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“President Luthor, you have a call from Fleet Commander Joanne.”

Luthor raised his head. A miniature holographic secretary was standing on the corner of his desk, holding onto a small holographic phone. “Answer it,” Luthor said, leaning back in his seat, turning off the monitor of his computer. On the walls beside him, dozens of screens were displayed. As a nascent-soul cultivator, it wasn’t difficult to absorb and process information.

“Yes, sir,” the holographic secretary said and picked up the phone. “You’re connected now.”

“Fleet Commander Joanne,” Luthor said with a smile. Joanne was actually one of his acquaintances, and he had pulled a few strings to get her the mission. It was an easy one, and with the merit Joanne would gain from subduing a planet, she might even be promoted to a BAR pilot. “Tell me some good news.”

“We’re connected,” Joanne said. “President Luthor, the sect leader of the Moon Lotus Sect wants to speak with you. The Moon Lotus Sect is the strongest power in the continent, and basically, they defeated me.”

“Hello,” a feminine voice said, causing Luthor to furrow his brow. “I just speak into it, and my words are transmitted to him in real time? This is much more useful than a communication token. There’s no reply. Is this thing working?”

“Hello,” Luthor said and cleared his throat. “This is President Luthor of the Federation of Bread. Who am I speaking with?”

“I’m Elder, no, I’m Sect Leader Michelle,” Michelle said. “I heard you’re lacking nascent-soul and soul-seed cultivators. Coincidentally, we have quite a few of those here. I think we can cut a deal, don’t you?”

Luthor furrowed his brow. “Is the delegation I sent you unharmed?” What happened? It would’ve been nice if Joanne had sent him a warning first. Now, the Moon Lotus Sect had the upper hand in these negotiations. Weren’t they supposed to be an uncivilized society? It should’ve been impossible for them to bring down the fleet.

“They’re fine,” Michelle said. “Not a single hair on their heads were hurt. Isn’t that right, Joanne?”

“We’re unharmed,” Joanne said. “I suggest you sincerely try to recruit these people, President Luthor. They might be behind us technologically, but their individual strengths are nothing to scoff at. One nascent-soul cultivator brought down the whole fleet with a single gravity-based technique, and I was defeated in my battlesuit while my opponent limited her strength to my level.”

Luthor’s eyes narrowed at his holographic secretary. “Is that so,” he said after a short pause. “Are they interested in joining the federation?”

“Of course,” Michelle said. “It would’ve been fine if we hadn’t witnessed these things, but after seeing them, how can we not want them? Joanne said you’ll give us battlesuits, BARs, communication devices, access to a intergalactic hub, and much more.”

Luthor’s expression darkened. It was true that he could give the Moon Lotus Sect all these things, but did Joanne really have to lay out all the benefits like that? How was he supposed to negotiate when the other party already knew his cards? “It’s quite easy to join the federation,” Luthor said. “There’s a one-time membership fee, and there’s a few annual payments to retain your membership.”

“Is it really that simple?” Michelle asked. “It sounds like we’re signing up for a membership at a martial-arts dojo.”

“I assume you know about the coalition?” Luthor asked. If they could figure out the benefits of joining the federation from Joanne, those Moon Lotus Sect people would also learn about the intergalactic situation. “If you want to join them, it’s roughly the same process. As for joining the empire, you’ll have to become a vassal. Not only will you be forced to pay annual fees, you’ll have to contribute soldiers as well. I’ll send you a book of rules and regulations of the federation, and if you’re fine with them, we’re willing to accept you anytime.”

“Are these rules and regulations that everyone has to follow?”

“Of course,” Luthor said. Did they think they’d obtain special privileges for whatever reason? “Everyone, even I, have to follow the rules. Without them, it’ll be impossible for us to stand united against the empire and coalition.”

“If that’s the case, we’ll join,” Michelle said. “Since everyone is following the same set of rules, they must be reasonable. How are we going to do this?”

“We’ll send some construction ships over, and we’ll build a teleportation gate by your planet,” Luthor said. “Afterwards, your planet’s technological improvement will have to depend on what you can purchase. If you find you’re unable to make much money from selling the things you have, you can always find work as mercenaries. The federation regularly issues missions; in fact, it’s our main way of mobilizing our combat forces.”

“Are there missions related to war?” a different voice asked.

Luthor raised an eyebrow. “Yes, the war-related missions reward the most credits.”

“Excellent.”

There was a rustling sound. “Sorry about that,” Michelle said. “The sect ancestor was curious. So, when can we expect the teleportation gate to be finished?”

“It shouldn’t take too long, a year at most,” Luthor said. A bit of news on one of the displays caught Luthor’s attention. One of the empire’s mining planets had been taken over by the coalition. Inside of the mine, there were quite a few important strategic resources required to make spaceships. It didn’t seem like the coalition was going to stop at one planet either. The federation didn’t have enough combat strength to interfere, but with the addition of the people from the Moon Lotus world—a name he just came up with—there wouldn’t be a problem securing those resources. “You know what, I’ll personally finance the teleportation gate. It’ll take no longer than one month.”

***

One month later.

Randy strolled through the market, browsing the goods the hawkers were peddling in their makeshift stalls. There was nothing of interest. As the son of an antique dealer, he had a good eye for items, and he could judge their worth. Usually, he’d browse through the market, look for things that were underpriced, and resell them on the internet. It didn’t make a lot of money, but it was enough for him to buy pizzas and beer with. He was about to leave when a strangely dressed woman caught his eye. She was wearing robes that looked as if they belonged in a movie about ancient times.

Randy glanced at the items she was selling, but she was so far away that he couldn’t really discern them. There weren’t many people looking at her wares either. Randy walked up to the stall and squatted down, observing the goods that were laid out on a yellow blanket.

“Welcome,” the woman said. Randy glanced at her and nearly recoiled. She looked like a bodybuilder. There was nothing wrong with that, but the woman’s bicep was even larger than his head! She could easily pick him up and toss him aside as if he were a little kid.

“What are you selling?” Randy asked after taking a moment to calm his thoughts. There were a few herbs laid out in front of the woman.

“These are special medicinal plants from my homeland,” the woman said. She lifted a leaf. “If you burn this and inhale the smoke, you’ll enter a state of enlightenment. It temporarily shifts your body’s vitality and mentality. The energy used to keep your body running will be used to power your mind instead. There’s a sixty percent chance of enlightening yourself by using this herb.”

Randy picked up the leaf and gave it a sniff. He frowned. “Isn’t this just weed? Don’t you need a license to sell this?”

“Just a weed?” the woman asked. “If this was just a weed, then everyone would already be enlightened. This plant only grows under special circumstances, and—”

“Yeah, whatever,” Randy said. He pointed at another plant, one that was rounded and looked as if it had been picked off a plant on the street. “What about this one?”

“This is a leaf that can be chewed or brewed into tea,” the woman said, a bit disgruntled about Randy’s abrupt interruption. “It increases one’s concentration by suppressing pain, hunger, thirst, and fatigue. If you use this during a breakthrough into a minor level, your chances of success increase by twenty percent.”

“So, it’s a coca leaf,” Randy said. “You’re selling weed and cocaine out in the open like this. Aren’t you afraid of being arrested?”

“Weed? Cocaine?” The woman’s brow furrowed. “Are these herbs actually common in the federation?”

“I wouldn’t say common,” Randy said and rubbed his chin. “It depends on their legal status in the region you’re looking at. Over here, they’re illegal, so they’re pretty uncommon.” A blue and red light caught Randy’s attention. “Speaking of which, I think you’ll want to put those away before the cops arrest you.”

The muscular woman took the two herbs back into her interspacial ring. She gestured towards the rest of her goods. “What about these? Are any of these illegal too?”

“Honestly,” Randy said and pointed at a mushroom, “those look like magic shrooms. I think it’s a safe bet to put everything away and pack up your stall. No one will buy it because they’ll assume you’re an undercover cop trying to entrap them.”

The woman scratched her head before sweeping her arm over her stall, packing all the plants and mushrooms away. “How about this?” she asked and took an item out of her interspacial ring. It was a beating heart. “Is this illegal too?”

Randy took a step back. Was this woman connected to the underworld or something? This was obviously a naked threat! “I, uh, have things to do. Sorry!” There was no way in hell he was going to stay here any longer, not after interrupting some kind of mafia’s sale!

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Virlyce

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