THE JOURNEYMAN • by Steve Skipp

Anthony, the graying scientist, was smashing his Scroll with a hammer as the blue lights sliced through the windows and the darkness of the warehouse.

“Mercy,” he said, staring at the floor where the Scroll lay, “I need your help.”

She stood in the gloom, threading a stitch into her arm. It had already been a long day. “Who are they? Police?”

“Armitage.”

“Oh. That’s bad.”

He whimpered.

She stared into her bloodless wound as she tied the flesh together. “What do they want?”

“Damn shatterproof casing. Look, I may have committed some… soft corporate treason.”

“You what?”

“I need you to protect me.” He began working over his desktop terminal.

“I can’t,” she said.

“It’s your duty,” he said, a firmness in his voice.

“It was.”

“I’ll be tortured,” he said, hammering. “You’ll be destroyed.”

“What did you do?”

“I took some plans. From Armitage.”

“Why would you do that?”

“I was going to use them as inspiration. Implement some ideas into the next generation of Guardian. But I’m starting to think you were my greatest creation.”

“A journeyman plumber. Good job.” She tied off the stitch with a single hand.

“You can save us. You haven’t lost that ability.”

“How?”

“You know how.”

A bullhorn said, “Disable the android and surrender your data.”

He jumped. “Do it, Mercy. I have too many goddamned devices to destroy them all before they come charging in. Plus, the Cloud.”

“I won’t be able to go back to work.” The idea made her sad. She threw down her thread and needle.

“Mercy, you’re my daughter, but I need my Guardian. The world doesn’t need another journeyman.”

Suddenly, she started to weep. A dry, mechanical, herky-jerky yelp into her battered hands. A placeholder expression he’d forgotten to replace; she was made to do many things, but she wasn’t made to cry.

Before she was a plumber, she was a Guardian. A prototype. A failure. Designed to act violently and with as little latency as possible. In that sense, she worked, but the accident meant she had to be destroyed. Against Armitage Corporation orders, he squirreled her away where Armitage would never think to come looking: the warehouse, the last building standing in the wilderness of Fairhill, where city block-sized meadows were bounded by ruined streets.

Lonely and desperate, he worked. And he needed her to work, too, to bring in enough money so he could focus on his comeback. So rather than rewrite her operating system to alter her temperament, he built the Heart. It crippled her violent impulses when they struck by lighting up her every simulated nerve with signals of injury. At least once a week she found herself on the ground, writhing.

Still, she was glad for the Heart. It meant she didn’t have to be a Guardian. She liked her new line of work. She got to fix things, even make things – there was a skyscraper in Center City she did the plumbing for, and pride thrummed in her every time she thought of people sixty stories up, shitting. She’d become the world’s first android journeyman, they said.

And it was for nothing. There was no way out now. Surrender would be destruction, but salvation required it. She could have been a master plumber in a few years. Something more than a journeyman. But that was all over.

She stopped crying.

A crunching sound came from downstairs. The warehouse shuddered. They were breaching the door.

She looked at him. He was smashing a large Scroll Plus.

She turned away. A finger ran in circles at the middle of her chest, and her mind ran in circles around what could have been.

The finger stabbed inward, her whole hand going into the core of herself. She worked inside her chest until something snapped. Her coolant-coated hand came free, holding the Heart. Another one of Anthony’s patches that became permanent. She examined it, a little metal cylinder like a Coke can, then tossed it aside.

Somehow, she felt relieved. The memory of Anthony’s other creation was already ebbing. His other daughter, the girl Mercy had killed. The girl who ran toward him. It looked like a threat. After all, Mercy had been programmed to recognize the behavior of suicide bombers. She’d also been programmed poorly.

Boots thundered. They were coming up the stairs.

She turned to face him. The world doesn’t need another journeyman, she thought as she lunged.


Steve Skipp writes in the suburbs of Philly, both professionally and for fun.


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Rate this story:
 average 3.2 stars • 26 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Slightly confusing, but descent emotional payoff.
    Just to be sure, she’s killing him so he doesn’t make another?

    • S Conroy

      I think it’s because he told her that the world doesn’t need another journeyman. It was his excuse for converting her from plumber journeyman back into a heartless guardian, but she’s badly programmed, so she thinks it refers to him, which means he has to be annihilated. That’s my take anyway…

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    I read this four times before voting, wondering if the story was flying right over my head. The first two paragraphs made me think perhaps it was intended as satire or irony. But the rest of it didn’t support that idea.

    I almost never give the lowest rating, but I had to evaluate this against many stories I feel only merit two stars. I thought this brought in many themes but didn’t sustain any of them to a satisfying conclusion or an intriguing intimation of more. I didn’t feel able to give this more than one star.

  • JD Evans

    I found a lot of creativity that was overpowered by a lot more unfamiliar names of things which took too much time to sort out to make this an enjoyable story to read.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    I felt the story should have revolved more around the tragedy of Anthony’s daughter being inadvertently killed by mercy due to ‘her’ programming.

  • I felt like I came into a movie in its last 10 minutes.

  • I am frequently disappointed when writers who obviously have some talent in the use of words don’t respect readers enough to take the time necessary to make their work the best it can be. The best writers are re-writers.
    After two readings I don’t know who is speaking when. No attributions are sometimes worse than too many.
    Usually my ratings are based on the story itself, and I think there is one here. I simply couldn’t find it, and I’m really sorry.

  • Paul Owen

    Pulled me into that world right away – would love to read the rest of the story! Nice work, Steve.

  • Much promise. A deeper world-building that is hinted at with every inspirational paragraph. However, the paragraphs could be shuffled into a more satisfying flow: mentioning the “other” daughter earlier, bringing the removal of the Heart later right before the ending.

    Some of the language was exactly as it should be: Armitage. That’s bad. Works for me. I don’t need to know more. However, I was pulled out somewhat by the inclusion of “Coke can,” a sudden branding that suggests our world instead of this one.

    The Heart of this work is strong. Its containing ribs may need to be bolstered.

  • Teacher

    I enjoyed this. It had a fantasy and sci-fi style to it that I’d read in my free time. The writing in the beginning was far stronger than the rush at the end. This also led to the final scene becoming a little confusing –but not so much that I didn’t grasp it the first time. I feel like this story alludes to how close human’s are to being cold hearted –although I may be overthinking. *** from me this time for a creative tale.

  • The confusion returned for me again and again. I wanted to like this more due to the girl character, she was well done. But what the author decided to put her through wasn’t that cool, and bringing in the other girl and the suicide bomber thing at the end just didn’t work.

  • S Conroy

    I really enjoyed her entrance standing in the gloom sewing herself back together and loved the idea of him not rerwriting her programming, but controlling it all with a heart. A few confusing bits which needed a second read, but overall a nice dark story.