Prison Planet 7
K. A. Williams
Topaz awoke in the top bunk bed, in a barracks full of other women, dressed in a gray uniform of soft breathable fabric and sturdy work boots.
She was confused at first then her memory became clear. She had been a robotics engineer that was tried for embezzlement and sentenced to work on a prison planet. Her lawyer had been an idiot and her trial a joke, she could have defended herself better.
Silver androids came in and started waking up those that were still asleep. Everyone else seemed afraid at the sight of them; she thought they looked like antiques.
The woman in the bottom bunk bed said, “Do you know who I am and what I’m doing here?”
Before Topaz could think of how to answer the woman, one of the androids went to the center of the room and started speaking.
“You are all criminals and have been given a memory wipe. Your sentence is to work on this farm. You will start after your first meal and work until dark with a few rest breaks and lunch in the field. There are separate communal bathrooms and showers for the men and women. Only the necessities such as food and clean clothes will be provided.”
Topaz had been classified as a sociopath so she assumed her brain was different than most people’s and that was why the memory wipe hadn’t worked on her. It had changed her though. Now she cared about other people, and she hadn’t before.
Breakfast in the cafeteria was a tasteless fare with substandard food. When it was over everyone, except the older prisoners who worked in the kitchen, was driven out into the field on solar powered vehicles, given farming tools, and supervised by androids.
After a day of working in the field, everyone was listless and quiet in the cafeteria at supper. Topaz was unused to manual labor and was completely exhausted. She almost fell asleep and had to catch herself from falling face first into her meal of half rotten produce.
She looked out the glass windows at the fields of vegetation illuminated by outdoor lighting. All that fresh produce and the workers were eating this slop. She grew angry.
The days passed by with agonizing slowness. The ones whose memories were gone selected new names for themselves. The past didn’t matter much here anyway.
One day it poured the rain and the workers were able to come in from the fields earlier. Most changed clothes and took a nap before supper, including Topaz. Since she had rested she was able to stay awake and when the others fell asleep that night, she snuck outside.
She had noticed that the androids were taking the harvested food to a large building near the barracks after the people returned from the fields. One android was standing guard outside.
She pretended to be sleepwalking. The android grabbed at her arm and she feigned a stumbling fall. “Ouch. I’ve sprained my ankle.”
“I will carry you back inside. If you are unable to work in the fields tomorrow, you will work in the kitchen.”
She threw her arms around the android’s back when it picked her up and felt for a concealed button that she knew was there. She pressed it three times in succession. The android stopped, frozen.
Topaz climbed down and moved behind the android. She pressed the button two more times and a concealed panel opened. She was grateful for the outdoor lighting as she searched and quickly found the override switch and the communication link that connected all the androids.
“You and all of the other androids will obey me. Any previous orders will be ignored. Tell me what’s in that building.”
“A time portal.”
“A time portal,” the android repeated.
The android led the way into the building where other androids were standing there awaiting her orders. Baskets of food sat on the floor in front of a large circular opening that was a swirling midnight black.
“What is that?”
“The time portal,” said the android.
The android told her that there was a food shortage in the future because industrialization had polluted many planets.
Scientists had discovered wormholes that led to the past and they traveled on spaceships through these wormholes. They searched for and discovered unpopulated regions on preindustrialized planets with suitable warm climates.
Androids were brought to those planets where they constructed buildings and water towers, installed irrigation and plumbing pipes, put up solar generators, plowed fields, and planted crops. Scientists built a time portal and when all was ready, prisoners were transported there to harvest the crops and send them back to the future. The planet they were now on was called Prison Planet 7.
“Why were these particular model androids sent here and why aren’t you helping to harvest crops?”
“We are older models designated to be scrapped before this experiment began. Our fingers are not dexterous enough for picking delicate produce. It would be crushed.”
“I can fix that. Do you have any tools? And I need a bright place to work.”
The android showed her a large room in the time portal building that had equipment in it. “All androids come to me now,” she ordered and they obeyed.
There were fifty of them in all. She fixed the dexterity of the fingers on ten of the androids. She didn’t have time to fix anymore, she was getting sleepy.
“Don’t wake us up early, we will not be going out in the field today. Only obey the humans that are on this farm now and no other humans. Is that understood?”
“Yes,” they answered in unison.
“You,” she said to the android that she had been talking with. “I will call you android one. How often is the food delivered?”
“Every night after humans go to bed,” said android one.
“Has any been delivered tonight?”
“Only thirty percent.”
“Then someone will come here through that portal soon. When that happens, you will bring that person or persons directly to me. Do not answer any questions or obey any commands from that person or persons. Is that understood?”
“The ten androids I fixed the fingers on are to be called androids two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, and eleven. The rest of you count off consecutively left to right starting with number twelve and that will be your number.”
They did that.
“I want androids two through eight to pick delicate produce in the field this morning and bring it to the cafeteria when it’s picked. Nine through eleven will fix the humans a delicious breakfast. The rest of you can go into the fields at daybreak and work till noon picking non-delicate produce. Is that understood?”
“Yes,” fifty voices said in unison.
Then she went back to the barracks and caught a few hours of sleep.
No one was woken up the next morning and everyone was confused as they entered the cafeteria and got a pleasant surprise.
Topaz’s bunk bedmate in the barracks had given herself the name of Eve and shook her awake that morning. “They’re not taking us into the field today and we have a delicious breakfast. Come on.” She slipped on her uniform and boots and allowed Eve to drag her to the cafeteria even though she wanted more sleep.
Everyone was enjoying breakfast and talking excitedly. She interrupted them by speaking loudly and explaining their situation. “My name is Topaz, and luckily I have my memory because I was a robotics engineer. Last night I managed to put the androids under our control. The androids were under the control of people from the future but I have reprogrammed the androids so that they will respond to our orders now.”
“The people in the future have sent us back to the past to a time when the worlds were not polluted so that we would harvest food for them. The androids will now help and obey us.”
“I have posted an android guard in the time portal room. Someone will come here soon to find out about the food supply that I stopped from being delivered. The android will bring them to us and we can negotiate a trade.”
She got her some food and sat down next to Eve who started bombarding her with questions, as did others at her table. She only half answered them because she was busy eating.
Before she and others had finished breakfast, many having gone back in line for second helpings, the android guarding the time portal brought in a struggling man.
Everyone in the cafeteria stopped eating and looked at him.
The man glared at them all in return. “I am Conrad, your warden. What happened to the food shipment? It’s almost midday. Why aren’t all of you in the field? And what’s wrong with this android? Why won’t it obey me?”
Topaz got up and faced the man. “If you want your food shipment, we’ll trade. We only have the bare necessities. We’d like an android doctor, medical supplies, and entertainment for our leisure time among other things.”
“Trade?! Doctor?! Leisure time?! You are all prisoners and harvesting food is your punishment. You’ll do as I say.”
She said in a calm voice, “Oh, I don’t think so. If you’re unwilling to trade, I’ll command this android to smash the time portal, after it throws you back through.”
Conrad was silent while everyone watched him.
“I know what you’re thinking. You plan to use the wormhole to time travel and return here with other androids to force us back to this gruelling work schedule. But at the first sign of invasion, our androids will set fire to the crop fields,” she said.
“Am I? This is a planet we’re on. We’ll simply go somewhere else and hide. And survive. We’d rather stay here where our androids will now help us harvest the food, but we will not work all day long, seven days a week. Also we will no longer tolerate being served food that should have been thrown out but we will trade.”
“Even if I agreed, these androids can’t help you harvest all of the crops. Their fingers were poorly designed and lack dexterity. Any delicate produce they pick would be smashed.”
At that moment an android returned from the field with a basket of strawberries, perfectly intact. Conrad stared open mouthed.
Topaz smiled. “You were saying?”
“H – How did you? How did they?”
“About that trade,” she continued. “We will get a list together for you after we finish breakfast. You can just wait there a few minutes. It’s the first decent meal we’ve had since we got here as I’m sure you know.”
Published in The Creativity Webzine September 30, 2020