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Not entirely mollified, Jeth nevertheless decided not to argue. For the time being, he was content just to have someone else be in charge for once. The ache and fatigue, remnants of Renford’s torture, were inching their way back over him. He did his best to ignore it, trying to stay focused on the task at hand.

Jeth moved to the opposite wall. They checked the turn together. Down his end, he saw half a dozen soldiers racing past from an adjacent corridor. He assumed they were Renford’s, but he couldn’t be certain.

“This way.” Sierra charged into the hallway, moving away from where the soldiers had passed.

They reached an elevator a few minutes later, but when they called for it, there was no response.

Sierra swore under her breath.

“What now?” said Lizzie.

“No more elevators,” said Jeth. “They might all be down.”

“There’s a maintenance shaft right through there.” Sierra headed for an unmarked door a short distance away. The electrical power flitted in and out, the lights intermittent at best. The automatic release on the door wasn’t working, but Jeth managed to pry it open with his fingers.

Just as he waved Sierra and Lizzie inside, more soldiers appeared in the hallway. Jeth stepped in and yanked the door closed, muffling the roar of their gunfire.

“Hurry!” he said, chasing after Lizzie and Sierra, who were already at the emergency ladder on the other side of the narrow room.

They climbed downward as fast as they could. Jeth kept glancing up, expecting to be pursued, but no threat came from above in the short time it took them to descend two decks.

Sierra climbed off the ladder into another maintenance room, this one larger than the first. She raced to the single computer station near the door and sat down.

“What’re you doing?” Jeth said, stepping up behind her.

“I’m bringing the surveillance system back online. I took it down as soon as I knew Vince and the others were approaching so they could move about the ship undetected, but now I need it to find them. We also need to see what we’re facing with Cora. Renford is bound to have increased the guard on her.”

“Okay,” Jeth said. “But how were you communicating with the others before?”

“Short range comms, but the ITA started jamming everything as soon as they moved in for the attack. Damn.” She slapped the top of the desk.

“What’s wrong?” said Lizzie.

“It’s not working.”

“Let me.” Lizzie pushed Sierra out of the chair and plopped down behind the computer. Then she started to work her magic. As always, Jeth found himself momentarily mesmerized by her abilities. Soon Lizzie had accessed the surveillance system and given them a look at how many men were guarding Cora. There were at least a dozen, all of them Renford’s. Jeth wondered if there had been Brethren there too, before Dax had taken over. The truth of this still hadn’t sunk in, that Hammer was gone from his life forever. Now, if we can just get off this ship alive . . .

“What is that place?” Jeth said, looking at the odd structures in the room where the soldiers stood.

“It’s the kid center,” said Sierra. “Where parents on a cruise send their kids when they want some free time. The area wasn’t being used until now, so Renford never had a reason to take out the playground stuff. He’s got Cora living in the caretaker suite attached to the place.”

Before Jeth could ask anything more, Lizzie said, “Found them.” She tapped a few buttons and the image flashed on the screen, showing Shady, Flynn, and Vince moving along cautiously.

“That’s the old servants’ corridor,” Sierra said. “One deck below us, starboard.”

“Let’s go,” said Lizzie, leading the way over to the maintenance ladder. They headed down.

Moments later, they emerged into an empty corridor.

“Are you sure this is the right place?” said Lizzie.

A loud commotion rose up from somewhere ahead of them. It was Shady, screaming obscenities at the top of his lungs in between bursts of gunfire.

“What’s he doing?” Sierra said as they ducked into the nearest room, taking cover.

“Just being himself,” said Lizzie. She giggled nervously. “Shady gets a little carried away sometimes.”

Sierra scowled. “No kidding. But he’s gonna get us killed.”

“What do you mean, ‘get us’?” said Jeth. “He’ll be the one doing the killing.” He poked his head around the corner and shouted as loud as he could. “Shady! Will you stop it already?”

“Is that you, Boss?” Shady hollered back.

“Yeah, it’s me. I’m coming out now. So don’t shoot me.”

“Whatever you say, Boss.”

Braced for disaster, Jeth stepped out. If Shady started shooting again, he would dive for cover. Shady appeared around the corner, a massive grin on his face. Fortunately, he’d sheathed one of his guns and had the other propped against his shoulder, barrel pointed to the ceiling. Flynn and Vince followed behind him.

Jeth waved at Lizzie and Sierra, and they emerged. A brief, giddy reunion followed. Vince hugged Sierra hard enough to lift her off her feet. He kissed the top of her head as he set her down again. Shady did the same to Lizzie, only instead of kissing her head, he rubbed his knuckles in her hair.

“Ouch.” Lizzie punched him in the belly.

“That’s my girl,” said Shady, grinning.