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Simon says, Turn the page.

It is day. It is the day. Helen said they would come (robots are not sentimental), and they have come. The bushes stir. Dust rises. The company is rumbling over bushes and salt banks, belching exhaust.

20 He thinks. “Simon says we are people,” says Simon. “Then we are people,” says the robot. Simon climbs into the robot’s arms. “I have a story,” says Simon. “A boy—” “Called Simon?” “A boy called Simon fell down a well and came up in a place where robots are as huge as worlds and people live in their arms. And day is when the robots’ eyes are on them, and night is when they look away.” “I know that story,” says the robot, pulling an afghan over him, “and there’s more to it. The robots like the people so much that they can’t take their eyes off them. So the day goes on and on…”

The robot picks up the boy, runs. It is programmed to try, even if it expects any return on this investment of effort to be minor. As it runs it says, “There’s time for one more story. A boy—” “Called Simon?” Simon says. “A boy called Simon fell down a well and came up in a place where time ran not toward the future, but back toward the past. The future was history and it was well documented. It was the past about which people had no information, and made up stories, full of remarkable machines, that they called science fiction. As they lived, their lives withdrew, the history they still anticipated grew shorter, and they were haunted by the deep silence of the past. One said, ‘I think I was a leopard, I lived in the ruins of a great city, I killed people, I worried a small boy in front of his mother, my eyes were slow and gold.’ His companion said, ‘I think I was that boy, but you did not worry but protected me from the earthquake that ruined that city, and six years later I developed machines that could hold an ethical debate with themselves.’ As people came to the end of their lives more and more of their past was fiction, and they lived with great flair; they went to death with regret and also cheer, like people reaching the end of a great story.”

The boy is clinging to a handful of skirt. The company in orange loads, aims, advances.

Simon says, Draw fast now. Attack the page with blue, with orange, with black and gold and white.

Simon says, “Mom?” The world explodes.

A diamond silence. Then: “I’m amok. Buttonhole the herzenhorns,” says what is left of the robot. “Finesse them past the benedict. Hulse the deborah. Karthikeyan yakaghund radebe! I tolled a story. Oranges oranges oranges.”

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