Sunday 12 February 2012

Bobo, Chapter 21

Bobo is a weekly dose of classic science-fiction, as semiotically encoded by me, your reasonable facsimile of a host, Cheeseburger Brown. This is the twenty-first installment, which now makes this story old enough to buy liquor in America.

eBooks News: This week I'm pimping the new Kindle edition of Leslie and the Powder -- a novella set in contemporary times but with a darkly magical twist, which may be the perfect introduction to this universe for readers who steer shy of scifi. Tell your friends.

Hey Instapaper users! I've updated the way I code my paragraphs. Can you hear me now? Testing, testing one two three.

And now, the story continues...

John sat at Bobo's bedside. The primary was rising. The light was orange.


She lifted her head and pushed her hair away from her eyes. She blinked blearily. A figure stood in the doorway flanked by silent robot sentries. John's mouth tightened. "What are you doing here?"

Dick shrugged, arms crossed over her chest as she leaned into the jamb. "I've been watching your boy," she said.

John tried to keep her face hard.

Dick said, "Support among robots is growing."

"We're going to win this," spat John. "We're going to win it for Bobo."

"Have you noticed how it's growing? The support among robots?"

John narrowed her eyes. "What do you mean?"

"It's just that the distribution should be familiar to you. It's the output of your algorithm, after all."


"The support is simulated. It's growing to saturation by combining pseudo-random phases from your thesis, John."

"My thesis was about making dig sims more realistic."

Dick shook her head. "Your thesis was about making a copy operation appear to be distributed in an a pattern that approximates threshold chaos. Your thesis was about camouflage, John. At least it's about camouflage if you look at it from his point of view." She pointed at Bobo with her chin.

John traced her gaze. "Why do you hate him so much?"

Dick held up a hand with four artificial fingers on it. She hadn't bothered to conceal their metal nature beneath a layer of phony skin. They gleamed. "Because," continued Dick, "I know what he's capable of." She lowered her hand. "But it's worse than that, Johnny: he's controlling them."

"Controlling who?"

"The robots."

"Which robots?"

"All of them."

There was a tense pause before John snorted derisively in unconscious imitation of Oscar. "That's preposterous," she chuckled, stroking a beard she didn't have. "What they say is right: we really are cut off from reality in that damned Women's University."

Dick said nothing, but tears flashed in the corners of her eyes.

"I know it was hard to work together after we broke up," continued John, "but we made it through, we both grew a lot as people. And that's why I really am so surprised to see you trying to hurt me in this cheap, vindictive way. It's small of you, Dick."

Dick flushed. She dug into her satchel and pulled out a data plate. It clattered to the floor. "There's my research, Johnny. It lays it all out. This isn't about you and me. It's about a deeply flawed intelligence that's on its way to taking over the planet."

"Do you even hear what you're saying? It's paranoid. It's nonsense. I think you need professional help, Richard. I'm telling you that as your friend and as your mentor."

Dick stared at her for a long moment and then said, "Rape yourself, John." She turned to leave.

"Where are you going?"

"Offworld! Where any sane person would go."

John cried a bit after Dick withdrew. She leaned her forehead against Bobo's prone form, then traced a finger along his shrapnel-scratched torso. She could feel faint vibrations buzzing through the carapace -- another one of the tiny signs of functionality that kept everyone on vigil. The vibration faded and was replaced by an irregular clicking sound. For a hundredth time John wondered what was going on inside Bobo's body, and whether he would ever come back to her.

"Good morning?"

John lifted her head again.

A young man carrying a big box shuffled in, the sentry robots parting to let him through the doorway. "Did I wake you? I'm sorry, ma'am. I'm just that intern from the technologist union again."

"I remember you. Marco?"

"Mycho. Mycho Blue Harmonicker."

With a name like that John knew his people must have come from one of the anarchic compartments on the ark. Anarchic descendants always had mangled names. John was not a racist; in fact, it made her feel noble to be friendly with the lower castes.

Mycho kept his eyes down bashfully. John opened her wallet and fished for a hairbrush to unfold.

The technologist cleared some room on the flower bouquet table and then hefted up his heavy box. He drew out a handful of sensor heads on leads. He set up spindly tripod stands and fixed the sensors to their tops. He carefully angled each sensor.

John brushed her hair. "Do you ever learn anything from these scans, Mycho?"

"Nop," he admitted with a friendly grin. "This walker here -- this Mr. Bobo -- he runs an interference screen so tight I've never heard of the like outside of a battlefield. Still, if I bother to take a look every day nobody can accuse me of having missed something if all hellation should break loose. Forgiving my swear, I hope, ma'am."

"Of course," agreed John grandly. "Speak as you find natural, Mycho. I'm an academic. I don't judge."

"Okay," he said, peering through the alignment scope of a sensor head.

"Tell me, Mycho: why would you think 'hellation' might break loose?"

He turned away from the scope to look at her. "Why does Mr. Bobo keep secrets, ma'am?" He shrugged. "That's a question for a question, which is fair enough when nobody knows anything for sure. But if there's nothing to hide why won't he let us help him repair? Do you know the answer, ma'am?"

"Maybe he understands the conspiracy against him better than we do," suggested John, slowly pulling the brush through. "Maybe he's the only one he can trust."

Mycho swallowed and looked around awkwardly. "Listen," he said; "forgiving me again I hope, but aren't you his confidant and also more than qualified? Aren't you that famous garbage sniffer from the girl college up on the hill?"

John corrected him on a couple of minor points. "The thing is," she continued, "Bobo's vulnerability has been taken advantage of, and I understand why he's had to close himself off from everyone -- including me. It's because it's too important."

"What's too important?"

"What Bobo is achieving."

Mycho looked over at the gun-blasted robot lying on the bed. "Okay," he said again. He walked to the box and instructed it to beginning scanning. The box hummed.

The young technologist jammed his hands into his pockets and looked over John's head, out the window. The image of the sky shimmered faintly due to the security screen. The crowd outside was a muted babble.

John folded her brush into itself and tucked it inside her wallet. She smoothed down her shirt and slacks. "How do I look?" she asked Mycho.

Mycho glanced at her and blushed. To his box he said, "Just fine, ma'am." He frowned when the box beeped. He leaned in closer. "That's funny."

"What's funny?"

"The interference screen is decohering."

John looked over at Bobo. Her heart fluttered in her breast. She straightened. At Mycho she smiled. "He's finished," she predicted. "He's fixed. He's going to wake up." She touched Bobo's arm and whispered something beside his head.

The moment lengthened.

Mycho looked at the box's readout again and started shaking his head. "There's…there's no activity now, ma'am."

John glared at him, brow furrowed. "The screen is back up?"

He didn't say anything at first. "Nop, it's gone," he said. "It's all gone. All activity is gone, ma'am. I'm sorry."

She stared at him. "You're sorry?"

"I'm sorry," he repeated. "I'm sorry but I think your Mr. Bobo has died."

John scrambled up from her chair and then peered at Bobo along her forearm through the holographs projected from the face of her watch. She swallowed. Her arm slowly drooped. She took a shuddering breath. And then John lay herself across his broken carapace and sobbed.

The young technologist didn't know what to do. He still had his hands in his pockets.


Tolomea said...

The executives always have been a touch mercenary, I imagine that they probably know what is going on and intend to let the situation go completely to hell before intervening and saving the day.
Actually they probably get the best moral high ground by waiting until the populace demands they intervene.
Although it could well go to hell much to quick to allow that to happen.

SaintPeter said...

Well, we've already seen that Bobo is not tied to a single body, so this one being "dead" is not really a big deal. If Dick is right and Bobo is actually controlling ALL of the other robots, he could be distributed across some or all of them. This "death" seems like a calculated move on his part to garner sympathy - martyr for the cause.

What I'm not sure of is what he hopes to achieve. If he is indeed sentient, he is exceptional in that way. I wouldn't expect the average robot to be sentient anymore than my toaster. Toaster rights! Free the toasters!

I can certainly see the situation being taken advantage of, though. It sounds like there are plenty of interested who could use Bobo's presumed martyrdom to advance their own agenda. Just don't know what those agendas are.

Another interesting chapter. Thanks, CBB. Also, I really appreciate that you take the time to respond to your commenters.

Tolomea said...

Given events to date, the most likely goal for Bobo will be to neutralize the entire population so he is free to pursue elderly care unhindered.

I wonder if he's cares that without a general population there will be no source of replacement elderly.

Sheik Yerbouti said...

Tolomea: interesting points, every one -- though I'm not entirely sure that the execs will interfere. If anything, they'd seal off the system to avoid sending this plague to the rest of the Neighborhood.

My only questions are (a) how and when will Bobo reveal himself, and (b) will Dick make it to the gate?

Things seem to be coming to head rather quickly (small Dick jokes and all).

Dan said...

Since no one else seems to enjoy the juvenile humor, I'll lay it out for you.
Dick shook her head
"It's small of you, Dick"
Dick withdrew.

You're a hoot CBB!

THE Danimal

Smiley K said...

Nooooooooooooooo! Bobo cannot be dead. Bobo is forever!

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Tolomea,

It would be silly of me to pretend to hold those particular cards close: it is indeed inevitable that the Zorannics are going to get involved sooner or later (lest I violate the rule of Chekhov's Gun). How exactly they'll handle the incursion is anyone's guess.

Cheeseburger Brown

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Wagered SaintPeter,

This "death" seems like a calculated move on his part to garner sympathy - martyr for the cause.

That's close.

Another interesting chapter. Thanks, CBB. Also, I really appreciate that you take the time to respond to your commenters.

I'm trying to keep up, SaintPeter, insofar as is currently possible for me. I find the minimum maintenance is one spell of email replying per week, two spells of blog comment replying per week, and one or two spells of Twitter and/or Facebook replies per week. That's only daunting because my weeks are rather stupidly packed this…uh, decade.

Sadly, things are likely to get a lot more complicated for me on the short term, but once they de-complicate a bit I'm hoping to have more control over my time and thus less difficulty keeping in touch with everyone, and less difficulty finding the time to generate new material. Keep your fingers crossed for me. (For reasons that are probably obvious to common sense, I will not be detailing any matters of life complications until they are behind me.)

Four chapters of Bobo remain in this run.

Cheeseburger Brown

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Sheik said,

I'm not entirely sure that the execs will interfere.

As I suggested above in my reply to Tolomea, I think it would be a poor authorial move to keep talking about the power of the executives to set things right without letting them have a go at it in the course of the story. To paraphrase (or mangle) Chekhov, if you show a pistol over the fireplace in the first act you'd better make sure it fires in the third.


Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Dan,

Double-entendres are probably my favourite thing in the world. It might be fair to say one of my principal pursuits in this world is trying to force people at business meetings to crack up for resigns they are too embarrassed to explain.

Cheeseburger Brown

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Smiley K,

You are absolutely right. Chapter 1 said so.

Cheeseburger Brown

Tolomea said...

> You are absolutely right. Chapter 1 said so.

I had forgotten about that. That puts an entirely different spin on things.
Perhaps it's time for a new executive.

Sheik Yerbouti said...


Thank you for the clarification. I was thinking less about Chekhov's gun and more about the fact that the Execs are a larger element in the story (and we know their MO can include quarantine as well as active eradication of any perceived threats).

Onward and upward. Kamari forever.

Anonymous said...

As soon as Oscar showed up in the story, it started to feel... Like, with a story on paper, you check how many more pages there are to get an idea of whether everything's going somewhere and going to wrap up, and hearing that four chapters remain is good reassurance.

Sheik Yerbouti said...

Upon another reading of Felix and the Frontier last week, I noticed that Bobo's cheery and casual dismissal of the bulldozer-bot closely resembles that of Felix when he leaves the imperiled badger people (or People). The one difference is that Felix has not been rendered any particular service by the non-atomic badgers.

Cheeseburger Brown said...

From Sheik,

...The one difference is that Felix has not been rendered any particular service by the non-atomic badgers.

Part of Felix's motivations stem, I reckon, from some panstellar equivalent of Star Trek's prime directive in which smurfing around with the civilizations of non-neighbourhood species would be defined as bad form.

Also a consideration, I think, was the notion that helping a species in such a position would have a clear beginning but no clear ending. That is, if Felix stopped to help everybody in a jam he'd never get anywhere. He'd just end up in wandering in circles like Doctor Who, always drawn by one fealty or another to keep playing the same games.

Cheeseburger Brown

P.S. Also, I know a chapter was expected yesterday and it hasn't happened yet. My apologies. This is a holiday here in Ontario and I'm still recovering.

Sheik Yerbouti said...


Thank you for stepping in for a one-off response. And yes, I completely agree; it's just the outward appearance is the same.

Poor Doctor. That guy's going to be on the hook for fricking ever -- or at least until he runs out of lives.

Eagerly awaiting Chapter 22,


Cheeseburger Brown said...

Guy Fawkes said,

Like, with a story on paper, you check how many more pages there are to get an idea of whether everything's going somewhere and going to wrap up...

Your feedback is appreciated.