Eric was enjoying a conversation with Jake Friendly about what kind of sunny day was best when a high, squeaky voice cut in.
“If you two gentlemen are QUITE through having the most boring conversation in recorded history, Eric and I have matters to discuss. ”
“Who said that?” asked Eric. He looked around and didn’t see anybone. As far as he could tell, it was just him and Jake.
“Yeah, who was that?” said Jake. “Talk again so’s I knows where ya are. ”
“My identity is unimportant…” squeaked the voice.
Jake’s long equine ears went sideways, then one up and one down, then one tilted forward and the other tilted to the back.
“He’s a-right there under that big heckya bush. ” Jake announced, with great certainty.
Eric walked over to the bush and tried to peer into the darkness beneath its leaves. But the leaves interlocked like bathroom tiles, letting no light through.
Eric crouched down. “Heya little guy. ” he cooed gently, in a vooice bhe hoped sounded gentle and not creepy. “We’re not going to hurt you. We’re your friends! Why don’t you come on out and say hi?”
Eric felt weird talking like that, but he was trying to fit in.
“No thanks, I am quite content where I am!” said the voice from under the bush.
“Aww, don’t be like that. ” said Jake. “You’re gonna hurt our feelings!”
“Better yours than mine, buddy. ” said the voice.
Eric stared at Jake for a second. But then added “That’s right, and all we want is to be your friend. Are you sure you won’t come out?”
“Quite sure, thank you. ” said the voice .
Eric looked around for inspiration, and found it hanging from Jake’s saddle.
“Not even for a…. nice juicy CARROT?” Eric said while grabbing one off Jake’s saddle and waggingly it enticingly in front of the bush.
“Hey, that’s s’posed to be my lunch!” muttered Jake.
“Actually, that does sound rather enticing…. ” said the voice. “Oh, to heck with it!”
The bush rustled and from its depths came an adorable cartoon bunny. He was brown with black highlights, stood about three feet tall not including the ears, and was wearing a thick white cloth diaper held closed by a big silver safety pin.
“Ohmigod, it’s the pissing bunny with the huge cock. ” Eric blurted.
“That was SUPPOSED to be private!” snapped the bunny.
“What kinda bunny did you say that was? And with what?” asked Jake.
“I’ll tell you later. ” said Eric.
“You most certaintly will NOT!” said the bunny.
“Wait, I know that voice!” said Jake. The donkey then took out a tiny pair of pince-nez glasses and peered through them at the bunny.
“Why, that’s good ol Bumper Bunny! Well heck, no need to be shy, little guy. You know me, it’s your old buddy Jake Friendly!” said Jake.
“Bumper?” said Eric. “Oh, I see, like Thu-“.
“YES. ” said Bumper. “Only with bums. Be glad I didn’t just drop the T. Now can we please get on with business? The less time I spend in this form, the better. ”
“I thought you liked it here!” said Jake. “You sure as heck spend a lot of time here. ”
“Is that so?” asked Eric.
“Well, “a lot of time” is a purely subjective term… ” said Bumper weakly.
“It sure is!” said Jake cheerfully. “Why, I’ve known Bumper for a donkey’s age! I’ve known him since I was a jack foal!”
“A highly misleading term. ” said Bumper.
“Wait wait wait…. ” said Eric. “If you know about the uh…. hare with the big water can…. then you must be Devlin!”
“Never heard of him. ” said Bumper.
“Me neither. He sounds mean!” said Jake.
“Yeah, but he means well. ” said Eric. “what I meant to say was… you must be the.. uh… entity I was speaking to recently. ”
“Yes. I am. ” said Bumper. “Devlin? Seriously? Is this revenge for that thing I saw you doing? Because I thought we’d dealt with that. ”
“Why, what was he doing?” said Jake.
“Well I am sorry I said those things about you when I first saw you. ” said Eric. “Wait… does this mean you get to say something private about me now?”
“Technically, yes. ” said Bumper. “But later. ”
The bunny pulled himself up to his full height. “I am here…” he said in in a stiffly formal tone, “to inquire as to how you are adjusting to your new fiction. ”
“Oh! ” said Eric. “Quite well, actually. This is a lovely location, I feel more relaxed than I have in years, and the first person I met was this delightful unicorn. ”
Jake’s muzzle turned red and he lowered his head and scuff a hoof on the grass. “Aw, shucks, a unicorn ain’t nouthin’ but a horse with a hood ornament. ”
“So you don’t miss your ‘perfect life’?” said Bumper.
Eric thought about it for a few moments, then smiled. “You know…I really don’t. Isn’t that odd? It’s surprisingly refreshing to be somewhere where it not all about me for a change. I can be myself here. ”
“Well who the heck else could you be?” said Jake. “How about you two try making sense for a couple minutes. You might like it. ”
“So you’re not finding your new environment too…. restrictive?” said Bumper, gesturing towards Jake with his twitchy little nose.
“Oh, you mean the… g-rated nature of this fiction? Not really. Not yet, anyway. ”
“I got a G in spelling once!” said Jake proudly. “Teacher said I got the first one ever!”
Jake had no idea what people were talking about, but he was determined to participate.
“Give it time. ” said Bumper. “When you do start to feel the pinch, contact me immediately. I can hook you up. I know people. ”
“But how do I contact you in this place?” said Eric. “Pick a carrot and talk into it?”.
“Ha ha ha. ” said Bumper. “Very funny. Okay, I will contact you. Or maybe I should just travel with you boys for a little while. You know…. just in case. ”
“Well OK. ” said Eric. “But um… no waterworks, okay?”
“That’s what the diaper’s for, dummy. ” said Bumper.
“Oh, right. ” said Eric. “So how about it, Jake? Are you okay with Bumper traveling with us for a while?”
“Whut?” said Jake, ears perking. Finally, something that he understood! “Oh sure, sure. Me and Bumper are great buddies. But he has to agree to stop asking to see me ‘water the grass’, okay? I keep telling him I don’t know how to do that. How could I? I don’t even have hands!”.
“Fine by me. ” said Bumper, with a weak and sickly smile.
“Then it’s settled. We’ll travel together for a while. Now all we need to do is figure out where we want to go. ”
The trio fell silent as they all tried to think of a destination. The silence thickened as the seconds ticked by.
“Well…. ” said Jake. “I s’pose we could go down to the Sex Club. ”
The Barnacled Hermit didn’t know where he was.
And that was very strange in and of itself. As a signal processing robot, the Hermit needed to know exactly where it was relative to all potential signal sources in its detection range, and its detection range was enormous.
To that end, Hermit had a sophisticated array of directional, situational, gravitational, and inertial circuits dedicated solely to determining where he was at all times.
These circuits polled trillions of time a second, so in theory, he should have noticed the slightest involuntary motion immediately.
But none of those circuits were helping him now. There was simply too little information. None of his sensors were receiving any input except for his simplest and crudest mass sensors, and all those told him was that he was in a small compartment inside something very large with a highly variable mass profile.
But that could be anything. A spaceliner. An asteroid base. A large factory. Any kind of large building, really.
He couldn’t even tell if he was changing relative position in space.
And it was starting to seriously freak him out.
He willed himself to remain calm with a savage intensity. Panic would only make things worse now. Only calm logical deduction could save him now.
Luckily he, being a robot, had a knack for that sort of thing.
He meticulously examined every track of his telemetry recordings. Surely they must contain some clue as to where he was.
He also didn’t know what had happened to him, but that was too big a problem for him to tackle without losing his mind entirely so he filed it away for future processing and concentrated instead on the much smaller and more manageable problem of his location in space.
If that answer also led to solving the bigger problem, so much the better.
But alas, his telemetry recordings only deepened the mystery. They all told the same story : perfectly normal readings then nothing.
No transition, no activity spike, no error messages, no operation flags. Normal readings, then zilch, even when he used all of his signal processing hardware to examine the records down to the very last picosecond.
And every single sensor recording went dark at the exact same moment.
Nothing in his memory banks could explain how this was even possible. He was a a military model, and as such, was incredibly difficult to harm and even harder to disrupt. And of all his parts, the telemetry recording device was the hardiest.
It was made of a single crystal of 5DVL diamond, the hardest substance in the known universe, and could withstand the heat , electromagnetic flux, and gravity at the heart of a sun without losing a single bit of data integrity.
The company that made it boasted that absolutely no force in the universe could harm it, and offered a 100 billion col reward to anyone who could do so.
That reward has never been claimed.
And that made deducing his position from its recordings impossible because the recordings made no sense. Nothing could explain them. They were absurd on every level known to robohomo society.
And yet, there they were. Inviolable and impossible at the same time.
It would have been fascinating if it hadn’t been happened to him.
And the Hermit had no circuitry that could resolve the conflict, either. Being a very advanced model, he had plenty of sophisticated machinery for detecting conflicts and shunting them to auxilliary circuitry before they could crash the system.
But this problem had blown through those circuits like they weren’t even there.
In such circumstances, the Hermit knew, his entire system was supposed to shut down in order to keep the damage from spreading.
And yet, here he was, conscious and with every circuit checking out fine, functioning exactly as it had when he he was back on his lonely planet.
He missed his planet now, and wished he was there right now. From his current perspective, everything before this impossible event seemed idyllic.
And to think he had been worried about the lack of signals back then. At least back then, it was only external signals that were missing.
He had tried to crash himself. Force his operations to suspend. He had subroutines for that. meant to be used in the event of an imminent data breach. Crashed, his brain was nothing but a somewhat dirty diamond, not even suitable for ornamental use.
But nothing worked. He was, it seemed, destined to suffer indefinitely.
Just as he was thinking that gloomy thought, his sensors sprang into life and it was like nothing had ever happened.
He could now tell that he was in a human-style bedroom, lying on a human bed, with all the usual human clutter all around him.
In the door of said bedroom, a cheerfully helpful man was smiling at him like he was a long lost relative. Behind the man, robots and humans streamed by in a hallway.
The man entered the room, put a tray laden with about a million calories of breakfast foods on it in front of the Hermit, and smiled again.
“I trust you slept well, Commander Eric. ” said Eegee.