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

PLEASE NOTE: This story contains scenes of violence. Reader discretion is advised.

CHAPTER 1

The home bought twenty-seven robots from the hardware store, but only one of them would live forever. Since the robots were covered under warranty for just thirty-six months this represented an exceptional value.

At the ninety-month mark twelve of the original twenty-seven were still standing. Which twelve of the twenty-seven was impossible to say, because each was composed of parts cannibalized from the others. As a cohort they had commingled, and the commingling continued. At any given time any number of them might be laid up in the shop, worried over by the home's custodian as he swapped innards from one to keep the other online and then back again once the mending was done.

Who was who? Not even the robots knew.

The residents called all of them Bobo.

"Bobo, I've fallen!"

"Bobo, I'm thirsty!"

"Bobo, I'm alone!"

Bobo would be there. Bobo was always there. Bobo was the articulated hug of the home itself, the embodiment of the gentle and loving care it advertised in all the most popular assisted-living customer indices. The home was, for a time, among the nicest such retirement facilities on the planet.

There was no need to be ashamed when Bobo was helping, because Bobo wasn't people. Back when the home had living nurses it wasn't rare for residents to make them wait in the corridor after a messy personal accident until Bobo had had a chance to clean them up. Letting Bobo help helped them preserve their dignity. They would die, but not of embarrassment.

If there was no one else, Bobo would hold them then, too. "There, there," Bobo would say. He would rock gently, his body radiating a soothing pseudo-mammalian heat. When the eyes vacated Bobo would use a rubber-padded fingertip to close the lids. Later, Bobo would change the sheets and mop the floor.

"Bobo, where are my pills?"

"Bobo, my colostomy bag broke."

"Bobo, you're the only one who knows I'm even alive."

Bobo was a self-improving system hungry for optimality. Every resident was a teacher. Bobo's palliative powers were refined by constant feedback. He studied the micro-expressions of each charge for signs of discomfort or pain or dread, steering situations toward the best approximation of optimality available with an artful grace only years of repeated experience and sensitive attention can bring. Bobo watched them as they wept and as they laughed, as they blushed and as they paled, as they sank into morbid irritation or turned upward in appeal to their manufacturer.

"I don't know what I'd do without you, Bobo."

Bobo held their hands. Bobo carried them to bed. Bobo fed them, and bathed them, and if the whole world had forgotten them Bobo cremated their last remains.

At its peak the home housed four hundred residents. A time came when the paint was peeling and the windows were dirty, when the last living nurse had been let go and the games room smelled like urine. New residents no longer arrived to replace the departed. Bobos fell unfixed, because the custodian had been replaced by a kiosk. Nobody knew how the kiosk worked, so they unplugged it and told Bobo to plug in another fan instead. Because the air conditioning was on the blink, too.

One night the last resident died. The next day the lights shut off, and all the water drained out of the toilets.

Bobo stood in the middle of the recreation room's stained carpet, alone.





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