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“Ouch,” he hissed, then froze at the look in her eye. He waited, not daring to move, and soon saw Vince walking past them after the others.

“Did they see us?” Jeth whispered.

Lizzie shook her head.

Jeth raised his finger to the communicator patch behind his ear. “This is Longshot. We’ve spotted them.”

Dax’s voice came back a second later. “Where?”

“Coming down the east wing entrance. Should be at the ship any minute. Do you want us to follow?”

“Stay put. Goliath and I will move in.”

Jeth stifled a groan. He hated being told to stay out of it, especially with an ape like Sergei stepping in. It wasn’t right. He should be the one to capture them. He wanted to see the look on Sierra’s face when she realized her attempt to steal his ship had failed.

“What are we gonna do?” Lizzie said once Jeth switched off the comm.

“Dax ordered us to stay here.”

“And since when do we do what we we’re told?”

Since Hammer threatened to turn you into a prostitute and me into a mindless drone. “Since now.”

“The hell we are.” Lizzie spun around and marched toward the bay entrance. Jeth chased after her, but slowed down at once when he realized the attention they were drawing.

“Don’t do this, Liz,” Jeth said, falling in beside her. “You don’t know what kind of trouble you might step into.”

“What I know is that our uncle is probably trapped up there. Not to mention my cat.”

Frustration and amusement collided in Jeth. He didn’t know whether to laugh or haul her to a stop and give her a good smack. In the end, he decided to go with her. He wanted to be there as much as she did. And it wasn’t like he was disobeying Hammer directly.

Unlike the docking bays at Peltraz, this one contained observation alcoves in between each dock, giving passersby a partial view of the moored ships. Jeth pulled Lizzie into the first one, needing to put more distance between themselves and the group ahead of them. They waited a few moments and then moved on.

As they passed Dock 7, Jeth stepped inside another alcove and looked out. All the air escaped his lungs as he realized there wasn’t a ship moored at Dock 9. Instead he was looking at Avalon, some fifty meters away. It had been years since he’d seen her land-docked. She looked so strange and out of place, her faded black color a little pathetic in the twilight. Still, relief filled him at the sight of her. She was here, whole and intact.

“What do we do now?” Lizzie whispered.

“Not sure yet.” Jeth peeked around the edge of the alcove in time to see Vince disappear inside Avalon’s rear access door.

A hand grabbed Jeth from behind, clutching his shoulder with a grip far too powerful to be Lizzie. He spun around, reaching for the gun strapped to his back. But he froze as he saw it was Dax.

“Thought I told you to stay put.” Dax stepped into the alcove, dragging Jeth with him. “I would’ve left you behind if I knew you weren’t going to listen. What are you thinking?”

Jeth scowled. “Just trying to enjoy making my own choices while I still can.”

A knowing look crossed Dax face. “Yeah, okay, Golden Boy.”

“What are you talking about?” said Lizzie

“Nothing,” Jeth and Dax answered in unison.

Dax glanced around the corner. “What are we looking at?”

“Sierra and Vince just went in, along with some old guy and four armed guards pulling a crate.”

Dax nodded. “Let’s assume the guards will drop off the cargo and come out again.” He raised his hand to the communicator patch behind his ear and opened all channels. “This is Ringleader. All units check in.”

One by one the others came back, identifying their current positions.

“Head toward the mark,” Dax said. “But don’t engage. Rally at the east entrance with me and the west entrance with Goliath.”

Irritated by the idea of more waiting, Jeth turned toward the window and tried to content himself with staring at his ship.

Flynn joined them a few minutes later. “The others here yet?”

Dax shook his head. Then he pressed his finger to the communicator patch again. “Goliath, you in place?”

No response.

Dax reached into his coat pocket and pulled out his black brain implant. With practiced ease, he slid the stem into the back of his skull. Jeth flinched at the sight.

Dax’s eyes went oddly out of focus for a moment, as if his consciousness had slipped his body. Then he blinked, his expression returning to normal. “Damn it.”

“Sergei didn’t respond?” said Jeth, feeling the first pangs of worry.

“No. He must not have his implant in.”

Flynn stared at Dax, his eyes wide. “You mean you really can talk mind-to-mind with those things?”

Dax grunted. “Something like that.” He gave it a couple of minutes, then tried the communicator patch once more. “You reading this, Goliath? Come back.”

Again no response.

Jeth pressed a finger to his communicator patch. “You out there, Tailspin?”

Celeste didn’t answer.

“Tailspin? Joyrider? Come back, somebody.” Something was wrong. Jeth knew it. Celeste would never leave him hanging.

Finally, he heard the click of an incoming communication, and the frantic sound of Celeste’s voice filled her ear. “Tailspin here, we’re in trouble. It’s—”

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