Fan Fic: Sold To The Highest Bidder
Starting out as a fill for the request 'Sex slave AU' on the Hetalia kink meme, this sci-fi/steampunk hybrid quickly sprouted into an astonishing narrative combining twisting interpersonal plotlines with a vivid account of the multiple layers of society within the universe. To quote the author:
"Sci-fi/steampunky AU (minor elements of both, probably more sci-fi than steampunk), where sexual slavery is legal. 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.Plus, all your favourite sci-fi tropes: screwy alien biology! Multiple habitable worlds in the same solar system! Not explaining ever how their space travel works!"
Although the plot and worldbuilding are good in themselves, the primary draw of this 'fic is the excellent characterisation, which makes many of the plotlines extremely emotionally motivated.
So far the main plot threads are the Nordics-and-Netherlands thread, focused on planning to liberate a still-fighting Belgium; the England-and-Prussia-(and maybe America) thread, focusing on Prussia's promotion from untameable slave to crewmember and the intention to rescue America; the Estonia-and-Russia thread, which mainly deals with politics within the Empire; the Baltics-and- Estonia
thread, which has Estonia
unwittingly dealing with revolutionaries out to overthrow his owner
; the France-and-Canada thread, with France trying to hold on to Canada; the Italy-Germany-America thread, with America going through bondsman conditioning; and finally, Greece and Turkey, trying to chase down the Nordics on embezzlement charges. Needless to say, these plotlines intertwine a lot
- Aerith and Bob: Names of characters range from Island to Raivis to Yao to Tim. Justified, given the source material.
- The Alcoholic: Ivan.
- Ambiguous Innocence: Feliciano.
- Aren't You Going to Ravish Me?: Eduard is saying this to Ivan for the first eighty percent of the story.
- Badass Boast: A few of them. The Unsinkable gives an absolutely epic one to Mathieu:
: I'm going to get the hell
out of here, and you're going to find me an exit. Once I'm out, you can blab to Francis all you like, if he doesn't mind you talking with your mouth full of cock
. Now march, bondsman.
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Feliciano seems awfully sweet, and he is, but that's not necessarily a good thing.
- Bittersweet Ending: At the end, almost everyone got what they wanted - that is to say, Ivan freed Eduard, the Capt. and Unsinkable returned Alfred home, and the Five-Man Band reunited Willem and Margot. Unfortunately, Avo Romae was still in business with his grandsons still under his thumb, Alfred grew up to be introverted and disillusioned, the revolutionaries failed miserably and lived on in quiet solitude, and Mathieu continued to be confused and uncertain about his life. But at least Kiku and Natalya wound up together.
- Because I'm Good At It: This is one reason Eduard wants Ivan to keep him as a bondsman instead of setting him free; he's spent most of his life becoming good at this specifically. Luckily, he does find another hobby.
- Blind Obedience: Expected of the bondspeople. Mathieu, Eduard, Ludwig, and Katya's bondsgirl all start out this way. Later, Mathieu and Eduard start to break away.
- Buddy Cops: Adnan and Karpusi
- Cannot Keep a Secret: Raivis, much to Toris's dismay. This is how Eduard gets involved with La Résistance.
- Cannot Spit It Out: Captain Kirkland and the Unsinkable, which is certainly not good for their relationship.
- The Caligula: Ivan has elements of this toward the Union Empire.
- The Chessmaster: Island, with elements of this for the Five-Man Band as a whole.
- Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Eduard, albeit unintentionally and more at the fault of the two sides he's caught between.
- Subverted by Captain Kirkland, who is known to be selfish and often considers betraying his friends, but never actually does.
- Conditioned to Accept Horror: Many of the bondsmen. After all, Eduard's reaction to Ivan's Time is pretty... chill.
- Crapsack World: Obviously.
- Deadpan Snarker: Many of the characters, especially Adnan and Karpusi, Captain Kirkland, Eduard, and, surprisingly enough, Mathieu - to anyone but Francis.
- Decoy Protagonist: A few. At first, it seems Alfred will be the protagonist of his thread, but that role belongs to Captain Kirkland and The Unsinkable. Similarly, it looks like Ivan is going to be the hero of his thread, but it actually winds up being Eduard.
- Defector from Decadence: Ivan starts out as this.
- Disguised in Drag: Feliks, as part of La Résistance.
- Does Not Know His Own Strength: Ivan, particularly on his Time.
- Domestic Abuser: All the owners to their bondsmen to some degree. Particularly highlighted by the Francis-and-Mathieu thread, where Mathieu develops a sort of Stockholm Syndrome toward his master, as well as describing Francis's constant use of his services and less-than-humane punishments (i.e. shock collars).
- Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Eduard to Ivan.
- Drowning My Sorrows: Ivan.
- The Dragon: The Unsinkable is this to Captain Kirkland, Toris to the rebel leader, Mathieu to Francis, and Lovino to Avo Romae.
- The Empire: The Union Empire.
- Everyone Is Bi
- Extreme Doormat: Mathieu, at least for most of the story. He gets feistier after meeting Lovino.
- Foreshadowing: Plenty, though it's quite subtle. For example, this conversation:
Unsinkable: Never underestimate the power of underestimation! If there’s one thing I learnt on the streets, it’s that nobody ever suspects the simpleton.
Capt. Kirkland: Wish I'd figured that out before all of this. People quite like hanging a mastermind.
- Another specific example, though a less subtle one - the auctioneer pointing out how remarkably similar Alfred and Mathieu look. They were identical twins Separated at Birth when Mathieu was sold into slavery. This becomes a plot point when the other characters mix them up... and Francis winds up with Alfred while Feliciano and Lovino wind up with Mathieu.
- General Failure: Ivan, much to Katya's - and his own - dismay.
- Guilty Pleasure: Mathieu is this for Francis.
- Happiness in Slavery: Katya's bondsgirl has this. So does Ludwig. Mathieu starts out this way, before the government crackdowns force Francis to auction him and he realizes that might be a good thing.
- Heel Face Door Slam: Captain Kirkland receives this treatment from the Five-Man Band when they're forced to work with him, and all (six?) of them refuse to believe he's trying to do something good for once. He doesn't put much effort into convincing them otherwise.
- Which later bites him in the bum, because when he gets caught and is about to be executed, the Five-Man Band is given the option to help him escape and they refuse.
- Heel-Face Revolving Door: Eduard runs into this later on. Justified in that the story runs on Grey and Grey Morality and both sides are right, albeit in different ways.
- Hikikomori: Ivan is this for the most part, though he does go out to drink vodka with Toris.
- Humans Are Flawed
- Hunting the Most Dangerous Game: The man who wants to buy the Unsinkable off of the Great Delivery at the beginning of the story wants to hunt and kill him - unwittingly convincing Captain Kirkland to Heel-Face Turn to save him. Lampshaded:
- Hypercompetent Sidekick: Several. Eduard to Ivan, Lovino to Feliciano, Mathieu to Francis, and Island to the other four.
- I Just Want To Be Free: Alfred, Willem and Margot. All of them get it, to varying levels of satisfaction.
- Inadequate Inheritor: Ivan, to the Bragins' Union Empire.
- Innocently Insensitive: Danmark, usually toward Tim/Willem.
- Knight in Sour Armor: Lovino and Captain Kirkland, both to a tee.
- La Résistance: The Kilnus revolutionaries, of course; the slave-liberating Five-Man Band has elements of this as well.
- Loyal to the Position: Mathieu, Eduard, Ludwig, and Katya's bondsgirl. By the end, both Mathieu and Eduard have changed their minds.
- Love Martyr: Mathieu starts out as this to Francis.
- Questionable Consent: Though Eduard doesn't realize exactly what he's done until long after he's cleared Ivan's Time.
- Rape as Backstory: Justified, given the premise.
- Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: The justification for the murder of the Great Delivery's idiot crewmember.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Captain Kirkland gives Mathieu an absolutely brutal one after he disses Unsinkable. Doubles as a Tear Jerker (for Mathieu) and Crowning Moment of Heartwarming (between the Capt. and Unsinkable).
- Rebellious Rebel: Eduard is this to the Kilnus revolutionaries, choosing to betray them to Ivan.
- The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: Seen in all the Kilnus characters to some degree, but especially Toris. The revolutionaries start the story scheming Ivan's torturous descent into madness. Later, the rebel leader plans to blow up the Bragins' home - with her own troops inside.
- Scam Religion: Toris uses one to help bring down Ivan.
- Sex Is Evil and I Am Horny: A primary plot thread for Ivan, due to the aforementioned Scam Religion fabricated by Toris; Ivan's alien race must lose their virginity around a certain time to avoid serious cognitive damage, but Toris has convinced Ivan that to do that would damn him. Of course, Ivan is more sympathetic and kindhearted than most, and doesn't take out his troubles on Eduard... usually.
- Sex Slave: In the premise
- The Starscream: Lovino to Avo Romae.
- Steampunk: Duh.
- Stockholm Syndrome: Mathieu appears to have something of this toward Francis. Depending on your interpretation, this could also apply to Alfred, Gilbert, or even Eduard.
- Made a Slave: Some characters were either sold off at a young age by their parents (the standard way). Or kidnapped by pirates from a poor district. Alfred was of course this as one of the plot threads.
- Man Child: Alfred and Feliciano.
- Mate or Die: The Vitim have this conundrum.
- Missing White Woman Syndrome: More like Missing Well-To-Do Person Syndrome, but it's explicitly pointed out (in multiple instances) that the media is only concerned about the disappearance of the upper-middle-class Alfred F. Jones after the pirate raids, and don't even report the names of the thirty-some poorer or homeless folks the Great Delivery also picked up.
- Morality Kitchen Sink: A large cast of varying ethics. Seen:
- The Five-Man Band liberating slaves across the universe is the most straightforwardly good, along with Margot and Alfred being for the most part innocent.
- The Unsinkable and Eduard are both relatively good people allied with some less-good allies - which they hope to fix.
- Ivan is a devout and kindhearted person who winds up unintentionally hurting a lot of other people.
- Lovino is a Knight in Sour Armor who resists the bonds system but doesn't make an active attempt to fix it; Feliciano and Captain Kirkland both come to disagree with it but still help it along, planting them firmly among the Anti-Hero regimen.
- The police, Francis, Yao, and Elizabeta and her husband are not necessarily bad people but cause a lot of the plot's conflicts and often stand in the way of the right thing.
- The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized among the Kilnus; Toris, Raivis, and Feliks are on the darker end of things, as are the members of The Empire they resist - Katya primarily.
- Avo Romae and the other bondsperson traders and trainers are the most straightforwardly bad characters, though they don't see anything wrong with their actions, themselves.
- My Master, Right or Wrong: Eduard asks this question a lot about the Bragins' Empire, especially after meeting the revolutionaries, resulting in a sort of personal crisis for him. Mathieu also seems to struggle with it once he realizes he might want something other than to stay with Francis.
- Nice to the Waiter: Ivan is quickly established as a (relatively) good guy by his strong opposition to the bonds system. Of course, Eduard doesn't take it so well.
- No Badass to His Valet: It's not really a question why the revolutionaries are afraid of the Bragins, especially Ivan, but after the first day or so, Eduard certainly isn't.
- Only in It for the Money: The other characters believe this of Captain Kirkland, and they're usually right, until he decides to lend a hand to Alfred and Unsinkable. After that, he has a lot of trouble convincing people of his good intentions.
- All of the trainers/sellers of bondspeople, especially Romae.
- Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: The crew of the Great Delivery and the Five-Man Band, for a time.
- Those Two Guys: Adnan and Karpusi are this to some degree. Also the pair of older bondspeople travelling with Antonio to the auction. Feliciano and Lovino make an Early-Bird Cameo as this, though both become individually important later.
- Tragic Monster: Ivan has elements of this, especially in the beginning before he clears his Time.
- Twin Switch: At the auction, Mathieu and Alfred get mixed up and go to the wrong people. Of course, they didn't know they were twins yet.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Ivan and Eduard, Capt. Kirkland and Unsinkable, and Adnan and Karpusi.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Eduard has moments of this toward both Toris and Ivan. Margot asks this toward The Unsinkable when she finds out he's working with Captain Kirkland.
- Wholesome Crossdresser: Feliks is this as part of his duties as The Mole.