“You were dead,” Avril blurted at the bondsan before she’d even finished her long gasp for breath.
The bondsan exhaled, but she showed no awareness of Avril or his companions.
Avril’s eyes darted to Laurill then Gabe. The former was as wide-eyed and surprised as Avril, the latter just watched them.
“She was dead,” Avril insisted.
Gabe strolled to the back of the assault vehicle and stopped behind the bondsan. “She was, but they don’t stay dead.”
“Immortal?” Avril asked.
“No. They die, but they come back.”
“That’s impossible,” Laurill said.
“Immortality should be impossible. Anyway, tell her that,” Gabe said and nudged the bondsan in the back of the head with a gloved fist.
The bondsan rocked forward, her eyes fixed on her booted feet in front of her, but she didn’t react to his touch.
“Impossible,” Laurill said.
Gabe asked, “Is it? Everybody has talents that let them do things nobody can explain.”
“Talents can be explained,” Laurill said.
“Not all of them,” Gabe shot back.
Laurill conceded the point. “How is she not dead?”
“The implants,” Avril said.
“For real,” Gabe said.
“That’s not possible,” Laurill said.
Gabe kneeled behind the bondsan who continued to draw in one long breath after another. “We’re descended from people who flew in a tin box through space from Earth. Immortals walk among us, fire-breathing dragons defy physics to fly above us, and gods play with us like we’re toys. Nothing is impossible.”
“How then?” Laurill demanded.
“Who knows? Honestly, who cares? I want to know why they’re after us and how to stop them. The technical details of their resurrections might be an interesting puzzle to ponder over cocktails when we’re done, but for now, let’s focus on stopping them.”
“How?” Avril asked.
“The implant brings them back. I’ve killed them before, but they get back up, heal, and keep coming. I’ve connected to this one’s implant, and I’m trying to figure out how to shut it down. Maybe if they’re all connected, I can shut them all down.”
They were all silent for a moment, then Avril said, “Beads, the guy who grabbed me, said he’d seen cloning and memory transplant experiments. Is this that?”
Gabe met Avril’s eyes, and Avril thought he saw irritation in the other man’s expression, but it passed, and Gabe said, “It fits.”
“That’s impossible,” Laurill said, but when both Avril and Gabe looked at her, she said, “It’s not cloning if it’s the same body, it’s not a memory transplant for the same reason.” She stopped, and Avril thought perhaps she’d seen a gap in her hypothesis. “Unless the device clones the damaged tissue and revives them, and the memory transplant is a backup system because the cloning process can’t restore… Fine. That’s probably not it. It should be impossible. Can you stop them?”
Gabe opened his mouth to speak, but the bondsan spoke first.
“No!” She drew in another ragged breath. The left side of her face was covered in dried blood, and the hole above her left eye where Gabe had shot her looked crusted over. Her eyes no longer looked unfocused, and she glared at Avril. “You can’t stop us. We stop you.”
A chill passed over Avril, and it wasn’t just the contents of the bondsan’s words that caused it.
“Why are you chasing us?” Gabe asked.
“Lord Mikkel Chi’Maiten Chosen ordered us to find you and take you to him,” she said, looking over her shoulder at Gabe.
Gabe tapped his AI, and the bondsan winced violently.
“Eyes front,” Gabe said.
When she didn’t comply, he tapped the AI again. Her wince became a grimace, and after a brief pause, she turned away from him. He tapped the screen again, and she unclenched her jaw.
Avril and Laurill exchange a look, and Avril saw his discomfort mirrored in Laurill’s eyes.
“Do you always do as Lord Mikkel Chi’Maiten Chosen orders?” Gabe asked.
“We are bondsan,” the woman said.
“Why does he want us?” Laurill asked.
“We execute Lord Mikkel’s will. Lord Mikkel is bound to Maiten. We know he wants you, that’s enough.”
“So you’re his puppets?” Laurill asked.
Avril didn’t think Gabe or the bondsan would have heard it, but he detected a note of uncertainty in Laurill’s tone, and he felt admiration for the way she pushed through.
“We have purpose,” the bondsan countered.
“Good for you,” Laurill said. “Pass me her AI, Gabe.”
“Your lives are meaningless,” the bondsan insisted.
“Not to us,” Laurill responded dismissively. “Gabe, does she have an AI?”
Gabe looked up from his device. He patted the bondsan down, took a device from one of her pockets, and held it up to Laurill. Laurill stepped forward, hand out to accept it, but she tripped and overreached then caught herself against Gabe’s arm.
He tried to pull away from her, but she held him tight for an instant, then released him and said, “Sorry.”
Gabe withdrew as far as he could in his kneeling position and held out the bondsan’s AI.
Laurill accepted the device and took it to the car’s cab.
Gabe watched her, but he said nothing.
“You are pathetic children,” the bondsan said. “We’ll have you again soon, and you won’t get away next time.”
Gabe retrieved the electrical tape and covered the bondsan’s mouth, then went back to his device.
The bondsan stared at Avril, and he returned her scrutiny.
“Avril, we need to talk,” Laurill called from the passenger seat.
“Quick, the boss is calling,” Gabe said with a smile that suggested he thought Avril would appreciate the joke.
Avril didn’t respond and joined Laurill in the cab.
When he sat down, Laurill said, “Privately. Let’s not let the enemy in on our plans.”
Avril glanced back at Gabe, who worked behind the bondsan, and Zin, who was still unconscious on the couch.
Gabe shrugged and said, “It’s easier to work when it’s quiet.”
Avril tapped a control on the dashboard, and a blast-shield descended from the roof separating the cab from the living quarters.