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 The auction finally commenced. The occupants of the private box paused their negotiations, knowing that it would likely be moot as long as Ves did not bid beyond his budget.

As befitting the secretive occasion, the auction began without any fanfare. The lights remained dark and everyone turned off their suit lights. While many sensors would still be able to capture everything regardless of the light level, the shadowy interior helped set the appropriate mood.

This would not be a boisterous auction where personalities dominated the occasion. The Circle of Mota's only concern was to organize an uneventful auction where money, goods and services flowed as smoothly as possible.

An old man in dark robes shuffled onto the large auction stage.

"Welcome, honored guests, to our latest auction. Let me quickly reiterate the rules before we commence. First, to bid on an item, you must input your bid on the device that will appear before you. No other form of bidding, whether verbal, non-verbal or other means will be permitted."

A gap opened up from the ceiling of the private box. Bidding tools hovered down in the hands of every occupant, including Nitaa and the bodyguards.

"Second, secrecy is paramount. Unless both the prior owner and the bidder agree to reveal their identities to each other in a private chamber, no attempts must be made to pry each other's names. Anyone who reveals their identities here for any reasons will immediately be removed from this site. To facilitate everyone's privacy, bidders will be referred to by the numbers corresponding to your bidding tools."

The Circle of Mota sounded quite serious about this, which Ves appreciated. Auctions where lots of firthals and controversial goods shifted back and forth could be quite dangerous if someone's identity got exposed.

"Third, no one will speak unless prompted or allowed to by us. There are no exceptions to this rule. Any disturbance will immediately be dealt with. The auction will only proceed smoothly if order is maintained. This is not your kingdom or fief, so do not cross our boundaries."

The exasperating tone adopted by the old man made Ves suspect that there had been plenty of people who broke this rule in the past. That it needed to be reiterated like this meant that there were probably some very impulsive people among the crowd.

"Fourth, the goods and services that are put on auction have been verified to the best of our abilities. Nonetheless, we do not guarantee their soundness. Caveat emptor applies. The most we can do if the item has been genuinely misrepresented is to take everyone involved into custody and resolve the dispute through arbitration. By taking part in this auction, you implicitly consent to these terms."

Why did this sound like one of those scummy terms of use agreements used by some of the shadier services?

"Fifth, some items put up for auction can only be paid through the exchange of certain goods and services rather than firthals. Any bids we receive will be announced in the open to give other bidders the chance to adjust their own bids. However, the winning bid will solely be decided by the prior owners. We will facilitate the exchange after this auction ends. The other rules apply as well. If you have issued a bid that you cannot fulfill, you will regret it very dearly."

Something like this probably happened a lot as well. How stupid could people be? Plenty, it seemed.

"Now that we have that out of the way, let us begin with the first item."

Ves became curious at what kind of items the Circle put on auction at these kinds of events. They had to be rare and precious to be worth the time for all of the distinguished guests to attend.

The first item hovered to the stage from a floating platform appearing from a gap in the floor. The object was as small as a fingertip, forcing all of the auction goers to study the giant projection that appeared above.

"Our first item is an ultracompact battery." The old man spoke calmly, completely unlike what a regular auctioneer should speak like. "Its standard dimensions are capable of fitting into any standard devices such as shield generators, stealth detectors, jammer busters and other gadgets that require a large amount of power. Its charge, though non-replenishable, is good for resisting the full firepower of a rifleman mech for up to twenty seconds depending on the model of your shield generator."

A lot of people perked up at the offering of an ultracompact battery! A portion of the audience possessed shield generators, but they only lasted for so long until their batteries expended their charges.

Bringing a spare battery along might save them from a sticky situation by giving them double the protection!

Of course, Ves did not feel excited about the ultracompact battery at all, as he had the knowledge and the materials to cobble one up himself. In fact, he already planned to do so on the journey to the Hertog Dominion!

Nonetheless, Ves acted appropriately and straightened his back. He wanted to show Finlay and the Circle of Mota that he was impressed by the appearance of the batteries. It would have been weird if he did not do so considering their utility!

"Do you require an ultracompact battery?" Finlay offered, having bought Ves' act.

"They are useful." Ves carefully replied. "But I did not come here to procure one."

"The auctioneer highlighted some of the ultracompact battery's specifications before announcing the start of the bidding.

"Ten ultracompact batteries are made available here. Let us begin with the first of ten batteries. The starting price is 10 million firthals and the bids must come in increments of at least 1 million firthals."

A light and a small bell sound rang throughout the entire main hall as the first bid immediately arrived.

"10 million firthals." The old auctioneer calmly announced.

"11 million firthals."

"23 million firthals."

"25 million firthals."

"34 million firthals."

The bids frankly arrived faster than the auctioneer could keep up. Despite the initial rush of bids pouring in, the auctioneer did not panic and merely skipped over the intermediate bids to announce the highest one at the time he opened his mouth.

Even Ves inputted a bid worth 37 million firthals in his bidding tool before he left it. Since he could easily make a non-rechargeable ultracompact battery by himself, there was no way he would waste his precious firthals on the batteries on offer.

"138 million firthals by Number 4454. Going once. Going twice. Sold."

The auctioneer brought out a small gavel from his robe and struck the air. Despite not hitting any surfaces, a loud banging sound rang throughout the main hall, signifying the end of the bidding round!

No one knew the identity of Number 4454. Was he a pirate? A Sentinel? Did he sit on the ground floor, or was he sitting on the balcony? No one knew for sure, and that was exactly what the Circle of Mota wanted to see. The more secure people felt in their identities, the more willing they bid on the items.

"Let us begin with the second battery. 25 million firthals. 45 million firthals. 75 million firthals..."

Now that people gained a rough estimate of how much people were willing to bid, the auction of the second battery proceeded rapidly before concluding at a price of 142 million firthals, more than the previous one!

The subsequent batteries flew off the auction block in quick order, with prices ranging from 120 million firthals to 150 million firthals.

To Ves, the winning bids sounded somewhat high in relation to the specifications of the ultracompact batteries. However, the batteries possessed a higher capacity than the cruder ones he was capable of making himself, so the winners did not overpay by too much.

It seemed that the cartel for ultracompact batteries held the market firmly in their grip for them to arouse this level of competitiveness among the bidders. That made him feel better at the fact that he was capable of making them by himself.

The second item of the auction hovered in place of the demonstration battery. This object was much larger.

"The second item on offer today is a monument from the extinct Eonxe race. The Eonxe was a race of sentient aliens that ruled a large amount of territory in the Majestic Teal Star Sector. They are now extinct and no living member of their race has survived."

The monument was a worn-out stone and alloy statue of some kind of upright lizard-like alien race holding aloft a weapon. The craftsmanship of it was fairly exquisite to Ves' artistic senses. The Eonxe had a flair for exaggerated sculpting.

Nonetheless, it was just a statue or monument. It held no practical value and Ves did not even detect an inkling of a spiritual remnant inside the large object.

Nonetheless, its historical value alone interested a lot of bidders, because they immediately began to compete over the item with increasingly ludicrous-sounding sums!

"400,000 firthals. 1.2 million firthals. 4.6 million firthals. 16 million firthals. 16.7 million firthals. 40 million firthals! 40.6 million firthals."

An increasingly small but active amount of bidders offered up enough money to buy and outfit an entire mech company!

To Ves, to throw around this much money for a simple alien ornament sounded crazy!

However, he recognized that the people who competed over the statue desired it due to its rarity. The Eonxe, just like thousands of other sentient alien races in the galaxy, had been wiped out by the relentless expansion of humanity during the Age of Conquest.

Righteousness, peace and respect for sentient life did not apply during those times. Greedy human invasion forces kept encroaching and overpowering every alien civilization in their path.

Their stars became humanity's stars. Their planet's became humanity's planet. The human race demanded everything while the aliens were forced to fight to the death or flee with whatever remains they could carry.

Even then, a lot of human warfleets pursued the refugees and wiped them out in order to save themselves the trouble of a comeback. Sometimes, a handful of aliens got away, but by and large their once-prosperous civilization had come to an end.

In order to make their newly-conquered territories their own and deprive their former owners of any claim of what they once possessed, the human race also erased every trace of alien occupation.

The human conquerors fanatically wiped out all of the buildings, monuments, space stations and even entire planetary ecosystems molded by their previous alien owners.

A monument as beautiful as the one put on auction ought to be very rare. It would be a boon to the collection of distinguished persons. Ves could easily guess that the most enthusiastic bidders consisted almost entirely of nobles.

"76.7 million firthals. Going once. Going twice. Sold!"

Someone paid the equivalent of almost 2 billion bright credits for an alien relic with absolutely no practical use.

Nonetheless, Ves understood the benefit of owning such a rare alien ornament. Just like hunting trophies, these kinds of prizes increased the owner's prestige when used in the right way.

To some members of high society, spending 2 billion bright credits to gain an indeterminate amount of prestige was a worthwhile deal. They had too much of the former and not enough of the latter. Auction goods like the Eonxe monument were particularly good means of turning money into prestige.

The auction continued onwards as other goods started to show up. Items such as medicines, gadgets, weapons and other practical objects showed up consecutively, giving the poorer bidders an opportunity to compete over the cheaper items appearing on the auction block.

The bids rarely surpassed 10 million firthals, reflecting the relatively mundane value of the gear and equipment. While they still had their unique points that distinguished them from regular commodities, they were nothing worth getting excited over.

Once the auctioneer got rid of the garbage, he finally perked up a little as they presented a more remarkable item.

The next item emerged from the floor to reveal a transparent cage that contained a pissed-off human being.

A slave!

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