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 "Our next item is a notorious human fugitive. Dr. Gregario Manstel is a senior exobiologist with over sixty years of professional experience. When he was forty-three, he ran afoul with the laws of the Sentinel Kingdom when he illegally created an abomination that went out of his control and broke out of the constraints of his lab, killing two fellow senior exobiologists along with numerous junior exobiologists and interns."

The auctioneer calmly described the public history of Dr. Manstel, giving those who weren't familiar yet with the exobiologist a good overview of his worth.

"Dr. Manstel has been drifting in the Nyxian Gap as an independent service provider. To adapt to his new life, he has acquired several new specialties. The most prominent of them is the ability to transplant alien or artificially-cultivated organs into human bodies. Owing to his orthodox education and formidable research gains during his legitimate career, his transplants attempts enjoy a 93 percent success rate, though this is partially due to his refusal to perform high-risk transplantation procedures."

The crowd rippled as they heard this. Ninety-three percent! While there were plenty of biotech scientists who could top this success rate, they were all eminent senior figures who did not make themselves available so easily!

Ves got the sense that it was mostly the gangs, pirates and dark mercenaries among the bidders who eyed the services of this exobiologist.

To most people, the best way to augment your capabilities was to alter their baseline human bodies! The rich and powerful did it all the time, so how could the pirates be left behind?

Of course, getting ahold of a senior exobiologist like Dr. Manstel who was capable of performing transplants safely was very rare in a place like the Nyxian Gap.

Plenty of fugitive biotech scientists who ran afoul with the law fled to lawless space, but most of them consisted of young idiots who screwed up on the job or got caught tampering with their work. Just like the mech design profession, the biotech professions were heavily skewed towards the upper end.

Someone as experienced and authoritative in his field as Dr. Manstel represented a genuine treasure, though getting him under someone's heel was another thing entirely.

"...after botching a transplant operation on the son of a pirate leader, Dr. Manstel has been taken into captivity as punishment. We have inspected him thoroughly and he has not been subject to any abuse, brainwashing or other invasive procedures. With all of the augmentations he has applied to his own body, his natural lifespan is enough for him to last for at least fifty more years, barring any unusual occurrences."

Ves eyed Dr. Manstel speculatively as the auctioneer finally began the bidding round. A flurry of sums immediately emerged.

"5 million firthals. 10 million firthals. 13 million firthals. 13.3 million firthals. 14.6 million firthals. 17 million firthals. 17.5 million firthals..."

Ves decided to join in the fun as well and inputted a sum of 18 million firthals into his bidding tool.

"...18.5 million firthals. 18.6 million firthals..."

Sadly, his bid had already been supplanted by the time the auctioneer called up the next sum.

Finlay, who was sitting next to him, noticed his moves.

"Do you require the services of an exobiologist?"

"Perhaps. It will be a challenge to bring him to heel. Dr. Manstel does not appear very docile."

"There are many solutions to make a stubborn slave honest, from good old-fashioned torture to more sophisticated brainwashing methods. The Circle of Mota offers a variety of brainwashing options to turn a slave into a pliable servant."

"How many slave buyers make use of those services?"

"At least a third of them do so. The methods employed by the Circle are some of the best. However, a fair number of buyers already have their own brainwashing operations or work with trusted people who do the brainwashing on their behalf."

Ves did not possess any means to brainwash any slaves, but Finlay reminded him that he didn't necessarily have to rely on himself. Did he possess any allies, friends or partners who could brainwash a slave in his stead?

One possible candidate emerged. If he could trust anyone to act in his interest and refrain from inserting any hidden traps and backdoors into the neural programming, then approaching Calabast was his best bet.

Even if she hadn't set up a brainwashing operation for the moment, with her resourcefulness she could probably erect one within a year.

Ves inputted another bid into the bidding tool.

"20 million firthals! 20.1 million firthals..."

Damnit. The value of Dr. Manstel turned him into a very desirable good, especially to pirates who didn't have easy access to advanced biomedical and biotech services in civilized space.

The value of Dr. Manstel did not only lay in his high proficiency in transplanting complex organs. He was also very skilled in identifying, caring, and identifying the properties of a variety of exobeasts.

That sounded useful to Ves as he contemplated setting up his own biotech company in order to manage his private exobeast reserve. Someone like Dr. Manstel, if brainwashed and set up with a completely new identity, could serve as an unquestionably loyal director and head researcher for the new company.

Nonetheless, the bids for Dr. Manstel quickly surpassed the ceiling set by Ves.

"30.6 million firthals by Number 324. 31 million firthals by Number 68. 32 million firthals by Number 324!..."

Only two bidders remained who still competed over Dr. Manstel. While the man was unquestionably valuable, many of the guests could easily obtain someone comparable with this much money on the table.

"You've stopped bidding." Finlay commented. "If you really need your own senior exobiologist, I could bid for you if you want."

"No thanks." Ves stoically replied. "I do not wish to owe you this much for a single slave."

Senior exobiologists of Dr. Manstel's caliber were very hard to come by. Most already worked exclusively for other employers.

Even so, Ves preferred to reserve his limited capital for more worthwhile gains. The two spiritually-reactive items hadn't even come up for auction yet. With the average price levels bandied about so far, Ves was afraid he would need every firthal he converted beforehand.

"36.3 firthals. Going once... going twice... sold to Number 324!"

A muted applause arose to congratulate Number 324 for acquiring his new slave. Dr. Manstel, who witnessed himself being sold like a prized exobeast on the auction block, pressed against the transparent barrier and screamed with rage!

Sadly, the cage that enveloped the slave completely blocked off every noise. No one paid attention to the useless flailings of a mere slave.

One cage made way for another. This time, a sophisticated-looking woman in her forties emerged. The woman wore a brilliant gold-white dress which accentuated her bust and contours while hinting at more. Her hair been styled in a majestic golden crown that enhanced her arrogant bearing.

Surprisingly, a noble was being auctioned!

"Lady Maie of House Noz of the Sentinel Kingdom here has made a dire mistake in her life. She fell in love with an agent dispatched by a rival house and subsequently caused untold damage due to the secrets she leaked. Suffice to say, House Noz has put a bounty on her head."

The subsequent details recited by the auctioneer made it clear that Lady Maie had behaved exceptionally poorly. Not only did she leak the secrets of her own House, a subsequent investigation revealed that she had also been embezzling a significant portion of House Noz's income from its business interests.

If that wasn't bad enough, Lady Maie also proved to be a decadent woman! She ordered her men to kidnap any commoner she encountered she found 'delectable'! Though she only targeted commoners, the Sentinel Kingdom never tolerated egregious abuses against its citizens, as such behavior was no different from that of a pirate!

Due to all of these reasons, Lady Maie elicited no sympathy at all from the crowd of nobles.

"A shame." Finlay sighed inside his helmet. "Lady Maie has shamed House Noz as well as the Sentinel Kingdom with her disgraceful behavior."

The bidding for Lady Maie started as soon as the auctioneer finished his tale.

"20 million firthals. 50 million firthals. 100 million firthals! 120 million firthals. 150 million firthals. 200 million firthals! 210 million firthals. 215 million firthals. 240 million firthals. 244 million firthals. 300 million firthals by Number 7023! 320 million firthals..."

The sums being bandied about for this slave far surpassed the previous offerings! Bids offering the equivalent of more than 10 billion bright credits quickly arose, but the bidding round still heated up!

"Is Lady Maie this valuable?" Ves questioned.

Finlay chuckled. "I think you have the wrong idea, Rho-Sigma. Unlike what you might think, only a portion of the bidders consist of depraved pirates who want to turn Lady Maie into their trophy. Most of the bidders actually consist of nobles who desire her secrets or wish to use her as a bargaining chip. You can earn a lot of political capital and other rewards if you hand her over to House Noz."

"A representative of House Noz must undoubtedly be among the bidders." Ves noted.

"Undoubtedly. They don't want Lady Maie to divulge even more secrets. You'd be surprised how much a noble knows. House Noz entrusted Lady Maie to lead some of their critical business ventures, so she can offer every owner a detailed picture of their internal finances."

Such intel was incomparably precious in the right hands. Eventually, after a furious round of bidding, Lady Maie had been sold at the ludicrous price of 1.3 billion firthals!

That was around 31 billion bright credits!

Ves resisted the urge to scratch his head, not that it would be of any use since he wore his thick, enclosed shadow attire.

Was this how much a typical adult noble was worth in the Sentinel Kingdom?

What kind of price would someone like Ves fetch if he appeared on the auction block?

No one would ever be able to assess his true value, but his current accomplishment should merit at least 500 billion bright credits. As a Journeyman with a long life ahead of him, he could easily earn back this immense sum for his masters within a decade!

Ves mentally shook his head. What was he thinking?! Why did he suddenly appraise himself like a slave? He was an honored mech designer!

"Now, for our third slave for the day, we have a special individual..."

More slaves emerged. Ves looked on with fascination as various distinguished and valuable people were being bid upon as if they were not even humans.

The Circle of Mota kept parading experts with valuable skills, exiles from far-flung star sectors and defeated pirate leaders. Each time they put forward a remarkable slave, the bidding war that ensued became intense.

The sight of it disillusioned Ves to the practice of buying and selling slaves.

It was too.. inhuman.

He almost snapped when a Journeyman Mech Designers went up for auction. Just like many of the other cases, the man had screwed up and ran afoul of the MTA. A mech designer like him had no future in civilized space.

Ves did not pay attention to the mech designer. He did not learn the person's name nor did he bid any sum of firthals.

It was one thing to enslave an exobiologist. It was another thing to enslave a mech designer.

Even though Ves could figure out many uses for a competent Journeyman Mech Designer, he refused to taint his hands by purchasing an enslaved mech designer.

Finlay had no such compulsions. He eagerly placed several bids until the sums surpassed 100 billion firthals.

While a Journeyman was a lot more valuable than that, it remained to be seen whether the new owners could actually extract that much value out of their new slave!

For the Circle of Mota to be able to involve so many people in the act of purchasing and selling slaves, their existence exerted a corrupting influence towards the Sentinel Kingdom.

Ves harbored an increasing amount of misgivings towards this mysterious organization. Did their goals solely lay in facilitating trade between the Sentinel Kingdom and the Nyxian Gap?

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