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

CHAPTER 4

Bobo walked out of the workshop. Bobo disobeyed.

It took the man in the yellow jumpsuit a moment to notice. He exclaimed profanely. The company looked at each other and around the shop in befuddlement, then surged toward the exit hooting for the robot's submission.

But Bobo was oblivious. He had never experienced such a rush of potential actions. A whole new world of possibilities was being modeled with every step he took, representing a landscape whose complexities begged for optimal solutions. Bobo was nearly overwhelmed by the yearning he felt to harmonize the data. Humble, he was, in the face of it.

He crossed the darkened compound quickly, going back the way he had come. He passed through a gallery of tables and hanging lamps where children were digitizing page books and teenagers were breaking apart furniture to find cellulose. Further along a gaggle of women pounded aluminum flat with big padded hammers. They looked up at Bobo as he passed.

"Good evening, dear ladies," said Bobo, inclining his head.

He found the truck idle and empty. He looked around, probing in the infrared. He imaged the ground with sonar. The gang of ferrying idiots had left impressions in the mud. Bobo followed the trail.

"Where did that motherfornicating robot go?"

"It was heading for the truck!"

"I'm at the truck and there's nothing at the damn truck. Why are you morons following me? Spread out! Find the damn thing!"

Morons on his heels, idiots ahead. Bobo accelerated, but this only highlighted his need for servicing. Several organs chittered complaints to his brain. Fibres in his starboard shin were shearing. His tired old batteries began bleating. Suddenly, optimality seemed further away than ever.

Yellow jumpsuit gained. Bobo faltered.

He went down awkwardly, skidding into the side of a towering stack of junk. A slew of cheap robot bric-a-brac spilled out upon him, leaving Bobo half-exposed and helpless.

The man in the yellow jumpsuit leapt over him with a grunt. A flurry of dancing flashlight beams huffed and puffed behind him. Each in turn sprung over the heap of robot bodies, and ran on.

Bobo blinked as their footfalls fell away. With great effort he managed to sit up.

A perfectly good leg was lying upon his lap, so he decided to try it on. It was far from compatible but he managed to lock it into his hip socket with a rude force-fit. The musculature was in excellent shape, with only minimal rips, but its input-output connections were alien and only quasi-cooperative at best. Bobo recalibrated his immune response then stood up. He flexed the leg experimentally. Reasonably optimal, all things considered.

Bobo moved on with a limp. His pursuit had broken into pairs. They roved the aisles between junk towers in search of him. Whenever they came too close Bobo simply lay down in a pile of crap and kept still. They pointed their flashlights right at him but it didn't matter: he was invisible.

He circled back to the workshop. No one was there. He took a battery pack from a shelf and installed it in himself, the drill singing as it spun the screws tight. The noise brought him to the notice of a child.

"Whose are you?" asked the child.

"Bobo belongs to the home," he explained as he snapped closed his carapace and straightened. "Bobo cares for the residents."

"A residence is a house," pointed out the child helpfully.

"The home is a house, also," agreed Bobo in a friendly way. "It is a multi-unit assisted-living dwelling complex incorporated for the purpose of caring for geriatric human beings. Do you have a grampa?"

"I have a do-daddy-daddy."

"Does he live in a home?"

"No, he just watches shows and yells when we're too loud."

Bobo oiled his rump so it wouldn't squeak. "Do not neglect to wish your do-daddy-daddy a happy birthday," he told the child as he dusted himself off. "Residents derive emotional satisfaction from the attention of their descendants."

"Okay."

Bobo left. He resumed the idiot trail, ear tuned for signs of people. He heard them dead ahead. Stepping out from behind the final junk heap Bobo saw that they had gathered before a great outdoor furnace, its fumes roiling up and blotting out the stars. The man in the yellow jumpsuit stood silhouetted before the furnace's glowing maw.

"I figured you'd follow the idiots here," he said.

"Where are the residents?"

"They've been sent on their way, robot. They're slag." He grinned. "Look at it like this: pretty soon they're going to be reincarnated. They'll find new life as horse shoes or salad tongs or something. Right? That's not so bad."

"You have incinerated the residents."

"Yeah, pretty much," said the man, stepping aside and gesturing at the incandescent skeletal forms melting in the vault. "That's how it usually is: easy. Not like with you. You, talking back as you are, carrying on all the way. You've given us a bit of sport, robot."

"You have misrepresented yourself as a health professional."

"You want to hear about misrepresentation? Those aren't even your damn residents, you antique sack of bolts. They're just robots. They're just like you. Appliances! But you're so addled and dumb you can't even tell what's what. That's how we know you're garbage, kid: you don't work right."

Bobo cocked his head. "Bobo is experiencing an error condition?"

"Exactly. That's what. It's one of those really bad conditions, too."

"What is the error code reference number?" asked Bobo, but that's when they hit him with the forklift. He was plowed into the side of a tower of sheet metal, carapace crumpling as the tower groaned.

The forklift reversed. Bobo slumped to the mud.

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