Herman takes his place

“Oh, isn’t he cute?” one of the flesh-things said as it walked by, turning to look directly at Herman.

“It must be a new model,” another flesh-thing beside it said. “It’s nearly life-size. Don’t you love the cooking-pot head? And the scrub-brush mullet?”

“It looks very professional. It will make some child very happy come Christmas,” the first said.

Herman waited patiently, his cooking-pot head cocked slightly to the side, scrub-brush bristles sensing alertly. He assessed the last of the two beings who had passed and were making their way down the long assembly lines. Female, if his databank informed him correctly. Elf. 92 centimetres high. Red cheeks. Green pinafore. Red apron. Red and green striped stockings. Nametag reading: Nancy.

The Nancy elf flesh-thing stepped up at a place in the assembly line where several dolls without arms (hmmmm…humanoid, big boobs, little middle, plastic yellow hair) waited in front of her. Nancy smiled and waved at several of her workmates.

Herman continued to watch. He’d been told to wait here until called, and waiting was one of the many things he was good at.

He was also good at doing stuff. He made a little mental list, which glowed on the round screen on his forehead, if anyone had been watching.

 Things I can do:

  1. Put arms on dolls
  2. Paint soldiers
  3. Brush snow off reindeer
  4. Plot orbits of planets
  5. Make lunch for Santa
 Things I can’t do yet:

  1. Talk out loud
  2. Think of jokes
  3. Ice skate
  4. Play banjo
  5. Think philosophically

He could have put several thousand more things on each list but he was happy with five for now. Besides, he was busy watching.

He was especially good at watching, actually.

He watched Nancy laughing with the elf (male, 98 centimetres, green and red stockings, leather apron…) next to her on the assembly line, fluttering her eyelashes up and down at him. She threw a candycane at someone on the other side of the room. She picked up one of the dolls and jammed an arm in (Pop!), then reached over and wiggled her fingers in the armpit of the laughing elf beside her.

She was fun to watch.

Suddenly someone came out of one of the elf-boxes along the wall, walked up behind her and tapped her on the shoulder. She jumped a little, then slowly followed him back inside. He shut the door firmly. No smiling, no laughing.

That’s exactly when Herman got a message. His antenna quivered as the call came through. Across his forehead screen flashed the instruction he was receiving: Go to empty place in assembly line. Put arms on dolls.

Herman briskly activated his feet-walkers and moved to the place recently vacated by Nancy. He pincered up one of the armless dolls, boobs side up, and pushed in two arms, one after the other.

Pop! Pop!

He passed the doll to the elf beside him (male, 98 centimetres, red and green stockings, leather apron, mouth wide open) and picked up another doll.

That’s when he noticed the sudden quiet in the room.

This time the Pop! Pop! sounded very loud.

His scrub-brush bristles quivered as he registered all eyes on him. 116 eyes divided by 2 = 58 elves. No smiling, no laughing.

POP! POP!

The quiet didn’t last long. Within nano-seconds his sensors were besieged by a cacophony of voices.

“What the hell?”

“What do you mean, Nancy’s been fired?”

“Replaced by a frippin’ robot? You’ve got to be kidding!”

Finally Herman’s sensors overloaded and he could no longer process all the input. “… nobody like Nan…” “…all be replaced soon…” “…sick of being treated like…” “what’s the world come…”  “…if you can’t trust Santa…” “….going to San Francisco, where they know how to treat a …”

In addition to the vocal chaos, there was visual hullabaloo as well. Fists punched the air; arms waved. Somebody’s red, white and green scarf got caught in Herman’s sensor bristles, making everything that much harder to sort out.

But an idea nonetheless managed to wedge its way into his processor.

He picked up a candycane in his tosser-pincer and threw it across the room to a large elf who was shrieking very loudly. Then Herman climbed up onto the table and at top volume played his favourite song: When the Saints Go Marching In. He did a little jig with his feet-dancers.

And then he climbed back down and placed two arms into a doll.

Pop. Pop.

The hubbub diminished.

All the elves looked at one another and then slowly began picking up their toys and tools.

Pop. Pop.

Herman’s eyes fogged over slightly from relief.

Pop. Pop.

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