Author: Salvatore Difalco
Clanking past the barber shop, the parking bot looked ramshackle—steel alloy and green rubber, with the jaw of a hippopotamus.
“They could’ve made those things more attractive,” said Varner, a Third Grade Nonpolluter, proud of his pathological recycling habits and negative carbon footprint ideal. He’d recently traded in his electric car for a leg-powered cabriolet-cycle.
His friend, Anton, a Population Analyst, waited for the barber bot to finish trimming Varner’s locks, which together with the shaggy beard made him look like a creature from the past. The bot, dressed in barber’s whites, and possessed of a single, flexible eye-shaft, surveyed Varner’s head.
“How is that?” the bot asked.
“More off the top.”
“If you say so. And the beard?”
“Leave as is.”
“That’s the idea, pal. Now get back to it. I’m not paying you for your scintillating conversation.”
“Take it easy on the bot,” Anton said. He’d seen these things lose it when provoked. They always blamed mechanical or electrical malfunction. But as far as Anton could see, bots lost it like any other creature.
Whirring and clicking, the barber bot took some hair off Varner’s top with its scissor hand. The comb hand tugged the hair as the scissor blades sheared it.
“Varner, it’s tagging you.”
“The parking bot. It’s tagging your vehicle.”
Varner pulled off his bib and scrambled to the door. The barber bot froze and followed him with its eye.
“Hey, hold on!” Varner cried.
The parking bot ignored him.
“You stupid tomato can! Where’d they find you? The junkyard?”
The parking bot paused and turned toward his harasser, who stood some ten meters away. Varner watched it warily, but had not cooled off.
“Stupid heap of junk, going around tagging zero-carbon vehicles. Bet you leave a larger carbon footprint than my cabriolet. Bloody fascist.”
Anton had exited the barber shop, and stood by the swirling barber pole hologram watching the confrontation. He started when the parking bot spoke. He thought they lacked that function.
“I am warning you,” said the parking bot, the buzzy voice coming from a horn-shaped appendage on its lower carriage.
“What are you gonna do? Stop me from speaking? Freedom of expression, you stupid fascist. Or hasn’t that penetrated your stupid processors?”
Anton agreed about the freedom of expression thing, but he also didn’t trust the parking bot to take it all in stride.
“Varner,” he said, “these things are unpredictable.”
“Unpredictable? On the contrary, tomato can is totally predictable, going around tagging Grade Three Nonpolluters!”
“Shut up,” the parking bot uttered from its buzzy horn.
“Or what?” Varner said. “You gonna hurt me? You gonna chase me down and penetrate me? That what you have in mind, you piece of junk?”
Rather than attack Varner, or speak further, the parking bot turned toward the cabriolet-cycle, engaging its hippopotamus jaw.
“Hey,” Varner said. “What’s it doing?”
“Uh, I think it’s doing exactly what it looks like it’s doing.”
The parking bot’s jaw began to chomp at the cabriolet-cycle. The sounds of metal crumpling and glass shattering filled the air.
Mouths open, Varner and Anton watched the parking bot completely destroy the cabriolet-cycle. When it was done, it made a honking sound from its horn and proceeded down the street.
Varner, in shock, staggered back into the barber shop. Anton, speechless, followed him. The barber bot stood there with its raised eye-shaft peering down on them. Varner automatically went for the barber chair, but at the last moment, Anton grabbed his arm and led him back outside.