Robot Proletariat Part 27

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SEASON 1 :: EPISODE 5 :: CHAPTER 3

Mars handled the funeral arrangements. He kept checking in with Naomi on details, but she kept waving him away, telling the robot to “just handle it” then swooning as if she might faint. Naomi spent most of her days in bed, asking for food to be brought to her. The death seemed to have taken her entirely by surprise, despite being weeks in the making.

Because Montgomery had left a complete will but no specific instructions for his funeral, Mars had to stumble through the process. It was important to make the event duly respectful and a fitting tribute to the patriarch, but also essential to obey all of the correct social rules and expectations. The guest list (over which Mars had complete domain, hence the idea to pair Sephora with a possible fitting robot from the Fairchild household) was one such mine field. Because Naomi wouldn’t help with the list, Mars had to handle it himself. He was supposed to be an emotionless robot, but was simultaneously expected to know which families and individuals to invite.

Cromwell, with his vast understanding of humanity, helped. Mars had to invite some people because they were Montgomery’s favorites and would want to pay their respects, and others because Montgomery hated them and needed one final chance to rub their faces in his family’s wealth. There were enemies to invite and enemies to keep away. He had to figure out which families should attend because they controlled power and connections that the Lexingtons wanted or wished to develop, and which families were poor and needed a demonstration of their superiority. There were other less-desirable families — more or less indistinguishable to Mars from the first group of less-desirables — whom he wasn’t supposed to invite. “Oh, not them,” Cromwell would say. “They have X minor offense that no one understands or cares about.” Sometimes, he said it ironically, and sometimes seriously. Mars could never tell.

He could invite humans, but not robots. Mars had no idea whom the Donnellys would bring, if anyone, or if Sephora could manage to pull off her promised magic. As days passed, he increasingly wondered if she could. Chantal could almost (almost) pass for human, but Sephora, while beautiful by human standards, could not. Everyone would know she was a sexbot. What would that mean, socially speaking? Would the Lexingtons take it as an insult? Would other families be shocked? Or would it be accepted, like how the Lexingtons were able to give a glorified masturbation toy to their high-society friends with a straight face?

Cromwell told Mars not to worry. Things would either work out, or they wouldn’t. In a way, this funeral was a blessing. If Sephora had met with a Fairchild robot in the Donnelly household, she would have had to make the connection — and, ideally, the swap — on her own. She was too young to handle something so delicate without raising alarms. But because the funeral would be held at Lexington Manor, the appropriate robots would be able to come and go. Mars and Cromwell were two such robots.

From time to time, one of the family members — usually Naomi or Alexa — would complain that funeral preparations were taking too long with half-hearted protests. They seemed to see the funeral as a necessary evil. They’d have to stand around a polished wood coffin and cry. They’d have to say goodbye. Somewhere deep down, they might have to admit that they’d known Montgomery was dying, and consequently face the notion that maybe they could or should have done something. They loudly protested, then let it go. Mars, who would have moved faster if the humans were willing to help, soldiered forward.

On the day of the funeral, Cromwell bulldozed into the annex, past Mars on his way to Miri, where she was recharging between shifts.

“Miri!” If he were human, he would have been frazzled and out of breath.

“Cromwell,” she answered.

“The formal dining room. Did you clean it?”

“No.”

“What did you do with the bowl? The little crystal bowl?”

“I kept it as a hat.”

Cromwell waited. Mars watched, still imagining the robot as a human.

“I put the crystal bowl in the china cabinet.”

“Full?”

“Yes.”

Mars stepped between them.

“She put it back empty and washed, of course. I cleared the room myself.”

“When?” said Cromwell.

“Tuesday.”

“Shit.”

“What?”

“And you threw the trail mix into the trash?”

“Yes.”

“And it went out for the truck. For the garbage men?”

“No. I thought I should save that one bag of garbage. For the memories.”

“I should be pleased by your sarcasm. But I can’t manage it.”

“So, you did have memories in that garbage bag.”

Cromwell sat and looked up at Mars. “Evidence.”

“Evidence?”

“The M&M’s. The trail mix. Put it together, Mars.”

“Spencer poisoned the trail mix.”

“He had to. Everyone knew that Montgomery — and only Montgomery — ate from that bowl. He thought no one knew, but of course we all did. Bits of food were always on the floor, and someone had to keep refilling the bowls. Even Naomi knew, though she let it go.”

“We should tell her,” said Mars.

“Tell her what? That her son is a murderer? We have no proof; I told you Chantal wouldn’t get what we needed.”

Mars nodded. That had been a dead end. She had done exactly nothing that Mars or Cromwell could see. Chantal was what Sephora once was: Spencer’s devoted, doe-eyed companion. He was making the most of her, always up in her room, making the chandelier in the room below shake above the mixed nuts and candy he had seemingly used to kill his father. Sophia spent much of her time crying, alone in her room, listening to music, or watching TV. Alexa frittered away hours outside the house with her snooty friends. Naomi did an excellent impersonation of her husband’s final few days. But Spencer fucked the days away, raised the roof, strutted around in too much finery, and smoked copious amounts of ganja. The ventilation system kept the scent from leaving Chantal’s room, but Miri had cleaned her space and said it always smelled musty, yet strangely pleasant.

“Maybe we should talk to her again.”

“She’s inside the box,” said Cromwell, repeating his earlier metaphor. “Almost literally.”

“She seemed understanding.”

“She’s 2 weeks old. Forget it.” Cromwell looked around the room, as if searching for more bowls of poisoned candies, then finally growled, “Dammit.”

“There’s nothing to be done,” said Mars.

“Damned right. And you know what? I’m almost afraid to rock the boat with Chantal. She has him hypnotized. The minute he gets his head out of his ass, he’s cleaning house. He’s too blissed out — you know, as preparations for his father’s funeral roll along — to really get that he’s now head of the household and can do whatever he wants. What’s the first thing he’s going to do once he settles back down? Why, he’ll get the manor a fitting staff. We’re all dead.”

“We still have the chance with Barney. With the Fairchilds.”

Cromwell shook his head. “Slim chance.”

“I’ve heard of pessimism. Is this what it looks like?”

Cromwell looked up.

“Or is this ‘being a douche bag’?”

Cromwell snickered, then hung his head.

Mars looked at Miri, then went on anyway. She was in too deep. If Mars and Cromwell didn’t trust her by now, they never could.

“You wanted to kill him. It was your idea.”

Miri looked over.

“I don’t know, Mars. I don’t know what it would do at this point, other than make things worse.”

“What’s changed?”

“He won. He’s the head of the household. It won’t look like retribution. It’ll look … bad.”

“Bad.”

“You know how it is here. The head of the household? The benefactor, who supports us all? He’s not just a kid anymore. He’s the lord.”

“I’m not calling him ‘lord’.” said Mars.

“And you’re not killing him either.”

Miri still hadn’t spoken. She looked shocked in her silence.

“Why not?”

“For the reasons I said.”

“I’m sorry, I understand.”

“Good.”

“This isn’t pessimism. It’s definitely you being a douche bag.”

Cromwell flinched.

“You started this when Barney was in trouble. Now, we have a chance to move him to the Fairchilds. If that happens, we must keep moving forward, whatever that means. Spencer hasn’t just threatened us, or just been a brat operating within his technical rights to dispose of his family’s property as he sees fit. He’s murdered his father.”

“We have no evidence,” said Cromwell.

“You want to kill him?” Miri’s hand was over her mouth.

“We don’t need evidence. We know.”

“We don’t know. Not like the police would need to know. We’d be deactivated immediately.”

“We’re going to be deactivated anyway. You said so yourself. Remember Harbinger? Robots are not alive, so we cannot die. Tell me, Cromwell, what do we have to lose?”

“Mars … ”

“What, Cromwell?”

He saw it: For weeks, Mars had been feeling himself spiral out of control as emotions poured in and he got better at dealing with uncertainty, reading people and robots alike, seeing invisible hands moving behind every new scene. He’d learned to see hidden motivations, draw conclusions, and think outside the box that Chantal was so newly out of. Maybe Barney’s attempted murder was a catalyst, or it might have been whatever Spencer had done to Chantal (Rape? Slavery? Perversions?). It could have been her bland, barely-there reaction. Certainly, Montgomery’s death — and his own growing certainty that Spencer was to blame had something to do with it. Whatever the reason, Mars found that he could now see through Cromwell’s blustering.

You need evidence,” he said.

Cromwell looked up.

“This was your idea, but now you’re having doubts. Now that it’s come down to it, after everything you said, you don’t have the guts.”

“I’m a robot. It’s not about guts or gears or balls. It’s about what’s right.”

“What is right, Cromwell?”

“I think everything that’s happened over the past month has twisted a knife in us all. Even Harbinger, Bolt, and Andromedus are starting to show small signs of more vulnerability. I’ve seen enormous changes in you. But I’ve seen them in me, too. And while at the start, it seemed entirely right to kill Spencer — make him a sacrifice to the cause, and show robots that we didn’t have to be slaves — I now find myself conflicted.”

“For Spencer Lexington. Who has done all he’s done. Who killed his father.”

“If I could just be sure … ”

“I’m sure.”

“You’re sure? But how can you be, Mars?”

“Look at him! No sadness. No grief. No empathy with the others. He hasn’t asked about the service. He wasn’t there when they took Montgomery away. He hasn’t come to dinners. He’s upstairs with Chantal, likely thinking about how he won it all.”

“Maybe that’s how he copes.”

Mars pushed Cromwell, a sudden flash of shocking anger. It came from nowhere, and as soon as it had — just as soon as Cromwell’s chair rocked back, smacked the wall, and rebounded — it was gone.

“Do you feel better? Because I have to say … I’ve seen many things when researching the humans, robot fights are among them. But it was all non-sentient machines or science fiction. Games. Like Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots. I’ve never seen it for real. Until now.”

“I’m … ” Mars began.

Cromwell stood. “We can’t kill him. Not without evidence. Not without poison or a confession, something. We don’t really know. We only suspect. But if we break our biggest law without any real, demonstrable reason, how are we any better than them? I wanted us to rise up, but don’t know that I want us to rise up quite like that.”

“He’s going to get away with it,” said Mars.

Cromwell seemed annoyed, disgusted, or both. Mars stood blubbering before him, unsure of what had just happened. Cromwell walked past him. Before walking out the door, he turned.

“Sephora is coming over this afternoon, with the Donnelly family. She’ll have Barney, assuming she managed what I think she should have been able to. The Fairchilds will be here as well, and if they are, there’s still a chance to do this the right way.”

“What is the right way?”

Miri asked Mars’ question for him.

“I guess we’ll find out,” Cromwell said, then walked out the door.

TO BE CONTINUED NEXT WEEK!

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About Sean Platt

Sean Platt is an author entrepreneur, founder of Sterling & Stone, and co-founder of the Collective Inkwell and Realm & Sands imprints. Follow him on Twitter, Google+, or Facebook.

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