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Chapter 545: Another Fortune

    Chapter 545: Another Fortune

    Several boxes were stacked in the far reaches of the warehouse, surrounded by non-perishable foods. When the boxes were opened, they found them filled to the brim with more power gems.

    The majority were C-rank. Two of the crates were B-ranked gems, and only a handful were A-ranked. From where Lan Jue was standing, it looked like the costs for sending out the Star Division had already been recouped. The Shattered Starfields were two pirate clans poorer, and they were sitting on a good haul. These gems and suits would fetch an excellent price.

    "Commander!" The Bartender hurried over to his side.

    Lan Jue nodded. The Bartender continued with a wry chuckle. "The Desert Tempest were being bankrolled by the North. I did some digging and found traces of serial numbers on the mechas that hadn't been completely filed off. They were all manufactured in the North. Five hundred suits is a whole lot. How could they manage it without someone high up in the government to help them out? They're good suits, too, standard kit for Northern infantry. Twenty of them are upgraded versions we can probably use."

    The Driver interjected. "The heavy suits are suited for long-range, those should go to Second Brigade. You can divvy the rest among yourselves. "

    "Shameless," the Coffee Master complained. No one saw him approach. "What use are the others except to sell? You treacherous bastard!"

    The Driver snickered. "Slander. The desire comes making the best use of the equipment we find. Second Brigade is specialized in long-ranged attack. It makes sense that they should go to us."

    "We'll spread the wealth later," Lan Jue ordered. "Get everything on the ships."

    Lan Jue had practically abused his relationship with the Wine Master, extorting him for the best equipment available. Among that were interdimensional storage arrays to collect and store their booty. These pockets of space between realities weren't simple to create. It wasn't a matter of money or power gems. One needed a high-level Adept skilled in the Discipline to set them up.

    The Wine Master was just such an Adept. In fact, aside from the Cosmagus' aunt there was no human alive with more command of interdimensional space. Lan Jue had no qualms tapping that resource. So, even though this warehouse was full to bursting, moving everything to their own coffers would not be a problem.

    Third Brigade was put in charge of organizing transport.

    As they exited the warehouse, the Pharmacist addressed her commander. "This place seems as good as any. Will you join with them here?" He knew she meant the sword-spirits Jun Yongye and Xuanyuan Shishi.

    But Lan Jue shook his head. "No. I still sense something isn't right. This isn't the best place for it. The amount of treasure they have suggests their crew is larger than we thought. They have to have more than fifteen hundred pirates. Populations always grow over time as families are made, then pair that with the level of infrastructure. I wouldn't be surprised if there were more than ten thousand people here, wives and kids included. You don't get to be that big without having your systems complete. That means that even if the alien caught them unprepared, they would still be able to fight back. Yet, there's no signs of struggle. Their battleship is also conspicuously absent. It's not right."

    The Pharmacist was a smart woman. She picked up on his concerns right away. "So you're saying there's another alien. One that can fight in space and shot the battleship down?"

    Lan Jue nodded. "That's why Majesty is still airborne. Consider the progenitor we fought. If the beasts and bog come from it, where did it come from? Who brought the seed of the alien here to gestate? Whatever did must be powerful to make the trip here from those alien planets. It's likely that alien is still around, and that's what destroyed the Desert Tempest Pirate Clan."

    The Pharmacist nodded thoughtfully. "It's as good a theory as any. If you don't plan to join here, then where? Other planets aren't sure to be safe, either. The Starfields are full of pirates and we can't be sure what we'll run into."

    Lan Jue put her at ease. "We'll do the joining here, just not now. First let's make sure everyone's safe."

    The Pharmacist frowned. "The universe is vast. We can't be sure another alien is here or will come back!"

    Lan Jue offered a placating smile. "We don't need absolute proof, just stick to the plan. We establish a temporary base here to rest and resupply. Then we radiate outward, picking off the smaller clans. First let's make sure we get the base up and running, then we can revisit the issue. If the carrier alien returns it won't hesitate to attack and we'll need to be ready. Once we know we can defend ourselves, the joining can continue."

    A pretty smile stretched her lips. "Fine. The wisdom of experience. Don't worry, I'll guard your back no matter what. Just let another one of those things dare attack. I'll handle it, and we'll have another Core to add to the collection."

    He nodded, however a mysterious look flit behind his eyes. What he didn't share was the question of what they would do if the carrier alien attacked from orbit.

    ζ

    It didn't take long for Star Division to establish a base of operations. A lot of the infrastructure from the Desert Tempest remained. Although damaged by corrosion, some equipment could still be used. They also installed the radar system from the Poison Wasps. Most of the work was done by a host of construction droids which got the job done in no time.

    Zeus-1 was docked at base, but Majesty was nowhere to be found. In fact, even Brigade commanders weren't told where it'd gone. They were busy setting up the base on Tempest.

    After several long flights and two battles, everyone was tired. Tempest was a planet not hostile to life. The oxygen content was lower than human were accustomed to, but a few puffs from an oxygen tank now and again was enough to stave off hypoxia. The food they'd pillaged from the warehouse became their dinner and the base's interior became a hive of activity.

    Space travel wasn't a new experience for these soldiers, but only a few of them were ever involved in plundering. It was a novel experience for most. Their victories and riches fresh in mind, the base was filled with sounds of joy.

    Lan Jue stood on the second story balcony of a building, looking out into the distance. He had an arm wrapped around Qianlin.

    Qianlin's eyes stared blankly at nothing. She stood there like a beautiful statue. Occasionally Lan Jue would straighten her wind-tousled hair or stroke her bright face. A look of contentment filled his face.

    Qianlin's condition was steadily improving. A lot of what was once impossible, she could now do with only a little help. It helped save Lan Jue a lot of effort in caring for her. Still, he never left her alone for more than a moment. Other than official duties or battle, he was by her side.

    She still couldn't talk or respond to him in any way, but Lan Jue felt enriched by her presence.

    "Are you ready?" A voice called to him from behind.

    Lan Jue turned his head. Jun Yongye and Xuanyuan Shishi had arrived. They were both dressed in breeze white garb.

    Lan Jue looked at them, then looked at Qianlin by his side. "I've been ready."

    "Then we must begin as soon as possible." Both men flickered with a faint, ethereal light. As sword-spirits, the chance to bond with a master and embark on a new era of life was the most exciting prospect. It was preferred over fading into nothing.

    Lan Jue led Qianlin back into the room. Inside the Pharmacist was already waiting, along with all of First Brigades' Ace Squad. Soundlessly they fanned out to protect the room from without. The Pharmacist remained.

    The Gourmet wasn't present, since his responsibility was to watch for any signs of the alien. For now the base was the site of widespread celebration, but that was on the surface. The soldiers were ever wary, and now that the base was established they could react at any moment.

    The Pharmacist offered a stern reminder. "Open your body and heart as much as you can. No matter the pain you experience, keep your mind sharp and your willpower firm. Lose control for a moment and it will fail. Fail and your body will suffer the consequences. Do you understand?"

    Lan Jue nodded. He took Qianlin's hand, and the two of them walked to the center of the room. He turned to face her and then, looking deep into her eyes, leaned in for a gentle kiss. Her pink, plump lips were infatuating. Lan Jue's eyes were full of love.

    The Pharmacist turned away, just enough so they were out of view. She couldn't stand to watch these public signs of affection. Her pained heart inevitably wondered if she would ever see that familiar silhouette again.
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