Robot Proletariat Part 32

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Miri was afraid.

This time, she felt sure of her feelings. She’d felt uncertain plenty, and she’d felt a sensation she called “nervous,” along with several other things that were “uncomfortable” or “uneasy.” During the past few months, she’d felt those things more and more. But now, Miri was sure she was afraid. Everything she’d felt before paled by comparison.

When Mars and Cromwell had come upstairs with Chantal between them, Miri took one look at Mars, and something dropped from her middle. She’d stared for so long at his chest that at first it seemed that her internal glitch had crashed her system. Cromwell looked at Mars and saw his white shirt, visible beneath his flapping black coat, with the small feminine handprint on it in red, and known what Miri was staring at.

“Is that … ”

“Spencer,” said Cromwell.

“Is it … ”

“Yes, yes, it’s blood,” he said in a brisk, let’s-get-down-to-business air. He reached over and buttoned Mars’ jacket all the way — too many buttons up and outside of dress code, but better than being caught red-handed — literally, in this case. “He’s dead. Chantal slit his throat. In the shed. With a limb saw. There’s no time to explain. We need your help. You’re in this too deep already, unfortunately, and so are we. This affects us all. We need your help, Miri. Quickly.”

Alexa shouted from downstairs, calling for Mars, saying he needed to get his metal ass downstairs to prepare the grave site or get crushed without deactivation.

“Miri,” Cromwell repeated. “Come on. Are you in? Will you help us?”

“Of course not.”

“MARS!” Alexa bellowed.

He walked to the top of the steps, looking down at his shirt, trying to make sure no blood was showing, and yelled back to Alexa. Mars said he was arranging something vital and would be downstairs shortly, though he didn’t elaborate on what that vital thing was. They all heard her huff, then storm off from the foot of the stairs.

“We need you to go with Chantal,” Cromwell continued. “Together, you must convince Naomi that Spencer is sick. But not just sick; he has something communicable and cannot attend the ceremony. Something deadly, if left untreated. Tell her it can be treated, after Montgomery is laid to rest, and that there’s nothing that can be done now anyway. Tell her you’ve already called doctors. Tell her whatever you can that will get her to go on with the funeral and leave him here, in his room.” Then, in case there was any doubt about the mission, he stared directly at Miri. “Lie your ass off. Whatever gets her to the service without him.”

Mars shook his head. “They’ll come for him once the funeral is over.”

“Maybe by then he’ll be dead,” said Cromwell, his motions stuttery and nervous. “Understandably. From his terrible disease. He took a turn for the worse.”

“With his throat cut open and spine severed?”

“Goddammit Mars, I’m doing my best!” 

Mars held up his hands. “Okay. Okay. Maybe we can say he ran off. We can get rid of the body, and he’s never seen again.”

“He ran off sick?” said Miri. “With a contagious disease?”

“It doesn’t matter. We don’t have to worry about that part. Let them look. We just have to make sure there’s nothing for them to find. They can decide he ran off, or that he fell into a ditch and died. Maybe he was abducted. They’ll believe anything but the truth.”

Chantal laughed.

“You think this is funny?”

“Funny? No. But it is ironic. The family wouldn’t believe the truth about Montgomery, and now they won’t believe it about his killer.”

Cromwell shook his head. Miri knew what he was thinking: How did Chantal have a sense of irony? But the question was moot. She had a sense of murder, and that was more pressing.

“It doesn’t matter. They won’t think we could have been involved.” Cromwell raised his hand and began ticking off the many things robots weren’t supposed to be able to do. “We can’t harm humans; we can’t allow them to be harmed; we can’t steal or allow items to be stolen; we can’t lie … ”

“They won’t believe it,” said Mars. “They’re not that foolish. They’ll know something is wrong. We said he was sick. Now he’s not, and vanished. You really think they’ll just throw up their hands, let us carry on, and get along with our day-to-day?”

“Maybe they’d believe he was lying,” said Chantal. In a split second, her face crumbled into playacted sadness. “He lied to me because he wanted to run off without me!” She fake-cried, then smiled her coy little smile.

Mars was still shaking his head. “But Miri will have verified that he’s sick because that’s the only way Naomi won’t come up here to … ”

“Goddammit, we just have to get through this funeral!” Cromwell blurted, seemingly ready to break. Then, regaining control, slightly quieter: “Look. All we can do is to handle one minute — one second — at a time. Right now, we must get the funeral going without Spencer, and need a reason he can’t attend. Maybe this solution isn’t ideal, but it’s the only way. We might be screwed an hour from now, but all I can think of is how to keep us from being screwed right here and now. It doesn’t matter that Chantal did this. If they discover what’s happened, they won’t just get rid of her and let the rest of us keep serving and making beds. I proposed killing him weeks ago. Mars picked up the ball when I dropped it. Besides, one robot is all robots as far as they’re concerned. We’re supposed to be safe. If one of us proves that the Asimov conditioning doesn’t protect them, it’s over for us. This is all for one, and one for all.”

Miri couldn’t help but think of Flavius. Flavius didn’t seem to agree that it was all for one and one for all, and many of the younger, supposedly more refined and bug-free robots agreed. Flavius had asked her twice more about Chantal, seeming to sense something that the rest of them didn’t. If one thing was clear to Miri, it was that if there was a way to save Flavius, the robot would take it. He didn’t care who was sacrificed. And because the grave had been dug by his crew and would be closed by his crew, Flavius was already milling around the mourners with his metal nose in everything, trying to suss out what would happen next — because he seemed to think that something would. As it stood, something had.

“Okay,” said Miri, shoving down her new, unpleasant sensations. “I’ll do it.”

“Sure,” said Chantal. She didn’t seem to be pushing anything down at all.

Cromwell looked at the sexbot for a long moment. “Make it convincing,” he finally said, then headed into her room with Mars as Miri and Chantal headed for the stairs.


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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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