The New Guy

“This whole mess was Carmichael’s fault. He was the one that hired the new guy.”

“Let me get this straight,” said the lawyer. “You’re blaming your brother-in-law for what happened up there?”

“He should’a known better. Their kind puts good people out of work.”

#

It all started with my wife’s lard-o husband, Carmichael, dragging me into one of those talking man-lifts. First thing I noticed was the new guy standing there. Then Carmichael, thinking he’s clever, starts in with his routine.

“You know how you’re always bugging me for a raise? Well, today’s your lucky day. You’re going straight—” Carmichael raised a finger, jowls bunching around his corncob-sized cigar, “—to the top.”

The talking lift didn’t reply, because machines don’t get cornballs like Carmichael.

“Take us to the top, you idiot!”

“Yessir, Mister Carmichael, sir,” said the lift.

The gate slid shut and we shot into the air. Carmichael lit his cigar.

“Here’s the thing,” said Carmichael, “I don’t get the feeling you respect me.”

“I respect you plenty.”

“If it weren’t for Fritzy you wouldn’t even have this job. My poor outta work brother, she says—and I’m thinking, is she talking about that forty-two-year-old sack of hotdogs that got drunk at our wedding? I would’a canned you a month ago, if it weren’t for her. So instead,” he wiggled the caterpillars over his eyes, “I’m giving you a raise. Congratulations. Starting today you’re on the Bolt-Up Crew. And you know who you’re working with?”

He stroked the new guy’s bright orange shoulder.

The door slid open and there was nothing but a wide-flange beam extending out into the sky. Now me and heights, we don’t mix. But what I hate a million times worse than heights is the new guy.

“I ain’t working with that.”

“Oh? Why not?” asked Carmichael.

“You know why not. I don’t like his kind.”

“That’s strange. Because it looks to me like you two are attached at the hip.” He snapped a belt to my safety harness, connecting me to the new guy.

“What’s the big idea?”

“Hey, if you don’t like it, all you need to do is quit.”

“Just you wait until Fritzy hears about this, you dirty—”

The new guy marched out yanking me along. The lift slid shut. I could hear Carmichael braying like a jackass the whole way down.

#

Here’s what I don’t like about the new guy’s type. They ain’t Union, they ain’t friendly, and they ain’t human. They come straight off the boat from Japan and take our jobs. The new guy was one of them four-armed, Vishnu-looking, bright orange construction bots.

He set to work immediately, walking along the beam steady as a Mohawk Indian. Everything—the trees, the buildings, the heavy equipment—looked small and far away like model train miniatures. My legs turned to jelly. He tugged me along behind him as if I were his dog, dragging me out into the middle of nowhere.

Admittedly, if I didn’t hate the new guy so much I’d be impressed. His upper right arm was an impact wrench, and his lower left arm was a torch. He stuffed and tidied the bolts, then jumped up and welded the flange himself. Three jobs for the price of one, and you should’a seen how fast he moved. When he finished, he’d stick his lower right arm out.

That’s where I came in. Carmichael had detached the new guy’s automatic feeding mechanism. He’d stick his hand out like a trick-or-treater and I’d hand him another bolt.

About an hour in, once my stomach stopped churning, I got this bright idea. Instead of handing him the bolts, all cooperative like, I threw one.

No dice.

His lower left hand was magnetized. He caught the thing no problem, staring at me through his blank faceplate. For the next one, I pulled back a ways, winding up and sent it at him like a fastball. He looked bored, like he was taunting me. Now I was getting into it.

I said, “Go long.”

This time I flung the thing up in the air. He hopped up like an outfielder—plink!—and landed like a gymnast on a balance beam.

“Ha! You should try out for the Yankees!”

Number four I tossed a few feet to the left, but his arm extended like a telescope and grabbed it. I couldn’t help myself. I started to applaud.

“Very nice! But we ain’t through just yet. It all comes down to this. I call it the three for one deal.”

I tossed three bolts out across the expanse. He leapt across the fourteen foot gap, graceful as a gazelle, scooped up all three—but the belt attaching us wasn’t long enough. It cinched around my gut and I was yanked off the beam. I went down head first, nothing below me but solid air—and the new guy was along for the ride. The wind whistled past. My life flashed before my eyes. I saw Ma, Pa, Fritzy, hotdogs—I even saw Carmichael.

And we stopped.

I dangled like an open piñata, bolts spilling everywhere. The new guy had grabbed on to some scaffolding, but I could see it wasn’t enough to support us. The whole thing was whining and groaning, coming apart at the seams.The new guy reached down, grabbed the belt attaching us, swung me into some poorly placed netting, and torched the belt with his welder, right as the scaffolding gave way. Looking down I watched him tumble, going through one safety net after another like an anvil going through cotton candy.

#

“It wasn’t until they found me in the net that I heard the robot landed on my brother-in-law.”

“And how’d you take the news?” asked the lawyer.

“You know. I felt crummy, like anybody would. But, like I said, it’s all Carmichael’s fault. After all, I ain’t the one that hired the new guy.”


About Douglas Sterling

Douglas Sterling lives in Northern California and most of his stories concern robots, dehumanization, and other cheery topics. His friends think he’s a contrarian but, needless to say, he disagrees with them. To find out where else he’s been published, and to see a disturbing catalog of every book he’s ever read, please visit his Goodreads page.

>> Douglas Sterling's author page

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