Today is different, Phil Kahale thought. He had been thinking it all day.
Breakfast had been the same. He lined up with everyone else for a bowl of mostly tasteless soy sludge. But after that, the differences set in.
First, they heard an explosion, a very loud one from the other side of the island.
Nobody knew what happened, and all the inmates began discussing what possibly could have blown up.
“There’s nothing over there,” Topher said confidently, the short fellow with receding hair who bunked near Phil.
He smiled confidently at the group of men around him and said, “That side of the island has trees, vegetation, and a beach. Nothing more. No buildings, no infrastructure of any kind.”
“Okay,” somebody said, “so what blew up?”
“Had to have been a vehicle of some kind. Either that, or a missile hit the island.”
“A missile? From where?”
“From MARS, the Missile Armed Response System.”
Topher’s interlocutor, a man with a haggard face that had aged too fast, said, “MARS is a myth. We don’t have a global defense system like that.”
Somebody else spoke, another older man.
He said, “I worked on the design specs back in the day. It exists.”
This statement caused a stir and everyone stared at him. He was of mixed ancestry, with darker skin, black hair and brown eyes. He looked to be in his early 50s.
He nodded and cracked a grin.
“You’d be surprised what Thespar’s Sporades branch can come up with. Don’t tell anybody I said anything. It’s classified. They might send me to reeducation camp or something.”
Everyone chuckled at this, since of course they were already confined to Patmos.
The next aberration in the day’s routine came when Duhring and Buchner walked up while everyone finished eating, wearing blasters strapped across their back.
Phil had not been confined to Patmos for very long, but he had yet to see any of the guards, or indoctrination specialists or whatever they called themselves, go around armed.
Guard bots watched the transport, at least one. There had been one on the transport bringing Phil to Patmos. But ever since then, he had not seen a gun.
There was little need for weapons. Patmos was truly isolated. No one left except by transport. There was no dock for boats, no sensors for teleportation. The weekly supply transport flew in with food and an occasional newbie, and that was about it.
If someone got to go home, they left on the transport. So the prisoners accepted the inevitable. They did not resist, or try to escape. They simply could not escape. Even if they stormed the transport somehow, it was automated and would refuse to fly.
Duhring, the man in charge of the camp, addressed everyone.
“Listen up! We’re all marching into the center of the island where we will be digging a long ditch. Everyone is to file by the tool shed and grab a shovel. Follow me.”
A few groans went up in the crowd. Several people were involved in harvesting crops right now, and had looked forward to bringing in fresh food for supper tonight. They got to eat what they could grow, and it was welcome variation from soy wafers.
But other than complaining verbally, no one resisted. Everyone dutifully followed Duhring and Buchner to the tool shed and grabbed shovels. Then they set out for the island’s interior, a two kilometer march.
Phil found himself hiking near Topher.
He looked at the shorter man and said, “Doesn’t it seem odd they’re carrying guns?”
Topher said, “Hm? Nah, probably just a precaution since they’re taking all of us along. No big deal.”
“Have you ever seen them go armed before?”
“Oh yeah, I’ve seen it. Been a while though.”
Phil thought about that. Topher had been imprisoned on Patmos for years, resisting the government in his own way by refusing to conform to the ideological indoctrination taking place every day at the reeducation camp. If he was not worried about the fact the guards were going armed, Phil would try not to worry.
But it still remained an aberration in the daily routine.
Less than half an hour later, the party stopped near a cultivated field, with a slight hill in the distance and trees to one side.
Duhring directed everyone to start digging a long trench alongside the field. He wanted it two meters wide and told them to make it at the very least half a meter deep.
“Everyone get to work!”
The prisoners began shoveling. It was not overly difficult, Phil thought. His hands were calloused already from heavy labor, so handling a shovel was not as problematic as it would have been for him even a week ago.
Also the ground was sandy here, he thought, which was why crops were planted nearby. Maybe the guards had chosen this place because it was easy to dig up.
Work on the trench progressed swiftly, and a couple hours later it was mostly finished.
“Very good! Everyone put your shovels down and line up.”
Duhring and Buchner had watched them work, mostly in silence, speaking quietly to one another as the morning progressed.
Now they split apart, Duhring heading left and Buchner to the right.
Phil glanced at Topher and said under his breath, “What’s going on?”
“Just go with it,” Topher whispered back. “Probably some new mental exercise handed down by HQ in Rostin.”
Everyone tossed their shovels down and lined up at the edge of the trench. Most were compliant, Phil thought, because they just wanted to go home. They would do and say whatever the guards told them. They would even change their thoughts away from dangerous ideas like personal freedom and responsibility, and try to convince their handlers in circle time they were good, compliant citizens of the League.
They would do or say anything, just so they could go home.
A handful of others had been here for years, and were likely never going home. Like Topher, they held on stubbornly to the ideas of personal liberty and human rights. They resisted by not letting their thought processes be changed. They fought their own private wars against collectivism.
But in all other ways, they remained compliant. So they threw down their shovels, too, and stood facing the guards.
When both men unstrapped the blasters on their backs, the prisoners experienced a sudden flash of insight as to their intent. Looks of worry and concern crossed the faces of almost everyone.
But before the guards could shoot, they turned at sounds from the nearby hill.
An armed battle robot ran full tilt toward them, its blaster aimed unerringly at Cedric Buchner, despite the speed.
An electronic amplified voice repeated a message as it sped toward them.
“Put down your weapon! Put down your weapon or I’ll shoot! Put down your weapon!”
Behind him two young Marines, also armed, ran down the hill. Unlike the bot, they waved their weapons wildly.
They screamed something Phil could not make out at first. Within seconds as they came closer, he could hear them more clearly.
“Don’t shoot! Drop it! Don’t shoot!”