Avril blinked in confusion at the bondsan blocking his way into the truck. “My contractor’s license is on that terminal back there. If you let me, I’ll pull up the details.”
“How old are you?” the male bondsan asked.
“Twenty-six,” Avril lied.
“No way,” the female bondsan said, studying him.
Avril shrugged. “Yeah. I’m used to that. I’m told my youthful looks are a blessing, and I’ll be grateful for them when I’m older, but that just means I’ll be a baby-faced old man.”
“What’s it like working for Lancity Tech and the Lord of Lancity?” the male bondsan asked.
“My rates could be better,” Avril said, knowing they were looking for holes in his story.
“Do you ever get down to Lancity?” the man asked.
Avril shook his head.
“Never,” Avril said.
“It must be something, though, right? The only place other than the capitals that escaped the Cleansing. You must have heard the stories.”
“It sounds like too many people,” Avril said truthfully. “I leave my salvage at a collection station and get back to work. Everybody I know who visits Lancity ends up blowing their pay.”
“I hear the seafood is the best in Rasa,” the bondsan persisted.
“You prefer nutri-vials, huh? Do you ever get to eat real food?”
“I do all right,” Avril said.
“Right. Your ID is on that terminal?” The bondsan pointed toward a screen at the other end of the truck’s trailer.
“What’s the password?”
Avril frowned at the trick question. “There’s a scanner. It should recognize you and tell you everything you need to know.”
The bondsan walked toward the terminal. Avril tried to climb up to follow him, wanting them to think he was eager to be in the trailer with them, but the female bondsan snapped, “Stay there.”
She joined her cadre-mate.
Avril waited for them to pass the halfway mark to the back of the truck. He reached into a pocket for the handheld AI he’d linked to the truck’s AI. He’d have to improvise, but the trap was the same.
Maybe they’ll let me go. Matai did a good job on the ID, Avril thought, but he didn’t think it was worth risking his freedom on somebody else’s forgery.
The bondsan stepped past the crate that marked the spot, and Avril activated the internal locking mechanism with his AI. A blast-shield descended from the ceiling, trapping the two cadre-mates inside the trailer. Avril tapped a destination into the AI, and the truck rumbled to life, then pulled away from him toward the exit in the city wall.
“Shit!” He’d expected to catch vultures in his trap, not part of a cadre, and he realized he was making things worse if they caught him now.
Only by degrees, he told himself then pushed the AI into his pocket and ran back toward the alley where he’d hid his car.
The bondsan’s road-bikes and the vehicle that took Baram were gone, and he was about to turn off the main street when the dragon’s shadow passed over him again. The rumble of an engine announced a car entering the street behind him.
Avril looked back. An assault vehicle sped toward him. The Lord of Damar’s winged spear sigil was emblazoned on the hood of the vehicle. A bondsan sat at the driver’s console and another leaned out of a side door, hanging onto a handrail with one hand and aiming a blaster at Avril with the other.
Avril darted toward the side-street, and the bondsan fired the blaster. Avril stumbled, expecting the laser blast to rush through him indifferent to his physical matter, burning away flesh and bone in its wake. Instead, brickwork on the corner of the wall next to him exploded in a shower of sandy particles that filled the air and struck his face and neck with a hundred stinging impacts.
He stopped with his hands out to his side, signaling his compliance. The assault vehicle slowed its approach, and the bondsan who’d fired kept his blaster aimed at Avril. He wore a smirk that suggested he wouldn’t hesitate to put the next blast through the center of Avril’s head.
He was identical in every way that Avril could see, to the man Avril had just locked in the truck and sent out of Taral.
I should have trusted the ID, Avril thought, but he had a sense this cadre planned to scoop up everybody they found in their early twenties, regardless of why they were in Taral.
A shadow swept across the street, but Avril kept his hands where they were, and his gaze locked on the bondsan. The driver looked up and moved his head from side to side as he followed the predator above. He stopped the car across the street, and the bondsan hanging onto the side of the vehicle stepped down and sauntered toward Avril. Avril stayed where he was, determined not to provoke the bondsan into pulling the trigger.
He didn’t know if this was one of the bondsan he’d already seen, but he supposed it didn’t matter.
“Any more out of you, and I’ll put you down, got it?” the bondsan asked.
“Can you stop the truck that has Topher and Merle inside it?”
Avril nodded again. “It’s controlled by an AI. It’s in my pocket.”
“Don’t move, I’ll get it,” the bondsan said and continued to approach, blaster pointed at Avril.
Avril kept his hands wide. He knew he was fucked, and there was nothing he could do about it.
The shadow swept across the street again and then circled in place, and this time, Avril tried to look up without moving his head.
A black mass filled his vision. There was no blue tint to suggest the dragon was on the other side of the shield. It sped toward Avril, and he dropped onto his ass in the street.
Shit, it broke through.