Page 8

Please don’t fail, please don’t fail, he thought. The shield needed to last long enough for them to make a metaspace jump. He pulled up the nav system and saw Lizzie had already entered the coordinates into the metadrive. As soon as they reached the minimum safe distance from all surrounding objects, the red light would turn green and they would be off.

Celeste flew them onward, going for maximum speed. Two patrols dove toward them, and she banked hard to the left. Jeth gripped the arms of his chair, panic expanding in his chest. She’d pushed it too far. Any moment now they would start spinning out of control. But somehow Celeste held onto it, her muscles clenched so tightly the veins in her hands and forearms popped out.

With an effort, Jeth pried his fingers off the chair.

“They’re telling us to stop,” Lizzie announced.

Jeth looked over his shoulder to see she’d slipped on a communicator headset.

“Just thought you should know,” she said, winking. “Can I tell them to piss off?”

“Oh sure,” Jeth said, not nearly as amused by the situation as she was. “Just be polite about it.”

Lizzie grinned and said into the comm, “This is the Montrose. The captain says piss off. Politely.”

Celeste giggled even as she managed to dodge another spray of gunfire.

“Glad you two are having so much fun,” Jeth said, turning his attention to the radar screen. They wouldn’t be, if they had been the ones who would have to explain all this to Hammer afterward. Assuming there is an afterward. As leader, Jeth was the one to deal with Hammer directly. But with the way their luck was going, he wouldn’t be surprised if the patrols blew them out of the sky instead of bothering to capture and arrest them.

Jeth counted five Kordan patrols, a higher number than he’d expected. As he watched, two more yellow dots appeared on the screen as if from nowhere—Shady and Flynn, the other two members of the Malleus Shades. Each piloted an X-86 Scout equipped with an illegal prototype stealth drive. The small, four-man ships belonged to Hammer, but Jeth and his crew used them most every job. Once out of stealth drive, the ships were visible to the Kordan Patrol, who quickly turned their attention to the new threat.

Barrage after barrage of gunfire flashed beyond the Montrose’s window. Unlike the Montrose, the Scouts came armed, and while neither Shady nor Flynn were as skilled at the helm as Celeste, they were both excellent shots. Especially Shady, who enjoyed nothing so much as shooting at moving targets.

“Take it easy, Joyrider,” Jeth said over the comm. “Don’t blow up anything. Just ground them.” And don’t get blown up yourself, he thought as he watched Shady swerve out of the path of an incoming patrol.

“Aw, come on, Boss,” Shady came back a second later. “Where’s the fun in that?”

Before Jeth could respond, Shady had doubled back on the patrol ship and taken out its starboard engine. Jeth exhaled in relief. Shady might be trigger-happy, but he wasn’t stupid. Not usually, anyway.

Meanwhile, Celeste had piloted them far from the spaceport. Jeth checked the integrity of the Montrose’s shield. It was weak but still holding. The ready light on the nav system remained red.

“Come on,” Jeth said. “Give up, already.” He couldn’t remember any job where they’d been pursued this long. There wasn’t much point, really. Most ships were insured against theft. Especially ones owned by corporations like Wellforth.

Finally, Jeth saw the dots on the radar screen begin to fall back.

“Looks like they’re bugging out,” Flynn’s voice said over the comm a moment later.

“Right,” said Jeth. “Let’s get out of here. Jump as soon as you’re clear.”

Both Flynn and Shady echoed a confirmation of his order.

Jeth pulled a pair of dark goggles from a nook on the dash in front of him and slipped them on while Celeste did the same behind him.

“Here we go.” Jeth engaged the metadrive. A moment later, a brilliant light like a raw, living energy enveloped the Montrose. It burned so brightly Jeth had to shut his eyes too, despite the tinted goggles. Even still, he could see the light through the skin of his eyelids as if his eyes remained open. Weightlessness came over his body. Not like being in zero gravity, but as if he had no body at all, his existence blinking out. He didn’t move, didn’t breathe. His heart no longer beat and his mind no longer thought.

A fraction of a second later, they came through the other side, traveling thousands of light-years in an instant.

Jeth shook the odd, I-died-for-a-second feeling from his body and pulled off the goggles. A moment later a bright light flashed in front of him, and the two Scouts appeared. They’d made it.

Lizzie let out a whoop behind him, and a huge grin lit up Celeste’s face. Jeth put his hands behind his head and leaned back in his chair, savoring the thrill of victory.

It didn’t last nearly long enough. Warning messages and system errors began flashing across the various screens on the console in front of him. The ship was still space-worthy, but there had been damage. Some of the gunfire must’ve penetrated the shields. Hammer would be furious.

Knowing there was nothing he could do about it now, Jeth tried to push the worry away. But his mind refused to be still. At once, his thoughts turned to Marcus Renford. What was on this lost ship that made it so important? And could Renford actually know the truth about Jeth’s parents?

Jeth shook his head. That train of thought would lead him nowhere. There were too many questions, too many complications. It didn’t matter why his parents had died. They would still be dead even with the knowing. He liked his life simple, straightforward. Do the job, get the money, move on to the next. Looking back wasn’t an option.