After the tax collectors left, things returned to normal in the marketplace.
The anxiety of most people had been replaced with either relief or acceptance.
Sadly, even though many people lost two liters of blood today, they couldn't go home and rest.
They needed to work and earn money. Otherwise, they would need to pay with their blood again in a month.
Nick returned to his usual place and continued holding up his sign.
Nick trusted Albert, and he was sure that Albert wouldn't have told him to make himself noticeable if there were no point to it.
Sadly, no one of note talked to Nick, and he had to go home after a while since he was getting hungry.
By now, Nick was no longer living in a small cube made of metal but in an actual house… which was also made of rusty metal.
One of the richer people died recently, and his house had become available.
Well, available might not be the correct word.
The man died, and his son was actually now the owner of the house.
The problem was that the son was only eleven years old.
Naturally, the gangs wanted to take the house from the kid, but Nick went between the two sides and protected the kid.
Nick would protect the kid and his inheritance, but in exchange, Nick was allowed to use their money to eat and pay his tax.
Of course, the kid didn't have any other choice and accepted.
After a couple of fights, the gangs decided that it wasn't worth the trouble.
If Nick were just a normal guy, they would just send in like ten guys to beat him up, but Nick actually had an active Zephyx Synchronizer.
No one was heavily injured or dead yet, but if they escalated things, things might change quickly.
They were certain they could take Nick down, but they were not willing to pay the price. The house wasn't worth enough since it was just a bit above average. Also, the kid had a claim on it, and the gangs couldn't get too overbearing.
Smart, organized criminals knew that leading a flock of willing and happy sheep was easier than leading a flock of terrified sheep.
That was also why the leader of the Insurance Gang had been willing to pay the difference in the taxes out of pocket.
Some of his people had obviously siphoned some funds out of the collected taxes, and they would hold an internal investigation.
If the leader had decided to simply hand over the eight people with the missing cash, his Insurance Gang wouldn't be as trustworthy anymore, and next month, they might only get like 70% of their previous customers.
The Insurance Gang asked for 10% of the taxes as a protection and processing fee, which meant that adults would pay them ten credits to protect their 100 credits.
With about 480 customers, that came to 4,800 credits. Even when the leader paid 800 credits out of pocket, they still made a profit of 4,000 credits.
If he had refused to hand over the 800 credits, they would have saved 800 credits today, but they might pay 1,500 credits in lost profits for every following month for a long time.
Even though they were criminals and this was the Dregs, it was still important that people were satisfied with the services provided.
And waging war against someone that was protecting a vulnerable child was bad.
It wasn't worth it.
Of course, everything had its advantages and disadvantages.
While Nick got a nice home and had no money problems anymore, he had permanently destroyed any opportunity to work for any of the gangs.
For two weeks, Nick kept going to the marketplace to wait with his sign raised.
One particular day that didn't seem different from any other, someone approached Nick in the marketplace.
It was a young but tall man with light-brown hair. His hair was chaotic, but it was clean. His brown shirt and trousers were torn but just as clean.
As someone that had lived in the Dregs for his entire life, Nick could immediately tell that the guy in front of him was trying to act poor when he obviously wasn't.
The guy probably hadn't even seen a poor person up to today. Otherwise, his disguise wouldn't be so superficial.
The man walked up to Nick with a friendly smile, but Nick could see that the guy was very nervous deep inside.
"Hey, you're a Zephyx Extractor?" the man asked as he looked at Nick's sign.
"I got through the entrance exam for Ghosty's Lab, but I never worked as one since my Zephyx Synchronizer is already attuned," Nick answered as he looked with suspicion at the guy.
A small glimmer appeared in the guy's eyes when he heard that. "Your Zephyx Synchronizer is already attuned?"
The guy seemed uncertain about how to proceed with the conversation, and Nick could practically read his thoughts with how expressive his face was.
Nick was quite certain that the guy was trying to find a way to get Nick to tell him more about himself without seeming like a shady person that wanted to scam him.
"You know Albert?" Nick asked.
The guy's eyes widened for just an instant before he smiled uncomfortably. "There are many people called Albert," he said awkwardly.
'Bullshit,' Nick thought. 'Nobody here is called Albert except for that one guy.'
"Black and grey hair, and he summoned a couple of things that can hover. Maybe you can fill out the last detail to make sure that we are talking about the same person," Nick said with a suspicious expression.
The man blinked a couple of times. "He is fond of tools," the man added after a while.
When Nick heard that, he smiled brightly. "Finally," he said as he stood up, making the man move backward. "Albert told me that someone would come with a job in the near future. I guess you're the guy?"
The man also became excited. Apparently, he had also expected to meet someone.
But then, his expression fell, and he became suspicious.
"I know him, but I don't think I have the capital to hire you. I also live in the Dregs," he said carefully.
At that moment, the surrounding people threw incredulous looks at him as they stopped walking.
The man noticed, and he felt like he had said something wrong.
"Dude," Nick said, making the man turn to him, "you just said capital. Also, your disguise is horrible. Nobody will believe you. If they did, they would have already shaken you down for everything you have, based on how uncertain and fearful you look."
The man's smile turned more uncomfortable. "I'm not sure-"
"Come with me," Nick said as he grabbed the guy's arm to pull him away.
The guy looked with shock at the place where Nick was grabbing him, and for just an instant, his eyes turned pure white.
But he quickly calmed down again, and his eyes turned back to normal instantaneously.
He had never seen anyone that just grabbed a stranger and pulled them away.
"Hey, I can walk on my own," the guy said as he pulled his arm out of Nick's grip.
"Then, come," Nick said, gesturing with his head to the distance.
The man took out a handkerchief and cleaned the spot where Nick had touched him, and followed after him.
After a couple of minutes, they arrived in front of Nick's temporary home.
The man became a bit uncertain again, but he just took a deep breath and entered.