In which there is a hoedown throwdown, Kraglin runs, and Yondu can't find an airlock.
Yondu hurls the first Ravager out of his way, brace skidding. He pivots on his good leg, brutally graceless, and slams the burly metal cage into the next one’s belly. After that, no one dares try.
Red-coated men and women, creatures of indeterminate species and gender, all scatter as he shambles as fast as his splinted knee will allow, dodging off the main strip of corridor between Bridge and lift to worm into the galleon’s convoluted tunnel network. Dagada is perpetually closing. His steps echo from the ceiling and walls, an omnipresent specter whose distance is indeterminable by sound. Yondu can’t afford to look back though. Not now. And so he prepares himself for the inevitable grab at his collar, or the boot in his back, and he grinds his jaw around the muzzle’s thick metal bit, and he runs.
A trap door yawns ahead. Yondu doesn’t give himself time to consider. Just jumps. Overrides his jarred hip socket with gritted teeth – thank fuck for painkillers – and an internal rendition of Doc’s customary lecture on how not to rehabilitate a broken limb. Staggers on – and hears Dagada hit the bottom of the chute not fifteen steps behind.
Aw, fuck. He ain’t got a prayer.
Somehow – he doesn’t know how, but he’ll figure it out – this is all Kraglin’s fault.
Dagada’s coattails are vanishing into the boggling crowd of Ravagers when Kraglin bursts out the door. He spares a glance to ensure that his crewmates are suitably distracted. Then makes for the engine room.
With his gangly build, a sprint is more of a controlled flail – anyone tempted to snatch him risks an elbow to the nose. Over the comm, Morlug heaves ragged pants. The beat of her fists on the door is hypnotic, so fast and hard that Kraglin’s heart revs to match. He forces himself faster. Jumps down a level and skids past the crawlways – that route’s direct but a squeeze; too slow, too slow – and flaps back and forth in an elongated second of indecision before diving for the corridor that plunges into the engine rooms at a steep angle.
Walking down it is an exercise in balance, infinitely exacerbated by every millimeter of grip that’s worn off your shoes. Kraglin teeters on the precipice. He takes note of the Ravagers below: a scattergraph of worn red coats. Then he tilts onto the ramp, and runs.
It takes all of five steps for Kraglin’s legs to overtake him. He sprints on momentum, feet barely catching him before he’s propelled past by gravity’s relentless weight.
Dry air sandwiches his cheeks back. Kraglin bawls into it – “Outta my way!” Ravagers leap for the walls. Stragglers send him cusses or flipped birds, as well as the occasional blunt projectile; but all miss their mark or go glancing off to tumble besides. They’re soon left behind.
Kraglin pounds on. Harder. Faster. The tunnel bottoms out ahead; flat ground looms like a vertical wall. Kraglin bellyflops onto it and rolls, forcing himself back up, adrenaline drowning out the pain.
“I’m comin', Morlug!”
Yondu’d better find an airlock. And soon.
Yondu screeches to a halt – quite literally; his brace carves a sizzling white welt into the scuffed floor plates. But Dagada’s breath’s practically steaming up his neck. There’s no way he’ll lug the door open before he’s caught.
He repeats a word in Zatoan that he isn’t sure the meaning of, but which he assumes is offensive, given the angle his ear had been twisted to that time he’d repeated it in front of a village elder twenty-odd years back. Yeah, he loses another step of his headstart remembering it. But the clicks translate through the muzzle better than stupid, scratchy Xandarian-speech, so he figures it’s worth the wait.
He squares his shoulders to the flickering red wash of the hallway ahead. Keep moving. That’s the goal. Give ‘em – Kraglin, Morlug, any other unlucky fucker who ain’t made it out of the engines – all the time he can.
And find an airlock with a quick-release system, if he’s in luck.
Kraglin hopes Yondu boots Dagada out the airlock, along with his stupid detonator. Preferably after castrating him. He also hopes that the explosives are sturdy enough to withstand vibrations both from the humming engines, and from Morlug’s fists: the tempo and dynamic of which raise in a hearty crescendo as the seconds tick on. She must’ve put a dent in that door by now. Damn, they’ll be hammering that out for weeks when all this is over. Or perhaps they’ll leave it. Frame it in bronze – testimony to the late mad bad captain. Under their new bad-but-marginally-less-mad captain, if things turn out for the best.
Of course, given the Centaurian’s current handicaps, Dagada could always kill Yondu and blow them sky high anyway. But Kragln’s trying not to think about that.
Engine room’s ahead. The ramp delivers him into the heart of the Eclector – where the majority of storage compartments and dorm blocks lay. Here there’s a warehouse for every brand of contraband under the galaxy’s thousand billion suns. Weapons from the skrull systems. Ore mined from Nova-locked Terran planets, loot from moons undergoing quarantine or satellites with destable nuclear cores that are awaiting annihilation. There’s the classics – Huffer, Jabber, Powder and Snort – then the gourmet stuff, narcotics he ain’t even heard of, let alone tried; and a hundred more besides.
Five more levels.
A hatch is hidden under a rabble of Ravagers, debating this latest fiasco from the safety of an industrial-grade blast-protected doorway. Kraglin barges them out the way without a care. He’s vanished into the pit before they can repay the favor.
“Yondu,” he gasps into his comm. Keeps the other line open, each of Morlug’s sobbing exhalations a knifepoint twisting on a nerve. “Boss, you good?”
Supid fucking question.
Yondu slaps the palmkey that opens the next network of interlocking halls. He listens for the slam. It’s a beat late – Dagada’s caught it before it could close. Dang. No way he’s walking away from this without a couple more nicks to the hull. Not long now before Dagada catches him – not long, but he’s gotta keep trying.
Crawlspaces burrow through this area of the ship, turning it into a favorite stretch of floorway for punishment scrub duty, a handy place for illicit fuck-sessions, and a shortcut to the artillery unit. Perhaps if he makes it there, he can find a weapon? It won’t be yaka – but so long as it’s heavy and he can hit Dagada with it…
However, the last thing he needs is to be cornered in a tight squeeze. Yondu snarls around the bit and staggers on. Fortunately, he’s been dashing around this damn ship since Jora’d acquired him. Unfortunately, so has Dagada; Yondu’s about as likely to lose him as he is to take a wrong turn and stumble out an airlock. So he puts all his effort into moving, nostrils flaring as his ligaments stress with every stride.
Gotta keep going.
Gotta keep –
Dagada growls. That’s all the warning Yondu gets.
The captain punches into his back. Yondu’s a skittle and Dagada’s a damn demolition ball. He’s slammed into the ground; his lip bursts over his capped canine, bit crunching broken teeth. The detonator skitters from his grasp. It jangles over the floor grills, a tinkling chime that’s deceptively light for something that can cause so much destruction. Yondu’s shoulder strains at the socket but his fingers close an inch from the circuitboard edge.
“Oh no you don’t,” grinds the captain.
Yondu tenses to throw a reverse headbutt. It’s effectively quashed when Dagada mashes his muzzled face against the floor. The captain crawls over his back, breath tart and heavy and kneepads brutalizing his kidneys. He reaches for the button –
And Yondu steels himself, sucking blood out of his lip, and forces himself upright.
Dagada surfs the buck like a trained bullrider. But an elbow to the sternum lurches him off-balance. Yondu cinches the fall with a jerk of his braced leg, whipping Dagada’s foot from under him.
Dagada crashes onto his shoulderblades. He’s up immediately, launching himself at Yondu’s middle with a roar. The smack of a shoulder against his untensed gut aches like a bitch. But the crack of his implant on the wall is infinitely worse.
“You will not win this,” Dagada snarls. “You will not!”
A hand finds his throat. Starts to squeeze. Pinned by the neck, Yondu writhes and champs on his bit. The fingers squashing his pulsepoint are trembling with fury, but Dagada’s choking him with ruthless precision and he knows he ain’t got long.
“You think you can outrun me?” Dagada asks. Wet flakes Yondu’s face, thick and white and foamy. “You think you can outsmart me?” He hews spit over his cheek. It dribbles under the straps encasing his busted mouth, and Dagada angles his hands until his thumbs dig direct on his windpipe. “You’re pathetic,” he sneers. “Captain? You’re not worthy of the title.”
Yondu groans. Goes limp. Lets Dagada compress his airways until his head rolls heavy as a shotput in a sock.
Then he twists and drives his good knee up, aiming for Dagada’s groin. Dagada bolts back, wide-eyed – so Yondu turns it into an insole stomp. He smacks Dagada’s forearm on the inside of the elbow, breaking the stranglehold as his hand reflexively opens.
Dagada don’t think he’s got what it takes to be captain? Well, Yondu’ll show him – preferably from the other side of an airlock door.
He grins around the bloody metal. Painkillers ain’t too great – the sort that’ll let you dance about like this rarely are. His leg’s on fire and the rest of him’s not faring much better. But Yondu bounces on the balls of his feet, high on adrenaline and pain, and raises his fists in challenge.
Dagada’s growl is – well, milk-curdling, at least. Yondu’s blood’s doing fine, not a clot in sight (he sucks some more out of his lip, just to make sure). Oh, he’s ready for this. Has been for years. Always figured he’d have his arrow by his side when the show finally went down – and that he’d be in possession of a fully-functional set of limbs, and a mouth capable of biting, and all those other little scrapping luxuries you take for granted until you’re without them. But what the heck.
Wouldn’t be much of a fight otherwise.
The banging has stopped.
Kraglin dances on the spot a moment, the urge to move forwards momentarily swamped with confusion. “Morlug? You there?”
There’s a scrape of metal on wire, boot on wall.
“One of them lil' buggers right over me,” Morlug explains through her teeth. “If I can disarm it…” Kraglin can see her in his mind’s eye – sweaty and pink and frayed around the edges, wedging her feet into the cracks and crevices of the sloped engine deck walls as she prizes at the tiny golden capsule that could be her death. He swallows. Picks up his pace.
“Be careful,” he tells her, somewhat redundantly. Then, forcing joviality through the wheeze in his breath – “And I’d wager you won’t even need t’do that. I mean, Dagada’s going up against Yondu. You really think that yellow-bellied fry-face is gonna crawl out on top?”
“I will kill you,” Dagada promises. Yondu’s knuckles itch to pulp his stupid yellow nose. Kill him? He can try.
Dagada’s first to lunge. Yondu sidesteps, neat and fast, forearms up and elbows tucked in. A snappy jab to the chest – Yondu lets it land so that he can retaliate. He relishes the hairline fracture in his ribs with much the same pleasure with which he snaps Dagada’s.
Dagada reels back. Yondu follows –
Something clicks beneath his foot.
There’s this awful sense of trepidation; kinda like when you’re at the controls of an M-ship and have just realized that you’re supposed to twist the thruster joystick up not down, if you want a gradual descent as opposed to an immediate one. If Yondu looks, it’ll make this real. But avoiding problems – even those of the potentially explosive variety – has never done nobody no good.
He looks. There it is.
The crimped golden ridge of a detonator, the trigger button flattened under his left heel.
Yondu compiles a brief list of very choice words to describe himself, Kraglin, Dagada, and the state of the universe in general. Then the bomb goes off.