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The S800 is made of the following parts: head, hands, rotating steel fans, a quality desalination system. Steam. Oil and salt and seawater. Speech, silence. Dystopian science fiction, and other stories. Emotions, such as worry, and relief. A sense of history, a sense of style. Belief in progress and in taking turns. July afternoons, Australian war documents, videos of people playing soccer, the perfume of oranges. Line drawings of landscapes, still lifes, and children. Flair. Simon says, define a robot as a place where a system of organization meets the complexity of the world.

Afternoon. The fugitives are so deep in summer that it is as if they have reached its root. The day seems made of eyes or brain, a huge, bleak, experimental attention bent over them, without ruth or regret.

If their prints on the white desert are like vocabulary, what do they say? That the day has bottomed out.

The boy begins to lag. “This sucks,” he says. “I don’t like this part of the story.” “It would be no part of prudence to stop,” says the S800. “This is not a game; we are being followed by those who live to injure or kill such as we.” “I don’t care!” “But I care.”

“Who are you? You’re just a robot.” “I am a robot. We will debate your use of ‘just ’ when you are in a better mood.” Simon begins belching repetitively. “Do me a favor,” says the robot. “What?” Simon says, sourly. “Teach me the art of belching.” “You can’t belch. You’re a robot.” “Try me.” Silence. “Well,” says Simon, “First you go like this.”

Simon says, define a human.

Late that day, they come to a bulldozed city. Simon says, it is gone, so do not draw it. But the robot finds the foundation of a house still intact and tacks a tarp to one remaining wall to make a tent, saying, “We will shelter here tonight.” It issues water into a cup and hands it to Simon. Pulls an orange and some olives out of a bag. For itself, a cup of oil. Simon smiling in cautious optimism. Robot smiling in a more logistical way. The sunset framed by one wall and an arc of blue tarp. It is a household.

“People say that humans are better than robots,” Simon says, experimentally. “Bosh,” says the robot. Simon smiles. “Mom, are we people?” “What does Simon say?”

Jackson

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