs his back.

Ten lashes. That’s what he’s been given – and that’s a damn light burden for one who’s technically orchestrated a mutiny. But admitting that was what it was would only undermine the brittle foundations of Dagada’s support base. So here they are. Impasse. Dagada’s treating this as if it were nothing more than a disagreement: a scuffle between underlings scarcely worthy of attention. If that’s the way he wants to play it, Kraglin ain’t gonna contradict him.

Ten lashes. They’d hurt like a bitch, but Kraglin knows he could’ve come away a helluva lot worse.

He has since faded to his usual status of demi-invisibility. He had done as soon as Dagada’s fingers ceased their throat-buckling squeeze, to be honest – but as for what he’s set in motion: revealing Dagada’s hairtrigger temper to the crew that the man’s supposed to guide? The effects are rippling all around him, fanning out like heat mirage from a thruster jet.

It’s not overt. But Kraglin recognizes the signs, implicit though they are. Whether or not the Ravagers realize, there’s a new seed lodged in their subconscious, one that’s been fed enough water to germinate but not enough to grow. Oh, there’s no chance of a mutiny. Yondu’s defeat has confirmed it. The Ravager gang’s been around a long time, after all – started off as goons for some long dead would-be galactic conqueror; cut ties and became hire-out thugs; went private under Jora and took to the open stars. The pattern of command stretches back almost as far. Captain, First Mate, Captain Anew.

But there’s an uncertainty there now, even if it’s not outright dissent. Conversations on the Bridge are muted and hand-hidden. They wither to silence when Dagada stomps past. And the strife isn’t contained to the command deck; the entire crew’s on edge. Half the galleon had witnessed Dagada and Yondu’s showdown, and there’s enough gossip flying around that by now the whole fleet has approximate knowledge of what had occurred.

Kraglin listens to some of it, as he stands in line at the canteen and tries not to think about what Dagada might be doing to Yondu below decks. Most’s bull – story’s been warped by a thousand voices until it features raiding Hordesmen, plasma blasters bouncing from the roof plates, and an almighty punch-up between captain and ex-first mate. The victor varies according to the allegiance of those doing the telling. Kraglin’s not sure if he’s glad to hear Yondu’s name being mentioned the most. Sure, Dagada’s little screeching-come-strangling display hasn’t won him favors (Kraglin’s neck certainly isn’t a fan, given that it’s still wearing the results). But if Dagada realizes that, or so much as suspects that the tide might be turning against him…

It’s been summarily proven that the majority aren’t willing to go against the mandate of whoever sits in the captain’s chair, regardless of whether that person is in full possession of their sanity. However, the mind of a madman is not the most logical place. Dagada will boil this up into a grand conspiracy, and Kraglin and Yondu will go tumbling out the airlock.

Kraglin scratches his aching throat and moves to take his bowl. Lizard Guy snatches it from under his nose. Kraglin’s left gazing at the kitchen hatch until a scaly shoulder barges him sideways, out of the queue, tripping over his own feet to keep his balance.

He staggers along in mute acceptance. There’s no point fighting. No point protesting. He ain’t nobody now. Kraglin locates the end of the line, which files out past the L-block door. He heaves a sigh, and trudges along it with Lizard Guy’s guffaws raking at his ears.

He wonders what they’re feeding Yondu.

He wonders if they’re feeding him at all.

The last man in queue grunts and shuffles forwards to indicate the space behind him. But Kraglin don’t have much of an appetite no more. He stares bleakly at the iron-forged tombstone of the L-dorm gate, and remembers a darkness pierced by red luminescence, the weight of Yondu’s forehead on his.

He hasn’t talked to Isla, not since she led the way to the brig. Perhaps it’s time to start.

“I dunno what you want me to say.”

Isla’s sprawled in her favorite store bunker, a crate of moonshine painted to look like calcubes propped under her crossed boots. She very determinedly does not look at Kraglin. In fact, she pauses only to snarl out her words in between shoveling spoonfuls of today’s sloppy brown silage into her mouth, and feigns engrossment in the text scrawling over her wrist display. Kraglin squints at the backwards timestamp. It’s a starlog from three weeks ago. She’s not fooling anyone.

He sighs. “I don’t blame you, y’know.”

Not entirely a lie. He gets why she’d done it, at least – which isn’t quite the same as forgiving, but might lie somewhere along the way. “Dagada’s captain. You do what the captain says. You ain’t never been on board with Yondu’s talk; not in the way Figs is. Or Varra was.” Isla’s expression remains artfully unperturbed. There is, perhaps, the faintest tremor at the mention of Varra’s name. Uninvited, Kraglin takes a seat on the box besides her.

“He don’t blame you neither,” he says. “Yondu, I mean.” Chews his lip. Decides on honesty. “Uh, I don’t think he does, at least.”

“Then he’s an idiot.” Isla scrapes the bottom of her bowl. Then in a startling flurry of silver-laden forearms, flings it to smack off the doorframe. The pewter rebounds with a crack. When it skitters to rest by Kraglin’s boots, he discovers it to be whole and the doorframe dented. What cutlery that survives on a Ravager ship is hefty by necessity – it’s survival of the fittest, and some of the bowls from Shorro’s pantry are practically antique, around since Jora’s glory-days. This one could probably be used as grapeshot, if ever the need arose. Which also makes it an excellent victim for Isla's frustrations.

Kraglin stoops to pick it up. Tucks it into Isla’s clenching hands. Isla glares at it, underlip brushing her chin. Her piercings rub and squeak. She scopes the other side of the doorframe, readying her projectile for a second throw – but then the fight slumps out of her, and she places it with all due gentleness at her side.

“His leg’s healing up nice, at least,” she says. Which isn’t much of a reassurance, considering how much else of Yondu there is for Dagada to hurt. Kraglin’s back twinges under the jacket. If he’d been whipped ten times… If the snap and crack and the smell of his blood still throbs hotly in his mind… What will Dagada have done to Yondu?

But his leg’s okay. A fragment of comfort, but an anchor in a fathomless ocean nevertheless. Kraglin clings to it. “Any chance you could get me in –“ he hazards. Then cuts himself off at the dismal furrow of Isla’s brows. “No, no. Of course not. Sorry. Stupid question. When’s he gonna be out then? D’you know?”

“End of the week,” Isla says to her bowl. That’s five more days. Kraglin’s throat bobs.

It’ll be okay. Yondu’s a tough sonofabitch. And sure, now Jora’s gone there ain’t no one to reign Dagada in when it comes to discipline; and sure, Yondu’d insulted him in front of the amassed crew. Add to that: judging by the conspicuous lack of murdering, Dagada’s got another plot on his backburner, no doubt something so mad and bad it’ll cinch his Yondu-and-Kraglin problem once and for all... Wait, wasn't he going somewhere positive with this train of thought?

Tough sonofabitch. Yeah, that’s it. It doesn’t matter what Dagada throws at him, because Yondu’ll come up swinging. And Kraglin’ll be there by his side, kicking asses and taking names.

Yeah, he tells himself, pressing knuckles into his eyesockets and trying to believe it. We’re gonna be fine.

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