by Michael E. Johnson

Uncertainty is the only principle.

"Your dad may have been a handyman, or maybe your uncle was, or possibly your grandad weilded a screwdriver or two. Many people are handymen, even if they don't realize it. Your mother may not have called herself one, but she might have had some creative solutions to life's problems.

The 1st handyman division was created in the aftermath of the second great collapse. A government that shuts down for months on end still requires, even mandates, an effective fighting force - even if they can't foot the bill. Two branches met, in the back room of an undisclosed bar in the vicinity of the backwater Florida-Alabama border, to discuss something unheard of - cooperation.

The USMC has a long and proud history of making things work regardless of something as fickle as funding. Improvise, Adapt, Overcome. The Army Corps of Engineers have a history of bending infrastructure to it's will. Together they would do something not seen since the creation of the Airforce during WWII. The new operative force was jokingly dubbed "The Handymen" by their army buddies, and "Janitors" by fellow marines. The official name for the project was long winded, and involved an acronym that was forgettable and both teams became known merely by their numerical designations. US Army 9778th Handymen "Can Do!" and USMC 35576th Janitors "Spotless!".

This unconventional model was later copied by the 23rd Illinois Corn brigade to secure a military food supply - which became well known as much for it's generation and distribution of food and biofuels, as its harsh treatment of tresspassers and great summer picnics. The Janitorial Corps dropped in, secured, and cleaned out the material while the Handymen repaired, restored, or repurposed the gear. Over the course of the next century, the strategy garnered the U.S. armed forces a reputation, no longer of just bombing you back to the stone age, but they'd even take your loincloth to wipe down their helicopters. Securing fuel, securing resources, and bending them to their mission - the military really didn't need to beg at Congressional pursestrings... they just focused on their original madate and oath.

There is, however, one problem with all this. Intellectual Property. A sale and warranty had evolved to become a license of use. As mega-corporations became transnational corporations, they morphed into virtual sovereign meta-corporations, and licenses evolved into limited citizenships. A voided warrantee might bring severe penalties from powerful litagous parties. As governments traded more and more concessions to contractors in efforts to contain cost overruns, treaties with these new meta-national entities resulted in more severe punishments, even extradition and rendition to states with more favorable legal climates. But all this fuss became expensive, and simply issuing an arrest, and later, execution warrants became much much simpler. Except, the aforementioned problem which has dogged society from its foundation. How do you reincorporate ex-military personnel back into a society based on rules they've been trained to contradict?"

-- Jose McIntyre-Nakamura, Ph.D. Military History, Subject V.P. Bull Run University, a subsidiary of Pliny Historical Media, Inc.

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Chapter 3. [UNEDITED]

Eight weeks later, a young nurse steps into the room with a pad and something strange in her other hand. Jesse reading on a small device, sits up in bed, his polished new StimStem™ skin gleaming in the light, only a few bandages here and there on the thinner spots. Tony, sitting with his bed now folded into more of a chair-futon so that he can be more upright, knits a purple scarf with two plastic needles. His new LifeSimilar™ arm whirs quietly, its dull metallic finish already showing some scratches from wear. The girl, with candy-bright blue-green hair streaked with blonde, nearly bounded over to Tony full of excitement. “I need you to indicate your acceptance of the GovMail™ license agreement and hold harmless agreement for the Templar Corporation's delivery of physical property. Do you,” looking down at the screen “ accept delivery and all implied responsibilities?” looking back up and biting her lip, smiling.

“I do,” setting his knitting down.

“yay!” The nurse nearly runs over to hand it to him, still hiding the item beneath the pad.

“You, got..” dragging out the anticipation, “ a letter!” proffering the amazing thing.


“An actual letter!”

Tony reaches out and takes the thing, an oblong rectangle made of some kind of paper or durable wrapper. He turns it over in his hands. Smudged with grease or dirt, his name and location scrawled out in shaky loopy handwriting above a long barcode lasered into the bottom edge. The only other thing on the outside is a small square of paper with a picture of a bell and a flag, marked “Forever.” In DuraMarx™ pen, someone had written “hand cancelled” over it.

“Why would I,” looking up at her, “get a letter?”

Jesse, not even looking up, says “maybe it's your mustering out papers. They always send those by courier.”

“No”, flipping it over again.

“Weeell” The girl smiles, “Open it!”

Jesse puts his reader down and looks over. “Who the hell sends letters?”

The nurse comes over and puts her hand on Jesse's leg, sharing the excitement. “Oh, I LOOOVE letters. They're so interesting. My mom collects old envelopes, they could be so many things. Love letters, hate letters, so many emotions just there – planned and written. Committed, and the waiting, not like messaging now. And the cost, that thing would be like spending everything I earned all day on one little sentiment.” She sighs, watching Tony carefully unwrap the letter like a bomb. Inside a few sheets of dirty old paper scrawled on in longhand like someone trying to remember how to ride a bicycle.

“Can I have the envelope when you're done? It would make my mother's day.” She smiled at Tony.

“What?” Looking up at her, “Oh, yeah sure. Lemme scan it first.” He takes some time to pull the MITT™ glove on to his right hand, runs a finger over the back and makes an odd hand gesture over the paper. A tiny, very bright, light flickers. He flips the envelope over and scans the other side as well, and then hands the paper to the nurse.

“Ohmgi – THANK YOU” She lovingly holds it in one hand, and brings her Thimble™ to her ear. “Mom.” Calmly, smiling, waiting for the connection. “Mom? You would not believe what THIS (nodding her head at tony) VERY FINE”, bobbing a little curtsey, “ ... gentleman gave me just now.” Tony can hear the annoyance in the voice on the other end of the phone. “No. Nooo. No, Come on mom, guess. Ahh” She looks at tony and rolls her eyes. “ Mooom... come on.” She starts stomping out of the room “No mom, God you're no fun at all...” She turns the corner out into the hall.

“What's it say? Are we being sued? Didn't look like a legal letter.. but it's either that or our mustering out papers.”

Footsteps running back around the corner.

“I am SOOO sorry”, leaning on the door jam. “I forgot to thank you.”

“That's fine, thanks.” Waving at her and continuing reading the letter.

“So are we being sued?”

“What? No.” He sets the letter down and looks at Jesse.

“Do you remember Jim?”

“Which Jim?”

“The old fart we took engines with.”

Jesse's face contorted, “Named Jim?”


“No”, shaking his head.

“Really old guy. Smelled like beer and seemed to hover around us.”

“I guess, sorta. Why?”

“He says he saw us on the newsfeeds, and he wants to have us come have beers in Chicago.”

“Never been to Chicago.”

Tony continues reading, “he says he'd put us up as well.”.

Jesse leans back and stares at the ceiling, “So what is going on with the old man?”

“Just says he's really proud of us, wonders if we're going to stick to it, or decruit.”

“Is this the fart-joke guy? 'You know what I think? … Pbbth.' That guy?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

“Free beer?”

“Sounds like.”

“And he'd put us up for a while?”

“Says here that he would.”

“J.T. Janitorial needs to start somewhere, if that involves free beer – that sounds good to me.”

Tony stops and looks at Jesse. “J.T.? I didn't think we'd settled on a name.”

“Settle down”, holding his hands up. “Just a name.. T.J., J.T., just a name.”

“Yeah, but it's mostly gonna be my money, because of the 'chievement, so I think I should name it.”

“Fine, whatever, doesn't matter till we actually find a customer.”

Tony swipes his finger over an address on the letter. “Wow,” looking over at Jesse, “He's routing mail through an old ipv6 email address. I didn't know anyone still used wired data and stuff like that.” He begins swiping out a response.

“Nah, I took that Comms class, there's all kinds of old equipment that still runs on wires, and some addresses are shunted through the QE networks... I guess weather monitors and stuff they figured they'd replace as they broke.. and a lot of that stuff just keeps cooking right along.”

“Yeah, but now? Isn't most of that stuff hundreds of years old? ” Tony shakes his hand to clear the message and starts swiping out a new one.

“Yeah – they don't build stuff like that any more. I think the government still operates a lot of the hard wires, they don't completely trust QE. They don't change quickly.”

“Even I only just started QE since the patent expired and there's providers everywhere now.”, he clenches his fist to send the message.

“You still using those crappy feeds running out of some shed somewhere.”

“Hey, it doesn't matter where the bits come from, as long as they hook back into the network.”

“Have you seen the multi-sourced QE? They're running lithium, so you don't have leaked data, and they're entangled across multiple sources for better security. And they lay the layers down using some kind of radioactive decay, or something, so it's supposed to be random.”

“I still,” turning the glove over to examine, “don't really understand how quantum entanglement works”

“Yeah, I don't think they really understand it either”, looking down at his own glove – the shiny fabric tag curled under and irritating his hand, “but it works, even a cheap piece of crap like this.”

Tony stares at the wall for a few minutes lost in thought while Jesse checks the news, the pale 3d image flirts in front of his eyes – unseen by Tony - the tiny lasers tracking his vision directly inserting the images on his retina.

“Grief, I hate this stupid thing.”

“Then why do you keep looking at it?”

“Because I'm bored. And I like the idea that I'll secretly see something in the news that is super important and no one figured it out before me. Conspiracy, invasions, general end of the world type stuff.”

“You could do something creative, or constructive.”

“Yeah, I could - “, trailing off into silence Jesse stares at the palm of his hand.

“That's why I want to be a janitor. I want to see a mess, clean it up, and be done with it. Or make a floor shiny. Just a simple thing without any fuss. No guns, no corporations, nothing. Just mopping a floor.”

He turns and looks at Jesse, “Why do you want to start a janitorial company?”

Jesse shrugs, closes his hand and looks at Tony. “ Dunno. I guess I figure you and I are a team, and, well – what else have I got going on in my life? I'm not really military material, and if I decruit – no one is going to let me anywhere near the front door. Someone's gotta make sure you don't lose that other arm, don't they?”

“I guess.” rubbing the prosthetic, feeling the tinny pixelated sensation.

“Plus, I wanna be my own man, you know? And why not taking out the trash? Someone needs to do it, and I bet there are plenty of little folks that need their trash taken out that are too small for the big boys to worry about.”

“Makes sense. But where? How do you get an arco contract? Wouldn't you need to be an arco already?”

“'Chicken or the egg' on that one. Naw, I'm thinking we go out to the rust belts – like where I grew up, and start with the small time folks. Customer one, “ counting on his fingers “ customer two, customer ..” The flash on his pointer finger goes off, blinding him. “Ahh! Damn piece of crap!” he slaps his other hand over his eyes, turns his hand over and starts shaking it.

A slight tingle on Tony's hand alerts him to a status change, and he opens it to a very awkward scrunched version of Jesse's surprised face... and smiles. “You should change the gestures on your mitt, this one's a winner.”

Tony leans over, laughing, to show Jesse what looks like a shiny pink pudgy man who just ate a very large lemon. “Ha, that's definitely your ring picture from now on!”

“Aw, man.” Jesse starts pointedly poking away at his palm until he seems satisfied the offending hardware won't play this particular prank again. He leans back, and rolls his head over to look at Tony. “I mean, is that cool with you? If I tag along?”

“Very much so, I think. I mean, I don't want to deal with customers and bills, and all that stuff – I just want to work. You know, kind of be the owner and the janitor at the same time. I just want to be part of the big decisions, I want to name it. I want to decide if we get rid of a customer if they're no good. I just don't want to worry about the books and stuff. And the letter mentioned both of us, you've gotta be in it even if just for the free beers.”

“Maybe I can do that.”

“That'd be nice..”, turning back to look out the window.

They sat in silence for a little while.

“I'll be your janitor.” Jesse smiled.

“What do you mean?”, picking up his knitting and trying to remember where he stopped.

“Well, you plan on taking care of messes other people don't want, and I'll do the same for you.”

“Great, it's settled then – we go to Chicago.”

“And get out of this place.”, Jesse paused. “And get a damn beer.” leaning back into his bed.


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