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, Sixteen, Seventeen
"That's all fine, but what exactly are we supposed to do now?" Clooney's assistant, Margulies, tapped her blunt-filed fingers on the table and looked around at the gathering. "Assuming we're right and somewhere between half and two-thirds of the owners represented here actually have been victims of a slave theft, now what? Is there any point to it besides sharing and support-group?"
A few of the other owners scowled at the woman, but Liam approved of people who focused on business and getting things done.
"First," he said, "we keep spreading the word that this is indeed happening. The silence and secrecy is making it far too easy for the thieves -- no one's even chasing them. No one's investigating, no one's watching for them or taking precautions against theft. Let's at least make them work for it."
"So, what then?" asked Mark Vincent. "The chips were supposed to let Commerce track any slave who disappeared. If the thieves are popping the chips, then what -- do I have to buy a bodyguard to follow Max around whenever he's running errands?
"And what about my kids?" put in Lord Smith. "I've always let my body-slaves hang with them when Jada and I are busy, take them to the park or the beach or whatever. If someone decides to grab Tisha will they hurt my kids? Or just leave them on their own somewhere?" He sounded both scared and pissed, and Liam could empathize in a way which would've been impossible before he'd had Jamie and Paula.
"So far as we've been able to determine," said Thewlis, "every time a slave has been stolen, he or she has been alone. We can surmise that the thieves are reluctant to leave witnesses, and so far there's been no sign of violence toward potential witnesses. Since a major component of their strategy has been concealment, I think it's safe to assume that they'd avoid harming any child whose parents have the means to raise a large-scale pursuit."
"But you're still just guessing." Smith's voice was flat, and he obviously wasn't convinced.
"Yes, My Lord," Thewlis acknowledged. "We haven't enough data to state anything with absolute certainty yet."
"Which means that yeah, I need a bodyguard for Tisha if I want to keep my kids safe with her until we get this resolved."
"That assumes any final resolution is possible." Liam met Smith's eyes, then looked around the table at the others. "We don't know that there is. It's not as though there's been a final resolution to car theft or file theft or identity theft, so I'm not betting on ever being able to file this one closed once and for all either."
"I agree," said Thewlis with a nod. "Completely wiping out the problem isn't a realistic goal. But you can start locking your doors, as it were, and make it as difficult as possible."
"What about getting the slaves back?" asked a quiet woman from the other end of the table. Her name was Anna, Liam remembered; she was an agent for some guy named Sinise, a bass player Tasha knew, whose band was successful enough that all its members had body-slaves.
"That, unfortunately, takes time and investigation." Thewlis shrugged and gave Liam an apologetic glance. "There's no quick way to do it. And we have no way of knowing for sure whether any given missing slave is still alive. To return to the auto theft analogy, sometimes a thief is simply a joyrider, and will leave the car parked somewhere, waiting to be found in somewhat reasonable condition. Sometimes the joyrider will leave the car wrapped around a tree."
Liam had to brace himself not to react to that statement. The thought of Orlando having been used to the point of death and then dumped made his stomach churn.
Thewlis continued, saying, "The body of a slave, if found by the police, is turned over to Commerce and the previous owner is not informed unless there's an open investigation. As most of you have discovered, investigations into missing slaves are not kept open by the police for very long.
"On behalf of Lord Neeson, I'm assuming his slave is still alive. I've discovered a considerable black market for slaves -- more than I'd ever have assumed existed, analogous to the professional car thieves who steal cars for sale rather than personal use -- and if they were killing slaves wholesale some sort of word would have spread."
"If you couldn't imagine them working the way they are, maybe you just can't imagine whatever they're doing to dump the bodies." Mark Vincent's harsh voice was rougher than usual and Liam knew he was thinking about Paul.
"That's always a possibility, Mr. Vincent," Thewlis admitted.
"So now what?" Ms. Margulies repeated. "The police won't help us, and Commerce certainly won't, so we're left hiring our own investigators? Do we hire you?" She gave Thewlis a sharp look, but he shook his head.
"I'm afraid I haven't the time to take on eight more cases, even if they do turn out to be linked through the same theft gang," he said. "Although if the cases are linked in any way, then pooling data would be helpful. I can recommend some people you might consider hiring. And it would benefit all of you to have whomever you do hire contact me; I'll brief them on what I've learned so far, and we can keep in contact and share information."
The gathered group exchanged glances and most nodded. While Thewlis tapped his PDA to send his card out, Liam said, "For future considerations, I have a meeting scheduled with a Commerce representative. They need to know what we've found, and I intend to suggest strongly that they work out a more secure way of tracking slaves, since the chips clearly aren't adequate. Any idiot with a pocket knife can apparently remove one, if they don't care much about the slave's pain or the chance of infection.
"Assuming I'm blown off -- since we all know just how personable Commerce representatives are, and how open the department is to outside suggestions--" he paused for a moment while snorts and smirks went around the table, "--I intend to escalate the matter immediately through Congress. Aside from our personal concerns, this problem seems to be building and no matter how hard Commerce tries to quash the information, it's only a matter of time before it's common knowledge that slaves can be removed from the tracking system."
He paused once more to let that sink in, then said, "The last thing we need is a rash of both runaways and thefts. A slave alone is a helpless target for violence and abuse, and some of the abuse I've seen recently would turn every stomach in this room. And the economic impact would be devastating. I'll keep you all informed as to the outcome of my meeting, and I suggest all of you be ready to contact your own representatives. One way or another, this has to be addressed."
"Down!" The snapped command filled the room and the twenty-eight slaves in it slammed down to kneel and bonked their foreheads against the tile of the floor.
Kevin Martinez, who used to be Ben Barnes, remembered watching war movies when he was a kid. The first weeks of training for new slaves had reminded him of boot camp the first time he'd gone through, and it hadn't changed in the five years since.
It looked like the point was to teach the new recruits the rules, get them exercising and start them learning basic skills. The real purpose, though, was brainwashing.
You spent a person's whole life, however long it'd been, teaching them that killing someone else was horrible, evil and sick. When they were drafted into the military, though, the trainers had just a couple of months to convince them that it really was okay to off someone, so long as he was a "them" instead of an "us," and someone higher ranked told you to. Getting people to do a one-eighty on their morals about killing in that short a time meant some pretty harsh conditioning.
"Kneel!" Twenty-eight torsos swung up into position, spine straight, eyes down, hands clasped behind their backs.
And then there was the whole "unit" thing, and teamwork over all, and following orders no matter what. Most people weren't really into that stuff, and the military pretty much had to break down a person's identity, their sense of self and independence and who they thought they were until all that was left was a sort of squishy pile of raw material you could use to build a person out of. Then they built the guy back up again into the kind of person the military needed, so they'd end up with all these ranks of guys who thought exactly alike and would obey orders, with just enough independent thought to handle weird situations in a war or whatever, but always within boundaries.
Slave training was like that, only moreso, and the final constructed product had a lot less independent thought.
Ben had been about to graduate college with a bachelor's in psych when his mom was enslaved. It turned out she'd been living on credit, trying to stretch things out as much as she could, but it'd finally snapped back on her. Then Ben was alone and there was no money for grad school and not a whole lot of jobs for someone with only a four-year psych degree. There were plenty of people with more education than he had scrambling for work, competing with him for whatever was available, and within a year he'd been enslaved himself.
The conditioning was obvious, though, even when he was in the middle of it. He'd recognized what Csokas was doing, too, and had been able to go along and keep himself in limbo for a while by using his training to help the asshole.
The second time around, it was easier; "Kevin" knew what was coming and where the traps were. He knew when to answer and when to keep his mouth shut, and he had some ideas about what the trainers were looking for when they wanted to make examples.
"Stand!" Kevin shifted his weight and stood up, not quite as gracefully as he could have, but without unclasping his hands. Not everyone could manage that yet and the trainers' batons swung, impacting struggling flesh. The six who yelled got another whack. The two who yelled again got a third. One man, a little older than Kevin, couldn't keep quiet and finally collapsed into a crying huddle while the trainer beat him unconscious.
Kevin had been careful, though, in the first couple of weeks, not to be too good at the whole slave thing. Brand new slaves who were too enthusiastic about cooperating were suspected of having escape plans and tended to get worked over extra hard, by both the regular trainers and the psych team. And he didn't want anyone to get suspicious about how he knew certain things already -- both information and things like proper positions and postures -- and start asking questions. Kevin had no intention of telling the Commerce goons anything about his real past or his recent history. He had definite plans about using what he knew, but it'd only be for his benefit, when he could get something out of it.
At the same time, though, he wanted to get onto the Good Little Slave list as soon as he could, and get sold off to some place where he'd have at least a prayer of getting access to a computer. His strategy'd been to go in all stressed-out and unable to cope, trying hard but too tense and depressed to manage for a while. Then, just a few days earlier, he'd faked up a nice crisis point and started to relax.
The new Kevin stopped fighting, stopped trying to figure the world out, stopped trying to take control of his life. He just let go and did what he was told, hopeless and dull.
Within the next few days, Kevin would "discover" how much easier it was to have other people taking responsibility, to having someone else guide him and tell him what to do. He'd relax into his "new" role and even show some contentment at times -- the trainers loved that shit, thinking someone had broken and decided that life as a slave was actually not that bad. Much easier than having to think for yourself and be responsible for yourself and take the heat when your decisions were wrong.
If he could manage a good report out of intake training, he'd have a decent chance of being sold somewhere tolerable. With luck he might even get tapped to be a body-slave again. He was kind of old for it, for just starting out, but he was still pretty hot if he did say so himself, and it wasn't impossible. That'd be perfect -- easy job, no hard labor, and about as much free access as any slave ever got.
"Down!" Twenty-seven sets of knees crashed to the hard floor once more.
Wherever he ended up, though, the goal was to contact that Neeson guy. That was his ticket out, and he fully intended to use it.
Next Chapter: Chapter Nineteen