In which there is a rather tense journey, and a Ravager nominates himself for the Darwin Awards.
The walk to the bridge is a long Green Mile. Ravagers twist to follow them, their eyes like magnetic space mines drawn to the hull of a passing cruiser. Conscious of the gazes, Kraglin slopes after Yondu, rubbing his sweater over pimpling chilly arms. Most direct route to the Bridge is also the most crowded, and while it might be the end of his night cycle it’s the middle of Yondu’s day. They’re gonna be recognized. It’s inevitable.
“Uh, ain’t you supposed to be -?” one Ravager lass begins: some sort of amphibian-species with a mouth too wide for her face. Yondu cuts her off with an ominous rumble, and keeps walking.
“Sorry,” Kraglin says to the girl. “Just got released, y’know? We don’t want no bother–“
Up the corridor, another Ravager makes to grab Yondu’s arm. “Hey, Udonta, good to see ya! And nice facepiece –“
Yondu kicks him in the balls.
There’s a collective wince, from Kraglin as well as their audience. Everyone, bar himself and the Yondu’s victim (who’s busy devolving into a fetus) takes a step to the rear. Kraglin pauses by the wheezing Ravager. Mutters another wholly ineffectual “sorry,” and hurries on.
They take the lift to top deck in silence – bar the nervous tap of Kraglin’s foot. The chain that’s regurgitating their cage up the shaft’s long red throat rattles, warningly. So does Yondu.
Kraglin settles into a sheepish at-ease, hands pinching each other behind his back to prevent himself from picking holes in his sleeves. His jacket’s loose on him but snug on Yondu: even after a week’s worth of starvation-enforced dieting and mandatory cold showers, the Centaurian’s retained his build. The bastard. Must be an alien thing.
Yondu himself stares at the swooping pipework and the thread-like lodes of rust that pass as the lift clunks steadily upwards. It’s like moving through a dormant volcano, seated on a magma plug. The pressure expounds with every groan of the cagelift’s pulleys, and Kraglin doesn’t doubt that the eruption, when it occurs, will be explosive. Yondu’s glare doesn’t catch on any one rivet. It never falters: not even when they creak past an open corridor and thirty more Ravagers turn to gawk. Someone’s called for the lift on the next floor – but when they, fresh from their showerblock and squinting round a yawn, make to yank open the wire concertina door, Yondu wards them off with a throaty hiss. His red eyes flare lava-like in the gloom.
The Ravager stands frozen, hand petrified mid reach. Kraglin presses the button to keep them moving.
Oh yeah. This is gonna be fucking pyroclastic.
The Bridge floor is dim and crowded. Kraglin and Yondu have to wade through the support staff, who assist the skeleton nav team while the Captain’s taking downtime. They fend off questions and prodding hands with equal ferocity – in Yondu’s case at least. Kraglin just repeats his story about how Yondu’s fresh out on bail and eager for blood, and that it’s in everyone’s best interests to stay out of boot-to-balls range. It’s held up so far, and Yondu’s more than happy to make good on the threat if anyone dares challenge him.
This high in the galleon, the blare of the engines is less an underfoot thunder, more a distant hum. It’s a carpet of mechanical harmonics which lays over the eardrums and lulls them to numbness, a soporific bass line of solar energy being converted into thrust. Usually, it’s white noise: subsumed beneath the myriad other, more immediate Ravager-sounds – someone hailing him on his comm, or barging past his shoulder, or tripping over his scrub bucket and hurling abuse and whatever melee weaponry is close to hand in retaliation. But today Kraglin is hyperaware. Each tonal shift, every pop and stutter as the navs realign the rod shafts and the fission combustion pods adjust their output to match, is a new weight added to the smothering pressure on his brain.
He’s waiting for the bomb to go off, he realizes. For the screams. For the chaos.
And well, that’s just bullshit. He ain’t gonna sit back and let this happen.
Ahead, Yondu bodily hoists a Ravager who cleared the gangway too slow, and hurls him against the nearest airlock. Kraglin’s determination suffuses through his chest. If Dagada thinks he can get away with blowing up their home, he deserves everything he’s gonna get.
A-R-R-O-W, signs Yondu at the nearest recruit, the moment they’re through the Bridge doors. (Kraglin’s ban has been revoked for scrubbing purposes. Even if it hadn’t been, there’s an ample supply of Ravagers too terrified of Yondu to tell him no; if any had refused to grant them access, Kraglin doesn’t doubt that their handprints would’ve found their way onto the biolock with or without the accompanying body.) The rookie’s on stocking duty, judging from the supplies page open on her pad. When faced with a fierce blue stranger, veins pulsing purple about the temples and flashing incomprehensible fingershapes in her face as if challenging her to a match of high-stakes shadow-charades, she squeaks, sputters, and reaches for her blaster.
Yondu dissuades her with an elbow to the solar plexus. F-U-C-K-I-N-G--U-S-E-L- he starts to sign. Then catches sight of his arrow. Levitating above Dagada’s hand console, in a gravimetric field of the type game hunters use to display their trophies.
The Bridge crew are a tableau of wax dolls, the only moving parts their eyes. These swivel to observe Yondu as he stomps to the throne, brace clacking, and disables the field before yanking the arrow clean out the air. It’s difficult to finger spell while holding a foot-long spike of yaka, but Yondu manages: G-O-N-N-A--K-I-L-L--T-H-A-T--A--H-O-L-E.
Kraglin doesn’t doubt it for one second. “Y’might wanna put her on autopilot,” he tells the Navs, nodding at the holofeed. “And get as far away from here as you can.” Then reconsiders. “But not down to the engines. Going down to the engines would be a real bad idea.” There’s a coordinated scuttle for the exit. Kraglin’s not sure how many of the Bridge crew take his warning seriously – but he sure hopes some of ‘em make it, otherwise he and Isla are going to be on double shifts for the next millennium.
Yondu waits until they’re alone. Then he knocks open a hidden panel on the arm of the captain’s chair, revealing a fold-out stash of painkillers. Jora’s, Kraglin reckons. The first needle’s emptied into his arm without ceremony, empty casing jangling to rest by his boots. Yondu scarcely waits to drain the second before setting his arrow sideways across his lap and restarting his battle with the muzzle, yanking the straps with a determination that’s as demented as it’s fruitless. Kraglin watches his increasingly frustrated endeavors until it becomes apparent Yondu’s more likely to wear the muzzle through his skull than give up. Then he unpins his belt.
Yondu stops. He lifts his head, and gives Kraglin a look that needs no translation. Kraglin rolls his eyes. “Gettin' my file; don’t get excited.”
He shoves his pants down to his knees, mildly self-conscious. The flutter of lights across the consoles highlights every hair in sharp relief. His scrawny thighs are white from lack of sunlight, pallid as ghostfish dredged up from an oceanic trench.
Kraglin spares a moment to check Yondu’s reaction as he unhooks the file. It’s possible he’s leering – but without mobility in the lower half of his face, it’s hard to tell. Kraglin wouldn’t bet on it. He’s hardly the most attractive specimen on board (even if, unlike most Ravagers, he’s still got all his teeth); and, as usual, this is hardly the time. He resets his pants as quickly as he can, fumbling the buckle. Then –
Kraglin sniggers. “D’you think we could… In the captain’s chair…?”
Yondu’s eyes crinkle at the edges, but there’s something sober in the angle of his brows, even as he shapes his hands to the tonal-angle that Dixie claims implies flirtation. M-A-Y-B-E--W-H-E-N--I-T-S--M-I-N-E.
Kraglin fastens the belt. He tosses Yondu the file, and saunters over to assess the Nav controls. Just to make sure those idiots ain’t set them up to zoom through the core of the nearest supergiant. Not to hide a smile. Definitely not.
The screeching saw of the file over the metal clip that fastens the muzzle straps together is oddly soothing; something to focus on besides the tenuous boom of the engines. Kraglin rests his eyelids, leaning on the signals dashboard with space looming out from the massive observation window. A nebula hangs in the upper right hand corner: gauzy diaphanous curtains of stardust. It’s pink and yellow, like the warm haze of pollution over a Hraxian sunset, and Kraglin feels for the first time in a long time that he’s at peace.
It is, of course, an illusion. One that’s shattered as Dagada bursts through the Bridge gate.