Ash arrives in a foreign country to begin an exciting, high-stakes job. He’s young and inexperienced, but his new employer sought out and recruited him because of one important qualification—Ash is suicidal.
He’ll be inside an armed robotic vehicle that’s supposed to be unmanned and autonomous. Ash will ride until the artificial intelligence reaches its limits, and then because his boss oversold the robots’ abilities, he’ll be given control to drive and fire the weapons.
It’s meant to be Ash’s last suicide attempt, but he just isn’t any good at dying. He survives the first mission.
One other driver also makes it back, a girl named Zephyr. As Ash gets to know her, his perspective changes. There were so many reasons to die, but one reason to live might overrule them all.
Unfortunately, their employer won’t let either of them quit. They know too much. He’d rather see them die than lose a contract. And inside each vehicle is a self-destruct to destroy all evidence of the human drivers if anything goes wrong.
One reason to live is all Ash needs. Actually escaping is a lot more complicated.
And the first page (or so):
I don’t exist anymore. Not as a real person, anyway. I’m more like cargo. Expensive cargo, with my own guard and a corporate jet. The steps down to the tarmac are steep but sturdy. The sky arches overhead, splashed with clouds. A city squats nearby, skyscrapers reaching. And the air smells foreign.
I’m not a prisoner, exactly. I’m an employee. My first day on the job has been everything they promised—exciting, new, well-paying. My last day on the job is less than a week away, though they’re not certain exactly when. That’s too bad, because I’d really like to know when I’m going to die. Mostly, I just want to get through the days until then.
My guard hands a passport to another man who must be airport security.
“Ash Palmer,” he mutters, glancing up at me. I guess it’s my passport. This ain’t normal airport security. There’s no metal detector, no customs, not even a desk. Just the one guy who writes something in a book and doesn’t bother stamping passports.
There were three others like me on the plane, each with his—or her—own guard. Mine looks like Yul Brynner: bald, sharp jaw line, intense manner. He collects the passports of the two recruits who went through security first, drops them into a small vinyl pouch with mine, and waits for the girl behind me.
She’s the only girl. The guards, security guy, and the other recruits are all men. I suppose that applies to me as well, though I’m still more comfortable with “boy.” And she looks about my age—college dropout age. Old enough to die for her country, but too young to be taken seriously.
She doesn’t look suicidal.
“Zephyr Petralia,” the security guy says.