Ves barely paid attention to the remainder of the auction.
He only idly observed the remaining objects that went up for auction, but despite their value, none of them tickled his interest.

He got what he wanted.

His primary objectives, Item #613 and Item #1255, fell under his possession or would soon be after he finished a quick commission.

He also bagged a valuable sample of Synthra Umbra, which he could utilize in many helpful ways.

Visiting the Circle of Mota had been more than worth it.
The pathetic Peacekeeper branch on Cinach XII didn ’t offer nearly as much useful goods to him.
Ves never witnessed such a huge disparity between legal and illegal markets.

Certainly, Ves recognized the dangers of associating with the Circle of Mota.
Not only did he risk getting caught or worse, he also contributed to the strengthening of pirates.

To that, Ves had only one answer.

He didn ’t care.

Even if all of the firthals he spent or Finlay spent on his behalf went on to fund the deplorable activities of Nyxian scum, Ves had more important concerns to worry about.
In his quest to progress at fast as possible, he placed his own needs first and any other concerns second.

The auction items he obtained as well as the four additional P-stones he obtained at the regular marketplace expanded his options enormously!

What he witnessed today opened his eyes.
While the Nyxian Gap was still as dangerous as ever, the minerals and exotics excavated from this strange region of space boggled his mind.

Perhaps the most important observation he made was that the Nyxian Gap appeared to be a definite source of spiritually-reactive materials!

How many P-stones had been circulating in the Circle of Mota ’s marketplaces all these years? How many of them had gone to waste or pushed in a forgotten corner because no one recognized their true worth?

Just imagining how many P-stones he missed out frustrated him to no end!

Hopefully, Ves could remedy this situation in time, either through his own efforts or with the help of Calabast once he returned home.

For now, he still had a commission to complete.
As soon as the auction concluded with a furious bidding round for a vial of life-prolonging serum of all things, an auction hall representative personally visited their private box in order to arrange the handover of the goods they won.

”As usual, we are in the process of shipping your items to your designated warehouse, in accordance with your prior arrangements, Number 142. ” The representative smiled.
”As one of our honored VIPs, we ’ve prioritized your shipment, so the goods will immediately be available to you once you step outside our auction hall. ”

After a bit of chatting, the auction hall worker turned to Ves.

”As for you, Number 6969, since Item #613 is not that large, we can complete the handover now if you wish. ”

”Please. ”

”Very well. ”

The man gestured with his arm, causing a floating box that hovered behind him to float over to Ves.
After he keyed himself into the floating box ’s systems, he briefly opened it to confirm he bid on the right object.

A rocky, rose-gold, grapefruit-shaped object rested inside.
Ves carefully extended his gloved fingers towards the exotic, but refrained from making contact.

The close proximity was enough for him to confirm that he got the genuine article and not some fake that the Circle of Mota secretly swapped out.
In fact, now that he got close enough to sense Item #613 more thoroughly, he picked up strange new reactions that deviated from that of P-stones and F-stones.

He discovered a third category of spiritually-reactive exotics!

Excited beyond wild, he nevertheless expressed little of his glee due to his dampened spiritual mask.
Hesitant to give away any clues, Ves resisted the urge to study Item #613 further and quickly closed the box.

”I am satisfied. ”

Each of you may exit your private box at your leisure.
We offer several different exits to our honored guests. ”

”Let ’s go. ” Finlay said and stood up, his two bodyguards stepping forward as well.
”There is a Circle office nearby where we can draw up a contract under their auspices. ”

Ves walked alongside Finlay while Nitaa followed slightly behind.
By now, it was clear that she served as his bodyguard, so she did not make any pretenses of being anything more.

Because Finlay enjoyed a VIP identity, the group managed to avoid the dense crowd of auction goers exiting through the main entrance.
They stepped outside a side entrance and hovered down to the surface by riding a platform.

After that, the group moved to a large prefab structure frequented by a fair amount of visitors.
Since the Circle of Mota brought together people from many different backgrounds, a lot of dealmaking took place.

Since the laws of the Sentinel Kingdom didn ’t reach the Circle of Mota, the mysterious organization stepped in to fill the void.
With their reach, influence and stellar reputation for neutrality, even the most distrustful pirates approved of them.
The Circle served as a rare bastion of trust and fairness in the trade between Sentinel citizens and Nyxian pirates.

Of course, Ves still maintained his skepticism.
He found it extremely unlikely that the Circle had never bent its rules.
Still, the people visiting the contract office didn ’t appear to harbor any misgivings about making use of the Circle as a third-party witness, mediator and enforcer for their illicit deals.

That was a good sign.

Once Finlay relayed his request, a notary working for the Circle quickly ushered them into his office.

If not for the drab, prefab interior, Ves would have imagined that he was about to sign a legal business contract.
Hardly anything about the office screamed the fact that a lot of lurid deals had been signed here!

”I understand. ” The notary, who wore disturbingly plain business attire, quickly summoned up a projection and quickly loaded in a model contract.
”The short-term deal that you ’ve described is very convenient so long as it doesn ’t extend past the time our marketplace is shuttered.
Let us set the terms. ”

The model contract soon described the terms that Ves and Finlay agreed upon.
Though the contract only mentioned them by their pseudonyms, as long as both remained at the marketplace, both of them still had to abide by the terms.

”…in summary, the ’Rho-Sigma ’ agrees to modify the Spyre Helix design in the possession of ’Finlay ’ according to the list of requirements he has set.
A representative of the ’Night Zephyrs ’ will come and judge whether the modified design meets their approval.
In case of any issues or disagreements, any parties involved can request one of our arbitrators to step in and mediate the dispute.
Is that correct? ”

Both Ves and Finlay assented to the terms.
Neither Ves, Finlay or the representative of the dark mercenaries held an overwhelming amount of sway.

Ves had been careful to insist on the latter.
What if the envoy from the Night Zephyrs turned out to be a bastard who expected a Journeyman to upgrade the Spyre Helix design ’s basic performance parameters by twenty percent or something?

That was way too difficult and took far too much time for him to accomplish! Ves refused to leave himself open to such a sneaky trap.

Instead, Ves and Finlay agreed to a more generous set of requirements.
Ves did not have to strictly upgrade the Spyre Helix design.

Sidegrade was the more appropriate word.

As long as Ves managed to develop a variant of the doom crawler that seamlessly incorporated the three taboo weapon systems without any significant performance drops, the dark mercenaries had no choice but to accept!

Of course, Ves was still expected to make some specific improvements and optimizations.
While Finlay didn ’t reveal where his superiors intended to deploy the Spyre Helixes, he did reveal some basic environmental parameters.

”The site of the pirate fortification we intend to attack is placed on a rogue planet in the Nyxian Gap. ” Finlay carefully spoke as he transferred a series of virtual documents to Ves.
”The planet isn ’t very internally active, so its surface temperature is very cold.
There is no atmosphere or any gasses to speak of on the surface, but radiation exposure is a non-issue.
I ’m told the gravity is 0.53 g, so take that into account as well. ”

From what Ves gathered, keeping the Spyre Helix protected against the vacuum and resisting the cold that likely approached absolute zero would be his main challenges.

On the other hand, the level of gravity the modified Spyre Helixes would be subjected to was a very welcome point in his favor.
Pretty much every mech was designed to operate under standard gravity conditions.

At 0.53 g, the mechs effectively weighed only half as much, which meant that they expended far less energy to move, among other benefits!

Of course, since the Spyre Helix wasn ’t optimized to operate under such generous gravity conditions, Ves would have to make a lot of tweaks to maximize the gains.

”Do you wish the Spyre Helix design to be optimized to operate at 0.53 g at the expense of its performance in standard gravity? ” Ves asked Finlay as they stepped out of the office.
”I can make the doom crawlers considerably faster and more agile if they are freed from the constraints of maintaining their performance under different gravity conditions. ”

”..Please do not degrade the Spyre Helix ’s performance under standard gravity.
Try your best to make the doom crawlers operate well in both environments. ”

Ves pointedly turned towards Finlay, though the effect was partially lost due to their shadow attire.

”You told me that the Spyre Helixes will be broken down and recycled after they have been deployed for their intended use.
I don ’t need to remind you of the dangers of hanging on to mechs that openly make use of taboo weapon systems. ”

A tense moment passed between the two before Finlay finally responded.

”I merely conveyed some of my understanding of the situation to you.
Whether my superiors have any other intentions, I don ’t know.
Just in case, I want the modified Spyre Helixes to remain adaptable in case our plans have changed. ”

”That is not a good idea. ” Ves gravely responded.
”So long as you have those mechs laying around, the temptation to use them will always exist. ”

What if Finlay ’s faction decided to nuke a site in civilized space one day? What if they decided to rain down nuclear fury on a populated city deep within the Sentinel Kingdom?

Nuking pirates was one thing, but employing weapons of mass destruction against humans in civilized space was another thing! The Big Two would never stay idle if that happened! Enforcing the prohibition against taboo weapons was the one rule that they still enforced to a very active degree!

Once the MTA got involved and managed to capture one of the modified Spyre Helixes, then there was a possibility that they might be able to tie its design back to Ves!

Ves glowered under his helmet.
If he wanted to minimize his exposure, then he needed to expend a lot of effort in making sure that his work carried none of his fingerprints.

To Ves, that was hard, but still doable.

He wasn ’t pleased, though.
Finlay engaged in deliberate misdirection by withholding an important requirement until after they signed the contract.

Ves decided not to kick up a fuss.
Even though that would be playing along with Finlay ’s intention, he didn ’t want to complicate this already problematic business deal any further.

”I need a workshop and physical access to a Spyre Helix, Finlay. ”

”We have already made the arrangements.
While we cannot allow you to access all eighty doom crawlers since they are packed in containers, our men will bring one of them over to the workshop that we have reserved so you can study it under our supervision. ”

”I work better if I am not disturbed. ”

”I ’m sorry, Rho-Sigma, but we insist. ”


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