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

CHAPTER 11

The car hummed as it rose, bobbing gently between mountains of trash.

Ralph clutched the stick between her knees in order to gather her hair up into a bun. Then she nodded to Dick. Dick pored over the map and gave her some numbers. Ralph steered the car up out of the purple shadows and into the starshine.

Bobo sat in the back with John. He did his best to remain gyroscopically stabilized. John smiled to watch him. "Have you ever been in a car before, Bobo?"

"No, Bobo has not, Johnny."

Ralph eased them north and the light clocked around the cabin. She frowned and pressed a fingertip to her earpiece. "Say again?"

John leaned forward. "What is it?"

"Junkers are hunting a berserk robot," she repeated from the earpiece. Dick looked over at her, then back between them at Bobo.

"We won't declare him," said John evenly. She put her arm around Bobo. "Don't worry," she told him.

Dick pursed her lips. "What if he's the one that's berserk, Johnny?"

"He's obviously not berserk. That's ridiculous. He's harmless." John turned to face Bobo. "Bobo, you wouldn't hurt a human being, would you?"

Bobo said, "Are your grandchildren talented in some way? Bobo would like to hear about that."

John looked down at her hands, which were a part of her body she thought made her look particularly old. She tucked her hands between her thighs. "I don't have grandchildren, silly."

Bobo cocked his head and blinked.

The car banked as Ralph slowed and circled westward again. "There's a line," she reported. "They're checking everything going out." She pointed through the windshield. "Maybe they think the berserker's stowing away."

John turned Bobo's face toward her. "Bobo, I need you to power down. This is very important. If you don't power down, they're going to detect you."

Bobo hesitated. His leg started to quake. "Johnny will not put Bobo in a furnace?"

"No, of course not. I would never do that to you, Bobo."

"Johnny will not attempt to modify Bobo's cognition?"

She shook her head. "We want you just the way you are, Bobo."

The car moved forward in line. Ralph looked at Dick. Dick said, "We're running out of time, Johnny."

"Please, Bobo," said John. "We'll wake you up in a minute. I promise."

"Bobo waited on the carpet alone in the recreation room for a very long time," he said.

"I won't make you wait, Bobo. I'll be right here."

Bobo considered this. He could detect no hint of misrepresentation in the woman's face or voice, but he still felt stung by the deceptions of the anti-physician and the king's righteous indifference to Bobo's wishes when he was most vulnerable. However, John, like so many people Bobo had known, seemed to have only simple compulsions rooted in their mammality. John may have been digging for artifacts but all she really wanted was a hug.

After a pause Bobo nodded. He faced forward and then went limp. John covered him in a plastic sheet hauled from the cargo tank behind her seat. She looked up anxiously as the car swept up next to the security cordon.

The guard's face softened when he saw Ralph in the pilot's seat. "Hi Ralph," he said, leaning in on the edge of the window. "How'd you ladies make out today?"

"We've got high hopes for next week," offered Dick.

"Yeah," said Ralph. "But nothing today. Not a thing. But let's not talk about it because it puts Johnny in a mood."

"I can cheer youse up," said the guard. "I can take youse all out dancing. I know a place. Do smart girls like to dance?"

"Sometimes," said Ralph guardedly.

"It's been a long day," claimed Dick with an apologetic smile. "Raincheck," said John.

The guard's face lit up. "Seriously?"

"Sure," she said.

The car scanned clean for extra energy signatures. The guard waved them through. Ralph steered slowly out of the security cordon, stealing glances aside at a junker in a yellow jumpsuit with gauze wrapped around his head, his one visible eye piercing her as she passed. She shuddered and returned her gaze forward, urging the car higher.

The world turned away from its star, the sky bronze.

Down below the outskirts of the junkyard were peppered with people and robots working together, scouring the refuse for treasures, their very similar shadows spilling long along the cluttered landscape. They looked like ants. Their shantytowns scrolled into view next as John found the contact to reboot Bobo.

Bobo stiffened. He executed a series of diagnostics and then surveyed his environment. He was still in the cabin of the car surrounded by the three human female archaeologists.

Something significant was different, though.

Bobo blinked. He turned to look out of the window. The car flew over the tiered tracks of the World Train and into the northland, the glows of its first cities colouring the twilight. Ralph brought the car into the flow of an expressway, the lights of other cars streaking by all around them.

Bobo stared through the streaks, his port iris buzzing as he zoomed in.

The city drew up around them, its luminescent fingers stretching into the sky. Down below were nested a dozen levels of commercial concerns from boutiques in the balconies to whorehouses in the gloom.

Bobo felt the tickle of optimality. "Multiple restaurants are found!" he exclaimed. "Tenegrecian, Pomonan, Samundran, Ninurtese, North Callicratian, South Callicratian, Allatuni, Mahuean!"

"Do you like restaurants, Bobo?" asked John with a smile.

"Residents enjoy restaurants," he confirmed, nodding. "Particularly if they offer an early dinner buffet."

The car left the expressway and dipped down into the broad avenues of the old town, swooping toward the towers of the university. Bobo craned his head to follow the clustering of restaurants behind them. "Don't worry," said John, "we can go see the restaurants later, Bobo. I want you to see our laboratory, and I think the people there will want to see you, too."

"Are there residents in the laboratory?"

"No, just students and researchers. They're not elderly, they're young."

"They are grandchildren?"

"Yeah, sort of."

Ralph manoeuvred the car around an ancient oak tree and down into the parking lot. The engine whined as it shut down. Dick filled the ensuing silence by saying, "Welcome to your new home, Bobo."

John glared at her.

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