“Are we receiving anything?” Avril asked the car’s AI.
“No,” the AI responded.
Avril hadn’t expected a different answer; things couldn’t be that easy.
He looked at a timer on the windscreen, it was almost down to zero and the point of no return.
If Laurill ran into difficulties, experienced early success, or learned they were walking into a trap, she would have alerted him by now. Shadow-walking prevented them from staying in constant contact through a tight-cast transmission, which required a continuous connection.
Laurill had told him, As far as your system knows, any equipment I take into the shadows ceases to exist, and the connection is lost. Believe me; I’ve tried everything.
They’d settled on listening to a channel they’d only use if something went wrong, and if neither of them used it by the time their countdown hit zero, they’d proceed no matter what.
The numbers flashed zero, and Avril knew he wouldn’t hear from Laurill again until she got away.
Among her armaments, Laurill had taken an EMP bomb to deactivate any electrical devices in and around the building where Maxian was held. The EMP would take out the bondsan’s implants and Laurill’s comms gear.
Despite having programmed his instructions into the car’s AI, Avril said, “Let’s go.”
He looked at the overhead feed and saw the vehicles they controlled, both in and outside the city, already converging on the northern entrance. Avril’s car turned a sharp left, passed through the road-shield and slipped into the wake of a hover-truck that gained momentum as it sped toward the southern entrance.
On the feed of the road north, a second massive hover-truck sped toward the opposite entrance.
“Take the bait,” Avril murmured and scanned the city streets for the road-bikes he’d seen earlier.
He spotted all three, two of which turned north.
“All right,” he said. “Three of seven are on the streets. How many are waiting for the supply drop?”
“Two,” the AI replied.
“Five of seven. That leaves two for Laurill to get past.”
Avril noticed a fourth bike on the screen, heading toward the southern entrance.
“Six of seven.”
He switched his attention from the feed and focused on the hover-truck in front of him. The AI controlled the car, and it kept them so close there was almost no daylight between them, but Avril trusted the AI to react quicker than he could to any sudden changes.
“Stay close,” Avril instructed the AI.
The back of the truck blocked the view ahead, but Taral’s wall came into view to either side of the truck.
“Here we go,” Avril muttered, and checked the overhead feed to see if Laurill and Maxian had appeared near the building where the dualist was being held. “Nothing.”
Something whizzed past Avril’s side window. When he twisted to look back, a leather-clad figure wearing a black helmet drive away from them on a black and chrome bike.
Avril reached for the laser-cannon controls but stopped himself, knowing he could eliminate one bondsan, but he’d give himself away in doing so.
The bike continued along the road, and Avril let it go.
“As soon as we’re inside, go right, then circle around to approach the building where they’re holding Maxian. Keep an eye on all the exits, stay close but keep moving, and as soon as somebody spots us, pull away and let them think we’re having second thoughts,” Avril said.
The AI informed Avril, “These instructions have not changed since you last issued them. Your pulse and blood pressure are both high. Perhaps you should take a sedative.”
“No, and don’t tell me when I’m repeating myself.”
“Understood,” the AI replied.
Ahead of them, the hover-truck rocked from side to side as it hit something in the road. Avril tensed for a collision that didn’t come.
“Get out from behind it as soon as we’re inside and you can plot a path,” Avril said, and this time the AI stayed silent.
“Let’s move some of those cars,” Avril said and watched the feed that showed vehicles coming online and pulling out of the blockade.
He glanced at the northern entrance and saw the same thing happening there.
Ahead, the truck stuttered as it struck a car outside the city wall. The car spun away and the hover-truck pulled away from Avril with a final burst of speed then smashed into the barricade. The sound of the collision was deafening in the assault vehicle’s cab, and Avril felt the vibrations of the impact.
As the truck forced its way through the entrance, it jerked left and shattered the glass front of the building that guarded that side of the entrance. Tiny shards of glass struck Avril’s car like hail. The AI kept the assault vehicle in the truck’s wake, and the vehicles the truck hit skidded and bounced past on either side.
“Break right,” Avril murmured, even though the AI already knew what to do.
The laser-cannons on the roof above Avril fired, and red light filled his visual field for an instant. First one car was blasted out of the way, then a second and a third. A fourth car spun aside and smashed through the windows of the building to the right.
The hover-truck continued toward Taral’s main street where it would collide with its counterpart coming the other way. Other vehicles were scattered in its trail, and a small yellow car was entangled at the back of the truck and bounced along on its side behind it.
Something streaked past the front of the truck, and a few seconds later, Avril saw one of the road-bikes swerve toward him. The small yellow car finally came free and rolled toward the rider and their bike.
The rider braked when they should have accelerated and the car rolled over them, leaving the bike smashed in the street and the rider down and unmoving.