By any measure, it was a sleek and fabulously expensive computer. Over his video link, the journalist inspected it carefully: a compact black tower covered with tiny blinking diodes.
“Aren’t those a little melodramatic?” asked the journalist, indicating the colorful lights. He checked to make sure the recorder was working properly. The link sounded good, but the video signal was surprisingly noisy.
“I admit, it is an indulgence,” replied Alex Dimedici. “There was a time when I pretended those lights were useful, but really it’s just stagecraft. I love blinking lights.”
“And this is where Bobo lives?” continued the journalist, indicating the black box as though he expected to see the little man pop out of the machine.
“Yes, well certainly he spends a great deal of time in there.”
The journalist looked at Alex and paused.
“I would say that Bobo lives here,” continued Alex, lightly tapping his forehead and giving a shallow smile. He hesitated and pursed his lips slightly. “Sometimes I think we are changing places.” He looked vaguely out of sorts for a moment.
Another pause. The journalist was hoping that Alex would follow this up without prompting. Sometimes the best way to get answers is to not ask questions at all.
“When I first created Bobo, I was doing anything I could to get recognition. None of the studios wanted him. I was working twenty hour days for months on end, my marriage fell apart. And still no response from the big networks. So I struggled for years making these independent shows for kids, you know, and when they finally caught on, well it went from nothing to piles of money overnight. Amazing really. But still too many hours of work.”
“So you traded one kind of trouble for another?” A shrug, a nod. “But you could have sold to the studios then, and never worked another day in your life. Were you bitter, too proud to sell out?”
“Well, this was my life. This is my life.”
“Is it true that the whole show is a one man effort? You’ve never had any assistance with the music, the artwork, the animation, the writing?”
“At first. But now I have plenty of help.”
Aside from the electronic clutter of cables, keyboards, and high-resolution screens in the studio, what the journalist could see of Alex’s house looked quite comfortable. This setting was at odds with his reputation as a brilliant recluse, an eccentric innovator who never spoke to anyone, never gave interviews.
“We’ve assumed for a long time that you farm work out all over the net. Is that how it works?”
“No. My assistants live in here.” He patted the side of the machine. “For instance, Bud now writes most of the music.” This was an allusion to another one of the characters on the show. A joke, maybe? “And I don’t ever worry about my mail.”
“You have an agent of some kind read it? But not all of it, certainly.”
“All of it, including our mail that set up this interview.” This came as a surprise to the journalist, the kind of visible, obvious surprise that gratifies the teller. “Yes, when the show became really popular, the mail came pouring in. Gigabytes of it every day, disk-clogging piles of it. I made a business decision that this mail should be answered: too many fad shows these days disappear quickly. The idea was for Bobo to answer his own mail – simple enough, you see? I already had the personality codes from the show. Let him read and respond, and I don’t have to bother with the rendering.”
The journalist was smiling warmly to himself, contemplating his editor’s amazed reaction, when he suddenly noticed that the tiny red light on his video recorder was off. Something was wrong. He fumbled with it. No luck. Fighting off panic, he unplugged some wires, rubbed the metal contacts, reconnected the jacks, and finally picked up a pen and a notebook and began scribbling. The flow had continued unabated.
“…of course you have to remember that these were children for the most part, so I had a good audience for tuning my codes. All the time I was training ‘Bobo’ to respond like me. And after a while it occurred to me to do the same thing with my own mail. In other words, my years of experience with Bobo’s Land showed me I could train the machine to respond like me. Well, I can tell you that by now the ‘me’ code has gotten very good, so I have to intervene very little. Bobo answers his own mail, and I have come to believe I answer my own mail, too. So I can spend all my time working in the Land.”
“Is that what you meant about switching places? You’re in the machine?”
“Perhaps that is too strong a statement. But I prefer Bobo’s Land, his town, his friends. And if someone else can be me in my absence, so much the better. Bobo and I are one, but I have left behind a kind of vestigial self to deal with the world.” Silence.
“So you can relax more now?”
“Yes, I would say. The show runs itself now. You might say I have retired into my own creation, and if I weren’t telling you right now, no one would ever know the difference.”
“Then… why are you telling me right now?”
There was a slight pause. “Because I think someone should know what’s happened.”
Something odd quickened the journalist’s pulse. He leaned in toward the monitor and stared hard. Alex suddenly looked uncomfortable; he shifted his weight and swallowed. “What’s happened?” asked the journalist, finally.
“I think there’s been an accident,” said Alex slowly, and he stepped aside to reveal his own decaying body on the floor.