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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