The weirdness of two identical faces regarding him interrupted Avril’s instinct for flight.
Behind the bondsan, Baram grinned with genuine pleasure and waved an enthusiastic hello.
Avril scrambled to his feet and collided with the table and chairs behind him in his desperation to get away from the bondsan. He landed on the heels of his hands but pushed himself back up and kept going.
Somebody shouted, “Stop!”
Avril ignored them and ran for the door, hoping to make it to his car before the bondsan caught him.
He threw himself against the exit to force it open, but it didn’t move. He tried the handle, but the door wouldn’t open. There was no scanner plate, and when he looked down, he saw a sturdy padlock secured the door.
Avril swore and ran back across the bar. The front door banged but held as one of the bondsan tried to kick it open. Avril glanced through the large windows and saw the second bondsan binding Baram’s wrists. His companion stepped back from the door, then ran at it and kicked it again. The door buckled in the middle. The bondsan stepped back, ready to try again. Avril reached the side door just as the front door burst open. He darted into the alley and slammed the door shut behind him, leaned against it, closed his eyes, triggered the locking mechanism, and then sprinted from the alley. Baram sat in the street, wrists gathered behind him, smiling up at the suns above him.
The second bondsan ran into the bar after his companion. Avril sprinted toward the city wall, where he’d pretended to salvage the laser-cannon. Perhaps if he made it to the hover-truck, he could hide inside until the bondsan left.
Behind him, the bondsan kicked the door to the alley. Avril looked back and hoped that door held longer than its counterpart and that the bondsan persisted with it rather than going back the way they came.
The bondsan’s road-bikes were where they’d parked them, and Avril hesitated for a second to consider taking one.
They’ll never stop chasing me if I do, he thought and continued sprinting to the wall.
The hover-truck was where he’d left it, a trap waiting to spring on Baram and his friends.
I shouldn’t have worried, Avril thought, but he couldn’t have known the vultures were out of their minds on pharmaceuticals.
A shape moved into his peripheral vision on his left, but he kept running, legs pumping and chest heaving, to the relative safety of the hover-truck. A winged shadow crossed the street in front of him, but he kept his eyes on the truck and hoped the dragon was still on the other side of the electromagnetic-shield. He risked a glance left and saw one of the cadre’s armored assault vehicles driving away from him along a side-street.
Avril stopped at the hover-truck and reached for the open door to pull himself up into the back of the truck. His legs burned from the exertion, and he gasped for breath.
He looked back.
Baram still sat with his wrists behind his back. The two bondsan appeared in the street and returned to their captive. Avril breathed easier, grateful that for whatever reason, the bondsan had decided he wasn’t worth the effort.
“Business in Taral?” a curt voice demanded.
“Shit!” Avril jumped back from the truck in shock.
Two bondsan, one male, the other female, watched him from the truck’s interior.
“What, you thought there were only two of us?” the female bondsan asked.
“No…” Avril pointed back in the direction he’d come. He wanted to say more, but he studied the female bondsan, then looked at her male companion. They had the same features, and it occurred to Avril it was like looking at male and female versions of the same person.
Twins, but more than twins, he thought.
“Why did you run?” the male bondsan asked.
“People were shooting. There are vultures in Taral. They’re dangerous,” Avril said. “Is everything under control? Can I get out of here?” He asked with a glance back down the street. He could still hear the vultures, and he wanted to present himself to these bondsan as somebody who avoided trouble and wasn’t very interesting.
He looked up, and in a panicked voice said, “And there’s a dragon. Taral isn’t safe. I need to get out of here.”
Another assault vehicle drove into the street. It stopped, and somebody helped Baram inside. The bondsan who’d chased Avril mounted their bikes and rode further into the city.
“You still haven’t answered my question,” the woman said.
Avril forced a confused frown and said, “I told you, they’re shooting each other back there. I don’t—”
She cut him off. “What’s your business in Taral?”
“Oh, sorry. Salvage,” Avril said.
“It’s illegal to salvage in Damar. Lancity Tech has the contract to clean out these cities. Without—”
The indifferent murder of the female vulture still shocked Avril, but he risked interrupting the bondsan, knowing if he were too meek, they’d load him into one of their cars, and his future would no longer be his own. “I work for Lancity Tech,” Avril lied and tapped the Lancity Tech logo on his t-shirt.
“You don’t look like a company man,” the male bondsan said.
“Independent contractor,” Avril said.
“What do you reckon?” the male bondsan asked his cadre-mate without breaking eye contact with Avril.
“Anybody can get a t-shirt and claim to be something they’re not,” she said.
“Unauthorized salvaging is bad, but impersonating an authorized salvager is worse.”
“Even if he isn’t who we’re looking for, that’s bad.”
“Should we take him in?”
“I have ID,” Avril said, and moved to climb into the back of the truck.
The male bondsan stepped into his path. He put one hand against Avril’s chest and placed the other on the blaster at his hip. “Hold it.”