Avril found the cooling blanket with the medical supplies and laid it over Zin where she slept, curled up in the passenger seat.
He asked the car’s AI, “What’s wrong with her?”
“She is suffering from exhaustion,” the AI replied after a brief pause.
“Treatment?” Avril asked.
“Okay. Let’s get back on the road to Edge before that cadre comes this way,” Avril said and sat back down at the driver’s console as the car drove around the rest-stop and headed south along the road.
“Watch for traffic, both directions,” Avril said.
A second later, two drones detached from the roof and sped away in opposite directions beneath the shimmering blue road-shield that stretched between Taral and Edge.
Avril watched the images of the empty road the drones beamed back to him.
His concerns about the cadre hadn’t faded completely, but meeting Zin had taken his mind off the dangers the cadre posed, and he thought, as long as he could get out of Damar unseen, he should be fine.
He was a lot more confident now that he was in the assault vehicle and had a fighting chance if they caught him.
Cadres rarely wandered far from the capitals where their chosen lived.
He just wouldn’t come back to Damar anytime soon.
Maybe I’ll try Balimar. There has to be hundreds of cities there that other salvagers haven’t picked clean yet, Avril thought.
Balimar was the largest country in Rasa, so he’d be less likely to run into people there too.
Though in truth, life in the wastelands was mostly uneventful. Occasionally, it was dangerous and exhilarating, but he’d survived worse, and he’d survive this too. He just had to get to the border, and then the cadre in Taral would be nothing more than a bad memory.
Avril glanced sideways at the sleeping woman.
I should find somewhere to drop you first, he thought.
If the cadre found him, they’d probably scoop Zin up too. Avril thought she might still be a teenager, but she was probably in her early twenties, and he expected the cadre to come to the same conclusion.
Did we meet as kids? Avril wondered.
He was raised on the road, moving from city to city, salvaging tech as they went, but there’d been other kids out there; some worked alongside their parents, others were orphans making their own way.
There’d even been a couple of schools, but they hadn’t lasted long.
Zin seemed familiar, but Avril still couldn’t remember meeting her before. The odds are against it, he thought.
Where did you come from? he wondered.
He considered what to do with her for a moment. Perhaps once she was rested, he could drop her off and she’d be fine to make her own way back to wherever she wanted to be.
He remembered her assertion that she was looking for him, and he thought, Delirious.
I should find somewhere for you.
Avril tapped a control on the dashboard terminal and called up the database of tech traders he and Ethan had compiled over the years.
Both of them stuck with a handful of reliable traders they trusted not to cheat them on price or betray them to the chosen. Avril didn’t work with anybody in Damar, but there might be somebody in the database he could leave Zin with.
Maybe I can get a good price on these common-reality-engine processors too, he thought.
A list of hundreds of names appeared on the windscreen, and he said, “Show me the five nearest contacts.”
Thinking of the people he usually did business with, Avril doubted he’d find anybody he was comfortable leaving Zin with, but it was worth a try.
The list of names collapsed down to five.
Two of the names were in red, indicating they were no longer active, and Avril dismissed them.
He checked the notes for the other three and dismissed two more when he saw terse notes Ethan had left that read, Untrustworthy and Compromised.
“Who do we have left?” Avril mused out loud, then read the last remaining name on the screen.
“Milo.” Avril frowned but read on. “Selective but pays a fair price.” Avril’s frown deepened.
Selective usually meant traders who wouldn’t take everything, and the processors were the only thing Avril had.
“Worked in logistics for thirty years before the Cleansing. She…” Avril’s eyebrows shot up, and he glanced at Zin.
“She.” He told the unconscious woman, “If I have to leave you with anybody, a she is probably the safest bet. And a she who had a thirty-year career before the Cleansing would be old. An old lady. This sounds perfect, Zin.”
Avril turned back to the screen and shook his head to dismiss the odd sense of regret that crept over him.
For the most part, Avril didn’t mind the solitude of the wasteland, but sometimes, he wondered how it would be to take on a partner or find somebody to share his days with.
He glanced at Zin again, just as she snort-snored in her sleep.
“Old lady it is,” Avril said and turned back to the screen to keep reading. “Worked in logistics for thirty years before the Cleansing. She is cautious, verging on paranoid.” Avril winced and muttered, “Could be good or bad.”
He scanned the rest of the text and decided to take the chance.
“When was the last contact?” he asked the AI.
“Nine years ago,” the AI replied.
“Any sign she’s still there?”
“Unknown,” the AI replied.
Avril told his sleeping companion, “A paranoid old lady is just what we need. She’ll keep you safe until you get better. Maybe. We’ll see.”
He tapped a control on the dashboard to clear the display and told the AI, “Take us there. Let’s see if Milo is in the market for some processors and nursing a crazy girl with suns stroke back to health.”