Chapter Twenty

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It was later, with an extra 3000 in his pockets, that Gaylen gazed about, much as Herdis had been doing. This was his second time, and again that fellow behind him averted his eyes.

Gaylen was being followed.

Keep calm.

He didn't change his pace and kept his body language as it had been; no more alert than general caution called for. The man was about twenty metres behind him. In a typical society his loud, yellow jacket might have caused him to stand out, but in this crazy thoroughfare of fringe cultures it did no such thing.

Gaylen didn't waste time wondering whether this led back to the mercs or to the Browns or some other issue entirely. He just went over the immediately relevant facts.

The man had to have already reported in to whoever he answered to. And there were only two options when it came to intentions here: Either the point was to follow him and find out where he was staying, or to strike at him the moment an opportunity presented itself.

The point was probably to take him alive, for the sake of getting that damned cylinder. But that would only be a stay of execution.

On he walked, past a recruitment station for a cheap private security outfit, and on past a basic repair outlet. Next came stairs leading up, and if they'd had a bend Gaylen might have taken the chance to try to shake the spy, but it was just a straight line up, in full view. The echoing din of Kvathanthan Square became audible, and a possibility formed in his mind.

The bulk of the traffic continued on to the left, but Gaylen cut to the right. He passed a few shoddily-erected box apartments before reaching the guard rail overlooking the square.

There, four floors down, was the Round Ground. Herdis and Ayna were of course long gone, and raising anyone on the comm came with a strong risk of being listened in on.

But there was plenty else to see down below, and across the divide. Such as a familiar type of brown jacket hurriedly moving back and out of sight, on the opposite second floor.


Gaylen's gaze travelled up and to the left, to the Black Box. It was a long-operating, notorious tavern, pressed right up against the edge of the balcony. Some rough-looking types were exiting by the back door in a fairly rushed manner, and Gaylen suspected he knew why.

He started walking again, moving alongside the rail. A glance at a reflective surface told him the yellow jacket was still behind him.

Gaylen kept his right hand through that bottomless coat pocket, on the pistol.

His immediate surroundings consisted of more cargo containers, used to house more cheap sleeping areas. Directly ahead, blocking his path, was one used as an equally cheap eatery. People were leaving, entering and passing the place by in similar numbers, giving him a decent crowd to slip into.

Cramped quarters made the local residents high strung and combative, and only bumping and getting bumped got him around the corner and walking right alongside the eatery. And there against the other end leaned a man in nondescript clothing. He kept his eyes forward, fixated on nothing in quite a deliberate fashion, and his body held expectant energy.

Gaylen was walking right towards him, trapped by the crowd he was walking alongside. He could not shift direction without being obvious about it.

He kept his own eyes fixated on nothing, his steps unhurried, remaining painfully aware of his exposed, unguarded back.

Five steps separated them. Then four. Then three. Then two.

The man on the corner moved. Gaylen lashed out and punched him in the neck. There was a dull thud and a choked gasp, before the man slid down clutching at his throat. Gaylen walked on by without changing his stride. The fallen man drew some mild interest from nearby people, but with no shouts and no one moving in a guilty fashion that was it.

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