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Zone #120: Tanja and the Wonderful Machine (P Scannell)
(original, computer, chuckle)

              Adventures in the Forbidden Zone #120

Copyright (c) 1991 Patrick D. Scannell
All rights deserved.
Used by permutation.

                 Tanja and the Wonderful Machine
                       (A Grim Fairy Tale)

Once upon a time there was a little girl named Tanja (named after
Tanj, the Teutonic God of Injustice) who lived in Bavaria or
Lower Saxony (not affiliated with Saxony Fifth Avenue) or one of
those places that became part of Germany once countries were
invented.  Her father worked in the semiconductor mines, and so
although they were poor they were able to live in a five-room
split-level hovel in the middle of the Plaid Forest.  Tanja had
her own room, and although it only had two walls and no roof it's
the principle of the thing that counts.

It would make a better story, of course, if she had had a wicked
stepmother, but since her real mother was still alive we shall
simply have to make do.  The family owned a stepladder which may
or may not have been wicked, but it's really not quite the same

The most important thing was that Tanja owned a wonderful machine
which would do anything she told it to do.  People would come
from miles (this was before the metric system) around and pay 5
kroners apiece to see it, which was a lot of money to an eight
year old girl in those days, and even if it was foreign currency
it was hard currency.  As her father always said, "Hard currency
for hard times."  Or maybe that was Herbert Hoover.

Now, you may ask, how did Tanja ever come by this wonderful
machine?  Did she exchange a cow and some magic beans for it?
Did she give a bowl of gruel to a king travelling incognito to
get it?  Did she win it in a raffle?  No, no, nothing as exciting
as that.  She had a fairy godmother, that's all, although one of
the nicer ones.  Many of these fairy folk will just string you
along, conning you into leaving out bowls of milk and saving them
from wolves and so on, in hopes of that big break (which never
comes) where you get to go to the ball in a pumpkin coach and
marry the prince.  But this fairy godmother was the real stuff,
and at Tanja's christening gave her a gift, a wonderful machine
which would do whatever Tanja told it to do.

But there was a problem, or as we say in storyland a "plot
development."  Frau Folger, a local widow who sold crystals,
rabbits' feet and other good luck charms and who was also the
only person in the village who could write (but not read), had
been asked by Tanja's parents to write out and mail the
invitations to the christening.  She had forgotten one very
important guest, Tanja's fairy godfather, Don Puck.  (Side note:
Frau Folger was eventually hanged as a thief after an alleged
"experiment" in which the Baroness' jewelry was replaced with
Folger's crystals.)

The Don came anyway, uninvited.  (This was centuries before Emily
Post, let alone the ISO standards for politeness, so there was
nothing anyone could do about it.  "It was very rude of you to
show up uninvited."  "Says who?")  And he said, "What am I to
think of this?  You, for whom I have done so much," (the fairies
usually talk this way, but they're vague about the details of how
they've helped you out) "show me disrespect.  You do not even
invite me to the christening of my own goddaughter's christening.
Very well.  I will give you a gift you cannot refuse.  This
wonderful machine, it will do anything she tells it to do?  Very
well, it will do exactly what she tells it to do, no more no
less."  (Perhaps he would have relented in this, after a while,
but soon after he was gunned down by a gang of wood gnomes led by
the notorious "Dutch" Elm.)

And so it was.  Once, when she asked the wonderful machine to get
her something to drink, it disappeared for twenty minutes and
returned with a glass of brown liquid which bit her tongue and
tasted like dishwater, and was followed by an angry tavern-keeper
who demanded the price of a cup of brandy.  So she told the
wonderful machine, "Next time I ask you for something to drink,
get me a cup of water from the well bucket."

"Macro saved," it said, for it spoke in a strange dialect which
had neither articles nor auxiliary verbs.

But Tanja liked the wonderful machine.  When she was small she
would tell her to take apart her toys, which saved her the
trouble of doing it herself.  Even more interesting, she could
tell it to put them together again, and they would often turn out
very different than the original.  She eventually discovered that
she could also tell it to "put it back together the way it was
before you took it apart the first time," and it would.

Once when she asked for something to eat the wonderful machine
brought her a bale of hay.  "No, when I say something to eat I
mean something humans eat."

"Macro saved," it said.  But when she wanted something to feed to
the neighbor's cow, the wonderful machine replied, "No match on
set: 'Get something humans eat for the cow,'" and in the end she
had to fetch a handful of hay herself.  (The next time she simply
said, "Fetch me a handful of hay," and it did.)

One day when she was having a particularly hard time specifying
unambiguously what she wanted it to do, she became angry at it
and shouted, "Oh, screw off, you!"  She was only just in time to
stop it from disassembling itself with a screwdriver.  The
screwdriver itself became an object of local curiosity, since no
one in the realm had ever seen one before, and no one ever knew
how the wonderful machine came by it.  (One theory was that it
was the legendary Screwdriver of the Nibelung, stolen from the
Rhine maidens.)

Then one day the dread pirate Ivan "the Terrestrial" Boesky came
(which was odd in itself as they lived hundreds of miles from the
nearest ocean, but maybe he was a different sort of pirate) and
kidnapped Tanja and her family, and they were never heard from
again.  She tried to call out to the wonderful machine to save
her, but one of the pirates clapped his hand (with a distinct
sound of one hand clapping, which it is unnecessary to describe)
over her mouth, and she could only say, "Mmmumphumphumph," or
words to that effect.  To which the wonderful machine replied,
"Invalid argument: mmmumphumphumph."

And so the wonderful machine lived happily ever after.

                             THE END

(From the "Rest" of RHF)

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