Category Archives: Part of a series

Bonnie and the Chico (3)

A sci-fi children’s story about a girl living on a space station with an automated ‘nanny’ robot (written in 1974)

Guest Author Pamela Cleaver

Image of a cute robot from the stock pictures on Pixabay

Read Part 1 and Part 2 first, or dive in here.

Not long after the chico had to step in for her mother, and recount a bedtime story, Bonnie had her eleventh birthday which meant that she had to take her examinations which would decide her future career and what sort of training she should have. There were physical tests, oral tests and written tests and Bonnie was very nervous about what the outcome would be. The chico accompanied her to the education centre but was not allowed to go with her into to examination room and Bonnie had a chilly feeling when she knew that she would have to rely on herself alone. There would be no memory banks to help her this time.

The tests were gruelling and the papers hard. For once Bonnie gave every bit of her attention to her work and concentrated as never before to marshal the facts and express herself clearly. She did not want to leave her parents who surrounded her with love and understanding and go to live among strangers and above all, she did not want to leave her chico, who now seemed almost like another part of herself.

Her mother was waiting for her when she got home after the exams. “Do you think you did well, dear?”

“It’s hard to tell,” said Bonnie with a sigh, “but we shall know tomorrow when we hear the results.”

The chico was behaving strangely. He was rolling back and forth across the room on his castors, he was whirring and clicking as if he had got hiccups. Mrs Aldridge gave him a startled look. If he had been human, she would have said he was pacing up and down muttering to himself, the very picture of nervous anxiety – but she knew this could not be for robots have no emotions. She made a mental not to get a cybernetic expert to check him over.

Next day, Bonnie and Mrs Aldridge had an appointment at the education centre to see Bonnie’s teacher and hear the results of the exam. As her mother was coming too, Bonnie did not have to take the chico with her. When she told him to stay in her room and wait until she got back, she thought she heard a curious humming noise coming from the robot, almost like the buzzing of an angry insect.

At the education centre, Bonnie and Mrs Aldridge were greeted by a beaming teacher. “Well Bonnie,” she said, “you did better than I dared to hope. There is no question now of you having to go to earth to boarding school. Bonnie has been selected to be a story-teller Mrs Aldridge,” she explained to Bonnie’s mother. “We always knew that Bonnie had a vivid imagination but it was very undisciplined and unsuited to our times. Many of the stories that she has written in the past have been totally irrelevant to modern society, but in her exam she produced a piece of work that combined the old with the new, that interpreted old ideas in a new way.

“We anticipate that she will become the creator of talking books and video-tapes. Of course she will need special training but we can have the tapes of the course sent here and she can continue to work at home. What do you think of that Bonnie?”

Bonnie was dazed. She managed to say something appropriate and went off into a rosy dream of the future, scarcely hearing what her mother and teacher were saying as they discussed her future in greater detail.

On their way home, Mrs Aldridge asked Bonnie about the story that had so impressed the examiners.

“You see, Mum, I often used to write fairy tales for my homework,” she said, “sometimes ones you had told me and sometimes ones I made up myself. The teacher used to correct them severely. I was always being told that princes and dragons had no place in today’s world, so in my exam I was very careful. Do you remember the time you couldn’t get home and the chico told me a fairy tale? I explained how he had translated all the olden-day, fairy tale things into modern ones. Well, I wrote that story just as he told it to me.”

“But Bonnie, it was the chico’s story that got you through your exam not one of your own. What will you do when he is not there beside you to convert the stories?”

“Oh I can do it myself now,” said Bonnie confidently, “I see exactly how he did it. Anyway, there will be lots of time for you to tell him and me fairy tales and for him to retell them in his own way. That will give me plenty of ideas.”

When they got home, Bonnie rushed to her room to tell the chico what had happened, while Mrs Aldridge put through a video call to her husband to tell him the good news. While Bonnie told the chico everything that had happened, his circuits whirred and clicked smoothly and contentedly. When she had finished, Bonnie gave the chico a big hug round his metal chest, although she feared he would not know how to interpret it.

“Oh Chico,” she said, “I’m so happy. I shall be able to hear the stories the old way from Mummy and the new way from you and I shan’t have to leave you for ages. You will still be my very own, lovable Chico. I do love you Chico, although I don’t suppose your circuits will understand that.”

But they obviously did for the chico said in his metallic voice, “And we shall all live happily ever after!”

Bonnie and the chico (2)

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

Image courtesy of Jhonatan_Perez on Pixabay

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 …

Bonnie and the Chico

A children’s story in the sci-fi genre written by my mother in 1974. Technological developments have overtaken some of its ‘futuristic’ content, but it still works on most levels

Guest Author Pamela Cleaver

Image of a blue robot with features which might appeal to a child
Image courtesy of Jhonatan_Perez on Pixabay

In the year 2084, the scientists put their heads together and invented something for which all children everywhere were very grateful. What they invented was a special robot programmed to be a child’s companion who would play games with him, help him with his projects, tidy up his toys and keep him out of danger.

The robots were known as chicos because they were children’s companions and the inventors took the first three letters of ‘children’ and the first two letters of ‘companion’ to give them their name. The world government approved the invention and had it put into instant production. Eventually there would be a chico for every child, but it was decreed that the first batch should be sent to children whose parents were stationed in isolated, off-earth outposts.

Bonnie Aldridge was very excited when her chico arrived. She was a quiet little girl, inclined to be dreamy, who did not make friends easily. She lived with her parents who were technicians at one of the experimental depots on the moon. Although there were other children among the families who lived under the big dome where earth conditions were simulated, there was no-one just her age and she was often lonely and bored. She spent a lot of time with her mother because her father was a member of the team who were conducting mineral surveys and was consequently away from home for weeks at a time.

But the arrival of the chico changed Bonnie’s life and her mother’s too. When Mrs Aldridge saw how happy and safe Bonnie was with her electronic playmate, she felt able to take up full-time work at the research laboratory.

Bonnie took to the chico at once. Of course it did not look like a person exactly – it’s head was dome-shaped but it had scanners instead of eyes, auditory sensors instead of ears and a broadcasting unit instead of a mouth. Its body was square and solid and made of metal which contained many intricate computer components. Its arms were strong and jointed, but instead of hands it had lifting and holding appliances. Its legs were rigid and it moved on castors. The chico was the same height as Bonnie and in spite of its metal and perspex exterior, it looked very endearing to a child’s eyes; if it had been made of soft material, you might even have said it was cuddly.

Bonnie found that, unlike the children she had played with before, the chico was never bored with what she wanted to do, it never argued or sulked and it never spoke unless it was spoken to. Also, it remembered things that Bonnie forgot, it did a great many of her chores for her and was always ready to help.

To begin with, Bonnie thought of the choco as ‘it’ but as she got to know the robot, as they talked to each other, the chico came to assume a personality for Bonnie and she thought of him as someone called Choco who was ‘he’ not ‘it’.

In the mornings when the pillow alarm woke Bonnie, the choco (who always switched himself off for the night when Bonnie fell asleep) was automatically activated.

“Time to get up, Bonnie,” the chico’s metallic voice would announce.

When Bonnie went into the shower to be sprayed, soaped, rinsed and warm-air-dried, the chico waited outside then handed her her clothes for the day. When Bonnie went through to the kitchen to dial her breakfast, the chico would come too; not to eat, of course, but in case Bonnie wanted a little companionable conversation. After breakfast, Bonnie and the chico would visit Mrs Aldridge in her room to get their instructions for the day before she left for the lab.

Bonnie and the chico would then go back to Bonnie’s room where, sitting at her television console, Bonnie would tune into the school channel for her day’s work. While Bonnie listened and tried to absorb her lessons, the chico stationed himself beside her and listened too, his circuits clicking and whirring as he stored the information. Later, after they had spent the afternoon at the recreation centre together with other children and their chicos, it would be homework time and if Bonnie had forgotten anything, the chico’s infallible memory banks would help her out.

It was very important that Bonnie should do well at her school-work because in the twenty-first century, nothing was ever allowed to go to waste, whether it was raw material or something that had been used but could be recycled, living space or human potential. The authorities tested each child early in its life and demanded that it should achieve the goals of which it was capable. If Bonnie’s work fell below the standard required, she knew she would be sent to earth to a school where the supervision ws close and the conditions strict. Bonnie was too dreamy and too careless to get the necessary high marks all the time and she had already been warned that, unless she improved, she would be sent to a boarding school on earth.

When her homework was done, Bonnie rolled up the sheets of written work, put them in a message shuttle and dropped it into the flow chute to travel along to the central computer where it would be rerouted to her teacher. The teacher corrected the exercise and by morning, it had travelled back the same way to the Aldridge home. Often Bonnie’s work would be covered with red ink marks with comments at the bottom like ‘you have not made it clear what you mean’ or ‘do this again more carefully’ or ‘you have allowed your imagination to run away with you – stick to the facts.’

Her work began to improve after Chico’s arrival, but her teacher still considered that she used her imagination too much. Besides being a dreamy person, Bonnie’s imagination was fed by the bedtime stories her mother told her. Mrs Aldridge knew it was old-fashioned – most mothers used video tapes or talking books instead, but because she was out all day at work, she felt that a shared story hour brought them closer together. It was traditional in their family too – Bonnie’s granny had been a great teller of tales.

Mostly Mrs Aldrige told Bonnie stories about journeys into space, adventures among aliens on far-off planets or tales of engineering projects which were the kind of stories the children of the twenty-first century liked best. But sometimes she told stories about the olden days on earth, when strange people called cowboys rode animals called horses or about pirates, who were ruthless men who sailed the oceans in search of treasure – not the modern robbers of space. Occasionally she told Bonnie even stranger tales handed down through the family called fairy stories.

She had to explain many strange ideas to Bonnie so she could understand them. She told her about princes and princesses, witches and ogres, giants and dragons and about magic; those things were totally alien to a little girl who had grown up on the moon in the twenty-first century. Very few children knew about them as fairy tales were quite out of fashion, but Bonnie loved them and it was because she sometimes used ideas from them in her school-work that her teacher found it unacceptable.

The chico always listened to the stories too. As Bonnie lay warm and content in her bed, listening to her mother’s soothing voice, the chico would glide about the room on silent casters, tidying away the things Bonnie had used during the day and getting clothes out for the next day. As the chico listened, his circuits would whirr as he absorbed and stored the information.

One day, soon after the chico’s arrival, Mrs Aldridge was telling Bonnie a fairy tale and the chico’s circuits whirred and clicked as he listened. Chirr-clk, chirrr-clk went the wheels, dials and tapes inside his metal body. Robots are not programmed to have feelings, but his circuits were unable to process the data, so many words Mrs Aldridge was using were completely unfamiliar and had no meaning for him.

“This does not compute,” he spoke quietly in his synthesised voice, but nevertheless his memory banks stored the story.

After Mrs Aldridge had kissed Bonnie goodnight and left her, the chico took the unusual step of speaking without first being spoken to.

“Bonnie,” he began, “that story did not compute. I have insufficient data.”

Bonnie was feeling drowsy but she was a polite child so she answered. “What do you want to know, Chico?”

“What is a prince?”

“He is the son of a king – that means the most important man in the community.”

Chico’s circuits whirred and clicked. “Thank you. What is a dragon?”

“A very large monster that breathes fire.”

Chirrr-clk  “Thank you. What is a charger?”

“A horse, a horse is a creature that takes the prince very fast wherever he wants to go.”

More whirring and clicking. “And what is a dwarf?”

Bonnie’s voice became slower. She was getting very sleepy. “A very small – magic – person …” and before she could finish her sentence, she was asleep.

The chico, because that was the way he was programmed, turned himself off and would not be re-activated until Bonne woke again.

To be continued …

The Dance Contest – Next Steps

A continuation from Ted’s story where we meet Madge and her new partner Ronnie entering a dance marathon- read it 1 here and inspired by some family photographs I recently found – the lady is my Great Aunt.

Madge felt she could sleep for days, and perhaps she would’ve if she lived somewhere else; instead she was brought rudely to wakefulness by the clanking sound of the plumbing, protesting at her neighbours’ requirement for water with which to flush, shave, bathe and cook. All around her, apartment doors were opening and closing, feet clattering on the winding staircase. The street door slammed frequently as those living hugger mugger, having made their morning ablutions, set off to work.

She threw an arm over her face, shielding her eyes from light streaming in through her narrow window, but even that limb felt leaden. Madge’s legs were worse, her knee and hip joints screamed from overuse while her feet were throbbing as insistently as when she’d slipped off her dancing shoes the night before.

But we won! She reminded herself, then rolled stiffly over to check the money was still stashed safely under her mattress, folded into her winter muffler.

Now she was wide awake, her mind began gnawing at the problem of their next competition. White City Amusement Park was a step up, but pretending to be married – that didn’t sit easily with her. Ronnie was a dreamboat, for sure, but what did she really know about him except that he came from Cleveland?

They were meeting at the diner for lunch, she could put him through the hoops then, find out his intentions and prospects. Pulling the thin blanket over her head to cut out the light, Madge was determined to grab another hour of rest now the building was more or less empty and the water tank was silent.

*  *  *

Yeah he was cute. Madge smiled at Ronnie as he approached her and slid into the booth.

“Morning,” he smiled, acting as bashful as she felt. 

Strange, they’d danced together for nearly four days, held each other close, offering support to one another as fatigue made their limbs sag like cooked spaghetti. Now they were giving each other sidelong glances and there was a silly grin on her face she couldn’t wipe off.

“What can I get you?” Their waitress looked tired, her apron bore a splash of gravy from today’s special, Irish Stew.

Ronnie looked expectantly at Madge, ladies first his eyes said, and she awarded him points for politeness.

“A plate of the stew please.”

“You want that with potatoes or cornbread?” 

She chose potato, mopping up sauce with bread seemed unladylike, and she wanted Ronnie to think of her as a lady.

Ronnie ordered the same, but with bread and collard greens. 

“Coffee?” the waitress asked, and when they assented, she brought them large white cups which she filled to the brim.

Adding creamer and sugar, Madge found sipping at the hot drink revived her. It also gave her a chance to study Ronnie, to notice the velvet depths of his brown eyes and a cheek dimple when he smiled.

“So – what next?” she asked.

“Find a job I guess,” Ronald shrugged.

“What do you do?” 

“I was training to be a butcher,” his eyes flicked to hers, gauging her reaction.

“So you’re planning to stay?”

“Why not? We’re good together, we got another competition coming up. We could make a go of this.”  

He lowered his cup, leaning back as the waitress set wide brimmed bowls in front of them. The rich gravy steamed and settled round slow cooked carrots, beef and onions. Madge’s stomach growled loudly, and both of them laughed.

“So you plan to stay in Chicago?” she asked once she’d swallowed a few mouthfuls.

“Sure,” he nodded, “Can’t exactly travel back and forth.”

“What about what the promoter said – better if we were married?”

Ronnie chewed his mouthful maddeningly slowly, Madge’s toes curled in her shoes. Finally he raised his eyes to hers, dark brown meeting green with gold flecks.

“That wouldn’t be so bad.” 

Her stomach gave a swoop worthy of a ride on the big dipper.

To be continued on Ted’s blog. This post submitted to MindlovesMisery’s Sunday writing prompt : Light

The Harmony Aggro [4]

Image from Pixabay

Continuing a Sci-Fi tale written by Pamela Cleaver in the 1970s, originally published in Space 2, an anthology featuring new writers. While the technology and style references have become out-moded, the plot is intriguing. In a new-town, acts of violence have occurred involving 2 unusual looking groups of males. Inspector Deeping has apprehended the lads in silver clothes. Interrogating them, he must keep a open mind because their story involves time travel – read on to find out more.

“For what purpose is time travel used in your era, Lant? Surely not to visit other centuries and work off your frustrations?”

The boy smiled. “No indeed. The Guardians have it under very strict control. The only people who are allowed to use the machines are researchers. During the great war at the beginning of the 21st century, the last of the wars, many important historical records were destroyed and we know little of what happened before the 20th century. The historians need the time machines so that they can build up their records. We should not have used the one we came in, but when we missed our harmony therapy, we felt all sorts of strange desires hitherto unknown to us and we wanted to steal something. A time machine is what we stole.”

Inspector Deeping breathed heavily and sighed. “All right constable, take him down to the cells and put him with the others, I’ll see him again later.”

He walked from the interview room and out of the station. He did not want to talk to anyone for a while, he needed time to think, to decide what to do. He was still slightly incredulous about the whole thing, but he knew that he had no alternative but to believe Lant’s story. And if he did that, he must decide what to do with them. He could not take them to court, he could not punish them in the here and now. Equally, he did not feel it would be right just to send them back to their own time, letting them get off scot free – they might come back again. And the scarlet-robed Pelleans were still at large, which presented another problem. He toyed with the idea of making them hand over their time machine and using it to go forward into their time to have a sharp word with their Guardians about an appropriate punishment, but there would be all sorts of difficulties and he knew he would never have the nerve to do so.

Then it was that he had his idea. It was a gamble, but if it worked, it would solve all his problems. Briskly he walked back to the station, went into his office in a high good humour and sent for Lant.

“I have been thinking over what you have said,” he told the boy. “Under the laws of this time and this country, you deserve a severe punishment. If I take you to court, you will probably be sent to prison which you will not like, but as the circumstances are very unusual, I am ready to make a bargain with you. You understand what a bargain is?”

Lant nodded his head, shaking the blue and green locks of his hair vigorously.

“I want to rid this area of all time travellers and go back to my ordinary everyday life.”

Lant said, “I think we too would like to go back to our ordinarr, everyday life. We are a little tired of this adventure now we have achieved what we came for. That fight we had with those boys was marvellous.”

“Right,” said Inspector Deeping, “you can go back if you will do something for me first. I want you and your companions to find the Pelleans and persuade them to go back to their time too. I don’t care how you do it, you can persuade them peaceably or you can fight them. Now, can you do that? Will you be able to communicate with them?”

Lant nodded. “I can speak 21st century Pellean a little, enough to do what you ask. But how can you compel us? Once we have left this building, how can you be sure we will seek out the Pelleans and not just get into the time shuttle and go back to our own time?”

That, as Deeping knew, was the sixty-four dollar question; this was where his gamble came in, he had no means of enforcing his will. He took a deep breath. “I can’t,” he said. “I can’t make you do it, but I trust you. I believe that you are the sort of person who, if he gave his word, would keep his bargain. Am I right?”

Lant’s face was transformed from pale seriousness by a brilliant smile. “You are right, if we give our word, we will do it and I give my word.”

“Right,” said Inspector Deeping, “and when you get home, perhaps you’d better go back to your therapy sessions again, although self-control is really better, you know.”

Lant looked at him wistfully. “I should like to be able to learn discipline myself,” he said, “but although we managed to outwit the Guardians once, we shall not be able to do so a second time. They will make us report to them daily and give us extra therapy.” He sighed. “After a while, I expect we shall forget this ever happened.”

“It’s more than I shall,” said Inspector Deeping heavily and he pressed a bell on his desk and arranged for the boys to be released.

The next day, a series of unusual reports landed on Inspector Deeping’s desk. Late the previous evening, there had been a curiously inept gang fight on one of the housing estates at the end of the town. Four boys in silver gear with green and blue hair had been seen fighting with three boys with shaven heads, dressed in scarlet robes. One report had not even been sure it was a fight, more like a strange, new ritual dance, the witness said. Another report said that a strange craft had been seen in the moonlit sky, not exactly a flying saucer, more like a monster sewing machine shuttle.

As Sergeant Peel brought the reports in, he looked more and more puzzled. “Do you think the whole of Everington is suffering from illusions?” he asked.

Inspector Deeping received the reports with evident satisfaction and put them in the file he had made for the unusual crime wave of the past two weeks. When yet another report came in from an excitable woman who had seen a silver shuttle in the sky just before midnight, which had suddenly vanished rather than flown off, he heaved a great sigh of relief and marked the file “closed“.

“You can put that away now,” he aid to Peel, “we shan’t have any more trouble from the silver mob or the scarlet robes.”

He told Sergeant Peel the rest of the story. Peel found it hard to accept the fact of time travel, but grudgingly went along with the Inspector. “How did you get rid of them all, then?”

“I simply set a thief to catch a thief,” said Inspector Deeping, “and I killed two birds with one stone. They may be old fashioned ideas, but they work.”

This concludes the story, but look out for more Guest Posts by Pamela Cleaver.

The Harmony Aggro [3]

A Short Science Fiction story by Guest Author: Pamela Cleaver

Continuing a Sci-Fi tale written in the 1970s, originally published in Space 2, an anthology featuring new writers. While much of the technology and style references have become out-moded, the plot is intriguing. In a new-town acts of violence involving 2 groups of youths have occurred. Inspector Deeping is keeping an open mind, enlisting his teenage son to assist in the apprehension of the lads in silver clothes. When questioned, the story they give is mind-bending – read on to find out more.

Peel thought about it. “I suppose that’s possible; if there’s nothing to overcome, nothing to strive for, nothing to stimulate them into action, people do get bored, especially the young ones. But all that stuff about time machines, you don’t believe that, do you?”

“I keep an open mind – who knows what will be possible three hundred years from now? Even a hundred years ago, did people think men would ever get to the moon, apart from Jules Verne, that is?”

“I suppose not, but even if his story were true, it doesn’t hold water. You told me they had harmony therapy or whatever it’s called to overcome their aggression, so how come he and his friends are aggressive?”

“I asked him that and it seems that they just did not report for treatment – it’s some sort of electric impulse which is applied to the brain cells. I suppose it was a bit like playing truant- you know how at that age youngsters are almost automatically against authority.”

“But why pick on us to relieve their tensions?”

“They chose the 1970s, if you please, because they read in their history books it was a lawless age. What do you think of that?”

Peel snorted. “Why didn’t they choose one of the many times when a war was on, or Chicago in the twenties for instance?”

“Their knowledge of history does not go back much before the 20th century and he says they did not want to kill people, just to act tough and destructive.”

“Well, I don’t want to believe it,” said Inspector Deeping, “but there’s a strange sort of logic about it. I’m going to have another talk with Lant. Leave the others for now, put them in the cells and we’ll see what else he’s got to say. Look, you’re off duty now, aren’t you? You push off and I’ll tell about it tomorrow.”

Deeping thought that Peel was looking at him as if he were quite mad. Perhaps he was. But the story he had heard was not quite as fantastic as the one he had thought up earlier when he had wondered if the silver-gear buys were visitors from space. If Lant was making this up, he ought to be writing science fiction, not mugging old ladies and destroying telephone kiosks.

When he went back to the interview room, past the impassive constable standing just inside the door, staring straight ahead, he saw the strange boy Lant sitting calmly at the bare table, his long legs in the silver trousers and boots stretched out, quite relaxed. Now he saw all the gear together, Deeping was not surprised the lab had not been able to analyse the scrap of material. It was obviously something made by a technology far more advanced than anything the 1970s could produce. The inspector felt that Lant’s very appearance bore out his story, but there were still a lot of things he wanted to know before he could be completely convinced.

He asked the boy about the crimes. To his surprise, Lant did not deny them but seemed rather proud of them. He admitted to taking part in three muggings and four of the cases of vandalism.

“Why did you choose old people to attack, not ones your own age? Don’t you think it was cowardly?”

“But it is the old we hate, not the young,” said Lant as if it was self-evident truth.

“But why?”

“Because in our time, people live to very great ages through drugs and skilful treatments not known in your times; the old ones are in charge, they make the laws, they tell us what to do and we may not argue. When we missed our harmony therapy session, we realised we hated them. Hate was a new emotion for us and we found it exciting.”

Deeping was repelled but he had to admit to himself that there was something in what Lant said.

“What about the telephone boxes and automatic vending machines?”

“Please?” said Lant, puzzled.

“Those things you broke up, why did you do that?”

“Oh,” he said, “the teleport stands and the informers.”

It was Inspector Deeping’s turn to be puzzled.

What did you think those things were that you destroyed?”

“I am having a little difficulty with your speech,” said Lant. “I learned as much late 20th century English as I could from a hypno-educator, but seem not to have it all just right. The red boxes I took to be teleport stands where you materialize and de-materialize when the Guardians summon you, no? And the others, where you press buttons, were for reporting to the Guardians, no? We attacked those because they symbolize the authority of the Guardians. The devices were primitive examples, but we thought we recognized them. Were we not right?”

Inspector Deeping began to be sorry he had embarked on this conversation; he did not like the glimpse of the future it showed. He explained telephones and vending machines as best he could, but felt Lant was very contemptuous of such simple concepts of communication. He tried another tack.

“Who are the Guardians?”

“I think in your time they were called the police,” said Lant, “or maybe soldiers, I am not quite sure which. I have not understood quite perfectly the difference between the two.”

“The Police see that the laws of the land are carried out,” he said, “and I am a policeman. Soldiers are to protect a country from its enemies.”

“You are then a Guardian?” asked Lant. For the first time he seemed apprehensive. “We have broken your laws? What then will you do with us?”

What indeed? It was a good question – Inspector Deeping was beginning to wonder that himself. How could he take these people to court? Even if he believed this strange story, who else would? And there was still another question unanswered. “Are some of your friends dressed in red robes with shaven heads?”

“No,” said Lant, “that is not the way we Lemnians dress, it sounds to me like Pelleans of the 21st century. Are they here too? It was in their era that time travel first began and they may be here to investigate your time.”

“But why did you come to Everington, our town here?”

“The co-ordinates we used to choose a place to land are those of a great city in our time and it was too in the time of the Pelleans. To us and to them it would be an obvious choice.

Inspector Deeping marvelled that the dull little town in which he lived would one day be a great city. It was almost harder to believe than anything that had gone before.

To be continued (here)

The Harmony Aggro[2]

Image from Pixabay

Continuing a Sci-Fi tale by my Guest Author Pamela Cleaver. Written in the 1970s, it was originally published in Space 2, an anthology featuring writers new to the genre. While much of the technology and style references have become out-moded, the plot is intriguing. In a new-ish town, acts of violence have been happening, involving two groups of youths unfamiliar to the culture, which has Inspector Deeping baffled.

Next day, Inspector Deeping sent Sergeant Peel on a tour of Everington’s trendier shops that catered for the tastes of the young, to make enquiries as to whether they sold many silver suits or scarlet robes. He then read the reports through again and tried to assess an analyse the crimes. He thought about his conversation with Tim the previous evening and smiled to himself about the new vogue word “intergalactic”. He knew “way out” and “far out” – he even new that “near in” was sometimes used as an alternative, but “intergalactic” tickled his fancy. He had been a science fiction addict since he had come across his first copy of Amazing as a boy, which was probably why he liked the word.

He toyed with a pencil and stared out of the window. He began to think of intergalactic in its SF sense and a wild thought occurred to him. The silver-gear boys couldn’t possibly be from another planet could they? The first wave of an invasion from space who had landed in Everington? He let his imagination fun free for a few minutes, then laughed, shook off his fantasies and went back to his paperwork.

When Sergeant Peel came back from his tour of the boutiques, he was tired and frustrated and no further forward with the case. There was no call for silver gear or red robes, he had been told by the shop keepers.

“That means they haven’t got any – they always try to tell you things are unfashionable if you want them and they haven’t got them.”

He stretched and poured himself a cup of coffee from the electric percolator in the corner of the office.

“There is one thing, though,” he told the Inspector. “Constable Hobbs has been over the last telephone box they smashed up and he found this caught on a nail.”

He threw a piece of silver material onto the Inspector’s desk. Deeping picked it up and examined it. It was most unusual, not quite like anything else he had ever seen. It was soft and flexible but it was not woven. He crushed it in his hand experimentally and then opened his fingers. The material sprang back at once to its original shape without a crease or mark on it.

“One of these new, man-made fabrics, I suppose. It looks expensive. Better send it down to the lab to see what they make of it and tell them we want some answers quickly. It’s the best lead we’ve had so far.”

Sergeant Peel picked up the fabric with a sigh and went out with it.

The lab rang back the next day, apologetic and chagrined. They were completely baffled. Analysis had not been able to identify the components of the material which answered to none of the known tests. They could only think it was some new, experimental cloth recently, or not yet, marketed. Sergeant Peel got the dreary job of ringing round the fabric manufacturers to see if they could help. Inspector Deeping began to wonder if his “visitors from space” theory was not so wild after all and then told himself severely that if he did not stop thinking on those lines, he would have to give up reading science fiction. He went across to the pub opposite the police station for a beer and a sandwich for lunch.

At about half pat two that afternoon, he received a phone call from Tim.

“Dad, get down here quickly!” said his son, “your silver-geared boys are in the club. They’ve smashed a television set and are trying to pick a fight!”

“Don’t let them get away, Tim,” he said urgently, “even if you have to fight them until we get there. Do you think you could hold them?”

He could almost hear Tim’s grin over the phone. “Yeah,” he said, “they haven’t much idea about fighting and it just happens that most of the rugger team is in here at the moment. Okay, burn down as fast as you can and we’ll hold onto them.”

Inspector Deeping left his office quickly, gathering up Sergeant Peel and Constable Hobbs on the way. When they arrived at the Youth Club, it was quite obvious a fight had taken place; there were overturned tables and chairs, the television set was, as Tim had said on the phone, well and truly smashed and everyone in the place looked ruffled. But Tim and three of his friends were sitting on the chests of the silver-gear boys, holding onto their wrists. The faces of the captives, framed in blue and green locks, were neither angry nor disconsolate as the Inspector had expected, but triumphant and pleased with themselves.

The boys did not resist arrest nor make any fuss when they were taken down to the station. While Constable Hobbs was booking them, Inspector Deeping had a quick word with Sergeant Peel.

“We’ll question them separately,” he said, “you and I will question each one for half an hour and then compare notes, before we go onto the other two, okay?”

Peel nodded and he and Deeping went into separate interview rooms with a boy in each, while Hobbs kept a watchful eye on the other two.

After half an hour, Inspector Deeping returned to his office with a glazed look about his eyes and waited for Sergeant Peel, who joined him within a few minutes looking thoroughly angry. Peel sat down heavily in a chair and said, “I think I’m being conned. I’ve never heard such a load of codswallop in my life.”

Inspector Deeping looked at him carefully. “Tell me what he said.”

Peel was disgusted. “It was trash, you don’t want to hear about it.”

“I do,” said his superior, “because I want to compare it with what I was just told.”

Peel sighed heavily, poured himself a cup of coffee and lit a cigarette. “Would you believe he told me he came from the 23rd century in a time machine, and nothing I could say or do would make him change his story?”

“I would believe it,” said Deeping grimly, “because I was told the same thing.”

“Ye gods, they must think we’re green!” said Peel. “Kids like that make me sick. They’ve been caught now, so they might as well tell us where they live, who they are and all that so we can get on with charging them. They must know we’ll find out the truth eventually.”

Inspector Deeping tilted his chair and put his feet on the desk. “Did he tell you why he came here from the 23rd century?”

Peel looked at him curiously. “I didn’t ask him, I just told him not to be such a fool and to start telling me the truth. We never got beyond his first statement.”

“Well I tried a different tack, I played along with Lant, as this chap tells me he is called, and asked him why he came here. It was a remarkable piece of fiction, if fiction it was. He says that in his time, everything is peaceful and beautiful. War has been abolished, there is no crime because everyone’s needs are provided for and there is no aggression because everyone is given harmony therapy.”

“You don’t believe any of it, do you sir?” said Peel anxiously.

“I’m not sure yet,” said Deeping slowly, “but let’s suppose for a minute I do. Wouldn’t you have thought that those conditions would make for an ideal world? I would, so I asked him, if everything is so marvellous, why would he want to leave such a wonderful time and come back to our era?” His pipe had gone out, so he relit it as he waited for the Sergeant’s reaction.

“I bet that foxed him,” said Peel, “if life was like that, stands to reason everyone would be contented.”

“It didn’t fox him at all, he said that was just the point. Life in the 23rd century, he says, is too perfect. There is no friction, no challenge and in spite of all the entertainments provided, he and his friends are bored to screaming point.”

To be Continued (here)

The Harmony Aggro [1]

Silver shoes

A Short Science Fiction story written by Guest Author: Pamela Cleaver
This story was penned in the 1970s – more innocent times. Sci-Fi was in its infancy and much of the technology is out of date. Originally published in an Anthology entitled Space 2

Inspector Deeping was worried: it had been happening for a fortnight now and he couldn’t understand it. If Everington had been a big city, it would have been understandable. Muggings, vandalism and other crimes of destructive violence happened all the time in cities, but Everington was a suburban district which had only recently developed from a village to town status by the addition and accredition of various housing estates.

His first thought, when the crime figures for his normally peaceable area went rocketing up, was that some criminal element had moved onto one of the newer estates, but he had immediately checked and found it was not so. There were one or two bad eggs in the new batches, but they soon proved they were not involved in Everington’s new crime wave.

The other thing that troubled him was the description of the criminals; in the few cases where they had been seen, they did not appear to conform to any known group. Threee elderly people had been knocked down and rendered unconscious – straight-forward muggings, Inspector Deeping had thought, except that the victims had not been robbed and the crimes seemed gratuitous and motiveless. From the description of the assailants, seen in the half dark, he had built up a curious picture. It seemed they were young people (no-one was sure if they were boys or girls) their hair was long, the locks dyed a mixture of green and blue. They wore silver trousers, jackets and boots. It sounded even stranger than the usual weird teenage gear.

Then there were four telephone boxes that had been smashed up, and six automatic vending machines that had been battered. The blue and green haired boys seemed to be involved in some cases, but in others there were some even stranger characters : shaven-headed hooligans dressed in scarlet robes.

“Are you having me on?” Inspector Deeping asked Sergeant Peel severely when he brought the reports in.

“No, honestly sir, that’s what the woman said who saw them running away. I asked her the same thing. Thought she might have been …” and he tilted his wrist to signify drinking, “but she was sober as a judge, and swore that was what they looked like.”

Inspector Deeping sucked on his pipe sceptically, but put the reports in his file. If they were not logical, he wondered where the strangely garbed youngsters were coming from. He asked his car patrols whether they had seen any groups coming into Everington from outside the district on motor bikes or in jalopies. But they had seen nothing unusual over the past two weeks. Not really surprising, he said to himself cynically, Everington was the sort of place you went away from, not came to.

He decided the only thing to do was to consult an expert, and who would be more knowledgeable about teenage behaviour than another teenager? So after supper, he took Tim, his seventeen-year-old son, for a walk.

“I want to pick your brains,” he told him and Tim came willingly, flattered to be consulted. “I want to know about any groups round here who dress in a special way,” he said.

“What – like the Skins in their bovver boots, or the Angels in their leather jackets?” asked Tim.

“That’s the sort of thing,” said Inspector Deeping, “but we know about them, though. Are there any new groups?”

Tim shrugged. “The Skins have mostly grown their hair, they call them Suedeheads now, you know, and they don’t wear bovver boots, they’re into crepe-soled boots with wedge heels. The Angels are still around, but not much in Everington.”

“Any others?”

“Most of the kids are into embroidered denim, but that’s general,” said Tim, “not any special group. There aren’t really any gangs in Everington.”

Inspector Deeping made much of lighting his pipe before he asked his next question. “What would you think of chaps with their hair dyed green and blue, wearing silver jeans, silver jackets and silver boots?”

Tim breathed a great sigh of admiration. “Wow, way out – like intergalactic, man!”

Deeping tried not to smile. “Intergalactic – that’s a new one on me.”

“It’s even further out than way out,” said Tim patiently, “it’s the ultimate.”

“I see, but do you know about this group with the silver gear?”

“No,” said Tim, “but I wouldn’t mind!”

“I don’t advise it,” said his father repressively, “they’re in big trouble. Look Tim, you don’t mind me asking all this?”

The boy shook his head.

“Well there’s another group even odder. They wear scarlet robes and have shaven heads. Do you know them?”

“Nope,” said Tim, “but they don’t sound very turned-on. Say Dad, are you really looking for kooks like this, or are you putting me on?”

The Inspector shook his head. “I said almost the same ting to Sergeant Peel when he told me about them. I really have got problems dressed in those clothes. Do one thing more for me Tim? Keep your eyes open at the Youth Club, will you?”

Tim agreed, and they continued on their way.

To be continued (here)

A Witch in Time (2)

Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Pexels.com

This concludes a story written in by my mother under the pen name Emma Payne. It’s pitched at the YA market and pre-dates the Harry Potter inspired flurry of supernatural tales. Previously 10-year-old Melina began to suspect that the things which made her mum perfect might have a catch, what if she was a witch! Start with Part 1 or read from here.

The final straw came when Miss Jeffers started to cast the form play. I had hoped to be the Princess, but Miss Jeffers chose Lucy Merkon. I was given the part of a lady in waiting, and Lucy’s understudy.

Lucy and I were old enemies, which made it worse. She turned round, her face a mixture of triumph and spite and poked her tongue out. I was furious and when I got home I told Mum.

“That Lucy Merkon! I’ve never liked her,” Mum said, “you’d make a far better princess. It would serve Lucy right if she fell ill and you took over.”

“She never so much as catches a cold,” I said gloomily.

“She might catch something worse,” Mum said darkly.

I thought no more about it until Mum was proved right, as usual. Lucy developed a rash and a fever after just three rehearsals, so I took over the part.

When I told Mum that Miss Jeffers said the doctor was baffled by Lucy’s symptoms, I caught her smiling and it gave me a horrible thought. Had Mum cast a spell on Lucy?

Next day when Mum was at the shops, I went into the kitchen to look at the strange book again: I wanted to compare the words with the witches’ scene in Macbeth. ‘Grockle the muncheon and slowly plebide the turlow’ did not sound much like ‘eye of newt and toe of frog, wool of bat and toe of dog,” but then, perhaps Shakespeare had been guessing.

The book wasn’t on the shelf, so I began to rummage in other drawers in the kitchen. At the back of the knife drawer I found a strange little figure sculpted in pastry and embedded with seeds that made it look horribly spotty. I picked it up and tied round its neck with green embroidery silk was a label which read Lucy Merkon.

I dropped the figure back into the drawer as if it were red hot. That did it! Mum’s witchcraft was really out of hand now. Mrs Bearman had been talking wildly about witches and spells recently, she’d also been giving Mum strange looks. I didn’t think anyone believed in witchcraft nowadays, but the part of East Anglia where we lived historically had a strong witch tradition. It must have been closer to the surface than I knew, for that afternoon in the playground, Will Gandy said, “I hear your mother’s put a spell on my aunt and her dog. She’d better take it off or I’ll make you suffer. You’re a witch’s child.”

His friends began to chant, “Witch’s child, witch’s child,” and soon a menacing group had gathered. I was scared and began to cry, frightened as much for Mum as for myself. I burst out of the circle, through the school gate and ran home, where I threw myself sobbing into Mum’s arms. I told her what they had said.

“And don’t try to tell me it isn’t true, because I know it is.” I managed to say between hiccoughing sobs.

She hugged me tightly. “I’m not a bad witch, Melina.”

“But you are,” I wailed. “There’s Harold and Mrs Bearman and now Lucy.” I told her I’d found the strange book and the pastry person. “How come you’re a witch?” 

“It’s complicated, but I’ll try to explain. Have you ever thought what would have happened if some important event in history had turned out differently? If Richard III had won the battle of Bosworth, there would have been no Tudor kings.  Supposed America hadn’t fought the War of Independence and it had remained English, history would tell a different story, wouldn’t it?”

I nodded, I loved history, but I couldn’t see where this was leading us.

“Imagine time is like a huge tree, with the creation of the world the thick part of the trunk at the bottom. Each time an event occurs, that could have two possible outcomes, the tree branches so the two results exist as branches of equal thickness. Then when another crisis moment comes, the tree branches again.

“Each of those branches is another world or timeline. Beside the world where William the Conqueror won the Battle of Hastings, there is an alternative world where King Harold won.

“My world had the same history as yours until 1590. In that year Elizabeth I was queen of England and James VI king of Scotland. James had not yet married and his heir was Francis Stuart, earl of Bothwell, who was secretly leader of the Scottish witches. Have you ever heard of the Plot of the North Berwick witches?”

I shook my head.

“No? Well it’s only a footnote in your history books because it failed in your timeline, but in mine it succeeded. Three covens of witches, under Francis Stuart’s guidance, raised a storm that drowned the King as he was bringing his new queen home from Denmark. So in my world Bothwell became King Francis I and witchcraft became an accepted way of life.

“People with second sight and people who could harness magic were encouraged, instead of being hunted down and burned as they were in your timeline. We developed communication by mind-power and human energy instead of electricity. Transport was achieved by focussing minds instead of using engines. People learned to work with animals. America was colonised by traders rather than persecuted religious minorities. Hosts of other things were different.

“I’m not saying my world was perfect, trouble was caused by greed and fear because humanity is fallible, but I liked my world better than this one.”

“If you liked it so much, what made you leave?” I asked.

Mum laughed. “I didn’t mean to. It happened by mistake. I was working on a space-travel project that involved the pooling of mind power. I was using my technical manual (the ‘spell’ book you found) and was endeavouring to add the force of my mind to that of many others. Accidentally I turned over two pages, saying half of one formula and half of another. That sent me sideways in time and into your world. While I was trying to figure out how to get back, I had to blend into this world. Then I met your dad and fell in love, so I stopped searching for a way back. When you were born my decision to stay in this world was made.

“At first I tried to live by this world’s rules, but a little bit of witchcraft made life so much easier. I used my powers sparingly and thought no-one would know. But I didn’t fool you and it seems I’ve now made other people suspicious. I need to think how to correct this.

“Why don’t you reverse the spells, Mum? That would take the pressure off.”

Her eyes lit up. “I can do better than that, I’ll make them forget and we can start afresh.”

“Wonderful,” I said “and you must promise not to use spells any more.”

“Not even to help in the house?” she said wistfully.

“We-ell ,” I said wavering, “little spells for cooking and cleaning should go unnoticed.”

“Perfect,” she said smiling, “and I can teach you spells, you’d be easy to train, being half witch.”

“No thanks, I prefer to stay the way I am.”

Mum laughed and went off to undo the magical mayhem she’d caused, while I went upstairs to do my homework. I’d forgotten, until I opened my bedroom door, that I’d rushed out that morning and left my room looking as if a tornado had struck.

“Oh fiddlesticks,” I said to myself, “I wish I could use a little magic to tidy this mess.”

There was a noise like a rushing wind and my clothes lifted off the floor and bed to arranged themselves tidily in the open wardrobe. Books floated back onto shelves and the duvet shook itself and spread neatly on the bed.

I sat down, overcome by shock. I was stunned, but I suppose I shouldn’t have been. They say blood will out and I was, after all, a witch’s daughter.

THE END