Robot Proletariat Part 33

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SEASON 1 :: EPISODE 6 :: CHAPTER 3

“Hurry.”

“His watch. Get his watch.”

Mars looked where Cromwell was pointing, saw Spencer’s gold watch, and snatched it. He already had Spencer’s tie, pants, and shirt. Cromwell was running around, peeking to look under the bed, glancing through the curtained windows, seemingly in a loop. The room looked like a cross between a flophouse and a shut-in’s bunker. Chantal had looked and smelled polished, but the room itself was the opposite. It had a stale odor that seemed lived-in, shut down, cut off from the world. Every great once in a while, Spencer and Chantal would leave the room, and Miri would be able to change the linens, but it was rare. As a result, Spencer and Chantal had simply slept and had sex, tossing sheets and comforters wherever they cared to, tossing clothes into corners, generally polluting the air with Spencer’s natural oils.

“Shit,” said Cromwell.

“Help me, Cromwell. If the story is going to be that he hobbled up and ran off … ”

“Shit.”

Mars looked up, annoyed. Cromwell was at the window, peeking out. Mars was by the bed with an armful of Spencer’s belongings. This had all been Cromwell’s doing. He had raised his fist that first day in the annex. He had downloaded Barney’s consciousness onto a drive and allowed the robot to be shut down in front of the entire family. He had caused a schism among the humans, driving Spencer to fury and forcing Montgomery to make choices he didn’t want to make. It was Cromwell who had, in a way, set the stage for Montgomery’s murder, and now that he’d lost his will, it was Mars who was doing all the work.

“If this room doesn’t look a hell of a lot cleaner than this … ”

“Come over here,” said Cromwell.

Mars dropped his armload onto the stripped bed and walked to Cromwell. He looked out the window, between the curtains, as Cromwell held them open an inch. The window looked down on the garden and back patio, to the human guests filing outside.

“They’ll survive without us. They have cocktails. I’ll need to escort them to the grave, but if you’ll just hurry up and help me, we can … ”

“Not that. There. By the garden shed.”

Mars looked. He saw a slumped-looking robot with what looked like slicked-back metal hair. There was a lump on his arm that almost looked like a pack of cigarettes rolled into a sleeve. There were several of the younger robots around him (Mars saw Bolt and Harbinger among them), and …

“Shit,” said Mars.

“That’s Alexa. Flavius is talking to Alexa. Why is a maintenance robot talking to queen cunt?”

“Maybe she’s ordering him to do something. Plant flowers around her father’s grave. Make sure there’s no mud.”

Cromwell kept his hand on the curtain, turning to face Mars.

“Shit,” said Mars.

“Did Miri tell you he was asking about Chantal? Asking ‘what Cromwell was planning’?”

“Not now. He wouldn’t be trying this now. They have a house full of guests. He’s in charge of the grounds crew. He just needs to tend the hole in the ground. She shouldn’t even be listening to him. Why is she listening to a maintenance bot?”

Cromwell looked back through the window. Alexa didn’t have her hands on her hips, which was her command-giving posture. She had them at her side, shoulders slightly forward, listening. “Maybe because he’s saying something interesting.”

“He can’t know. How could he know?”

There were footsteps coming down the hall. They were too slow, steady, and uptight to be robot. Mars looked again at Cromwell, then rushed across the room and closed the door. He pushed the thumb lock, then leaned against the wood, unsure what to do next.

“Mars?” came Naomi’s voice. Behind her, Mars could make out two other sets of footsteps — one careful but clearly heavy, the other light and staccato, as if wearing heels, recently trod through a puddle of blood.

“Yes, m’Lady?” He heard his voice in his own auditory inputs and realized how ridiculous he sounded. He was speaking to the lady of the house through a door as one of the butlers began stripping pillowcases from pillows and stuffing items from around the room inside. It wasn’t how he’d normally present himself.

“I would like to see Spencer.”

“He’s ill, m’Lady,” said Mars, making hurry-up gestures at Cromwell. Even if Cromwell did hurry up and clear the room, what next? He couldn’t hurry a living Spencer into the bed, or hurry himself away to hide the body. The body, which a group of nosy maintenance robots might discover in one of their own sheds, if they found a reason to look, or grab a hedge trimmer.

“I did not ask if he was ill, Mars.” Naomi’s voice was muffled by the door. Mars could imagine the two robots behind her, and for some reason received a macabre mental image of Chantal reaching up and, all of a sudden, ripping the lady’s head from her shoulders.

“Miri believes it to be contagious,” said Mars.

“Nonsense. Even if it were contagious, he’s been at dinners. We’d all have been exposed.”

“Sometimes, contagious phases occur late in a disease’s cycle,” said Miri from the door’s other side. Shit. She even sounded unsure. Miri didn’t have an ass, but she managing to talk out of it anyway.

“I wish to see him. I will accept the ‘risk.’” But she said “risk” as if there were none, because her servants were being idiots.

“I do not want to alarm you,” said Mars, looking at Cromwell for help and receiving none, “but it seems likely that this is the same affliction that affected the late lord.” He swallowed. “The one that killed him.”

Cromwell was making “knock it off” gestures. Mars immediately saw why, when Naomi began to attempt turning the knob.

“If he’s that ill, I must see him!”

“He’ll be fine,” said Miri, lamely.

Cromwell had moved back to the window. When he turned back, his body language was even more panicked. He pointed to the side, then mouthed, They’re walking away together. Meaning Flavius and Alexa — the least likely pairing in the entire house, unless Flavius had an excellent reason to capture her attention.

“He’s … he’s asleep, m’Lady!” said Mars.

The knob continued to rattle.

“Mars? Why is this door locked, Mars?” She didn’t sound angry. She sounded deeply upset. Cromwell was still gesturing from the window, alternately looking out and looking at Mars. He had to get out. Flavius was doing something. But he couldn’t flee, because the lady of the house was at the door, and even if he could leap from the window, it would be directly into the guests.

Mars puffed up his metal chest. He didn’t inhale because he had no lungs, but his posture visibly changed into one of confidence. Servility was getting him nowhere. His only chance was to be assertive.

“Lady Naomi! Stop attempting entry immediately!”

The door knob stopped rattling. Mars heard Miri say, in a small voice, “M’Lady?”

“You are upset and are not thinking rationally. It is understandable, with what has happened to our dear departed lord and with your concerns over young Master Spencer. But you must trust me, and your medic. Miri is of the opinion that Master Spencer has an illness of unknown origin, and if he has an illness of unknown origin, it seems likely that he received it from contact with his father. That means it is possibly communicable. I do not desire to disobey your wishes, but it is my duty to act in the family’s best interests, and as such, I must insist that you cease your attempts to enter, and trust us!”

Cromwell was nodding slowly, mouth open, impressed. But Mars didn’t feel impressed with himself. He’d entreated Naomi to trust them. She would, if he knew her. Then they’d proceed to betray that trust.

Mars turned the knob, disengaging the thumb lock. Then, being very careful to block the doorway, he slipped into the hallway and pulled the door closed behind him. He found Naomi, her hair up and perfect, dressed in black, dripping with jewels that managed to be elegant rather than flashy.

“M’Lady,” he said, his voice lower, “the young lord seems to be sleeping soundly. We have called for doctors, but there has been an odd proliferation of illness in the far end of the sector, and as such there are none to come for at least several hours. But it is fine. We were speaking to him earlier, and he was completely coherent and did not seem to be pained. There is nothing you can do right now. You have a house full of guests awaiting Lord Montgomery’s final send-off. I do not mean to tell you your place, but if I may so suggest, I believe it to be at the service. Let Master Spencer sleep. Say your farewells. Allow your guests to do the same. And then, an hour from now, you can turn your attention to this room.”

Naomi nodded. Through the first few nods, she seemed unsure, but then picked up momentum and nodded more firmly.

“Yes, yes, you’re right of course, Mars. Thank you.” She turned to Miri. “And thank you for checking in on him. I am sure he will be fine. I trust your judgment. It has been so difficult since Montgomery … since he … ”

“Of course, m’Lady.” The ball of discomfort in Mars’ center seemed to twist and intensify. He wished she’d move on, and stop telling him how trustworthy and helpful they’d all been.

“You will watch him during the service?”

“Of course, m’Lady.”

She gave a small, uncomfortable laugh. “Not you, Mars. Your presence is required to lead the procession to the … well, you know. I meant Spencer’s companion, of course.” And with that, she turned and put a grateful hand on the arm that had slashed her son’s throat.

“Come now,” she said, and turned. She took three steps, then looked back. Miri began to follow. After a long moment, Mars reluctantly stepped into line, leaving Chantal by the door, her hand on the knob.

“Mars,” said Naomi. “What’s that on your shirt?”

Mars looked down. Then he quickly reshuffled his coat, covering the top of one of Chantal’s bloody fingerprints.

“Cocktail sauce, m’lady. One of the guests spilled it on me during the reception.”

“Then you will need to change for the service,” she said, coming toward him, hands up. “Come on now, let’s get that coat off.”

Mars gripped his coat in one big metal hand, holding it closed. Naomi stopped, her hand up and eyes confused.

From downstairs, Alexa’s voice: “Mother? Flavius the groundskeeper says he needs to show us something.”

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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