“Please tell me you’re not serious about going into the Belgrave,” Celeste said in an unnaturally quiet voice.
Jeth forced his gaze to her, feeling the first threads of panic tugging at him. They were reacting worse than he’d anticipated. “Yes, I am. The take is killer on this one, and all we have to do is find some ship, the Donerail, and haul it back. We’re even required not to board it. Simple, really.” Besides, he silently added, it’s not like we even have a choice about it. He didn’t think the others had as firm a grasp as he did on how thoroughly under Hammer’s control they were. The crew was more removed from the reality of it. Jeth preferred it that way. It was better for morale.
“How much?” asked Shady.
Jeth let out a breath. “You all get ten-k a piece,” he said. “Half of it upfront this time.”
Shady whistled. “That means your cut is forty, right? Not bad for a salvage job.”
Jeth glanced down, unable to look him in the eye. Their cut could’ve been a lot higher. He shouldn’t have bargained it away without asking them first, even if he had been surprised by Hammer’s response.
“No, the job’s not bad,” Jeth said. “But I’m not exactly getting any money on this one.”
“Then what are you getting?” asked Celeste.
“Once we bring back the Donerail, Hammer’s agreed to give me Avalon.”
Nobody said anything for several moments, mulling over the news. Lizzie looked the most contemplative of all. She knew better than the others what it meant for Jeth to have Avalon back. She too thought of Avalon as a part of the family. True, they never lived on her until after their parents died, but Avalon still represented an important part of who they were.
Shady broke the silence first with a loud belch. “So what does that mean for the rest of us? Are you gonna kick us out?”
Three worried gazes locked on Jeth’s face, all but Milton and Lizzie who already knew they had a permanent home on Avalon, no matter what.
“Of course not,” Jeth said. “You can stay or go as you want, same as always.”
“Will we keep working for Hammer?” said Lizzie. “I suppose we’ll get more money for each job if you’re no longer paying off Avalon.”
“I’m not sure what’ll happen,” said Jeth. He’d never dared telling any of them his plan to settle on Enoch, afraid of jinxing it. “We’ve got to finish the job first.”
“Aren’t we forgetting something here?” Flynn said, sounding on the verge of hysteria. “How the heck are we supposed to find something in the middle of the Belgrave? Horror stories aside, it is a dead zone, which means we might get lost with no way of calling for help. We might die. We might even run out of food.”
“Equipment malfunction won’t be an issue,” said Jeth.
“How do you know?”
“Because we’re taking Avalon for this job. That’s one of the reasons Hammer wants us for it. Her nav systems were specifically modded to handle the energy fluctuations in the Belgrave. She’ll guarantee we find the ship and our way out again.”
“How can you be so sure?” said Celeste in a voice not much more than a whisper.
“Because my parents used her for all of their expeditions.” Celeste exhaled. “What about that ITA guy, Marcus Renford? How does he fit into this?”
“Who?” asked Flynn.
Celeste and Lizzie looked at Jeth, who nodded after a slight hesitation. Lizzie launched into a quick recap of what happened with Renford aboard the Montrose, including how she’d been grazed by that bullet. A disturbing note of pride colored her voice as she spoke.
When she finished, Shady said, “Well, it sounds to me like this Renford dude doesn’t play into things at all. Not if Hammer’s giving us the ship and a fat payday.” He glanced at Jeth, a sheepish expression crossing his face. “No offense, Boss, but finding out what happened to your parents doesn’t seem worth much if it means running afoul of Hammer.”
Jeth pinched his lips together. Shady was right, but Jeth had a hard time saying so when he caught the forlorn look in Lizzie’s eyes. Valuable or not, the truth still meant something to her. Jeth risked a glance at Milton. It meant something to him as well, although his expression remained inscrutable.
It means something to you, too, a voice said in Jeth’s mind. As usual, he ignored it.
“No offense taken,” Jeth said at last. “And you’re right. Renford’s offer, whatever my parents did or didn’t do, none of it matters as much as getting this job done. Now, Hammer wants us on the move as soon as possible. So take the morning to buy any personal supplies you’re running low on. We fly out this afternoon.”
Everyone nodded. A couple of minutes later, the conversation returned to normal and eating resumed. When the meal ended, Jeth volunteered to clean the dishes. It wasn’t his turn, but he was still feeling guilty about bargaining away some of their money and figured any kind of penance would help ease his conscience.
The crew slowly departed until only Milton remained. Jeth watched warily as Milton withdrew a pipe from his coat pocket and began packing it with greenish-brown leaves. The sweet, herbal smell of the smoke filled the galley in seconds, tickling Jeth’s nose.
“So,” Milton said as Jeth started gathering plates. “You don’t really believe a man like Hammer is going to just let you have Avalon so easily, do you?”