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by Rudi Dornemann

The phase ships drifted overhead, immense and slow as clouds -- rusty clouds, Last Empire surplus that had spent a few decades rotting in a parking orbit around one of the further ring-moons -- and flocks of drones flew around, among, and between them.

Coming down from the viewing platform, I missed the last stair. One or more of the ships must have needed its gravity tuned. My feet pedaled around a couple times before I found the ground. The auction wasn't going well.

"That's minor," said my Aunt Artemisia. Her voice echoed over the salt flat in waves as the translators for each group of bidders caught up. "They cleared a thorough inspection by registered engineers. Nothing's wrong that'll cost much to fix."

I could tell that from the way that the Zhrrkians had sheathed their foreclaws they weren't planning to scratch any bids on their translator pads, and the ecto-projections from the 11th dimension were barely bubbling in their jars, so they didn’t look ready to jump into the bidding fray either.

The phase ships were essentially big hovering rocks, triumphs of solid-state engineering and utter failures of livability. Aunt A. had to drop the starting bid twice, and the price moved sluggishly from there.

"Do I hear nine billion?" Her enthusiasm was "Eight?"

But the auction kept rolling; every time it seemed like someone had won by a few credits, another bid came in. More often than not, the keep-alive bids seemed to come in on the screens hooked to the transdimensional relays. But they seemed to come in just a little too quickly; there should have been more of a lag.

"Fifteen?" said Aunt Artemisia. "Fourteen-five?"

I monitored the input, waited for another lull, another last minute save. It happened twice more before I could trace it, another time before I believed the results: it was the drones. The drones we'd rented along with the auction platform, the salt flats and the airspace above.

I looked up. They weren't just randomly flocking around the ships, transmitting images. They were looking for something, following some kind of ridges or cracks that hadn't been in the inspector's report.

I wondered for a moment why they'd been stalling -- surely the weren't trying to run up the price. Then the first of the phase ships hatched, and the drones helped the vast glowing thing within to emerge into the universe. From then on, we all had far more interesting things to wonder about.


Yay! Will there be a sequel?

Posted by: Kat Beyer | September 29, 2009 3:26 PM

Thanks, Kat!

Hmmm... sequel... that could be interesting.

Posted by: Rudi | September 30, 2009 1:48 AM

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