The Circle of Mota's temporary marketplace differed remarkably from the other black markets Ves visited.
While a surprisingly large amount of people managed to gain entry here, almost everyone kept to themselves. Even the figures who seemed to be nobles by the way they put on airs underneath their disguises mostly remained discreet.
No one trusted each other. No one wanted to poke into other people's business. Transactions dominated the marketplace as most people just wanted to obtain the goods and services they required before heading out as fast as possible.
One of the threats looming over their heads was the risk of discovery by the authorities. While the Circle of Mota insisted on numerous requirements that made it extremely difficult for the Planetary Guard to track them down, nothing was fool proof.
Raids had happened in the past. Those instances usually spelled disaster to the people visiting the marketplaces because they usually got caught up between opposing mechs!
No matter how august they were underneath their robes, the authorities did not have the time nor the inclination to pay attention to their wellbeing! Every person trading with pirates was scum in their book!
Everyone who took part in the Circle of Mota's trading activities knew the risks. Ves sensed a permanent tenseness in the air as everyone remained on guard. They not only guarded against each other, but also against external threats.
Accompanied by the hulking form of Nitaa, Ves passed through a peculiar quarter in the underground city.
"Starship engineer for sale! 35,000 firthrals! He's young, but he's healthy and vigorous! He'll last a long time under your care! His brains are completely untouched and ready to be brainwashed under your specifications! We offer a fifty percent discount if you make use of our brainwashing services!"
"Are you lonely in your lives? Do you require some company? High-class pleasure madames for sale here! They are completely organic and unsoiled. We promise!"
"No one offers cheaper labor than us! Our clones have been grown to be completely pliable to your commands! Our products are smarter than bots, cheaper to maintain and more amusing to torture! Don't let your bots do the cleaning. Use our clones instead! Buy one, get one free, starting at just 4,999 firthals!"
Ves grimaced underneath his helmet as he saw how prolific the trade of slaves turned out to be. While he always knew that slave trade happened in the murkier corners of the galaxy, to witness human products being hawked around like cabbages left a foul taste in his mouth.
At least the Kinner Tribe managed to dress up their slave trade with a veneer of civility and mutual benefit.
Not so for the slave traders associated with the Circle of Mota. They unabashedly sold humans kidnapped from various places without any reserve.
What Ves found even more disturbing was that they sold a lot of clones as well. Cultivated and grown under abominably inhuman circumstances, their mentalities were completely deficient.
Of course, this also made them ideal for jobs that required dumb labor.
As for why someone preferred to use clones over bots? It was all about reducing maintenance requirements!
Clones were especially useful in the Nyxian Gap because bots required frequent maintenance while their human counterparts would just make do with nutrient packs and water.
Due to the scarcity of technical services in the deprived regions of the Nyxian Gap, clones or brainwashed humans were much easier to deal with for pirates who didn't know the right end of a wrench!
Numerous disguised visitors approached the shops and stalls of the slave traders. Lots of people desired slaves for various purposes, and they weren't very bothered by the implications of exploiting those who had no choice in their lot in life.
Different from the expensive human products sold by the Kinners, the slaves offered under the auspices of the Circle of Mota were cheap. Unimaginably cheap.
The Circle of Mota mainly transacted in firthals, the predominant currency of the Nyxian Gap.
Just like the frontier's K-coins, the firthal was based around firthal ore, one of the most prevalent low-grade exotics from the Nyxian Gap. With varied applications, the demand for firthal was constant and stable, thereby making it suitable to be used as a reliable form of hard currency in the notoriously anarchical and chaotic region.
Right now, 1 firthal was worth 24 bright credits, so even if Ves mentally translated the prices for slaves to his most familiar currency, they still seemed unimaginably cheap!
"What do you think?" Ves asked softly.
"Poor quality. Unreliable. Defective.
"Of course you'd say something like that."
Whereas the Kinner Tribe emphasized quality, the slave traders were not so discerning. Their human products were generally low quality. Those with valuable skills were usually kidnapped and subject to extensive brainwashing.
While the brainwashing ensured their obedience, the rough and pervasive treatment also affected their other competences.
The customers didn't mind. Those that wanted to purchase Kinners mostly consisted of the upper echelons of society. They had the money to afford to buy a number of permanent Kinner bondsmen.
Ves guessed that the people that purchased slaves here mostly consisted of Nyxian pirates or various underground outfits. These types of unsavory organizations always struggled to acquire skilled or highly-educated labor.
"Mech designers for sale! Whether you need them to repair, modify or upgrade your mechs, our mech designers can do it all! Some of our more premier slaves can even design completely new mech designs that are perfectly suited for your outfits! We sell Novices starting at 3 million firthals! Our Apprentices can be yours starting at 8 million firthals! You won't get a better deal than ours!"
His mood dropped considerably as he brushed past the enslaved mech designers. The poor sods who had fallen into the clutches of the slave traders had been subjected to the same brainwashing regimes as most of the other slaves.
The quality of their work left much to be desired, especially since much of their profession relied heavily on creativity and inspiration. Ves did not believe a single brainwashed mech designer would ever be able to match the design prowess of a willing mech designer.
Nonetheless, as Ves observed the types who eyed the mech designers for sale, he figured that most buyers simply wanted to obtain them to service their existing mechs. The clientele mostly appeared to consist of dark mercenaries and hidden forces.
Reflecting their nature, they demanded a certain level of quality without costing them too much. The human products also had to be expendable. The mech designers sold at the Circle of Mota fell exactly within their demands.
Ves shooks his head underneath his helmet as he saw these poor fellows who studied so hard to become a mech designer meet such a poor end.
From listening to the brief exchanges between the buyers and sellers, most of the mech designers who lost their freedom only had themselves to blame.
They borrowed heavily in order to fund their startups. When their businesses failed to take off, they eventually drowned in their debt.
In regular cases, mech designers who failed to start their own businesses simply declared bankruptcy and moved on while leaving the lenders on the hook for the unpaid debt.
To some mech designers, funding was very difficult to come by. They approached gangs and other loan sharks for money, and this was where they fell into trouble.
Mech designers that had to resort to unconventional funding sources weren't very good to begin with! When they eventually failed, the loan sharks immediately seized the assets of the company as well as the mech designer themselves!
Most of the mech designers already went through mental reprogramming, rendering them unattractive to Ves.
Who knew what kind of hidden instructions the brainwashers seared into their minds. Perhaps they had been programmed to transmit information about their buyers to the slave traders.
A number of imprisoned mech designers still looked fresh, though. Unlike their poorer colleagues who had been subjected to crude brainwashing, the untouched mech designers were still mentally sound.
Ves observed a variety of expressions behind the transparent cages that showed their dejected forms. He spotted anger, helplessness, despair, self-recrimination and more from their faces.
Though he sympathised with their fates, he did not feel compelled to help out his fellow kind. Most of them willingly played with fire and got burned. If they accepted that they weren't good enough to attract seed money from legitimate investors, then they shouldn't have insisted on founding their startups.
The mech market was too competitive to tolerate trash!
What really dampened his mood was that some mech designers had fallen in the clutches of the slave traders through no fault of their own!
Perhaps the passenger ship they boarded had been waylaid by pirates.
Perhaps their business rivals engineered an ambush on the streets.
Perhaps their bodyguards betrayed them when they were at their most vulnerable.
Whatever the case, Ves could have easily suffered the fate of these innocent and unwilling mech designers if he wasn't so thorough about his protective detail!
He thanked his paranoia for keeping him on his toes. Coming across so many mech designers who had their futures cut off made him more resolved than ever to invest in his Avatars of Myth.
"You are staring a lot. Are you interested?" Nitaa gruffly asked.
Though Ves deeply lacked design talent, he knew better than to purchase an enslaved mech designer! Whether brainwashed or not, the mech designers were already tainted the moment they fell into the clutches of the slave traders.
Though it took some effort, Ves strongly believed he could fill up his design teams through legitimate hiring practices. Unlike some of the other organizations that frequented the Circle of Mota, there was no need for him to resort to slaves to address his lack of mech designers.
As Ves and Nitaa both marched through the slave trade quarter, they continued to pass by slave traders hawking their mech designers.
As much as Ves tried to steel his heart against these sights, his mood nonetheless grew worse and worse. As someone who loved to design mechs, he hated the sight of others sharing the same passion succumbing to such awful fates.
Not even his empowered mask was capable of holding back his inner thoughts! As a mech designer, some sights were simply too abominable for him to remain quiet!
"Mech designers deserve better." He muttered, venting his frustration.
"Mech designers are just as vulnerable as other humans." Nitaa calmly replied. She shared none of his feelings concerning mech designers. "The strong prosper and the weak suffer under their yoke. This has always been the nature of the galaxy."
"In the many millennia since our species have risen up, we've advanced our civilization by an incredible degree. Yet sometimes I question how much we've really progressed when we still engage in barbaric practices such as enslaving our own race."
A part of him hoped the MTA would come and smash apart the entire marketplace. The former expectations he held for the Circle of Mota had almost completely evaporated now that he witnessed the depths of their depravity.
To Ves, it was one thing to sell regular people. It was another thing to sell mech designers! The latter firmly crossed his bottom line!
He only relaxed a bit after they finally passed through the slave trade quarter and entered a section devoted to the sale of rare materials.
The sight of samples of exotics on display brought a smile on his face. This was familiar territory for him. The bounty of the Nyxian Gap was fully on display here! Already he spotted plenty of rare and expensive exotics that he hadn't encountered at the Peacekeepers branch on Cinach XII.
Best of all, due to his constantly-improving knowledge on Metallurgy, he understood a lot more about the properties of metallic exotics for sale here. Some of them were really useful for certain applications!
"Let's browse the wares carefully."
Not only was the selection of goods wider here, but their prices were considerably cheaper as well!