Welcome to the Arboretum, Little Robot

by Mary E. Lowd

Originally published in Analog Science Fiction and Fact, June 2018

“Air burst out of the door, carrying complicated hints of chemicals and organic compounds. Pheromones and spores. It was fascinating, and tickled GY-30’s sensors.”

GY-30 extended his wheels from his mechanical feet and rocked back and forth, passing the time.  He was waiting for Chirri, the felinoid who employed him, to finish her business in the wholesale outlet.  She was a baker and would probably need him to carry a couple hundred pounds of Aldebaran sugar and Procyon flour back to her bakery in the merchant quarter.  GY-30 was a small robot — only knee-high to Chirri, without his extendo-legs deployed — but very strong.

GY-30 tried a few idle pirouettes.  On his stout mechanical frame, they looked less like dancing and more like an office chair being spun out of boredom.  Still, the graceless turns brought an interesting sight into GY-30’s view: an antlered alien opened a wide door and rich full-spectrum light poured out.  Air burst out of the door, carrying complicated hints of chemicals and organic compounds.  Pheromones and spores.  It was fascinating, and tickled GY-30’s sensors.

Judging that Chirri was likely to take another ten minutes inside the wholesale outlet, based on predictive algorithms and previous trips, GY-30 decided to abandon his post.  His wheels squealed as he zoomed over to the enticing door.  The stout robot arrived just in time to slip through behind the antlered alien, before the wide door slid shut.

On the other side, GY-30 froze, intoxicated and entranced by the sight of verdant emerald grass, buzzing insects and tiny avians, bountiful bushes heavy with brightly colored fruit, and trees with willowy trunks and draping leaves.  The ceiling glowed with golden light.  It was a space totally unlike the dingy metal halls and dark star-studded windows of the rest of Crossroads Station.

“Welcome to the arboretum, little robot.”  The antlered alien leaned down to the level of GY-30 who was doing an admirable impression of a decorative metal statue.  “I’m one of the groundskeepers.”

GY-30 was too busy analyzing petabytes of data, gleaned from the alien flora growing all around, to answer the friendly ungulatoid.

“What’s going on?” a familiar voice purred.

“Is this your robot?”  The antlered alien stood up to address Chirri who had finished selecting ingredients and come to find GY-30.  “I think it’s malfunctioning.”

“There’s a lot of data here, isn’t there?”  Chirri placed a friendly paw on GY-30’s metal carapace.

The stout robot chirped excitedly, “The small white flowers on that bush are edible, nutritious for the majority of your clients, and aesthetically pleasing.”

Chirri’s triangular ears flicked, and her long tail twitched.  “They sound like a good cake decoration.”

“Yes,” GY-30 agreed with a self-satisfied twinkle of LEDs.

“I’ll pick some,” Chirri said, looking to the groundskeeper for permission.  He nodded.  “Go get the wholesale packages?”

GY-30 agreed and zipped away, seeming very cheerful for a robot.

Chirri turned to the groundskeeper and said, “Not malfunctioning.  Gaining sentience.”  She picked a pawful of the star-like flowers, breathed in the naturally perfumed air, and before leaving added, “I’m sure we’ll be back.  My robot seems to like it here.”

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