The female bondsan straightened over Avril and pointed at the device restraining him. “Do you understand what this is?”
“Are you sure?” she asked.
Avril nodded again and asked, “Where are you taking me?”
Still pointing at the device, she said, “Explain it.”
Avril waited a few seconds. He didn’t want to get hit or shocked again, but he understood the bondsan was reasserting her control.
“I can’t be sure unless you say it,” she said, leaning toward him.
“It inhibits my ability to jam electrical signals by overloading the receptors in my arms,” Avril said.
“And if I turn it up?” she reached into a pocket and produced a handheld AI.
“I didn’t kill your friends. I—”
Avril almost bit his tongue as pain gripped his arms, shoulders, neck, and back. Electricity tore through him, and his body tensed so tight, he expected to hear his spine snap.
The pain dissipated, and Avril fell forward, panting and slick with sweat. Somehow he kept his arms clear of the ring and didn’t receive another shock.
“What did you say?” the bondsan asked.
Avril looked up at her, and his voice shook as he said, “I’m sorry I jammed that blaster on you, but you were chasing me, and I don’t know why.”
“You don’t need to know. We serve the lord of this land, and he wants you. As long as you are in Damar, you are subject to Damar’s laws.”
Avril thought that might have been true once, but even if it wasn’t, he’d witnessed a member of this cadre murder a vulture in Taral for saying as much.
The bondsan grunted and handed the device to her companion without looking away from Avril. “I’ve rigged the ring to shrink if there’s any interruption to its power supply, so if you try to blindly jam the device, you’ll be in constant pain, at least until you die. Understand?”
She turned and walked to the back of the assault vehicle.
Avril watched her leave and noticed a white scar that formed a line behind her left ear.
The same place as the scar Beads had, Avril thought and suspected if he wasn’t already queasy from the shocks, his horror at seeing the scar would have shown on his face.
When she’d left, Avril looked at the male bondsan, who now crouched in front of him, and wondered, Does he have the same scar? Does the entire cadre? Are these the people Beads saw being experimented on?
Avril recalled the name one of the bondsan had used in Taral and asked, “Are you Topher?”
“You don’t have much experience with cadres, do you?” the bondsan asked.
Avril didn’t answer.
“As individuals, we all have names, but we’re tight. Really tight. Not all cadres are like us, some are, but not many. The best ones are.” He grinned at the boast. “Our names are for other people’s benefit, we don’t identify with them. When we were younger, we often forgot them. I’m not the man or woman you locked in that truck and sent out of Taral, but I was there with them. I’m not the woman you exploded a blaster on, but I felt it. You didn’t do either of those things to me, but I was there for both of them. I’m not the bondsan you shot in the head, but I felt their deaths.”
“That wasn’t me,” Avril said.
“Why should I believe you?”
Avril shook his head, knowing there was nothing he could say to convince this man of the truth, doubting he even cared about the truth. Avril’s body still trembled, and he had to force himself not to look at the AI the bondsan held. “So, it’s not just telepathy?”
“No,” the bondsan said.
Avril considered that. “I’ve seen you talk to each other.”
“An affectation for the benefit of the observer.”
“You shouldn’t have told me that. It ruins the effect,” Avril said. His arms were getting heavy, and he tried to reposition the restraints against the pole.
The bondsan shrugged. Unlike his companion, he seemed calm and at ease.
Avril asked, “So you’re all one person?”
The bondsan moved his head from side to side in a gesture somewhere between a nod and a shake. “We’re individuals, but we’re tightly linked, and the boundaries between us get blurry.”
Avril jutted his chin in the direction the female bondsan had left and asked, “You and her?”
The bondsan nodded.
“So either you’re schizophrenic, or you’re playing games with me. Does it usually work? Her scaring people to soften them up for you?”
The bondsan smiled affably. “Good for you, most people don’t figure that out. They understand it on an intellectual level, but until their experience catches up with their intellect, they just don’t get it. I guess, it’s just so…”
“Weird,” Avril finished for him.
The bondsan smiled on one side of his mouth and said, “My name is Thorn Chi’Mikkel Bondsan. Do you know what that means?”
Avril met his captor’s eyes. Chi’Mikkel meant the cadre was bound to Lord Mikkel Chi’Maiten Chosen, who was bound to the god Maiten. It also signified that Thorn was the first-sworn of his cadre, and the rest of the cadre was bound to Lord Mikkel through Thorn.
Avril said, “Yes, it means your life isn’t your own, and you hurt people in service to a malevolent god who has already tried to kill us all at least once and will probably try again.”
Thorn leaned back, his eyes narrowing on Avril.
Avril knew he was fucked. Some part of him had always known he’d come to a violent end. How could life in a world devastated by gods who threw temper tantrums that killed hundreds of millions of people end any other way?
He wanted more, and the man in front of him would take it from him.
Furious, Avril thought, Fuck it! Let’s be done.
Still holding the bondsan’s stare, he said, “It means you’re a fucking coward who tortures people brave enough to live free from your diseased god.”