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Four days later the first ships from Lute arrived. A flotilla carrying government and industry representatives along with several cargo holds full of merchandise popped into orbit.

As a gesture of goodwill, Lute gifted 5,000 kilos of fresh poshbird, their primary food export.

The dignitaries met with Governor Seldom and addressed lawmakers in a special session. LuteNet managed to pull in a full hologram of Governor Zhang, who addressed the politicians as equals and promised they would continue governing themselves in the upcoming alliance.

And so a name was born: the Planetary Alliance. The charter binding Lute and Halcyon was written in such a way that future planets could join in as well, either those already in a system of government or new ones not yet discovered. Planets in the Alliance were to remain self-governing democratic republics, but they would share a common AI and defense network.

If there were any disparities in the initial governing documents, it lay in defense. Halcyon had none, and would rely entirely on the private warships calling Lute home for their initial protection.

A small army of engineers and technicians arrived from Lute, too. With them, they had a spare AI core and several modern generators. They ported down to Winthrop intent on bringing the electrical system up to date and installing a permanent fixture for LuteNet on the planet’s surface.

The question of how the new planet would pay for all the equipment and services was easily solved when it was revealed Halcyon had enormous natural gold reserves. Her government, as well as businesses and individuals, could buy whatever they wanted several times over.

LuteNet made sure no price gouging occurred, but Lute merchants were allowed to earn hefty profits as goods and materiel began to be transported to Halcyon for the first time in three years.

For his part, Raleigh scrambled to develop a planetary defense system for Halcyon. He sold the Iguana to the government for 2.5 million credits, a price he felt was more than reasonable. Then for an extra half million he let Pak and Kim go about upgrading it to warship status.

They were able to salvage one of the cannons from the Vantage, the Hawk that Aquamarine took out at Thalia. This was transferred and mounted onto the Iguana. Kim and Pak were able to power it up and fired a couple target rounds into the Aquamarine’s hull, already in pitiful shape from her multiple engagements.

Next, Raleigh used a specialized salvage bot that came in with the flotilla. This six meter tall behemoth floated over to the destroyed halves of the League Eagles bumping around inside the Aquamarine, and began breaking them apart so it could enter what remained of their holds.

Over the next day, four solar torpedoes were recovered and rendered inoperable. StarCen could not activate their detonation controls so long as they remained inside the Aquamarine. The com links inside the torpedoes were stripped so that she never could. Then they were replaced with ones controlled by LuteNet.

The bot also examined and recorded every detail of the torpedoes, so that LuteNet could provide plans for the Alliance to build their own. Such was war, and the transfer of new technology and techniques.

Once LuteNet had control of the torpedoes, they were carried out of the Aquamarine’s cavernous shell and loaded into the Iguana’s hold. The Iguana thus became Halcyon’s first and so far only warship, with one gun and four torpedoes.

Raleigh quickly made arrangements to sell the remaining pieces of League warships to scrap dealers elsewhere in the Republic.

Finally, with everything complete, he was ready to return to Lute.

LuteNet alerted him as he stood on the bridge of the Mule before they departed.

“Captain, I am receiving a priority one communiqué from the Diego Fleet. Admiral Severs wishes to speak with you.”

Raleigh’s eyebrows raised. He looked at Maxwell who was the only other person on the bridge at the moment.

“Okay, put him through.”

Raleigh made an adjustment so Severs would appear on the bridge’s holo.

Severs appeared and said, “Captain, thank you for taking my call.”

“What can I do for you, Admiral?”

“I understand you and your crew are adept at smuggling people in and out of places you don’t belong. I’d like you to give a ride to someone. Two someones, actually.”

-+-

Krystal Lightfoot sat with Dergus Gibbons in the plush office of Bartelby’s Consignments, the premier auction house on Delta Diego.

They had detoured to Diego on the way home to Lute because they were relatively close by. In addition, Lightfoot enjoyed the shopping on Diego. Things were available here that she could not get back home on Lute.

The crew took shore leave, and everyone greatly enjoyed themselves on the primary Republican planet.

While here, she decided to auction off the expensive jewelry pieces they had taken from the safe deposit boxes on Thalia. She had LuteNet port them down to Bartleby’s so the auctioneers could appraise what she had.

A pleasant info holo played for them while they waited. They learned that Bartleby’s was named after a character created by the great American author Herman Melville in the 19th century.

It seemed an odd choice for naming an auction house, Lightfoot thought. She was familiar with the story. It focused on a clerk who performed progressively less work, always saying, “I would prefer not to.” He eventually was imprisoned and died of starvation, preferring not to eat.

But she shrugged the thoughts aside as Mr. Nippers, their host, reentered the room.

Krystal was familiar enough with the story to also remember that “Nippers” was one of the clerks in Bartleby’s office. Unlike the main character, he was one of the employees willing to work.

She decided Nippers the auctioneer had to be using a pseudonym. The odds otherwise were simply astronomical.

Mr. Nippers smiled politely, but with sadness in his eyes.

He said, “I am afraid we cannot sell your consignment.”

Lightfoot raised an eyebrow. She said, “Why?”

Nippers made a motion toward the holo and it changed to show one of the jewels they had taken. It was a sapphire the size of man’s fist. Its hologram floated 360 degrees, showing a close up of the brilliant blue gem.

“This stone is known as The Muse’s Heart. It was discovered over 30 years ago on Thalia, and has been in the Johnson family ever since. They are one of the wealthier clans on that planet, and the stone is quite famous. Unless you have something indicating impeccable provenance, we simply cannot auction it.”

She stared at him. He looked back calmly, perfectly at ease. He never said the word, “stolen,” but Lightfoot could read between the lines.

“I see,” she said. “Well, we’ll just take it out of the consignment.”

“There’s more. This one, this one, and this one have all been recorded as belonging to individuals on Thalia.”

The holo flicked through more jewelry and large gems.

“And we’ve identified 27 other items which we will need to see provenance for before releasing to you. In fact, we would like assurances before we release any of your items.”

“What?”

Nippers nodded. He said, “If you can provide assurances these items came into your possession legally, we’ll release them. Otherwise, this is a matter for the Marshal’s Service to figure out.”

“You do realize there’s a war going on?”

“We are aware, and we are also aware that as of now Thalia is under the auspices of the Republic. As I said, we will be happy to release these items if you provide us with appropriate provenance. Otherwise, we prefer not to auction them or release them back to you.”

Lightfoot’s face reddened, and a vein popped out on her neck.

She stood suddenly, and Gibbons belatedly stood, too.

Lightfoot strode to the door, which swished open for her. She turned and held up a finger to Nippers.

“This isn’t over.”

She stomped out the door, Gibbons following.

Nippers smiled sadly as she left. He wondered if she caught the reference to their namesake’s signature statement in his last comment. He decided she probably did not.

He thought, People these days just do not appreciate classical literature.

Out loud he said, “Ah, humanity!”

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jaxonreed

Bio: https://www.amazon.com/Jaxon-Reed/e/B00Q9N5TQ2/

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