“I thought you quit that,” Lena grimaced as she stepped into the Holdsworth control room to find Hank smoking a cigar. He stood at the center table working on duty shifts, all the while realizing what a harsh piece of work he could be.
“I did,” Hank shrugged. “Mostly.”
Lena sighed, “Those things stink.”
Hank puffed, “You ought to give it a try.”
“Ha,” Lena rolled her eyes. “You'll sooner catch me kissin' a zombie.”
“I could arrange that. You could use a good kiss.”
“And you ought to lose that beard, Hank,” Lena finally said. “Let me put it this way, you can have either the cigars or the beard. Not both.”
“What's wrong with the beard?”
“It makes you look scruffy looking.”
“Who's scruffy looking?”
“Laugh it up, bird brain!” Hank said. “You should have seen us alone in-”
The very distinct sound of gunfire penetrated their ears. The report multiplied until it reached the clear tone of multiple automatic weapon discharges. Lena's eyes widened. She spoke no words, but Hank knew what she was saying, “What's happening, Hank? I'm scared.”
“I dunno, but I'm sure as hell gonna find out,” Hank growled as he opened up the gun locker. After a moment's worth of decision-making, he picked out his trusty HK416 and racked the charging handle.
“You certainly have courage,” Lena said as her husband passed her. She kissed him on the cheek, “For luck.”
Hank pulled open the steel door and rushed down the stairs. The gunfire came from the port below in the direction of the Fujikawa-Mitchell Line operations center. He already knew it had something to do with that. There was no way it didn't. Suddenly, one of the ship's engineers, James Scott, came to Hank and told him, “Sir! The engines are online and we're ready to depart on your command. All systems are go.”
Hank wanted to ignore him and focus on getting down and joining the fight, but the captain thing was just as important, “Even the cable-laying systems?”
“Aye,” Scott reported. “Everything is loaded up and we're one-hundred percent.”
“Good,” Hank told him. “Get the engines fired up and ready to move! We're getting out of here ASAP.”
Hank rushed down the boarding ramp a few of his crewmen standing guard with their rifles raised. No one was getting aboard the Holdsworth. The operations center was only a few hundred feet away. Hank realized that he was not what he used to be. At fifty-nine years of age, his body simply could not handle what it could in years past. It had been too long since Hank had seen any real excitement. Too long had he been cooked up in the bridge giving orders and playing puppetmaster. It was time to cut the strings and fight.
Out of breath, Hank arrived at the battle and found Liam crouched behind a few crates, pistol drawn. Liam asked, “Dad, what are you doing here?”
Hank held up his hand, as if to say, “Wait a minute.”
Liam nodded, popped out of cover, squeezed out three shots, and then told him, “Best I can tell, there's three of them out there! Two at our three o'clock and one at eleven!”
“Right,” Hank caught his breath.
“You okay, dad?” Liam was truly concerned.
“Yeah, I'm fine, just ain't done this in a while,” Hank grunted as he stuck out of cover and searched for the assailants. Liam was right about their relative positions: two to the right in the street, one to the left in an alleyway. As the shooters caught sight of the old man, he slipped right behind the crates.
“Dad, you shouldn't be out here,” Liam protested.
“I'll suppress the two on the right, giving you a shot at the one on the left,” Hank said. “Ready?”
“Yeah, sure,” Liam chose to just go with it.
“Go!” Hank exclaimed as they popped from cover. In the closest thing to immediacy, Hank unleashed a steady barrage of automatic gunfire from his 416. His aim was be close to the targets, but didn't use enough precision to guarantee a hit. His goal was only to force his enemies into cover so Liam would have a better shot at scoring a kill. When he heard Liam's XD-45 discharge twice, Hank snapped back into cover. His son was fast behind him. “Did you get 'em?”
“Yeah, I did,” Liam replied. “Headshot. Square.” His slide was locked, meaning he was out of bullets. He reached inside his jacket and then said, “Dad, I'm out of ammo.”
“Here, take mine,” Hank drew his two-tone P99 and handed it to his son.
Liam took it and checked the load. Good. Suddenly, the gunfire stopped. “The hell?” Liam thought aloud as he peeked out of cover. “They're down!”
“What?” Hank took a look. He was right. Both of the enemy combatants were dead. They had been stopped by a few bold members of Lisbon's army who managed to get behind them. Hank stood and glanced around. It was all clear. “What just happened?”
“I was just helping Dr. Fujikawa make sure everything was set, when I caught some chucklehead planting C4 on the line junction. I opened fire, but he ran over there into the alleyway. Next thing I know, there's a full-on gun battle going on. Two more of them show up and pin us down, but we had numbers on our side. It was too easy.”
“So, this is about the line.”
“No other reason to attack anything in Lisbon.”
“Capitao Mitchell!” One the Portuguese called. “Vem aqui!” He exclaimed, meaning 'come here.'
Hank and Liam exchanged glances. They followed the voice to a group of local troops standing over one of the bodies, who was dressed in all-black, high-grade military gear. His face was covered by balaclava and a tactical helmet. “This gear is Steelewood-issue,” Hank said.
“Steelewood? What are they doing here?” Liam crossed his arms.
Hank pulled off the man's helmet and face-covering and then his eyes widened, “This man's name is John Snapp.”
“You know him?”
“Not personally,” Hank sighed as he got off his knees. “He's one of Steelewood's most elite operatives. The best of the best.”
“They meant business, then.”
“Isadora warned me about this guy a few years back,” Hank said, referring to their old friend and the chief executive officer of Steelewood Industries. Hank and Lena met Isadora when the outbreak began and she helped them in stopping those responsible. He walked over to the other two bodies, removed their masks and told his son, “That man there is Hans Steppman, and that's Lionel MacTavish. Isadora warned me about all three of these guys. Mean bastards.”
“Why would Steelewood's top operatives attack us?” Liam wondered. “And why now? They could have waited until we were gone and there'd have been half the security. Did they get impatient?”
“Not likely,” Hank spat on the ground. “There's something else at work here.”
“Liam, it's dadgum Steelewood. They're always up to something.”
“Yeah, you're right. Just wish they could do their shadowy stuff someplace else.”
Hank clenched his fist, “Just- just what in the hell is Isadora doing?!”
“Maybe they've gone rogue.”
“Not likely. You don't know that- that British dagger like I do,” Hank slammed his fist into the wall. It hurt, but it felt good. He grit his teeth as it came to him, “Wait a second. Snapp, Steppman, MacTavish, and Green. There's one missing.”