In which alcohol happens, more alcohol happens, and a very stupid decision is made.
And so it continues. Day in, day out. An endless circle of offensive engine vapors and worse bog-smells, of shoves and jeers and insults and the constant, casual reminder that nobody expects him to see the end of the week, let alone a month. Kraglin refuses to be worn down. It’s his eighth day. He’s already proved them wrong on the first front; he’ll show ‘em on the other too.
So, what’s changed? First and foremost: he’s getting used to the bellow of ‘greenie’ following him up the corridor – or ‘rookie’, or ‘fresh meat’, or other variation thereof. He responds without having to think, more often than not. It’s… a little unnerving. When the time comes for him to share his name, he sure hopes he still remembers it.
“Rookie!” calls Isla, on cue. “Oi, you! Rookie!”
He’s splashing about in a water leak off corridor 21, G-deck, bailing the spillage into a tank so they waste as little as possible. Morlug snarls and swears above him, armed with a welding torch. Hearing the bawl of his temporary title, Kraglin squeezes what water he can from his Mohawk – he’s under a near-on constant Niagara – and rises from his squat with a groan. He hears his spine creak.
Only three weeks left, he reminds himself. Then they’ll start using your name, and you’ll only be assigned scrubs if you’re as dumb as Morlug and you keep talking back to the bo’sun.
One week aboard, and he’s already learnt who not to mess with, if only from the tales muttered behind Morlug’s cupped hands. He hasn’t seen the captain yet, let alone the first-mate – heck, he’s only caught the bo’sun from behind a coupla times because he’s been chewing out Morlug.
This is the plan, right? Lay low. Don’t draw unnecessary attention. Stay out of trouble – just for one fucking month. Once that passes, he’ll be well on his way into the fourth quadrant. A few jobs here and there, a few more credits siphoned into his meager bank account, and he’ll be able to jump ship next time they land on a suitably peaceful-looking chunk of rock. No longer than six weeks.
It is, Kraglin thinks, perfect.
He’s so engrossed with thoughts of a quiet retirement on a bungalow satellite, whose snazzy double-spaceglass windows look out onto a nebula and which boasts a king-sized, creak-free bed, that he forgets who it is that’s approaching and greets Isla with a blithe and genuine smile. Her grin, which could be described as shit-eating, takes a turn for the amused.
“You high, greenie?”
Kraglin quickly sobers, sucking his cheeks in. “No.”
“Whatever. C’mon, leave this to Morlug.” Morlug makes her opinion known. But the steel pipe-patch she’s got clenched between her teeth means that interpretation is a matter for the individual, and Isla delights in ignoring her. “First mate’s due back today,” she tells Kraglin, stopping just outside of the waterfall. It’s coming in stops and spurts now, like the spout from a center-pivot irrigator, and Kraglin vindictively prays for a large wave. And that Isla’s piercings rust. “It’s been a big job,” Isla continues, flexing her bandaged hand. “And I need someone who knows Nova patrolers to snoop planetside and scout out a bar that ain’t crawling, so we can throw us a decent party.”
The offer sounds… good. A chance to get off ship. Breathe non-filtered air. Kraglin’s been confined to the galleon for the past four stations, and if he stays any longer he’ll forget what natural light looks like. Still… If there’s one thing Kraglin’s learnt about Isla from their last encounter, it’s that her friendliness should always be taken with a pinch of salt. Potentially, the whole damn shaker.
He gives her a flat look, as Morlug cusses above him and another deluge of freezing water drenches the back of his neck. “What’s the catch?”
“Catch?” Isla has the audacity to look confused. Just for a second. Then she guffaws, and Kraglin hears the rings punched into her belly jingle with the motion. “Aw, you still pissy about that thing with the beds? C’mon, greenie. It's just a joke. Learn to live a little.”
“You were betting on my life,” Kraglin reminds her. Just in case she’s forgotten. Isla brushes the accusation away.
“Can you blame us? Kid swans up while our refiller’s docked out in a fancy Nova fuel bay, and asks to be given the reds? I mean, heck, how old are you? Sixteen?”
“Nineteen. And I’m Hraxian! Only reason I was on that piece-o’priss station was because I was on the run from the goddam Hraxian cartel –“
Isla retaliates with a not-so-gentle boot up the backside. “Heck, you’ve only lasted a week, not a month. Save your sorry life story til we know you're likely to be around long enough for us to give a shit.”
Kraglin, about to launch into the whole wacky tale of laundered money, false Flengoffan diamonds, and misfiring antique pistols from the Nova’s pre-plasma age (give or take a little heroic embellishment) sullenly shuts his mouth. Above, there’s another sputtering shower. Then a whoosh, as Morlug ignites the welder, eyes squeezed up behind her dark goggles to protect her from the glare. Kraglin, also in goggles, has to look away. Isla, without them, cackles like a hyena and wades through the puddle to give Morlug’s calf a congratulatory slap.
“Not fucking bad, kiddo!” she crows. Morlug, who is balanced halfway up the by now very slippery stepladder – she’d declined Kraglin’s offer of a shoulderride – has to scrabble to avoid dropping the lit welder on her head. Isla continues her passage, heedless, waving as she turns the corner. “Catch you in fifteen, rookie!”
Planetside is… Not a planet.
Which is a bit of a disappointment. But Kraglin’s from the biggest fuckin’ metropolized terraformation in the quadrant. Hrax is the concrete jungle of the Nova galaxy; it ain’t like he’s going to miss the feel of grass between his toes. So he steps off the shuttle ramp after Isla, boots scraping worn grey steel, and takes a lungful of air so deep it scratches his alveoli. He’s never really noticed before – what a difference there is between ship air, which is stored in a closed system with the exception of the occasional oxygen injection, then pumped and filtered through a million crumbly ventilation pipes; and satellite air, which is generated on site and dissipates whenever they turn off the artificial gravity. It’s not in the taste, like you’d expect. It’s in the texture. Eclector air is irritant, dusty even when it doesn’t look it. The fans that keep it circulating are ancient things, their blades ribbed with rust, and sometimes you wake in the night with the coppery tang of oxidiszed metal lodged in the back of your throat and you can’t think why. This though… it’s smooth and sweet, dripping down his windpipe like honey.
Kraglin rolls his shoulders, basking in the blue radiance of the far-off supergiant, and moans like he’s jizzed for the first time in a moon-cycle. Which, given how hectic things’ve been lately, is a damn good estimate.
Isla, watching with undisguised merriment, barges his hip with her elbow, aiming for the nerve. “Damn, rookie! If I knew a bit of freshish air’d get you hard, I’d’ve dragged you planetside three stations back.”
Kraglin has been victim of this particular attack enough on the ride over to know the angle to turn to so he only ends up with a bruise rather than jellified legs. “Really?” he asks.
Because Morlug’s fun to bitch with an’ all. Wicked sense of humor, under all that grouch. And she’s surprisingly talkative once you get her started – although he still can’t convince her to hear his name (so far she’s walked away every time he’s tried, which’s effectively put a stop to his efforts. Better to have someone who jeers ‘greenie’ at you every now and again, than to be on your own.) But between that and the fact that she’s brushed off every one of his pick-ups, her lack of interest is clear.
Now, Kraglin’s the first to admit that he’s a man with needs. And he really hopes that this month of semi-segregation doesn’t apply to the folks he fucks too. Yeah, Isla’s short and stout and would set every damn metal detector in a Nova building blaring if she came within a mile of the place. And she’s definitely… unique. But Kraglin’s not too choosy as far as looks go, and he bets she’d be a fucking wildcat in the sack.
Isla sets his hormones to rest with a chuff of a laugh. “In your fucking dreams, kid. Now get walking. We scout the whole dang station before sundown.”
In the end, Kraglin’s the one to find a suitable place – a basement establishment with thick walls, no Nova snoops for three blocks around, and a suitably disinterested-looking bartender. The few locals grubbing over holocards at a darkened table take one look at his Ravager coat and make for the exit. It is, Kraglin admits as his chest puffs to fill the loose-fitted jacket, a little bit awesome.
Anyway – as a reward for his efforts, Isla bequeaths upon him a clap on the back, an offer to get him off his early shift tomorrow, and a magnanimous invitation for him to join them in their celebration. Kraglin hasn’t picked up on what it is they’re celebrating yet – something about the first mate pulling off a big-money retrieval gig that’ll earn enough for a full M-ship overhaul, and only getting shot once in the process; that’s the gist so far. News takes a while to filter through the ranks, and Isla’s too excited about the amount of alcohol she plans on consuming to communicate in any way that resembles effective. But hey. Who’s he to turn down booze and a party?
You never know. They might have a few whores hangin’ around, seeing as all the Ravagers seem determined to coldcock him – that or he’s even uglier up here than he was on Hrax. Or they’re all already fucking each other.
Kraglin rubs his palms, cool and slick with the condensation that’s beaded on the outside of his glass, and does his best not to think of Isla and Morlug frotting on the bartop.
Speaking of Morlug… He hopes she’s not too mad at him for skipping out. He doubts it; first rule of Ravagers, there ain’t such a thing as loyalty when you’re on scrubs. If someone’d offered the same to her, she’d’ve tossed the welder in his face, flame and all, and fought her way to the nearest shuttle. He smirks to himself, and indulges in a long sip.
“Drinks’re on Udonta,” Isla had said with a wink, and at his request, pointed him to the most expensive item on the menu.
It tastes kinda crap, actually – too aromatic for his liking, like someone’s blended fruit puree and black vodka then infused the whole damn thing with rosewater. Like they’re trying to make perfume or some shit. But booze is booze. Party hasn’t started, and Kraglin’s already feeling a friendly buzz in his blood. Isla notices; next time he makes to take a gulp, she slaps her hand over the base of the flute, studs ringing off glass, and pins it to the table.
“Fuck, rookie,” she seethes. “You really are nineteen. You wanna be passed out before they get there?”
Cheeks heating – it’s the alcohol, he tells himself – Kraglin pushes the glass away. “Whatever.”
Isla sneers right back. “Yeah, kid. Whatever. Help me fill these shot glasses.” She’s been pulling them up from behind the bar over the past hour, having effectively taken things over – the manager’s parked his ass on a table and is enjoying a smoke, and there’s rotgut of every color Kraglin’s rods and cones can distinguish, plus a few extra, all lined up along the shelves. There’s also tumblers. A ridiculous amount of tumblers, fanning out across bartop, counter, and a couple of pushed-together tables besides. Kraglin gawps at them, then at her.
“I thought these were the ones we wasn’t gonna use.”
Isla’s silver-dipped teeth glint. “You thought wrong.”
“Shit. How many folks’re coming?” The bar’s not exactly small, and Isla’s acting like she means to outfit the place for the entire fleet. Isla answers with a shrug.
“No more than fifteen. Seventeen if captain and bo’sun show up. Although they ain’t been invited.” It’s said airily, as is everything that comes out Isla’s mouth. Kraglin grabs a bottle that’s in his favorite shade of acid green, waits for Isla’s approving nod, and pours it evenly over the nearest line of shot glasses. The smell of liquor goes from potent to overpowering.
“Captains don’t need invites, I’m guessing,” he says, finishing the bottle with a shake and gesturing for the next. Isla unstoppers it with her teeth, spitting the cap to one side, and hands it over. Her mouth is smiling, but the eyes above them are bleak.
“You could say that.” There’s a silence, broken only by the slop of spirits. This one’s orange and zesty; Kraglin ain’t no connoisseur, but he can pick out the warm undertone of citrus that accompanies the alcoholic zing. He makes a mental note to go for those ones first. His musing’s broken, however, as his fingers brush Isla’s around the neck of the third bottle – this a deep-sea blue. “Hey, rookie?”
Isla’s fingers tighten. The hoops under her knuckles screech on the glass, and when he next looks at her, her face is as serious as he’s ever seen it. “The captain. If she shows… If anything happens tonight… Don’t you do nothing stupid.”
There’s no more wisdom forthcoming. Isla releases the bottle and goes back to experimenting with cocktails, swilling from one bottle and then another, spitting some into the sink and swallowing most.
“Well,” Kraglin can’t help but comment. “That’s the worst advice I’ve heard in my life.”
Isla spits the next mouthful at him. He nearly splashes her in return – he has half a bottle, and thus the artillery advantage – before remembering that she can and will put him on scrub for the rest of eternity.
The rest of the six weeks he has remaining, before he can put his retirement plan into action.
That’s what he meant, of course.
Kraglin scowls at her instead, tossing the bottle onto the empties pile. It shatters with a satisfying smash, and one of the barkeep’s pet robots scuttles from its hole to scoop up the mess. “Y’know,” says Isla, eyeing the carnage. “Perhaps this ain’t such a great idea after all. Heck, you’re nineteen.” She sighs, and rubs ruefully at her brown curls as she rolls another mouthful around her cheeks. “I think I oughta send ya back to ship.”
Aw. No way. This is far too much fun. Kraglin ups his performance, emptying the next bottle fast enough to slosh buttercup booze down his pants. “I’ll behave,” he promises, depositing the finished bottle in the robot’s gangly arms. It chirrups in thanks; Kraglin points at it in explanation. “No more broken shit, I swear. See?”
But Isla’s expression is solidifying into something firm and unyielding. “Kid,” she says. She even sounds regretful about it. “This was a bad decision from the start. I shouldn’t've gotten your hopes up – how about I cancel all yer shifts tomorrow, and you bugger off now? Deal?”
“No deal,” Kraglin snaps. A day without shifts is a day spent trailing after Morlug or Varra, and getting roped into sponging stuff anyway. Varra ain’t the most graceful of folks, and things have a tendency to fall over when he’s around – plates, bowls, tanks of high-corrosive chemicals and the like. “Look, I’ll – I’ll be sensible. I’m not actually stupid, y’know. And I ain’t a fucking kid. I don’t care what sorta beef you all got with the captain. I can look out for myself.”
Isla’s eyes go wide. “You’ll mind your mouth, rookie, if ya know what’s good for you,” she growls. “Ain’t none of us that’ve got a beef with the captain. Especially not the first mate. Understand? Because that. Would. Be. Mutiny.”
…Kraglin may have, once again, bitten off slightly more than he can chew. His jaw works soundlessly for a moment. “Oh,” he finally manages. Isla takes another dark gulp – it’s unnecessary; she’s already spat a good gobfull of this stuff down the drain, but Kraglin figures that might be just the point.
“Exactly. Fuck you, greenie; you’re too smart for yer own fuckin' good. Now get your skinny ass back onboard before I chase it there.”
Kraglin’s about to do it too.
Then the door bursts open with a holler and a screech, and a flock of Ravagers pour in. From the look of ‘em, they’ve stopped off at a couple of bars already. Kraglin recognizes Varra and Figs – the latter nods to him occasionally, and the former indulges him in full conversations every once in a while (although heaven forbid he mention anything about name or former life). He wonders if the others from their bunk stack are there – the redheaded boot-throwing lass from the top and the fella on the bottom who he hadn’t seen more of than two elongated and pungently fungal feet.
And Kree-guy, of course. Kraglin shudders. On second thoughts, perhaps it’s best if he never meets him again.
Of course, the universe isn’t that kind. The doors barge apart for a second time, and all the Ravagers cheer. Even Isla’s distracted. Kraglin uses the opportunity to grab the next decanter and start pouring so that he looks like he’s supposed to be here. Then Varra stomps over to the newcomer and loudly proclaims “Nice one, Yondu!” loud enough to make the rafters shake.
Kraglin almost drops the bottle. Wait what?
He looks up, stomach already descending to his knees, and spots Varra pounding the shoulder of none other than Kree-guy himself. Kraglin’s guts hit his ankles. Kree-guy – Yondu – withstands the barrage, and Varra drags him into a backthumping hug.
“That the first mate?” Kraglin asks Isla out the corner of his mouth. Just to be sure. Her frown lets up a little.
“He’s Yondu? Yondu Udonta?”
“Udonta’s the guy whose bed you dumped me in? The first fucking mate of the Ravagers?”
Isla cracks her metal-strewn knuckles. “Oh, yeah.”
Kraglin stares at her. Then wordlessly downs the nearest tumbler. And the next for good measure. Behind him, Udonta extracts himself from Varra’s embrace and works his way through the crowd of Ravagers, exchanging fist-bumps and toothy grins.
“Somebody get me a fucking drink!” he roars, and Kraglin freezes as Isla slaps him on the wrist.
“Go on then.”
“Ain’t I supposed to be going back to ship…?”
Isla’s smile is pure devilry. “Missed your chance.”
Kraglin, life flashing before his eyes, takes the glass she holds out. It’s about as long as his forearm and filled with swirls of settling, separated liquid, spirit and mixer in alternating shades of red and blue. Because apparently, Isla’s sense of humor doesn’t only revolve around his misery. His walk over to Udonta is slower than a man on the Green Mile, and not just thanks to the density of the red leather clad bodies packed between them. When he reaches him, he offers the pint of whatever-the-fuck Isla’s concocted and keeps his eyes on Udonta’s boots.
“The fuck's this?” Udonta asks, sounding delighted at the prospect of potential alcohol poisoning.
“Geddit down in ten and I’ll clean that gross old M-ship of yours!” Isla yells. Which means Kraglin will. Dammit. Udonta takes the bait though, crooked grin turning wily. He turns his gaze on the drink – the smell of which is starting to sear Kraglin’s nostrils – like he’s scoping a mark.
“You are fucking on, woman.” Great. He’s crazy as well as liable to murder. Kraglin’s thoughts on the matter are cemented as Udonta snatches the glass from his hand and, to the pound of Varra’s fist on the bartop and the vocal approval of every other damn Ravager in the place, starts to noisily chug.
He doesn’t look at Kraglin once.
Really, he should feel more relieved about that.
“Three, two, one!” Isla chants. Udonta slurps the last drop, slams the glass into Kraglin’s hands hard enough to send him stumbling backwards, and lets out a mighty belch. They all whoop like maniacs.
Varra leads the charge to the endless rows of shot glasses, Udonta dragged by the scruff of his coat. The herd of Ravagers stampede after them. Kraglin has to fight to stay on his feet; the glass is sticky with the residue of the drink and warm from Udonta’s hands, sliding in his grip. But he manages to retreat to the safety of the bar with minimal damage, receiving only a steel toecap to the shin along the way. There he leans next to Isla, and composes himself long enough to get the shot he’s snatched into his mouth rather than down his collar.
“He actually did it,” Isla says. Her jangling eyebrows raise. “Guess we got a ship to clean.”
Kraglin reaches for another tumbler. He fucking knew it.
He can’t stay on the outskirts for long though. Drunk Ravagers are curious Ravagers, and if they still smack him about the ears when he tries to introduce himself, they do it while laughing. And they all seem united in their determination to get him catatonic. Kraglin’s well on his way already, his belly sloshing like a washing machine; it only gets worse once he’s drawn into the crowd of grubby leathers.
If he ain’t fond of being the center of attention sober, he likes it less drunk. So it’s a surprise that the last real thing he remembers from that night is Varra barging him into Udonta’s side as they down their shots together, and Udonta almost pissing himself laughing when Kraglin has to wobble outside and spew them back up.
He re-enters on shaky ankles, but forgets them as Figs grabs his hands and drags him into a crazy, knee-jerking dance, whirling round and round, faster and faster, her trenchcoat lifting behind her like a tatty black solar-wing. He’s spun about, crashed into a table top when Figs loses her balance, picked up and set on his feet like a fallen toy soldier. Their faces wobble like he’s viewing them through a dirty lens, and there seems to be two of everything. That or Ravagers multiply faster than a virus.
They’re all around him, a horde of loud voices and tramping boots. His senses are saturated in leather and alcohol and sweat. Drink slops down his front.
He’s got his arms around someone’s waist, and he’s not sure if he’s using them as a crutch or dancing with them. But there’s a strip of blue skin in front of him – he thinks it might be a neck. As it’s all he can focus on, Kraglin slumps his bodyweight forwards and treats it to a sloppy kiss. He feels the person stiffen, and fuzzily expects to be shoved away. But then there’s a gasp and he’s pulled in tighter. When they break apart he’s left a purple circle that’s shiny and pretty with spit, and an odd sensation of pride.
After that it’s all shattered images, stitched in something that might be chronological order.
Laughing so hard at a joke he only half remembers that he has to lean on the other guy so he doesn’t flop forwards on his face (and it is a guy, but Kraglin’s too far gone to give a shit, and let’s be honest, he ain’t the pickiest anyway). Feeling the other guy’s shoulders silently shaking too. A hand on his wrist, an insistent pull; the bartender lazily looking them up and down and slipping a keycard into his sweating palm.
“Use protection,” he says dryly, but neither of them are listening.
Kraglin is apocalyptically, anarchically drunk, of that degree where everything is hazy and happy and he knows he’s not going to remember any of it in the morning. Thus, technically, he supposes, he’s got a free pass to do whatever the fuck he wants. The slate’ll be wiped as soon as there’s light in the sky, right? And then it’s back to the life of Kraglin the underdog, hopping to with his trusty mop whenever a beacon flashes.
But not this. Nah. This night is gonna be his.