“Scalpel please,” Hank heard Doctor Lorentz say from behind the curtain. The surgery area was cordoned off to give Lena and the doc privacy as they worked. Still, Hank waited on the other side, listening intently. Part of him was convinced that he should leave and get the ship underway, but Hank choose to stick by his family first. They had to be priority number one. Either way, it would be hours, if not the next day, before they could depart. There were wounded outside and recovery took time. Last he checked, none of his crew had died as a result of the attack, but news could still come in.
“Ew! Ew!” Lena exclaimed.
“Easy now, Mrs. Mitchell, it is merely muscle tissue.”
“It's so squishy!”
“Yes, yes, it is very squishy, now please, pull yourself together.”
The door to the infirmary opened and in walked Liam. The mast poker player he is, Hank couldn't get a firm read on what he was thinking. Then again, as his father, Hank could sense that Liam was unhappy. But figuring out if he was sad, apprehensive, uncomfortable, or just pissed the hell off is a completely different story. Part of the reason for this was that Liam simply had a naturally even face, one that rarely bore expressions too vivid. The other part was that Liam kept his cool remarkably well. Unlike his sister, Liam mastered his emotions acted almost entirely with his head. This made Liam a natural choice as a leader and a problem-solver. Hank had long-considered that if he ever died or retired, then Liam would get command of the Holdsworth.
Hank said to his son, “Liam, hey.”
“Hey, dad, “ Liam came to his father's side. “We just got back from where, um, where-”
“Yeah,” Hank knew he meant where Emma had been shot. “What'd you find?”
“Another Steelewood commando,” Liam replied. “He was shot through the side of the head twice. Not too far away, we found some nine mil casings, so that adds up.”
“Dead,” Liam told him, still no emotion. “Probably killed on impact; instantaneously.”
“True,” Hank sighed.
“We brought back his body and we found a duffel bag I guess belongs to the guy who carried Emma in. He can tell us.”
“Yeah, yeah, he can,” Hank said. “So, what's to report?”
Liam finally seemed apprehensive. Hank took note of the visible emotion as Liam told him, “Dad, I- look, it's probably nothing, but there's something wrong with this.”
“What do you mean? Break it down.”
Liam sighed, “It's not just that we were attacked and that Emma's been shot. That's wrong. But there's something wrong with that, y'know? I don't- well, look.” He pulled out the two nine millimeter shell casings he had found on the street. “These casings are unmarked.”
“They're not Steelewood issue or anyone issue for that matter. Everyone marks their casings, even Bobby marks our casings. The only reason you'd use an unmarked casing is so that no one could trace it. I've only heard of assassins using them.”
“You think our man is an assassin?”
“I don't know. Maybe he just found them. But there's more.”
“The casings were only fifteen feet or so from the commando. Either our guy is really good at sneaking or he knew he was coming.”
“What are you saying?”
“That I don't trust him.”
“Well, me neither, but-”
“Yeah, I know,” Liam stopped him. “There's that and nothing feels right. You said those guys were Steelewood's best? Why the hell would their best execute such a bass-ackwards mission? Last I checked, Steelewood doesn't hire kamikazes. Barring a few casualties, we took them down easy. That's not right.”
“Maybe their intel was faulty.”
Hank pursed his lips, “I don't know what to say.”
“Me neither. If this was botched, I can't figure out their play. Why would Steelewood throw away their top men?”
“Well, you know what I taught you. If you knew the answer, what would it be?”
Liam scratched his head, “Dad, I- what if someone wanted to get rid of them?”
“Maybe whoever wanted them dead, wanted someone else to do the dirty work. So, they send them after us with a God-awful plan and it gets them killed. They're dead. If we assume someone wanted them dead-”
“Then all we're missing is why.”
“Right-” The infirmary door squeaked open to reveal the tan-suit, who had since removed his jacket and now only his pants were stained with Emma's blood.. Only a smattering of his blue collared shirt bore any sign of bloodshed. Both Liam and Hank noted immediately the pistol on his belt. Hank took point, “What are you doing here, stranger?”
Not taken back, the tan-suit replied, “Someone directed me here; told me this is this infirmary?”
“That it is, but what are you doing here?” Hank pressed.
“I wanted to check on your daughter,” he said. “If I had perhaps acted sooner, she might-”
“What's that you got in your holster?” Hank asked as Liam approached the tan-suit. “Liam, why don't you check it out.”
Liam reached into the the tan-suit's holster and took the pistol. He was met without any resistance whatsoever. Liam looked it over and told his father, “It's a Walther P99, second-generation. Internally-threaded barrel, chambered in nine.” He racked the slide and caught the ejected round as it flew through the air. “The rounds are unmarked. The hell are you doing with unmarked bullets?”
The tan-suit shifted.
“Well?” Hank insisted.
He licked his lip, “I'm actually not a stranger. Not really.” He cleared his throat as Hank and Liam crossed their arms. Liam noted the synchronicity of their gestures and immediately changed up to putting his arms behind his back. “My name's Fleming. Sergei Fleming.”
“Wait, wait, wait,” Hank stopped him. “You're the Sergei Fleming? Isadora Fleming's kid?”
“Bull, why didn't you say so?” Hank threw his arms out and wrapped them around Sergei. When their hug ended, Hank looked into his guest's eyes and said, “Damn, that really is you. You've got your mom's seriously scary eyes. How'd we miss that?”
“Beats me,” Liam once again resumed poker-face mode. He ejected the magazine and reloaded the round he had removed. Once finished, he turned it in to its rightful owner.
“I am very good at blending in.”
“Again, like your mom. How is she? We haven't heard from her since, well, it's been years.”
“Troubled, to be honest,” Sergei sighed. “She's been under a lot of stress lately. It's been a few weeks since I've talked to her, but I can't imagine the situation has much improved.”
“I've probably said more than I should have. I can't tell you too much, but suffice to say that matters within Steelewood are not as pristine as they should be.”
“What do you mean?”
“I'm sorry,” Sergei shook his head. “I've said too much.”
“Ooh! Is that Sergei out there?” Lena suddenly piped in.
“Mrs. Mitchell, please concentrate,” Dr. Lorentz sighed. “We are nearly finished.”
“So, she's going to be alright?” asked Sergei.
“Looks to be the case,” Hank answered. “Won't know for sure until they're finished.”
“Of course,” Sergei put his hands behind his back, a habit he shared with his mother. “But she seems alright?”
“For now,” Hank replied. “She's lost a lot of blood. It's a good thing you got there when you did.”
“I wish I had been there sooner. Maybe I could have saved her friend.”
That hurt. Hank had lost crewmen before, but it stung every time. They were his responsibility and Hank knew that full well. He lived by that knowledge, that fifty-eight – now fifty-seven – people depended on him. And LeFleur was dead. Was it Hank's fault? Was there something he could have done? Probably not, not this time. But he was still Hank's responsibility. That means no excuses and no stepping back. Hank said, “I'm- I'm just glad you got there when you did.”
“Hold her down! Hold her down!” Dr. Lorentz suddenly cried as a scuffle sounded from behind the curtain.
“Why's she doing that?!”
“She is dreaming, Mrs. Mitchell, nothing to worry about! Twitching isn't entirely uncommon. I am almost finished, so please, just keep your daughter still do I can finish.”
“Alright, alright, don't get your underwearhausen all tied up.”
Hank laughed. Lena told jokes all the time, but the best ones came when she was nervous. In this case, Hank knew that his wife was scared out of her mind. Still, she seemed to be taking it like a real trooper. And he was proud. Just a few years ago, she wouldn't have been able to swallow her fear and do this. Lena had definitely come far, but even if she were right back at where they had begun, Hank would still love her and stick by her.
“Do you remember me at all, Liam?” asked Sergei.
“Yeah, yeah, I do,” Liam replied unemotionally.
“You were, what, eleven back then?”
“Something like that.”
“Look, if you don't want to talk, just say so. I won't-”
“I don't want to talk.”
The curtain suddenly opened, revealing Doctor Lorentz who bore a very faint smile of accomplishment. It was clear that he tried to suppress it, but he failed. His voice failed even more miserably than his expression, “We are finished. I expect that your daughter shall make a full recovery, Captain Mitchell.”
Lena came out from behind the curtain and said nothing.
“You okay, honey?” Hank asked.
“Just- just a minute,” Lena put her hand on her mouth.
“What's the recovery time, doc?”
“I expect about six weeks. She'll need about a week in bed doing nothing, then five weeks of physical therapy to restore functionality to her leg. I'm also going to keep for a time for psychological therapy. I know Emma is particularly resilient, but being shot tends to skew one's perspective on life, no matter how grounded a person may be. Also, you mentioned she lost her friend?”
“Yeah,” it still stung.
“We'll definitely need to give her the treatment for that. Don't worry, I'm a qualified-”
“Just do what you gotta do, doc,” Hank sighed. He turned his attention back to Lena who looked... green. “Honey, you alright?”
“Yeah, I- I just- oh, gosh!” and from her mouth burst not words, but juicy chunks of lunch.