Yamaya’s air was thick with swampy marsh water, tinging the atmosphere of the moon a sickly green. Moss dribbled from the trees, ran between the cobbletones, and clogged the fountain at the center of the square, every surface slick with something slippery and green.
Tumbledown wooden shacks, repair shops, and an equipment distribution and logistics building ringed half of the circle, flanking a massive white mansion house. A man emerged from inside as Anny touched down in an unoccupied parking space, and he leaned casually against one of the massive pillars, adjusting the jeweled clip holding the bolo tie around his neck.
“You must be the SYMM agents I sent for,” he said, a lollipop stick dancing in his mouth, the candy clacking against his teeth.
Anny reached out an arm to shake, but the man turned it over sideways, pressing his prickly lips to her knuckles.
“Yes… Well, we’ve been dispatched-”
“I don’t recall giving you orders to speak, machine,” the man cut him off coldly, but his charming smile was back when he regarded Anny. “My name is Mr. Kazimierz Corin Cassia, owner and foreman. We run primarily on robot labor, although there’s a small crew of humans overseeing and repairing the things. Problem is that my overseers have been hearing some words of contention out of our units. We think one is discussing an uprising, or worse, unionization. But we’re not sure which one.”
“I imagine that’s where my associate comes in,” Anny said.
“Correct-a-mundo. It’ll pose as one of my laborers, and get word from the inside while we observe from the out. Make sense?”
Anny and WISR nodded.
“Some of my machines look too human for comfort, so I mark them all with one of these.”
From the table behind the pillar, he picked up a swath of itchy brown fabric.
“Oh, joy upon joy. Our first assignment and I have to be a slave,” WISR said.
Anny tossed the rough burlap garment at him. It hit him square in the chest and fell with a plop to the floor, forcing him to bend down and scoop it up. She hesitated a moment, instantly feeling guilty, but he’d already gotten it and settled it over his shoulders before she could help.
“Well, get over it,” she replied sharply, “We came here to do a job and we’re going to do it. Go join the ranks.”
A line of androids, monitors and synthflesh and metallic parts alike all streaked with the grime of grueling work, trooped by in a relentless march. WISR let his entire body droop in exasperation before he resigned himself to the hunched fold of the other robots and trudged to his place in line.
“It always talk to you like that?” the foreman asked Anny, crunching noisily on the candy.
“It’s our first mission but so far, yeah.”
“Come then, lemme show ya a tour of the operations.”
Mr. Cassia led her up a massive hill with steps set in the earth, bordered by old and splintering wood. About halfway up the incline, sweat plastering her shirt to her back, Anny began coming up with better names for the logging camp: ‘Camp This-Stupid-Hill’, ‘Camp Never-Shoulda-Taken-This-Job’, ‘Camp Why-Me’. As they got closer and closer to the top, she choked back the spicy smell of fresh-cut pepperwood .
“Ya alright there?” Mr. Cassia asked, offering a huge and callused hand to help her up the last big step, which was seemingly that much worse than the others.
She tried to make it without his aid, but stumbled up and into his grip anyway. She swore her feet completely cleared the ground as he hauled her up.
“F-Fine. Fine,” she stammered as she tried to get her bearings again.
Stinging salt streamed into her eyes and she tried to wipe it away with her wrist, only to find that did little to help.
“Now over here,” he gestured widely to a building of brown-stained wood, “Is where the magic happens. C’mon, there’s water inside.”
Rows upon rows of androids shoved logs through debarkers and slicers, kicking up more clouds of spicy sawdust that left Anny doubled over coughing.
A big meaty palm came down on her back, over and over again until she could control her unsteady breaths.
“Here,” Mr. Cassia said, shoving a paper cup into her hands. The water was cool but also stung her lips with the specter of capsaicin, “I know, takes some getting used to. I wouldn’t have called you and your pet unless I was sure. Here we slice the timber, grind the bark to ship out as spices, and prepare the lumber. We do it all on-site to keep overhead low and pass the savings on to the customer. Either way, our little operation makes money hand over fist, year after year. You wouldn’t think the most profitable enterprise this side of Camenae would be on this little moon!”
“Where do you get your androids?” Anny asked, not nearly as amused as he.
“Most are pre-owned. Families looking to upgrade will trade in older models, which get sold for labor like this bunch. They’re cheap, they’re easy to get ahold of, and they’re replaceable. I don’t rake in credits by the millions buying new, that’s for sure!”
“And they’re treated well?”
Mr. Cassia grimaced, “As much as a machine can be. We do our best to keep them in working order, but we don’t go out of our way for comfort or luxury.”
“Do you think adding more amenities could put an end to this ‘uprising’?”
“What, you think fluffing up a few pillows could make them stop wanting to take what rightfully belongs to me? Soon, they’ll be demanding air-conditioned cabins and two hour work days and then nothing would get done!”
“But with such a high labor turnover, PAXing one android when others could dissent seems like a waste, looking at cost alone-”
“I said no. I’m not sending this tin cans on some all-expenses paid vacation here! You and your machine will find out who’s gotta get PAXed, and you get out and that’s final. You hear?”
Anny turned away, twisting the paper cup in her fist.
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J.D. Locke • Watercolorheart