Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a safe, tidy wombat hole, with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
One morning Benson’s Uncle Elton came over to give Aunt Lillibet her knitting needles back. He had invented a new machine for sharpening knitting needles, but it wasn’t working all that well yet. The needles were only half as long as they used to be, and the ends were as blunt as a wombat’s nose.
Aunt Lillibet was not happy.
Uncle Elton said, “I’ve just about got the machine working right. I just need some more needles to practise on.”
Aunt Lillibet went into the kitchen and got a long stick of celery. “Here,” she said to Uncle Elton, “you can practise on this. When you get that nice and sharp, you can borrow another one of my knitting needles.”
Benson’s cousin Elmer was extremely proud of his father. “It’s a great invention, except for the sharpening part,” he said.
Benson said, “Why don’t you just call it a blunter instead of a sharpener? If you had any very sharp sticks, or a carrot that was too pointy, you could make them nice and blunt.”
Elmer could see his father didn’t like that idea so he changed the subject. “What’s that little, black, shiny thing you have near your front door?”
Benson didn’t know what he was talking about, so they both went to look. It was square and shiny and black all over, with little wheels underneath. While they were watching, it started to move. It moved towards Benson, then it stopped. He stepped aside and it moved on past him, very quietly and smoothly, into the room.
Uncle Elton jumped up. “Look out, everyone!” he yelled. “There’s some kind of dangerous creature!” He ran and got the broom. “Stand back!” he yelled. “I’ll get it!”
“Don’t hurt it!” Aunt Moss exclaimed. “Dear little thing – it looks like a big turtle, all shiny and black, creeping along on its little turtle feet!” She went to pick it up but Aunt Lillibet stopped her.
“Don’t touch it, Moss!” she said. “It’s not a turtle, it’s some kind of machine. It doesn’t have feet, it has wheels.”
Everyone gathered around the little shiny machine and looked. It rolled forward, then it rolled sideways and stopped.
Benson said, “It looks like it’s looking for something.”
Aunt Lillibet said, “It’s a machine. It can’t think, so how can it be looking for something?”
“Then what’s it doing?” Elmer asked.
Uncle Elton said, “It’s obviously dangerous. What if it’s a spy robot and it’s come to gather information about us?”
Aunt Lillibet said, “Information? Like what? A young wombat lives here with his mother and his two aunts? You don’t need to be a spy to find that out.”
Aunt Moss said, “It looks as though it’s lost. Maybe it’s looking for a little robot friend.”
Aunt Lillibet said, “Machines don’t have feelings, Moss. It’s just a machine that got in here by mistake. We should take it outside. Someone’s probably looking for it.”
Benson was watching the little black machine. “It’s got some little lights and a screen underneath,” he said. He lay down on the floor so he could see underneath it. “It’s flashing a light on the ground.”
“I knew it!” Uncle Elton said. “It’s a spy scanner! I’ll smash it!”
“Yeah, smash it, Dad!” Elmer said. “It probably wants to blow us all up!”
Uncle Elton lifted up the broom again. Aunt Moss shrieked, “Don’t!”
Aunt Lillibet said, “Put that down, Elton! You’ll hit Benson if you’re not careful!”
Benson was still lying on the ground next to the machine. “It’s stopped scanning,” he said. “Now it’s printing some words on its screen.”
“What does it say?” asked Elmer. “If it’s counting down to zero, that means it’s going to explode and kill everyone!”
Everyone held their breath, except Benson. He said, “It says… ‘Mite population zero’. Hunh? What does that mean?”
“It’s going to blow up!” Elmer shouted. “Get it, Dad!”
Just then Benson’s mother walked in. “What’s going on? Elton, what are you doing with that broom? Benson, what’s that machine you’re playing with?”
“It’s a bomb!” Elmer said. “We’re going to smash it!”
“I think it’s someone’s toy turtle,” Aunt Moss said. “Do you think we should put it in the bathtub?”
Aunt Lillibet said, “It’s probably someone’s vacuum-cleaner that got in here by mistake.”
“It’s a spy robot,” Uncle Elton said, “sent by a foreign government to gather highly sensitive information. Keep back!”
Benson said, “It’s got a scanner, and it’s got something to do with mites.”
“Ohh!” Benson’s mother said, taking the broom away from Uncle Elton. “I’ve heard about this. There are scientists who are checking wombat holes to see if there are any mites living there – you know, the little biting insects that can make wombats very sick. You remember how Tucker got so sick, with all those sores on his skin and all his hair falling out?”
“Is this a mite robot?” Benson asked.
“I think it might be,” his mother said.
“We’re all going to get sick!” Uncle Elton said. “I told you it was dangerous! Keep away from it, Elmer!”
“No,” Benson’s mother said, “it’s looking to see if we have any mites here, that’s all.”
“It’s working so hard,” Aunt Moss said. “Do you think it wants a drink of water?”
Benson said, “It says ‘Mite Population zero’.”
“That’s very good news,” his mother said. “That means we don’t have any mites here. We’re not going to get sick the way that Tucker did.”
The little black robot trundled towards the door and went out.
Uncle Elton said, “Come on, Elmer, let’s see where it’s going.”
“Can we get a mite detector like that for our place?” Elmer asked. “Maybe we can capture it!”
“We’ll see,” his father said. “For now we’ll just keep it under surveillance.” They went off together.
Aunt Moss said sadly, “Goodbye, little turtle robot. Thank you for not finding any mites.”