Notes: This is (yet another) kink meme deanon & edited & hopefully much better. It was originally written for a prompt asking for a slave AU in which all the wealthy/important individuals in such a society were expected to own at least one sexual servant, and asking for an auction in which servants were being sold off. It wound up being 250k ish words of politics and spies and yes, eventually an auction. /oops
Nobody's really moral or immoral in this here space opera: England's a pirate stealing freefolk to sell them; the Nordics are gentleman thieves working to free them; Turkey and Greece are (buddy cops) Federal Agents hot on both trails. France, Spain, the Italies, and Rome are (slave) bondsperson trainers of varying ethics; Hungary's the legislative power who somehow has to keep them in line. The East Slavics are high-society slave-owners struggling to maintain a nascent empire; the Baltics (plus Poland) are revolutionaries struggling to try and bring it down. It all leads up to the auction of the decade, which becomes a bit of a comedy of errors.
I'll be releasing a few chapters every few days instead of all in one go (which would drive me insane).
Trigger warnings: Alternate universe, sci-fi and steampunky, in which sexual slavery is a legit trade. That means dubious consent and a creepy unsettling atmosphere. Please be warned!
On the ao3 mirror of this fic there's a link to an ebook compilation which may be helpful to you if you don't want to read it on your computer!
You must either make a tool of the creature, or a man of him. You cannot make both. Men were not intended to work with the accuracy of tools, to be precise and perfect in all their actions. If you will have that precision out of them, and make their fingers measure degrees like cog-wheels, and their arms strike curves like compasses, you must unhumanise them...
On the other hand, if you will make a man of the working creature, you cannot make him a tool.
- John Ruskin
He didn't remember very clearly the night he was Taken. If he had, it would've meant he had the ability to fight, so he wouldn't've been Taken.
Before they came, it had been in-and-out of sleep for what seemed like eons, but was probably only a half hour. Maybe three hours. One and a half? Time was meaningless to the feverish, and Alfred had had that, badly. That was why his parents left him alone that night - normally he might tag along. Date night was Friday, and it was Tuesday, and they'd all had plans for the symphony together anyway so it wasn't like he would have been intruding.
To be living with one's parents at the age of twenty-seven wasn't so bad anymore. It had been, once, he was told, but New Joplin was a busy, fast-paced, city-life-filled planet, more advanced than the others, and he and his parents had been there so long he hadn't really known anything else. For a first-generation immigrant, he was pretty well rooted.
Besides, rent was expensive in the city of Lawton! You couldn't buy a bachelor's apartment for less than a grand a month, and he made only just a grand a month with his job. But he had been working hard as a pharmacist's aide these days, these past few years, after his bachelor's and master's and his two diplomas. That had to count for something, right? His boss'd promote him for all that hard work, and then he could pay his student debts, move out, and have his own place - because god was it ever embarrassing to bring girlfriends over and have to tell them to be quiet 'cause geez, you're gonna wake Mom and Dad - and, and save up, and maybe get a better job to finance a better place - like, like a house or something - and a dog, he loved dogs, and a wife maybe, and a motorcar. Gee, a motorcar'd be nice.
It turned out these were pipe dreams, because for once in - well, in a long time, farther back than anybody could remember, and Alfred recalled fourth grade history, they said something about 'centuries ago'...
Well anyway, the pirates came.
And he was sick, and home alone.
And the door wasn't locked (why would it be, in this day and age?).
Pretty boy. Too sick to struggle. Easiest few hundred thou they'd ever make.
The attack would later cause the entire amalgamation of Lawton and Grand Cove - some 60 million people, no small feat! - to put locks upon locks on their doors and always be home before 6 PM and to look behind their shoulders at shadows that were really just tricks of the light.
But that wouldn't matter to Mr. and Mrs. Jones of New Joplin because Alfred was gone, and he was the only son they had left.
The first thing he remembered when he came to, which wasn't vague snippets of Yo, Tony, over here! and Easy, luv, easy, swallow it nice now, there's a lad was a whisper from across the room. "Psst! Hey!"
The room ... was cold. Didn't he close the window? He would have, he was sick - and gee it's dark, even at 4 AM Lawton's never like this -
Alfred sat upright on cold dank stone. "What the-"
"Hey! You're up! 'Bout time, I'm bored," hissed a voice - accented, you're not from around here - to his left. Two bright eyes were staring at him through a tiny rectangular peep hole. It was too dark to see their colour but at least it was comforting to see another person.
"Where the hell am I?" he asked. "Is this like, the drunk tank or something?"
"Ho boy, you're old enough to drink? You don't look it!" the voice whispered, and the eyes through the peep hole grew wide. "Wait a sec, you don't remember? Aw, shit."
"What?" Alfred asked. "What'd I say?"
"Nothing, nothing, just - come here, okay? I'll tell you what's up, just come here."
The voice seemed trustworthy, and friendly, but more to the point it was another human being so Alfred crawled over as close as he could until he found he could go no further. "My ankle, it's chained."
"'Kay, I'll see if I can reach... Ah! There." And he saw a few pale fingers extend through the bars of the peep hole, and more of the other guy's face. Hard to tell in the low light but his hair was palest white, and his eyes dark brown. His accent didn't really sound Vitim, though. He'd studied the Vitim a bit in Extra Biology 325. Maybe Norda? No, not really...
Alfred wasn't sure what it was that made him reach over himself and grasp them. Probably the same thing that gave him a feeling of dread when he'd woken. This is not good, he thought.
"Look, kid, I'm really sorry to tell you this. I really am. But you got Taken."
And it was a testament as to how fucking ignorant Alfred was then because he said, "What d'you mean?"
The other boy's eyes - reddish brown? - widened further. "Aw, shit, you don't even know -"
But it was at that very moment a sound like clanging came from outside. "I'll have to tell you later, okay? They're coming to check on you. Say, what's your name?"
"Alfred," he replied.
"Alfred!" the other boy said happily. "That's an awesome name! Alfred, Alfred, Ally-fred. Freddy. Freddyfreddyfreddy. Alfred. Al. Okay, I got it. I think I got it. Remember your name, Alfred. Fucking remember it."
"What's yours?" Alfred asked, though the clanging was getting louder and he felt a strange feeling in the pit of his belly, like maybe he should stop talking so loudly.
"I dunno," the other boy said. "Maybe Gil. Maybe Ludwig. I don't know. They made me forget it."
"How could -"
"Shht," the boy replied. He gripped Alfred's fingers harder through the bars. "They're coming for you. Listen -" and the boy's eyes appeared wider through the peephole somehow, his voice quavering - "listen. Stay calm. Be nice to them, and they'll be nice back. Most of 'em don't wanna hurt us, but some of 'em do, and some others ... some of 'em want more than just to hurt us, okay? If that happens, just ... take everything that you know is you, take Alfred, and put him in a box. And lock that box up, you hear? You're not a person to them anymore, you're a thing -" oh god, then it was as he feared - by taken, the other boy had meant Taken taken, like in the stories... Alfred began to panic.
"No, don't. Don't do that. Calm down. Lock it up. Don't let them in. Don't you let them in, Alfred."
The door to his cell opened and horrifyingly bright light rushed in.