Jeth sat down at the nav station. It wasn’t where he wanted to be, but somebody had to prep the metadrive for the jump. He entered a command to calculate the farthest possible jump from their position. The nav computer complied in seconds, but the screen flashed red at him, indicating there were too many ships nearby for the jump to proceed. Jeth fixed his gaze out the window and waited.
Two ITA cruisers were bearing down on them from the left and right, gunfire lighting up the space in front of them. Celeste yanked the controls upward, sending Avalon into a rollback. The force of it thrust Jeth back in his chair. He gripped the side of it with one hand, braced for pain and disaster.
Midway through, Celeste engaged the starboard thrusters. The engines roared from the strain as the ship looped sideways in a maneuver only a ship like Avalon could do. For a moment, she was a living, breathing thing, a bird of prey in flight. As the g-force eased, he glanced at the nav station radar screen and watched the two cruisers collide into one another. They disappeared from view a moment later.
All the tension inside Jeth began to drain out of him. He patted the nav station dashboard with his good hand. There was no reason to worry, not with Avalon. His faith in her had always been certain. She wouldn’t fail him now.
Celeste leveled out the ship, thrusting the control column forward and engaging all engines. Avalon charged forward, gaining speed. Jeth glanced at the radar. Four ITA ships chased after them, but in moments Avalon had pulled away.
Jeth now fixed his gaze on the metadrive computer. A second later the red light stopped flashing. “We’re clear,” he said to Celeste, triumph ringing in his voice.
She leaned forward and engaged the metadrive. Bright light enveloped Avalon, and then they were gone.
THEY RETURNED TO THE BELGRAVE, CROSSING THE BORDER into it a few hours later.
“It’s the best place to hide for now,” Jeth said, when the others questioned his decision. He didn’t blame them for being afraid. But he knew as long as they didn’t venture too far in, they should be safe. They needed time to regroup and figure out what to do next.
As soon as Jeth had given the order, Milton insisted he head down to sick bay for an examination. Jeth didn’t argue. He’d known it was coming. He sat down on the exam table and watched as Milton prepped a jet injector with medicine.
“What’s that?” he said as Milton approached him with it moments later.
“Something for the pain.”
Jeth shook his head. “I’m not in pain, at least not much.” A dull throb, like a toothache had settled over his hand, but it wasn’t unbearable.
“Fine, it’s something to help you sleep.”
“I don’t want to sleep.”
“I know, Jeth. I know. But you should.” Milton pressed the jet injector against his shoulder and pulled the trigger.
Jeth didn’t protest, knowing deep down that Milton was right. The medicine worked quickly, taking him under in moments.
He woke some time later, alone. The lights in the sick bay brightened automatically as he sat up. Jeth blinked the spots out of his vision, then glanced down at his right hand. Milton had wrapped the entire thing in a thick bandage, obscuring the injury from view. The hand hurt less now, the pressure from the gauze easing the ache.
Jeth glimpsed movement out of the corner of his eye, and he turned to see Milton coming inside.
“Welcome back,” Milton said. “How are you feeling?”
Milton smiled, a knowing glint in his eye. He motioned at Jeth’s bandaged hand. “It’s not the end of the world. I’ll be able to fit you with some kind of prosthesis or maybe even a cybernetic unit as soon as we can make the purchase. You won’t even know the new fingers aren’t real afterward, I promise.”
“With what money?” Jeth said, bitterness making his voice uncertain. “Hammer took everything.”
“Not everything,” Milton said, still smiling. “All my money is in cash. And trust me, there’s plenty of it to help us. I’ve got it stashed all over this ship, matter of fact.” Milton turned to a nearby counter and stooped, opening the cabin where he kept the bedpans and other medical items nobody ever wanted to touch. He pulled out a box and opened the lid, revealing several stacks of unis carefully bound in white tape.
Jeth gaped at the money, then looked up at his uncle, mouth still open.
“You didn’t think I spent all of my retirement and what Hammer was paying me on booze, did you?”
Sensing the question was rhetorical, Jeth didn’t answer. “So, a cybernetic hand. I guess that’s better than nothing.”
“A lot better.”
Jeth nodded, his spirits rising. He desperately wanted to be whole. Only—he raised his left hand to the back of his skull and touched the implant architecture—he doubted he could ever be truly whole again.
“We’ll do something about that, too,” Milton said, picking up a vitals scanner from a nearby counter. “I still have a few old contacts who might know something about how to remove it safely.” Milton turned on the scanner and pressed the end of it against Jeth’s forehead.
“How’s Cora?” Jeth said, wanting to move the subject elsewhere. There was too much uncertainty about the architecture. Too much uncertainty about the future in general.
“She’s fine. Fully recovered, actually. You’ve been asleep nearly fifteen hours.”
Jeth blinked. “Wow, that was some sedative.”