A sci-fi children’s story written in 1974 about a girl living on a space station with an automated ‘nanny’ robot
Guest Author Pamela Cleaver
You can read part 1 here
Next morning, during the shower / dressing / breakfast routine, the chico continued to ask questions which Bonnie answered until all the unfamiliar terms in the fairy tale had been explained.
“Funny old chico,”Bonnie thought affectionately, “he doesn’t meed t know about fairy tales, but I suppose he can’t bear me to know something he doesn’t understand.” And then Bonnie forgot all about it as the days went by and she continued to do her lessons with the chico’s help, played games with him at the recreation centre, played rocket and freefall (a kind of snakes and ladders) or 3D-solitaire with him at home. She shared with him the bedtime stories Mrs Aldridge told about electronic gadgetry or old-fashioned wizardry. As time went by, Bonnie became fonder of her chico, she could not imagine how she had ever got along without him.
Once a month a big supply freighter was sent out from earth to bring the moon-colonists their supplies. It was a busy day for the adults on the moon when it arrived, they would go down to the unloading bay to collect their own personal freight containers which held their mail and anything they had ordered from earth over and above the standard issue of rations and clothing. The colonists liked to talk to the crew of the earth ship too, to hear all the latest news that was not important enough to appear in the telecast news bulletins, but that was nevertheless interesting.
Usually the whole operation ran smoothly and efficiently and took up no more than a few hours, but on one occasion there was a hitch in the docking procedure which took far longer than usual and Mrs Aldridge found herself still at the unloading bay at the time she was due at Bonnie’s bedside to tell her a story. She called her up on the vision-phone.
“I am terribly sorry darling, but I can’t get home in time to tell you a story tonight; be a good girl and settle down on your own. Perhaps you could play a video tape just this once?”
Bonnie could see from her mother’s image on the screen that she was upset.
“Don’t worry, she said, “I’ll get Chico to tell me a story – he’s listened to all of yours.”
Mrs Aldridge’s frown cleared. “What a good idea! Alright darling, you do that. I’ll look in on you when I get home. See you in the morning, love.” Bonnie said goodnight and the screen went blank.
Bonnie got herself ready for bed and climbed in under the covers. “Chico,” she said, “please tell me a story – one of the ones you’ve heard Mum tell.”
The chico settled himself beside the bed, whirred and clicked a little as he scanned his memory banks and then began to speak in his metallic voice. “Once upon a time, the son of the moonbase director …”
Bonnie interrupted. “That’s not one of Mum’s stories. There isn’t one about the son of a moonbase director.”
“Yes there is,” contradicted the chico. “This is a story about a prince. You told me that a prince was the son of the most important man in the community: the most important man here is the moonbase director so therefore, the prince must be his son. Please do not interrupt, you will disrupt my circuits.”
Bonnie saw at once what had happened – all the fairy story words the chico had learned had been explained to him by Bonnie, and he had substituted words that he understood and was used to. Robots are very logical, they have no imagination and can only interpret the information in their memory banks in the terms they have been programmed to use. Bonnie apologised gravely and promised not to interrupt again.
“Once,” said the chico beginning again, “the son of the moon-base director decided it was time that he made his way in the community so he set out in search of an adventure. He climbed into his speedy white moon-buggy and followed the track that led north, for he had heard that the daughter of a neighbouring planet director was being held prisoner by a wicked genetic engineer.”
“I see,” said Bonnie hugging herself gleefully, “the prince on his dashing white charger rode out to rescue a princess who was imprisoned by an evil enchanter.”
“That is just what I have said,” said the chico severely, “please do not interrupt. When the moonbase director’s son, whose name was Gid, arrived at the dome of the genetic engineer, he could not at first get in for the entire complex was surrounded by an impenetrable force field.”
“The castle was surrounded by a huge, thick thorn hedge,” muttered Bonnie to herself, but so quietly that the chico did not hear.
“Using his government issue laser gun, Gid short-circuited the force field and drove his moon buggy through. There was a small viewing aperture high in the dome,” went on the chico, “and through it he could see the poor prisoner. She had long gold-coloured hair wound in spring coils and scanners the colour of copper sulphate crystals and he thought her very beautiful.
“Then Gid stopped, for placed in front of the entry airlock of the dome was a huge flame thrower with fire streaming from its nozzle, its scanners casting about from side to side. Gid paused and wondered how he was going to bypass this terrible hazard.”
“Oh good, a dragon!” thought Bonnie.
“Now Gid remembered,” said the chico, “that once he had done a good turn for a female biologist who had rewarded him with a secret formula to render him non-visible to human eyes and non-detectable to electric scanners. A friendly pharmacist had made up the formula for him and he always carried it with him in a small capsule in case of need. Now he saw a use for it and, taking it from the pocket of his life support suit, he carefully poured it over himself. As soon as the solution had penetrated the fabric of his suit, he crept towards the flame-thrower. Its huge scanners cast from side to side, but Gid was undetectable. Taking care to keep out of reach of the scorching flames, he made his way round and behind it to the airlock that gave entrance to the dome.”
Having told, in his own fashion, how Gid used the magic potion given to him by a witch and made up by an apothecary to become invisible and thus bypassed the dragon guarding the doorway of the enchanter’s castle, the chico continued his story, telling how Gid (now visible again) came face to face with a miniature robot (a dwarf) who was guarding the prisoner’s room and immobilised it by removing its activating device (used a spell to turn it into stone), broke the circuits on the door (picked the lock) and rescued the planet director’s daughter.
Once they were outside the dome they met a huge bulldozer whose horrid habit it was to scoop children up and crush them to dust (a child-eating ogre who ground children’s bones to make his bread). But Gid put it out of action with his trusty laser beam (ran him through with his sword) and, disconnecting the flame-thrower’s fuel source (killing the dragon), he escaped with the girl in the moon buggy. When they got back to base, both directors were overjoyed to see their children again and promised that when they were married, they should have a planet of their own to direct (the kings promised them a kingdom of their own) and they all lived happily ever after.
When the chico came to the end of this highly original fairy tale, Bonnie thanked him, told him it was lovely and settled down happily to sleep.
When her mother came to see her next morning, Bonnie said. “Oh Mum, you should have heard the chico’s story, it was marvellous. He told me one of your fairy tales but he converted all the magic ideas into modern things. I liked your version better, but his was fun.”
To be continued …