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robot that looks like Andy Warhol dozes in a latrine. A robot that looks like Barney is performing for several spectators a pop cover of “The Leopard Has a Heart”—the one that goes, “robot pro-bot con-bot pre-bot de-bot ex-bot cy-bot half-bot un-bot incum-bot re-bot me-bot.”

“Why are we here?” says Simon. “I need oil. Don’t look up.” The robot pulls the boy’s cap down over his face and withdraws five cups of olive oil from the bank, paying with dusty human money it takes from its skirt. Spilling into the robot’s container, the oil looks like strong tea.

“Come on, don’t lag. We need to reach the edge of the reservation by sunset.” They go by a fugitive being questioned, a suicide being buried. ”Don’t look. Eyes down, Simon.” Robots ravaged by plutonium-doping nod in tents. A shack collapses. Disputing with the flimsy walls, robots back out of the ruins. One of them runs amok, kicking up dust and belching exhaust; diesel fumes overwhelm the people trying to contain it, positioning tires as bumpers. The fugitives avert their faces. Still, people and robots turn to look. The boy is out of place here, like a leopard on Wall Street.

Face brilliant with intelligence, Simon scrutinizes the robot. “How come robots have to live here?” Simon says. “After the Circumstances the government said that robots did not fit in to human society,” says the robot. “Machines are machines, they said, and humans are humans. They have hearts, not computers.”

“Don’t robots have hearts?” says Simon. “I have a heart.” “You are mixed-race,” says the robot, “part robot, part human.”

“Which part is which?” “Bedtime,” says the robot, picking up the boy.

“Now? It ’s not even sunset!” “How about a story?” “Is it about a boy?” Simon says. “A boy fell down a well and—”

“Called Simon?” “A boy called Simon fell down a well and came up in a place where stories are made of very small robots that line up on a page and make designs with their hands and feet. And then he fell down a well in that country and came up in a place where boys are made of very small robots in floral skirts. And then he fell down a well in that country and came up in a place where robots are made of boys in blue caps. And then he fell down a well in that country and came up in a place where robots and boys are made of stories.” “Like what stories?” “Like a story about a boy called Simon who fell down a well and came up in a great desert made of salt where a boy called Simon was asking a robot for a bedtime story about a boy called Simon who fell down a well…” Simon smiles. His eyes are closing. The robot moves on.

Jackson

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