After concluding the transaction, Fe Nitaa formally entered into Ves' service. From now on, she was sworn to serve him as a loyal Kinner bondswoman.
The only way she would leave his service was if he crossed the few lines that shouldn't be crossed. Among them was deliberately driving Kinners to their deaths or harming their children.
Another notable rule that Ves needed to abide by in order to retain the loyalty of his Kinners that he could not make overt moves against the Kinner Tribe. Any action that harmed the interests of the state would be met with heavy disapproval from the Kinners in his service.
If the transgression happened to be severe enough, then the Kinner bondsmen had the right to set aside their oaths and pledges and leave his service!
This was a very impactful rule, because it tied the hands of many people!
How many people employed Kinner bondsmen? A lot. Once they bought out a Kinner, they effectively renounced any possibility of launching any attacks against the Kinner Tribe.
This single restriction was one of the most prevalent means of protecting the Kinner Tribe. As long as they kept selling their Kinners to every influential person in the star sector, hardly any state could muster up the support to attack the Kinner Tribe directly!
Although his move to buy out Fe Nitaa was partially a sham, the oaths she swore were very real.
If Ves ever forced her to choose between her loyalty to a Holy Son or her loyalty to the tribe, she would fall into an incredibly difficult dilemma.
It was best if Ves never pushed her to this point!
Ves, Gavin, Lucky and Kelandra waited for a half hour more for Nitaa to finish her business. Now that she sold herself to Ves, she needed to check out of Trinity Halls, pack her luggage, get her paperwork in order and bid farewell to her acquaintances.
During the wait, Kelandra wore a sour face. She did not seem pleased at Nitaa's abnormal reaction to Ves.
"I hope you don't mistreat Miss Nitaa, Mr. Larkinson. She is an unfortunate woman who has never been right in the head ever since the Fl'xixians kicked her out of the order."
What did Kelandra think he was, a slavedriver?!
"You don't have to be concerned. I plan to employ multiple Kinners, remember? They'll keep each other company and make sure that they're treated right!"
The excuse was enough to placate their guide.
Once Nitaa returned, she positioned herself behind Ves, making it abundantly clear that she had begun her duty.
"I think I've had enough for the moment." Ves spoke. "Let's take a break before I resume my search for other positions to fill."
"Where would you like to go?" Kelandra asked.
"I'm feeling a bit hungry. Is there a notable food market nearby?"
"There is one not too far away. Many clients and Kinners here at Trinity Halls frequent the stalls when they are hungry."
The group did not need to take an aircar this time as the distance was only a couple of minutes way on foot. As they exited the premises of Trinity Hall and neared the bustling food market, they looked no different from any other well-heeled tourists.
"We Kinners love food." Kelandra said as she guided them to a stall that sold candy made on the spot. "After many years of subsiding on nutrient packs and other cheap food in our distant past, we have developed a craving for real food."
An old Kinner smiled at them as he manipulated the controls of his machine to produce a unique blend of flavors into a single piece of solid hard candy.
"While Bloodstone offers many restaurants that offer fine dining experiences that are not too shabby, most Kinners like to eat out in the streets."
Their guide gestured her arm down the street, which was filled with rickety, dusty stalls. Various chefs and vendors cooked up authentic meals using simple ovens and furnaces.
Despite the somewhat shabby cooking progress, lots of Kinners happily sat on the cheap chairs as they ate their hearty meals.
A wonderful blend of aromas suffused the air. Ves' nose constantly twitched as his mouth started to leak saliva.
He quickly shook his head and wiped his mouth. This was not the time to give in to temptation! He was here for only one goal!
"Ahem. Let's tour the market. Perhaps I'll find something yummy enough to eat."
Though the market streets were rather tight and crowded at some places, giving Fe Nitaa an immediate problem in ensuring his safety, Ves liked the atmosphere. No pretentiousness could be found among the patrons as they each let down their guards and enjoyed their meals.
"Some of the food here is cooked with love." He said with a smile.
This spoke right to the heart of his own design philosophy. Although Ves was incomparable to a mere street chef, they both worked to satisfy their customers.
Some of the local Kinner chefs at the market were passionate about their craft. They cooked with a smile and prepared their meals with gusto.
Despite the effort they put into their cooking, they never charged excessive prices for their items. This was not a fancy market and the vast majority of patrons consisted of local residents.
Yet Kelandra was right that Kinners loved food. Aside from selling local Kinner staple foods, many vendors also served foreign delicacies.
Gavin bumped his elbow against Ves. "Hey, look at that stall! Isn't that our cloud rice?!"
The group drifted over to a stall that sold fried rice bowls. A steamy and oily aroma overcame their noses as they stared at the chef tossing his big, dented wok.
Ves and Gavin both shook their heads after a few seconds. "It's fake."
There was no way authentic cloud rice would be sold this cheap at a street stall. The true cloud rice was a premium staple that already cost a fair bit to eat on Bentheim, let alone import to a state on the other side of the star sector!
While Ves couldn't figure out what kind of rice the stall was using, he was familiar enough with the real thing that it couldn't be the same.
Neither of them made a fuss about it, though. That would only land themselves into trouble over a cause that neither of them cared about. The two turned away from the stall lest they developed a greater animosity towards the Kinner who thought it was a good idea to butcher one of their local specialty products.
"It's an unfortunate fact that many of the specialty foods sold here use adapted recipes." Nitaa spoke out on her own accord, relaying the results of her own prior research. "We Kinners have fallen in love with regional specialties, but that doesn't mean we are willing to pay half of our daily wages to enjoy a meal."
In order to meet the expanding palates of their customers, the enterprising Kinner chefs resorted to substitute ingredients.
For this reason, a lot of pricy specialties were sold at just a tenth or just a hundredth of their actual worth!
"Do all of these Kinners even know they're eating unauthentic versions?" Gavin frowned.
The deception taking place in this market went a bit too far even from him! Chefs could get into real trouble if they pulled something like this off in the Bright Republic!
"Our people are not very.. refined." Kelandra stated. "If we never tasted the authentic version, how would we know if we are eating fakes? Besides, plenty of chefs here state that they are using their own recipes instead of the classic ones."
Ves shook his head. "It's still a form of misrepresentation. Do the customers here even know they are eating imitation meals?"
"When I looked into it, I found out that they aren't particularly interested in finding out the truth." Nitaa spoke from behind. "Whenever I confronted someone with the facts, they took offence. It can be a very prickly matter to expose that they weren't consuming the real thing for many years."
"Then how do the authentic recipes even get sold here if all these fakes are undercutting their prices?"
Nitaa smiled and gestured at one of the less-frequented stalls. "There are certain Kinners and plenty of foreigners who can tell the real from the fake. Look at the chefs charging vastly more for their meals."
Though not a lot of customers frequented the stall, it nonetheless served a small handful of customers, which meant that it was doing good business.
As Ves looked around and spotted similar stalls around him, he noticed that most of them were frequented by better-dressed Kinners as well as foreigners.
"I see." Ves murmured. "It's kind of an open secret, then. Those who can't afford anything better can enjoy the illusion of eating foreign delicacies. Those who are more informed usually have the money to afford the meals cooked with authentic ingredients."
Something like this would never take place in the mech market on a wide scale. While counterfeit mechs did exist and sold at significant numbers in the underground markets, everyone who bought them knew what they were getting.
Buying a mech on the black market that was thirty to fifty percent cheaper than the legal version meant that the buyer certainly knew that some corners had been cut!
Instances where mech buyers got fooled into buying a counterfeit mech while paying the price of an authentic version happened very infrequently.
Any mech buyer knew that their mechs should come with MTA certification. Counterfeit mechs didn't come with this essential proof.
Ves didn't ask why the local Kinner authorities refused to crack down on the chefs that were lying to their customers. This kind of deception may not be entirely ethical, but it was largely harmless seeing that the customers all enjoyed their meals.
As the group slowly meandered through the varied food offerings, Ves began to engage in casual conversation with his bodyguard.
His decision to hire her was rather abrupt, after all. They barely knew each other for more than an hour!
"Where do you come from, Nitaa?"
"Bloodstone." The tall woman grunted. "Born and raised here all my life, Mr. Larkinson. I'm a vatter."
"That's the local slang for a Kinner born from a facility that houses thousands of artificial wombs." Kelandra added.
Ves found that to be rather remarkable. He also held a presumption that people who lived monotonous lives were less likely to develop spirituality.
Yet this rule was anything but set in stone. Despite Nitaa's low birth and basic upbringing, she nonetheless managed to develop a hint of spirituality with a quality that Ves hadn't seen before.
Ves had closely studied it during their initial meeting. Her small but vigorous pool of spiritual energy had interacted with her nose, which must have been the primary reason why she could tell he was someone unusual.
"There is not much to tell about my youth." Nitaa shrugged. "I grew up like any other young Kinner in one of the camps. I mostly played with my fellow yearmates back then. When I reached ten, I was disappointed to learn that I couldn't pilot mechs, but I kind of already assumed this outcome so I quickly got over it. I still wanted to become a fighter, though, so I applied for combat training."
Nitaa had actually been a good performer when she began her combat classes. So much so that the Order of Fl'xix took a liking for her for some reason and added her to the next batch of trainees.
As for what happened after that, Ves already knew. Her training results began to slip as the order kept demanding more out of their growing trainees.
Ves didn't ask why she failed to keep up. This must be a very sensitive topic for her and a busy market wasn't the place to air out something so personal.
At this time, Ves finally spotted what appeared to be a hot dog stand. However, what was different was that aside from selling regular buns with meat, it also sold various other variations as well, one of which happened to be the spicy Nyx dogs that he craved!
In fact, the tangy, hot smell of a fresh spicy Nyx dog happened to pass through his nose!
Strong! Spicy! Hot!
No wonder Nitaa suggested that it might be strong enough to overpower his 'System scent'!
"I don't know about you guys, but that smells great!"