The last loads made it down to the loading bay and onto the grav cart. Crew clustered there -- a sweaty, exhausted lot, sans only Fatima, who still sat watch on the Jin Dui's bridge. There was still a half hour to go on the original twelve-hour deadline, but when Cooper looked around at the weary misery gathered around, she hadn't the heart left to ask anyone to make a final round through the Lucky Day in search of any bits and bobs of valuable left behind.
Hell, she couldn't even do it herself. Cooper would have returned to the ship already, would have liked to have swapped with Fatima, maybe, so that one of their pilots could catch some rest before they parted ways with the Bonnie Prince Charlie. But Cooper's crippled leg was strained after the day's efforts, and hardly able to bear her weight. It would be something, she thought bleakly now, if she could get herself back to the Jin Dui without a face-plant or two.
At least exhaustion had drained tempers all around. She could look at Sully without wanting to bust open his head, and Sully even gave her apologetic look in return, as though maybe he regretted a thing or two of what he'd said.
"Let's get," she said. "Don't bother even closing her down 'n locking her up. We just shut the airlock doors and go. The 14K will find her as they find her."
Sully and Halo set off first, guiding the grav cart. Chang and Abby fell in behind the loaded cart. Cooper gestured for Carver to precede her into the umbilical. The man went, no questions, his seabag slung over his shoulder She leaned on her cane and watched them go for a bit, gathering her courage before risking the subtle sway of the docking tube.
Hoss waited with her, and when Cooper finally dared those first, treacherous steps, he matched his pace to hers. When she stumbled for the first time, he just slipped a massive hand under her arm and steadied her on her feet.
"Crew isn't happy," Hoss said quietly, as they finally reached the airlock. It cycled them through. The rest of the crew had continued on ahead and were halfway across Bonnie Prince Charlie's wide central warehouse chamber. Only Carver had delayed, waiting near the big midsection seal doors.
"I'm not thrilled myself," Cooper grumbled, eyeing the distances between her people and Carver. "I get it. I do. I'd be worked up myself, if I were in their shoes. But I what I don’t get is what else are we supposed to do? The man saved us today. He also lost whatever was his normal. I'm not going to leave him here to a triad's tender mercies."
Hoss gave a gusting sigh, then nodded agreement. "No. We can't do that. But I don't know what we can do, either. Everyone is scared to bring a killer aboard. We saw what he did to his friends, after all."
It was Cooper's turn to sigh. "I know. I just can't fault the man for it. I never thought I'd see him again, but here he is. And maybe I am crazy, or gone soft, or whatever. But I do trust him. Gut-deep. I trust him. And I don't do that." Not except for you, was the additional thought, the one Cooper didn't say aloud.
Hoss might have well picked up on that unspoken sentiment. He was perceptive enough, Lord knew. But he didn't say a thing, just strolled along at Cooper's hobbling pace and kept his arm hooked friendly-wise through her own, so that it wasn't obvious that he was nearly carrying her now-and-again.
"We can get you the grav cart," he said at one point, when she faltered badly and the leg went out from under her entirely.
"Like hell," Cooper retorted. "You'll have a mutiny for sure then, if I have to be wheeled about like luggage."
Hoss chuckled that off like it was the funniest thing he'd heard all day. Anyone else might have been lecturing Cooper about not pushing herself, yadda yadda the dangers of straining her crippled leg and overdoing it yadda. But not Hoss. He had too much respect for the demons that drove her.
Carver was still waiting for them as they reached the section seal doors. The rest of the crew ahead were already crowding into the Aft Dock airlock, a unified set. Safety in numbers, Cooper thought with dark humor. Without comment, Carver fell in at Cooper's other side. Big as Carver was, Hoss out-massed him, and a woman could feel like a real lightweight, sandwiched between them as she was. They reached the airlock in silence, and had a moment’s rest as it cycled them through. Cooper leaned against the airlock wall in the brief amount of time that passage took, gathering herself for the final hurdle of that last docking umbilical.
The airlock doors grated open again, and Cooper was first to step out, determined to cover this last distance without bruising her dignity.
She made the Jin Dui's deck with Hoss keeping her steady, her dignity mostly intact. She found the cargo bay packed full and stacked high with the equipment, parts and goods from the Lucky Day. "Looks like someone set a bomb off in here," Cooper grumbled, not wanting to give away how impressed she was -- and how pleased -- with the physical fruits of the crew's hard day of labor. "We're aboard," Cooper said as she leaned against the comm control panel and toggled the all-ship. "Good to go. Who's up on bridge?"
"Halo and I," came back Sully's response. "We'll sort out who'll take us out for departure. Abby and Chang are getting dinner warmed up and on the table for anyone who wants it. Fatima is off to her cabin to catch a cat nap; she'll provide the first relief shift."
"Aye," Cooper said, nodding in approval. "Set course and a hard burn for Greenleaf, as soon as we're clear of the Penglai debris field," she said. The prospect of climbing two sets of stairs to get to the upper deck was daunting, but Cooper grit her teeth and promised herself that if she could make it as far as the galley table, she could take a long sit-down. "I'll get up there, soon as I can."
"We got 'r, captain," came back Sully's steady reply.
There was a gully through the debris field in her hold, leading to the hatch to the lowerdecks passenger lounge. They made for that, Carver delaying to follow behind them after Hoss had locked the ship up tight. "I'll take care of the stock, the girls are probably full-up," Hoss added, as they passed the stable-pod. Hearing the voices most regularly associated with mealtime, the milk goats Anna and Polly began to raise a fuss, which woke the chickens as well. There was virtually a food riot going on in there by the time Hoss poked his head through the stable-pod door, and the barnyard chorus had actually earned a rare look of surprise from Carver.
"Fresh eggs and buttermilk for breakfast, most mornings," Cooper said, taking some satisfaction from that look of surprise on Carver's face.
The worn furniture and eclectic wall coverings in the passenger lounge seemed comfortable and homey, after the claustrophobic hours aboard the spartan gunboat. Cooper waved Carver after her to show him to his cabin.
"You got your pick of either of these on the right," she said. "Chang has a bunk one row over, and Abby's down at the far end. The rest of us are up in the crew cabins," she said, toggling on a light in the first of the two available cabins. Carver stepped inside and nodded thanks as he put down his seabag.
"Get settled in," she told him. "Galley is upstairs, dinner is being served. After-hours, you’re free to help yourself to whatever you want from the fridge, there’s usually leftovers of some stripe available. Pay aboard my ship ain’t always going to be regular, but I make sure no one starves. Is there anything you need right now?"
Carver turned about and gave her a steady look from pale green eyes, eyes she'd never quite been able to forget. "Are you sure of this?” he asked. “I can come to an arrangement with the 14K when they arrive; you can still leave me here."
Cooper snorted at that, and favored him with a weary smile. "No. I can't," she replied firmly, and considered that all the argument it needed. “You earned your bunk, so welcome aboard.”