About a week and a half after the funeral, Hank and Liam found themselves at the rear of the Holdsworth attempting to ascertain the nature of a certain rhythmic ticking sound coming from one of the cable-laying pulleys. The noise was certainly not present when they disembarked and probably not during the last inspection, meaning that there was really no telling just when it had manifested itself. As the sun hung in its about-ten-in-the-morning position, Hank and Liam stood there staring at the massive pulley, unsure of what the next step should be.
“Maybe something's caught in it,” Liam suggested.
“We'd have seen a change in pressure,” Hank shook his head. “Even just at tiny one. We'd have seen it. But what's baffling me is that it's consistent. Every four seconds....”
“Three seconds, dad.”
“No, count, it's four.”
“One... two... does it matter?”
Hank sighed, “No, it doesn't.”
“Maybe something's rusty?”
“Can't be. All this is new and we lubed it up just right.”
“Maybe it's nothing.”
“Maybe,” Hank sighed. “Doesn't seem to be causing any trouble, but little things can fast become big things. We don't want big things.”
“Wish we could take the whole thing apart and-”
“Well, we can't do that. Meanwhile, we just have to-”
“Captão! Mitchell!” João Santos, their Brazilian communications officer exclaimed from the bridge balcony. “We need you up here in the command center!”
With Liam right behind him, Hank walked into the command center to find the bridge crew eagerly awaiting instruction. He took a breath and then asked, “Well, what's going on?”
João Santos answered first, “Capitão, come over here and look at the Sonar.” Hank and Liam went over the small screen by the navigator's station. João pointed to a large blip and said, “This right here. It's a ship about five-hundred meters off our current course. It will be right off our port in about fifteen minutes, sir.”
“Got an ID on her?” asked Hank.
“We do,” João said. “It's the Plymouth Dawn.”
“Dan Elway's ship. Have you tried contacting them?”
“They aren't answering our radio calls.”
“So, they're adrift and silent,” Hank rubbed his chin. “Can you see anything?”
“We took the spyglass out. There's no movement on the deck. Seems abandoned.”
“Something's not right,” Liam stated the obvious. “We should keep moving.”
“No, Dan Elway is a friend,” Hank shook his head. “Bring us as close as you can without breaking course. We'll take teams over on Paul and investigate. Two teams of two, should do it. I'll take Louie and we'll head to the bridge and you grab someone and take the engine room.”
“Alright, but Emma's out of commission,” Liam said. “Suggestion?”
“I'd like to go,” Sergei suddenly said.
“Whoa, jeez, where'd you come from?” Hank asked wide-eyed.
“I've been here for a while,” Sergei replied.
“Good God, just like your mother,” Hank exhaled as he tried catching his breath. Sergei had scared the crap out of him. “Not a bad idea. If you're as good as your mother, you'll be an asset.”
“I'm better,” Sergei boasted.
“Hope you aren't offended that I don't believe you,” Hank said.
“Not in the slightest.”
“So, wait,” Liam cut in. “I'm going with him?”
“Yeah, it's a good idea,” Hank said.
“I don't like it,” Liam argued knowing full well that Sergei was listening.
“Tough,” Hank laid the gauntlet. “That's the way I'll have it. Both of you head down the armory and saddle up. Tell Louie to do the same. Oh and tell Bobby to bring my equipment to the loading bay and I'll meet you there.”
“Yes, sir,” Liam half-snarled. “Come on, Sergei. I'll get you some gear.”
Liam pushed open the door to the armor and announced immediately, “Yo, Bobby, kid here needs some gear. Get him the works.”
“What? Yo!” Bobby Ramirez perked up and jumped up from behind a table where he was working on an FN SCAR, but not Liam's. Ramirez looked closely at Sergei and then asked, “Yeah, what's he want?”
“We're boarding a ship, we'll need something for close quarters,” Liam told him as he walked over to an empty table. “Also, get him a regular kit with a tactical vest.”
“Yeah, yeah, I gotcha,” Ramirez nodded as he opened one of the secure lockers. “The kid got any preferences? I got a whole mess of pistols and-”
“I've got that covered,” Sergei drew his suppressed P99 and brandished it.
“Good stuff, mano,” Ramirez nodded. “Okay, you need a primary. We got loads of stuff in 5.56. A couple of things in .308 and 7.62, but we save that for special occasions, if you know what I mean.”
“I'm trained in just about anything,” Sergei said, trying to be diplomatic.
“Tell you what,” Ramirez shook his finger in the air as the epiphany came to him. “How about a submachine gun, dude? I got the perfect thing, an HK UMP .45.” He pulled the SMG out of the locker. “It's in forty-five, so it's got some real torque to it. It's proven itself against both the living and living dead, if you know what I mean.”
“I'm familiar with it,” Sergei replied. “Do you have a suppressor for it?”
“No, man, you're gonna have to go loud.”
“That's fine, I'll take it.”
“A'ight, cool,” Ramirez set down the submachine gun and a duffel bag. “Hey, Liam, show him the works on the vest and I'll get your stuff together, okay?”
“Yeah,” Liam unzipped the bag and began removing its contents. “Okay, this is what we give everyone. It's got everything you need. The vest is a lightweight tactical vest with kevlar lining. It won't do much for stopping most bullets, but we don't expect to fighting armed enemies anyway. There's a two-way radio which should already by on our frequency. There's a flashlight, multi-tool, combat knife, retracting nightstick, pair of flash bombs, and a flare, and a basic first aid kid. Most importantly, there's two syrettes in there and both have have anti-zombie inoculation.”
“I've already been inoculated-”
“We don't take chances,” Liam interrupted. “You get bit, you inject yourself.”
“Alright, I'll do that,” Sergei said uneasily. “Liam, we obviously have a problem-”
“Bobby, is his UMP ready to go?”
“Yeah, boss,” Bobby brought over the weapon and a fairly impressive number of clips. “Everything's all set. I even put a grip on the front for you, see?”
“Liam, I'm serious, we need to-”
“Side-arm,” Liam again interrupted. “Oh, yeah, you've got the P99, so you're covered. Bobby, you got any spare nine-mil lying around?”
“Dude, you know we don't make that stuff.”
“Yeah, but do you have any?”
“I'll see what I got.”
“I've got three magazines, I should be-”
“You never know,” Liam simply would not let him have a whole sentence. “We carry as much ammunition as possible because our enemies are total sponges for lead. You want something with a little more heft than a nine? Those little woman bullets don't do much against zombies. You need something with balls.”
“I'll be fine,” Sergei said, trying his best to avoid being defensive. It was simply the wrong play to make. “Look, Liam, could you please hear me out?”
“Is there a problem between us?” Sergei left little pause. “I understand not trusting me immediately, but I can't seem to think of anything I've done to offend you. If I have, please, by all means, let me know. I'd like us to be friends, Liam.”
Liam sighed, “We don't have time for this. Bobby, you find anything?”
“Yeah, I've got two boxes of the stuff,” the Mexican said as he brought it over. “What about you, Liam, you want your regular kit?”
“Yeah, and grab Louie and my dad's stuff too. They're going in.”
“I'll help you haul it up,” Ramirez said. “It's an excuse to stop smelling all this gunpowder.”
“I thought you snorted that stuff or something.”
“Tried it, it can't make you high, but it does make you mad worried about when you blow your nose, that you'll literally, like, blow your nose.”
Sergei chuckled, but Liam just said, “Only you, Bobby.”
Ramirez set down another tactical vest and Liam's FN SCAR. “Everything's set, boss. Should still be cleaned up and ready to go.”
Liam removed his jacket, set it aside, and then put on his vest. Sergei the did the same, soon noting that Liam's was slightly different. What popped out was that the right shoulder of the vest did not have pockets, but was padded to absorb recoil. Upon closer inspection, Sergei could only conclude that Liam had done this modification himself. It was the same model of vest with the same brand markings and the padding was not perfect. Still, the craftsmanship was good, so Sergei said, “You did that yourself? Looks good.”
“Yeah, how'd you know?”
“It's not obvious,” Sergei shrugged. “I'm just observant.”
“Well, let's hope your observation skills do us good on the Plymouth Dawn. I've got a bad feeling about this.”
Sergei, Liam, and Ramirez walked into the large rear loading dock of the Holdsworth just as the massive aft hatch opened. The room was truly impressive in terms of size. There were cranes, machinery, and cargo crates everywhere. Right at the back just at the lip of the loading bay was Paul, their semi-amphibious smaller ship. Hank and one of the mechanics did the prelaunch checks as Louie looked on. Liam called, “Hey, dad, we got your gear and we're all set.”
Louie, a large, well-built, dark-skinned man with a lot of hair, nodded at them and then came over. Ramirez opened up one of the duffel bags and told him, “Your stuff's in here, dude. Your crossbow and everything.” In addition to TDI Vektor SMG, Louie carried a high-powered crossbow. Many questioned this decision. Not only was the crossbow slow to reload, but it was not as accurate as or as reliable in delivering a kill as a firearm. Still, Louie managed to stay alive this long. This was as good an argument as any to not question his choice in weaponry.
Louie was also notoriously quiet. He said nothing as he put on the tactical vest, which also included a bandolier. Contrary to some popular belief, Louie did talk, but only when necessary. This gave him a rather frightening quality and earned him a fearsome reputation among the crew of the Holdsworth. For twelve years he served on the crew and for twelve years, he earned his keep and reputation quite well.
“My 416's in there, right?” Hank asked, referring to the Heckler & Koch 416 assault rifle he normally carried.
“You got it, chief,” Ramirez replied.
“Good, then we're all set,” Hank said. “Alright, me and Louie are alpha team, Liam and Sergei are bravo. Our objective is to get to the bridge and recover the ship's logs; find out what happened to the Dawn. Your job is to get to the engine room and see if you can get things operational. Stay in constant radio contact.”
“Rules of engagement?” Sergei asked.
“The Plymouth Dawn and her crew are friends. Do not fire on them if they're living.”
“Aim for the head. You'll be doing them a favor.”