Looking for an episode from a sci fi anthology series where a man is granted wishes, but has to pay them off by working in a mine forever.


2 Answers 2


I don't know about the "sci fi anthology series" you're asking about (was it on radio or television?) but I believe the story is "Something for Nothing" by Robert Sheckley, which was also the answer to the old question Help finding the name of a radio drama about a machine that grants wishes, but turns out to be a credit card.

The story was first published in Galaxy Science Fiction, June 1954, which is available at the Internet Archive. It has been reprinted in a number of anthologies and collections. The X Minus One radio adaptation, which originally aired on April 10, 1957, is available at the Internet Archive and also on YouTube.

A contemporary man receives a mysterious gadget from the future, which seems to be a "wishing machine", but turns out to be a credit card. When the bill comes due and he can't pay, he is sentenced to work it off in the marble quarry:

When he opened them again, he was standing on a bleak plain, facing a range of stubby mountains. A cold wind lashed his face and the sky was the color of steel.

A raggedly dressed man was standing beside him. "Here," the man said and handed Collins a pick.

"What's this?"

"This is a pick," the man said patiently. "And over there is a quarry, where you and I and a number of others will cut marble."


"Sure. There's always some idiot who wants a palace," the man said with a wry grin. "You can call me Jang. We'll be together for some time."

Collins blinked stupidly. "How long?"

"You work it out," Jang said. "The rate is fifty credits a month until your debt is paid off."

The pick dropped from Collins' hand. They couldn't do this to him! The Utilization Corporation must realize its mistake by now! They had been at fault, letting the machine slip into the past. Didn’t they realize that?

"It's all a mistake!" Collins said.

"No mistake," Jang said."They're very short of labor. Have to go recruiting all over for it. Come on. After the first thousand years you won't mind it."

Collins started to follow Jang toward the quarry. He stopped.

"The first thousand years? I won't live that long!"

"Sure you will," Jang assured him. "You got immortality, didn't you?"

Yes, he had. He had wished for it, just before they took back the machine. Or had they taken back the machine after he wished for it?

Collins remembered something. Strange, but he didn't remember seeing immortality on the bill Flign had showed him.

"How much did they charge me for immortality?" he asked.

Jang looked at him and laughed. "Don't be naive, pal. You should have it figured out by now."

He led Collins toward the quarry. "Naturally, they give that away for nothing."

  • The anthology was likely a book :-)
    – toolforger
    Sep 6, 2022 at 15:47
  • 2
    The story says "The total came to slightly better than eighteen billion Credits". At 50 credits a month, this comes to 30 million years, more or less.
    – tolos
    Sep 6, 2022 at 20:19
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    Technology to time travel, grant immortality, but they still use manual labour with hand tools to cut marble?
    – Colombo
    Sep 7, 2022 at 2:21
  • @Colombo Clearly it was one of those "I'm too lazy to do this job myself, so I will go to ridiculous lengths to automate it instead" situations.
    – Ben
    Sep 7, 2022 at 3:51
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    @Colombo I guess punishment still has to be painful in the future. So it's not so much about earning money than to be punished I guess.
    – U. Windl
    Sep 7, 2022 at 12:18

From @user14111's answer I went through Robert Sheckley's contributions on IMDB. He has a writing credit on a 1996 episode "The Utilizer", which seems to be an adaptation of the story "Something for Nothing." TCM has that it aired December 1995 on SyFy but everything else I've seen says December 1996. It doesn't seem to be explicitly part of an anthology.

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