Avril pressed the button on the laser-scalpel to activate it, but nothing happened.
Laurill looked over her shoulder and whispered, “It’s childproof.”
“Of course.” Avril suppressed a grin and found the mechanism. He twisted the top and tried the button again. A thin thread of white-blue light appeared between the barrel of the device and the curved tip.
“Come up a little,” Avril instructed, and Laurill complied.
“Hold my left hand to keep me steady.”
Laurill murmured her agreement and hooked the fingers of one hand to the fingers of Avril’s left hand to anchor him.
“Hold still.” Avril leaned forward to see over the metal ring and around the pole that held him. If his jamming abilities weren’t hindered, he could have jammed the cuffs, and they would simply fall off.
He applied the scalpel to the short chain between the cuffs and expected the metal to resist the laser, but the chain link parted easily, and he had to pull back before he fell forward and either cut Laurill or got himself shocked.
“Done. Now to figure out how to disable this thing,” Avril whispered, looking at the device that held him. He’d studied similar contraptions to learn the best ways to beat them, but this one looked sophisticated.
Laurill took the scalpel from him and said, “I don’t think we’ll bother.”
“What? What do…”
Laurill turned the scalpel on Avril’s cuffs and cut through them. When the tension holding his wrists together snapped, Laurill smiled at him and said, “Don’t overthink it, handsome.”
Avril withdrew his arms through the metal ring. “Right.”
Laurill held the scalpel in her right hand to cut through the cuff on her left wrist, then swapped hands.
“Your turn.” Laurill held the scalpel out to him, but Avril was faint with relief, and a headache was building behind his eyes. As a child, he’d practiced with his jamming abilities until he could barely open his eyes for hours after, and he felt like he was about to experience that discomfort all over again.
He held out his wrists and asked, “Do you mind?”
“Sure.” Laurill reactivated the scalpel and set to work.
Avril watched the dancing electricity in the metal ring that had restrained him. He closed his eyes and visualized its electrical network. It was blurry, but he pushed against it anyway, and when he opened his eyes, the electricity was gone.
Laurill removed the restraint from his right wrist and started on the left.
Avril squeezed his eyes shut as a needle of pain lanced through his brain.
“Are you good?” Laurill asked.
“I will be,” Avril said. “As soon as we get away.”
Laurill placed the broken cuffs carefully on the floor to avoid making any noise, then crouched over Zin to remove her restraints.
When she finished, Avril whispered, “Can you wake her up?”
“Do you think she’ll be okay?”
Laurill shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“Can you shadow-walk with her?” Avril asked.
“No. How well do you know her?”
“We met two nights ago. I know her slightly better than I know you,” Avril said.
Laurill nodded, but she looked thoughtful.
Avril took a breath and discarded his caution. He whispered, “The connection is real.”
Laurill studied him and said, “I don’t feel it with her.”
“Touch her,” Avril said.
Laurill placed her hand on Zin’s shoulder and said, “Nothing.”
Avril put his hand next to Laurill’s. As expected, Zin’s skin felt warmer than it should, and the blood rushed beneath the skin of his hand. He offered Laurill a hand, and when they touched, he experienced the same sensation.
“I get it with both of you. Why the doubt?”
“Your AI has more profiles on it than the one I have. Zin isn’t on mine.”
“Right, but you said that just meant it had been updated more recently than yours.”
“Maybe, and of course I did, never let people see your suspicions. If I wanted to claim the bounty on us, I’d pose as one of us, and the easiest way to do that—”
“Would be by putting a false profile on the device,” Avril finished for her, but he added, “That’s not it. I feel the same connection with her as I do with you. I recognize every person on that device even though I’ve never seen them before.”
“Okay,” Laurill said. “I just…”
Something occurred to Avril, and he asked, “Do you feel this with Maxian?”
“No, you’re right,” Laurill said, and the doubt left her expression.
Avril glanced around the assault vehicle and asked, “What now? Do you think Zin is a shadow-walker too?”
“No. The lights were on when she arrived.” Laurill said, “Shit, that proves it. Somebody is learning about us and updating the profiles. That’s how they knew to set up the lights. If we can get another AI, we’ll see what else they’ve learned about us. Maybe even where to find the others.”
“Maybe,” Avril agreed.
Being careful not to make any noise, Laurill moved to the car’s cab. The windows were black, and the console and displays looked powered down. She said, “I can hack into this system, but if it’s been monitored, we won’t have long, and they can probably shut it down remotely anyway.”
“If there are shadows, how much space do you need to get outside for a look?” Avril asked.
“Not much. Can you take care of the lights?”
Avril had grown accustomed to the blinding light. He turned toward them and closed his eyes. His head still ached, but the lights were simple devices, and he quickly jammed them all except one.
Laurill said, “I’ll be right—”
Before she finished, the loading door into the assault vehicle fell open and slammed as it hit the ground. Four bondsan stood in a half-circle at the opening, weapons raised and aimed at Laurill and Avril.
Avril instinctively jammed all four weapons and the remaining spotlight and shouted, “Go!”