The car drove through the night, and Avril sat at the driver’s console, examining every piece of information he could find on the AI. Including his, there were six profiles on the device, but nothing else.
The AI couldn’t even connect to a network.
Avril felt the same sense of recognition when he looked at each person, but he’d never heard the names paired with the profiles before. He repeated them over and over to himself. “Maxian Tralitson, Laurill fi’Simil, Gabe, Framan, Zin.”
They all looked about the same age as Avril. Gabe was probably the oldest, and he only looked a year or two older than the others. Avril guessed Zin was the youngest.
I don’t know any of these people. Why is somebody looking for us?
How do you know you don’t know them? Beads’s voice teased in his mind. How do you know your memories are your own?
Because they’re all I have, Avril answered the remembered question.
Before he realized what he was doing, he reached behind his head and touched the place behind his ear where Beads had a scar. There was nothing there, and Avril muttered, “Of course not.”
The AI came back around to Maxian’s profile. The dualist had made Avril nervous in person, and learning his name confirmed Avril was right to be nervous. He’d heard stories of the immortal dragon Tralit d’Arathan who’d fought against the dragon lords and the true gods in the Dragon Wars five hundred years ago, and who, in the centuries since then, had gone to war with more than one god’s chosen.
Maxian Tralitson. Son of Tralit d’Arathan.
Did he kill Beads? It seemed likely. Does he know why people are looking for us? Did he leave this AI for me to find?
In Taral, Maxian had asked Avril, You don’t know?
Avril realized Maxian knew more than Avril, but perhaps he didn’t know why any of it was happening either, and he’d been hoping Avril could tell him.
Avril tapped the AI and studied the next profile.
Framan was a gaunt young man with an intense expression.
Gabe wore a big smile on robust features, and Avril assumed he’d be fun to be around.
Avril lowered the AI and considered the fact that neither Framan or Gabe had a surname listed, but he didn’t know if that was because of a lack of information about them or because, like Zin, they just didn’t have surnames.
“What do I have in common with these people?” Avril flicked through the profiles again.
He wanted to wake Zin, but he stopped himself, knowing she must be exhausted to sleep so thoroughly for so long.
Avril rubbed his brow in frustration and thought, Do I even have anything in common with them or is some flesh-trader putting together a package for some weirdo, and we’re all just part of it?
He checked the dashboard to see how close they were to Edge and saw they were still forty klicks out. He tapped the AI against his knee and said, “Why can’t I remember where I know them from?”
Has Zin made me crazy with her claims of a connection? Am I seeing something where nothing exists because her fantasy is better than being alone? Avril wondered.
He didn’t think so, but he conceded it was possible.
Fuck. Anything is possible. His mind spun.
He dropped the AI on the dashboard and turned to the car’s AI. He typed commands into a terminal and examined the output.
Two vehicles were traveling along the road from Taral to Edge behind them. He cursed as he realized he hadn’t issued an explicit command to watch the roads and thought again he needed to swap out the existing AI.
“Go into stealth,” he said.
The windows went dark, and the road was displayed in night-vision. The road ahead and behind him was clear of abandoned and crashed vehicles.
“Send two drones up, one to check the road ahead, the other to get a visual on those cars. Tell me if those two get any closer.”
It was possible the cars behind them didn’t belong to the cadre he’d encountered in Taral, but after the day he’d had, Avril doubted it.
The drones clicked and whirred, and then they were gone. A second later, two separate display boxes appeared on the windscreen with feeds from their night-vision cameras.
The road ahead looked free of people, but five klicks ahead several smashed and abandoned vehicles were clustered together in a pileup that was partially off the road.
“Check that,” Avril said and pointed at the pileup on the display.
The feed from the lead drone zoomed in on the crashed cars. Avril tapped the windscreen to enlarge the feed and watched as the drone examined each vehicle in the pileup.
Something moved, and the drone’s mic picked up the sound of sheet metal flexing.
Avril’s breath caught.
Zin sat up next to him and squinted at the feed. She rubbed bleary eyes but didn’t say anything.
On the display, two orange lights reflected back at the drone. Avril leaned forward, and the shape of a dog resolved on the screen before it jumped from the car roof it stood on and ran down the road away from the drone.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Avril sat back in the chair and said, “Keep running, boy, you won’t find anything to eat out here.”
“I hope he’s okay,” Zin said.
“We can throw him some food when we pass him.”
The other feed flashed and zoomed in on the cars behind them. These were the assault vehicles that passed them the night before. The drone’s feed zoomed in on the lead car, and Avril saw a bondsan with scabbed over cuts on her face at the driver’s console.
Avril pointed at the pileup on the other feed and told the AI, “Tuck us in there, and go into fortify mode.”