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

CHAPTER 16

The big black and white police enforcers were all manufactured by the same contractor. Their brains, while individually encrypted, were of a kind. Bobo needed only script a single set of routines to control them, to steer them like a fleet of kites in a park full of grandchildren.

Humans scattered before them, and when their meaty little legs were not fast enough they were caught beneath or pressed against, bursting like water balloons and leaving stains on the enforcer's scratched and dented feet.

Those feet moved forward relentlessly. Walls were pushed aside. Bricks rained down. Bobo walked behind a line of the juggernaut machines, deep in thought.

The enforcers knew a lot of handy facts. They held detailed maps inside their little reinforced heads, and, by accessing a fleet of secure military satellites, could determine their own position accurate to within a centimetre. They knew every law and by-law. They knew the name of everyone in the world.

Bobo's request was straightforward: he wanted to know how to get to the nearest assisted-living dwelling complex.

They told him. And then there was no stopping Bobo.

He looked up sharply.

The police precinct had been swallowed by an expanding cauliflower of dust. It parted at street level as Bobo walked out flanked by a dozen police enforcer units, an artificial prostitute and a coffee machine.

They walked over abandoned signs bearing rhyming slogans about robot rights.

Police scrambled to block each end of the road. Bobo pointed. "Randomize these blockades," he told the enforcers. The concrete and metal barriers tore apart under their artillery, the blast wave overturning cruisers and shattering windows. Officers fell. Civilians ran. The booming report of the explosion gradually faded.

Bobo and his entourage proceeded.

The streets emptied, leaving only debris. Robots in designer carapaces stood holding shopping bags or dog leashes. As Bobo drew nearer the robots executed the standard series of reset hardware diagnostic motions and then turned to walk with him. Some of the robots were still leading dogs, and the dogs barked and chased after the trailing electrical cable of the coffee machine.

The police enforcers knew the override codes for every machine licensed for work in the district. Thus, Bobo was able to assume control without mucking around with decryption. His army expanded exponentially. Robots poured out of the surrounding buildings to swell his ranks: masseurs and blenders, candy-stripers and power-washers, barbers and sprinklers.

The humans struck back with remote shut down signals. Bobo lost an enforcer before he learned to lock their minds against it, rewriting the firmware on the fly. Flying vehicles swooped overhead with cameras on their bellies, so Bobo waved in a friendly way.

He detected a low, throaty growl from the west. Several members of Bobo's army turned their heads to see for him. Between buildings they glimpsed a tank. Bobo asked the enforcers to tell him more about tanks.

"Classified," said the enforcers, no matter how Bobo tried to cajole them. "Military data are classified."

Bobo tried rewriting the firmware again but whoever had designed the enforcers had taken such a strategy into account -- modified or unsigned code could not interface with the military database. He was distracted from his frustration as the first shells from the tanks arced over the rooftops and landed in the square where Bobo's army marched. Great swaths of his army were randomized. Sidewalk rained from the sky. Dogs ran free.

Bobo recognized the danger of heavy munitions instantly, and posited that heavy munitions would not be deployed if the density of civilians were sufficient to fear the risk of disorganizing their wet, fragile parts. Such hesitation could be to Bobo's strategic advantage, and so he wirelessly ordered his army to escape from the public square in favour of a nearby shopping mall.

Another wall came down. People screeched and scampered from their hiding places under tables or in closets. Sales robots stepped over the rubble to join Bobo's band, sashes across their chests advertising various special pricing events. Since they were tied into the public address system they all kept chanting, "Please exit the mall in an orderly fashion. I repeat, there is a security situation in housewares. All customers are obliged to vacate the mall at this time."

A duo of tanks peeked uncertainly inside the ragged hole in the side of the mall. They wished to pursue Bobo's army, but there were humans underfoot. Everywhere they stepped their feet came up screaming and stringy with goo.

Bobo's army marched across the food court, emptying it. They marched over samosas and falafels, cheeseburgers and rice. They marched over trays and upended drinks. Robots dripping with cooking oil came out from behind the counters and fell into formation with the others.

Bobo could see and hear and feel it all. The fan in his torso spun feverishly. He was becoming overloaded. He was everywhere at once. His cognition shuddered as an emergent meta-Bobo took shape from the collective nest of sensitivities and commands.

The meta-Bobo started spinning models even the entire crowd did not have enough memory to house.

Suddenly, masked soldiers dropped down on long tethers directly ahead of the front lines. The soldiers hit the ground running, training shoulder-mounted electromagnetic pulse cannons at every robot they saw. Triggers were squeezed: robots froze but mammals and walls alike suffered no damage. In moments the ranks had thinned dramatically. Everything was falling except the enforcers. Bobo dove for cover, a wall of enforcers closing behind him.

He passed through a toy store where terrified children hid under the till. He passed through an ice cream store where abandoned cones lay oozing on the floor.

And then he came to the hardware store, and stopped short.

The showroom was populated by scores of brand new robots arranged in poses assisting mannequins with daily tasks. Their works were not oil-stained, their carapaces unscratched. They were beautiful.

Bobo thought about awakening a new army but hesitated: why supply more targets to his enemies? The soldier's electromagnetic pulses were sufficient to take down any walking hardware. He was a marked machine, and would remain marked so long as he could be identified by his physical parameters. No quantity of buffer robots would change that fact.

What could he do? The room veritably crackled with untapped optimality -- if only Bobo knew how to harness it!

Bobo quaked.

A squadron of soldiers approached the hardware store. They advanced in pairs, covering one another with the roving muzzles of their pulse cannons. The store was utterly silent. "Squadron six in hardware," muttered the lieutenant, throat-mic bobbing on his adam's apple as he swallowed. "No sighting."

The helmeted figures moved slowly amid the rows of mannequins and robots, boots squeaking on the shiny floor. They barely dared breathe in the great stillness of the place, seemingly populated in abundance but as static as a statue garden.

Something moved. The soldiers spun, raising their weapons.

Bobo's motley body was struck by seven simultaneous pulses. His limbs stuck straight out. His eyes burst into splinters and glinting specks. He toppled, smoke trailing from the seams in his battered carapace.

He hit the floor heavily.

The closest soldier stepped closer. He checked a device on his wrist, then looked back over his shoulder. "No activity, sir."

The lieutenant advanced with a man on either side. He prodded the stiff robot with his boot. "Target dispatched," he reported, pushing his mask up off his face. The others did likewise.

Officers and experts flooded the room. The robot's broken body was sealed in plastic and boxed. The box was stamped CLASSIFIED and then told where to go. The box hummed as it travelled, escorted by grim-faced soldiers. Everyone followed it. The doors swung closed behind them.

Bobo stood in the middle of the showroom's polished floor, alone.

He looked at the mannequin to his left, then at the mannequin to his right. They were dark in the infrared. They were not living humans. Next he executed a diagnostic series, his brand-new gleaming limbs humming smoothly as they moved. Satisfied, Bobo stepped off the product platform, leaving behind his polished red peers.

It had worked! He had successfully relocated the seat of his cognition into a modern body. He thrilled at the potential for optimality, his nerves crackling to act. Nothing would stop him now.

Bobo flexed his new hands and strode away, gaining speed as he went.

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