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Sierra whispered against his lips, “Two. Coming this way.”

He recaptured her mouth in answer. He didn’t have to worry about the ITA soldiers. They were someone else’s concern. The soldiers were shouting at them, but Jeth couldn’t make out what they were saying.

And it didn’t matter. The moment the two soldiers reached them, Dax and Shady stepped around the corner and bashed them in the head with the butts of their guns.

Sierra pulled away from Jeth, and he almost forgot to let go. The moment there was distance between them, he came back to his senses.

“Go get us through the door,” he said, risking a look at Sierra. Her face was flushed and her lips swollen. He looked away.

Sierra trotted past him down the short corridor to the security station in front of a sealed door. Jeth helped the other two drag the soldiers toward it, while Sierra worked on overriding the locks.

Pulling off the safety suit, Jeth stepped behind the security station and examined the control panel. Several monitors showed a live feed of the inside of the brig. All the cells were empty except for L-11. He saw Lizzie, sitting on the bench in the back, her knees drawn up to her chest. He couldn’t see her face, which was buried in her arms, but he thought her body was shaking from sobs.

A fierce, protective anger surged through Jeth. If they’ve hurt her . . .

With an effort, he looked away from Lizzie’s feed to the only other screen with activity.

“There’s just the one guard,” Jeth said, seeing the man in the top right monitor. He clearly had no idea what was going on outside the door he was guarding. Jeth guessed he should’ve been watching the monitor beside him instead of playing a video game on a handheld. If he had been, he would’ve noticed the absence of the other guards.

“I saw,” Sierra said. “We take him out the same way.” She yanked the decryption card out of the door’s access panel as it clicked open.

Dax charged through the door first, dispensing the guard on the other side in moments. He grabbed the man by the arms and dragged him into the nearest cell. Jeth and Shady pulled the other two soldiers through the door and into the cell as well.

“Somebody needs to stay out here, to let us out again,” Sierra said. “The door might set off an alarm if it’s open too long.”

“Right,” said Dax. “I’ll stay here. You three go get Lizzie.” Dax stepped back into the outer corridor without waiting for a reply and then shut the door behind him.

Sierra was already charging down the corridor toward L-11. Jeth turned and followed after her.

“Stay there, Shady, and back up Dax,” Jeth called over his shoulder.

“Okay, but hurry up. I don’t like just hanging around. Feel like a big fat target.”

Jeth ignored him and hurried to catch up with Sierra. The corridor was narrow and brightly lit, like a hospital. None of the cells had windows or bars but were solid, barren little rooms, the kind of place that would drive a person mad if they were locked in it too long, Jeth thought.

Sierra halted outside L-11 and jammed the decryption card into the access panel. Jeth counted off the seconds, hoping it would work again. A click sounded a moment later, and the door slid open. Sierra stepped into the cell.

Lucky again, Jeth thought as he came in after her. He supposed Lizzie had either been wrong about decryption cards or the one Sierra was using was a top-of-the-line model worth as much as a starship.

This is too easy.

But Jeth dismissed the concern as he saw Lizzie’s tearstained face looking up at him. Her mouth fell open in shock, and she leaped up. He heard the sound of the door sliding closed behind him, but he didn’t panic. It was just a safety feature.

“Are you all right?” Jeth said.

“I’m fine. Just ready to get out of here.”

“Let’s go, then,” said Sierra. She slid the decryption card into the access panel. A moment later the words ACCESS DENIED flashed on the panel’s tiny screen.

“What the hell?” Jeth said.

Sierra pulled the card out, then jammed it in again. Another failure message appeared. “No,” Sierra said through clenched teeth. “It can’t be.” She tried the card a third time, and the locks at last disengaged.

Jeth let out the breath he’d been holding and charged through the door, victory like a balloon swelling inside his chest.

He froze just beyond the doorway. More than a dozen guards were waiting in the corridor, guns drawn and aimed at him.

“Put your weapons on the floor,” the nearest one said.

Jeth’s head spun. How did this happen? They’d been so careful, made no mistakes.

Then the explanation struck him full force. Dax stood among the soldiers, and not as a captive. He stepped forward as Jeth spotted him.

“You betrayed us,” Jeth said. He couldn’t believe it. Dax had seemed so genuine, his story so true and believable. So much like my own.

Dax nodded, his expression impossible to read. “Hammer just cut a deal with Renford. And it’s like I said, Golden Boy: Nobody outruns Hammer. Not even you.”

Chapter 31

JETH STARED AT THE FOUR BLANK WHITE WALLS AROUND him. He’d been right. A person could go mad in here.

He’d been locked in the cell less than a day, but already the restlessness was eating away at him. How long will they leave me in here? Forever? Only he knew that wouldn’t happen. Not with Hammer involved.

Jeth could only assume that’s what Dax had meant about a deal—that Renford and Hammer had somehow decided to work together. At first he couldn’t understand how it was possible, but then he remembered that Hammer had found Renford’s calling card. After that, it was just a matter of logistics. Dax must’ve told Hammer what happened on Moenia and what they were planning. Once Hammer knew, he could easily have used that information to negotiate with Renford. The idea of them working together was so horrible, Jeth couldn’t stomach speculating what their deal might entail.