Robot Proletariat Part 34

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SEASON 1 :: EPISODE 6 :: CHAPTER 4

Mars rushed ahead of Naomi, breaching protocol and nearly knocking her down. He looked back, gave her a small, apologetic look, and continued down the stairs at the front of the procession.

He found Alexa at the foot of the staircase. She was wearing a black dress, but it was too short and showed off a pair of what happened to be rather excellent legs. She was wearing stockings, but if Mars understood humans as well as he thought, the look would be more sexy than sorrowful. The dress was sleeveless, almost summery. She had a black hat to set off the ensemble.

“Mars?”

“We must start the funeral procession, Miss Alexa. If you would please take your place.”

She looked over his shoulder, saw her mother descend the final steps with Miri behind her, then said, “He’s this way.”

“The funeral procession, Miss,” said Mars.

“Come, Mother.”

Mars looked back at Naomi. Naomi was looking at Alexa and Mars in turn. From the corner of Mars’ eye, he saw Cromwell cross in front of the hallway to the dining room, having come down the back staircase. On his way outside, to do … something, apparently.

“It’ll just be a moment, I’m sure,” Naomi said to Mars.

“But m’Lady! The funeral procession is due to start. Your guests … ”

Alexa turned on Mars, her sculpted features inches from his face. “Are you telling my mother what to do? This is her house! You are a servant!”

“I am merely thinking of today’s purpose, and the guests lined up outside to send off … ”

“Don’t you dare tell her what to do! Or me! Don’t you speak to me as if you were an equal. You do what we say, nothing less and nothing more. You don’t need her to tell you to get out of the way and let her come with me. I am saying it!”

Mars turned to Naomi. Miri was pinned behind Naomi, and Chantal was upstairs. Cromwell would have no help, and there was a limit to what he’d be able to do anyway. Was he supposed to run from the shed as they approached with Spencer’s dripping corpse over his shoulder? The shed wasn’t far from the house, and there really wasn’t anywhere to go.

“It’s fine, Mars,” said Naomi. “Please go out and line up the guests. Tell them we’ll be along momentarily. Hand out the prayer books and tissues for those who think they may need them. If you’d like, have the servers offer a final round of drinks, but be sure to collect glasses before the procession starts. I will not have a line of tightasses walking to my husband’s grave carrying tumblers of gin.” She gave Mars another affectionate tap on the forearm. He’d never, ever heard her swear, or speak ill of her high-society friends.

Alexa gave Mars a triumphant smile.

“Yes, m’Lady,” said Mars. “I will be ready when you return.”

Alexa gave him a tiny nod and said, “Maybe.” 

That one word chilled him, but with a swish of fabric, they were headed toward the patio’s far side, in the rough direction of the equipment shed. Miri looked at Mars, then followed.

He ran, as much as he was able, heading toward where he’d seen Cromwell. This way was more roundabout, but the others were moving slowly. He cleared the house, looked around, and saw Naomi, Alexa, and Miri emerge from the door farther down. He hadn’t been remotely fast enough. A few paces farther on was Flavius’ hunched form, and with him, as before, were Bolt and Harbinger. The humans approached, and Flavius began gesturing and pointing, speaking with his hands.

Mars edged through guests on the patio, searching for a clear shot of the equipment shed. If Cromwell was inside, he’d have to find a way to sneak out the back: possible, but unlikely. The door was on the side, not entirely visible from the house, but there was no way a robot with a body on his back would be able to sneak around from that side door without being seen. If he was inside, he’d have to get lucky, and move when the others were looking away. Then where would Cromwell go? Directly past the shed — if he moved in its shadow, in the only direction he could go without being seen — there was nothing but acres of mowed grass and a semi-permanent croquet court. Nowhere to hide.

“I’m sorry, Mars,” Cromwell said, suddenly appearing beside him. “Sophia dragged me aside. Now of all times, she decided I would be a good listener. She’s absolutely inconsolable. Apparently, Naomi is cold, and Alexa’s a bitch.”

Mars almost wanted to ask what was wrong with Jonas if Sophia needed a shoulder to cry on, but it was the least relevant of all questions. He began to push through the crowd, ignoring their questions about the funeral procession’s status, along with their drink orders, dragging Cromwell behind him. Once clear of the humans, they moved faster. But now, Flavius had turned and was leading their small group toward the shed.

Mars and Cromwell moved even faster.

“How did he know?” said Mars, cursing his legs, which weren’t made for running.

“He must have seen us go in. Or talked to someone who did. He’s a nosy fucker.”

“How?” 

“Move faster, Mars.” Cromwell shoved his back, causing Mars’ step to stutter. “It doesn’t matter how we got fucked. All that matters is how fucked we are, and what we’re going to do about it.”

His mind churned. What exactly were they going to do? It seemed natural to run to catch up with the others at the shed, but Mars didn’t know why that was. Maybe the idea was to step into the inevitable blow, be there when the damning discovery was made so that Harbinger could rip them in half on the spot and spare everyone the drama that would otherwise follow. Maybe there’d even be a way for the rest of them to proceed with the funeral, and make it a two-for.

“What are we going to do about it?” he asked.

“Beat them to the shed first. Worry about that second.”

They were at an oblique angle and moving faster than the others, closing the distance more quickly but making a scene as they did. Naomi and Alexa, both of whom seemed to have lapsed into more crying, were wiping at their eyes with tissues. They didn’t seem to hear Mars and Cromwell either, because they were with Flavius — and Flavius, who wasn’t built for household duties, was loud and full of metallic rattles.

Flavius had seen them, though, as had Harbinger and Bolt. The robots moved faster. Alexa yelled something, and they slowed, their metal-and-glass eyes darting between the slow humans and their competition. Flavius looked like he was going to say something, but by the time he did Mars and Cromwell were decidedly in front and had cut them off.

“Mars!” said Naomi. Alexa seemed more angry than surprised. She looked at him with a stare that felt like hot lead.

Mars slid in front of the shed door and put his back to it, the same as he’d done to the bedroom door upstairs. It all felt very familiar, and while he didn’t experience anything beyond his given senses, a part of his mind wondered if robots could have déjà vu.

“Get out of the way, Mars,” Flavius growled.

“M’Lady,” said Mars, again looking at Cromwell for help and again getting none — more déjà vu. “And Miss Alexa. The funeral. We must move along with the procession. Guests are starting to ask questions.”

“The guests can wait long enough for us to open that door,” said Flavius, a small smile at the corner of his metal lips. He’d extended a finger and was pointing past Mars, as if it might be unclear which door he meant.

“It is not the lady’s position to deal with the equipment sheds,” said Mars. “What is wrong with you, Flavius?”

“It is not a head servant’s position to rush across the grounds to barricade a door to keep the lady from it,” Flavius countered.

“Move out of the way,” said Harbinger.

“You are speaking to the head of staff,” said Cromwell, moving to face Harbinger. The robot was twice Cromwell’s size, and towered above him.

“Move him, Harbinger,” ordered Alexa.

“The funeral procession!” said Mars. It was an incredibly weak, pathetic refrain, but all he had — the only thing keeping Naomi from discovering something that would destroy all their lives, including her own.

Harbinger put a hand on Cromwell. With a gesture like a flick of the big robot’s wrist, Cromwell clattered to the ground. Harbinger stepped forward, moving toward Mars.

“M’Lady!” said Mars. “I am your head of staff! If you cannot trust the chain of command within your staff … ”

“I am at the top of your chain,” said Alexa, her voice full of venom. She’d hated Mars and Cromwell before Barney’s sentence, she’d hated them throughout the following struggle, and hadn’t stopped hating them since. To Alexa, the robots were slowly turning bad, becoming disobedient junk in need of processing. “Open the door.”

“What is behind it?” asked Cromwell, clattering to his feet. It was as weak as Mars’ one-liner, but at this point, all they were trying to do was to take care of the present second. In a minute it would all be over.

“Let’s find out,” said Flavius.

Mars kept his back firmly to the door, now suspicious merely in his persistence.

“Move, Mars,” said Naomi.

“I can’t.”

“Mars, move. Why won’t you let us see inside?”

“There has been an accident,” said Cromwell. “It’s dangerous.”

“Yes, that makes sense,” said Flavius. “So, we’d better address it.”

“I’ll address it,” said Mars.

“Move, you pile of junk!” Alexa screamed.

Harbinger stepped forward. His arm went out, toward Mars. Bolt stepped forward. Mars clenched, holding his back tight to the door. Alexa had her hands on her hips. Naomi looked serious, confused, tired. Cromwell moved to intercept, fight, do something. Flavius stayed where he was, wearing his idiot smile.

Harbinger’s hand grasped Mars’ shoulder. He pulled, peeling Mars from the door like a sticker.

“Wait,” said Naomi, looking down. “What is that?”

Mars looked at his feet, in a pool of something black.

He stepped away. Harbinger reached forward and opened the door to the shed.

“It’s oil,” said Cromwell, kneeling, his finger in the puddle.

They all looked into the shed and saw the motorcycle in the middle of the floor, a five-gallon bucket of waste oil laying on its side, lid askew, entirely spilled.

Spencer’s body was gone.

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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