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“So, what do you say?” Jeth said.

Sierra sighed. “I guess I can live with fifteen percent.”

“Good. So you’ve got the data cell hidden?” asked Jeth, trying to sound casual.

Sierra frowned. “Yes, somewhere only I can find it.”

Of course it was. She wasn’t stupid. You didn’t keep something so valuable in your pocket where it might get damaged or lost or discovered. For a brief moment he considered just asking if he could make a copy, but he abandoned the idea at once. The more copies that existed of the data, the less valuable it would become, and she struck him as the honest type, for the most part. Besides, he had a feeling she wouldn’t be keen on handing that kind of information over to a man as power-hungry and ruthless as Hammer. Under normal circumstances, Jeth wouldn’t either, but this was his best chance of getting his ship.

“Well, I’m going to have to see it. I need some proof that all this is for real,” Jeth said in his most diplomatic and reasonable voice.

Her eyes narrowed on his face. “Why would I lie about it?”

He resisted the urge to squirm. “All sorts of reasons.” Not that he could think of any right now. He decided not to press. “Okay, I understand.” If she wouldn’t show him the data, he would have to find it on his own. Lizzie might have some tool or gadget to help him. He just needed time.

Jeth searched his mind for a reason to stall, the answer coming easily. “But we have to do this seamlessly. No signs that you three were ever here. That means we’ve got to repair the nav system so we can send your buyer specific coordinates on where to meet us. Otherwise, we would have to wait around while he triangulates our position through the communication link. That’ll take time, and every second we’re outside the Belgrave we risk getting picked up by the ITA.”

Sierra rubbed her knuckles. “Yes, you’re right. The less we’re outside the better.”

“Yep.” And doing those repairs meant time aboard the Donerail and a chance to search for the hidden data cell. They had a couple of days to spare before their two-week deadline to contact Hammer. Even if he had to rummage through every nook and cranny, Jeth would find it. Sierra might even give away the location through some unconscious gesture. He would just have to pay attention.

“So, does this mean we have a deal?” Sierra said.

Jeth assumed his most charming smile. “It’s a deal.”

Chapter 15

JETH WAITED UNTIL AFTER EVERYONE HAD EATEN BREAK fast before telling the crew the plan to get a new metadrive. He told them most of it, anyway. Even though Sierra, Vince, and Cora had retreated to their cabins to give the crew time to discuss in private, Jeth kept the part about using the Aether Project as leverage against Hammer to himself. The others didn’t need to know that part. At least not yet.

“So, is everybody okay with what we’re going to do?” Jeth asked.

“I don’t know,” said Flynn. “This involves keeping a lot of secrets from Hammer. And some of us don’t have the best track record with that.” Flynn cast Shady a significant look.

Shady waved him off. “I know how to keep secrets when it really matters. Besides, if we do this right, Hammer won’t have a reason to even question us. And that makes keeping quiet a cinch.”

“He’s not wrong,” said Celeste. “Plus, this might be our only chance to keep Avalon flying. It’s not likely Hammer will just give us a metadrive out of the goodness of his heart.”

“Right, and a ship like this without one is as good as junk,” said Shady.

“Shady,” Jeth said.

“No offense, Captain.” Shady flashed a sheepish smile. “But you know what I mean.”

Yes, he did. He had to get a new metadrive. If Hammer decided to renege on their deal, Jeth was pretty sure Hammer would send Avalon to the scrap yard rather than install one of his metadrives. Only if he plans on sending my dead body entombed inside her.

He had to get a copy of that data cell.

“Well, I think the plan’s perfect,” said Lizzie. “Everybody wins.”

Jeth heard Milton make a doubtful noise, but he didn’t look at his uncle. Sure, there were risks involved with this plan. A lot of them. But the chance for gain far outweighed them.

“We all agreed, then?” asked Jeth. When nobody said anything, he went on. “Right, first things first. We need to scavenge for the parts to fix the nav station.”

“Yeah, about that . . .” said Flynn, an anxious expression on his pointed face.

Jeth stifled a groan. “What now?”

“I was looking at the damage and, honestly, it might be easier to just swap out Avalon’s nav station with the Donerail’s.”

Jeth blinked, at first horrified by the idea of such an endeavor, but then realized that this was exactly the chance he needed. “And how long will that take?”

Flynn rolled his shoulders. “A day or two, probably.”

“Um,” said Celeste. “Won’t it be kind of obvious we boarded the Donerail if we do something so major?”

Lizzie shook her head. “Not if we reinstall the broken one on the Donerail.”

“She’s right,” said Flynn. “Those units are standard on ships like this. The only thing that makes Avalon’s special is the Explorer program, but I can swap out the memory banks easy. Hammer won’t realize we switched the units unless he goes looking for it.”

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