Avril swore as the leather-clad, helmeted figures dismounted from their bikes and turned to survey the pileup.
They didn’t look in Avril’s direction, so he assumed they weren’t scanning the desert but focused on the pileup.
He whispered into the mic attached to his earpiece, “Are they trying to access your systems?”
“They are probing the network,” the car’s AI replied in Avril’s ear.
Avril’s connection to the car was being tight-cast and relayed between the car and Avril by a drone high above. Unless the bondsan stumbled through the direct lines between the car and the drone or the drone and Avril, they wouldn’t detect the signal.
With his trigger finger resting on the trigger guard, Avril kept an eye at the scope to watch the road and his car.
The two helmeted figures strolled toward the pileup.
“Can you intercept their signals?” Avril asked.
“Yes, but that will alert them to my presence,” the AI responded.
Avril grunted, pleased the AI was learning to anticipate and grateful it hadn’t blindly carried out his request.
The bondsan both held blasters, and one of them examined a handheld AI as they approached the pileup. Avril assumed he was scanning.
“See if you can activate a beacon in one of the adjacent vehicles. Make its signal weak, and give it a timestamp from the Cleansing,” Avril told the AI, hopeful the bondsan would move on if they found something to satisfy their curiosity.
“Done,” the AI replied.
Perhaps you’re not so dumb, Avril thought.
The bondsan stopped, and the helmets turned to face each other. Avril held his breath.
Did it work? Please leave, he thought.
If he needed to shoot, he’d only have a few seconds before the bondsan found cover. He was a good shot, but he doubted he’d take both of the bondsan before they reacted. Still, he was confident he’d get one of them.
But can I get the other before the rest of the cadre turns up? And can I evade them when they do?
He moved his weapon toward his car to judge the line of sight between the car’s laser-cannons and the bondsan. That might work, Avril thought and moved his weapon’s sight back to the bondsan.
They might leave, he thought and waited.
Avril resisted the urge to shift his weight on the rock beneath him, but he glanced up to check Zin was staying out of sight.
She wasn’t visible, and she’d stayed quiet since the bondsan had stopped. Avril decided not to say anything for fear of a response that might give their position away.
He looked back at the bondsan, and after a brief pause, the two leather-clad figures advanced on the pileup.
Shit, Avril thought and hoped the decoy beacon hadn’t done the opposite of his intention and provoked the bondsan’s interest.
Avril closed his eyes and reached out with his senses. Clusters of light appeared in his mind’s eye, but they were too far away to make out any details. He opened his eyes to confirm what he sensed.
The clusters corresponded with the bondsan’s blasters, the AI one of them held, a device in the other’s pocket, which was probably another AI, and their helmets.
Wait, Avril told himself and watched. There was still a chance they’d leave.
Avril whispered, “Are they still probing the network?”
The car’s AI didn’t respond.
“Confirm,” Avril said, but the AI either couldn’t hear him or couldn’t respond.
They didn’t need to detect a tight-cast signal to block it. They could flood the network with noise to make it unusable.
They know something isn’t right, Avril thought.
The bondsan were closer now, and Avril closed his eyes again. The electrical networks were clearer than before.
Avril isolated the networks in their blasters and disrupted the weapons silently so they wouldn’t fire and the bondsan wouldn’t know until they tried to use them. He considered the AI the bondsan held but left it. Its sudden failure wouldn’t go unnoticed. He examined the electrical signatures coming from the bondsan’s helmets, decided they belonged to heads up technology and comms gear, and he didn’t jam them for the same reason.
If they get any closer, I’ll jam everything they’ve got, Avril thought.
The cadre-mates split up to circle the pileup, Avril kept his sight on the bondsan who didn’t pass behind the wrecked vehicles. He entertained shooting this one and waiting for the other to emerge, but he reminded himself, the bondsan were connected and would know what happened to their cadre-mate.
Try for them together, if at all, Avril thought, still hopeful they’d leave without discovering him.
If they find the car, I’ll jam their gear and shoot, Avril decided.
The other bondsan emerged at the far end of the pileup. He also held an AI now, and the two cadre-mates converged at Avril’s car.
Knowing he couldn’t delay any longer, Avril closed his eyes and pushed against the electrical networks he sensed from their helmets and their AI, hoping that with their communication gear disrupted and cut off from their cadre, they’d leave.
Still with his eyes closed, Avril watched the golden clusters of light fade. He prepared himself to shoot if they didn’t head straight back to their bikes.
Two throats screamed in the night.
Avril’s eyes snapped open. Both bondsan were on their knees with their hands holding the sides of their helmets.
After a moment, they struggled to their feet and helped each other to their bikes.
Avril closed his eyes to see what was happening with the electrical networks.
The lights in his mind flickered as the networks in the helmets re-establish themselves.
Avril pushed again and heard two more screams.
He opened his eyes, his heart thudding in protest of the apparent violence he was committing, but he didn’t understand.
The bondsan staggered to their bikes and drove after their cadre.
In the dark, a voice asked, “How did you do that?”