In which Kraglin stages a jailbreak, and Saal has a cameo.
The brig's located towards the rear of the galleon: a honeycomb of cells dug vertically into the reinforced floor plating. Each is as deep as a ladder shaft. If you’re lucky, the one you’re hurled into might be a little wider in circumference. They’re hexagonal in shape – the more advanced have one wall that will unfold into a bed and another that’s dedicated to a rudimentary lavatory; the plumbing twists through the foundations like veins in a grungy red opal, feeding the matter converters that jostle with the gravity synthesizers for space on the galleon’s underside. But those cells are mostly kept at standby, for the rare upper-crust hostage who shrinks at pissing in a pot.
Every cubicle gets pressure wash blasted once their occupant has been released (or when the smell’s too dire, or when they’ve given up the ghost and died in their sleep). The rest of the place, from the crusty, rust-dripping information extraction equipment that lines the far wall to the slippery pathways between the holding areas, is grim and mildewed. Everything’s a little damp, a little sticky. There’s a pervading stink of decay.
Creeping through the doors is a slow suicide – Kraglin expects to be jumped from every angle, guards scooping him up and dashing him dead on the filthy tiles. But there’s nothing. No raucous holler, no sudden smack of a truncheon introducing itself to the back of his skull. Apparently, Dagada’s confident in his ability to keep an eye on Kraglin during his day-cycle, and in the cell’s ability to keep Yondu confined. Given that Yondu’s the goddam expert in breaking, entering, breaking some more and exiting, that does not bode well.
Kraglin tiptoes across the pitted floor, trepidation like maggots under his skin. He peers into every cell, searching for a flash of familiar blue.
“Sorry,” he mutters at the Nova-girl, who bounces gleefully to her feet when she spots the new face. “Not looking for you.” He walks on too rapidly to watch her smile fade. “Or you –“ Empty cell. “Or you, or you. Or you.” This to a hulking rhinoceros-faced Ravager, stinking of blood and stale piss, who stretches from one side of his prison to the other. He snorts and waves him on, not bothering to lift his head.
The cells vary in size. But they’re all topped with a shimmery forcefield, permeable to those coded into the biolock. Dagada’ll be the only one to enter Yondu’s cell, and the only one who’ll climb out again afterwards. If Yondu butchered him while he was in there, he’d be signing his own death warrant. Kraglin breaks into a jog, and, after a testing toe reveals that the forcefields will take his weight, stops darting around the cells in favor of running over them. His boots leave swirling imprints: they fade like camera flashes on the retina. “Not you. Or you, or you…”
Every second wasted is another addition to the interim in which Dagada can place his charges. How long will it take him to rig the engine block without anyone taking notice? He’s captain, of course. He can claim inspection rights and jerk a whole team out, and nobody’d think twice about it.
And what about when he’s finished? He’ll get out of there; of course he will. Dagada might be zanier than a Calurnian who’d gotten into the catnip (after all, what sort of captain scuppers his own ship to discredit a rival he’s already had clapped in irons? That’s not cutting off your nose to spite your face; it’s sautéing your bollocks because your cock decided to get perky over nature documentaries.) But mad or otherwise, Dagada’s not suicidal. He’s not going down with his ship – in fact, Kraglin doubts (prays) that the damage will be anything more than superficial. To the Eclector, at least. Those toiling in the heat of the galleon’s engines won’t be so lucky.
So where will Dagada go, before he detonates? The Bridge, as far away from the explosions as he can get? Or here, to gloat?
Kraglin catches a flicker of blue from a cage to the far right. He hops over, heart in his mouth – and finds a dull-eyed Kree woman, curled over her knees and naked as the day she’d been born.
Kraglin swallows. Steps away. She doesn’t see him.
Damn it. He’s running out of time. There’s only one thing for it. Crouching (as if that’ll help if guards burst in: he’s the only being above ground-level in the whole damn complex and he stands out as starkly as a chitauri at a church service) Kraglin shoots a furtive glance at the far-off doors, and cups his hands around his mouth.
Silence. Someone coughs, a wet rack of a sound. But when Kraglin bounds over the next cluster of cells to find the culprit, bootprints blazing gold and pink on the wobbling skeins, he finds a wizened Xandarian heaving phlegm into his liver-spotted fist. “Yondu!” Kraglin calls again, louder. “Yondu, where are ya? C’mon, work with me here!” He’s got to find him. He’s got to.
“You’re looking for the Centaurian, Ravager?” A tired voice, from beneath his boots.
Kraglin looks down. He’s standing over another Nova operative, this a man, his uniform rumpled and singed about the shoulders. He’s got a sharp, severe face and premature frown lines, and despite the ammonia-saturated smell of the place, he somehow manages to look dignified.
Kraglin nods. The Corpsman’s eyes thin. “On my other side. I’m afraid he can’t do much talking.”
“Thanks,” Kraglin mutters, and makes to leap over him. Then figures he owes the guy something – “What’s your name?” The Corpsman sniffs like he smells something unpleasant. Given the state of his cramped cubby, it’s probably himself.
“Saal,” he says. Then, dryly – “pleasure to make your acquaintance, Ravager.”
“Kraglin.” He clears his throat. “I, uh. Can’t promise we’ll let you outta here or nothing, when this is over. But we will take Dagada down.”
Saal waves a hand. “Your pirate politics mean nothing to me. One captain or another; you’re all the same breed.”
“Right…” Whoever this guy is, he’s worse at endearing himself to strangers than Yondu. Disinclined to keep his company further, Kraglin steps off the forcefield. His footprints fade to a dull golden glimmer, like fingerprints cooling on thermocromatic paint. “Later then, Saal.”
Saal’s sneer follows him to Yondu’s cell. Kraglin drops to his knees at first glimpse of blue skin and red implant, and smacks flat-handed on the forcefield. It’s not a sound so much as a vibration, one which undulates through the cell’s mould-blackened walls. It’s effective though. Yondu raises his head – and, oh, that’s what Saal meant.
Kraglin covers his mouth.
Yondu’s glare dares him to comment. Kraglin tries not to. He really does.
“Kinky,” he manages.
Yondu boots the cell wall hard enough to make the whole damn complex shake. His hands are bound behind his back, elbows jammed out at odd angles to allow for the clunky Nova-issue gravicuffs. And while Kraglin’s seen his arrow, mounted like a fucking trophy above Dagada’s chair, there ain’t no way Yondu’s whistling for it – not with a muzzle strapped across his face like he’s some kinda rabid space-mutt.
Yondu kicks the wall again. Kraglin doesn’t need to see his mouth – or have the threat of a radioactive arrow pulsing like a quasar in his peripherals – to know that he’s giving him his best death scowl. He wrestles his expression into one of somber sobriety. “Okay, okay. I ain’t laughing, sir. I swear…” Yondu huffs through his nose. Kraglin has to fight to keep his mouth from twitching. “Kinda suits you, y’know.” Another huff. More of a bull’s pre-charge snort. Kraglin backpedals, smothering his grin. “Right. Shutting up. Let’s get you out of there, huh?”
Only the logistics of this is something he hasn’t quite had time to consider. Kraglin thumbs his chin, and takes an assessing step to the rear. Time to examine this situation with a little perspective.
Alright. So. Yondu doesn’t look too injured – beyond the grid of blue-dripping stripes painted across his back. That’s something, at least. But there’s no way he’s fooling that forcefield.
Kraglin racks his brains. Far as he can tell, Yondu’s in the smallest, meanest-style cell they boast – bare floors and no bunk, let alone any more…civilized facilitites. He’s sitting with his raw shoulderblades hovering inches off the wall, braced leg out straight and the other pulled up to his chest. From a distance – and yeah, ignoring the crude metal-and-leather gag – he could almost be relaxed. But his pants are soaked through. Water gathers in the creases that bunch around his brace. The walls are dripping, and he don’t smell overly obnoxious – Kraglin takes a deep breath – no more so than usual. Ergo, there’s gotta be a way to disable the forcefield enough to get a hosepipe in. And – well, that’s the beauty of being a skinny git. If one of them industrial-sized high pressure nozzles can fit, so can Kraglin. It’ll be a bit more of a squeeze for Yondu, but Kraglin figures he won’t have been eating much recently, so maybe, just maybe, if he holds his breath...
Yondu kicks the wall again. The muzzle’s big and ugly, straps cutting into his cheeks and mouth stoppered with a black metal bit. He has to breathe heavily through his nose, and his nostrils flare as he glowers up at Kraglin, eyebrows pinched in in an obvious question.
Oh. Right. Yeah, he’d probably like to know what’s going on.
Kraglin feels around the lip of his cell, questing out the lock for the hose reel. “So. Nice to see you haven’t been, y’know, tortured or nothing.” He locates a pressable panel, and, ready to leap back at a moment’s notice, gives it a smart rap. Then breathes out as the hose unrolls from the ceiling and flops across the forcefield like a dead anaconda. The forcefield folds inwards, layering over itself tighter than the gossamer wings of a dragonfly. Kraglin wiggles his hand in the gap and prays it’ll be enough. “Alright. I’m gonna drop the hose – think you can climb up?”
Saal’s laugh from the cell next door is more a curtailed scoff. “He’s been given Nova-issue cuffs. He’ll never –“
Yondu bends forwards, twists his wrists on their sides and neatly dislocates both his thumbs, before dashing the cuffs on the wall hard enough to cause a temporary circuitry fry. They fall off and clatter on the ground. Kraglin listens to Saal’s sputtering as Yondu pops the joints back in, and grins. He hauls the hose out to its full extent, then slips the nozzle through the gap and lowers it to Yondu’s level.
“Ready, sir?” he asks. Above the muzzle, Yondu’s eyes are burning. He levers himself to his feet with one leg braced straight, grasps the end of the hose and nods. “Awesome. Let’s do this.”
It takes a lot of graceless wriggling and a tense moment where Yondu’s brace gets lodged between hosepipe and forcefield – during which his knuckles clench pastel-blue and he snorts so fiercely through the mask that Kraglin doesn’t doubt he’d be gasping without it. But Yondu doesn’t give up. He squeezes his eyes shut, grabs Kraglin’s hands for extra leverage, and pulls. The brace screeches every inch of the way. Sparks scatter over Kraglin’s leathers, and there’s a drawn-out groan from Saal’s cell.
“God, could you rescue him a little more quietly?” He’s ignored. Kraglin grits his teeth, and, at Yondu’s stone-jawed nod, yanks as hard as he can.
There’s an infinite strain. And then, finally, a pop.
Kraglin looks down. Yondu’s leg’s still attached. And he doesn’t think that that was the sound of a hip ball dislocating from its socket. That’s… something. Yondu collapses forwards and leans on Kraglin, just for a moment. His skin’s clammy and chilly from the damp, and when Kraglin wriggles out of his jacket and wraps it round his whipped-raw shoulders, he accepts it without complaint.
That muzzle’s good for one thing, at least.
Eventually, Yondu pulls back, Kraglin’s sleeves straining over his biceps, and gives him a nod. Thanks. Kraglin smiles. “C’mon,” he says, cranking the handle besides the pressure pad to winch the hose in a screeching retreat. “Let’s go finish this.”
Yondu nods. He doesn’t make any attempt to lead the way though. Just stands there, slumped and stooped over himself to preserve his warmth. He shudders when the cell seals shut.
Confident that no one can see them – no one except Saal, who’s unlikely to go spreading stories given his current predicament – Kraglin cups the back of his neck, thumbing the cool blue skin and the edge of a muzzle strap. After a quick check in Yondu’s eyes for permission, he presses their foreheads together. Yondu’s softer when he’s damp, skin like suede rather than dry leather, and Kraglin’s heat leaches from that square inch of contact. He shivers, feeling the movement tremble through Yondu, and holds him all the tighter.
“Please tell me you weren’t lying when you said all them toy bombs in your M-ship were disarmed,” he says. Yondu’s poker-face is far too good, even at point-blank distance. Kraglin sighs. Releases him, reluctantly, hand slipping down to rest on his shoulder. The jacket is warmer than Yondu is. “Then we got us a problem.”
The muzzle, unfortunately, does not seem to be buckled together, nor has it been fitted with any conceivable clasps for quick removal. Kraglin scowls at it for a full minute before realizing he’s wasting time. He unzips his coat – Yondu makes a muffled noise as it’s dragged across the whip-welts on his back, and Kraglin’s scars twinge in sympathy. His favorite knife’s in its usual place: tucked in the lining next to the pocket with the lube tube (which Kraglin’s not thinking about, dammit; yes it’s been a while, but now really isn’t the time). Yondu holds perfectly still while he retrieves it. Kraglin’s knuckles brush his chest, kneading the thick blue pectoral, and by the time he’s located the hilt, Yondu’s gaze has leached his throat of all moisture.
Kraglin coughs, awkward, and holds the knife out handle-first. “Think you can cut them straps while we run?”
Or walk, as the case may be.
Yondu’s limping as fast as he can, sawing at the strap as he goes. But he’s resting his weight on the splinted limb as little as possible. Kraglin prays they haven’t reversed all of Doc’s efforts – then reassesses, and prays that they both live long enough to suffer through the four-armed man’s medical lecture on the proper and improper usage of leg braces.
Damn though. What’s this muzzle made of? Perhaps he should’ve given Yondu his file instead – he might make better progress grinding through the metal than slicing the strap, which is some sort of reinforced ply-plastic the grain of which slips over the knifeblade before any pressure can be applied. By the time they reach the end of the brig, ignoring the wails and pleas of those they’re leaving behind – and the sarcastic bid of adieu from Saal – Yondu’s no closer to freedom than he had been when he started. He grunts and growls under the bit, yanking on the straps in mute frustration. The knife slips; nicks his ear. Kraglin decides it’s time to relieve him of it before he does himself real damage. Yondu, from his muffled snarl, disagrees.
“Sorry, sir.” Kraglin dodges the open-pawed smack as he grapples with his knife-hand. “This ain’t gonna work, not while we’re moving. We’ll get it off when we reach the Bridge. Where your arrow is, yeah?”
Yondu considers. Then nods, and relinquishes the prize so suddenly that Kraglin almost stumbles backwards. Shaking his head, Kraglin slots it into the spare place on his belt, and wipes the drizzle of blue blood off the tip. He has to jog to catch up with the lopsided figure limping ferociously for the lift.