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, Eighteen, Nineteen, Twenty, Twenty-One, Twenty-Two, Twenty-Three, Twenty-Four
Before yesterday, Liam had been looking forward to his meeting at the Commerce office with a grim sort of anticipation, but now it was just an annoyance -- something to take up a block of his time when he wouldn't be able to check his e-mail.
It was ridiculous, really. Johnny was monitoring his account even more diligently than usual, and this was important too; there were larger issues at stake than one missing slave, much as it made Liam's jaw clench to think about it that way.
If it was really that easy to pull a slave out of the system with a slash of a blade and some fishing around with a tweezer -- and Liam was sure there were plenty of slaves who'd be willing to grit their teeth and put up with the pain for a minute if that's what it took to be able to run away and not have commerce's agents after them with GPS units -- that was a catastrophic hole in the system. If the news spread, there'd be hordes of slaves escaping and trying to disappear into the underground economy. Aside from the chaos of vanishing workers and tasks undone and businesses losing money, the slaves themselves would be soft targets for anyone looking to exploit them. He'd seen for himself what happened to slaves who fell into the hands of unregulated owners and it was a horrible life, however short it might be.
Commerce had to be made aware of what was going on so they could do something about it.
Half an hour later, though, in the utilitarian but not shabby office of Stanley Parkinson, the Regional Director of the Department of Commerce, after having explained what was going on to said director, the man just looked at him and said, "Thank you, Lord Neeson, but we're aware of the problem."
Liam stared at him for a moment, then narrowed his eyes. "So why haven't you done anything, then? Have you any idea what's being done to these slaves? They're not all runaways, did you know that?"
Parkinson's expression didn't change. He looked straight back at Liam and said, "Contrary to what you seem to believe, Lord Neeson, we're not stupid. We've been working on a solution for some time, and have been testing it on our own in-house slaves. We should be ready to implement it in the population at large within the month. Making any kind of announcement beforetimes, however, would be fatally stupid, for the exact reasons you've just finished enumerating.
"We don't want to give any of them ideas, Lord Neeson. Not the slaves themselves, nor anyone who might be tempted to liberate them if someone gave them a hint about a method that might work. We have no obligation to inform the peerage in general, nor you in particular, of our plans. Begging Your Lordship's pardon."
He was begging no such thing. He knew it and Liam knew it. Commerce was not and never had been impressed by titles or money or anyone's power except their own.
Liam leaned back slightly, not wanting to appear overbearing or agressive. Despite how he might be feeling, he knew that wouldn't work with these people. "Would it be possible for you to tell me what you have planned?"
Apparently he was sufficiently non-agressive, because Parkinson said, "In confidence. You know the other, and obviously understand why it shouldn't be spread around. So yes. We've upgraded the chip, as well as the implantation procedure. Chips will be inserted inside a bone in the torso, into the marrow. The insertion procedure will be slightly more time-consuming, but it will take significant surgery to remove them. The chips are also designed to be longer, with a weak spot in the center. If it breaks, which it has over eighty-three percent of the time in testing when removed, the chip will send out a short signal burst which will activate the GPS tracking on that unit immediately."
Huh. Liam tried to think of any loopholes or weak spots in the scheme, but couldn't come up with anything. "That sounds secure enough," he said finally. "You said you'll be ready to implement that within a month?"
"Approximately. We're still working on the insertion unit. Even once it's perfected and is standard procedure on new slaves, it'll take a number of years, and perhaps decades to get through the currently existing slave population. Privately owned slaves will be first up, since they're the most likely to go missing."
Liam nodded approval. "Good."
He sat up a bit straighter and changed the subject. "Speaking of which, what is Commerce doing about the theft problem?"
Parkinson tilted his head, still neither smiling nor frowning. "The new chips will take care of that."
Liam felt his jaw tighten once more. "Yes, they should. But there's still the question of differentiating between stolen slaves and runaways."
"Investigating each and every case of a slave's vanishing is neither cost-effective nor necessary. Treating them all the same provides incentive for slaves to be extra careful not to be 'stolen.'"
"You don't currently have a body-slave, Lord Neeson." Parkinson stood up and walked over to open the office door. "I suggest you browse through the display corridor while you're here; maybe something will interest you. If you have time, of course. If you're in a hurry, then there's always another day."
And that... was as curt and friendly a dismissal as Liam had ever been handed. He stood, nodded to the man and left the office.
He had to restrain himself from punching a hole in a random wall on the way out. Good news about the new chip -- that should help protect slaves, and with any luck would shut down whatever theft rings might be out there for good. But they weren't budging on the issue of runaways who were no such thing, which meant... what? What for Orlando? What if they found him? Should they even keep searching for him? If he hadn't turned up yet, then he was somewhere safe from Commerce, at least.
He might well be in some underground club where they'd butcher him for entertainment. That had been his overwhelming fear ever since he and Thewlis had gone out that night and the thought of Orlando being someplace like that was enough to twist Liam's guts. But if that was what had happened to him then it likely had happened already. Face facts, he told himself. It's been too long. If he was taken by someone who counted him disposable, then he's likely been disposed of already.
Wherever he was after all this time, if he was alive then maybe he was safe somewhere. Maybe not safe safe, maybe not in a good place, where he'd be happy and well cared for, but if he was alive then likely he was with someone who had some interest in keeping him alive.
That would be better than letting Commerce find him. They'd brand him a runaway -- maybe literally, who the fuck knew, since no one ever actually saw runaways again -- and send him to the mines or to be a rat in a drug lab or cleaning up toxic waste or whatever other horrific job they could find where he'd be worked to death or have the flesh melted off his bones.
The only thing he knew for sure was that if Orlando was found again, Commerce wouldn't be handing him back to Liam. And if he found Orlando first they'd just confiscate him and the end result would be the same.
He slammed out the front door and strode over to the patron's lot, where Javier was waiting with the car. He settled into the back, said "Home" to the driver, and stared out the window, his eyes unfocused and his heart clenching in his chest, compacting down to a tight, painful rock.
He'd never thought about it before. Never considered having to make this decision. Never wanted to consider it. Whenever this issue had drifted into his conscious mind, he'd chased it away with other, more immediate matters. Something would turn up, some issue, some change, some factor they hadn't thought of yet. It would work out, he would get his boy back.
But that might not happen and he was finally staring squarely at the possibility. You didn't argue with Commerce. There was no convincing, no pressuring, no leveraging that worked against Commerce once they'd made up their mind to something. Parkinson had made it clear that there was absolutely no hope of arguing about Orlando's status as stolen property rather than a runaway. Persisting in the face of his so-polite shutting down of the topic would only draw more attention to Orlando, if he was ever found. Leaving an annoyed Commerce director with a grudge against Liam, no matter how minor, which could be taken out on Orlando if he was found was unthinkable, as well as pointless. Liam was sure that even in the dead-end of guaranteed-fatal jobs assigned to runaways, the worst of criminals, the useless and the plain unlucky, there were greater or lesser degrees of horror; he wouldn't do anything to encourage Orlando's placement in one of the greater.
Which left him with the fact that he couldn't protect his boy. That if Orlando was found, he wouldn't be allowed to protect him. That, therefore, it might be the best thing for Orlando never to be found.
Liam stifled an angry groan and leaned his head against the back of the seat. Just as he closed his eyes in a ridiculous attempt to shut out the images taunting him, he felt the familiar bzz-bzz, bzz-bzz coming from his phone. Liam grabbed it and checked the message.
E-mail from Ben.
The new slaves had gone bare-necked for the first few days, while their freeze brands healed. Every morning before breakfast, they lined up and passed by three stations.
The first swiped some sort of cleanser over the branded area. It took off the layer of lotion from the previous day.
The second swiped them with something that had to be an antiseptic; it burned like acid and David had to grab the table to keep from falling when the pain hit. The staffer there didn't seem to mind so long as he straighted up and moved on within a second or two.
The third was a fresh application of lotion. It didn't stop the pain any, just sealed it in, or at least that's what it felt like.
All the swipes were done with the same kind of sponge-on-a-handle that'd been used the first day. Everyone working the stations was perfectly efficient, perfectly impersonal.
After having their wounds "tended," they got breakfast. A few of the slaves didn't want to eat, but pokes from the shock batons convinced them to at least try.
On the fifth day, though, after the antiseptic swipe, the third table held a heavy wire rack full of collars. They were the cheapest metal collars available, the kind Commerce kept on all its slaves -- lengths of sturdy chain, the twisted kind that would lay sort of flat. Each chain hung by the link at one end on the wire rack; on its other end, a small, open padlock was looped through the bottom link.
The staffer grabbed a collar, wrapped it around the neck of the next slave in line, sized it by deciding by eye which link on the loose end to thread the lock through, then clicked it shut. That was it, next slave. They didn't bother clipping off the dangling links; David's collar had eight of them.
At least his headaches had gone away. He still felt nauseated sometimes, but it wasn't as often or as bad. He took more notice of what was going on around him; the staffers became individual people rather than identical drones in uniform. Or maybe "people" wasn't the right word, considering how they treated the slaves like cattle, but at least he could tell them apart, could notice that the thin woman with greying hair who worked the lotion station that morning was the same one who plopped a cheese sandwich on his tray at lunch.
The dark man with a paunch who jabbed his baton at the dawdling slave ahead of David on the way in to get their dinner, then shocking everyone within reach to get the line moving again, was the same one who pulled two of the slaves in David's dormitory off of him in the middle of the night.
They'd crept over to David's cot, one pressing a hand over his mouth and holding his arms while the other yanked off the thin blanket -- all that covered the naked slaves while sleeping -- and wedged his legs open before he was awake enough to fight.
Before anything could happen (beyond a few bruises and stark terror) the dark, paunchy man had burst into the room and beaten the two slaves to the floor with his baton. David could hear the buzz of the shocks, turned up high.
When the two rapists were reduced to crying, gasping huddles on the floor, shaking and stinking of urine, the man pointed to David and said, "That is Commerce property. It is not for your use. You won't touch, use or damage anything not specifically given to you for your use." Then he'd turned and left them there on the floor, and David naked and stunned on his cot, closing the door behind him.
Next Chapter: Chapter Twenty-Six