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

CHAPTER 12

The lab was locked. Ralph patted her pockets. Dick pinched the bridge of her nose and swore. "So all our equipment is smashed, our tools buried, the site lost – and we're locked out?"

"The keys were in my coat," explained Ralph. "And recovering my coat's probably going to take a whole other grant."

Dick sagged. John shrugged. "It's not the end of the world. We'll bring him back first thing in the morning."

"Back from where?" asked Ralph.

"From home," said John. "He can stay at my place."

Dick and Ralph exchanged glances. "It's an artifact, Johnny, not a pet. Every minute out in the open further contaminates any potential findings. We have to wrap him in plastic and scare up a secure place for temporary storage."

John shook her head. "I'm not leaving a centuries-old working piece of colonial robotics in some closet, Dick. He needs to be kept close, so he's going where I'm going – and I'm going to take a shower. I smell repugnant."

Dick sniffed at her own shirt and wrinkled her nose. "Me too."

Ralph threw up her hands. "You do what you want, Johnny, but that thing needs to be secured in the lab as soon as possible. I'm calling the dean to get the spare key. I'll have an examination bay prepared by the time you get back with it."

"Don't tell her about the site," said John. "Not until we've had a chance to wow her with Bobo, at any rate."

Ralph pursed her lips, but nodded.

Dick looked grim. "I'm not sure this is safe, Johnny."

John rolled her eyes. "He'll be just fine –"

"I'm not worried about the robot, Johnny. I'm worried about you."

John waved that aside as she straightened her purse and sealed her coat seams. "He's a geriatric care robot, Dicky. He's programmed to fluff pillows and draw Epsom salt baths."

"I see a mix of hardware. I don't think solid conclusions about the unit's nature are possible without a more thorough analysis."

John sniffed. "Robots don't lie. Isn't that right, Bobo?"

"That is right, Johnny."

John put her arm around Dick's shoulders and drew her in. "It's been a long day. We're all tired. Let's not go off half-cocked, Dick. Get some sleep. You too, Ralph. In the morning we're going to forget about what we've lost and focus on what we've gained. Won't it be so?"

Dick offered her an exhausted half-smile. "It'll be so, Johnny."

Ralph said nothing. John took Bobo by the hand and led him away to the faculty parking lot. "Good evening, dear ladies," called Bobo over his shoulder.

John's apartment was just outside the campus, on the third floor of a modern building with fabric walls that undulated slowly in the night's cool, fitful breeze. John parked her jalopy out front and then Bobo followed her up the steps and into the lobby.

Bobo liked the lobby because it smelled like a cafeteria but he didn't have long to linger as John bade him to come on upstairs. She pressed her thumb to the door and it unlocked, admitted them into her personal quarters. A polished golden robot decked out in a streamlined carapace advanced with a cup of tea on a tray while a cat twisted around its ankles. John smiled. "Hello Ardelle, hello Frisky."

"You have thirty-seven messages," said Ardelle.

"Start the shower," John replied. She scooped up her cat and stroked it. The cat watched Bobo. "Have you ever met a cat before?" she asked.

"No," said Bobo. "Pets are not permitted in the home."

John let the cat ooze from her hands. "Try not to step on him," she said, looking up. "He gets underfoot. He just wants love."

"Should Bobo ask after the cat's grandchildren?"

John laughed. "Of course not. Now let's take you into the washroom and see if we can't rinse some of that junkyard stink out of you. Come on now, Bobo. This way. Don't be scared."

Bobo stood in the shower stall and allowed himself to be roughly scrubbed with a toilet brush until the water streaming through his carapace turned clear. John sprayed soap over his head and giggled when he blinked the suds from his eyes. By the time he was rinsed clean John was soaking wet, so she peeled off her dusty clothes and dropped them on the floor of the stall. A stream of brown water spiraled away from the pile and into the drain.

Bobo noted the minimal warping from gravity evident in John's flesh, and as the water washed the grime from her face he was able to assess the wrinkle density and moisture quality of her skin. "Johnny is not geriatric," he decided.

John blushed. "It's sweet of you to say that. But I think it's only half true."

"The angle and density of Johnny's mammary tissues suggests middle age."

"Well, maybe ten years ago. People are just being charitable when they call a woman like me ‘middle aged.'"

"Johnny does not require Bobo's care."

John shrugged, her expression hidden behind strands of wet hair. "You're a very sensitive robot, aren't you?"

"Bobo can differentiate over one thousand discrete haptic values."

"Academia can be very isolating," said John, water pouring down her body.

"There, there," said Bobo in a friendly way.

John seemed lonely but Bobo could not provide comfort by asking after her grandchildren, as she did not have any. She did not want to play checkers or chess or cards or bingo, nor did she want to subscribe to an entertainment stream or virtualize her consciousness for a synaptic vacation. Bobo asked her if she wanted a cool glass of water or a warm mug of milk, but John was interested in neither. "Come sit with me on the bed," she said, then sent Ardelle out of the room.

"Is Johnny not cold?" prompted Bobo. "Does Johnny not wish for clothes?"

"No," she said softly. "I don't need any clothes right now. I just need a little attention."

At last Bobo understood. John would require a hysterical paroxysm engendered via pelvic massage. He held up his index finger and it began to vibrate.

John smiled.

When she was asleep Bobo left the bedroom. In the kitchen he found Ardelle washing the counters, the lighting strips around the ceiling winking off her gleaming curves. Ardelle rotated to face him. "Does this guest have needs?" she asked.

"Yes," said Bobo.

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