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
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!”