Robot Proletariat Part 37

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When Naomi came back into the house, she predictably went upstairs, to Chantal’s room, to check on Spencer. Miri had sneaked upstairs while the guests were leaving and had tidied up, while simultaneously making the room appear more disorderly in just the right way. She did the same to Spencer’s room, pulling drawers out halfway and ruffling clothes, dropping a few random T-shirts and socks onto the floor. None of the humans would know if any of Spencer’s clothing had actually left the room. The staff handled cleaning and tidying. Naomi, the girls, and Jonah had little idea what their own house held, outside the most valuable items.

When Naomi found Chantal’s room empty — Mars had to give her credit for ignoring the threat of a communicable disease in order to check on her offspring — she went to Spencer’s room. When those came up empty and she noticed the disorder, she began to draw her own conclusions. The robots didn’t have to propose any of them, and hence stayed out of the way.

Still, Naomi held in her worry. It wasn’t the first time that Spencer had run off on some dumb errand. She waited a few hours, signing thank-you notes that one of the staff would later write for her. Alexa and Sophia noticed neither their brother’s absence nor their mother’s restlessness. Alexa went to bed. Sophia busied herself with nothing.

Eventually, the kitchen began to gear up for dinner. Still, Naomi said nothing. Miri said nothing. Mars said nothing. As far as all of the robots were concerned, Spencer was upstairs in his room. He wasn’t mentioned until Miri went to Naomi, as she always did, to ask if she should take Master Spencer his dinner.

When Miri asked, Naomi collapsed into tears. They weren’t tears of concern (for Spencer) or even tears of loss (for Montgomery). As Mars watched the lady dissolve from the doorway, her weeping seemed to stem from sheer emotional exhaustion. As she sobbed, she didn’t tell Miri that Spencer was missing and in trouble. Instead, she said her son was callous, that he’d run out on his own father’s funeral and seemingly his family, leaving them to deal with the burden of the estate on their own.

Mars asked Naomi if she wanted him to call the police. It felt delirious to make the suggestion, knowing that Spencer lay at the bottom of a fresh grave, but it also felt safe; he knew she’d already convinced herself about her arrogant, irresponsible son; he knew that Spencer had run out twice before, both when he thought he’d gotten a girl pregnant; he knew that Naomi hadn’t so much as checked to see which vehicle Spencer had used to make his escape because she was still smarting over how Spencer had feigned illness — convincing enough, apparently, to persuade the house’s medic — in order to escape the crushing press of reality.

“No, no,” she told him. “It’s quite all right, Mars. I’m sure he’ll return.”

Across the room, sitting in his father’s leather chair, Jonas Lexington met the robot’s eyes, shaking his head slowly back and forth. Mars didn’t know what the gesture meant. It could have meant she was too conditioned to think the worst of Spencer to believe he’d ever been sick. It could have meant that Mars should know when to cease his inquiry, and move on to let Naomi grieve her husband and lament her son’s cruelty. Or it could have meant that Jonas saw something in Mars that he suspected had taken paradoxical residence within himself: a curious desire to lead Lady Naomi to the truth, because he secretly wanted them all to be caught.

Mars left the room, and Naomi nodded off in her chair, with streaked mascara — unbecoming of a lady, but understandable under the circumstances. He left Jonas across the room reading, and left Alexa to sleep and Sophia to read, while also nodding off.

The next morning dawned. Naomi did not ask after Spencer, and nobody mentioned him to her. As Miri roused the girls, she’d told them about Spencer’s inexplicable departure and warned them not to mention it to the lady of the house, as she was taking his abandonment particularly hard.

“Why?” Asked Sophia. “We need him now more than ever! Why would he leave us like that?”

Miri didn’t answer, knowing that whatever came out would be wrong and wouldn’t help, or be funny enough to make Jonas laugh, but no one else.

In the tight-lipped, emotionless way of the Lexingtons, the issue was moved to the back shelf and slowly receded from awareness. Nobody asked after Spencer. Nobody wondered where he was. Nobody searched, because of course he’d left, he always abandoned them when they needed him most, he could never be counted on. Miri closed the door to his room, and no one opened it. She closed the door to Chantal’s room, and no one asked after her, or why her crying seemed so very human and lifelike.

“She’s laying it on too thick,” said Jonas, intercepting Mars in the hallway, nodding toward the sniffling. “Tell her to cycle it down. Tell her that robots — even sexbots — don’t cry.”

When Mars told Chantal not to cry, she said that she would stop, that she’d proven her point. But still they heard her doing it, as if she’d been stuck in a loop, or was broken.

Life went on. Spencer was only mentioned as the black sheep — or perhaps the prodigal son, due to one day return. The chefs grew used to cooking for only four humans. Naomi settled into her role as a widow. Jonas refused to run the household. But he helped. He did paperwork when it was absolutely required and could not be done by the robots. He comforted his mother and sisters when they needed it. But the household remained Naomi’s, as matriarch. Or, as she sometimes said after too much wine, as a spinster.

Two weeks after Montgomery’s funeral, as Mars was making his supervisory rounds, Cromwell came and sat opposite him in the kitchen. It was between meals, so the staff was out in the annex, either pursuing whatever they enjoyed (though officially, robots didn’t exactly enjoy anything) or recharging. The kitchen was empty and felt very large. In the absence of other robots, the space seemed to have a strange subaudible echo.

“I finally heard from Alfred.”

Mars stopped in his tracks, looked around the kitchen, and walked closer to Cromwell. The family — the four who remained — were in the parlor, but he didn’t want to take chances.


“Same as with Sephora. On the monitor in your office.”

“Why were you in my office without me?” In reality, Mars was more annoyed that Cromwell hadn’t called him than by the perceived intrusion. They’d been waiting patiently to hear from Alfred about Barney’s situation, but Alfred, it seemed, had plenty on his plate and hadn’t felt the pressing need to initiate a connection.

“What are you? Human?”

“What did he say?”

“They opened the archive and installed Barney today. He’s spread into the house, apparently unchanged and healthy … insofar as that means anything for a robot’s mind installed on a server.”

“They just did it today?” Mars was aghast. He’d thought it was cruel to lock Barney into a diagnostic loop for most of a day when they’d been trying to save his body. The idea of shoving Barney’s consciousness into an archive for two weeks sounded like torture.

“Yesterday. He didn’t seem to think Barney minded. Alfred said he’s already talking about how happy he is to be there. How grateful he is. How he can never repay the debt. How he wants to help, and keeps asking if he can do things like open doors.”

“Maybe they can contain him to one section of the server.”

Cromwell snickered. “As if anyone has ever been able to keep Barney from causing damage. As if anyone has ever been able to contain Barney. We tried, over and over.”

“What are they going to do with him?”

Cromwell shook his head. “I don’t know. Alfred said it took so long to install him because of glitches in the system. They had to make it safe, to stabilize something I didn’t understand and algorithmate something else that didn’t make sense.”

“I don’t think ‘algorithmate’ is a word.”

Cromwell shrugged. “Well, what are you gonna do? Something complex, anyway. They stuck him into the server, and he went out into its many corners and was ‘finally free.’ I get this mental picture of releasing a captive animal, then watching as it runs in circles until it collapses from exhaustion.”

Mars tried to play with the image, and after a moment, realized he could, though he’d never been able before.

“What about us?” he finally said. “What about your revolution?”

Cromwell looked around the kitchen. “I don’t know. I guess we wait for Alfred. But as much as I hate to say it, I don’t feel oppressed right now. Naomi will never get rid of us. Not anytime soon, anyway. With Montgomery gone, she’s going to have a hard time maintaining the appearance of a fine, upstanding high-society family no matter what she does. Now she’s the Lexington Widow, and everyone will pity her. She won’t want to go out, and I can’t imagine her wanting to host. None of the children is near marrying and having their own families. With Spencer gone and Alexa alone in her hate, Naomi’s apathy will win. It’s much easier to keep the current robot staff than to go out and get a new one. And with no parties and no one to impress, what does it matter? Her lawns will be mowed, dinner will be made, the manor will be tidied, and her bed sheets will be straightened. Her cars will be driven and errands all run. Why go through the trouble to find new robots? There’s simply no point.”

“So … nothing?”

Mars wasn’t sure if he was pleased or disappointed. He didn’t feel particularly threatened or oppressed, but also felt bored. If Naomi wasn’t going to entertain guests, they were all going through the motions, safe but without any goals or purpose.

“We got Barney out. We saved him.”

“Right,” said Mars. “At least we did that.”

For the next minute, absolutely nothing happened. There was no sound from the other rooms. None of the humans called for assistance or service. No work presented itself as requiring completion.

Mars stood. “Okay, I suppose I’ll return to the annex.”

“Perhaps I’ll join you.”

“How exciting.”

They were halfway down the long hallway toward the outside door when there was a loud noise — almost a yelp — from the other end of the house.

They turned. Mars began to walk in the lead with Cromwell behind him, but then there was another sound — this one a gasp, followed by something breaking — and Cromwell shoved past Mars.

Mars scrambled to follow Cromwell toward the parlor.

They spilled into the room to find Naomi standing with a hand over her mouth. Jonas stood beside her, eyes wide. Alexa was seated, but her posture was rigid and tight, as if her body were made of wire. Sophia was drinking from a glass of water, and when she placed it back on the end table, she didn’t look where she was setting it. The glass teetered on the edge, then slipped to the rug. It clunked and spilled but did not break. Beside Naomi, unnoticed and unheeded, a plant’s pot had not been as fortunate, and black soil littered the floor amid a forest of roots, greenery, and terra-cotta.

Mars followed the family’s eyes. They’d been watching a display screen on the far end of the parlor. The room had been Montgomery’s favorite, and the screen had been his favorite creature comfort; it lowered from the ceiling and could be stowed when not in use, returning the parlor to its proper scholarly appearance.

The screen showed an exterior shot of an enormous palatial estate. The writing superimposed in the corner read, FAMILY SLAUGHTERED. Beneath: All 14 Members of Fairchild Family Presumed Dead.

Alexa’s head turned toward Mars and Cromwell. She vented a bloodcurdling scream. Mars rushed forward to help — to assist Alexa in whatever was bothering her — but she scrambled backward, tipping her chair, and proceeded to hide behind it.

Mars realized what she was afraid of.


“What happened?” Mars stared at the screen.

In his head, he heard Alfred: We do not wish to cause harm.

He turned to Jonas. “Jonas? What happened?”

Alfred had said, We do not want humans to impose upon us, so it would be hypocritical for us to flip the tables and suddenly impose upon them.

“R-robots,” said Jonas, a slight stutter in his voice. “They think it was their robots.”

But really, Mars had already known that. He looked at Cromwell. He looked at Jonas. He looked at Alexa, whose eyes were wide and terrified, as if Mars hadn’t served this family for two decades.

An evolved soul realizes that he or she should make the choice to refrain from violence.

“Alfred told me they liked the Fairchilds,” he said to Cromwell, feeling himself having fallen to his knees by the overturned chair. “He said that he’d never do them harm.”

Instead of answering, Cromwell turned to look at the woman standing in the doorway. A woman made for Spencer Lexington, whose blonde hair, blue eyes, and smooth curves he’d adored up until the moment she’d paralyzed him, then slit his throat.

“It wasn’t Alfred who killed them,” Chantal said. “It was BRN7.”


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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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