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Lizzie gaped at him. “What do you mean? We go over there and rescue them, of course.”

“It’s not that simple, Liz,” Jeth said, running his hands through his hair.

“How do you figure?” She waved at the front window. “They’ve got to be starving. And with life support that low the air will be more than a little toxic. Not to mention wicked cold.”

“But Hammer insisted we’re not to board,” said Shady. “Job stipulation.”

Lizzie scowled at him. “Hammer didn’t think there would be survivors. The rules have gone out the window. Besides, people’s lives are more important than some stupid paycheck.”

“It’s not just the paycheck,” Jeth said. It’s Avalon.

“Right,” Shady continued. “It’s our asses too, if we ignore what Hammer said.”

“The complication,” Milton said, “is the weapon that ship is supposed to have on it. Isn’t that right, Jeth?”

Jeth nodded and sat up straighter. “Lizzie, run a scan for radiation levels and any possible biohazards.” If the scan came back with the results he expected, then those three people over there were dead already. Time just hadn’t caught up with them yet.

Lizzie sniffed but did as he asked.

Only the scan came back negative. For everything.

Jeth read the results four times, his mind refusing to believe it.

“The scan might be faulty,” said Flynn. “This is the Belgrave.”

“It’s not faulty.” Lizzie stood up, turning a fiery gaze on Jeth. “We have to go over there and rescue them.”

Shady crossed his arms. “How many times do we have to say it, little girl? Hammer told us not to board.”

“Hammer doesn’t have to know,” said Lizzie.

Shady made a sound like a growl. “He will, though. He’s got his ways. Like the time he found out I took that tiara on the Feria job.”

Celeste snorted. “That’s only because you went around wearing the stupid thing afterward.”

Jeth was tempted to point out that hiding a stolen tiara was a lot less complicated than hiding three strangers, assuming they brought them on board Avalon.

Lizzie turned an expectant gaze on him. “Come on, Jeth.”

Jeth sighed. His sister—savior of strays and the stranded. He knew he should feel the same, but dread kept getting in the way. And it wasn’t just because of the risk of breaking the deal with Hammer or the possibility that the scan was wrong about the radiation and toxin levels.

No, he dreaded going over there because there had to have been a lot more than three people on the Donerail when it went missing. What had the survivors done with the dead bodies? Were they just lying about? He doubted the hole had taken care of most of them. Maybe those survivors had gotten desperate during all that time adrift and done something else with the bodies.

Shuddering, Jeth forced the thought away before he lost his breakfast.

“Well, Captain?” said Shady. “What do we do?”

Jeth took a deep breath, wishing he didn’t have to make the decision. He wanted to be selfish and cowardly and just leave those people where they were. It would be so easy to moor the Donerail to Avalon and tow it out. The Donerail’s passengers had survived this long. They might make it a little longer.

But no, he couldn’t do that. He refused to take the coward’s route. This was just the starving man all over again. Only this time, Jeth wouldn’t be too late to act.

“We check it out. Just me and Shady. Everybody else stays here.”

Both Celeste and Lizzie objected to the arrangement. Flynn looked relieved and Shady nervous.

Jeth shook his head at the girls. “There’s no point arguing. If there are people over there, they might be dangerous. And if there aren’t, well, two of us are more likely to get away with exploring the ship without leaving behind any evidence than four.”

Celeste folded her arms across her chest. “Since when are you two the graceful, careful ones around here?”

“We can be graceful,” Jeth said, glancing at Shady and trying not to picture how stupid he’d looked wearing that sparkling, diamond-encrusted tiara around like some kind of ugly fairy tale princess. “Besides, we’ve definitely got better aim.”

“Yeah, and we’re braver,” said Shady, even though he’d never looked more terrified.

Lizzie opened her mouth to protest, but Jeth cut her off with an upraised hand. “No time to argue. I’m pulling rank.” He turned to Shady and said, “Get your guns and meet me at the airlock.”

Shady exhaled, looking marginally better at the idea of guns. “You got it, Captain.”

Jeth turned back to the girls. “Celeste, go ahead and line us up for hauling. Lizzie, you go with her in case she needs help overriding the airlock. Shady and I will hook up the towlines first and then go in.”

Celeste and Lizzie nodded, and Jeth left the bridge. He entered his cabin, opened the hidden cabinet beneath his bunk, and pulled out his Triton 9. Its silver plating glistened in the soft light overhead. Everything he knew about shooting he’d learned from his father, but the Triton was the first gun he’d purchased for himself.

Jeth slid the Triton into a holster hung from the end of his bed, then grabbed two extra clips and shoved one in each front pocket. He slung the holster over his shoulder and headed down to the cargo bay.

Shady was already there, pulling on a space suit. Flynn was helping him, while Milton stood nearby, watching.