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What about Avalon? Renford could give her to you, his mind persisted. Do you really think Hammer will let you go? he heard Renford say again.

“Celeste, run an internal scan,” he said. “We need to figure out if Renford is still on board.”

“I doubt it, but I’ll check,” she said.

Nodding, Jeth walked over to Lizzie and examined her arm once more. It really wasn’t bad at all. The bleeding had already stopped. “Let’s get this cleaned up. I’m sure the sick bay is stocked.”

Lizzie looked on the verge of protesting, but changed her mind. She turned and strode off the bridge.

Jeth followed after her but paused when he caught sight of something small and black lying on the floor. He stooped and picked it up. Renford’s calling card.

Then, for no reason he was willing to contemplate, he stowed the card in the pocket of his flight jacket and followed his sister off the bridge.

Chapter 04


Jeth hid a wince as he stared at the man on the video screen. They were only now within docking range of the Ferdinand, the enormous ship that served as one of Hammer’s chop shops, and already one of the operators had noticed the damage to the Montrose. Must be worse than I thought.

A lot worse, as Jeth found out once they finished docking.

On the outside, the Ferdinand appeared to be an ordinary Tetra Freighter, the kind used to transport goods across the galaxy from one star system to the next. And for the most part, the Ferdinand did just that. Only the goods weren’t fresh off the assembly line or harvested out of the fields of some agricultural planet, but disassembled pieces of stolen spaceships.

The moment Celeste landed the Montrose on the flight deck of the Ferdinand’s converted cargo bay, a swarm of chop techs surrounded them, ready to tear the Montrose apart.

Jeth stood up from the copilot’s chair, hearing the distant thump and grind of machinery. By the time he reached the living quarters more technicians were already inside. He recognized one of them as the chief operator, a man he knew only as Bentley.

“Run into a bit of trouble, did you?” asked Bentley, hooking his thumbs through his belt loops.

“A little,” said Jeth. It could have been worse, he thought. At least Celeste had been right, that Renford had gotten off the ship at Kordan.

Bentley grunted but didn’t ask for an explanation, which was fine by Jeth. He was still working out what story to tell Hammer, and he’d asked Lizzie and Celeste not to mention anything about Renford to Shady or Flynn until they were home and safe from any potential eavesdroppers.

“Well, go on then,” said Bentley. “The kitchens are still open if you want to eat before heading home.”

“Great,” said Lizzie from behind Jeth. “I’m starving.”

Bentley offered her a rare smile but didn’t comment.

“Did somebody mention food?” a familiar voice asked.

Jeth glanced past Bentley to see that Flynn and Shady had arrived, both of them eager to take a look at the spaceship they’d helped boost.

Bentley eyed the newcomers, his gaze coming to rest on Flynn, who’d spoken. “Boy, you sure do look like you could use an extra meal.”

Flynn grinned. The gesture emphasized the narrowness of his face, making his pointed chin even pointier. Flynn Emerson might’ve been thin and slight, but he had the appetite of someone three times his size. His role in the Malleus Shades was that of engineer, responsible for the fixing and building of their ships, weapons, anything mechanical really. It was lucky he was so good at it, given the cost of keeping him fed.

“Don’t let him fool you,” said the much taller and more physically imposing Will Shady. He had a face like a lion’s, with a broad nose and a wide, droopy mouth. His shaggy mane of blond hair exaggerated the resemblance. A smattering of crude tattoos lined his neck and hands. He smacked Flynn’s bony shoulder. “Never skipped a meal in his life.”

“Nope,” Celeste confirmed. “The world would come to an end first.”

A dubious look crossed Bentley’s face, but before he could comment—if he would’ve commented—another technician came charging up the corridor and said, “Got some bad news, sir.”

Jeth held his breath, bracing for whatever new disaster was coming. Maybe they’d been wrong about Renford.

“It’s the metadrive,” the technician said.

Bentley didn’t reply, but turned and headed down the corridor toward the engineering deck.

Waving for the others to stay put, Jeth followed after Bentley, wanting to see the damage for himself. He didn’t understand how the metadrive could’ve been affected by the firefight at Kordan. They hadn’t sustained any major hits, and the metaspace jump had gone just fine.

Once in the engineering room, Bentley headed for the metadrive compartment. The compartment’s window stood open, with the metadrive itself visible through the glass. Not much bigger than a human head, the drive’s frame looked like any other piece of machinery, metal with thick black coils and other wires spreading out from it. But the power source at its center was comprised of an odd, colorful material that reminded Jeth of the coral decorating the inside of Hammer’s extensive aquarium back on Peltraz. It was bright orange except along the edges, where the porous material had started to fade to the color of bone.

“I thought this was supposed to be brand new,” Bentley said to no one in particular.