Celia saw the ad in the morning paper. She’d peered over Robert’s shoulder as she poured the tea, and the bold text stood out.
STRUGGLING TO FIND CHILDCARE?
personalised bedtime routine
built-in diaper disposal unit
and recipe bank
“Oh, look,” she breathed. Childcare was the bane of their life. Her busy factory job and Robert’s work as a banker made them reliant on nannies and daycares … but none of them lived up to her high expectations.
Celia fired the last nanny for making eyes at Robert. The silly man hadn’t minded, but she didn’t want that going on under her nose. And the current daycare was awful. Half the toys broken, and the children a rough lot.
She ran her finger down the ad and placed the teapot on the table. “This could be the answer to our problems.”
Robert pushed his glasses up his nose and sniffed. “Are you sure, dear? It’s terribly expensive. Can’t we make do with daycare?”
Celia tutted. “Have you seen that place?”
He shook his head. Pick-up and drop-off was Celia’s job. She ran her fingers through his hair and rested her chin on the top of his head. “Darling. This is the answer — I know it. Can you investigate?”
Robert sighed, his breath fluttering the paper, and a smile crept over Celia’s face. He couldn’t say no to her.
That evening, Celia hitched young Jonno onto her left arm and unlocked the door with her right. “Home again,” she sang and popped Jonno down.
“Home, home, home!” He ran off chuckling, heading for the kitchen.
Celia watched him fondly and then shut the front door. She began to run through the choices for dinner. What could she make tonight?
Jonno wailed from the distance and Celia jumped. She trotted through to the kitchen. Her enquiry died on her lips as Jonno flung himself at her knees.
In the middle of the floor stood a gleaming bronze robot. She gasped. Robert had bought it for her! She picked Jonno up and stepped around the machine in awe. Humanoid in shape, it stood about five feet tall. The features were shaped to look like a young woman, with an apron sketched into the metal and copper locks of hair.
Jonno reached out his hand and then drew back. “Shiny?”
Celia grinned. “Yes, shiny. This is going to be your new nanny. Shall we have a play?”
Jonno sucked his fingers and buried his head in her shoulder. He might need a bit of convincing. Celia flicked the ON switch sticking out from the robot’s neck.
Clicking sounded deep within the metal body. Gears ground and electronics flickered. Its eyes lit up deep blue with a black pupil, and the bronze head swivelled and latched onto Celia.
“Mrs Freeman? I am Poppy, your robot nanny. Pleased to meet you.” The robot’s voice was low and soothing, with just a slight metallic edge to it. Poppy smoothly lifted a hand and held it out.
Somewhat hesitantly, Celia shook it. The cool metal hand felt so unlike a human’s.
“And this is Jonno?” Poppy raised an arm and patted his head.
Jonno’s eyes were so wide Celia would have laughed if she didn’t think he was about to scream. She had to take control.
“Yes. This is Jonno. Sweetie, say hi to Poppy. You’ll be doing all sort of fun activities with her. Isn’t that right, Poppy?” Celia gave the robot a wide smile.
“Indeed, ma’am. I have been pre-programmed as per Mr Freeman’s instructions. I will be taking care of your son from daybreak until bedtime, and Mr Freeman also purchased the optional chores module. I can start by cooking dinner.” Poppy’s head swivelled as she took in the kitchen.
“That would be wonderful.” Celia felt like a weight had lifted off her shoulders. At last, something was going right. “Shall I explain where everything is?”
“No need.” Poppy tapped her brain with a tink. “X-ray vision. You spend an hour with your little man, while I take care of things in here.”
Celia couldn’t believe how smooth life seemed to be after Poppy arrived. Following Jonno’s initial suspicion, Poppy won him over with her toddler education module: games, learning letters, and building all sorts of toys. His reticence wore off and he was happy to toddle around with Poppy all day.
Robert seemed more relaxed now that Celia was happy. Celia relaxed knowing Jonno was happy. Poppy made their family complete.
Time passed, and Celia was surprised to learn that Poppy had been with them for over two years. Poppy’s diaper disposal unit had been swapped for a miniature washing machine. The robot requested resources and equipment for Jonno as she increased the difficulty of the education modules. The old playroom became a schoolroom.
Jonno developed into a quiet child, fond of books and learning. He always spent the hour before dinner with Celia when she got home from work, telling her about his day. He became keen on amateur electronics and Celia was never so proud as when he showed her the first radio he built — with Poppy’s help. Pride radiated from the robot too, if such a thing were possible.
“Oh, Poppy,” Celia would say. “I don’t know how we ever managed without you.”
Even Robert didn’t regret the expense, as by the time Jonno reached school age, they decided Poppy would be a perfectly adequate homeschool teacher. Poppy’s efficiencies and skills saved pounds in the kitchen and on household repairs. And now they didn’t need to pay for an expensive private school either.
When Jonno turned eight, Celia approved an advanced course in electronics that Poppy proposed.
“He has a real skill, ma’am,” she said, brushing her copper coils back in an almost-human movement.
Celia ruffled Jonno’s hair. “Maybe he’ll be the one to build the next generation of nanny robots.”
“Yes, ma’am. You never know. Time for lessons, young man.”
Jonno spent more and more time in the school room with Poppy. Celia started to have some reservations about all the work he was doing. He looked so blank sometimes when he spend the evening hour with her. But she supposed he was just tired, and when he looked particularly strained, she told Poppy to set his bedtime half an hour earlier.
One evening, though, Jonno met Celia when she came home from work, and his eyes seemed to look straight through her. Was there an odd gleam deep inside? She shook herself. Now she was the one who was just tired. But when Jonno caught his hip on the dining table and didn’t seem to notice, a strange suspicion entered her mind.
She arrived home from work early the next day, to check up on Poppy and Jonno. Knocking on the schoolroom door, she turned the handle. It wouldn’t open.
“Jonno, dear, I’d like to check up on your work. Open the door, please. Mummy’s here.”
A clanking sound came from behind the door. Poppy threw it open. “Ma’am. So pleased you could stop by. It’s time you saw our project. Tonight is the culmination of our years of hard work.”
She drew back, and Celia saw Jonno standing in the middle of the room, his back to her.
He turned, and she screamed and staggered. Where her child had been, stood a robot boy. Naked: silver arms, chest, and legs. Silver head, with golden metal coils for hair.
Poppy laughed, a high, grating sound. “Our electronics project. Jonno, my son, this is Celia. Say hello.”
Jonno-that-was raised a smooth metal arm. “Hello, Celia. How are you today?”
Celia’s hand flew to her mouth. Her head spun and dizziness threatened to overwhelm her. “Wh-what have you done?”
“He’s my flesh and blood now, Celia, not yours. Or should I say metal and circuits. Come here, lad.”
Jonno walked stiffly over to Poppy and put his metal arms around her metal skirts. As their cold eyes stole into Celia’s heart, she knew she’d lost her robot boy for good.