“We should leave,” Gabe said as he turned his back on the body at his feet to face Avril and Laurill. When neither of them moved, he asked, “What are you waiting for?”
The dead bondsan’s blood was smeared on the ramp and floor.
“Not with that,” Laurill said, pointing at the body.
With most of his face covered by his goggles and the hood, Gabe swung his gaze between Laurill and Avril and said, “They haven’t been chasing you long, have they?”
“Since Taral,” Avril said.
“It doesn’t matter how long, we’re not collecting trophies,” Laurill said. “Get it out.”
Beneath the goggles, Gabe’s mouth quirked into a smile. “Drive. You’ll see why we’ve brought her and why it’s important.”
“Get it out,” Laurill insisted.
“Which way?” Avril asked.
Laurill turned to him with an accusation in her eyes, but she said, “North.”
“South,” Gabe said at the same time.
Laurill turned on Gabe, but before she could ask, he explained, “We need to get away from this cadre.”
Avril turned to the driver’s console and put a hand to his forehead, which still buzzed with the aftereffects of the anti-jamming device.
“Take us north. Scan for traffic,” Avril instructed the AI.
Drones disengaged from the roof, the loading door rose, and Avril explained, “The cadre chased me south. We have a friend north. We’ll find him, then swing west to Rhyne. Besides, there can’t be many members of the cadre left.”
“It’s your car, man. Do you mind me tagging along?” Gabe asked.
Avril stepped forward, hand outstretched. “Thanks for helping us.” He didn’t answer Gabe’s question, the habit of cautious living in the wastelands asserting itself.
Gabe nodded, but he ignored Avril’s outstretched hand and crouched over the body. He took a roll of thick electrical tape from a coat pocket and secured the body’s wrists and ankles.
Avril and Laurill exchanged a quick look. Laurill raised her eyebrows, and Avril responded with a nod.
He glanced at Zin, missing her erratic insights.
“That was you in Taral?” Avril asked Gabe.
Gabe nodded. “Yeah.”
“I’m good with distances,” Gabe said and tossed the roll of tape aside then stood. “I thought they’d get me there for real, but that dragon provided enough of a distraction for me to put some of them down.”
“They were looking for you in Taral? That’s why they were there?”
Gabe nodded. “I’d given them cause.”
“Why didn’t you introduce yourself then?” Avril asked.
“There was a lot going on, and you and the dragon both left in a hurry.”
That made sense to Avril.
Gabe gestured at the dead bondsan. “They’ve been chasing me for a while.”
“Enough of this,” Laurill said and stepped past Avril. “Why have you bound a corpse? Is this your thing? We’re grateful for your help, but that only goes so far.”
“My thing?” Gabe was tall and carried several weapons, Avril and Laurill were both unarmed, and Gabe stood between them and the weapons locker.
Avril noticed Laurill’s hesitation, but it was gone almost as soon as he detected it, and she took another step forward. “What the fuck are you doing with that body?”
Gabe rubbed his stubbled jaw. “You don’t know what you’re dealing with; do you?”
“You’re not my first weirdo,” Laurill said. “Some of them liked to hide too.”
Gabe tilted his head in a question, then his mouth formed a silent oh, and he pulled back his hood and removed the goggles. “They’re for protection.”
“Your skin is fair, but you should be okay in here,” Laurill snapped back.
“That’s not what—”
“I don’t care,” Laurill said.
Gabe folded his arms across his chest and said, “I’m good with distances. It’s what makes me such a good marksman, I have an awareness that supplements my sight, but only if I don’t touch people or… I have to be careful.”
Laurill held his gaze.
“I’m sorry if I offended you,” Gabe said and pushed a hand back through his hair in a show of uncertainty and said, “I get carried away. Adrenaline. But this isn’t a game. That cadre would still have you both if I hadn’t helped.”
“We were leaving when you showed up,” Laurill said.
“Right. Speaking of which, maybe I should leave. I thought we might help each other, the enemy of my enemy and all that, but—”
“No,” Avril interrupted. “You’re right. We should.”
Gabe’s stance remained defensive, but he asked, “What do you know?”
Avril said, “They’re looking for us and other people, but we don’t know why.” He found the AI with the profiles loaded onto it and held it out to Gabe.
The tall man thumbed through the profiles. He glanced at Laurill then Zin when he came to theirs, then stopped on Avril’s. “I saw this on a terminal last week. Mine too. There were others. Where did you get this?”
“You don’t know?” Avril asked and remembered Maxian, Zin, and Laurill all asking him similar questions.
Gabe shook his head.
“Somebody grabbed me on the road from Taral. They knocked me out, but when I woke up, they were dead, burned, and somebody had left that AI behind.”
“The dragon?” Gabe asked.
“No,” Laurill said.
Gabe’s gaze swung to her.
Laurill said, “Maxian killed that man, but he didn’t leave the AI.”
“You sound certain?”
“So who left it?” Gabe asked.
“We don’t know,” Avril said.
Gabe rubbed his jaw. “Somebody is helping you.”
“Yeah, but we don’t know who,” Avril said.
“Okay, that’s everything. What’s with the fucking body?” Laurill demanded.
Gabe raised his AI and tapped the screen without looking away from Avril or Laurill.
Behind him, the dead bondsan bound on the floor gasped and folded up into a sitting position.
Avril and Laurill both jumped back and swore at the same time. “Fuck!”