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Bobo, a novella by C. B. Brown; illustrations by Matthew Hemming.

CHAPTER 3

The junkyard was vast. Yellow jumpsuit didn't run it alone. A swarm of his kin came to meet the truck as it grumbled to a stop, loose pebbles dropping to the ground when the transit field collapsed.

He hopped from the cab and spat a flake of eggshell into the dirt. He gestured to the hold. "Mostly nothing but kipple," he admitted.

"Mostly?" asked some cousin.

Yellow jumpsuit smirked. A couple of his sister's kids pulled out the ramp. He clomped up to the cargo deck and threw open the doors, then paused at the threshold. His brow furrowed. "Well I'll be," he said.

"What?"

"The damn thing's reorganized the place!"

Bobo looked up. He had arranged sofas and cushions as beds, and laid the broken bodies of junked robots upon them. In his hand he held a cracked teacup. It was empty, but he was repeatedly offering it to a rusted heap of a police enforcer -- yellow jumpsuit had scored the unit at auction earlier that morning. Bobo turned to him now in appeal.

"These residents are in urgent need of attention," said Bobo. "These residents are not responding."

"I think they're going to stay pretty stable," said yellow jumpsuit.

"Sir, are you a physician?"

He cocked his head and shrugged. "Yeah," he said. "Sure."

"Doctor, these residents should be returned to the home," advised Bobo. "These residents are lacking vital signs, and may be in a state of medical distress."

"Honestly, I can't see things getting much worse for them."

"These residents should be returned to the home."

Yellow jumpsuit nodded, rubbing his stubbled chin. "Okay, fine. We'll get them to the home. But first I need you to come along with me. Can you do that? You got enough power in that carcass of yours to walk, robot?"

"Bobo can walk," said Bobo.

The man gestured theatrically to the loading ramp. "So walk this way."

Bobo did as he was told. His legs hummed and buzzed as he moved down the narrow space between improvised beds and then passed the man to descend the ramp. The man rotated on heel to watch him go, a smile spreading across his lined face.

Over his shoulder be barked, "Idiots!" and turned to follow his prize.

They took Bobo to the workshop. They made a couple of passes with the deep scopes, then spent a while tracing serial numbers in the indices of obsolete parts so they could be valuated. How could Bobo be best converted into money? What combinations of bundled parts were most profitable? Was it more or less ideal that he be melted into his component ingredients? Could his classic brain be sold as a historical curiosity?

Yellow jumpsuit and his kin argued. They threw holographic sums at one another and cursed. The males puffed out their chests and deepened their voices, the females gesticulated wildly and sharpened their tones. Some started shoving. Yellow jumpsuit had to wade in to break it up, shouting himself red in the face.

"Morons, this isn't some scrap of daily trash! This thing's a find. Maybe even a museum would want a working colonial-era robot like this. Think about museum money, kin."

"It's got a dented head, and there's bugs living in its legs. It's faeces. I mean, it mistook robots for people! It's like retarded or something."

"It's not retarded, it's old. That's how they used to make robots back then, moron."

As the debate progressed Bobo became increasingly concerned about the residents left back in the truck's hold. He worried that they were under-supervised, and possibly dead. As time wore on he found he could think of little else.

Furthermore, he suspected that the man in the yellow jumpsuit was not a physician.

Such misrepresentation was not unheard of among residents suffering from dementia. Perhaps these people were residents, not staff at all. It was not within Bobo's purview to challenge a resident's notion of reality, as this could be upsetting and was best left to specialist complexes. Thus, Bobo was obliged to entertain the man in the yellow jumpsuit's delusion.

"Doctor!" called Bobo. "Doctor!"

The squabbling broke. The company frowned at Bobo. "Did that debris just ask for a practitioner?"

"He means me," grunted yellow jumpsuit. In order to assure the damn thing's cooperation he was obliged to entertain its delusion, so he replied, "Yeah, robot – is there some kind of medical problem or what?"

"Have the residents been returned to the home?"

Yellow jumpsuit crinkled his nose and cupped a dirty hand to his waxy ear. "What?"

"The welfare of the residents is the responsibility of Bobo."

"Yeah, no, they're fine. Don't worry about it. I'm a brain surgeon or whatever, so you can trust my opinion. I'm all qualified."

The company guffawed then returned to the deliberations.

Bobo sought optimality. He ached for it. Though he waited in place his legs began to quake.

He decided to advance an alternative strategy. "Doctor!" he called. "Tell me more about your grandchildren."

Yellow jumpsuit stared at him blankly, then shook his head and turned away again. "There's got to be some way of turning it off without busting it, right?"

The party conferred.

Bobo struggled to retain his place. With a shudder and a rising hum cooling fans began to spin within his torso.

He waited. But then he found he could wait no longer.

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