“I knew the Chief went to Japan, I just didn’t know he picked up a new wife,” Bedford said. Bedford removed her welding mask and wiped the sweat from her face with an oily rag. She adjusted herself in the crook of the mecha’s kneecap, letting her repair work cool.
“Pretty too,” Armijo said. He slipped his arms out of his coveralls and tied them around his waist, his chest shiny from accumulated sweat. He tossed a Bedford up a cold soda. “She’s a 400 model.”
“A model, huh?” Bedford said. She cracked open her drink and took a long swig. “One of them toothpick bitches? I’ll never understand the Chief. I mean, havin’ us paint the hangar baby blue and wearin’ all those Hawaiian shirts, thems is one thing. But some spoiled brat paid to walk down a runway? Gimmie one of these hunks of junk over that any day.” She patted the giant robot’s knee-pistons affectionately.
Kruse scooted over on the Mule, the brakes squealing. “Funny thing is, so would the Chief, apparently. Give a fella one of them cans. She’s a 400 model, Beds. She’s a robot.”
Bedford took another drink, scratched at her armpit, then slurped another. “Chief married a mecha?”
“Well, sorta,” Armijo said. He leaned an elbow on the Mule’s handlebars, and shoved his grimy left hand into a similarly filthy pocket. “An android. Looks human. You wouldn’t be able to tell if you didn’t know.”
“Looks human, hell!” Kruse spat. “You tellin’ me I can work on the damn things all day, and I don’t know a robot when I see one?”
“Just tellin’ you what I seen,” Armijo said. “My brother’s got a catalogue–”
Kruse spat again. “You seen her? The Chief’s wife? Iffin’ you can call her that.” An oily rag smacked Kruse in the face. Both he and Armijo turned to Bedford, her tiny fists clenched.
“Listen at you!” she called down. “Ev’ry day I hear you agree with the Chief’s decisions, now all of a sudden you can’t accept a one of ’em? So he got himself a robot wife? What’s the problem? I didn’t hear you complain when we got the Mule.”
“That’s different,” said Kruse. “The Mule ain’t a wife–”
“Might as well be, the way you coddle it,” Armijo said. Kruze gave him a shove.
“All I’m sayin’ is, I wouldn’t hold to my son marryin’ one.”
“Chief ain’t your son,” Bedford said. “He’s the Chief.” Bedford looked up at the robot she was working on, and then past it at the bright-blue ceiling of the hangar. The Chief spent near a week off hours on the highest scaffold they had, painting white, fluffy clouds. Looking up at the painted sky made her smile.
“It ain’t normal, is all,” Kruse said.
“Mayhaps,” Bedford said, lowering her welding mask to return to work. “But neither is the Chief.”