Hard labor was farm work.

When Escher arrived at the "farm" to meet the "farmer" - his new boss - he was corralled into a line with fifteen other boys of about his age, beaten with riding crops and spat on by big, hairy men, and all sixteen of them were stripped down to their skin and ordered to stand single-file with their backs straight and their chins high.

Escher recognized the boy standing just left of him - he was a short kid, a sophomore Escher thought, who wasn't exactly ugly but had just too much body fat to be considered attractive. He was all red like swine, with tears and snot and sweat rolling down his face and dripping from his weak chin. Escher had couldn't remember his name.

The big men paced around the line, glaring at them with pitiless eyes. The sun was starting to set already - it'd taken all day for Escher to get across the island, then he had to wait for the others Higgins was sending over. Their backs were to the land that was to be farmed so Escher couldn't see it, but it was probably beautiful in the twilight.

Soon the "farmer" came out to introduce himself to the boys. Escher didn't think he looked much like a farmer. For one thing, he was wearing a lab coat, which to Escher gave off more of a scientist-y impression. He was thin, with long, porcelain hands and a very long, delicate nose with spectacles perched at the very tip. His hair was dark, meticulously combed, with a part so very exact it looked like he styled his hair with a ruler every morning.

"Afternoon, boys," said the "farmer." His voice didn't match his body at all. It was deep, rolling, and loud. This was the voice of a man who was used to being in charge. "I hope you've found your introduction to this agricultural establishment informative."

The "farmer" paced before the line of boys, surveying each one like a specimen in a petri dish as he passed, his icy blue eyes falling just a bit too low for anyone's comfort. His chin jutted out towards the gray-and-red sky as he spoke again.

"You young fellows have been selected to nurture and harvest crops for our community until further notice. You will wake before dawn, you will work until your fingers have been worn down to bone, and then you will continue to work until all of your skin has been replaced with thick, rough callous. Then you will work until the end of your shift, and then go to bed." He stopped at the end of the line, spun on his heel, then continued the other way.

The slobbering fat boy beside Escher let out a bit of a cry - more of a wet whine, a tiny noise of utter helplessness. The "farmer" heard it - everyone heard it - and wasted no time making his way over to the boy. He didn't rush, or jump, or anything like that. He just fixed the boy with that icy gaze and walked right over to him in just the same manner he'd been walking previously, but faster.

He got right up in the boy's face, so close he could have licked the tears off of the poor kid's face. And in the same loud, authoritative voice, he said, "And just what is your name, young man?" Escher noticed the riding crop the "farmer" was holding behind his back. He hadn't seen it before - it'd disappeared into the shadows created by the folds of his lab coat.

The boy stuttered out a name that Escher didn't quite hear. The "farmer" laughed - barked the name out into the air - Escher heard it that time, but forgot it almost immediately - then went back to his pacing.

"Let me make two things abundantly clear before we go any further into your orientation," said the "farmer." He stopped, spun to face the line of boys, and raked his cold eyes over them in such a scrutinous manner that it was as if an arctic wind had swept over the island. When the "farmer" spoke next, his words were precise, forceful, and much, much louder: "I - am - in - charge! That is my first point. If any of you boys try to dispute my authority or display any mutinous actions while you are under my jurisdiction, you will be punished."

One of the big hairy men twisted his riding crop in his hands. Escher glanced over to the blubbering boy beside him. He was silent, but he was crying now more than ever.

The "farmer" went on, "And secondly - and mind you all, this is imperative to the hierarchy of this establishment - I am to be referred to as Sir or Doctor, and if any of you brainless maggots see fit to endearingly refer to me by some cute nickname, in private or to my face, you will be dragged out into the middle of the field and flogged until you are bloody and skinless. Are there any questions?"

His chest heaved, so passionate now that his face was red and veins stood up around his temples, and his eyes - his horrible eyes, Escher couldn't even meet them - ravaged the sixteen boys in the line. He was a starving wolf, and they were dead meat.

Sir suddenly smiled. He clapped his hands once, though the sound was dulled by the riding crop pinched between his thumb and palm, and as the sun finally dipped below the horizon he said, "Well, that's all I had to say. Men - show these boys where they'll be staying for the foreseeable future, won't you?"

And one big, hairy man with a horse crop grunted, "Yes, Sir."

Sir sauntered off, and the boys were shoved roughly towards the stiff cots and thin steel walls which, for however long the "farmer" pleased, would be their home.