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’’It\s fine. Just don\ waste it all and be careful what you spend it on, yeah?’’

’’Yes, Boss. You got it.’’ She saluted him with the hand holding the ice cream, tipping it dangerously close to her head.

’’You\ll be wearing that next, smart-ass,’’ said Jeth.

Lizzie giggled and lowered her hand. She licked away the ice cream seeping over the edge of the cone. ’’So what did Hammer say? Am I officially a part of the Shades?’’

Jeth nodded. ’’Welcome aboard.’’

She grinned and saluted again.

He rolled his eyes. ’’Come on.’’ He stepped toward the door into Avalon. He keyed the code to open the lock and then headed in. The familiar smell of home filled his nose, seeming to warm him from the inside and to soothe his aches, both external and not.

’’You know,’’ Lizzie said, taking another lick of ice cream, ’’I think I\m going to save up for a pet. We need one. A Malleus Shades mascot.’’

’’Oh, no you\ e not.’’ Jeth fixed her with his sternest glare. ’’There\s no room for pets on a spaceship.’’

’’Whatever. Of course there is.’’

’’I mean it, Liz.’’

She started to hum, ignoring him.

’’Liz ’’ Jeth began again, but he let it go. He could tell she was just teasing him. Or at least, he was pretty sure she was only teasing.

Either way, it didn\ seem to matter as he climbed the steps to the passenger deck and toward his cabin. The job was done. As Jeth ran his hand along the wall of the corridor, as much caressing as communing with his ship, he felt the future drawing nearer than ever before. Soon Avalon would be his.

And he and his crew would be free.

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