by Michael E. Johnson

Uncertainty is the only principle.

“During the war of 2297, the /fr: Users Army of the Truly Glorious Quebec Corporation/ clearly gained territory in the battle for Niagara, almost to the Finger Lakes, the Handymen and Janitors secured every piece of salvageable goods, wire, transmission towers, and generators in a 20 kilometer stretch leading away from the hydro plant located near the falls. In one skirmish, over the course of several hours, they secured a hammer. They left nothing behind.”

-- At least they didn't burn Washington this time by A. StudyMaxx™ Smith.

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Chapter 2. [UNEDITED]

A hammer. A hammer in a tool belt, laying on a jumpsuit, folded neatly by someone other than the owner, in a locker, in a very tidy room, monitored by a very bored clerk. The hammer rests, out the door, down the hall, up the elevator past the music and advertisements, to an ICU ward two floors and a few more doors away from her owner's comfortable hand. A hand that was very used to swinging a hammer, especially in the encouragement of stubborn sensitive electronics. Jesse's hand, in his sedative-induced stupor, struggles against the bandages to put his hands on the absense of his tools. His left hand lays on his chest, the one seemingly uninjured spot.

Jesse lay, hammerless, completely bound in bandages, eyes covered in gauze in the ICU bed next to Tony, sedated and uncomfortable. Tony, hammerless as well, looks longingly out the TrueWindow™ at the virtually enhanced scenery outside. A training arm, a thin frightening piece of junk, lies across his lap. A lunch tray with a series of multisized cubes positioned before him.

“You know I'm never gonna figure out this damn thing, even if it is a 'chievement”

“Mphh mm mll”

“It's not easy, and it feels all weird, like tickles in a painful kind of way. The lag between what I expect it to do and what it does is driving me nuts.”

“mpph uh mmmee meph uh mmsh”, somewhat waving his hand dismissively.

“Yeah, I guess”

“mmph eeff uh mmphmmun”, supporting his statement with another wave.

“I really don't care.. that one's like 100 points out of pity, and like 20 credits. That'd only buy enough juice to get the car down the block.”

“mphh effrrrr, uff gee uh ffff ii!”, his hand making a circular pleading gesture.

“Fine!”, Tony slowly raises the trainer arm back up to the SeamlessIntregrex™ cloth on his arm stump, and the tiny electrodes dig back in to his flesh, reconnecting motor and sensory nerves. His face winces at the sharp sting, and the twinkly tingle of nerves receiving somewhat degraded sensory information.

Slowly, overcorrecting, he raises his new arm. Beads of sweat, holding his breath, and biting a swear on his lips, he slowly brings the disjointed thing, this polished and tarnished thing, down shakily to pick up the first cube on his left. He relaxes and exhales. Jesse's fresh snores barely audible in the quiet.

A few more deep breaths, he wipes the sweat away with his remaining arm's sleeve. Up again, holding the spongy cube, trying not to crush it, slowly up, and over. Millimeter by millimeter, slowly arching over, just a little too low to set it down on top, he tries to raise it up slow. Left, left, a little more and it will rest on top of the second.

BAM! The door slams open. Tony drops the cube and the arm slumps lifeless on the tray, sending the tray over, catapulting little plastic cubes all over the room. The intruder stomps on one on his way into the room. “Mppph!” cries Jesse, strapped down, his hand quivers excitedly, trying his best to panic. Tony looked over in shock as the uniformed man stomps to the foot of his bed.

With a grin like Mephistopheles himself, The Sergeant stands beaming at Tony, gripping a wad of paperwork in one hand. He crosses his arms, and nods his head.

“Now THAT my boy...”, he stops, scowls, and moves a few feet closer as required by his motivational script. The Sergeant looks around to make sure he is on his mark. Satisfied, he takes a deep breath and grins again.

“Now THAT my boy, was one HELL of a 'chievent.” He steps forward to mark number two, smacking Tony on the right shoulder. “Good work, soldier!” Tony winces as the training arm shifts and rolls, palm facing left, painfully pulling the tiny wires from his flesh. The Sergent presents him with a small velvet case and then steps back to mark number one.

Tony opens the case to find a pretty little metal with various stripes in what suspiciously looks like a colorful barcode.

“You managed,” pulling out the papers and looking frantically, “crap, I know it's in here.” He looks up sheepishly, his gruff voice quietly pleads “Do you want me to start over?”

“No, take you're time.. you don't need to do the whole thing.”

“I figured since you'd never heard it, I'd give you the full treatment. Hell boy, this is probably the biggest 'chievent you've ever had!”

“Fine. Whatever makes you happy” Tony begins trying to disconnect the few remaining connections slowly.

“You should rip it off quick, like a bandage”

“What?”, stopping.

“Just get it over with.”, he leans forward with his free hand and pulls up his sleeve to show his own hand is artifical.

“I'm not ready for that.”

“You'll learn. Just get it over, son.”, rolling his sleeve back down.

Tony stares at him.

“You're here for something?”

“oh, Yeah. HELL of a job boys. You actually got me a few credits of my own. I think a nice bottle of scotch is in my near future.” He smiles.

Tony continues to stare.

“What did I do?”

“Hell boy, you got an enemy emplacement on an assist! You couldn't even manage an in-combat achievement when I gave you one! Well.. unless it was tinkering around with airconditioners.”

“Assist? I don't remember an assist.”

“Sure, son! You tossed that grenade right in the hatch of that emplacement! You ran right up to the damn thing, and tossed you're buddy's grenade right in the damn hatch!”

“I was taking cover after they shot me in the chest, I figured they couldn't shoot me right underneath”

“Yup, ran right up to the damn thing! With a chest wound!”

“I was wearing personal armor. That grenade landed in my lap, I just got rid of it.”

“And you reached up and dropped it right in the damn hatch!”

“Spc. Spencer tossed it at me!”

“Couragous!”, The Sergent leaned back and folded his arms again.

“He pulled the pin and tossed it at me”

“And you pulled off the biggest 'chievent in your career!”, wagging a finger at him.

“He was grinning!”

“Teamwork! Had it cooked for ya! He could smell the teamwork!”

“He pulled the pin, tossed it in my lap.”

“You have got to tell this one to the ladies, It's a helluva story to go along with that lady catcher you got for a left arm. They love the combat vets.”

The Sergent walked back to mark number 2, and put his hand on Tonys shoulder.

“And here I had you marked for decruitment and you pull this off. Listen to the official: 'Out of Ammo, and under fire, you took a chest wound, moved forward beneath the emplacement, and with a prepared grenade handed off from Spc. Spencer, you took out an enemy emplacement. Saving your patrol and several new ground APCs. That is amazing. Brings a tear to my eye. I knew you had it in you.”

“He pulled the pin, tossed it and said 'Hey moron, see you in hell.'”

The Sergent grinned an even larger evil grin.

“And he sure will, son. That boy's splattered all over the other side of that ridge you took.”

Patting him, the Sergent straightens up.

“His little part posthumously gave him enough Expee™ to make Sr. Journeyman! And his momma picked up another pip, Four posthumous Sr. Journeymen! Not many mommas can say that!”

“Ahh!,” Moving to mark #2 for Jesse's bed, and fipping through paperwork.

“Not bad yourself, son. Evading an enemy patrol, and the evac on our hero over here. Nice support work, and apparently you got A+ reports on your field medic job there, they awarded you 'Leave None Behind' – which ain't a half bad piece of work. Not enough to help you rank up, but you're right there, a few more operations and you'll make Jr. Journeyman II.”

His smile faded as he turns back to Tony. “Is he awake?”

“No idea.”, Tony tries to look around The Sergent to see some sign of movement from Jesse. “Probably asleep.”

“I'll get to him later then.”

Another deep breath, and leafing back through his paper work.

“So, what's it gonna be?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, decruitment is already done. You guys were in process during that last operation. But your 'chievements count BEFORE your decruitment, and since you're paperwork was filed together your rank up put both of your decruitments back in review. So what's it gonna be?”

“So I can stay?”

“You're BOTH still in the running. I KNOW, deep down, that I can make you boys the best damn support soldiers on the field.”

“What do you think, Jess?”

His bandaged body immovable, the one free hand rotates as much as possible and a single finger raises to salute The Sergeant.

“I have to agree with the Jr. Journeyman Handyman.”

“Then it's done. ” his smile gone, his voice a gravelly whisper, “Don't let the door hit you on the ass on the way out.”

“Wait!?! No. We still have 10 weeks medical leave!”

The Sergeant picks up the crushed cube and turns it over in his hand before tossing it to Tony.

“Then, when you're done getting your arm trained up, you better use what time you got left to start searching the want ads.

He tosses the paperwork on each of their beds, turns abruptly and slams the door on his way out.

“Hwh uh dphh”

“Yeah.” Tony looks at the arm, and the mess all over the room. He lays the trainer arm on the bed and slips out to start picking up with his good arm.

Tray back on it's stand by the bed, he stares at the arm for a few minutes, then steps over to it. Jamming the arm into place, the tiny wires seek out their flesh counterparts in a flash like striking his funny bone.

“Ahh!”, the arm's dead weight makes him stand a little funny. They said the real arms aren't as heavy, but still heavier than a live arm, it was to train your muscles to support it. It felt like a dead metal skeletal arm just hanging there, no life, no energy. The little tingling, like a sleeping limb waking up, begins to sparkle up and down his arm, or better - where he felt the arm should be. It never stops, the tingling, Tony keeps expecting his arm to wake up – but it never does.

He leans forward, and reaches out with the arm to pick up a cube. Gently, slowly, he places it in his other hand. Metal hand slowly to real hand from inches away, real hand to bed or pocket, he shuffles around the room and picks up every one of the cubes.

Climbing back into bed, he scatters the blocks on the tray and begins trying to stack them.

“Mphh hmm oooiph”


Whir, pause, pinch, pause, lift, pause, stack.

“Knock knock”, someone peeks in the door. “You guys mind if I mop up in here?”

“Mop? They still do that? No 'bots?” Tony was genuinely confused.

“Mind if I come in?”, the large man didn't seem very bright.

“Sure, come on in. I'm Tony. That's Jesse.” Pointing to the bandaged lump. The bandaged lump waves his one free hand.

“I'm Sid.” The very large man in overalls steps in dragging a bucket and mop. “See?” He points to the embroidered nametag on his uniform “Sid. My mom made it.”

“I like that, Sid”.

“I got it for my birthday, since I love working here.” He smiled his broadest smile to show his happiness. Tony got the feeling Sid wasn't looking directly at him.

“You think I could get one of those, too? I like old timey stuff like that.”

“Dunno. Does your mom make name tags?”

“No, she made plutonium.”

“Sounds cool.”

“It's not as fun as it sounds.”


“Hey Sid, why do they mop the floors?”

“To get 'em clean, and stop infections.”

“Well, yeah. I mean, why not bots?”

“Sumthin' about the bots makes the ICU equipment go all wrong.”

“Wow. Is that just here? At Vet Hospital Arco?”

“No! I work for another company, and we go all over the place.”

“To mop floors?”

“All kinds of stuff. Mopping floors,” he counts out on his fingers, “ taking out trash... all kinds of stuff.”

“A real live janitor?”

Sid looks scared now, “No, no, no .. nothing like the Janitors all guns and stuff. Just cleaning.”

“Wow. Sid?”

Leaning down, Sid starts mopping.

“I'd love to mop floors.”

“You're funny, I'd love to be in the Army.. shooting bad guys.”

“I'd trade with you any day.”

“Pshh.. I wish.”

Tony reaches into his pocket and pulls out the medal case. Opening it, he presents it to Sid.

“I will trade you this, IF... you let me mop the room whenever you come in here.”

“WOW! But I'd get in trouble if I wear it.”

Tony looks down at his metal hand.

“I'll tell you what. You can lay in bed, and pretend to be me.. and I'll mop the floor... and you can wear it while I work”

“Wow! That'd be great. Can I watch my thimble?”


“Deal!” Sid Thrusts out his big hand and shakes Tony's real hand.

“Deal.” He stands and shakes Sid's hand and then waves to the bed. “All yours.”

Sid climbs in, while Tony walks over and locks the door.

Painful. Slow. Excruciating in difficulty. Tony loves every second.


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