The sound that had driven Avril off the street resolved into music consisting of explosive percussions and a throaty, choking roar as terrible as any noise the dragon above might make. Somebody hollered with manic joy, tires screeched, and metal ground against concrete.
Vultures, Avril thought and guessed they’d collided with a fixture and were attempting to extract themselves by running their motor as hard as it would go.
Two road-bikes eased past the end of the alley where Avril hid, but the vultures’ racket covered the sound of their passing.
Shit. Bondsan. What do they want? Avril thought, then added, Nothing good.
Somebody shouted something, and the music roared louder in response. Avril grimaced, expecting nothing less from the vultures, and crept forward to peek around the corner. He was only one street from his car, and if he saw a chance to reach it, he’d take it.
The bondsan, wearing bike helmets and leathers, dismounted from their bikes and walked toward two people and a vehicle further along the street. The vehicle was an armored dune buggy with oversized wheels and black and red designs painted onto the metalwork with a careless hand.
The buggy was snared by a metal fence that twisted out of shape as the buggy pulled against it. The rear wheels screeched, and smoke poured off them in thick gray clouds.
A black man with blue hair and exposed arms and shoulders stood in the buggy. He leaned on the accelerator and wrestled with the steering wheel. A gray-haired woman, thin and dressed in the tattered remains of a silver evening gown with a sword strapped across her back and a blaster belted to her left hip, stood in the street on the other side of the fence shouting encouragement at her companion. Her skin was covered in gray powder shot through with streaks of yellow and blue.
The bondsan both had their backs to Avril, but he saw they wore blasters on their hips. They raised the visors of their helmets at the same time, and from Avril’s position, they looked like reflections of the same person. One of them shouted at the vultures.
On the other side of the fence, the woman wearing the evening gown glanced at the bondsan, her wide eyes manic. She turned back to her companion and screeched, “Here’s two for you!”
The blue-haired man laughed and continued his struggle with the machine beneath him.
The bondsan drew and armed their weapons as they advanced, but neither of the vultures seemed to care.
Avril admitted there was something compelling and final about the wild abandon that animated the vultures’ actions, and he wondered, Is madness the wrong path in a world gone mad?
He retreated into the alley and returned to the doorway where he’d hidden. He tried the handle, but it wouldn’t open. A grimy metal panel mounted on the doorframe revealed the mechanism for opening it. Avril laid his hand on the scanner. It clicked, but a red light denied him entry.
He closed his eyes to visualize the electrical network behind the panel.
Everybody had a talent, and this was his.
In his mind’s eye, he saw a tangle of shimmering golden lines that gathered at the ends in two clusters. A single line, spiderweb thin, followed an uneven path away from the door, and other networks cast light against the darkness of his mind. Avril focused on the light that represented the electrical networks in the scanner and the locking mechanism. He found what he needed and mentally pushed. The cluster he focused on maintained its shape for an instant then dispersed like pollen on a gentle breeze.
Something clicked, and Avril opened his eyes.
He pushed the door open and sneaked inside.
The room he entered had large windows along one side with a view of the street, a bar ran along the back wall, and a powered-down tomyton stood behind the bar. Chairs and tables dotted the space between the windows and the bar. Sensing Avril’s presence, twin glass orbs intended to convey eyes lit up in the tomyton’s plastic, humanoid head.
“Silence,” Avril whispered before the automaton requested his order.
The glow of the twin orbs faded as the tomyton put itself back into standby mode to wait, perhaps forever, for its next customer.
Avril crouched to stay out of sight through the large windows, he closed the door behind him and crept across the room looking for another exit to get to his car.
The tables and chairs were arranged in neat circles around the room, the shelves behind the bar held a handful of bottles, and Avril guessed there’d been more, but they’d been taken in the years since the Cleansing.
As he crossed the room, he watched the people on the street. The dune buggy’s wheels still generated thick clouds of smoke. The bondsan raised their voices, and the music rose, covering the words, but the bondsan’s anger was unmistakable.
The vultures ignored them with continued abandon, and the male vulture pumped a fist in the air and howled as the dune buggy, still held by the stubborn metal fence, slid left.
Avril wondered how long the motor would continue before it gave out.
A door marked exit came into view when he was halfway across the room, and from its position, Avril guessed it would be a short sprint to his car. He looked through the windows again and thought he could make it unseen, but it would only take one of the people outside to notice him and call attention to him.
One of the bondsan shouted something.
They’re not just rattling cages, Avril thought. They want something or they would have fired shots or left by now. What are they doing here?
Getting closer to the floor, Avril crept toward an open window to hear whatever the bondsan said next.