the bus stopped. mac the mailman was awake, but looking around, he seemed to be the only human who was. he had a seat on the aisle. mike mean and barbarian the bartender were asleep beside him.
he looked behind him and saw hongwu and moctezuma asleep in front of the two old model robots, jackie a and bobby j.
"can i get up and just walk up and down the aisle?" mac asked the robots. "i won't go anywhere."
"you sure about that?" jackie a asked him.
"you hear that?" jackie a asked bobby j. "he won't go anywhere."
bobby j just stared at mac.
"i get it," said mac. "i get the joke. go anywhere, right. but can i walk up and down the aisle?"
"please be our guest," jackie a replied.
"but try not to disturb the other guests who are sleeping," bobby j told him.
"they might have long days ahead of them," jackie added.
this was another joke, and mac smiled politely. he got up and flexed his arms. he walked slowly up toward the front of the bus. chubbles the clown, on the aisle a few seats ahead, looked up at him blearily but dropped his head back down on his chest.
everybody else seemed to be asleep. but when he got to the very front of the bus, the two ragamuffins, bobo and lobo, were sitting up wide awake in their seats. they stared at him silently.
the door was open and the driver wasn't in his seat. mac looked down at the open door and suddenly the driver appeared in it looking up at him.
"no," mac answered mildly. "just stretching my legs. the guards said i could."
the driver, a large and shiny new model, glared up at him. "i don't like you," he told mac.
"don't mind him," said bobo. "he doesn't like anybody."
the driver laughed. "you don't know how true that is."
"where are we?" mac asked the driver.
"what do you care? you in a hurry to break rocks?"
"we aren't going to break rocks." mac answered. 'there's no rocks on jupiter. it's just gas."
the robot laughed. "did you hear that?" he said to someone mac couldn't see. "these guys get dumber all the time. they must be putting dumb pills in the water."
"are we going to get off here?" mac asked, unfazed.
the robot looked up. "yeah, you're getting off. we got to wait for some other vehicles to unload."
jackie a and bobby j got up from their seats and started shaking seats, waking up the prisoners.
mike got up after being awakened and came up to the front.
"know where we are?"
"no, but we are going to get off."
"wake up, prisoners, wake up!" jackie a called out as he walked up the aisle. "get ready to get off."
"where are we?" mike asked him. jackie a ignored him and went down the steps of the bus and talked to the driver on the ground. after about a minute he walked back.
"all right,' he called. "everybody off! off the bus!"
"no rush!" added bobby j. he had moved to the rear to make sure everybody got off. "everybody off but no need to rush! you will be here a while."
all the prisoners were now awake except barbarian. bobby j shook his seat vigorously. "wake up, prisoner!"
barbarian finally lifted his head and looked around.
"having sweet dreams?" bobby j asked.
'i always have sweet dreams."
"you can dream on your feet. outside."
the thirty-six prisoners finally got off the bus and were lined up in two rows and counted by the robots.
another hulking robot, carrying a clipboard, walked over and nodded to them.
the driver and the two original guards got back in the bus and it rolled away.
with the bus no longer obstructing their view the prisoners saw they were in a dimly lit space so large they couldn't tell if it was enclosed or not. other groups of prisoners, each with a single robot with a clipboard, were scattered around.
barbarian came over and joined mac and mike. after the head count, the robots showed little interest in the prisoners and let them mill around.
"where are we?" mike asked the robot with the clipboard.
"where do you think you are?" the robot answered without looking at him.
suddenly the space was lit up more brightly and they could see a podium about a hundred yards away. the robots waved the various groups closer to it.
"kind of casual, aren't they?" mike noted to barbarian and mac. "they don't seem too concerned about us getting away."
the robot looked back impatiently and waved at them to move more quickly to the podium. about ten groups of prisoners moved up around it.
the shiniest robot any of them had ever seen stood on the podium.
"do we have a count?" the shiny robot asked one of them with a clipboard,
"three hundred and seventy-nine."
"a small group." the shiny robot said. he looked at the crowd and laughed. "but not an impressive one."
he moved to the edge of the podium. "prisoners!" he boomed. "welcome to your new home - welcome to jupiter!"
"jupiter?" mac looked around. "we never got off the bus. you can't get to jupiter on a bus."
"it looks looks like we just did," barbarian told him.
the robot began walking back and forth along the edge of the podium. "i am mister happy! i am your new mentor! i - and the officers assisting me - will be your mentors. we will not be your buddies - we will not be your bros or sibs - we will not be your friends - we will be your mentors!"
"hey sarge," a voice called from the crowd. "we want some chow!"
"i am not sarge. i am mister happy!"
"hey mister happy, we want some chow!"
"you will be fed. we don't want you collapsing from hunger when you are breaking rocks!"
"there's no rocks on jupiter!" a voice- not mac - called. "it's just gas!"
mister happy smiled, a big bright smile they could all see. "we get that question every day. "
"well, answer it today," the voice replied.
"maybe there were no rocks on jupiter in good king moloch's time in atlantis," mister happy boomed out. "maybe there were no rocks on jupiter when crispus attucks was president of the united states of america. but there are rocks on jupiter now and we are going to break them. excuse me - you are going to break them and i am going to watch you break them. i and my associates are going to watch you break them." he paused. "any more questions?"
"how did we get here?" another voice called.
"what do you care? next question."
"how long are we going to be here?"
"how long do you think? next question."
"that wasn't a very good answer!"
"consult your team captain for a more detailed response." some of the robots with clipboards turned and nodded or waved.
"do we have any rights?" a loud voice called,
mister happy laughed. "we are going to provide you with nutritious food. we will provide shelter if necessary. we will provide uniforms that will fit you nicely and nice comfortable bunks to sleep on. but - we will not provide you with lawyers. there are no lawyers on jupiter!"
"he's got it down," barbarian told mike and mac. "i've heard this stuff a hundred times before."
mac shook his head. "you can't get to jupiter on a bus."