by Malcolm Devlin

Dear Santa,

For Christmas this year, please may I have a robot dog?

When I was little, I used to watch a TV show with my dad and it was about this kid who lived on a spaceship and his best friend was a robot dog and they loved each other very much and got up to all sorts of adventures.

I don’t remember it really well, but I do remember it didn’t look like a real dog -- it looked more like a broken rocking horse with cup holders for ears. And it didn’t ever bark, it just beeped and whistled, because that’s the sort of thing robots said in TV programs back then.

But everyone called it a dog. And everyone treated it like a dog. So it was sort of a dog.

Mummy says I can’t have a real dog, even though I asked her nicely. She says a real dog would be hard to care for. And she doesn’t know where we’d get one from anyway.

Mr Brisker says a real dog would be a bad idea because it would pee all over the electronics in the control room and that would be awful because it might make the ship crash or worse -- it might make everything go FIZZ! and WHIR! and then we’d swerve off course completely and end up right in the middle of the sun where we’d all burn up until there’d be nothing left of us at all.

Judy says a dog would just smell really bad. I don't think that's worse than veering off and ending up in the sun, but then Judy doesn’t seem to care about that anymore.

Judy spends a lot of time crying.

I don’t know what she wants for Christmas but it would be nice if you could bring her something to stop her crying. She’s often saying she wishes that Teddy were here, so I think she must miss her teddy even though she’s much older than me and I don’t miss my teddy at all because teddies are for babies and I'm not a baby.

Maybe you could get her a robot dog too? Then they could play together. Judy and her dog. Not my dog and her dog. I mean, I suppose they could be friends and wag their tails at each other. Judy’s dog and my dog. Not my dog and Judy. (That would be weird.) Point is, I want to play with my dog. That's why I'm asking for one. Please.

Mummy used to feel sorry for Judy. She’d hug her and tell her everything was going to be fine. But now even she seems a bit sick of her if I’m being really honest.

Mummy would like some books, please. She’s read all the ones she brought with her. She’s read the lawyer one with the cross on the front and she’s read the one about the woman who goes back in time to meet people in kilts.

It’s going to take us a really long time to get to our new home, so I don’t know why she only packed two books for her and three for me. I read all of mine ages ago. One’s a book about robots that dad gave me and the other two are library books. Mr Brisker says we can post them back when we land at the spaceport. I do hope we don’t get into trouble for sending them back late.

I’ve read them over and over. So many times. I hope they won’t mind that I’d prefer a robot dog to reading them again.

That’s the thing with dogs; you can make your own stories with them. Because having someone to play with is like having someone to tell stories with and having a dog would be like having a billion trillion stories. And being a robot dog would mean that none of the stories would be about cleaning up all the piss and the poop that real dogs would leave behind.

Also, robot dogs don’t get space-sick.

Mr Brisker gets space-sick sometimes.

I think that’s strange because Mr Brisker is a Galactic Navigator First Class, so I’d have thought he’d be used to travelling in space by now. He says he's done this trip thousands of times but he looks a bit thin these days. He looks a bit greyer than he used to be. Not his hair so much as his face and his hands. But he’s still really nice. He’s my favourite person on the whole ship, except for Mummy when she's being kind.

Mr Brisker is the one who tells me all the stories about what it’ll be like when we get to the colony planet. He says we’ll all live in this really big city they’ve built under a really big glass dome, and there’ll be houses all over it. Streets that go up and down and not just forward and back. And he says we'll be able to play low-gravity football in the local league, although I haven’t told him that I’m not very good at normal football yet because I’m a bit scared he won’t talk to me so much if he doesn’t think I’m good at sports.

I think Mr Brisker would like a real football for Christmas. Sometimes he just kicks a tin can about because I think it’s all he brought with him. He can dribble it all the way from one end of Long Hallway to the other and it echoes and pings off the pipes and when he kicks it against the door at the far end, the whole place rings and he shouts GOAL! and makes crowd sounds with his teeth. He sounds really really happy.

He doesn’t do that so much these days because he’s got a bit more space sick since then. He spends a lot of time on his mattress in the far corner of Main Room. Or maybe it’s because Mummy took away the tin can because she thought it was annoying and she said so.

There are thousands of other people on the spaceship but everyone else is asleep. I don’t think they need presents because it probably won’t be Christmas when they wake up. They’re all tucked up in stay-sis units in the hold. I asked mummy why we weren’t in stay-sis units. I told her that on the TV show I used to watch, it took ages and ages and ages to fly from one planet to another, so we might all be really old by the time we get to the colony planet and then Mr Brisker wouldn't be able to play low-gravity football at all because he’d be walking with a stick by then.

Mummy said that wasn’t important right now and that I should just be quiet and not talk about such silly things.

Mr Brisker said it was because they needed some people to stay awake to keep an eye on things. And make sure we were all going in the right direction so we absolutely didn’t veer off and end up in the sun or anything. I said I thought computers could do that and Mr Brisker said that they could but not everyone trusted computers after that one in 2001 went nuts and killed everyone.

2001 was way before I was born, so I can’t imagine that sort of thing would happen again. I asked why they needed me to stay awake and do that. And not someone who knew how to fly a ship. Mr Brisker said he needed someone to learn the ropes for when he retired, and I said BUT I’M ONLY SEVEN and he said yeah, but good to start early, right, sport. And I said, yes.

I suppose I do have one question. And that’s how you’ll actually get into the spaceship at all? I mean OBVIOUSLY we don’t have a chimney here, and we’re not on Earth anymore. We all sleep on mattresses so I don't know if I have anywhere I can hang a stocking.

Can your sleigh travel through space? Given all those people on colony planet already, I guess it’ll have to. Unless moving to a colony planet is something you think is naughty. I really hope you don’t think that.

Do your reindeer have space suits like Mr Brisker’s? They probably look a bit better than Mr Brisker’s space suit, and they’re probably reindeer-shaped instead of person-shaped. Mr Brisker only wears his suit when he goes out through the Big Door to do his checks but I think it's kind of tatty and old and doesn’t look anything like the space suits from the TV show I used to watch. It’s much thinner. Almost like it’s made out of paper, and the helmet is just like a big funny hood with a big window in it. It’s also mostly stuck together with parcel tape and I’m not sure how safe that is.

Mummy says that if he had taken better care of it, Mr Brisker probably wouldn’t be getting so sick right now. Sometimes I think Mummy can be awfully unkind about people. I don’t think it's Mr Brisker’s fault he has such an old space suit.

He says it came with the ship. He slaps the wall with his hand when he talks about the ship. "Bang bang," he says.

Mummy always seems to get angry with Mr Brisker when he talks to me about the spaceship or about the colony planet or about what we need to do to stop us from going FIZZ! and WHIR! and veering off into the sun.

Mr Brisker says that would be really really bad and even Judy agrees with him.

“Like being hit by a bomb,” she says and everyone says SHUT UP JUDY and she starts crying again.

Sometimes, when Mr Brisker’s been telling me things, Mummy takes him to Long Hallway and I can hear them shout-fighting like mummy used to do with dad before he went off into space. Sometimes Mummy just takes him into the cupboard in Long Hallway and they don’t seem to be talking at all.

Judy never goes into the cupboard. She just talks about her Teddy all the time. It’s like she really doesn’t remember anything else to talk about.

Space travel does that, Mr Brisker says.

Like me, for instance. I wish I could remember going into space. It was something I always wanted to do when I was really little. I would have given anything to go up in a space rocket. And I DID. But I don’t remember any of it, because Mr Brisker says we started off in stay-sis like everyone else and sometimes that does funny things to your memory.

Most people lose a good few months, he says.

So I don't remember the space centre. I don't remember the stay-sis pod. The last thing I do remember, is Mummy waking me up in my bed at home and putting me into the car. Then she was driving through the night in the cold and everyone else was driving through the night too. That might have been a dream, because it all sounds a bit upside down.

And there were lights and car horns. And there was some bit where Mummy was shouting. She usually says things like “Cheeky” and “Ooh, you naughty monkey” to other cars, but in my dream she was really going at it with them. She was using all the words from the list of things I’m not ever supposed to say. I think we went to someone’s house after that. Not our house. Not dad’s house. Only it wasn’t a real house. It was all downstairs. Which I suppose was a bit odd but I was sleepy at the time. Or dreaming. Or something. And then we must have gone into space but I don’t remember any of that bit.

I wish I did. I’d have looked out the window to see what the world looked like falling away from us. It must have been a really nice view, even if the G-force would have made my face go all ARRGGHHH and EWWWWW and AIEEE.

If I had a robot dog, I’d take him for walks around the spaceship. We could play catch with the lawyer book with the cross on the cover because I don’t think Mummy is going to read that one again. And I could teach him how to sit up and roll over and play dead.

I wonder if kids on spaceships play at being on spaceships or if they have to pretend to be doing something else? Either way, we’d play games in Long Hallway and all the corridors I’m allowed to go into. Go on adventures. That sort of thing.

We call it Long Hallway, but it’s not that long. And none of the corridors really look like the spaceship corridors from the TV show I used to watch. They look like they’re made out of painted bricks, like the hallways in the school I used to go to. And the toilet is tiny. And the shower is horrible. And it’s all smelly because the water doesn’t always work and tastes a bit funny. Mr Brisker says that technology has come an awful long way since they made the TV show I used to watch and now they can make spaceships that look like basements. Although he didn’t say why anyone would want to do that.

It was Mummy’s idea for me to write to you.

She told me to tell you about everything I’m doing and what I’d like for Christmas, even though it seems an awful long way off because I think it’s only March or something. When Judy found out Mummy said I should write a letter to you, she said she thought it was cruel and caused all kinds of fuss.

She says you don’t exist and Mummy was just getting my hopes up. And I went SHUT UP JUDY. Mummy’s not THAT unkind. In fact she REALLY LOVES me and DOESN’T KNOW WHAT SHE’D DO WITHOUT ME.

She tells me that every night. No matter what she said during the day.

Anyway, now Judy’s crying again but I don’t think it’s my fault.

I asked Mr Brisker if you existed and he said ‘Sure, kid. Whatever’. So I guess you must do because Mr Brisker is a Galactic Navigator First Class and I think they have to be honest about things.

I don’t think adults tell fibs like children do. They spend so long getting us not to lie, it must be something you just grow out of once you get to their age. It’s like table manners. Or remembering to clean your teeth. Or eating broccoli. And anyway, Mummy says that people who do tell lies would end up on your naughty list. And I don’t think anyone would want that. I don’t think anyone would want that at all.

Yours sincerely,


PS. If you see my dad, don’t get him socks. He always looks sad when he gets socks for Christmas. Ties as well. Can you tell him I said Happy Christmas? If you see him. No worries if you don’t.

PPS. I can name the dog after you if you’d like.

"Nautilus" © Malcolm Devlin, 2018. First published by Far Horizons in 2018.
Happy Christmas / Holidays / Colony Planet Equinox etc.