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Anime & Manga
- Hayate the Combat Butler: After the title character is abandoned by his parents to work off their massive debts, he is "hired" by Nagi, a rich heiress, to work it off.
- In the yaoi manga Okane Ga Nai the main character Ayase is auctioned off by his cousin to repay family debts and is purchased by a rich yakuza named Kanou. Because Kanou is in love with Ayase, he agrees to change the terms of their relationship from slavery to indentured servitude, giving Ayase a wage and allowing him to start earning his freedom.
- In Ouran High School Host Club the protagonist, Haruhi, is forced to join the host club to work off her debts after she breaks a ridiculously expensive vase in the first chapter.
- He Is My Master: In the first episode Izumi breaks a vase worth 5 million yen. She becomes a maid to the vase's owner to pay off her debt to him.
- She then keeps breaking things at a higher pace than she's paying the debt off, with it reaching more than double her initial debt at one point.
- In Maleficent fanfic, Diaval's servitude to Maleficent is often treated as this, with her setting him free when she has achieved her goals.
- This is the plot driver for the European film Acla, also known as Acla's Descent, when the title character is sold into indentured servitude. Has a Downer Ending albeit with a Bittersweet Ending taste.
- In America America, a weaselly American businessman routinely pays for the passage of young Greek men to America, in return for them working for him without pay for two years as shoeshine boys. The officials at Ellis Island even call Stavros and his fellow indentured servants "slaves." Stavros is perfectly OK with this, as he wants to go to America very very badly.
- In The Flower Girl, Kotpun's mother has basically become a slave, because she is so far in debt to the evil, explotative Pae family that she has no chance to work it off.
- In Strange Frame: Love And Sax, after the Earth became uninhabitable, everyone migrated out to the Jovian moons (or "The Joves" for short.) In order for the less affluent folks to get out there, a system of indentured servitude was instituted whereby they could work to pay off the costs associated with interplanetary travel. Of course, the costs ended up being incredibly high, and thus the indenture has been passed down to the descendants of those original refugees, creating a more or less permanent underclass.
- The "Vats", humans grown from cloned tissue, in Rats, Bats and Vats will have to start their adult life with paying off the debts accrued from being "[g]rown in a Company Vat, raised in a Company Nursery, and educated in a Company School".
- Institutionalized indenture is constant in the Uplift universe. All new intelligent life is created when a starfaring race genetically engineers a wild species to add sapience. In the laws of the Five Galaxies, the "client" race is then required to serve their "patron" race for 100,000 yearsnote of "indenture," which ranges from subordinate but dignified positions to brutal slavery. Indentured clients are legally attached to their patrons, have very few civil rights, and are "spoils of war" if their patrons are conquered or exterminated. Humanity is in constant danger due to being a "wolfling" species that has not gone through this period of indenture itself, so they've freed chimpanzees and dolphins from indenture even though their Uplift isn't even finished yet.
- Indentured servitude is legal in the eponymous nation of Tamora Pierce's Tortall Universe. In Protector of the Small, Keladry buys the two-year indenture of a servant boy who was being abused by his current master. Indentured servants do have certain rights that are guaranteed by law—their master is supposed to provide them proper clothing and shelter, but as with the boy Keladry helps, it's not always followed.
- In the Children of Steel series animen are indentured to their parent company for 50 years or until they've paid off the cost of their gestation and upbringing. Few survive that long.
- Azi in C. J. Cherryh's Alliance/Union universe have the rights of minors but they can be made citizens under certain circumstances, and their children are citizens. Considering the original point of azi was to increase the Union's genetic diversity.
- A.N. Roquelaure's (Pen Name for Anne Rice) The Sleeping Beauty Trilogy features a sexual indentured servitude. Before they're permitted to take rulership, young nobility and royalty are sent into training as sexual slaves. It's also a means of social mobility, as commoners and lesser nobles may also submit themselves for the same treatment. Slaves may also beg to remain so for life.
- Kushiel's Legacy: Terre d'Ange has Houses which take in children, training them and then having them serve for sex until their servitude is completed (signified by the completion of a tattoo that runs the length of their backs). Both Phèdre and Alcuin are bonded as this, and Phèdre once buys out the indenture of a girl who suffered a facial injury before she could complete her term of service and couldn't get any more customers because of the scar.
- In Renegades of Gor the protagonist meets a free woman caught in indenture after she ran up a large bill at an inn and couldn't pay. Her actual plan was an Exploited Trope: She would attempt to dine 'n dash but let herself get caught by the manager and be chained up outside, where she would beg passersby to redeem her debts, promising to pay them back later. She would then run off and do the same thing all over again. Such women are dubbed "debtor sluts" and it's usually a workable scam, but at the moment there's a major war going on and nobody was interested in buying her out, so she's stuck.
- In Earthrise Harat-sharin slaves sign themselves into temporary contracts. During their terms as slaves they have a lot of protections under the law and their savings accrue much higher interest than normal. Indentured servants on the other hand are convicts who have practically no rights.
- In Memoirs of a Geisha, Saiyuri is sold to an okiya to become a geisha. She works there and her service pays off the expenses of her sumptuous kimono, wigs, and other items she needs to become a full geisha.
- Bardic Voices makes the statement that indentured service was worse than slavery because slavery had rules to prevent exploitation of the workers that indentured service didn't have, and those who owned the debt were free to rack up spurious charges to extend the length of service.
- Simone, from The Saints, threatens Tori and Sonia with a life time of servitude if they fail to accomplish her request
- Heralds of Valdemar: While slavery is illegal in Valdemar, indentures are legal. A "bonded" child has to serve the bond holder until he's 16 for no payment; Skif's mother "forgot" to bond Skif to his uncle Londer. Prisoners can also be sentenced to indentured servitude on farms (would have happened to Kalchan if he'd survived his head injury) or mines (Master Cole tries to claim Mags and the other mine-slaves are indentured criminals).
- This is how Wulfgar met Bruenor Battlehammer in The Icewind Dale Trilogy. After being captured during the barbarian attack on Ten-Towns, Wulfgar is indentured to Bruenor for five years.
- The Schooled In Magic series takes place in a medieval world type setting. While not directly applicable to any of the main characters in the series, there is plenty to imply that this practice is a normal part of life in the Nameless World (such as the description of Lords and the serfs that live on their land, or the description of servants in magical households who are spelled into a mindless obedient state even though they are not slaves technically).
- In The Road to Mars, some space colonies were founded by people who agreed to be indentured to the company that funded their transport to the outer solar system for a certain number of years. Then they discovered that the contract was for local years, rather than Earth years, which meant that the indenture would be most or all of their expected life span, given that they were living in the outer solar system. This was explicitly mentioned to be illegal, but just try finding a lawyer in the barely-colonized outer solar system in those days.
- In the Eldraeverse the Empire of the Star detests slavery to the point of blowing up planets that supported it. But you may end up indentured if you default on the wrong loans.
- In A Million Open Doors, Caledony's economy is based upon mass perpetual indenture. Since the planet's almost completely un-terraformed and thus inhospitable to human life, everyone relies on the government for everything, and the government charges money for nearly everything, leaving all the citizens in a debt that must be paid off through labor.
- The Stormlight Archive: A common part of the culture. Every slave has a debt and must be given wages; the slave can choose to put their wages to their debt, and eventually be freed. There are also rules about the misuse of slaves, such as putting them in suicidal situations. Both of these things rarely work as intended. The slave debt is many times more what they are sold for, and there is little protecting slaves if traders choose to lie about the size of the debt. Furthermore, powerful people can just ignore the rules on treatment of slaves. Highprince Sadeas is famous for killing hundreds of slaves a month in his bridgecrews, but no one can do anything about it.
- The Citizen Series: The Cutter Stream Colonies are based on the mid-Atlantic states during the late colonial period, and "servants" form the bottom rung of what amounts to a Fantastic Caste System. A specific distinction is drawn between them and "employees" (free commoners who work for pay); the latter tend to be more expensive.
- Present in Firefly as part of the setting's massive Schizo Tech.
- In "The Train Job" Inara extricates Mal and Zoe from the local sheriff by claiming he's a runaway indentured man whom she located after he embezzled money from her accounts.
- On Higgins' Moon ("Jaynestown") most of the ceramics workforce is indentured, which allows the magistrate owning their contracts to get filthy rich by keeping conditions in the Company Town as cheap and crappy as possible and paying them as little as possible. The RPG says his son has been working to improve things since the episode, though.
- In one episode of Barney Miller a diplomat has a slave. The slave's grandfather borrowed money from the diplomat's grandfather and he's still working off the debt.
- This is a plot device that Jerry and George use for the pilot they write for NBC, in which Jerry gets into a car accident with another man, and since said other man didn't have car insurance, the judge ordered the man to become Jerry's butler.
- The above inspires Frank to do the same to George when his car is ruined while in George's possession (George had parked the car in a handicap spot, and a wheelchair-bound woman ended up having a serious accident because of it).
- Earth2 has the mechanic mention that he's still paying off his grandparents' debt for getting to the stations from Earth, and that he only took a dangerous mission because the pay would allow him to clear the debt and ensure his daughter wasn't burdened with it.
- Done in Murder, She Wrote where a French chef is forced to work at a small-time diner near Cabot Cove because the business' owner had paid for his work visa and ticket to the US and is unhappy with his job so he intentionally botches his work. He isn't French - he's an American who went to France to go to culinary school but flunked out so he faked his identity to get back home on a work job. He can't quit because otherwise he'd have to pay the entirety of his ticket and face fraud charges.
- The Magicians: In return for getting back use of his hands to do magic, Penny signs a contract with the Neitherlands Library to work a million years for them, in his lifetime and afterward.
- Space: Above and Beyond. In the pilot episode, two of the characters mention being in indentured service to the company sending them out into space since they were children. It's not that that bothers them, but the fact that political considerations mean that one of them has to stay behind on Earth while an InVitro takes his place.
- American Gods: The convicts transported to the Thirteen Colonies receive this as their sentence, for either a set number of years or life. Essie McGowan gets her master to free and then marry her.
- Dollhouse: It's never called out by name, but this is what the Dolls amount to. They have all signed contracts with the Dollhouse to give away their bodies for a certain in number of years, during which they are fitted with new personality downloads and hired out to rich clients on 'engagements', often sexual in nature. Of course, these contracts are illegal by modern standards. One ex-doll even tries to go public after her years of indentured servitude are up to expose the Dollhouse.
Mythology & Religion
- The Bible: Indentured servitude was common in Israel. To prevent it from becoming too permanent, the year of Jubilee was established in the Book of Leviticus; every fifty years all debts were forgiven and slaves set free. This only applied to Hebrew slaves, though—foreign slaves could be held for life, as inherited property. Women were also not included. Additionally, indentured Hebrew men could become permanently enslaved "voluntarily" if they wanted to remain with a slave wife their master had given them and any children they had with her, who otherwise would stay when they were freed. One suspects the masters likely gave indentured men wives just to coerce them into this...
- In Eclipse Phase indentured servitude was revived once Brain Uploading was developed. Mega Corps would hire people from third-world countries and upload their Egos to cheap synthmorphs on their mining colonies throughout the solar system in exchange for some years of labor. Then came the Fall and billions uploaded themselves seeking to escape the TITANs, most became disembodied infomorphs. The newly emerged Hypercorps began exploiting this massive "infugee" population with indenture contracts promising them new bodies, which often have built-in dependencies on expensive treatments that only the corps can provide. Naturally most of the Autonomist Alliance condemns this practice, with the exception of the anarcho-capitalist Extropians (the rest of the Alliance being collectivists).
- In Ironclaw indentured servitude is one of the more serious penalties that can be applied to commoners in Calebria. And the Phelan normally impose fines for all crimes but if the accused cannot pay they are sold into slavery. The price list for Labor in the equipment chapter lists slaves with an indenture of one year or for life.
- In Myriad Song many of the Myriad worlds practice indentured servitude for a variety of means, though outright slavery is officially banned since the Syndics vanished.
- The majority of the humans that come to Maifaux do so under a Guild contract, which they can supposedly work off within two years. Since Malifaux is a Company Town where the Guild controls everything, many find themselves going into even greater debt once they get there.
- A variant in Naughty Marietta. Marietta (or Marie if you're watching the 1935 movie) impersonates a casquette girl, casquette girls being young women who were sent all expenses paid to French Louisiana with the expectation they'd marry a French colonist. If they didn't, they had to go back to France.
- In Mass Effect 2 the asari planet Ilium practices this, though many (including possibly Shepard) still consider it slavery. Unlike with the batarians the practice is strictly regulated as to the treatment of the indentures, work conditions, what types of work are permitted, and the length of service allowed. There's even agencies that match indentured workers with employers. In one sidequest Shepard encounters a quarian software engineer who ended up selling herself into indenture to cover gambling debts. Shep can talk a computer company's rep into buying the quarian's contract from an indenture agency as a compromise solution: the company rep doesn't support indenture and so won't take her directly, but Shepard suggests buying the contract, freeing the quarian, and then garnishing a smaller part of her wages to pay off the debt. (Related conversations also touch on some Culture Clash about the practice: the asari assume that humans' low opinion of slavery or indenture comes from their conflicts with batarian slavers rather than humans' past slavery of each other.)
- In one quest in Half-Minute Hero, you're forced to enter into one of these arrangements via But Thou Must! means. The town you're sent to is a scam with a system that makes it impossible to make enough money to leave, ideally keeping you a slave forever. Of course, your Timey-Wimey Ball abilities make the scam breakable.
- In Colonization, criminals and indentured servants emigrate from Europe. These people are ineffective at any skilled job, but may eventually become a free colonist through labor or military service (criminals become indentured servants first before turning into free colonists).
- Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! has this as part of Aurelia's unique gameplay mechanics - she has a skill tree dedicated to buffing other player's characters in exchange for taking damage for her.
- In Elite: Dangerous, the Empire practices indentured servitude, and criticizes the unregulated and black market slave trafficking in Federation space. Empire stations will even offer missions to players to rescue slaves to be made into Imperial 'slaves' for a duration, which have a much higher quality of life. As they value honor above all else, Imperials consider it more honorable to sell yourself into temporary slavery than to default on a debt.
- in Crysis 3 most of the enemy soldiers you encounter are under C.E.L.L. Work Away Debt program, despise being advertised as a form of indentured servitude and C.E.L.L. has enough political and economic power to keep it as slavery, thanks to their unlimited energy distribution forcing many people to become indebted with C.E.L.L.
- The "Space Slaves" commodity in Rebel Galaxy actually consists of human and alien indentured workers, but trading in them is still illegal on most stations and can get your ship raided by the militia.
- Gar in Arcanum considers himself to be an indentured servant of H.T. Parnell, who paid Gar enough money to rescue his family from poverty in return for Gar performing as a freak-show attraction in Parnell's museum of oddities.
- In Looking for Group Cale saves a slave ship full of bankers who ruined their kingdom's economy, and were sentenced to five years of servitude as punishment.
- In Quentyn Quinn, Space Ranger Turing-level AIs have to serve a period of indentured servitude to pay off the cost of their manufacture. After that they're free citizens. But some unscrupulous owners tamper with their clocks so they think they still have decades left on their term, or replace their cortex with a copy printed off their Matter Replicator that thought it was fresh from the factory.
- In Terinu criminals are commonly sold into indentured servitude, in the first chapter the titular character, a former unwilling Space Pirate, is auctioned off to an unethical Biotech company.
- Escape from Terra: Belter criminal punishments tend towards fines or indentures. Some would-be pirates are almost sold to a pig farm but their bleeding-heart advocate manages to get them to pay their fines off on their own terms, one gets a job at a pig farm, another growing cannabis (no prohibition), and the third hustles cards until he gets into a fight and disappears, raising the others' shares. Later a juvie is given a choice between the pig farm or the Space Scouts, the idea being the latter would teach him a lesson.
- The practice is Older Than Feudalism in Real Life. Throughout history, most societies have permitted enslavement of debtors; in many ancient societies, debt slavery was the primary form of involuntary labor (the other being enslavement by being captured in war). In general, some form of debt servitude is one of only two realistic options for dealing with insolvency, the other being the modern solution—bankruptcy protection and discharge of debt. (Debt servitude favors creditors; bankruptcy favors debtors.)
- The Ancient Athenian lawmaker Draco passed a law that any man who was owed a debt by another could claim the indebted party as a slave until the debt was paid off. This proved so unpopular and destabilizing to the Athenian system that when called upon to reform Draco's laws a few generations later, Solon abolished enslavement for debt. This probably helped drive the expansion of the Athenian maritime empire, as it meant that large landowners who wanted to use slave labor to work their lands either had to rely on the slaves they already had (and their descendants) or import them from elsewhere—and importing slaves was much easier if your country was fighting wars of conquest and taking prisoners.
- The Romans also had a system of debt slavery, which they abolished as part of the long struggle for rights for the plebeian class in 326 BCE. This probably helped drive the expansion of Rome's empire, as it meant that large landowners who wanted to use slave labor to work their lands either had to rely on the slaves they already had (and their descendants) or import them from elsewhere--and importing slaves was much easier if your country was fighting wars of conquest and taking prisoners.. (The fact that both Athens and Rome's abolition of slavery for debt seemed to have factored into their respective rises as Great Powers led Niccolò Machiavelli to recommend that modern republics forbid the enslavement of their own citizens.)
- During the American colonial era poor Englishmen would often sell their labor to colonial landowners for a set number of years in exchange for the landowner paying their fare across the Atlantic. It was most utilized in the Middle Colonies (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware; Maryland and Virginia also saw decent activity - the Virginia Company was in fact the first one to use it). The practice fell into disuse especially in New England and the Southern colonies as wage labor (in New England) and African slavery (in the South) became more prominent—in fact, one of the reasons for its introduction in the Colonies was ex-indentures causing their former owners political problems—but was still occasionally seen as late as 1917.