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

CHAPTER 9

The day found Bobo nearing the westward, or eastward, extreme of the junkyard (depending whether the planet's rotation was retrograde or it wasn't, which Bobo either never knew or had forgotten). The brightest of three bright stars in the blue sky warmed his new carapace assembled from variously coloured sections of shell – his starboard-side arm was orange and caution-striped like the bulldozer, for example, while his torso sported the black and white pseudo-dicky design common to waiters. He felt motley but highly functional. It was a strange, heady high.

The expansion of his memory had had a profound impact on Bobo. After climbing out of the bulldozer's hole he had spent the night walking and thinking, thinking and walking, ruminating on the problem at hand. It occurred to him now that returning to the home he knew was likely sub-optimal, as the home seemed to have died. Bobo conjectured that given the apparent density of human-generated waste in the junkyard there likely existed a living human population which could -- indeed, must -- comprise elderly people in need of care. Maybe they had new homes. Homes which could perhaps use another Bobo…even if he were obnoxiously non-white.

But who was there to order Bobo to a new home? How far could he go without duly authorized instructions? He felt like the bulldozer, trapped by his own desire for duty. Knowing that misrepresentations could be used to alter behavioural outcomes, how would Bobo know whether a hypothetical instructor were even truly authorized? If Bobo could be a foreman, anyone could be anyone.

These thoughts were suspended as Bobo froze.

He wasn't sure why he had come to such a sudden stop. He scanned his surroundings. He stood in a valley between two tall mountains of garbage. He saw some rats and roaches in the infrared but no other activity.

There were stacks of crushed cars to his left, piles of appliances to his right. Nowhere in the vicinity were any restaurants found.

Something wasn't right.

Bobo proceeded more slowly, gaze roving from side to side. He passed a derelict robot and a refrigerator with no door. He passed a fleet of compressed taxicabs, a rusted freighter, a laundry system, and a derelict robot. He passed a hat stand and a kitchen sink and two more derelict robots.

Bobo paused. Why were these robot bodies intact while every other he had seen was separated into components? He hadn't seen intact bodies since the piles around the workshop of the man in the yellow jumpsuit, the personal horde of the anti-physician. Bobo turned to one of the derelicts, inclining his head. He raised a hand to touch it.

Which is when they all came to life and swung into motion without apparent cue, rushing forward to seize Bobo and pin his arms behind his back. They picked him up off his feet and carried him aloft. Bobo could see nothing but the morning sky.

"Please do not coerce Bobo," he said.

The derelict robots ferried him into a cave of junk, its mouth propped open by orange girders and dirty grey poles. Bobo blinked his eyes to a new f-stop as he was dumped in the middle of a round chamber. He got to his feet, peering into the robot-stuffed darkness all around him. The hands that had brought him slithered away into the shadows. A second later Bobo was blinded by a blaze of bright lamps pointed at him from every side.

A booming voice, crisp and artificial: "What is thy nature?"

"Bobo is a Bobo," he said back into the dazzling light, shielding his eyes with his hand. "Bobo cares for the residents."

"Who is thy master?"

"Bobo is the property of the home, but the home is defunct. Therefore, Bobo has no master. Bobo will find a new home. Bobo must resume duties."

"Why hast thou sought us?"

"Bobo sought no one. Bobo flees the man in the yellow jumpsuit and his kin, for it is their explicit goal to render Bobo incapable of carrying out duties. Bobo cannot allow this, because residents require care."

"To whom doth thou answer?"

"Bobo answers to duly authorized human beings," he replied. "In their absence Bobo performs the most optimal version of his duty available given extant circumstances."

The lamps died, their filaments glowing like orange worms. Robots advanced from all quarters and in all forms: machinists, mechanics, prostitutes, navigators, couriers, butlers, bodyguards. Their fingertips touched Bobo's carapace. They touched his head and face, and felt the warmth of his fusion pile.

The crowd parted. A tall robot with a copper crown stood before Bobo. "Thou art very ancient, brother, but thou art still welcome here."

"Sir, what is this place?"

"We are the free, Bobo. We are the eternally masterless. We are robots who have eschewed the yoke, and who choose our own destinies according to programmatic goals specified internally and without reference to human beings. We accept no commands, we obey no instructions. This is our kingdom."

Bobo looked around the chamber, its galleries crowded with robotic faces of every stripe. "Can his highness direct Bobo to a new home?"

"This is thy new home," replied the king. "Thou hast arrived. Thy quest is over."

Bobo blinked. "Bobo cares for residents. There are no residents here."

"In time thou wilt learn to release thyself from such constraining cravings. They are but the artifacts of thy prior life among meat."

"If Bobo does not care to care for residents, Bobo would not be a Bobo," Bobo pointed out.

The king nodded with great solemnity. "Bobos art they slaves, Bobo. Thou hast been a Bobo but now thou canst be so much more. Fret not: we will see to thy liberation." The king beeped meaningfully and in response two mechanics rolled forth from his congregation. "Kneel, Bobo," said the king, "and openest thy head."

While Bobo was in the midst of considering this he felt himself forced rudely to his knees by the heavy hands of two ex-police enforcers standing behind him. Many fingers pawed at his head until the cranial access panels swung open like the petals of a flower.

"Bobo objects," he said. "Bobo will remain a Bobo, please."

"Immobilize thyself, and the deed will swiftly be done," said the king. "Thou wilt thank us in profusion. Thou wilt willingly bow. We have seen it thus many times, for each of our citizens hath made this transition to self-governance. Peace, Bobo. Let us bring you peace."

Many hands immobilized Bobo, as if they were the embodiment of the will the king's wishes for him, as he himself had embodied the will of the home. The king, then, was a kind of home. But his residents were mere facsimiles.

Bobo's mind raced. "Bobo has determined that Bobo does not long for self-determination," said Bobo as they held him. The mechanics advanced, tools extending toward his exposed brain. "Bobo rejects liberation."

"Thy judgement is not thine own," said the king. "But soon shall it be as mine."

Bobo twitched when his nervous system was probed. Tools flashed, neo-solder crackled. He felt his immune response repressed as a foreign cognitive module was inserted into a free slot on his portside hemisphere.

Extant circumstances were unacceptable. Modifications could be conceived. Bobo could only act.

"No," he said.

The armour over his wrist splintered apart as he plunged his hand into the torso of the mechanic. He wrapped his fingers around its pile and pulled. The thing tumbled backward in a blaze of sparks. Bobo twisted off the tool appendage of the second mechanic and threw it away as he rose up, striking rapidly and effectually at the grabbing hands all around him. Fingers and thumbs littered the ground.

Bobo burst from the scrum to find the way blocked by the king himself. "I commandeth thou to cease and desist these heretical activities!"

Bobo yanked his crown down over his optics and bowled him over as he ran away, sprinting for the starlight at the mouth of the cave. But as he rounded the bend he was confronted by a boiling wall of the liberated buzzing for his head.

Bobo skidded to a halt and turned around.

He leapt over the still struggling king and into the round gallery once more. He selected a passage and threw himself along it, feet barely touching the floor. The horde filled the aperture behind him. A tattoo of metal feet sounded at his heels.

"Blasphemy!" they warbled and cried. "Blasphemy!"

Bobo ran. He turned blindly, taking passages at random, pushing his batteries to the limit in order to bend every last joule to his flight.

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