The coast was clear.
Chang had waited to make his move until after Captain Cooper had gone topside to work on lunch. Once the job was finished, he slipped back out into the short corridor to the port-side passenger cabins. Abby had been working in the sickbay, cataloging all of the stolen medical supplies. She was still there now, but Sully had joined her and they were conversing intently about something. Chang weighed his options -- it was either risk being caught where he was, or play it cool and make a break for it. Chang made a break for it, heading casually toward the hatchway to the cargo bay, expecting neither the first mate or Abby to notice him.
No such luck. Sully happened to glance up and out of the sickbay window. The Jin Dui’s firstmate immediately waved Chang over to join him and Abby in the sickbay. Chang put on his most innocent face and moseyed on into medico.
"... that's absolutely ridiculous!" Abby was saying in response to something Sully had told her. Her face was flushed and her expression was furious. "Talk about putting the fox in charge of the hen house! And she expects us to just go along quietly with this?"
Sully looked pained. "You're the one who served in a uniform during the war. I expect you understand a bit more clearly than I do how officers might have expectations that when they give an order, you follow it," he replied drolly.
Abby turned to Chang. "Cooper is making the new guy our ship's security officer! Security! This is outrageous! The man is a murderer!"
"The man is hellishly fast with a gun -- and the Captain thinks that's a skillset we'd be wise to keep around," Sully said.
"And what's to keep the hún dàn from just killing us all? Just like he did his last crew?" Abby demanded fiercely.
"The captain seems to believe that's not a risk," Sully said. "She asks that we all just give him an honest chance to settle in."
"You mean -- let us all become comfortable with the cobra nestled in our midst, so we'll never see it coming when he turns on us?" Abby retorted.
"We watched him shoot down his own crewmates in cold blood," Chang said, aware that Abby expected his support in this argument. "Captain's got to understand why the rest of us are extremely uncomfortable about all of this."
"She does," Sully said. "And she probably would prefer to hear from you directly about it, too--"
"We don't have to stand for this!" Abby said with some heat. "This is a civilian ship, not the military. We can vote with our feet! We'll be at Greenleaf in a few days, and we can all threaten to walk if she doesn't put Carver off the ship. You know Halo and Fatima feel the same way about this as we do! The Jin Dui won't fly without pilots!"
"Even with the hard burn to Greenleaf, we’ve got about eight days in transit to take stock of the situation, and if you still feel the same way when we get there -- that's always a choice," Sully said. "But you should be aware of a few complicating factors. First of all -- if you walk, the captain can just wave goodbye and hire a replacement. She can afford to do so. The ship is looking to sell some goods from the Lucky Day when we get back to Beylix, and when that happens, the ship is going to have a tidy little profit. Wait. Did I say 'little'? Strike that. We'll all be seeing an helluva end-of-quarter profit share. Plus --" Sully smiled at Chang knowingly. "With some of the gear we've collected off the Lucky Day, and with Carver's experience in a shipbreaker dropsquad, we're going to be able to take on salvage work. That means a likely future of continued profit shares. Personally, I like the sound of those two little words: 'profit' and 'share.' I'm willing to give Carver a chance, knowing that if the captain is right on this, he's really going to be an asset."
Abby's expression had shifted into a thunderous scowl, but Chang could tell that she was listening to Sully's words and processing them. "Carver scares me," Chang spoke up. "The captain maybe knew him years ago, but the War changed everyone. Cooper's say-so isn't enough to reassure me that this guy won't just start killing people because he doesn't like their jokes. All we know is he's the kind of gǒurìde who'll gank his own crewmates if the situation is right. Maybe this situation was 'I owe them money and I'm bored', or maybe it's even worse than that. You saw how he looked at the captain. Maybe it's 'I want that woman and she has friends I can kill if she says no.' And even if it's nothing like that, how do we know he's not just after the ship? Rickety as she is, the Jin Dui's still worth something. We can't know if this guy is just biding his time aboard, waiting for you and the captain to sell whatever it is we're going to sell -- and then he strikes, when there's cold hard cash to steal as well as a whole system full of scrappers who'll take the ship, no questions asked! If I were working that angle, I'd wait until my kill was nice and fat, know what I mean?"
Sully was frowning as he chewed on Chang's concerns. "Yeah, I grok that," he said with a shrug. "And I'll pass those fears on to the captain, if you're not comfortable doing so yourself. But I don't think it's unreasonable for us to give the guy a chance. We can stay alert and watch for signs of danger. And if you see anything from Carver that sets off your hinkey meters, then I want you to come to me immediately." Sully looked them each in the eyes, stressing that point. Then he gave them his easy smile, signalling he considered the discussion over with for now. "Keep your eyes and ears open, but keep an open mind as well. We have the possibility here that if Carver works out for us the way the captain hopes, that we'll all benefit in the long run."
"Aye aye, sir," Abby said, coldly civil as Sully took his leave. She turned back to the sickbay supplies cabinet she was stocking, her motions stiff with resentment. Chang lingered for a moment, waiting until Sully had left them and was safely out of earshot.
"I don't want to work with that man," Abby muttered bitterly. "I hope the captain is happy when he kills us all."
"You want to know what makes me the most uncomfortable with all of this?" Chang confessed in a near-whisper. "I can’t help but wonder: have we been wrong all along to trust Captain Cooper? I have to ask, maybe she's just not nearly as stable as we all thought she was. The rest of us are sanely worried about this guy, who is a confessed mercenary -- but she trusts him the second she lays eyes on him. She certainly wasn't like that with any of us when we all came aboard back at Deadwood, except for Hoss. And you know she and Hoss went through the war together." Abby had stopped what she was doing to listen to him; Chang was extremely conscious of her blue-eyed stare on him as he spoke. "So what I want to know -- is there something more here going on between this guy and the Captain, which the captain lied to us about to cover up? Or worse, in my way of thinking: one night of good sex with the man, years ago, and she just loses all upper brain function? We're supposed to believe this guy was just a one-candle night -- but yet she[s willing the killer a free pass now?"
Abby was nodding agreement. “Yes. Exactly! This is crazy. He’s a slash-killer for all we know! We should have left the chùsheng behind on that asteroid! But we didn’t, and now we’ve all got to watch our backs, every minute of the day and night!”
"I know. And the way I see it -- if the captain’s not going to look out for us, we’ve gotta look out for ourselves.” Chang double-checked his flank, making sure no one else was in range, then leaned in close to make his confession. He couldn’t help but notice Abby had dabbed perfume behind her ear -- she smelled faintly of jasmine. “You know the intercom units in our cabins? The captain probably doesn’t know this, but they can be reprogrammed to passively record anything within range of their pick-up, even when they're supposedly turned off. I just snuck into Carver’s cabin and set it all up. Audio files are being cached where only I can find them, and I can monitor them from my hand-held. He so much as sneezes, I’ll know it. Anything that sounds like suspicious activity will trigger an instant alert for my review. It’s not foolproof, but it’s at least a start. I can monitor Carver from a safe distance, at least while he’s supposed to be in his cabin. I’ll have a few minutes warning that way, if he’s up to no good. And if there’s anything I can gather to use against him and help get him thrown off the ship -- then I’ll be collecting it.”
Abby’s answering smile was brilliant. “Not ‘I’,” she said fervently. “Make that ‘we.’”
“We.” Chang couldn’t help but grin in response. He liked the sound of that very, very much. “We it is, then. Now. We gotta keep our heads down and mind our p’s and q’s around both Mr. Slash Killer and the captain. We watch, we wait, and we compile whatever data there is to gather. Information is our weapon. So we gather our weapons…” There was the sound of approaching footsteps on the deck outside, probably Sully coming back down from topside. Chang retreated a step, and assumed his most virtuous face again. “... and we make very sure we don’t get caught,” he finished, giving Sully a smile and an innocent wave as the first mate came into view.
“Rightie-o,” Abby agreed. “Absolutely no getting caught,” she said, with far more cheer than she’d shown about anything since yesterday and the events aboard the Lucky Day.