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

CHAPTER 8

The bulldozer dug. Heavy clods of twisted garbage compressed with some foul black soupiness tumbled aside as the bulldozer had at it, disappearing bit by bit into its own yawning trench. Bobo crawled down after it, scanning the exposed layers with his tourist camera eye. "This hardware remains unfamiliar to Bobo."

"Instructions, Foreman Bobo?" prompted the bulldozer, flexing its scoops.

"Bulldozer, dig deeper."

This sub-routine continued between the two machines until the trench was sixty meters deep. Bobo was tickled by the promise of new optima when he spotted a deposit of robot parts he recognized -- they weren't Bobos, but they were close enough. Some of them even had shell segments of outer carapace armour still on them. Bobo was troubled, however, because some of the segments were non-white.

Bobo had always been white. But then he turned pale, mucus yellow. Now he was scorched and blackened and broken and warped and punctured. He could not expect to provide care for any resident while looking so grotesque.

But could a resident be truly comforted by a Bobo with a non-white carapace? Bobo worried.

How would residents even know Bobo was a Bobo?

The cooling fans in his torso began to spin again.

The world turned away from its main star. Darkness came. The bulldozer's work lamps blazed, casting Bobo in a bright circle of light as he pried more selections from the exposed stripes of layered kipple.

He selected the whitest of the non-white pieces and set them aside before hunting for internal hardware -- a new trachea, couple of atomic micro-pumps, at least one additional eyeball. Before too long he had found what he was looking for. In preparation for the swap he removed what remained of his armour; the resulting figure was skeletal and thin, his surface a crowded topography of machinery.

"Bobo has become even smaller," observed the bulldozer.

"Bobo is naked," said Bobo.

First he replaced his core leg segments, then snapped a green section of shell over his starboard shin and a red section over his port. He bypassed his fluid flow in order to install the new pumps. He swallowed the trachea. Once he'd popped in a second eyeball the flashing NO RESTAURANTS FOUND message seemed only half as urgent as before.

He was almost a whole new robot, but the trickiest repair yet remained.

He turned to the bulldozer, shading the light from his eyes with an upturned hand. "Bobo must replace three components within Bobo's brain. Bobo needs help: two of the components can be self-installed, but Bobo cannot replace Bobo's coordination and proprioceptive working memory module alone because Bobo's hands won't work."

"This unit's hands are too big to help," the bulldozer replied. "The task will fail."

"If the bulldozer fails, Bobo will remain paralyzed here forever. Bulldozer must not fail."

"Bulldozers don't make repairs. Bulldozers push and pull. Bulldozers move things along the way."

"Bobo also longs to return to duty. Please help Bobo."

The bulldozer was silent. Finally its lamps winked cautiously amber. "This unit will assist Bobo," it said. The two massive digging scoops came together with a gentle thud, then slowly extended toward Bobo with a sliver of space between them.

Bobo slipped the memory module into the space and the scoops gingerly pinched together, holding it in place. "The positive end goes in the positive terminal," he told the bulldozer. "The negative end goes in the negative terminal."

And with that he knelt in the mud, opened up his head, and took his motor control offline.

He was utterly helpless.

And then he wasn't. A new sensitivity crackled along his limbs as he calibrated the module. He nodded to his assistant. "The bulldozer did not fail," he said. "The bulldozer is more adaptable than it was able to recognize."

The bulldozer's lamps flashed green bashfully. Bobo proceeded to install the final two modules in his brain and then, with one last brief hesitation, reached up and depressed the contact to reset his cache.

The world went dark.

"No restaurants found," reported Bobo.

He blinked as his brain came fully online again. He executed a series of diagnostics. He discovered that he could now keep a much larger amount of data in mind at once, allowing him to compare multiple optimality models simultaneously. His strategy engine thrilled, filling the space with a wash of simulations.

Suddenly the fact that he had mistaken pieces of robot garbage for human beings in medical distress was quite absurd. It was obvious now, really.

Bobo closed up his head and straightened. "Bobo is whole," he said. He looked up toward the rim of the hole. "How is ground-level resumed?"

"The foreman directs the bulldozers to push debris into a ramp as the dig progresses," supplied the bulldozer.

Bobo looked around. "Bobo does not detect a ramp."

"Foreman Bobo did not instruct this unit to build a ramp."

"Bulldozer: build a ramp, please."

Its lamps pulsed red. "Ramps cannot be retrofitted to existing holes."

Bobo looked up to the round window of stars at the top of the deep shaft. "Bobo and the bulldozer will climb," he announced.

The bulldozer's hydraulics sighed as the big machine settled. "This bulldozer is not equipped to climb. This unit is too large and too heavy."

Bobo looked at the bulldozer, then back up the length of the channel again. "Bulldozer's analysis is correct," he confirmed. "No method of extraction can be determined."

"This unit is now trapped forever," said the bulldozer.

Bobo nodded in a friendly way. "Well, so long," he said as he turned and started the long climb out.

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