Liam hated that he would have to walk off his ship without any control whatsoever. No doubt there would be a small detachment of Steelewood soldiers waiting to take them into custody. While he tried not to think the worst, he could not help but imagine what might happen. The worst-case scenario was that they were shot on sight. Liam did not let that thought linger. Steelewood could be unreasonable, but never had they been such a flavor of pure evil. Thus, the worst possible scenario became that the crew were all taken into custody and the Holdsworth impounded indefinitely. This scenario perhaps was worse than the first.
If this turned out to be case, then there was nothing at all Liam could do. He considered arming his crew and attempting resistance, but the only outcome to insurrection was a massacre. No doubt Steelewood garrisoned an army in Lisbon and the sixty-odd crew of the SS Holdsworth, while gallant, simply could not hope to defeat the crushing inevitability of mathematics. Liam gave the order for the entire crew to disarm and comply with unconditional surrender.
Giving that order hurt deeply. His mother and father entrusted Liam with their most important possession and numerous lives, only for his first real order to be to give it all up. Lingering thoughts of failure penetrated his reason, but he kept them at bay. He fought himself by trying to convince his inner man that what he decided was saving the Holdsworth and her crew, not sealing its death. But still it felt as a betrayal.
As soon as the ship finished its docking procedures, Liam exited the control room and the bridge and headed down to the main deck. He found Emma, Isadora, and his mother waiting beside the boarding ramp. Isadora was once-again clad in her business outfit and her hair was worn neatly. As soon as she Liam, she said, “I will do everything that I can. General Bertrand is a friend and he may listen to reason.”
“I know you will,” Liam said. “I'm not counting on anything though.”
“It's taken me far not to,” Isadora told him with a certain measure of sadness veiled behind her voice. “I find
that life is better when reliability is the assumption.”
“Aren't you counting on not counting on anything then?” Emma cut in.
Liam turned to his mother and asked, “You okay, mom?”
“Hm? Yeah,” she replied coming out of a daze. Lena did that nearly every time one tried to talk to her. She seemed to be lost in her own mind. Liam hoped that eventually she would come out of her haze, but for now she could not find her way. Just about everyone did what they could for her. Lena was never left alone. Isadora especially pitched in, which was only natural, seeing as she really had nothing else to do aboard the Holdsworth. Liam felt sorry for the both of them. Both spent the majority of their time in Lena's room, but Isadora managed to get Lena out for fresh air every now and then. The crew was wise enough to extend Lena all courtesy, but to give her even more space.
“We'll be okay,” Liam lied. “Let's go.”
With Liam at the vanguard position, the four of them descended the boarding ramp. A company of armed and ready Steelewood soldiers waited for them. Their rifles were not raised, nor did they make any attempt to appear more menacing than their natural state. With that, Liam did not relax any more, but it did put his mind at ease that they were not shooting nor did they announce intention to do so. Standing at the center of the mass of troops was a tall, slender man in sunglasses wearing a decorated uniform. He looked to be in his fifties and Liam assumed that this man was General Bertrand.
He was right. Isadora said, “General Bertrand!”
“Ms. Fleming,” Bertrand said with a Welsh accent. He turned to the soldier closest to him and ordered, “Secure the ship, let's not allow for any trouble.”
“If any resist?”
“They won't,” Liam cut in. “We surrender.”
“Good,” Bertrand nodded. “But if they do resist, lethal force is authorized, but only as a last resort. Understood?”
“Yes, sir!” The soldier saluted, then led the company with him up the boarding ramp. Liam knew full well that last resorts were often Steelewood's first resorts. Still, he trusted his crew not to be a a problem.
“What's the meaning of this?” She asked. “What is Steelewood doing in Lisbon?”
“We were told to take control of the city,” Bertrand told her. “And to arrest you and this ship when you arrived. No one's put up a fight. Not yet anyway.”
“Why would they? No one can compete with us,” Isadora said.
“Ma'am, there isn't an 'us' anymore,” Bertrand said. “They told us what happened.”
“So you know that Captain Mitchell was murdered by a Goodwin? And that he's forced me out in a coup d'etat?”
“No,” Bertrand shook his head. “No, we were told that you murdered Goodwin and that you used your friends here to get away. And that Captain Mitchell was killed in the escape attempt.”
Emma, already volatile, exploded, “That's not what happened you son of a-”
“Emma!” Liam shot her down before she took off. “Not now!”
She pursed her lips and took a step backward, fuming.
“That simply is not true,” Isadora argued. “Bertrand, when we left, Goodwin was still alive and- Who gave you this order?”
“It came from your son.”
“My- my son?”
“Yes, ma'am, Sergei took operational control of Steelewood. He's the one that gave the order to track you down and take you alive.”
“What?” Isadora's jaw dropped. “That can't be right. Goodwin was still alive when we left, this is some of kind of a ruse!”
“Ma'am, I got the order from Sergei myself. There is no mistake that he gave me the order.”
“What about Goodwin?”
“All I know is that he is dead.”
“He-” Isadora stopped and thought. “I can't decide which I like better, Goodwin alive or dead.”
“Either my son is working for Goodwin or he's killed him and taken control of my company, then used it to arrest my friends, take their ship, and then seize a neutral city we have no business-”
“If it means anything to you, I agree,” Bertrand said. “But I follow orders.”
“Yes, Bertrand, you always have. You're a good soldier.”
“I don't know who to believe right now,” Bertrand said. “But I know how we can sort this out.”
“We have full control of the Fujikawa Network. We can contact-”
“What?” Liam snapped. “That's not possible! There's a second password that-”
“Dr. Fujikawa activated the network and-”
“That slimy bastard!” Liam clenched fist. “I can't believe he'd do that!”
“I don't know what you're talking about, but Dr. Fujikawa is at the network hub and I'll allow you to sort this out with him. I had no idea this was going to be so frustrating.”
“Can we go now?” asked Isadora.
“Yeah, come with me,” Bertrand said and they were off.
Lena tapped Emma on the arm and quietly asked, “What just happened?”
“Hell if I know,” she answered. “But it's pissed me off.”