The rosy Martian sunrise had just dusted over the white curtains on Beth’s bedroom window when her parents heard the wild thudding of eight-year-old feet charging their door like a herd of wild horses. Marlene groaned and stuck her head under the pillow as a small fist tapped earnestly on the sleek plastic of the door. “Greg, it’s five in the morning. Can’t you tell her to wait a little longer?” But her husband was already dragging himself out of bed. Marlene groaned. Beth had always been a daddy’s girl.
“Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!” came the voice from outside, and Marlene forced herself to sit up, rubbing her eyes. Gregory pressed the blue button that would unlock the door and was immediately assaulted by a small, brown-haired bundle in a white nightgown. “Daddy!” Beth cried out gleefully, launching herself at her father’s pajamaed legs. “It’s my birthday!”
“I know it is, Beth sweetie,” Gregory said, casting a helpless look at his wife. Marlene couldn’t help but smirk as she took her time getting out of bed, leaving Gregory to deal with their offspring. He leaned down and hopped the child up into his arms, and Beth squealed with delight. Gregory grinned and tickled her stomach. “Is my big girl ready for her present?”
“Present!” Beth crowed, flinging her arms around her father’s neck. “Can I have it now?”
“Ask your mother,” Gregory replied, his lips quirking with amusement.
“Can I have my present now, Mommy?” The girl turned immediately to Marlene, squirming in her father’s arms to face her mother completely. “Pleeeeease?”
“If you want it, you’d better run downstairs quick before the little green men show up and take it away!” Marlene laughed as Beth squealed and squiggled out of her father’s arms to pelt back down the hallway and thunder down to the living room. Gregory shook his head, and Marlene smirked. “Mother’s instinct,” she replied to his unspoken question, then plucked her silk robe from the closet and patted her husband’s shoulder. “You’d better go down there and give your daughter her birthday gift.”
Gregory kissed her and disappeared downstairs, and Marlene took her time finding her slippers and tying her robe. It was only when she heard a child’s shriek from downstairs that Marlene dropped her hairbrush and rushed to the sound. In the living room, Beth was clinging to her father’s shirt, face buried in Gregory’s chest, while a placid creature with large blue camera-eyes and sleek white plastic hide looked on.
“Beth, what is it?” Gregory was clearly distressed. “You kept saying you wanted a pony for your birthday! Daddy got you a pony, sweetieâ€¦ what’s the matter?”
“It’s not a pony!” the eight-year-old wailed, casting a look of mingled fear and reproach at the silent android. “It’s a robot! It’s not aâ€¦ not a real pony!”
Marlene bit her lip and knelt on the floor. “Beth, you know we can’t have a real pony on Mars. Daddy and I thought you would like this oneâ€¦”
“But Daddy’s the con-soo-late!” Beth protested, emphasizing the word she’d heard time and again to describe what, to her, was simply a Very Important Job.
“Even the consulate can’t break the law, Beth,” Gregory reminded his daughter, looking helplessly to Marlene for guidance.
“I don’t want it!” Beth cried out, shaking her head and burying it in Gregory’s shirt again.
“Look, Beth honey,” Marlene said, trying to coax her child to face her. “It’s a good ponyâ€”better than a real one. You can ride it and play with it and even polish it if you want. You get to pick the name, too.”
“No, no, no!” Beth shook her head emphatically with each negation, her little fists balled up in Gregory’s shirt for emphasis. Gregory looked at his wife, entirely at a loss. Marlene pressed her lips together.
“Beth, would you like the pony if we got him a hover attachment?”
The tears stopped. Round blue eyes peeked out at Marlene from Gregory’s shirt. “You mean… a flying pony?”
Marlene nodded solemnly. “A flying pony of your very own.”
Beth blinked at her mother, then turned to face the pony. Its luminous eyepieces gleamed back at her. Before Gregory could blink, his child’s arms were flung around the warm plastic neck as tightly as they had been around his own.
“Thank you, Daddy!” Beth smiled at her parents as brightly as if her eyes had never known tears. “He’s perfect.”