TRAINED MONKEYS • by Gustavo Bondoni

The odor on the factory floor was somehow… different. Most modern factories smelled of disinfectant or chemicals, and this one was no exception. But just beneath this was the wilder, less antiseptic scent of unwashed bodies and overripe fruit.

Dr. Ferdinand beamed at his visitors like a proud father. “As you can see, the training has produced enormously productive results. The apes on the production line work without complaint in eight-hour shifts, and, since each ape is trained to execute a precise set of movements, there is little room for error. Our quality-control analysis has shown that the rate of rejection is at considerably less than a tenth of one percent. Better than we had with our human employees, and line stoppage time is almost nonexistent.”

The Brazilian delegate spoke up. “How do you stop the line if something goes wrong? Are any of the chimps trained to recognize a problem?”

“No. The keeper has a double role. He makes certain the apes are fed, and stops the line if there is any problem. He’s the only human employee you need physically present on the manufacturing floor at any time. We believe that, if you buy the chimps and the training course from us, your production costs will drop by anywhere from thirty to fifty percent versus your current scheme with human operators.”

“But,” the Japanese delegate said, “wouldn’t it be more efficient still to replace the workers with robots?”

“Not at all. With robots, you have a much higher initial investment. Think about it: a robot that screws a cap onto a bottle is worth upwards of ten thousand dollars per position, at least. And that is a simple operation. Other robots go for tens or even hundreds of thousands. Due to the fact that we’re subsidized by various wildlife organizations, we can get you each chimp for two thousand dollars, already trained! And, of course feeding and replacing chimps is much less expensive than maintaining complicated machines.”

“Wildlife organizations?” the American industrialist asked, a puzzled expression on his face. “Why aren’t they raising hell about this?”

“Well, initially they were, but we pointed out that, in this way, chimps could be insured a high survival rate. Please remember that their habitat in Sub-Saharan Africa is being plundered for bushmeat by the warlords involved in the civil war, so the chimp has nearly disappeared in the wild. We are, at present, its best hope for continued survival. And besides, if the work is safe enough that humans do it, how can it be bad for apes?”

Silence greeted this proclamation.

Dr. Ferdinand continued with a conspiratory wink. “Besides, apes never complain, never go on strike and never, ever form unions.”

The European guests perked up enormously at this news. It was extremely interesting to observe a prominent Frenchman and an equally important German look at each other with expressions of rapt bliss as opposed to the more usual disdain.

“Never?” the Frenchman said, hope recognizable even through the accent.

“Never,” Dr. Ferdinand replied confidently.


But one delegate was less then enamored. The Indian representative, a no-nonsense woman in a severely tailored suit was checking her watch impatiently. After a while, she spoke up.

“How many bananas does a chimpanzee consume each day?” she asked.

Dr. Ferdinand chuckled. “They don’t just eat bananas. They enjoy figs and other fruit. The amount they eat varies from one individual to another, but should average out to about a kilo and a half a day.”

“A kilo and a half of fruit a day?” the Indian delegate shouted, outraged. “Have you got any idea what that costs? Our workers make less than that in a week.” Everyone knew she was exaggerating, but not much. The world’s largest democracy was a great place to put a factory. “I’m sorry. I can’t invest any more time here.” She walked briskly away.

Dr. Ferdinand looked after her wistfully. The production capacity for almost a billion people was walking out of his presentation.

But he quickly pulled himself together and, grinning, addressed the remaining industrialists. “She was always going to be a tough sell,” he said.

Then he invited them to the production line to meet the monkeys.

Whenever his time isn’t being wasted at the day job, Gustavo Bondoni  spends his time writing. You can read his stories in varied genres both online and in print. You can usually find him in airports with a bored expression on his face.

Rate this story:
 average 0 stars • 0 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Avis Hickman-Gibb

    And you didn’t waste your time here either, Gustavo! Great flash. Enjoyed it.

  • great ending. well done.

  • Question: How many humans will it take to muck out the factory?

    For certain, they will form a union, complain and strike!

    Ultimately an interesting idea, just not a story for me though.

  • GMoney

    Interesting idea, but was hoping for a more substantial ending. You seem to address most of the issues surrounding the concept, although the argument for monkeys v robots is maybe not strong enough.

  • Nicely done.

  • Gerard Demayne

    I read a story decades ago with a similar idea except the pitch was using dead people (re-animated and electrically controlled) in a factory environment and what clinched the deal was that they didn’t need toilet breaks.

    • Gustavo Bondoni

      Wow! I’d never seen that one. Do you remember the title or who wrote it?

  • Alex Vidal

    Nicely written. Enjoyed it.

  • Lyn

    Good writing – always enjoy your style. And interesting premise, for a flash piece. Hoping for more of a complete story – and the potential is there for a longer take on this theme. Still, it kept me reading! 🙂

  • Nicholas

    Enjoyed reading this one this morning, Gustavo!

    It did bring back bad memories though: having worked on such production lines, I can tell you that after a while one starts to feel like a chimp.
    And they didn’t even give us bananas. 🙁

  • Ramon Rozas

    Mr. Bondoni – enjoyable flash piece! It reminded me of an article I read several years ago (can’t seem to find it on google) about parrots that had been trained to sort different colored pills at an Australian pharma factory, replacing human workers. The RSPCA won their freedom under a “cruel and inhumane” argument!

  • I loved this! Funny and strangely believable.

  • Posner

    Very interesting premise. But I was disappointed at the lack of a consistent internal logic.

    Exhibit 1: Why are robots that screw a cap onto a bottle worth more than ten thousand dollars per position, when much more complicated tasks are done by robots (called Assembly Lines) today (and have been done by them for ages) at a much lower cost?

    Exhibit 2: If the Indian labor is so cheap, why is *anyone* even looking at these monkeys? How did the idea of training monkeys become financially viable if cheap labor is still available? It doesn’t make sense.

    Before someone says this.. I know this is only fiction.. but fiction has to have some internal logic to it. In this case, I didn’t get it.

    But the basic premise has a lot of potential.. I hope that the author would pick it up again.. and try another angle that doesn’t go into justifying the existence of the premise itself.

  • Oonah V Joslin

    I think I know that Frenchman… 🙂

  • jennifer walmsley

    Different. I enjoyed it but felt sorry for the apes.

  • I read this in a 1950’s sci-fi futuristic style. That’s where I expected it to go, there were a few moralistic elements, but maybe too many? I think I wanted the Indian to dialog a little more. Walking away (to me) was too quick and curt. Maybe that was the point? Good job though. Kept me reading! More like this please.

  • Nik

    An interesting piece of social commentary, Gustavo. Good job.

    I’m curious–what did you want us to come away from this story with?

    • Gustavo

      Actually, I wanted to make people think, which, I realize is not much of an answer… Maybe the most importannt thing is: this (or something similar) COULD happen – what will your position be if it does?

  • Monkeys are animals, and like humans, they cannot work like robots. They have their needs, and their moods, despite being trainable. Chimps are among the most intelligent and cunning creatures in the world. I was thinking that, given the fact that only one human was on the shop floor, they would easily kill him, and ruin all the machinery, and wreak havoc on the other humans who came in.

    But I liked the argument of being killed in the jungles for their meat to being protected here, at least, a sad truth.

    A sad jibe at India, as well. This story had potential to take various directions, but the one it has taken here is something of a disappointment for me.

  • Michael D. Turner

    Loved the story Gustavo. Its good flash, and I understand the need to “short hand” the robot arguement. Maintenece technicians, that was the missing word I read between the lines, unionised maintenence techs.
    How you managed to skewer european socialism, Capitalist exploitation of international labor markets, technological displacement of traditional labor patterns and animal rights activism in such a short piece leaves me marvelling at your talent, as usual.

  • Pingback: March’s Table of Contents | Every Day Fiction()

  • Hmmm.

  • Hmmm.