Liam could not have been more out of place at Steelewood HQ in his work clothes. While everyone else clad themselves in elegant business pressings, Liam wore ancient (formerly) blue jeans and a thin wool-esque sweater over his shirt. Isadora sent an intern down to the Holdsworth to retrieve him for some reason and Liam didn't give changing a second thought. In hindsight, however, he should have at least left the sweater home. Grease stains were unbecoming.
He expected to find the usual security and locks around Isadora's office, but instead the secretary was gone, the guards absent, and the keypad lock removed. Liam pushed the door open and found Isadora sitting behind her desk. She dressed corporately, but there was a warmth to her that Liam couldn't place. Perhaps it was that her jacket was off or that her hair as out of her face. Or maybe it was because she was drinking coffee instead of whiskey.
“Liam.” Isadora stood. “Please, come in. Make yourself comfortable.”
“I'm a little underdressed, sorry about that.”
“It's alright! It actually gives my an idea.”
“Maybe we should start having casual Friday.”
“What's a casual Friday?”
“Nevermind,” Isadora said, moving over to the couches. She sat on one of them and gestured for Liam to sit across from her.
Liam sat and asked, “What do you need?”
“Very direct. Your father was that way, Liam.”
“I know. He was. He got stuff done though and that's something about him I admired. I don't want to change what works.”
“I see,” Isadora said. “But Liam, just promise me one thing.”
“The thing about your father I admire most is his compassion. He got the job done, but never at anyone's expense. Can you do that?”
Liam nodded, “I'll do my best.”
“I know you will.”
“I've been kinda rude, sorry about that. It's been a long few weeks getting the ship seaworthy again.”
“She isn't now?”
“She'll float, sure, but we had to install a whole ton of parts for the cable-laying systems to work right, including some engine modifications. And no time like the present to do an overhaul of some older equipment.”
“Yeah, the rudder hydraulic's pressure manifold system's been putting down too much output and-” Liam stopped himself. “Sorry, I do that.”
“That you got from your mother.”
Liam laughed. “Alright, so what'd you call me here for?”
“I wanted to know what your plans are. I'm curious to know what the next step for the Holdsworth might be and how I might help.”
“Liam, I will commit what resources I can to helping you out.”
Liam hesitated. “Wh- okay, look, sorry, but what's your play here, Isadora?”
“My- my play?”
“Yeah, what do you want?”
“I want to help you.”
“I- you understand why I'm a skeptical of that, right?”
“I do, but Liam, I assure you: I want to help for the best of reasons. Just tell me what you need and I will see what I can do.”
Liam sighed, “We're going to the Suez Canal. There's a settlement there working to keep it open, but their defenses are getting old and they could use a resupply. We're gonna see what we can do to help.”
“I could send men to-”
“That's the last thing we want.”
“Right, you'd rather the evil empire out of your business. I understand.”
“Yeah. Supplies or even money would be great though. We'll take anything. Food, guns, ammo, building material, whatever. And we need all this no strings attached, okay?”
“And that's how you'll get it. You can take off all the Steelewood tags if you'd like and never tell anyone. Of course, I'd rather you didn't. PR is always a good thing.”
“Can I send you a list?”
“Alright,” Liam said, standing back up. “I should get-”
“Actually, give it to your mother.”
“Has she not told you? Oh, my.”
“Not told me what?”
“I- I offered her a job. Here at Steelewood.”
“You what?” Liam shook his head.
“She'll be an adviser and assistant, should she-”
“What'd she say?”
“That she'll think about it.”
“Emma's leaving the ship and now mom? Dammit.”
“That's not set in stone, Liam.”
Liam sighed, “Look, mom's not been happy on the ship ever since dad- she just hasn't been. She's been avoiding coming aboard. I don't think she can stand it. Now that you say that, I think I understand. I- I think I'm the last Mitchell on the Holdsworth.”
“Liam, as long as there is even one Mitchell on the Holdsworth, then your ship has my fullest and dearest support.”
“That means a lot, Isadora. Thank you.”
“Liam, I never told you this, but I came to respect you immensely in my time on your ship. I believe you'll do fine. You should too.”
The piercing sound of gunfire reverberated throughout the mostly-empty Steelewood warehouse. Ben Duckett, who wore his business suit sans tie, fired Emma's Taurus PT-24/7 G2 handgun at a set of paper targets about twenty feet away. He fired one shot at a time and they had no grouping whatsoever, but Duckett tried his best. With one last pop, the slide locked back.
He set the pistol on an empty oil drum beside him, removed his ear protection, and sighed.
“It's been twenty-five years since the end of the world and you never thought to learn how to shoot?” Emma asked. She was still getting used to life with only her right hand, but she had also been adapting to the prosthetic hook they had given her. Technically, it was not a hook, but a claw. Using basically a rubber band, if she moved her arm a certain way, the claw opened or closed allowing her to pick things up. While not the most precise tool in the world, it certainly beat the stub.
“The, um, the thought had occurred to me but, uh, I just never got around to it, you know?”
“Lemme show you how it's done.” Emma picked up the empty handgun with her hand and then slammed it over a full magazine sitting upright on the table. The clip locked and she released the slide.
Duckett put his ear muffs back on and watched. Emma raised her pistol with her hand and supported her shooting arm using what was left of her wrist. After her first double-tap, she lowered her support arm and shifted her stance. In a frustrated fury, she cleaned out the rest of her magazine with twin shots, each hitting the target center-mass in stunningly tight grouping. When the slide locked, she put the gun down, and removed her hearing protection.
“Bloody hell!” Duckett exclaimed. “You make that look so- so effortless!”
“It just takes practice, Ben.” She picked up a magazine with her claw. With her right hand, she thumbed in more .45 rounds. “Long, long hours of practice. But it's worth it. If it hadn't been for that practice, me and you'd be dead.”
“I've got to hand it to you-” Ben's eyes went wide. “Oh, bloody hell, I, uh, I didn't mean-!”
“Sheesh, no one said findin' you would be this hard,” Lena said, coming in through a door at the side of the building. She still wore the elegant, expensive outfit Steelewood had given her.
“Hey, mom,” Emma said.
“Mrs. Mitchell,” Duckett said. “You, uh, you look well. How are you?”
“Oh, I'm fine, how you doin', Ben?” She took her place on the opposite side of the drum.
“Quite well. Your daughter is giving me shooting lessons.”
“I heard the shootin',” Lena said. “Made findin' ya'll just a bit easier.”
“You need somethin', mom?” Emma asked. She set down the filled magazine.
“Yeah, I was wonderin' if we could talk.”
“Okay,” Emma sighed. “I was kinda hopin' to talk to you too.”
Duckett bit his lower lip and said, “I'm uh, I'm just gonna step out for a bit and let you two, um, well, right.” He, rather awkwardly, walked out through the door Lena came in.
“Alright, shoot,” Emma said. She slapped the magazine into her pistol, released the slide, and holstered it.
“What'd you want to talk to me about?” Lena asked.
“You came down here, you go first.”
Lena took a breath nervously and said, “Okay, well, I- Emma, I've been thinkin' about this for a while, well, ever since your dad-”
“I just- I can't bear to be on the ship anymore, Emma. I don't wanna go back. And Isadora offered me a job workin' with her at Steelewood and I just can't- I can't back on the Holdsworth. I just- I can't. I Just wanted to letcha know and-”
“I'm not going back either.”
“You- you're what?”
“I don't wanna be back on the ship either, mom. I want to move on. So, I am.”
“But- but where are you gonna go?”
“I dunno yet.”
Lena nodded. “Guess we share somethin' then.”
“Isadora offered you a job?”
“Yeah, she wants me to advise her or somethin' like that.”
“Huh. Lucky you. You should take it.”
“Ya think so?”
“Yeah, I do. It'd give you purpose and Steelewood could always someone with a soul.”
“Why don't you wanna be on the ship?”
“Mom, I- I gave the Holdsworth everything. Even my hand. There's more to life than that and I just wanna know what it is. Maybe I'll come back to it one day. Maybe I won't. I dunno. I just can't stay there anymore.”
“Didja tell Liam?”
“How'd he take it?”
“Bad. Told him I was still thinkin' about it. I lied.”
“You gotta tell him.”
“I will, mom. I will.”
“I just- I just wanted you to know somethin'.”
“What is it?”
“You were always your daddy's child. I know how much you hated violin practice with me-”
“Hush.” A tear escaped Lena's eye. “I'm your mother. I know when you hate stuff. I know you did violin practice with you cuz you loved me and you didn't want to hurt me. And truth be told, it was the only way I knew to keep close to you. You always liked the stuff your daddy did. You liked shootin' guns and bustin' skulls. I never liked those, but you were good at 'em. And cuz of that, you were your father's favorite. And I think- I think if he were still alive today, he would be very proud of you. I think he would tell you now that you're old enough to make your decisions and that he'd let ya go. And that's what I think. You go on out there and find yourself, Emma. I love you. Your father loves you. I- I'm just sorry he couldn't be with you any longer.”
“Mom, I don't-” Emma couldn't help it. She cried too. “I don't know what to say.”
“Ain't nothin' you gotta say,” Lena cried. She pulled her daughter in close and hugged her tightly. “It doesn't matter where you go. You'll always have a place right her with me.”
“I love you too, mom.”