"let's get those guys lined up and moved out and call it a a shift."
"but, sergeant, there are fifteen minutes left. some more might come in."
"no more coming in, i can feel it," old sarge answered the robot without looking up from his 100 word puzzles magazine.
bobby j, the older of the two robots under old sarge in garage 533, had never yet had a rejoinder when sarge gave him such an assured prediction, but he always carefully noted the predictions against the day when one would prove wrong.
just then a van rolled into the garage at slightly over regulation speed. applesauce and rango jumped out of the cab and hurried to the back doors, where they pulled out two little ragamuffins. one had a sloppily applied clown face, the other the lean ascetic face of a martyr from a painting by boraccino.
"you see,sergeant," bobby j noted with tentative satisfaction, "there were more coming."
"these two look like less, not more," old sarge replied. "besides, they were already in the garage, we just didn't see them yet."
applesauce and rango brought the two unresisting ragamuffins up to to old sarge's little desk.
"we picked these two up just on the edge," applesauce explained deferentially.
"guess they thought they could fool somebody," rango added.
"and they didn't count on two such dedicated troopers as yourselves," sarge told them with a straight face. "this is good work, real dedication. i'll let it be known."
"thank you,sergeant," applesauce beamed.
"you know, sarge," rango said, "we might have got off on the wrong foot this morning. i'm sorry if we made a little fuss about our special pickup."
"no problem. everything ok with the special?"
"yes," said applesauce, "just like you said."
"glad to hear it. say, what's a seventeen letter word that contains letters that can make up seventeen different words in the lords prayer?"
'i don't know," applesauce told him. "that's not my area of expertise."
"the lord's prayer is definitely not my area of expertise," added rango.
the clown faced ragamuffin spoke up, "is that the lords prayer as determined by the council of nicea or as by the council of arimathea?"
"quiet!" bobby j admonished him. "don't bother the sergeant with your foolish and ostentatatious questions."
"no. he's got a point," said old sarge. "these magazines should give better instructions."
"will i get some consideration for my good point?" the ragamuffin asked.
old sarge laughed. "sure. bobby, tell them to give him an extra ration of mush or gruel when he gets to jupiter."
"is that an extra ration one time or every day?" the ragamuffin persisted.
old sarge didn't laugh this time. "one time is about what it was worth."
"do i get a choice between mush and gruel?"
the ascetic faced ragamuffin laughed at this one.
"enough questions!" bobby j commanded.
old sarge turned his attention from the two prisoners. he waved his magazine at applesauce and rango. "this stuff interests me, you know? words interest me, always have."
"whatever," was all applesauce could manage in reply.
"and you know what the most interesting thing about words is?"
"no," rango answered, "what?"
"they don't mean anything." old sarge turned back to bobby j. "take these two upstairs. then move them all out."
"there are eight minutes left, sergeant."
"no one else is coming. i guarantee it."
"don't you want our names ?" asked the clown faced ragamuffin.
"and numbers?" added the other.
old sarge ignored them and picked up his pencil. "move them out."
the two ragamuffins, bobo and lobo, were led up the ramp and added to the end of the queue without getting a chance to sit down. bobby j and the other robot, jackie a, led them all out a door and up another ramp. a long windowless bus was waiting for them and they were guided on to it by the robots. it was now mid afternoon.
the bus had seats, not benches. bobby j and jackie a took seats in the back. as the last on, bobo and lobo had seats almost directly beside the driver, a large newer model robot. he glared at the two of them.
"i don't like your looks." he told him. "don't think i can't drive this bus and watch you at the same time."
they ignored them and he turned and started the bus.
they drove for hours.
hongwu and moctezuma were in the back of the bus, right in front of the two robots.
"they must be driving us to jupiter," said hongwu.
"we aren't going to jupiter," hongwu answered. "there's no rocks on jupiter. it's just gas."
behind him jackie a laughed.
"i'm glad you guys have senses of humor," hongwu said.
"we need a sense of humor," jackie a told him. "to listen to the same dumbness day after day from dummies like you."
"nice talk," said hongwu. "a great start to a beautiful friendship. are you coming to jupiter with us?"
jackie a chuckled. "when the bus stops - and it will stop - you will get off and we will stay on. and return."
"we are not your friends," bobby j added sternly. "especially not you, mister aggravated disrespect to a police officer."
"i thought i explained that to your friend, " hongwu told him.
"did he say anything about accepting your so-called explanation? i thought not. and he is my coworker, not my friend. where is all this talk of friend, friend?" bobby j shook his head. "what a desperado! how did such a one walk free for so long?"
"i don't know," hongwu answered. "go to a citizens meeting and ask the police commissioner."
"very funny," said bobby j, "and very ignorant. there is no 'the police commissioner'.
"and you," jackie a asked moctezuma, " are you as big a desperado as your - as your - 'friend'?"
"i'm really a good person," moctezuma answered. "i just fell in with a bad crowd."
applesauce's and rango's shift was over. they drove back to the dispatch office.
"where you headed?" applesauce asked rango politely as they walked out the front door.
"didn't i tell you before?" rango smiled. "i am giving a talk tonight at the robot empowerment and advancement union - on the total elimination of religion. i am going home now to go over my script and make a final run through."
"cool. good luck."
"thank you." he nodded and headed down the street.
applesauce stood in the street. it was late afternoon. she could have volunteered for overtime - but had not. she could go to a lecture or improvement class - she had a list in her pocket. she could go home and go to bed or go home and watch a show. or - she could go home, change into sloppy clothes, and head down to the edge of the slag heaps to try to find a copy of something she had heard whispers of in the last couple of days - a new romance novel by jennifer broughton, titled the flame in the wind.
she looked up at the sky. there was hardly a cloud in it.