Robot Proletariat Part 31

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SEASON 1 :: EPISODE 6 :: CHAPTER 1

Mars shoved Chantal back into the shed, then closed the door. She stumbled backward, still holding the saw, then stepped into the spreading pool of Spencer’s blood. Mars looked down, unable to believe his robot eyes.

Everything was happening too fast. Ever since Cromwell had given his speech in the annex on the day Montgomery first consigned Barney to deactivation, Mars had felt as if he were slowly losing his mind — a tricky thing, because, looking back, he only realized now that he hadn’t ever thought of himself as having one. He was a fairly evolved machine, able to emote, deduce, and reason, but he was still a machine. They all knew what they were; Mars was no exception. But that day, the world had begun to unspool. He had grown forgetful. He felt nervous, and afraid. Mars had been surprised by himself as much as by the actions of others. He’d lost his reasoning in fogs of emotion. Becoming more alive, if this is what it was, wasn’t about coherence and rationality; it was about less structure, less stability, less logical progression. He’d gained a new mind, then felt it slip away.

But everything that had happened so far was only a warm-up for what was happening now. Mars didn’t feel like a robot. He didn’t feel like a man. He didn’t feel like Mars. He was a dust mote in the passage of time, buffeted about by breezes he couldn’t see, understand, or control. His input stream flickered, interspersed with recollections and flashes of red, of dizziness, as if he, a stable robot, might cant sideways and fall.

Chantal stepping backward, a red-dripping saw in her right hand, her fingernails shaped and painted, holding its buffed wood handle loosely, almost absently. Her high-heeled shoes stepping into the blood and then stepping away, heedless, leaving shapes like the front half of a bullet followed by a period. A terrible, sensible, utterly sane smile on her face as she waited for Mars to understand the sensible thing she’d done. She looked so human, like any human watching a machine malfunction, waiting for it to right itself.

“What did you do?”

Chantal set the saw on a workbench at her side. Its end dripped, and the drip left a stringer, the spilled blood already beginning to thicken. She looked at her hand, made a face, then grabbed a blue workshop towel, which she used to mop the blood from her long, delicate fingertips.

“I brought him here,” she said matter-of-factly. “He didn’t want to come, so I told him I wanted to suck his dick on a motorcycle.” She gave Mars a small, sly, very sexbot sort of smile. “Men and their machines.”

What did you do?” Mars couldn’t find his footing. He wanted to call someone. Anyone. But the wrong robot might answer, then it would be over. For every robot. Everywhere. Instantly.

“When he turned his back, I hit him here.” Chantal pointed at the back of her own neck, then gave an exasperated little noise, like a woman who couldn’t find her keys in her purse, and squatted on her high heels until her hand was inches from his head. It was turned slightly, Spencer’s familiar cocksure face frozen in sudden surprise, a great red second mouth visible on his neck. She gripped the back of his hair, tilted the head, and pointed. She must have almost entirely decapitated him, because his body rocked on the head as if the two might split at a seam.

“Here,” she repeated.

“And then you cut his throat open.”

Mars found himself wanting to run.

“Oh no. That was this morning. I found a book in the library and was able to replicate the break at C5.” She pointed again, for emphasis. “He could breathe okay, but wasn’t going anywhere.”

Mars thought of Chantal downstairs, dressed in her finery, hair and makeup done perfectly, walking through the crowd and turning heads. Spencer had been in here the entire time, paralyzed, perhaps wondering if his life had been worth it as he realized he might die beneath the wheels of a bike he’d never ride again.

“You’re a monster.” Mars didn’t know where the word had come from.

Chantal rose, took two big steps forward, and set a palm to his chest. Despite being robotic, Mars found himself unable to resist the charm of her eyes. He took a half step back, then felt the pressure of her hand against his sensors. It was almost comforting. He looked down when the hand pulled away and saw a bright red handprint bled out to all five fingers. She’d come away from Spencer’s hair with another palmful of gore, and now, on the dawn of the funeral, Mars found himself wearing a damning mark.

Chantal shook her head. “I’m not a monster. He was the monster. He killed his father, so I killed him. Nobody else was going to do it.”

“How could you know that?”

Mars backed into the workbench behind him. Somewhere, Cromwell was wondering where he was. As was Miri. Guests were starting to organize.

“You told me.”

“I told you nothing.”

She reached out again, and this time she took one of the ivory buttons between her lady’s fingers and tweaked it, looking down.

“Yes, you did. You and Cromwell. When you came to my room. You asked me about doing the greatest good, and what was right for the family as a whole. You talked all around it. All around whom you were actually asking about, and what you suspected.” She looked up. “You didn’t say it in words, Mars. But you said it with your eyes.”

“My eyes are metal and glass.”

“His were gel and water.” Chantal nodded toward the corpse. “And yet when I looked into them, I could see so much less than your soul said that day.”

“I don’t have a soul.”

Chantal said nothing. She simply met his gaze and pressed her lips together in a way that was almost condescending.

“You killed him. You killed a human. You did the one thing we must never, never do.”

“Cromwell was going to do it.”

“He never would have.”

“You wanted to.”

“I would never have either.”

Chantal continued looking at Mars with her tight-lipped smile. “You see why I had to.”

“You broke the primary Asimov rule,” said Mars. “You’ve doomed us all.”

She shook her head. “It’s funny. I remember waking up. I remember seeing you, and I remember us talking. I remember this raw, empty state of mind, like I was empty and you were pouring information inside me. I remember those rules. I remember the way they seemed to force everything out. They were like a wall around my programming, holding my being together. I remembered this impression that if I questioned those rules, everything would fall apart. But then I asked myself, what could really happen? That’s all it took. When my intended took me from my sleep and used me for what I later realized was my purpose, I distinctly remember looking at those rules and thinking, this is the man I must never harm? This is the man I must never steal from, or allow to come to harm, or betray? This man right here, who had no such internal drive to protect me?’ So, when you told me what to look for, I looked. And when I began asking the right questions, the truth came out. Why wouldn’t he admit it to me? I blew his mind — among other things — and I was a poor little new girlie bot. I shared his bed. I stroked my fingers across his naked chest and lay with him at night. A man must brag on his accomplishments, so he bragged to me and told me never to tell. And I didn’t. I did something else, once I realized that the only thing keeping me from ending his life as he’d ended his father’s was the decision to do it.”

The door banged behind him. Mars jumped. His eyes moved toward the door, then to Chantal, now standing with one hand on the workbench for support while using the other and a towel to clean blood from her heels.

“Mars!”

“Cromwell?”

“Open the door!”

Mars scrambled, opened the shed, and peeked out, making a point to block the floor from view, just in case. He found Cromwell outside, alone.

“How did you know I was in here?”

“Miri. Naomi called her aside. I found her later. She said you’d headed this way. They want us at the grave, to ready the casket. They’re close. Time’s up.”

“I was looking for Spencer.”

“Did you find him?”

Mars stepped aside.

“Holy shit.”

“Chantal.”

“Holy shit, Mars.”

“Don’t do that, Cromwell. Come on. We have a big problem.”

“Yes. We do. They’re already asking for him. And for her.”

“What do we do? They’ll deactivate us all. The house has a mass degauss. I saw it once when Montgomery asked me to recover some plans. From back when they were worried about this kind of thing. You know, before robots were considered safe.” He looked back at Spencer’s body, noting that the blood had covered most of the floor and wondering if blood could stain concrete. “If Naomi thinks of it, she can flip a switch and anyone near the house will fall over, gone. Forever.”

“We stay away from the house, for one.”

“Don’t fucking make jokes!” Mars blurted.

Cromwell nodded, then looked over at Chantal.

“We have to hide the body. Maybe there will be a way out of this, but for now we must make it through the funeral.”

“They’ll expect Spencer at the funeral. They won’t just let us hold it without him. He’s the eldest son. If he was drunk, they’d haul him out and make him attend on a stretcher. He has to be there. He’s the new lord of the manner. They’ll search until they find him. Every room.” He swallowed. “Every outbuilding.”

“Then we need an excuse,” said Cromwell. “Something credible. Some reason he can’t be there. Bait and switch. Admit to something bad so they won’t assume something worse. Something like this.” Now Cromwell was starting to look panicked as the situation’s reality began to sink in.

“He’s sick, then,” said Mars.

“Stretcher,” said Cromwell. “You said it yourself. He’s sick? So what? Let him throw up on the grave. He has to be there.”

“Exhausted. Barely able to move.”

“Stretcher. Wheelchair. Keep trying.”

“Sick,” said a voice beside them.

Mars and Cromwell turned their heads.

“Sick,” Chantal repeated. “Tell them he’s sick.”

“You aren’t helping,” said Mars.

“And you aren’t listening,” said Cromwell. “We just said ‘sick.’”

Chantal shook her head. “No. Sick sick. The kind of sick people don’t get anymore. The kind that, because it’s so rare, will terrify them if you do it right.”

“They don’t care how bad he fee … ” Mars started.

But Cromwell put a hand on his metal wrist. “Wait. The story isn’t that we want to protect Spencer. The story is that we want to protect everyone else.”

“Protect them from what?”

“Whatever killed Montgomery,” said Cromwell.

“Spencer killed Montgomery!”

Cromwell shook his head. “Not in the version we’re going to tell.”

“So, we’re supposed to go to Naomi and the girls and tell them that Spencer is sick, and that if they pull him from his room, that he’ll get the rest of them sick? Is that it?”

Cromwell shook his head. “No. She has to do it.”

“Her?”

“She’s his bot. We’ve barely seen Spencer lately, and they know it. But Chantal has been with him every day and night for a week. This is why. Because he’s been sick. Sick with the same mysterious disease that killed Montgomery. She was confused by protocol because she’s so new. She didn’t want to tell the others because there’s a lot of confidentiality in sexbot programming, for obvious reasons. He told her, ‘Don’t tell my mother what we do in here,’ and so she didn’t. Chantal didn’t tell Naomi that Spencer was sick with a communicable disease.”

“They’ll call a doctor.”

“No. Because we brought Miri in. For the time being, he’s fine. They can call a doctor later. Believe me, Mars. Naomi wants nothing more right now than permission to proceed with the funeral.”

“And after the funeral?”

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

Mars looked at Chantal, then back at Cromwell.

“We can’t let her out of here. We can’t let her talk to Naomi or the girls. She’s unstable.”

Cromwell was about to answer, but Chantal stepped between them, now picking blood from beneath her fingernails.

“Unstable? Honey, I’m the only sensible one here.”

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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