What We Keep FAQ
I suppose the first thing we'd like to say about this universe is that it is not completely mapped out. Part of that is because of the impromptu nature of the originating story, A Kept Boy. It's a story I began on a lark and it's been written (and world built) on the fly. The other reason is that we don't want to get overly detailed to a point where the canonical 'rules' of the system become oppressive to free storytelling. We want there to be enough room for people to have fun in this universe. And sometimes that means not parsing things out too finely.
Next, a word on the nuts and bolts. This is an open universe. That means anyone is able to write in it, talk about it, create for it, without having to get prior permission. Stories do not have to be canon compliant; it's up to you, as creator, how close you want to stick to the 'rules' of the universe. On the other hand, that obviously means that not everything will be considered universe-canonical. It's up to you how much you want to incorporate other people's ideas and creations. It's up to me how much I (or darkrosetiger) want to incorporate into my/our own story/stories.
The FAQ will also probably not answer all questions that you might have. For the most part, darkrosetiger and I tried not to get too bogged down in specifics. Part of the fun of throwing the universe open is leaving room for other people to bring their ideas and stories.
When is A Kept Boy (and associated stories) set?
The answer is that I've kept that somewhat deliberately vague, in the interest of greater storytelling flexibility. What I posited is a future not far from now where the technological level is close but slightly ahead of our our own. At least one mention has been made of orbital stations and resource collection in the near solar system; on the other hand, corporations like Apple and HP are still very much going concerns.
Again, a lot of the fine details have not been explained or worked out to give greater flexibility to the universe. However, roughly four generations before the current "now", the countries that compose the Empire were on the verge of financial collapse and the political climate had changed to a degree that the divide between haves and have-nots had deepened to a chasm, with the Haves very much in control. The New Articles of Slavery were instituted to put some kind of control on the rampant debt and out of control spending that was bringing the country to its knees. The premise was that it would promote better, more judicious spending on the part of the population and that the only people who would be 'punished' were people who were already a burden on the system.
For the system to work, the slaves had to be employed and the money to house and keep the slaves needed to come from a non-governmental source. Thus, the Commerce Department 'contracts' the services of the slaves to corporations and the wealthy and in return, the corporation or individual owner gets labor at a far cheaper rate than they would by hiring a free person. However, this 'social responsibility' to own slaves is backed by legal articles designating the number of slaves a corporation or owner must contract from Commerce on a scale similar to that of income tax. Failure to comply with these laws can result in legal censure up to and including imprisonment and/or placement in the slave labor pool.
Is slavery world-wide?
The re-institution of slavery is a movement that originated in the US. It's pretty open-ended whether it's practiced in other countries or not, but it's known that "some" countries have instituted similar policies in recent years in imitation of the US. Recently, Britain--which does not practice slavery--has broken off all diplomatic ties to the US and closed their borders to all US traffic.
In truth, though there is some international travel, US citizens (and attendant staff) are generally encouraged to remain in-country for fear of terrorist attacks. The only slaves permitted out of the country are body-slaves and Agents (and only if accompanied by their owner) or slaves sold overseas.
How do people become slaves?
There are basically two ways a person can become a slave. 1) They can be seized or sold for debt or 2) they can be born to a slave. In theory, even well-to-do people can become slaves, but in most cases, their families bail them out of their financial troubles before it gets to that point rather than face the humiliation of having a member of the family become a slave. However, there have been a few (very few), notable cases where a scion of a rich family has become so estranged from his/her family that the family did not rescue them from debt repossession. For the most part, slavery is largely a function of the poor. A parent can only sell a child or have the child be considered their (disposable) asset until the child reaches 18. In rare instances, children are sold to the Department of Commerce for money rather than to settle a specific debt.
In theory, children can be sold at any age. However, before the age of five or so, they're generally not valued very highly because the cost to keep them is not mitigated by any labor offset.
Is there any way for a slave to become free again?
Not at this time. Once you are branded (literally) as a slave, both you and any children you might bear are considered slaves for your full life-span. The abolitionist movement has pressed for a manumission clause to the New Articles of Slavery, but at this point, their movement has little traction and little political power.
What is the Empire?
The Empire is the geopolitical entity that comprises the former United States of America, Mexico and large portions of what was formerly known as Canada. Formally, it's called the United States of North America, and the old republican institutions still exist. In practice, the government is an oligarchy run by a small segment of the upper economic classes.
What about the Constitution, and specifically, the Thirteenth Amendment?
As in our own world, the civil rights and civil liberties guarantees of the U.S. Constitution were slowly eroded by successive governments under the pretext of "security". The Supreme Court later ruled that it was legal to contract to buy and sell an individual's labor. This paved the way for the New Slavery Act, which explicitly overturned the the 13th Amendment, which had abolished slavery in the U.S.
Who is Commerce?
The Commerce Department (usually just 'Commerce') is a semi-autonomic branch of the government. On a large scale, they are responsible for the Empire's finances. More minutely and specifically, they own the entire slave work-force of the Empire and contract their services to corporations and individual owners.
When people are sold for debt, they are sold to Commerce, who then guarantees and dispenses the monies to the persons or corporations that hold the debt. Any remaining funds are given to the family or individual who sold the slave.
The Commerce Department has its own slave labor force that does not come from the public labor pool. Its slaves are chosen from a very young age and trained in Commerce-only facilities. Commerce slaves are never sold, never put to any other industries/tasks and are never 'put out to pasture', once their usefulness is presumably outlived. In fact, it's not really known what becomes of Commerce slaves once they become too old to perform their functions.
Who are the Laborists?
The Laborists are the reformer political party that pushed--and passed--the New Articles of Slavery. The Laborists (largely) represent the wealthiest and most powerful of the Empire. The Lord and Master classes are, for the most part, Laborists.
What makes someone a Lord (or Lady) versus just plain Master (or Mistress)?
The designation of Lord or Lady is largely determined by two factors: wealth and influence. The titles are not hereditary and are largely given as terms of respect, rather than any actual nobility.
(Sidenote: As this was all based on an RPS system of RL actors, I largely designated Lords/Ladies as actors who are considered A-list, like Tom Cruise, etc. and Masters/Mistresses as less well known actors like Jeffrey Dean Morgan. The system's not perfect, by any means, so it's not a hard-and-fast rule.)
What is Escrow? How does it work?
In a normal sale of a slave, when negotiations are opened, the slave in question is placed in a sort of waystation hostel colloquially known as Escrow. This is to guarantee that the slave remains in the expected or promised condition until negotiations are concluded as well as giving the slave some distance from their previous owner and giving them a sense of closure necessary for optimal adjustment to their new situation.
The slave in question will remain in Escrow until negotiations are concluded and a sale is made or until one or both parties withdraw from negotiations. The successful conclusion of a sale results in a Closing, where the new owner will visit the hostel to inspect and claim their property.
Not all slaves go through an Escrow process. When a slave is of low-enough value to be purchased outright--particularly if the slave has already been remanded to Commerce--the Escrow process may be skipped.
What kind of slaves are there?
This is a difficult question to quantify. A slave can hold nearly any position that a free man can, from unskilled, field labor to highly technical work as an engineer, programmer, etc., depending on their training. In fact, an increasing proportion of the national workforce is slave labor. In corporations, slaves are often designated by their position and are collectively called corporate slaves. On an estate, slaves are generally just designated as field slaves, house slaves, etc. The exceptions to this would be--obviously--body-slaves and Agents, who are slaves authorized to act with a certain amount of autonomy and owner discretion. Technically, body-slaves are also Agents.
The value of a slave is based on a number of factors, including age, fitness and training. With body-slaves, physical appearance is also paramount.
What are a body-slave's duties?
A body-slave's duties are largely dependent on their owner. From a social standpoint, it is considered highly unseemly for a person of a certain station (someone wealthy enough to own slaves) to appear in public without a body-slave. It's not unlike appearing in public without one's clothes. The body-slave is both a symbol of status and a sign of social responsibility. A person with social pretensions may purchase a body-slave to make themselves seem more important and respectable than they actually are. Sexual service is also generally part of their mandated duties, and most owners of both genders take advantage of this.
How are body-slaves trained?
There's no set standard; it depends on a variety of factors including the age of the slave, the age of the master, the size and wealth of the household, and what functions the owner wants the body-slave to fulfill.
Because of the rigors of the position, body-slaves are generally selected as children. However, their longevity in that position depends on their maintenance of a pleasing appearance, tractable demeanor, skill at performing their duties--and the prevailing social trends. Currently, the fashion is for young, physically attractive slaves; older body-slaves are often sold and replaced with newer models.
In terms to the actual content of the training, it ranges from mentoring by more experience body-slaves, to individual tutoring provided by licensed trainers, to training services that provide in-home instruction as well as classes. As it becomes increasingly common for wealthy children to receive their first body-slave at a very young age, some private schools have begun to develop parallel classes for masters and slaves (for an additional, extremely steep fee).
Slaves and sex, or, Why is the age of consent for slaves so low (10yo)?
While the initial drafting of the New Articles of Slavery contained the core ideals of the now burgeoning slave labor pool, it did not cover all contingencies and Articles have been added since its inception. Concerns about the sexual abuse of slaves resulted in the creation of an stated "age of majority" of 10 years old (the age that most children of the time are commonly beginning puberty) and the restriction of sexual contact to body-slaves only.
The reasoning behind the age of majority was a compromise between the Laborists and the fledgling Reformer party, given that many slaves are capable of siring or conceiving children of their own at that age. However, it is not customary for owners to have sexual contact with children that young and most owners wait until their slaves are well into their teens or older.
How much sexual control or permissiveness is exercised varies from owner to owner. Some owners allow their slaves to have sex and propagate indiscriminately. Others have more stringent or refined methods. Though a certain amount of propagation is normal and expected, mass breeding is illegal under the New Articles of Slavery and is punishable by law.
What happens to slaves when they no longer can fulfill their function?
What happens to 'useless' slaves really depends on the owner and, to some extent, the region. Most slaves who are found to be otherwise unsaleable are sold to conglomerations that specialize in cheap slaves and dangerous labor. In individual households, slaves with long service may be given less-demanding tasks as they age. Body-slaves are sometimes transitioned into full-time Agent roles, serving as factors or managers of their owners other properties.
In some places, most notably Hawai'i, the re-emergence of the traditional clan-based system means that to a far greater extent than on the mainland, slaves are considered part of the family. Slaves are rarely sold out of the family and are cared for in their infirmity; selling your body slave because he's too old is seen as the mark of a vulgar mainlander.
Are there rules or laws for owners about the treatment of slaves?
Yes, of course there are. The enforcement of those laws, on the other hand, is another matter. Owners are responsible for the health and well-being of their slaves--within 'reasonable' parameters. They are required to clothe, feed and house their slaves appropriately. As slaves are still technically the property of Commerce, owners are not allowed to kill or permanently damage (maim) slaves. Owners are supposed to reserve their sexual contact for their body-slaves exclusively.
There is a Commerce-run review board for slave-initiated complaints, but few complaints are actually lodged. If the review board should find in favor of the slave, against the owner, the owner is generally fined and the slave may be removed from the household or corporation.
Are there rules or laws for slaves?
Again, of course there are. Slaves are considered property; they don't own their own bodies. Therefore they are legally obligated to take care of their bodies. They're mandated to follow the orders of their owners (within the legal parameters of ownership). They're expected to stay in such quarters as are provided for them and behave in an appropriate, respectful manner, not attempting to offer or foment defiance, violence or other forms rebellion against their owners.
More specific rules and/or expectations are generally laid out by a slave's owner and may change from owner to owner. It is a slave's duty to perform those tasks and/or abide by those rules specific to their owner.
How are slaves identified? And what's the deal with those collars?
When slaves are seized by or sold to Commerce, they are given a small freeze brand and tagged with a microchip. In addition, slaves who work in the public arena or--like Agents and body-slaves--are frequently off their owner's estates or grounds are required to wear a collar. The composition of the collar depends on the discretion of the owner, but all slave collars are further tagged with the slave's identity and the extent of their permissions to conduct their owner's business.
Slaves are further identified by their provenances, documents that come in both written and online forms. The provenance contains salient details like physical description, the physical condition of the slave, identifying marks, previous ownership and relevant experience.
It is important to note, however that, while Commerce does everything in its power to match slaves with appropriate owners, slaves are not considered individually valuable. Thus there are checks and balances in place within the system to keep searches for slaves general, rather than specific.
Is there any opposition to the current system?
Yes. There is a loosely-organized abolitionist movement centered around the San Francisco Bay Area that primarily seeks minor changes in the law to improve conditions for slaves, with the ultimate goal of legalizing manumission.
More radical "purist" factions of the movement support the idea that any accommodation with the system is inherently immoral, and that the only true way to oppose the system is to refuse to be part of it--which means keeping one's income level below the threshold where one is required to own slaves.
The Empire allows the abolitionist movement to function both to preserve the fiction that dissent is tolerated and to provide a convenient scapegoat if the government does need to tighten security measures due to "terrorist activity." However, the strictly regimented society of the Empire makes it difficult for militant elements to plan Harper's Ferry-style armed uprisings.
Although there are always rumors of attempted escapes, and every slave has heard the stories of severe punishment inflicted on captured runaways, the Commerce Department has never reported any loss of slave labor other than through natural death, job-related accidents or misadventure. The measures in place--microchipping, physical freeze-branding, and the restrictions on slave travel, as well as the cooperation of most other industrialized nations--make it virtually impossible for slaves to escape their employment.