Three armored road-bikes turned onto the street ahead of Avril. His car’s laser-cannon still fired at the assailants in the alley behind him but ceased when it turned a sharp right into a side street. The force of the turn threw Avril left.
The side street was a short dead-end, and the car stopped abruptly. Avril fell forward and caught himself with his forearms against the dashboard before he hit the windscreen.
Bikes skidded to a halt behind him. Now in the correct position relative to this new enemy, the laser-cannons above him fired once. The blast cast aside one rider and their bike. Wheels spun, and the car reversed, hitting and driving over the other two riders. The car turned left as it reversed into the street, the whir of the laser-cannons repositioning sounded above.
The two bondsan who’d shot at them from the alley moments before were out in the open. They stumbled to a halt, and before they could run for cover, the laser-cannon fired again. The blast took one of the bondsan’s legs out from under them. Their companion broke left and was propelled into the air. When they came back down, they stayed on their feet and kept running, darting toward the cover of another alley.
The car slowed down enough to fire a blast into the alley as it drove past. Avril saw the bondsan fall and then they were out of sight as the car sped toward the southern entrance.
“Laurill, get out!” Avril transmitted and waited for a response, but the only thing that came back at him was white noise.
“Keep sending that, and let me know the instant there’s a response,” Avril said.
“Affirmative,” the AI responded. Avril was certain it was his imagination, but the AI sounded more confident than before.
The southern entrance passed in a blur on Avril’s left, and the car weaved between damaged vehicles strewn across the road.
Remembering his earlier apprehension about this AI and his plan to replace it, he thought, No. This one’s a keeper.
The sound of engines behind them turned Avril’s head. Through the rear window, he saw two new bikes. Laser blasts struck the back of the assault vehicle, and the chemical blast-shield bloomed at the impact sites.
As the car approached the main street, Avril checked the display for Laurill and Maxian, but there was still no sign of them. He widened his view to take in as much of the city as possible.
At least half a dozen bikes moved along the city streets.
It’s not just Thorn’s cadre, Avril thought.
The bikes pursuing him evaded the car’s laser blasts, and Avril said, “Don’t hit them, but keep shooting.”
He scrambled through the gap between the seats in the cab and rushed to the back of the assault vehicle. The riders were directly behind him, and Avril closed his eyes and reached out to visualize any nearby electrical networks.
Fuzzy golden clouds of light appeared, and Avril focused on one of them. It quickly resolved into the bike’s electrical components, the weapons the rider carried and other electronic equipment, but when he focused on the rider’s head, he saw a small and familiar cluster of light he recognized as basic comms gear, but that was all.
No implant, he thought and opened his eyes.
A blast struck the window where Avril stood, and he fell back in surprise.
“You can hit them now,” Avril said.
The AI made quick work of the riders, and Avril pulled himself up and slapped a hand against the scanner next to the weapons locker.
“I hope Laurill left me something,” Avril said, only half-joking.
The locker swung open as tires screeched and the car turned onto the main street. Avril hung onto a handrail until the car leveled out.
There were still several blasters and other weapons secured inside the locker. Avril grabbed two and went forward past Zin who snored softly on the couch.
He’d seen the damage the trucks had caused on the drone’s feed, but seeing the devastation in person took his breath.
The street resembled a war-zone.
A rider swerved around the wreckage toward them, and the AI blasted them.
The bar’s front door was still closed, and the bright lights Avril expected to shine through the windows and pin Laurill in place were not there.
They got out, he thought.
Avril checked the feed on the windscreen for signs of two people fleeing through the exits on either side or a dragon taking to the sky, but there was nothing.
“Drop me in front of the entrance and keep the cadre away.”
The car braked loudly, and with a blaster in each hand, Avril half jumped half fell to the street. He tripped on the curb as he ran to the building, but he caught himself and was about to hit the front door with his shoulder when movement in his peripheral vision turned his head to the left.
A bondsan was almost on him.
He didn’t know how he’d missed them, but it was too late to defend against their attack. The bondsan held a weapon and raised it into firing position, but before they pulled the trigger, there was a loud bang, and red washed against the side of the building. The bondsan collapsed.
Avril spun where he stood, but he couldn’t see anybody.
Gabe! he thought and risked scanning the rooftops before pushing the door open and rushing into the bar.
He shouted, “Laurill, are you—”
Something struck his jaw with a hard crack that made the room twist away from him and left him feeling like he was looking at a scene projected on a screen. His body felt distant, and a single high note pierced his hearing.
A second blow followed the first, and his senses came back. He fell against a wall and then to his knees, and his blasters slipped from his fingers and clattered to the floor.