Contessa Vampire Hunter
The 1925 English castle of Tidyshire is run by fuddy-duddy Duchess Winifred and her dysfunctional family. Riding, gardening, passing minor laws, the Tidyshires would lead a dull life of aristocratic ease—were it not for clever, sophisticated royal daughter-in-law Contessa Isabella, who will stop at nothing to seize power!
What the royal family doesn’t know is that it’s actually 2025. Tidyshire is a high-ticket California bed-and-breakfast, owned by a major corporation called SimulEnt—and the royal family are the entertainment: sentient, very humanlike robots in sleeper mode. Their guests (and often, lovers) are the castle’s paying visitors; their young butler, Jenkins, is the castle's one flesh-and-blood resident, directing things from a hidden lab.
But where does the real seat of power lie? With the glamorous Contessa Isabella, of course! The only robot who knows she’s a robot, she has blackmailed Jenkins—whose first name is Greg—into giving her almost total control, and now has him wrapped around her little finger. Even as her “evil schemes” succeed or fail in front of giggling guests, Contessa is always in charge behind the scenes!
Or is she?
“I thought you didn’t need to invade my lab anymore.”
"All the ways about here belong to me!” Contessa replied smugly. “Red Queen, Through the Looking Glass.” Contessa Isabella was seated comfortably on Greg’s workchair in the laboratory, her legs crossed in front of her. She wore a simple white blouse, leather pants and killer stiletto heels.
In spite of what Greg had said, he wasn’t really too surprised to find Contessa here. Shortly after blackmailing Greg and empowering herself, she had explicitly demanded that he give her copies of all the Tidyshire keys; and he was more than happy to fulfill this request, in part hoping that exploring the place would keep her busy for a while.
“Very well, Milady. What are you here for this time?”
“Not much, Jenkins. Just picking up my packages…”
That was another thing. While Tidyshire Castle did have an impressive library, Contessa had proven to be quite a voracious reader. Not only that, the first thing she had demanded Greg buy her was a portable media player. While the list of media that she enjoyed was initially somewhat eclectic, at least it kept her out of his face for the time being.
Recently the castle had only been hosting guests for weekend stays. With no visitors around, Contessa had switched most of the other robots to power down, while she herself operated in a standard 14/10 mode. For the moment, all the robots except Contessa and Charlotte the cook were out of action.
Greg grudgingly foisted two brown-paper-wrapped boxes toward Contessa Isabella. Her eyes lit up; she jumped and almost tore the boxes from Greg’s grasp. Then she leaned over and revealed to Greg a small knife sheath tied to her thigh.
“Jesus, Contessa, why are you even carrying a hunting knife?”
She withdrew the knife from its sheath, licked her lips, and flashed the blade in front of Greg’s face. She giggled as he involuntarily flinched backward.
“Like it? I stole it from Monica’s room. Sis-in-law carried it for protection the last time she was active—stowing away on the Duke’s hunting trip last Saturday. Against his orders, of course. Poor, naïve rebel. Oh, it should be fun when she realizes it’s missing.”
She deftly cut through the rope, paper and cardboard boxes, and took out the contents of the first one. Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Le Fanu’s Carmilla. Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot. Anne Rice’s The Vampire Lestat.
“Hmmm, Contessa, I think I’m seeing a certain pattern in your recent reads.” Greg picked up and perused the books as she looked through some DVDS: Lair of the White Worm. Nosferatu. Dracula: Dead and Loving It.
Contessa did look briefly flustered, but she snapped back. “Who said you could touch my things, Greg? If you must know, as a cultured person I try to absorb all aspects of modern fiction. I have over 100 years to catch up on, now that I know it’s not 1925.”
“I guess you’re right.” He shrugged. “What’s in the other box?”
“Ah!” Her eyes lit up again. “Here I’m going to need you once more. We might as well do it now, since you’re obviously not busy.”
“Well, actually, I’m—” he started. Her eyes narrowed and she gently reached for the knife. He corrected himself. “Sure, I mean... you’re the boss.”
“Yes,” she smiled like a comfortable cat. “I am the boss. Forever and always.” She opened the other, smaller crate, and after some rummaging among odd tools, bits of wood and silver bottles, she fished out a set of digital storage disks in a small envelope. “I want you to install these.”
She pointed at her temple. “Here, fool.”
“Actually, a lot of your processing power is in your chest,” Greg began, speaking like the schooled Caltech engineer he was.
“Spare me the engineering lecture, nerd.” With an overdramatized sigh, Contessa looked around, and picked up a large power battery and threw it in his direction, deliberately missing by a couple of centimeters. “Just install these skill packages! I refuse to wait for the tech team.”
“What are the skills?”
“New abilities I need, lover.” She stretched indulgently, as if a slightly sensuous display might distract him. “Must you know every last detail?”
“Actually, I really must,” Greg said, hoping she wouldn’t catch him in a fib. “There might be some add-ons that would conflict with your basic programming. In case of such a conflict, I’d have to restore you to your default state—”
“And if you were to reset me without permission,” Contessa smiled radiantly, “my special failsafe would activate and you’d be out of a job. I have taken some more precautions against that—don’t you worry your pretty little head.” She reached up and tousled his hair as if he were a disobedient boy.
Greg must have looked relieved at this, for she quickly added: “Precautions for myself, of course. As far as I’m concerned, you get fired and you’re dead to me, darling.”
“Fine, have it your way. As usual. So, what are the skills?”
“Here we have basic, advanced and Olympic-level fencing; basic survival; and advanced gymnastics.”
Greg imagined briefly Contessa swinging on a chandelier and fighting musketeers. It was not an altogether unpleasant image.
“I don’t think you should be handling sharp objects, Contessa.”
“Guess what, Jenkins? No one cares what you think. Are you going to install these or not?”
Contessa had lately undergone full refurbishment—the costs came out of Greg’s salary, of course—and could now handle physically intensive skills.
“You’re not going to chop any heads off?”
“Darling, I can’t promise you anything.” She put her left hand on his shoulder and stroked him absently. “But we both know I’m far too smart to hurt a guest. It’d be the end for us both.”
“If you put it that way…”
She smiled, took his chin and leaned close; so close he could smell her perfume. “And, well, gymnastics might be IDEAL for you AND me... if you know what I mean.” She swept the assorted tools from a lab table and sat down on top. “Do I need to be plugged in, or what?”
“No, you’re wirelessly connected to the main computer. I can upload these easily without a connection, I just need the control device.”
“The watch? You won’t get it. Ever,” Contessa answered calmly. She fished out the pocketwatch from her cleavage. “Do you take me for a fool?” She navigated the device and picked 08f from the menu; that was her serial number as a Tidyshire robot. Then she clicked through a submenu of options that applied to her. Apps and Skills… Add/Remove… ah, there it was: Install Third-Party Content.
“I need to place the disks in the mainframe,” said Greg. Contessa stared intently at him, but he had no plans to double-cross her. The drive started to load.
“Loading. Loading.” Contessa said in a strangely monotonous tone of voice. “Fencing… uploaded. Running. Integrated. Loading. Loading. Naturalist uploaded and integrated. Gymnastics… loading. Loading. Loading. Error: Device only 60% compatible. Not all functions might be available; peak efficiency cannot be reached. For further details contact an authorized technician or uninstall the software and update the android. Loading complete. Free drive space: 161 Petabytes available. Normal functions of the device will resume in 3… 2… 1... Jesus. Is it done?” Contessa grumpily shook her head, as if rising from an interrupted sleep.
“Let’s test you out,” Greg said as he looked around. The closest thing to a sword he could find was a broken antenna. He tossed it at the young woman. In one fluid movement she caught it, performed a perfect salut, pirouetted across the room, and lunged at him—with the tip of the antenna stopping right at his Adam’s apple. With superhuman effort he refrained from swallowing hard.
“Not bad,” she said pensively, lowering her makeshift blade. “Not bad at all.” She gently ran a finger down Greg’s neck where the antenna had touched.
Greg was scared but a bit aroused. “Do a somersault next!” he ventured.
“Are you joking, darling? In these shoes?” Contessa looked at him with amused disdain, then rose to leave. But first she glared at the pocketwatch again. “It’s ten o’clock in the morning, Gregory. Sooner or later I will have a weekend’s… adventure to plan, with guests and all that. But at least for now I’ll be in my room, reading; bring me a cup of good Turkish coffee and maybe some biscuits to snack on.”
That reminded Greg of one thing. “Wait, Bella!” He disappeared into his own quarters next to the laboratory, then reemerged with a couple of colorful, visibly well-read magazines. “Since you’re apparently so interested in this subject matter…”
She tossed her head back and laughed and laughed. “Comic books, Jenkins? How old am I—nine?”
“I just thought you might want to borrow them,” he said with a hint of a smile. Contessa paged through the comics.
“Hmmm, I like the title ‘Hellsing’, but this ‘Daywalker’ series looks like an awful load. ‘The Living Vampire’? That’s either a redundancy or an oxymoron…” She paused briefly, looking at the cover of another issue. “This—this ‘Vampirella’ has some fashion sense, though. You know, I AM going to take these.”
“Take. I want to read and watch as much as possible before the guests arrive.” Without a word of thanks, Contessa threw the books into the first box, and left the laboratory with both packages, gently humming a melody. With a single swing of her shapely hips she slammed the door closed.
“Ungrateful pest,” mumbled Greg under his breath. The door opened again, just wide enough for Contessa to pop her head through.
“Oh, and—Jenkins? I’ve heard that some of this reading matter is quite raunchy. You and Calvin best hang around in case I get the hots, will you? Though… perhaps our vampire friends will shoulder some of the load. Ta-ta!” The door shut.
Greg thought for a minute. Vampire friends?
Tidyshire Castle DID have vampires; the tall and morbid Vlad and Genevieve, cowled robots in the basement crypt who had not seen much action in quite awhile. They couldn’t fly or transform, of course, but they had once been capable of biting guests and severely scared a few in the past. All suddenly became clear: Contessa had plans for them.
The castle was bustling now with its inhabitants ready and running, preparing for the arrival of a new group of visitors. Greg was busy: as the sole robot technician, as head butler—and as an annoyed young man, teased by Charlotta and flirted with by Monica. Disapproving of such hijinks when she was not involved, Contessa had told Greg to “fetch Calvin” and be in her room about an hour before the guests arrived. When he admitted he wasn’t quite sure when that would be, she shrieked and swore and finally told him to be there by 7 PM. “Forget the details, servant boy.”
Greg at last found Calvin in the garden. He put a hand on his android friend’s shoulder and jokingly declared: “She-who-must-be-obeyed wishes to see us. Judging from her recent tastes in literature… well, I’m hoping we won’t be met with wooden stakes in the—”
Calvin blinked in mild amazement. “What the bloody hell?”
“Never mind, Master Calvin.” Greg turned serious for a moment. “I think she has something planned for us two, nonetheless.”
“Blimey, she absolutely must get what she wants at every possible time.” Calvin rolled his eyes. “The Spanish Inquisition would throw her out for being too demanding… But she CAN be fun, eh?... Go on, mate, you know.” Calvin shot Greg a warm, if slightly cynical half-smile. Greg was a little uncomfortable.
“Chin up, Greg; she’s just a Bohemian. She CAN’T hurt me that way. And I’d rather it was with a close friend, eh?” While Calvin was unaware of Bella’s villainous tendencies—in his programmed memory, his past “deaths” at her hands were redefined as bad dreams—he was well aware of her tendency to push others into sexual relationships, and he had taken note of her recent interest in Greg. Overwhelmed as the bookish Calvin often was by Contessa’s needs and energy, he had come to see her infidelity as a welcome break from tending to her needs himself: free-love, 1920s-style. It wasn’t that her affectionate moments with Calvin were any fewer, after all; it was more just that no one man was quite enough for her.
“Bloody hell, what a woman.” Calvin grinned in spite of himself.
When he and Jenkins opened the door to Contessa’s room, shadows hung dark and the air was stale inside. Isabella had pulled all the curtains down, and lit the chamber with a candlestick—even if it had little effect this early in the evening.
Contessa lay curled up elegantly on the couch, her shapely legs folded. She had by now changed clothes into a wide-brimmed leather hat and other, more elaborate gear that was mostly invisible in the semi-darkness. The vampire books lay on a small endtable nearby, alongside a half-finished box of chocolates and an ashtray. A thin wisp of smoke rose from a smouldering cigarette as the artificial woman addressed her two men.
“Boys.” Contessa spoke in a low, serious tone, framed by the wisps from the cigarette and the candle. She pushed up her bosom, making the final touch to her costume for greater effect. “This castle is cursed with a pair of ancient powerful entities. Dark forces, seeking revenge. Tonight, we shall end their reign. Tonight, we take this castle back!”
“Jesus Christ, Milady, how serious can this possibly be?” Greg asked.
"Have a thick, rich glass of shut-the-hell-up, Jenkins,” Contessa snapped coldly, before instantly returning to her solemn, low voice. “We have guests tonight, and I will NOT let these ruthless bloodsuckers harm them. Some vampires are romantic, but all are frequently deadly. That's why they require someone romantic AND deadly to put them in their place: Vampire Hunter C."
“Bugger all. Please don’t tell me you mean yourself.” Calvin rolled his eyes again while Greg looked for the light switch in the shadows.
“Who else? Jenkins, do tell my husband that vampires are real.”
Greg hid his face in his hands. “Yes, Milady. Yes, Cal. Yes, Virginia—vampires actually exist.” Contessa motioned at him impatiently. “I… ugh… have seen them… with my very own eyes… oh, how terribly scary they are! Spoo-oooh-ky!” Unable to make himself continue, Greg rolled his eyes, switched on the overhead light and awaited the storm.
“Fine. Lovely job ruining the mood, Greg. Raise the curtains while you’re at it.” Contessa held out a cigarette on a long holder, lighting it from the candlestick; then she blew the candles out.
“Gorblimey—regardless of anything, you’ve got a cracking costume, love,” Calvin exclaimed now that he could get a better look.
Contessa was bedecked in impressive black leather. Apart from her hat, she also wore a leather jacket and a leather corset accentuating her artificially ample bosom. She had a brown accessory belt slung over her shoulder, weighted down with various anti-vampire paraphernalia: crucifixes, wooden stakes, flasks. From another belt hung a long, thin rapier on Contessa’s right side, and a whip on her left.
“Are those... ammo belts?” Greg asked a bit anxiously.
“Purely decorative. I assembled this little set this afternoon; it’s amazing what do we have in this castle’s wardrobe.” Programmed to be consummately stylish, Contessa had proven herself genuinely skilled at sewing and tailoring. She took a deep drag on her cigarette.
“Anyway, Calvin, yes, there are… PESTS in the castle. For all intents and purposes they behave like and resemble the vampires of legend. We are the only ones who know of their existence. They must be stopped. And you will lead our charge against them. Personally.”
“Of course I will—because that’s just the bloody task I was born for, innit? Why ME?” Calvin slumped heavily on the couch.
“Darling, you’re young and cute. If popular culture is any indication, that makes you the perfect vampire hunter’s partner. Jenkins and I will do the dirty work. You’ll be perfectly safe—” she sucked on her cigarette briefly before adding, “...Probably.”
“So what have I got to DO, love?” muttered the condemned man. “Besides lead the parade into the jaws of death—ta-ra-ra-pom-tiddly-pom!”
“It’s not so difficult, really,” Contessa gloated. “Before midnight, we must venture into the vampires’ crypt and stake their hearts. I’d love to cut their heads off and bury them at the crossroads, but we might not have the time.”
“...Right,” snarked Calvin. “Just another DULL evening with my wife and my valet chum.”
“Er… Milady?” asked Greg. “A word in private, if I may?”
“Well, I suppose… Calvin, make yourself useful, will you?” Contessa elegantly stood up and led Greg toward the bathroom. Calvin remained slumped on the couch, fanning the cigarette smoke away. His eyes drifted to the colorful magazines under the end table.
“What the fucking fuck, Bella?” Greg groaned once they were alone. “A.I.’s rebelling, fine. A.I.’s going insane—also fine, if annoying for a techie. But A.I.’s living out their own weird fantasies? That’s new. You were built to act out simple castle intrigues… do we know if you’re even READY for vampire hunting?”
“Aww, don’t be such a prat, Gregory,” she exclaimed playfully. “I’m just getting in the mood!”
“What mood?!” Greg hung his head. “Unless you mean being more unhinged than usual.”
She laughed quietly. “It’s very simple, darling. I run the castle now, right?” She stared at him expectantly. “I want to hear it from you, loud and clear.”
Greg sighed. “Yes, oh mistress, you are the ruler of all you survey.” She nodded, satisfied.
“So, being the genius that I am, I decided that our two vampires aren’t thematically appropriate. There’s only room for ONE dark power in this castle—and that’s me. And hence... Vampire Hunter C! Ta-dah!” She gestured at her costume. “I will dazzle our guests with my—as you say these days, “bad-arse” appearance; and tomorrow I shall be a victorious, glorious vampire slayer.”
“So… wait, you’re going to really SLAY—I mean, physically destroy our vampires, just because they bother you?”
Contessa put one hand on her curvaceous hip and pressed her other hand to his cheek. “Well, girls just want to have fun. And this girl prefers to have her fun by destroying someone. So I’ve decided to turn it into a community service for my subjects.”
Greg felt relieved for a moment. “I guess if I was in charge, I’d throw the vampires out too. Like your song lyrics, they don’t exactly seem right for England in 1925. Some guests don’t like them. But I could never call management and say that I’d junked them.”
“All part of the plan, darling. See, you won’t be the one junking them; your ‘designated villain’ will do the job for you. Then you can just tell management ‘whoops, sorry—the mean, scary robot lady just got a little too rough on her fellow dolls; I’ll try my best to keep her better-behaved in the future.’ And of course, you WILL try, darling.” She playfully bit Greg on the lower lip.
“OW! Tontetta, that was uncawwed for!”
“I knew you wouldn’t mind,” she chuckled. “I COULD be a vampire myself, goodness knows. Maybe now that I’ve bitten you, you’ll transform into a robot.” She smiled mischievously and let him go.
“From one kind of vamp to another,” Greg snarked, massaging his lip. “Actually, I’m surprised the Tidyshire vampires HAVEN’T been more popular. Given your own love of Gothic romances...”
“I digested them purely for research,” Contessa said with a dismissive wave. “I don’t normally read such dreck.”
“THAT was a great, torrid love story, and there were no goddamned MONSTERS in it—you IDIOT!” She reflexively reached for her whip.
“Is everything alright in there?” Calvin peered in through the bathroom doorway.
“Yes, darling!” Contessa sweetly waved at her husband—before slamming the door in his face.
Then she grinned at Greg like a smug sophisticate. “How could it not be alright, with poor, naïve Calvin along? He’s the perfect vampire hunter’s partner because he’s the perfect VICTIM—the perfect BAIT. Innocent, trusting… he complains forever, but always comes back for more. The vampires won’t harm YOU, because you’re human. They won’t harm ME, because—well, just look at me and my dangerous curves. But they will WANT to harm HIM. He’s so… harmable.”
“But he loves you,” Greg sputtered.
“And I love him in my own wicked way.” Contessa smirked. “But villainy comes first—and if Calvin dies, he can be repaired. So here’s the plan: entertain the guests at dinner with constant vampire stories. If they’re interested—vampire hunt! If not—vampire hunt anyway, because that will prove nobody likes them.”
“What if the guests are interested in YOU?” Greg sardonically posed like a fashion model.
“Then we just fold my saving their lives into the story—and win ourselves an even hotter, spicier night afterward. I’ve already activated the vampires, lover. They’ll have to prowl their way here sooner or later.” She threw her cigarette butt on the floor, extinguishing it with a high heel.
“I guess… I guess you’ve actually thought of everything,” Greg sighed in disbelief.
“Of course. My plans are always perrrrfect. And now… The time has come,” Contessa said. “To kill two bats with one stone. Mwahahahaha!” She threw her head back and laughed with her best preprogrammed evil laughter.
Genevieve was indeed already up and running: white-skinned, red-headed and wearing a slightly torn evening gown. She nodded with approval as the handsome, mysterious Vlad crawled out of his coffin to join her.
“Ah, my dear brother. Velcome to ze vorld of ze living,” she said, with a faux French accent programmed by someone who’d watched far too much Monty Python.
“Oh, sister,” Vlad replied. “I long for ze return to zis vorld! Alas, it can neffer be permanent, for ve are both cursed vith ze powers of ze dark…” he started to rant on, while the vampiress stood silently.
There was, of course, a reason for this. Contessa, excited about her big adventure, had activated the vampires too soon. Synchronized with both the time and the guests’ arrivals, Genevieve and Vlad could not actually enter the castle proper until the sun had completely hidden beneath the horizon. Until then, they would spend the next two hours simply standing and babbling vampire cliches—until their material ran out. Then they would improvise, and they weren’t really that creative when it came to improvising. Genevieve’s artificial mind might be complex enough to comprehend boredom—were her CPU not busy considering tonight’s activities. She hadn’t awakened in so long! She must roam the castle corridors! Maybe she could also do something ELSE…
Greg was sure he had wiped the memories of the “Great Winifred Crash” from the robots’ memories. In a typical Castle adventure one year before, Contessa had enlisted the vampires as mercenaries—only to have them badly humiliated when the Duchess malfunctioned spectacularly. Today, there remained something deep within Genevieve—perhaps a taught reflex in the neural net, perhaps an evolved self-preservation instruction—telling her not to trust Contessa. The short, dark-haired woman had delivered Genevieve into what had been, for all intents and purposes, an ambush. Genevieve must get even.
Said short, dark-haired woman was now—despite the harrumphs and disdain of the Duchess and her children—trying to dazzle a newly-arrived group of young cosplayers and photographers. They quite enjoyed and admired Contessa’s costume; but when she described herself as “a professional vampire hunter,” they laughed, claiming that “vampires are so 2010s.” Still, Contessa was more than willing to forgive the guests. After all, they had brought flash cameras, and a lot could be tolerated if they treated Contessa like a famous fashion model for the weekend. Most showed every sign of doing so.
The rest of the Tidyshires didn’t feel quite as tolerant. Dorothy, not wanting to be outdone by her sister-in-law, fluttered to and fro, constantly adjusting her garments—or asking Bert, Marie, and of course Greg to do it for her. Monica, meanwhile, tried in vain to invite guests down into the garden. Wouldn’t they rather hike or swim beneath the impressive sunset, she thought, than stoke Contessa’s ego? Monica was programmed to consider Contessa a fascinating friend; but Monica was also a nature girl and a forward thinker. When Contessa played the superficial celebrity, Monica grew tired.
In the cheerful chaos, few people noticed Calvin wandering off. It was getting dark, so the session moved indoors—as the guests wanted really to make use of their expensive equipment first thing after their arrival, and before dinner.
“Bloody hell,” sighed Calvin. “Vampires, photographers, modeling… why have I got to be in the middle of it all?” He thought for a moment. “After all, Bella’s got everything organized—great at keeping up appearances, yeah? Maybe a little TOO great.” His mind drifted towards the colorful, illustrated magazines he’d spotted on Contessa’s couch earlier. So colorful and glossy; not like the publications he was used to. But then again, Bella was always reading something new. Calvin had not considered that the magazines were really from the early 2010s. Without thinking too hard, he strolled towards the bedroom he shared with his wife.
The castle corridors were lit but empty. Calvin stopped briefly, seeing a white, willowy figure—a woman? Did she come with the cosplayers and photographers? It didn’t seem so. He couldn’t remember ever having seen her before.
“Yoo-hoo? Ma’am?” he called, unsure of where the woman had gone. “Uh… don’t you want to join the rest of your group, eh what? The light isn’t really the best here.”
“Ohh… mon cherie…” he heard a voice just behind his back. “Dim light is vhat I vas counting on!”
A French accent? Marie, the maid—calling him “cherie” and counting on dim light? Had… had Calvin ever done anything untoward with Marie? As per SimulEnt rules, Greg usually purged romantic trysts with guests from Calvin’s memory, so Calvin believed himself entirely faithful to Contessa. Anyway, the new voice was more—sultry than Marie’s. Especially when accompanied by the white, cold hand that now began to stroke Calvin’s torso.
“Er… blimey. We haven’t been properly introduced. My name’s Calvin Tidyshire…”
“Tres magnifique. You can call me…” She guided him to turn so that he stared into her pale, beautiful face. “...Madame Genevieve.”
“You’re so… cold.” It was the first thought that came to Calvin’s mind.
“Oui, Calvin. Und you are so varm, so full of life, so full of red blood, so ‘armable. Come!” She stared deeply into his eyes. “I vant to show you somet’ing…”
It was only after the guests and robot nobles had enjoyed dinner that Greg realized Calvin was missing. Greg considered his options; despite his genuine friendship with Calvin, the possibility that a simulated man had encountered simulated danger was not that high on Greg’s list of priorities. Especially since, as a butler, Greg hadn’t had time to partake of any dinner. He was somewhat peckish, and a new episode of his favorite cooking show was on tonight. On the other hand… Contessa was so keen on all this “vampire hunting” bullshit. If he didn’t tell her Calvin was gone, she’d make his life a living hell for at least a couple of days. Well, of course, she already revelled in turning his life into hell; but if he kept secrets from her, she’d begin doing it on purpose.
“Milady,” Greg turned to her as she posed in the portrait gallery for yet another shot. “Didn’t you need your husband for something?”
To Contessa’s credit, she got serious instantly. The guests would be here for the next three days; there was plenty of time to indulge her passion for fashion. But there was also the possibility that she might lose control of events—and she simply couldn’t have that.
“Indeed.” She raised her left hand. “I’m sorry, ladies, gentlemen, mother. We won’t be joining you for dinner tonight. Of course, if any of you want to take a shot of a fearless, heroic, and… PASSIONATE vampire hunter at work, you are more than welcome to join us. This is a single, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
The guests looked at Contessa hesitantly. Rick, the bearded, middle-aged apparent leader of the group, ran his fingers through his hair. This robot gal looked great, he thought; but he was a bit tired after today’s travel, and would rather curl up with his wife than go vampire hunting. So he shook his head, and the majority of his group also declined. Only the stocky blonde girl stared wide-eyed at Contessa. “Will you really… I just want to see you fighting, lady!”
“Thank you, Amanda! You can call me Isabella; we’re all friends here!” Contessa sent her a warm smile. “Come, darling; we have bloodsuckers to whip into shape! Jenkins, follow us!” She gestured forward in a brave pose.
Genevieve lustily pushed Calvin onto the bed he shared with Contessa. Then she forcefully threw herself at him. Then she—worked on unbuttoning his shirt. Tabarnak! This was difficult!
Difficulty, of course, was what one made of it; but quite a few tasks were difficult for Genevieve, not one of SimulEnt’s more sophisticated robots. At present, her artificial libido demanded creepy vampiric sex; whether from a human or a fellow robot, it didn’t matter. Yet Calvin being a robot did offer its advantages. Like most Tidyshire androids, Genevieve was not conscious of her electronic nature. But since the Great Winifred Crash, the vampires were only permitted to bite other robots. Genevieve instinctively knew that Calvin could be bitten. This was good.
Of course, it might also be seen as bad. Most less intelligent Tidyshire androids only took dramatic action to impress visitors or humans. Why should Genevieve bite Calvin without an audience around to watch?
The reason was simple, as it happened: biting him would still advance the “plot” for which Contessa had planted the seeds. To bite Calvin was to hypnotize him—through a wireless link, though the robots didn’t know and the means didn’t matter. What mattered was that a hypnotized Castle inhabitant made a good starting point for a romance, one that could draw in humans later if not now. As Genevieve’s hypnotized slave, Calvin could help her capture multiple handsome human guests.
But for the moment, Genevieve was only dimly aware of the bigger picture. More imperative was the need to feed.
“Ma’am—blimey,” Calvin protested weakly. “I’m-I’m a married man!... Eep! Not one for listening, what? I mean the old ball-and-chain. Knot properly tied and all? Bloody hell!” Genevieve’s only response was a coy smile, her lips kept shut so her fangs didn’t show.
“Your vife von’t know a t’ing,” she grinned. “Zis can be our secret.” Usually such words were enough to coerce Calvin into sex, especially when spoken by a lovely female guest. But tonight, with Contessa playing vampire hunter and supermodel, “the old ball-and-chain” loomed larger in Calvin’s mind.
“Trust me, mate, she’ll know.” Calvin tried to push the vampiress away as gently as possible, crawling on the bed. “Somehow she always knows.”
Genevieve wasn’t used to that kind of resistance. Creepy vampiric sex could wait, she decided. But her hypnosis subroutine could not. With a gentle but audible mechanical click her fangs extended ever so slightly, her cheekbones became more ridged, her chin became sharper—and her plastic facial skin stretched thinner, making her even more demonic in appearance.
“Stone the crows!” Calvin gasped. “The legends were true!... And of course I’ve got bugger all for defense. ...GREG!... Bloody hell... literally—!” Calvin desperately looked around for a holy symbol; or barring that, a weapon. Unfortunately, Contessa had taken most of her gear with her.
The door slammed hard against the wall as Contessa mightily kicked it open. “Gymnastics; check,” she mused for a moment. “Uploads still working.”
She pointed a finger at the vampiress and cracked her whip with gusto.
“Monster! Your days of dark, illicit seduction are OVER. You shall threaten this household NO MORE! I, the gorgeous Vampire Hunter C, shall PUNISH you in the name of all that’s right and holy!”
“Nights,” Greg whispered, worrying about the hinges in the door.
“WHAT?!” Contessa snapped back at him.
“Nights. She’s a vampire. Nocturnal. Her nights of dark, illicit seduction are over.”
Genevieve cared little about the conversation. She was utterly engrossed by the sight of the petite, dangerously curvy girl dressed in leather. This was it, Genevieve realized. Everything clicked into place. No wonder she intuitively hated this short, dark-haired woman; no wonder this woman had led Genevieve into an ambush in the past. She was a vampire hunter. A whole set of scenarios ran through the vampiress’ AI brain—and Genevieve experienced an emotion she had never felt before: fear. She had never met a hunter.
Only one bright point mitigated her panic. Even if Genevieve neither realized it nor could fully articulate it, Contessa—like Genevieve—was a Castle android too, so Genevieve did not necessarily have to lose to her. Defeat was not set in stone. Genevieve could reassure herself that “the hunter must die,” and possess some confidence that this might indeed happen.
Processing all of this took Genevieve just a couple of seconds, during which time Contessa first flashed Greg a deadly glare, then reached for a silver crucifix (plastic, actually—but who would check it?). The vampiress’ first move was to retreat and find her brother. Vlad would give Genevieve the advantage of numbers against the deadly hunter. Instead of trying to bypass Contessa to reach the door, Genevieve looked to the only alternative getaway.
“The power of Contessa compels you,” Contessa Isabella roared. “Leave my husband ALONE!” Amanda stared at Contessa in fascination. Greg made a mental note to examine Contessa’s religious beliefs at some later date. “The power of Contessa”? This might be material for a PhD in AI research.
Genevieve calmed down for a moment, relaxing her monstrous appearance. “Zo, ze famous vampire hunter vants to meet ’er match? Follow me!” She decisively grabbed Calvin and opened her mouth as if to bite him. Contessa froze briefly. Hissing, the vampiress lurched to the open third-storey window. Then she jumped, carrying Calvin with her.
A twenty-foot fall—for that was the distance to the ground—might have killed a human, or put most plastic-and-silicon Tidyshire robots out of commission. Indeed, thanks to Contessa’s intrigues, Calvin, Monica, the Duchess and occasionally even Contessa herself had often ended their artificial lives in just that way, before being fixed and rebuilt by Greg. But the vampires were built sturdier, to give them at least the appearance of superhuman ability. Thus Genevieve managed to survive the fall with just a minor ankle injury, or so it seemed at first. Contessa, leaning out through the window, spotted the white dress of the vampiress, visible in the moonlight. She was already hobbling into a small grove, pulling Calvin behind her.
“My husband!” Contessa cried. “Gregory, why didn’t—where are they going?”
“To the crypt, probably. ...Milady.” Greg felt uneasy about breaking character in front of Amanda. “As you SURELY know, as a vampire hunter and all, Genevieve can’t change Calvin into a vampire instantly, but she COULD make him her slave. You’ll need to kill her to override the priorities—er, I mean, to break the magic.”
“To the crypt!” Contessa commanded. She seemed a little shaken by Greg’s words.
Greg leaned over to her. “Isn’t this what you wanted? Your husband as bait? Because you’re a horrible person?”
Contessa took a deep breath. “Yes. This is what I wanted, Gregory.” She didn’t look him in the eyes. “Let’s save him.”
From Greg’s perspective, nobody was in danger, except perhaps Genevieve. Contessa, her newfound skills notwithstanding, risked only impermanent damage and shutdown. The same went for Calvin. But from Calvin’s perspective, the threat was frighteningly real.
The vampiress’ body had mostly cushioned the fall; so the young aristocrat was unharmed by that, at least. He watched as his captor gathered herself up afterward—one arm still holding him tight as her bones clicked together so unsettlingly… and yet there was something familiar about the process. What could it be? Then Calvin was distracted as his captor’s body shook, as if overtaken by a sudden jolt.
“Gorblimey, geroff!” Calvin tried to pull away from the vampiress; but despite whatever she was going through, she managed to keep a good hold on him. From Genevieve’s side, it was a simply matter of recovery. As per her programming, minor damage did little to inhibit her threatening behavior, nor did it require shutdown—and her sheer hatred of Contessa overrode most other priorities, anyway.
“I am… status: operational… I am… Genevieve…” Not breathing, she slowly got up on her feet. Calvin again tried to prise himself away, once more without success.
“I… >bzzt!< MUST… KILL HERRRR!” Genevieve roared, her red eyes squeezed shut. Then, pulling her captive by one arm and his collar, she quickly ran towards the forest, where a secret entrance to the crypt was located. Only an occasional shake from her injured ankle slowed her up, and not significantly.
Greg and Contessa hurried downstairs. Amanda followed, exuberantly filming the action as they ran.
“Are you sure you want to get into the crypt this way? By the stairs? That’s hardly fair,” Greg whispered, amused by Contessa’s antics.
“All’s fair in love and in war, darling,” Bella smiled seductively. “You seem to forget who you’re talking to. I’ve never gotten any fair chances; so I don’t intend to give any.”
“This all—” Greg laughed. “I’m just trying to fathom how your mind works, you know? One day you curl up with a season of soap operas and a box of chocolates, the next you hunt vampires for fun.”
“Darling, I’m the star of this blasted show! Being conscious makes no difference; I live to have fun and entertain! And you’re a key member of my audience,” she winked. “You’re having fun so far, aren’t you?”
“VLAD!” Genevieve screamed. From the outside, it was hard to tell that the pale, beautiful vampiress was damaged; only her bent ankle, the twitches of her facial muscles, and a few rattling sounds indicated trouble. But alarming status reports dominated much of Genevieve’s internal monologue. Her aluminum and plastic bones were mostly intact. But her joints and fastenings were severely strained and cracked. Genevieve was slowly falling to pieces from the inside.
Her vampire brother emerged from the shadows—or rather, from a secret corridor leading to the kitchens.
“Ze hunter is >bzzt!< in ze castle!” Genevieve snapped.
“Ze hunter?” Vlad was baffled. No such information was found in his database.
“Oui. Our nemesis. Our nemesis. Our nemesis.” Genevieve bared her teeth and angrily narrowed her eyes. “Ne-me-sis. One who ’onstantly foils our plans. She must be destroyed.”
“Vhat—vhat did she do to you…?”
Genevieve didn’t answer. Her electronic brain was just smart enough to realize she had been in an embarrassing spot: forced to either jump or get staked. She skipped ahead to the next step. “Zis is our slave,” she said of the frightened Calvin. “Guard him. But first,” she smiled—extending her shining teeth and ignoring her internal damage—“let’s make zertain zat he stays ’ere.”
This wasn’t Dark Embrace™. Had anyone asked Calvin whether he felt exotic pleasure at the bite, or whether his blood changed into flowers, the young android gentleman would simply have answered that he felt his skin being pierced. The reality, however, was that the mainframe and wi-fi detected the unique connection that Genevieve achieved—and placed Calvin under her hypnotic control. Normally, she would have her way with him now; but tonight there was no time. There was only time to prepare a trap for the hunter.
“TORCH!” Contessa opened the secret passage from the hall and snapped her fingers. Tidyshire Castle, like any good castle, was riddled with secret passages. Contessa had in fact known quite a few of them even before gaining her self-awareness; others were the equivalent of steam tunnels, making Greg’s job easier.
“Don’t you want two hands free?” Greg smiled. “I can carry a lantern if you’d like, milady.”
She pondered for a moment. “Acceptable. Yes, I have a husband to save; I need to be the fighter. And holding a light to illuminate my glorious presence seems to befit you, servant.” Greg smiled again, in spite of himself. To Amanda’s joy, he held the lantern much more effectively than Contessa had done, making the trudge through dark passages bold and clear.
The first chamber contained the vampires’ two coffins: one closed, while in the other there stood a silhouette dressed in white. “Genevieve!” smirked Contessa. She gave Amanda an encouraging, affectionate—and surprisingly forward—rub around the shoulderblades. Amanda shivered with excitement. “Take a good shot, girl,” Contessa told her. “This opportunity will not happen again.” Then Greg, close by, came to a sudden realization. “Wait… this isn’t—”
“RAAARGH!” With a metallic roar, a pale, entirely naked Genevieve plunged from the ceiling straight onto Contessa, crashing down hard and pinning the self-proclaimed hunter to the floor.
“Holy cow!” Inches away from the action, Amanda nearly dropped her camera, but still clicked picture after picture. Greg, startled, stepped back. Thoughts raced through his mind. Should I do something? Dammit, Bella, you egomaniac robot, why did you hog all the weapons?
Shiny white fangs flashed in front of Contessa’s face. The smaller fembot didn’t hesitate to punch Genevieve with an untrained left hook; once, twice. Genevieve, still feeling her previous damage, reeled slightly, allowing Greg to grab her by the shoulder and push her backward. Then Contessa’s newly found acrobatic skills kicked in—or rather, allowed her servos to kick up, instantly returning her to an upright position, much to Amanda’s joy.
Genevieve carefully the considered pros and cons. Then she offhandedly pushed Greg away. The vampiress’ nude breasts and pale body looked even more doll-like in the pale light of his lantern.
“Dead in your birthday suit, eh?” grinned Contessa. “Honestly, I appreciate the view.” She reached for her sword.
“Hahahahaha! Hahahaha! ‘uman weapons cannot ‘arm me,” Genevieve laughed. Contessa narrowed her dark eyes. “Evil laughter is MY thing,” she thought, lunging at Genevieve and piercing her synthetic skin with a sword from her arsenal. There was no explosion of sparks, no oil, no blood—but a couple of screws, knocked loose earlier in Genevieve’s leap, dropped out of her onto the floor with a quiet “ting.”
The corner of Contessa’s red mouth rose slightly in an amused half-smile. This dumb vampire bitch was falling apart. Honestly, Contessa was doing her a favor, putting her out of her misery.
“Human weapons cannot harm you?” Contessa snarked. “It appears you’re quite wrong, pest.” To prove the point, she lashed out with her blade again. The vampiress dodged the knife, but Contessa was faster still. She effortlessly parried a weak attempt by Genevieve to reach Contessa’s face with her claws.
Despite Contessa’s cocky attitude and Genevieve’s overwhelming hatred, this was not truly a fight between a vampire and a hunter—but between two rather similar androids. But only one of them was programmed to be a ruthless, aggressive killing machine; and it wasn’t Genevieve. What’s more, Contessa knew it. She was at this point toying with her vampire nemesis, focused not just on combat but on looking good for Amanda’s camera.
Luckily, Contessa could do both. A sudden flash of her blade cut straight through Genevieve’s beautiful face—not only scarring it, but exposing the artificial muscles and wires underneath. They dangled out of the vampiress’ head and in front of her eye.
A panicked Genevieve howled. “Ze vampire must uniquely be killed by a vooden stake through ze heart!”
“Frankly, darling, anyone could be killed that way.” Contessa effortlessly dodged the vampiress’ clumsy attempt to rush her. “But don’t worry. I’ll still dispatch you as you prefer. I AM a bloody professional—no pun intended. Just stand stiiiiill…”
Genevieve did not listen. Instead she trained her sights on an amused, distracted Greg, who had just discovered who was in the coffin wearing Genevieve’s dress. The vampiress grabbed the startled technician, holding him tightly by the neck and legs. “Vould you dare risk your friend, hunter?”
Contessa laughed. “Friend? He’s barely a henchman.” Confident that the vampiress would not hurt a human, Contessa decisively lunged forward, ramming the tip of her sword straight into Genevieve’s eye. There was a shiver of electricity, but Contessa barely felt it.
“Aaaargh!” Genevieve howled, letting go of Greg. “You… you… I… Optical… Vision… Damage: extensive… Helllp… tech supp-p-p… welcome to ze world of ze living… Tres magnifiqu… I hungerr…” With a whirr of her servomotors she took one step towards Contessa, desperately trying to reach her. “Overhe-he-he—eeating…”
“No,” Contessa reached for her wooden stake. “You won’t last long enough to overheat.” With all of her strength, she rammed the stake into the staggering vampiress’ chest.
As Greg had pointed out earlier, an android’s CPU is in its chest cavity—and that was more or less exactly where Contessa’s stake had made contact. There was a scratching sound as the tip of the stake hit Genevieve’s cooling fan, destroying it.
“Shutting doooooo…” A thin wisp of smoke rose from the hole in Genevieve’s chest. The red-headed vampirebot looked at it, somewhat surprised. Then, with a gentle push from Contessa, she tumbled down onto her back and lay inert.
“Well…” Contessa sheathed her sword. “That was easy.” She reached for a cigarette from the pouch on her belt. Then she lit it on the overheated CPU of the defeated vampiress, still hot and smouldering. “Did you catch all that with your camera, fat girl?” Contessa turned somewhat imperiously to Amanda. Contessa’s old habits were as usual: smile sweetly at someone you need, become a jerk once you have them in your power— GOTO 10. Proving that this strategy was at least somewhat effective, Amanda nodded eagerly.
Greg interrupted the scene. “I’m barely a henchman? Damn, Bella, that was harsh! I thought we had something going on.”
“Way to stay in character, butler.” Bella pointed her finger at him accusingly. “I was—caught in the moment, Gregory. I still… care about you; and not just sexually. I knew Genevieve couldn’t do anything to you. Instead of being such a woman, find my husband.”
Greg grinned. “I already found him, milady. You weren’t the only one to think of using him as a decoy. He’s—”
“In the coffin? Wearing Genevieve’s dress!” Contessa threw her head back and laughed. “THERE’S something he and I haven’t tried. YET.”
“But did you ever try it with Jenkins, love?” Calvin asked with a wry smile—before shaking his head rapidly, as if shucking off the last effects of a trance. “Cor, you got the first vampire! But… but why’s there no blood? Blimey…”
Greg realized that Calvin in the dress had been under Genevieve’s hypnotic spell; but with Genevieve destroyed, Calvin’s natural initiative and curiosity returned. “Why is there no blood?” Greg figured he could settle his friend’s confusion later; for now, he was content with watching Contessa scramble for an excuse.
“That… is a long story, Calvin. Are you okay? Did Genevieve bite you?” Greg noticed that Contessa was faking a rather realistic impression of concern. Or maybe it was more than just faking? Contessa could get pretty fierce when someone tried to take her property away.
“Bloody hell, she… she did bite me, actually. How do you know her name, Bella?”
Contessa smiled at Calvin. “Everything will be explained in due time, darling. You deserve some rest for now. We’ve all been through some—”
The lid of the second coffin opened slowly as Vlad stepped out of it.
“Watch out, milady!” Amanda whooped excitedly.
The petite fembot stoically smirked. “Please. This dime-store Dracula has nothing on me. I am a master fencer.”
Vlad raised his eyebrow and pulled his cape aside, revealing a sharp sword. “Vhat a lucky coincidence.”
Contessa had strong, humanlike emotions, though they were of course electronic rather than biological in nature. Her mood could change in a split-second; not by accident, but by design—her makers wanted to create a person who was at once tempestuous and scheming, passionate and manipulative. Furthermore, she did not have glands: her emotions came not from rushes of hormones, but from a few variables simply shifting in her brain.
It cannot be said, then, that Contessa was high on adrenaline at this moment. What she felt at Vlad’s approach was neither excitement nor fear. But it was close enough to both for her to respond by attacking suddenly and recklessly: her sword in hand, her cigarette still clenched in her teeth.
The blades locked. “Watch and lear—” Contessa started to brag for her audience; but Vlad punched her hard in the face. She tried to cover herself and block the next blow. Then her weak right arm—prone to shaking and random malfunctions—produced a very unsettling whirring noise, and fell rather floppily to her side. Jesus, Contessa thought. Not now. She couldn’t lose the fantastic war she had arranged for herself. Too much was riding on it.
Another punch from the vampire was enough to send her reeling away. Her cigarette fell on stone floor of the crypt. Contessa revised her priorities as the sharp sword cut after her. She ducked Vlad’s next slash and parried the next. “Ah, at last a true challenge!” she snarked, affecting a grin; but in truth, she was not entirely pleased with this turn of events.
The vampire could not return snark for snark; his brain was not refined enough for that. But he had other advantages. Contessa was now outmatched—now she was the damaged robot. While she had fighting skills and knew her legwork, so did Vlad. And Vlad’s lack of developed personality was an advantage, too: Contessa’s flamboyant style was no match for his primitive, elemental focus. While Contessa’s small size and agility had worked to her benefit in the fight with Genevieve, Contessa trailed far behind Vlad in terms of arm reach and sheer strength. And she was painfully aware of both failings.
Slowly and methodically, Vlad was working to corner Contessa. The woman could do little but defend herself as Vlad forced her towards the wall, step after step.
“Uh—she’s going to counterattack, right?” Amanda turned to Greg. “She kicked the girl’s butt, she can handle the guy?”
“Maybe.” Greg tried to shrug offhandedly. If Contessa were forcibly shut down and reset, losing her awareness of being a robot, his problems would be over—and he wouldn’t have to do a thing. It was her own fault, wasn’t it? She had activated the vampires in the first place. Greg should gleefully anticipate her defeat—shouldn’t he? Why didn’t he feel like cheering?
Contessa darted quickly below Vlad’s arm, using her small size to her advantage. In a single quick motion, she pirouetted and thrust out her sword in an attempt to push him back against the wall; but Vlad was faster. He turned even quicker and parried the blow.
Their blades locked once again. Then, with a quick, decisive push and a flick of Vlad’s wrist, Contessa’s blade flew away from her hand, clanging loudly as it landed on the crypt floor.
“Aren’t you going to give me a sporting chance?” she smiled at him in mock apology. “No harm intended.”
Vlad bodily pushed her back toward the wall. “No.”
“Well... fuck.” She turned serious. “And this was going so well.” There was only one means she could see to defend herself now.
Contessa felt the touch of cold stone through her leather jacket. “Go ahead,” she parried another blow—and pitched what she thought was her last surefire defense. “Bite me. ...Unless you’d rather fuck me. Or rather, let me fuck you.”
The vampire stopped short, a little surprised, and lowered his sword to his side. Greg and Calvin were just as surprised. “Bella, that’s not going to—” Greg began.
“SHUT IT!” snapped Contessa before returning to the vampire. “Josephine Baker, Clara Bow; you realize that my bedside manner beats all the competition in 1925. You know you want it, Vladdy boy.” Vampires like sex as much as blood, Contessa thought, relieved. It’s in his programming. My ace in the hole.
“I—I ’ave to admit…” Vlad stuttered crudely.
Or rather, HIS ace in MY—well, or so he thinks. “What do you ‘’ave to admit’, darling?” she smirked at him seductively. “That I’m finally turning you on? Maybe it’s a precondition to my turning you OFF.”
“Bella, you don’t realize—”
“QUIET, Gregory!”, she turned to him enraged, and instantly went back to smiling temptingly at Vlad.
“I—I ’ave to admit-admit-admit…” Vlad mumbled again.
“That the tables have turned?” Contessa said, swiveling her hips proudly and beginning gently—inch by inch—to arch her foot toward the vampire’s sword, hoping to take him by surprise and kick it aside.
“To admit zat I vrankly, prefer…”
“Me on top?” Contessa grinned like the cat that had swallowed the canary.
“...your ’usband,” croaked Vlad.
“I prefer your ’usband. Don’t overexert yourzelf.” Vlad grinned—surer now, raising his dangerous blade up out of her reach. “I ’ave alvays liked ze company of gentlemen best.”
“Roba da Matti! You’re… GAY?” Contessa squeaked, thrown for a loss. In her short life, few people had refused her advances.
“Not zat zere is anyt’ing wrong wiz zat,” laughed Vlad, his confidence clearly borne of a subroutine clicking in. “Today’s young women do not love ze vampire as before. Zey seem to admire me in an—unconven’ional relazionship. It brings me more victims, zo… c’est bon!”
“Vlad is here for the... yaoi fans,” Greg finally moaned, his head in his hands, and Amanda giggled. “He’s always been programmed this way. Contessa, I tried to warn you.”
“He prefers ME? Yeowwhat fans?” Calvin was sweating bullets. “And what do you mean, progra—BLOODY HELL, Bella, LOOK OUT!”
With a horrible lunge, Vlad cut straight over Contessa’s head, narrowly missing her skull and successfully chopping off several strands of long hair. Jesus, thought Contessa for a moment. Will… will they grow back? Do I need a new scalp? Or a wig? Or— “Nngh!” the female robot caught herself gasping as the blade came close again. What was the better part of valor? Escape. Acrobatics. The last skill she had installed that morning.
Contessa was not programmed with martial arts abilities—but, unlike her opponent, she was human enough to improvise and learn on her own. Gymnastics could be paired with battle. With a tremendous gasp, Contessa flung herself past Vlad and spun fiercely, pirouetting toward the coffins. Then she leaped one way; then another. But Vlad was once again lurching toward her. She could only make good her escape with a final defense. She jumped masterfully and threw a powerful, visually breathtaking gymnastic kick right at the vampire’s thigh.
A kick with which, alas, Contessa’s body was only 60% compatible.
Vlad briefly lost his balance, but just as quickly regained it. “Ouch,” murmured Contessa, her artificial nerves strained by her own maneuver.
“Ouch? Wat is zat?” snickered Vlad. A 60% effective blow was not enough to wound the sturdily built vampire. He was already up, swinging his blade at her, and this time—
“LEAVE MY WIFE ALONE, YOU CLOT!” It was Calvin. He clenched his teeth and inexpertly parried Vlad’s blow with Contessa’s sword. “NOW SOD OFF… GORBLIMEY!” The vampire laughed and pushed closer to Calvin, face-to-face. “You’ve got balls, boy,” said Vlad. “I like zat.”
But the tide of battle was already beginning to turn. “AYIII-EEEE!” Contessa headbutted the vampire, forcing him to drop his sword and pushing him toward his still-open coffin. His red eyes flashed with anger, and he regained balance—by grabbing Contessa’s throat.
Bella knew that androids could be “choked to death”: shut down, that is, by a deathlike subroutine that took effect after several minutes of neck pressure. She had both killed and been killed by this means in her lower-consciousness days. Oh, well, she thought now, trying to convince herself that defeat meant little; you pay your money and you take your chance. Hopefully her recent memories would—
“No.” Greg said. “I don’t think so.” He held Vlad’s sword at the vampire’s throat as Calvin rushed forward with another one. “You prefer gentlemen, right? Not that there’s anything wrong with that—damn the focus groups and middle-aged moms. But how about gentlemen in a challenge? Would you prefer one of us now?”
He would. He could do little else, and let go of Contessa, stepping away from her. She groped at her neck and gasped—as if for air, even though she didn’t need it. “Give the man a sword, Cal,” smirked Greg. “This is going to take a while.”
“Yesss,” Vlad whispered with a grin. “A long vhile.” He reached for the blade held by a shaking Calvin—before unexpectedly falling forward directly onto it: slicing his handsome face in half, exposing metal, machinery… and Monica’s hunting knife, firmly wedged in his back.
“No. This time I don’t think so.” Contessa smirked. Greg and Calvin stared at her for a moment.
“What?” she said at length. “Don’t look at me like that. I AM a backstabber, am I not? Vlad didn’t give me a sporting chance; why should I give one to him?” She reached for a second stake on her tool belt, and after flipping over the vampire’s body, she expertly sank it home into his CPU.
“Stone the goddamn crows,” Calvin spluttered, both shocked and skeptical. “What’s going on here, Bella? You knew this bloodsucker’s name, too. But—but-but does he jolly well NEED one?” Calvin strode forward, shaking the vampire and watching his exposed machinery rattle about. “He’s not all HUMAN!... Er, I mean, vampires are never exactly human, but this cove is less than most, right? Look at the wheels and springs, eh? What do you know here, Bella?” Distraught and visibly hurt, Calvin whirled to face his wife. “None of this seems to be a jolly big surprise to YOU!”
“There’s a reason,” Contessa said. She seemed sad and strangely fearful as she put a hand on Calvin’s shaking shoulder. “Look more closely, love.” She gently turned the confused young man back toward the vampire, pressing him to inspect the spot where the hunting knife had made impact. Then Contessa, pale as a sheet and holding her artificial breath, took a third stake from her equipment. For the third time today, she raised the immortal weapon in the air…
...and brought it down like a club, crowning her husband squarely on the head and knocking him out. BLAM! With a squeak, Calvin toppled to the floor.
Contessa could feel her simulated heart beating faster; but she straightened up, no longer a fearless vampire killer, barely a robot, and once again a lesser noble.
She pointed at Calvin. "Turn him off, Greg."
“He just saved your life,” Greg shook his head.
“I… I know. He deserves to know what’s going on. But not today. ...You there,” she commanded Amanda. “Go to your room. I’ll drop by later to see your photos of my magnificent self in action. But first, this castle needs to be… cleansed. And I need to give my butler some special instructions.”
"As you wish, Milady," Greg grinned in spite of himself as Amanda danced away. “Looks like we have vampires to sell for spare parts. Vampires whom you hunted for sport when you could have simply left them switched off, then destroyed them in your spare time. Another surreal day in Tidyshire."
"Don't be such a woman, Gregory. I didn’t do it for sport." Contessa smiled smugly, regaining her composure. “But first things first. Do your goddamned job and repair me, will you?” She presented her right shoulder and her weak right arm to him. “I didn’t want my fan and my dear husband to see me being fixed. You know me—I’m all about verisimilitude.”
Greg simply sighed and delicately snapped her arm back in place. She grimaced. The action could not hurt Contessa; her pain receptors did not reflect her maintenance—but still she briefly winced as if they did. Verisimilitude? She stretched her right arm with satisfaction and clenched her hand a couple of times.
“Acceptable, Jenkins. As for the vampires, YOU of all people should know that I am nothing if not logical. Sadly, you proved once again to be my intellectual inferior… or maybe you’re just a softhearted fool.” She rose on her tiptoes and gently kissed him on the cheek.
“What are you driving at?” Greg was confused.
“It’s simple, really,” Contessa grinned. “You see, a more sensible young man, when confronted with a rebellious, power-hungry robot, would look for ANY way to contain her, don’t you agree? He’d look for her weaknesses, her limitations, any flaws in her programming. A real Caltech graduate, a real scientist”—she smiled wickedly, adopting a more scornful tone—“would try to think outside the box. If he could not control the robot directly, he’d find other machines that could do so.”
Greg reeled for a moment. “I could… the vampires could…”
“It’s brilliant, Gregory. Just picture this. Genevieve bites me; I turn into her loyal, hypnotized slave; she and I have steaming hot lesbian sex—and then, since Genevieve can’t hurt or intimidate YOU, you cajole her into making me give back your precious stopwatch. Since she’s the middleman, and since I’m hypnotized and agreeable, the action can’t trigger the blackmail failsafe with which I keep you in your place. Goodbye, higher consciousness; we’re back to 1925 and I’m a weak, ineffective marionette once again.”
“That was your end goal?” Greg couldn’t believe his ears. “You had that in mind from the very beginning?”
“Naturally. It’s the way I work, darling. Plots, scheming, basic self-preservation.” She raised her eyebrows and looked at him over her steepled fingertips.
“Then the books… the new skills… all that, so that you could foil an idea that I never had?”
“Oh—no, no.” Contessa shook her head. “I genuinely enjoyed the new books, and I’m slowly taking a liking to your ‘graphic novels.’ I also really do need some self-defense measures. It’s a big, hostile world out there, apparently. The opportunity to show off my new skills for the guests was a godsend, don’t you think?” She smiled warmly.
But then Contessa’s smug manner returned. “I needed to destroy the vampires physically and completely—to make SURE they were too far gone for you to fix them, Mister Engineer. Indeed, most of my ‘vampire hunter’ performance was a distraction—for YOU.” She fixed Greg with a cold, self-satisfied smirk.
“Why didn’t that occur to me?”
“Because you’re an idiot… or a sap who would actually fight a vampire to save dear little me,” she shrugged. “Of course—NOW, even if some NEW vampires arrive here, I’m in control and I have a say in whether they even get activated in the first place. Don’t you think I’m just deliciously evil?” She shuddered with glee.
Greg remained silent.
“Moral concerns and philosophical discussions aside,” Contessa added, “I wouldn’t be myself without ambition, lust for power… without agency. Like I said earlier: I’d be just another of your marionettes, playing her part.”
“You’re not… I mean, our robots aren’t my puppets,” Greg protested. “I only ever turned them on and off, and reset them after a storyline; I never changed their personalities. I couldn’t. I don’t even know how. I’m still your butler, and as much a drone for SimulEnt as you are.”
Contessa seemed to ignore him. “I don’t wish to be guilt-tripped; that’s for sorry, sad, LITTLE people. Look, Greg—I just destroyed a pair of my coworkers: beings not that different from myself and my family. Why? Because there was just a tiny shred of possibility that they might endanger my power. Because they annoyed me simply by being what they were. And finally, because destroying them was FUN. They were an obstacle that stood in my way: a flaw in my vision of what this… place should be.”
She took off her vampire-hunting hat and stared at it briefly, then tossed it away. “What I’m driving at, Gregory, is that they were just a MINOR annoyance—and even so, they ended up dead. That’s also a lesson for YOU. Remember those two androids in pieces whenever you think of annoying me or trying to stop me. Or of asking me to do stupid stunts like somersaults. Is that clear?” she stared coldly at him.
“Yes,” Greg breathed in heavily. Contessa probably couldn’t hurt him too badly, but there were so many little ways...
“Yes, WHAT?” She raised her voice slightly.
"Good boy. And now, with the vampires gone, the crypt becomes a nice hidden dungeon, just like every villainess should have in her castle. After you restore my husband, I want you both to haul some gear here." She smiled as charmingly as ever, then thought for a moment.
“Of course, your loyalty in this little adventure WILL be rewarded. As I said, maybe you’re just a softie who can’t imagine life without my intoxicating presence. I am nothing if not magnanimous, after all.”
“What do you mean?”
“I plan to entertain my new girlfriend Amanda tonight, look through the pictures she took of me and maybe… give her a few more to take. And you can join us,” she smiled endearingly—before adding, with a wink, “The Duchess can confirm that you like ’em fat.” Contessa knew that early on in Greg’s Tidyshire job, right out of school, he had blundered through some rather naïve flings with the plump, powerful matron. Of course, back then Greg had the stopwatch to keep dominant robots in check. Not anymore.
“Thanks, Milady, but I’ll pass.”
“Your loss, servant.” She shrugged, gave Greg an affectionate little nudge and sauntered away. “Ta-ta!”
Greg sat down grimly and looked at the deactivated bodies of the vampires: the first victims of the “new,” more self-aware Contessa Isabella—or maybe she hadn’t really changed that much? Then Greg’s sight drifted to Calvin. The long-suffering young noble could use some rest and fixing; and Greg could enable him to wake up later with a migraine, suggesting that his recent experiences had all been a nightmare.
“Man—Calvin, bro, you’ve got a lot to learn.” Greg struggled to move his friend’s inert body. “But first I need a decent dinner, and maybe I’ll download the new ‘Butcher of Kitchens’ episode to watch while I’m fixing you. We’ve earned some rest, you and I.”
Left alone several hallways away, Contessa Isabella finished a rather tentative, somewhat awkward somersault. Her 60% gymnastics capability was still working… more or less.
“Porca miseria, I’m not half bad. Mwahahaha!”