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Milton smirked. “The sedative wore off hours ago. Your body needed the rest. Sierra told me everything that happened, including the way Renford tortured you.”

Jeth grimaced. “Did she also tell you that Renford used to go by the name Charles?”

“Yes, she did.” A dark look crossed Milton’s face. “I’m glad you killed him.”

Jeth gulped, uncertain if he felt the same. He couldn’t deny he was happy the man was gone, but he wasn’t sure about having done the act himself. He’d never killed anyone before. True, he might’ve killed some of the soldiers they’d fought while rescuing Cora, but that wasn’t the same. Renford’s death had been so close, so intentional and messy.

“What happened to his body?” Jeth asked, remembering that Cora had phased it here as well.

“Vince saw to it. Pushed it out the garbage airlock, I believe.” A grim smile passed Milton’s lips as he turned off the scanner and returned it to the drawer. “Quite a fitting end.”

Jeth didn’t reply, his thoughts turning to his mother. What would she think when she learned how Renford died? And she would learn of it. Sooner or later, he would go after her. He couldn’t let her spend the rest of her life imprisoned by the ITA. Who knew what they might try next in their attempt to manufacture a slave race to replace the Pyreans. They had to be stopped.

“So,” Milton said, breaking into Jeth’s reverie. “Sierra tells me that Hammer is gone.”

Jeth considered the idea, trying to determine if that was the proper term for what had happened. He remembered that blank stare on Hammer’s face, the emptiness in his eyes. “I suppose you could call it that. Either way, he’s as good as dead.”

“Yes, which means you’re as good as free.”

Jeth shrugged. “I guess so.” The knowledge didn’t give him the relief he thought it would. He hadn’t exactly improved his situation. “But I don’t have the title on Avalon.”

“If Dax is head of Hammer’s organization, he might sign it over to you.”

Jeth considered the idea. He hadn’t liked the way Dax looked after inserting Hammer’s implant. And he certainly didn’t trust the man. He knew too well how valuable Cora was. “I’m not sure going back within his reach is a risk we can afford to take. Besides, just because he seemed to take control of Hammer’s organization doesn’t mean he’ll succeed.”

“True, but you still have a copy of the title, right?”

“So what? It’s not signed and it’s not electronic.”

“Yes, but with the right equipment and Lizzie’s exceptional skills, we might be able to make a good forgery. And we’ll have to stick to Independent planets for now anyways, given our current troubles with the ITA.” Milton nodded. “Yes, either way, we’ll manage. We always do.”

He stood and stretched his back, his joints popping like tiny guns. “It’s almost dinnertime. Are you hungry? I can have someone bring you a plate. I’d like you to stay in bed for a little while longer. You’re vitals aren’t quite where I’d prefer them to be.”

Jeth shook his head. “I’m not ready for food yet. Just some more sleep.”

“Very well.” Milton turned and headed for the exit. He paused in the doorway and said over his shoulder, “They’d be proud of you, you know. Both of them.”

Jeth didn’t speak, not even to ask Milton who he meant. He already knew.

Milton left, giving Jeth his privacy. He thought about his parents awhile and then about his sisters. He thought about the crew, too. They were all his family. Milton had been right; Jeth’s parents would’ve been proud. And for the first time in years, that meant something to him.

Sometime later, Sierra came to visit him. She brought a tray of food. Even though Jeth had thought he wasn’t hungry, his stomach growled in response.

She set the tray on the counter beside the bed and then stared down at him, hands on hips. “Milton said you didn’t want anything to eat, but I decided to bring this up to you anyhow.”

Jeth felt a smile threaten to break across his face. She was so stubborn, so hard-headed. He thought maybe that was what he liked about her most. And he did like her, far more than he was willing to think about at the moment.

“Do you want some?” Sierra said.

Jeth nodded.

She picked up the tray again and laid it across his lap. Then she turned and sat in the chair across from him. He picked up the fork with his left hand, the awkwardness of it making him hesitant. He was too aware of her eyes on him. He wished she would either say something or look away. When she didn’t, he focused on getting the food onto the fork and then to his mouth. It was hard, but he managed.

When he finished, Sierra stood and returned the tray to the counter.

She sat down again, moving the chair close enough that she was within arm’s reach of the bed. “I—” she began, her eyes lowered. “I just wanted to thank you.”

Jeth cleared his throat, afraid to speak. “For what?”

She looked up at him. “For killing Renford. I don’t think I could’ve done it. He always held a power over me, even up to the end. But it’s gone now. He’s gone.” She took a deep, loud breath. “I know this sounds silly, but it’s like I’ve been set free.”

Jeth squirmed a little. This wasn’t a conversation he felt like having. Ever. “You’re . . . welcome, I guess.”