growing since. Now it was a metropolisYinta Lakean accretion disk of people and buildings that collected around the gravitational pull of the lake.

In time, shipping had polluted the lakes water, the wealthy had mostly fled, and the city had begun a slow spiral into decrepitude. The once grand mansions on the shore of the lake had been sold off to developers and converted to cheap housing. The wealth belt had become slums and loading docks.

Zeerid had grown up in the slums, smelling the acrid, rotting odor of the lake every day of his childhood. He had provided better for his daughter, but not by much.

The deep, bass boom of a horn carried across the city, the call of one of the enormous flatbed cargo ships that moved goods and people across the lake and up and down the river that fed it. Zeerid smiled when he heard it. Hed awakened to that sound almost every day of his childhood.

He stepped into the tumult, feeling oddly at home and very much looking forward to seeing his daughter.

* * *

From the haircut, muscular build, and upright posture, Vrath made the pilot as former military. Vrath, too, was ex-military, having served in the Imperial infantry.

The man smiled as he walked and Vrath found that he liked the man immediately.

Too bad hed probably have to kill him.

Holding the nanodroid solution dispenser in a slack arm, Vrath knifed through the crowd toward the pilot. He cut in front of him, slowing him, just another body in the press, and squeezed a dollop of the suspension on the ground at their feet.

Vrath pasted on a fake grin and held up his other hand in a frantic wave to no one.

Rober! Rober, over here!

He hurried off as if to meet someone but watched the pilot sidelong throughout.

The pilot never even looked

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