Pairing: Liam Neeson/Orlando Bloom, minor Liam/Johnny Depp, plus a few other pair-ups among the supporting characters.
Rating: NC-17 overall
Summary: Slave Orlando's been taken and the kidnappers aren't interested in ransom. And of course Master Liam's thundering rage is only at the personal insult, that someone would disrespect him by daring to touch his property.
Disclaimer: I don't own anyone you recognize. I know nothing about their social lives or sexual activities, more's the pity. This is fiction, period. It is done as a labor of love and I make no money from it.
Notes: 1) Set in poisontaster's Kept Boy universe -- FAQ here. See Chapter 1 for more notes.
Previous Chapters: One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten, Eleven, Twelve, Thirteen, Fourteen, Fifteen
Thewlis met with Nick Cage at his office. It was on the twenty-seventh story of a twenty-nine story building, and unlike most executive offices Thewlis had ever been in, Nick's didn't have any windows. It was both rich looking and functional, with good furniture well used, and nothing useless just for show.
"Remember Musgrave? Dropped out in his sophomore year? He's a contractor now," said Cage. He gestured for Thewlis to have a seat on a chic sofa across the room from Cage's messy desk, while settling into an armchair himself. "He did the place for me. I told him I wanted this block of rooms to be built like a bank vault. It was expensive, and took some extra support on the floor below, but it's worth it. We have bug-zappers and scanners all around, and above and below. And if Big Brother doesn't like it he can kiss my ass.
"So, what's up, Dave?"
Thewlis leaned forward with his elbows on his knees and laced his fingers together. This wasn't exactly a topic one brought up with a stranger. Cage wasn't a stranger but he wasn't exactly a friend either; they'd hardly spoken at all since Berkeley. He decided that circling around a little would be the best way to start. "I'm working on a case, a missing slave."
"You chasing runaways now?" Cage's voice was hard and neutral, and Thewlis could see his body language shutting down while he watched.
"No, never," he assured him. "This is something else. A man was kidnapped out of a parking lot, just vanished. Everyone who knows him, including his mother and his sister, swear -- without their owner or any flunky of his listening -- that Orlando was deliriously happy and would've left his master only at gunpoint."
"Nice brainwashing job."
"Maybe," Thewlis admitted. "I'll admit I don't really understand it. Lord Neeson's a hard man and I can't imagine he's easy to get close to."
"You know him?"
"I know of him. Seen him at a few events. Our business has never overlapped and I don't think I've ever spoken with him. You hear things, though, if you listen."
"To you? Probably not." Cage shrugged and stared at the wall past Thewlis's shoulder for a few seconds. "He can be a real bastard if you cross him. Guy named Cotter -- owned TSP? -- tried to force a buy-out of one of his companies behind his back some years ago. The usual bribes and under-the-table crap. Neeson marshalled the troops and saved his company, then drove the guy into bankruptcy four years later. And beat the crap out of him. Cotter's a slave now and Neeson walked away with a broken nose and a respectful talking-to."
Thewlist could imagine Neeson doing exactly that, actually. "Not one to go through channels," he said with a nod.
Cage snorted out a laugh. "That's an understatement. He rules his little kingdom with an iron fist, and everyone had better bow when he walks by. Things go his way, always, and if they don't want to then he forces it. He's not one to sit by and let the system work."
"Which is why he hired me, when the police already have a detective assigned to the case. Or had -- I've gotten the impression they've filed it as unsolveable and have moved on to other things, although they haven't told his Lordship so in so many words yet."
"Yeah, I don't imagine that'd sit very well with him."
There was a pause, then Thewlis asked, "So, is he on the A-list?"
Cage's face closed again, shifting into a perfectly neutral mask. "Assuming we were still in college, getting stoned and playing at abolition?" He shrugged and shook his head. "No, he wouldn't be. He's a hard-ass but I've never heard any rumors that he's any worse of a slave owner than anyone else. I sure as hell wouldn't want to belong to him, but he doesn't buy seven-year-old body-slaves to 'finish their training himself' and the only times dead slaves are carried off his place is when they were old and known to be heading downhill anyway, or after verifiable accidents, and only two of those since he took over from his father."
"So you have been keeping an eye on him."
"He's a slave owner," said Cage, with an exaggeratedly casual shrug. "Isn't it the duty of every citizen of conscience to look out for the welfare of those who cannot look out for themselves?"
Thewlis smiled and raised an eyebrow. "Most people would say no, that it's Commerce's job to look out for the slaves they own and everyone else's job to mind their own business and not make trouble."
"Yeah, well, fuck that." Cage leaned forward and said, "I didn't actually know much about Neeson myself until a couple of days ago. When you called, I did some checking on you and his name came up as part of that. What do you want, Thewlis?"
So, enough polite chat then. "I told you I'm searching for this lost slave of Neeson's. I don't hold out much hope of finding him, but while looking I've found something disturbing. You remember what we used to talk about? Trying to figure out a way of taking slaves out of the system so they could have regular lives again? Maybe not their own lives, but still, a new start and a fresh chance."
Cage just watched him, so Thewlis went on. "Neeson and I were at an underground club, one of the mobile ones? They were set up in an abandoned building. They were doing things to slaves in there that...." He paused and closed his eyes for a moment. "Things even Commerce wouldn't allow." He looked at Cage and said, "Except when the police got there and started sorting things out, they didn't seem to be slaves. There were brands but no chips, and they assumed the brands were faked, to add to the 'thrill' of the scene by pretending they had slaves for people to tear up.
"But that didn't sound right. There was no way free people would've allowed some of that, they couldn't have been just employees."
"Organized crime isn't always picky about where it gets its 'slaves,'" Cage pointed out.
"Yes, I know that. But still, it didn't feel right. They checked, and more than half the fake slaves turned out to have incision scars which were unexplainable unless they'd had chips removed."
"Huh." Cage scowled, looking thoughtful. "I guess it's not impossible that someone else thought of removing them. I mean, they're right there below the skin."
"No, not impossible," Thewlis agreed. "But odd. Buttons were used for decoration for centuries before anyone invented the buttonhole. Just because an idea is obvious once you've thought of it doesn't mean people will think of it right away."
Cage rolled his eyes. "You always knew the weirdest shit."
"You'd be amazed how often it helps," Thewlis retorted. "And it's frustrating how often it doesn't. The easiest explanation, though, is that someone who was with us when we came up with the idea passed it along to others who don't share our ideals."
"Do you still hold those ideals?"
Thewlis sighed and looked Cage straight in the eyes. "I believe slavery is inherently wrong, yes. I won't take jobs to track runaways, and I won't work for A-lister types. Other than that, I'm not active."
"Huh. Well, none of us are 'active' so far as that goes."
"There don't seem to be any good options, no," Thewlis agreed. "But do you know of anyone who might have become completely disillusioned?"
"You mean anyone who might've decided that pulling slaves off the grid to sell to the underground worked out better for him personally than pulling them off and trying to smuggle them out or set them up with new identities? I'll admit that one's an income producer and the other's a money sink, but...." He paused and scowled again. "I just hate to think that any of the guys could've turned completely around. It's one thing to drift away from the ideals and start swapping body-slaves with the other assholes who treat them like fuck dolls with a pulse, but to actually go that far? Sucks, man."
"So who's the least unlikely? I remember Michael got into a lot of arguments at meetings -- maybe he soured on the whole thing?"
Cage frowned, then shook his head. "I don't think so. He and Aaron got into it a lot, yeah, but that was just Michael being all intense about his computers and Aaron jabbing him about it. Turns out Michael was right after all."
"True," Thewlis agreed, "but only to a point. Commerce has their system sewn up tight and anyone caught even trying to break in ends up as just another record in their database."
"Sure, but there are other ways." Cage made a throwing-away motion and said, "If you're trying to get a slave set up with a new ident, there are a lot of other places a hacker can help you out; you don't need to crack Commerce."
"Still," Thewlis persisted, "maybe the disappointment? The one unbeatable challenge, one too dangerous to even try?"
"I suppose anything is possible, but I don't think so. If you're trying to figure out who's running this show, I don't think Michael had it in him. He was a great code jock, but didn't have a lot of sense for real world planning."
"So in a way, Aaron was right as well."
Cage grinned and shook his head. "Nah, not really. He thought Michael was great -- he just loved to twist his tail. They'd get going like World War Three, remember? Aaron kept score by how loud they ended up. Poor Marty ended up getting ear plugs. He said it was that or murder the lot of us."
Thewlis laughed at the memory of Cage's hapless roommate, always doing his best to ignore whatever was going on around him and focus on the next paper or exam. "I don't know if I'd even remember what he looked like. He was always buried in a book."
"Hell, I always figured he'd do better than any of us. He actually focused on his classes instead of fucking off like we did. I think he ended up becoming some hot-shot plastic surgeon."
Thewlis remembered the earnest, passionate discussions and sank back down out of their laughing memories. "I never thought of it as fucking off at the time," he said, his voice quiet once more. "We were so sure we were going to change the world."
"Yeah, well, long history of that at Berkeley." Cage paused and stared at the wall for a few moments, then said, "Cam never struck me as all that dedicated. He was a decent guy, but I always got the impression he was just there to try to get into Van's pants."
A quick run through a handful of memories of Cam had Thewlis nodding slowly. "You're right, although I hadn't thought of it that way before. He seemed like a good guy, though. Not really dedicated to the cause, no, but not the kind of bastard who'd get his kicks out of abusing slaves or sending them out to be abused."
"I wouldn't have thought so either," said Cage, "but that was a long time ago and he could've changed. I mean, I seriously can't imagine any of the old crowd turning this far, but if it's someone then Cam's as good a candidate as anyone. It's just that no one's a good candidate."
"No, but it just seems it has to be one of us. Everything together -- didn't Aaron come up with the idea of using an electronic fence? When I brought up the problem of slaves we'd taken not understanding and maybe trying to escape from us and taking down the whole operation?"
Cage nodded. "Right, Aaron'd had a dog back home and his dad had put up one of those fences. He thought it could help keep the people we grabbed hunkered down until we could explain things and find a permanent place for them."
"That club we took down was using that idea with their slaves. In fact, a lot of the underground clubs use it, only they crank up the amperage until any slave who goes near the wire is left all but dead."
"A lot of people could've come up with that, though."
"I know, I know." Thewlis closed his eyes and leaned back, frustrated that he couldn't explain the hunch he was riding. "And other people could've come up with the other things too. But everything, all together? Maybe, but I don't think so. It just feels like there's a connection."
"Well, I'll do some poking around and see where everyone is and what they're up to," Cage said. "I hope you're wrong, but if you're not, I agree we need to take care of this."
Next Chapter: Chapter Seventeen