Jeth let out the breath he’d been holding. “Thank you. For doing that.”
Dax looked up, as if surprised to find he wasn’t alone. He nodded. “You were right. Hammer always enforced my loyalty with this.” He reached up with his other hand and removed his black Brethren implant, tossing it aside. “I’m sorry for handing you over to him, but I didn’t have a choice. There was only ever one way to defeat Hammer. By taking this.” Dax held up the red implant like a trophy. Then he lowered his hand toward the back of his head in a gesture Jeth knew well enough by now.
“What are you doing?” Jeth said, moving to stop him.
But it was too late. Dax thrust the red implant into his skull.
No one moved or spoke for several long seconds afterward. Dax simply stood there with his eyes closed. A muscle ticked in his jaw. Outside, the fighting had at last arrived at their door.
Finally, Dax opened his eyes and stared at the three of them. Jeth could tell he was a changed man. A hard, deadly glint shone in his eyes. He looked like an animal gone feral. Jeth swallowed, any relief he had felt at seeing the end of Hammer evaporating fast. He didn’t know what exactly that implant did, but he knew for certain it wasn’t anything good.
“Get out of here,” Dax said to Jeth. “Find Cora and make your escape. I’ll order my men to leave you alone.”
My men. Dax was the new Hammer.
Jeth nodded. Then he, Lizzie, and Sierra each grabbed a gun and disappeared through the door, leaving Dax alone with whatever remained of Hammer Dafoe.
FOUR BRETHREN STOOD OUTSIDE THE DOOR AS THEY emerged. Jeth froze at the sight of them, hauling Lizzie back behind him. They stared at Jeth, their gazes hostile and confused. But they didn’t raise their guns. Jeth gaped, hardly daring to believe it. It seemed Dax’s decree held true.
“This way,” Sierra said, running past them without a second thought. She turned left down the nearest corridor.
Still dazed, Jeth followed after her, soon moving side by side with Lizzie. “Where’re we going? What’s happening?” he asked.
“We’re rescuing you, of course,” Lizzie said, grinning over at him. “Couldn’t you tell?”
Jeth wanted to hug her again. It felt so good to hear her joking. For a moment, he seemed to glide down the corridor, his entire being light with the relief of their escape.
Sierra said over her shoulder, “We’ve got to find the others. If we’re lucky, they’ve reached Cora by now. We were headed there first when I realized Hammer had brought you up here.”
“What do you mean the others?” Jeth asked, resisting the urge to haul her to a stop and kiss her. If she hadn’t found out what was happening, he’d be like Hammer now, a prisoner in his own mind.
“Everybody’s here,” said Lizzie. “Well, Celeste and Milton were supposed to stay on Avalon so we’ve a way out, but the others are breaking in the same way we did before.”
Nothing she said seemed to make any sense to Jeth. “What are you talking about?”
Lizzie rolled her eyes. “While you’ve been taking it easy these last few days, the rest of us have been busy.”
“Ha-ha,” Jeth said as they rounded a corner. The definite sounds of fighting echoed around them from other areas of the ship, but so far they remained in the clear.
Lizzie grinned. “It was all Sierra’s idea. She managed to slip Vince instructions on what to do before he left. He was to get a hold of the ITA, the real ITA, I mean, and tell them everything he could about what Renford and Hammer were doing, and help them coordinate an attack. The one that’s going down right now.”
Jeth started to ask a question, but another missile struck the Northern Dancer, the impact hard enough to send him and Lizzie stumbling into one another. Lizzie’s head collided with his mouth.
“Ouch,” Lizzie said, grabbing the top of her head while Jeth spat blood.
“Hurry up,” Sierra said. “We’ve got to get out of here before the ITA captures the ship.”
Jeth understood at once. “They’re still after Cora.”
“Yes,” Sierra said. “But bringing them here was the only way. We need this diversion.”
Jeth nodded. If they could get Cora and get back to Avalon, the ship was fast enough for them to slip away in the chaos of the fighting. A good plan, even with all the risk involved. “But why did it take them so long to get here?” he asked.
“Because Renford’s kept us on the move.” Sierra said, slowing down as they approached an intersection. “I had to keep resending our new location to Vince, but usually by the time he received and translated it, we were gone again.”
“How’d you manage sending it without anybody noticing?”
Sierra flashed him a quick smile. “When we were kids growing up here, we developed a method for sending each other secret messages. Used to be just a game, but it’s come in handy for the real thing.”
“I’m glad,” Jeth said, stepping in behind her. “But what happens if the ITA gets to Cora before we do?”
“Don’t be such a pessimist,” Lizzie said, smacking his arm. Jeth thought the accusation a bit unfair. It seemed everything that could’ve possibly gone wrong the last few weeks had. A little pessimism was in order.
“We’re going to get to her first,” Sierra said with absolute certainty. She inched toward the turn into the other corridor.