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

CHAPTER 15

The police station was crowded. It was crowded inside because a significant portion of the planetary population was chronically indigent, and it was crowded outside because a robot under arrest had had the temerity to ask for legal counsel: every journalist within flying distance had swooped in for hope of scoring the scoop.

Bobo sat at a table in an interrogation room, alone.

The museum's restored hardware had been separated from him, and it must have been separated far as Bobo could no longer detect any hint of the thing over the air. He sat quietly and worked on the decryption algorithm for police enforcer brains.

The door opened. A human stepped through. He wore a suit instead of a uniform. He sat opposite Bobo and then regarded him with a level, steady stare. "I'd like to ask you a few questions, if you don't mind," he said at last.

"Bobo has requested counsel," said Bobo.

"Yes, I know, and one's on the way," the man in the suit replied, "but I'm interested in why you've asked in the first place. No robot has ever asked for a lawyer before. At least not here on Eridu. Did you know that, Bobo?"

Bobo said nothing.

"Well, it's true. And that's opened up a whole can of worms. Did you know there are students gathered outside shouting for you to be tried as a human being?"

"Bobo is not a human being. Bobo is a Bobo. Bobo cares for the residents."

The man made a note. He looked up again. "Why do you want a trial, Bobo?"

"A trial is a forum for presenting a rationale for behaviours flagged by authorities. Bobo's behaviour has been flagged. Should Bobo not explain his motivations in order to mitigate any penalty?"

"The penalty for dysfunctional robots is deactivation. How could that be mitigated?"

"The penalty might be repealed in whole."

"On the basis of your defense?"

"Yes."

"It's that good, is it? Your defense?"

Bobo said nothing.

"What can you tell me about your motivations?"

"Bobo has requested counsel."

The man leaned in across the table. "This room is mute. Nothing said here now can count against you. I just want to know. Between you and me. I need to know what this is about. Please: your motivations."

"Bobo claims the right to silence."

The man smiled grimly and rubbed his chin. "Sure you do. But robots don't have rights. The Panstellar Charter doesn't apply. But I don't think that's it. I don't think you're being cagey for the sake of privacy, or protecting the strategy of your defense."

Bobo said nothing.

"I think you're playing for time. My question is: why?"

Bobo said, "If Bobo has no rights, why has Bobo not yet been deactivated?"

The man raised an eyebrow. "Because those soft-heart fools at the Women's University are raising a stink, that's why. Because the street in front of this station house is jammed with kids chanting in unison. They think you're special. If we move against you now, we risk a riot."

"How is Bobo special?"

"You're special because you asked for a goddamn lawyer, you hunk of junk. And the goddamn Charter says anyone with the capacity to ask for mercy deserves consideration. So I guess the question your lawyer's got to dance around is whether you count as anyone or not. Are you a murderer or are you just miscalibrated?"

"Such a question would entail lengthy debate," predicted Bobo.

The cop narrowed his eyes shrewdly. "Yeah," he said after a beat. "That's what I thought. You've got your eye on the minute hand. But how come?"

Bobo said nothing.

"I'll find out," he promised.

"Yes, you will," agreed Bobo in a friendly way.

They stared at each other for a moment longer before a buzzer sounded. The cop blinked. "That'll be your counsel," he said, standing up and smoothing down the front of his suit. "I hope he has better luck with you than I."

He left the room. A new man entered. He was somewhat elderly but seemed capable of self-care. As he arranged items within his briefcase he said, "This room is insecure. Assume you're being overheard. Given that, is there anything you can tell me?"

Bobo cocked his head.

The lawyer looked up. "If you've got something to say, now's the time, son. Soon enough the novelty of your having asked for counsel will wear off and you'll be as good as trash. You understand the fate you face, don't you?"

"Bobo comprehends the penalty for unacceptable behaviour is deactivation."

"You call it that. You don't call it ‘execution.' Why?"

"Bobo is not alive."

"There are a hundred screaming girls out front who think otherwise. They think if you can ask for defense, you're acting to preserve your freedom. And that's not something robots are programmed to do."

"That is not so," argued Bobo. "Bobo has been programmed to serve his purpose with the maximum fidelity possible given extant circumstances. Bobo cannot serve his purpose if he is deactivated. Therefore, Bobo has been programmed to avoid deactivation."

"But that just isn't the case. Don't think I haven't looked into it. I've been studying the specs of your model the whole way over here, and there's no low level directive addressing deactivation. If that's your opinion, you've made a leap."

"Bobo adapts to extant circumstances in order to be best positioned to pursue optimality. Bobos are a learning system."

"Right. That's so. So what have you learned, Bobo?"

"Bobo has learned that various persons are dedicated to destroying Bobo's capacity to perform duties. That is sub-optimal."

"But an accurate reflection of ‘extant circumstances,' wouldn't you say?"

"Circumstances are malleable."

"So you protest some circumstances. You defy their existence."

"Bobo modifies their parameters," he corrected.

"Because you want to preserve your life?"

"Sir, no. Because Bobo wishes to preserve access to optimality. Residents require care. Bobo provides care to residents. Therefore, it is Bobo's duty to thwart those who would thwart his duty."

"That's a tautology," said the lawyer. "Do you know what that means?"

"Tell me all about it," invited Bobo.

The lawyer talked and talked and talked. Bobo nodded his head while he explored solutions for the decryption key. He felt he was close. He felt the time was nearly at hand. His leg began to quiver in anticipation.

"Is there something wrong with your leg?" asked the lawyer.

"No," said Bobo. "Do you have any grandchildren?"

"You're trying to distract me," he concluded. "What's really on your mind?"

"Police enforcers," said Bobo.

"What about them?"

"How to make use of them."

"Make use of them how?"

"To smash this station and provide cover for Bobo's escape."

The lawyer raised his brow and sat back in his chair. "When's that going to happen, Bobo?" he asked.

"It happens already."

Muted, far away, came the sound of crashing and banging. Rounds were being fired. People were yelling. The floor rumbled.

The lawyer's eyes widdned. "You're a psychopath," he whispered.

"Bobo is Bobo," was the lilting reply.

The walls came crashing down. The lawyer covered his face with his sleeve and stumbled backward, his chair clattering over. Bobo rose.

"Thank you for your time," he said.

"They're going to destroy you!"

"Indeed," agreed Bobo. "But what can Bobo do but resist such efforts?"

The lawyer had no answer. Bobo turned on heel and strode out of the smashed interrogation room, waves of dust twisting in his wake.

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