Page 94

“Don’t, Jeth,” Sierra said, panic in her voice.

Jeth glanced over his shoulder, keeping his hand steady even as a shudder went through him at the sight awaiting him. Dax had somehow managed to capture Lizzie and was now holding her in front of him like a shield, a gun pressed against her neck


“Let go of Hammer,” Dax said. His face was pale but his eyes hard and steady. He looked like he was having trouble standing. Jeth glanced down and saw blood pooling on the floor at Dax’s feet. He must’ve taken a bullet in the leg.

Jeth froze, unable to move. Sierra had her gun aimed at Dax, but she had no angle to take him out. Not without hitting Lizzie too.

“I mean it, Jeth,” Dax said. “I will kill her.”

“Shoot him,” Lizzie said, her terrified gaze fixed on Jeth.

But he couldn’t risk it. Maybe if he already had his gun pointed the right direction. But if he wasn’t fast enough, if his aim was off . . . None of this will matter if Lizzie dies.

“Why do you want to save him even after all he’s done to you?” Jeth said.

Dax shook his head, the action oddly jerky, as if he’d developed some kind of nervous twitch.

“Don’t deny it. I know the story you told me is true. Think about your brother. If we kill Hammer, he’ll be free.”

“No,” Dax said. “Keeping Hammer safe is the only way to save him. The only way.” Even Dax’s voice had developed a kind of twitch.

Understanding clicked in Jeth’s mind. He glanced at the red implant in Hammer’s skull. It was the master implant, the one that controlled all the others. He reached for it, meaning to yank it out of Hammer’s head.

The motion brought him in too close. Hammer lunged forward, snatching the gun from Jeth’s hand and knocking him over.

Before Jeth could recover his feet, Hammer had the barrel pressed against his forehead.

“Get on your knees and put your hands on top of your head,” Hammer said.

Jeth did so, turning his gaze toward Lizzie, who was still trapped in Dax’s hold.

Hammer motioned to Sierra. “And you. Put the gun on the floor and get on your knees, too. We both know you’re not going to let anything happen to Jeth.”

Sierra hesitated, then did as Hammer ordered, kneeling down next to Jeth.

Hammer bent toward her, grabbed her ponytail, and twisted the blonde strands around his hand. He yanked her head back, forcing her gaze up to his. “If I wasn’t so concerned about keeping things smooth with Renford, I would kill you.” Then he let go of her hair and shoved her forward. He stepped on her back. “Stay down, why don’t you?” Hammer waved at Dax. “Bring Lizzie over here and put her in front of her brother. I want her to have a front row seat for this.”

Dax pushed Lizzie forward. He seemed to be using her as a crutch as he limped along.

“Don’t do this, Dax,” Jeth said. “Don’t be like him. Help us.”

Hammer chuckled. “Nice try, but Dax is Brethren. His loyalty belongs to me.”

“His loyalty is forced by that implant,” Jeth said. “Fight it, Dax. Do it for your brother. Help us.”

In response, Dax pushed Lizzie down to her knees in front of Jeth, his actions in perfect obedience to Hammer’s will.

“Now come around and hold Jeth still,” Hammer said, stepping away from Sierra.

Dax shuffled over, leaving blood splatters on the floor. If he would just pass out, Jeth thought. They could easily overtake Hammer.

Outside in the hall, the noise of shouting and gunfire was growing louder, and every few minutes the ship shook as if struck by missile fire.

Dax holstered his gun and grabbed Jeth by the wrists again, pushing him forward. His grip wasn’t as strong as last time but powerful enough to do the job. For the third time, Jeth felt the stem of the implant prod the hole of the architecture. The pressure against his skull grew stronger as Hammer began to force the thing in.

Then, without warning, Dax’s grip on his wrists let go. Jeth fell forward as a wet, sucking noise sounded behind him. Jeth clambered to his feet and spun around to see that Dax had yanked the red implant out of Hammer’s skull.

Hammer blinked dazedly, as if he couldn’t understand what had happened. Jeth punched him in the face, throwing the full force of his body into it. The big man stumbled backward, blood bursting from his nose.

Dax caught Hammer before he could fall and held him there long enough to grab the clear-colored implant still hanging loose in Hammer’s hand. Then Dax pushed Hammer down into a kneeling position.

Jeth stood there, transfixed by the scene unfolding before him as if in slow motion. Dax raised the clear-colored implant to Hammer’s head, his body no longer shaking. Then he thrust it downward.

Hammer’s eyes went wide with shock. It lasted only a moment and then his gaze turned hollow, his expression slackening into the dulled features of catatonia.

Dax let go, shoving Hammer forward onto his face where he continued to lay, stupid and unmoving.

Jeth stared down at the back of Hammer’s head, mere millimeters from his feet. The implant writhed a moment around Hammer’s skull, as if adjusting to its new home.

It’s over, Jeth realized. The big man was no more.

He tore his gaze away from the sight, certain he would be sick if he watched any longer. He stepped back for good measure and then turned to Lizzie, helping her to stand. He pulled her into a fierce hug.

“It’s done,” Dax said, a tremble in his voice. Jeth looked at him and saw Dax was holding the red implant, examining it with something like wonderment on his face. “Finally over.”