When the bondsan didn’t move, and the echo of the gunshots faded, Avril recovered his composure and stepped forward.
Gunshots. Not lasers, he thought and realized he should have known it wasn’t the bondsan’s weapons firing.
Avril scanned the tops of the surrounding buildings, but the snipers who’d fired the shots weren’t visible. Each of the bondsan looked to have died from a single bullet wound, and Avril thought he’d heard four gunshots, but he couldn’t be sure.
The dualist surveyed the street and the bodies without a visible reaction, and when he turned his attention to Avril, he said, “Go south. Don’t come back.” He strode away, Avril expected him to shift into his dragon form, but he stopped and looked back at Avril one last time. The dualist gestured at the bodies and said, “Thank your friends for me. That was impressive shooting.”
He turned and transformed into the terrible black dragon before Avril could reply.
The dragon beat its wings and climbed toward the domed shield.
He thinks the snipers are with me. What have I stumbled into?
As the dragon approached the dome, Avril wondered how he’d pass through the shield, but the dragon dipped out of sight behind a building near the city wall, and when Avril saw it again, it was on the other side of the electromagnetic-shield heading north away from Taral.
Avril scanned the tops of the buildings again for signs of the shooters, but nobody showed themselves. He looked back at the wreckage of the cadre’s assault vehicle, the smashed up shopfront, and the bodies of the dead bondsan.
One of them twitched.
“Fuck!” Avril staggered back, then turned and ran for his car.
The remaining bondsan would be on their way, and he wanted to be long gone before they arrived.
Behind the main street, he ran to a door and passed through into a garage where his car was parked. It was a match for the assault vehicle the dragon had trashed. Twin laser-cannons ran the length of the roof and resembled a mythical beast at rest. He’d painted the armor plating green and gray and scuffed it up to disguise how advanced the vehicle was.
The onboard AI recognized him, and the driver’s side door popped open. Avril climbed the step up to the cab, and fumbling for the handheld AI in his pocket, he told the car’s AI, “Get us out of here.”
“What is our destination?” the car’s AI asked in a soft feminine voice.
Irritated at the delay, Avril looked up from the device in his hand and said, “South. Scan for people, and plot a course that avoids them.”
“Destination?” the AI asked.
“Edge,” Avril said the first city that occurred to him.
He used the handheld AI to access the vehicles he’d linked with when he found the hover-truck that now transported two bondsan away from Taral. One by one, vehicles around Taral came online and drove to the destinations Avril provided through the AI.
He hoped the remaining bondsan would be distracted by their dead cadre-mates, but if they wanted vengeance, the decoy vehicles should keep them occupied. After instructing the tenth vehicle to drive through the city and on to another destination, Avril thought, That’s enough. Four bondsan are down or dead, I trapped two of them and injured another one, and at least one more was hurt when the dragon flipped their car. They’re in no condition to come after me.
He knew there was still a chance they’d follow him, but that wouldn’t change if he sent out ten cars or another twenty.
His car passed through the exit in the city wall and sped south along the road toward Edge. There was a pileup of crashed and abandoned vehicles near the city entrance. Such pileups were common at city outskirts, and vultures often used them to ambush unwary travelers, but as he passed the abandoned cars, he didn’t see anybody, and nothing tried to interfere with his progress.
With the road ahead clear, Avril left the car’s cab and crossed the meager living space to watch Taral through the small window in the rear loading door.
The road was empty, the city looked peaceful, and the sky was clear of dragons.
Relieved he wasn’t being pursued, Avril let out a long sigh.
What the fuck just happened? he wondered as he paced back and forth in the narrow space between the galley and the living area.
I have to get out of Damar. The bondsan who survived saw my face, only my face, he thought.
It wouldn’t matter that the dragon attacked the cadre or that unknown shooters murdered the bondsan, Avril’s face was the only one they saw, and if they weren’t already, they’d come for him, and they’d be angry.
“What’s the quickest way out of Damar?” Avril asked the AI.
“From Edge, we can travel west into Rhyne along—”
“Do that,” Avril instructed without waiting for the AI to finish.
The AI tried to complete its answer, but Avril silenced it, irritated at its persistence.
He checked the road behind him again, but it was still empty of active vehicles. With nothing else to focus on, he made a mental note to replace the car’s AI the first chance he got. It was a new system he’d installed a few weeks earlier to replace a glitchy AI. The new one had integrated with the car’s systems, but integration with Avril was proving more difficult.
He’d grown up in a car similar to this one that also had an onboard AI, but that AI had decades of pattern analysis and tweaks from Avril and Ethan, the man who’d raised him, and it anticipated their needs and extrapolated their implied meanings.
Avril thought, The next time I see Ethan, I’ll clone that AI. He didn’t want to wait decades for this one to learn to anticipate him.
He stayed at the window and watched the road behind him as Taral shrank into the distance.