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

CHAPTER 14

Bobo's head folded closed with Dick's fingers still inside, the sharp edges of his cranial sections biting into flesh until meeting bone. Ralph jammed a pair of calipers into the gap to keep the sections from closing completely while Dick, teeth gritted, attempted to pull herself free. "I don't want to lose my fingers," she gasped, "I don't want to lose my fingers!"

One of the students screamed. Another fainted.

"Bobo, release her!" cried John. "Bobo, what are you doing?"

"Oh, damn," groaned Dick, turning pale from the pain.

Ralph wrenched on the calipers, forcing the cranial edges slightly wider. Dick pulled her dripping hand back and stumbled away from the slab. Students caught her and a cloth was pressed around her wounds, distracting them from what happened next.

For all of sudden Bobo was both before Ralph and behind her.

The Bobo behind her took gentle hold of her arm and pulled it and the calipers away from the Bobo before her, whose blood-sprinkled head then closed up all the way. The other Bobo lifted Ralph and deposited her on the floor out of the way. John was staggering aside into a light stand, causing it to topple and the fixture to smash. The restored Bobo from the museum display case stood over her.

"But it's impossible," she sputtered. "It doesn't have a brain!"

Bobo rose from the slab. "Bobo is using Bobo's brain to control Bobo's body. All Bobos are Bobo, and Bobo is all Bobos."

John said, "Bobo, you need to stop this!"

Ralph got to her feet and strafed sideways, putting the slab between her and the robots. "You can't reason with it, Johnny -- it's berserk." She turned around and yelled, "The rest of you get the hell out of here! Now!" The students and researchers fled.

"He shouldn't be able to do that wirelessly," said John, staring at the zombie robot. "Bobos need cables to collaborate!"

Ralph grabbed a wrench and held it out in front of her like a weapon as she shuffled around closer to John. "Don't you get it, Johnny? It ripped the brains out of your domestic. It's got access to all the modern over-the-air protocols but without inhibition. It can do whatever it wants." She grabbed John's arm. "Come on, we're getting out. Hear that alarm? Security's on the way."

"But they'll smash him!"

"That thing just tried to amputate Dick's fingers, Johnny. It's a menace."

"He's just confused."

Ralph yanked on John's arm. The Bobos turned to face the lab as the double doors banged open and a duo of uniformed campus security stepped inside, riot masks in place and batons at the ready. Ralph screeched, "Berserk robot! Berserk robot!" and then hauled John back with her to escape the examination bay.

The senior security officer called, "What about remote shut down?"

"Built before the standard," she shook her head, still fighting against John. "Won't answer to remote command!"

The officer nodded and drew a high-voltage jazzer from her belt. She advanced toward the mouth of the examination bay. The Bobos panned their heads to watch her.

"Don't hurt him!" cried John.

"This is a security control," said the officer as she approached, her colleague at her back. "With the authority vested in me by the Northland Women's University, I order you to stand down, robot, and to initiate your shut down sequence without delay."

"Bobo will not be rendered vulnerable again," said the Bobo with the mismatched pieces of carapace. "Bobo resists harm, and doubts misrepresentations."

Ralph paused and furrowed her brow. "Since when does a robot ‘doubt' anything?"

"I've been trying to tell you," John told her; "he's unique!"

The security officer discharged her jazzer at the motley Bobo. The robot manipulated the flow of current through his body along a conductive line that terminated on the slab, his hand on its edge. The slab's control box popped in a splatter of sparks. The officer winced and stepped back reflexively.

"Bobo will not be vandalized again," said the white Bobo.

"Bobo must defend Bobo's access to functionality," said the multi-colour Bobo as he picked up the laser cutter from the floor and aimed it at the cushioned top end of the slab. He engaged the device and the cushions caught fire.

A new alarm sounded, shrill and insistent. Water sprayed down from metal heads embedded in the ceiling. It pooled on the floor, reflecting the lights.

The senior officer tossed aside her jazzer. With conductive liquid all around her she stood as much chance of shocking herself as her target.

Reinforcements arrived. The uniformed humans conferred. Bobo was used to deciphering the dry paper whispers of the elderly -- to him the security officers might as well have been shouting. Even if he could not hear them their plans were laid bare in the pinch and twitch of their faces and the way they hung themselves off their spines. By the time the women had elected to start their manoeuvre both Bobos were already moving to disrupt it.

Humans rushed in from both sides at once in a coordinated attempt to overwhelm and manhandle the two machines into submission. But Bobo would not submit. To him the security personnel's bones were like celery. The women rolled on the floor and howled, clutching their disordered limbs.

The Bobos turned away. They walked out of a fire door that swung open automatically, out of the indoor rain and outside into a starshine-soaked quadrangle.

The quadrangle was abandoned. The students had all run away. A breeze rustled the tree branches. From inside the buildings came the muted buzz of alarms.

Bobo spotted the main gate and crossed the quad to reach it, the puppet-Bobo at his heels. Bobo was busy feeling out a whole new wireless universe, sensing the registration numbers and cognitive modes of the hundreds of robots in the university buildings around him. He could sense them all. They would not obey him, though, as the zombie body did, for he did not know the key to decrypt his way through the security layers that protected their firmware and kept their thoughts locked in a tight orbit around their inhibitors.

Bobo arrived at the main gate. It was locked, so Bobo removed it.

Both Bobo bodies stopped short as a pair of black and white police cruisers swept in along the road while another pair blotted out the sky from above. Red and blue lights flashed everywhere. Police enforcer units unfolded themselves from the trunks of the land vehicles, their limbs locking into place with a series of bangs and hisses. Their glowing eyes were small and red.

"This is the police," crackled the amplified voice of an officer inside one of the flying cruisers. "Your activity is unauthorized. You are ordered to power down your systems and submit yourself to custody immediately!"

Bobo considered this. Tentatively he felt out for the police enforcers over the air. He received a valid reply to his communication overtures but nothing further, their minds a hard wall of duty. The complexity of the encryption protecting their brains was such that Bobo doubted he could persuade them to see things differently without a substantial amount of time to study the problem.

"Comply immediately or we will deploy lethal force!"

Weapon muzzles extended from the bodies of the enforcer units. Rounds clicked into place in the chambers. Bobo estimated the kinetic energy such rounds might transmit, and calculated the destructive power that would be unleashed upon his jury-rigged body.

Both Bobos slowly raised their hands, palms open, and sank to their knees.

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