Just Another Afternoon

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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 SimulEnt, a major corporation—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”—really called 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?

Another wicked scheme to gain power had been exposed. The evil genius behind it reacted according to plan.

"No, Alfred," Contessa snapped, aiming a small revolver at the Duke. "If I can't have you… no one else will."

"Noooo!" Pam Devon, normally a middle-aged secretary from California, found herself charging at the villainess with fists clenched. Contessa reeled after her first punch, but grabbed the assailant; they both tangled and fell on the ground. Pam scrambled to reach for the gun, but so did Contessa. A loud 'bang' reverberated through the castle gardens.

"Pamela… great snakes, Pamela! Are you okay?" Alfred ran to Pam.

"Yes, Alfred. She's dead. The nightmare's, like, over. We can totally be together… forever." Pam fluttered her eyelashes at the android and embraced him. She had fallen for Duke Alfred instantly, several days before, upon consoling him after the murder of his wife. The murderer—now revealed as Contessa—had also killed her husband, royal son Calvin. Her goal had been to seduce the Duke and take Winifred’s place and title; but Pam and royal daughter Monica had put paid to the scheme. Now Pam and Alfred were victorious once and for all.

For all?

“FINALLY.” After a couple of minutes Contessa opened her eyes and slowly got up off the ground. "I thought they’d never leave. Well—all in a day's work. You can’t say I don’t struggle for my art…” She critically looked herself over. "Porca, this fur coat was brand new. Next time I die, I ought to do it indoors." She whisked off bits of sand and soil from her dark coat. Hearing a gasp, she instantly turned back.

"Isabella! You're alive!" It was Monica. "You… how? You were shot."

"Yes, I know. I was there, young lady." Contessa started to search her coat pockets. "Be good and wait a couple minutes… where is it?… ah, yes." She reached for the pocket and pulled out a packet of her favorite Dunhill cigarettes.

"What?!—Are you taking this calmly, then?!” Monica spat in disbelief, unable to talk clearly. “You betrayed me… your own sister—sister-in-law… ugh, you know what I mean.”

She balled up her fists in genuine hurt. “I really cared for you, and you destroyed our—our whole bloody world. You WILL answer for it.”

Contessa Isabella lit a cigarette and took a deep drag. "Ahhh, I needed that—hey, stop it! I TOLD you to wait!" Contessa stepped sideways as enraged Monica charged at her. "Hell and raspberries, I just got killed. I'm not in the mood."

Monica grabbed Contessa from behind in a surprisingly professional armlock, but the Italian woman reached into another coat pocket and pulled out the stopwatch: her prized possession, allowing remote control of all robots on the premises. Contessa shifted her body weight backwards, sending herself and Monica tumbling to the ground—and freeing Contessa's good arm. She toggled through icons on the watch's control display. Where was that “shut-down-Monica” option? Before Contessa could choose it, the righteously offended girl began heroically tugging on her hair.

"You killed my mother just to… to—" With a whirr of her servomotors Monica froze in place, her rage suddenly turning into an odd grimace.

"Jesus, kill one mother-in-law and everyone gets their knickers in a twist.” Contessa sadly shook her head and began reassessing her coat. "Do you even KNOW how hard it is to find stylish clothes that accentuate your figure when you’re only five feet tall? I really did like this fur."

She pulled out another cigarette and returned her attention to the frozen Monica. "What am I going to do with you? Mrs. Devon will only be here half a day more, so Greg will have plenty of time to wipe your memory. Still, can't leave you just sitting here…" Contessa hoisted her sister-in-law upward and began dragging her toward the distant castle. “Thank God I don’t sweat. That would ruin this coat even further.”

Monica was larger than Contessa and quite physically fit. Contessa was inexperienced with hauling cargo, plagued with a faulty right arm—and fully aware that any minute, she might stumble across Dorothy and Roger, her other sister-in-law and her husband. Thus, as Contessa continued the arduous process of transporting Monica inside, she set her down every few minutes and tiptoed ahead to scout for witnesses. Finally she reached the gate of the castle.

“Jesus Christ. Normally I’m glad I was built petite and adorable… but days like THIS make me want to get a bodybuilder’s body.” Contessa complained at the immobile Monica while finishing a cigarette in front of the gate. “In Greg’s... Japanese cartoon films every robot is super strong, dammit! Where was I when the muscles were handed out?”

Contessa reached for another smoke only to find that there were just two Dunhills left in the pack. “Ugh. Well, then—allez-oop, sister.” She tried hoisting Monica up in a different position, grabbing her legs and trying to haul them on her shoulders. Monica’s head was awkwardly dragged along the floor.

Contessa made slow progress down a castle hallway, chuckling silently at the thought of how Monica might react if she were conscious. Her plan, of course, was to dump Monica in Greg’s lab and let him take care of any wear and tear tonight, while Contessa—well, she had plans for herself and Greg tomorrow.

“Just one flight of stairs, darling!” Contessa stood at the top, preparing to drag Monica downward by one leg. “I hope your head doesn’t come off. Pity your mother’s not in your place just now. I might have made a grand Winnie-the-Pooh joke, if only—”

“EEEEEEK!” Marie was passing by and dropped her tray in shock. “Madame la Comptesse! But I saw you… and your ’usband is missing… and why are you—”

“For fuck’s sake, you frog-eating ginger nitwit,” snapped Contessa. She dropped Monica to the floor and straightened up, calmly fixing the French maid with a cold stare. “You just had to drop in, didn’t you? Today’s just not my day.”

“HELP! AU SECOURS! Ze murd—” Marie started to scream.

Contessa sighed theatrically and pulled out her stopwatch again. “You really ARE useless, you know that? Honestly, if not for your bubble-butt, I’d have replaced you AGES ago.” With a deft gesture of her slim hand and the stopwatch, she froze Marie in place. Then she pulled both Marie and Monica to an adjacent corridor, silently peering back to make sure Dorothy or Roger weren’t around.

Where were they, anyway? Contessa had killed Calvin in order to marry the Duke; then she had poisoned the Duchess at dinner—of course, in order for her deliciously evil deeds to be properly appreciated, she’d dropped a few clues for Pam and Monica to find. Perhaps they had told Dorothy and Roger of their suspicions? Perhaps Dorothy and Roger had locked themselves up, fearing the diabolical Mistress Isabella? Contessa felt a warm glow in her dark, wicked heart... metaphorically speaking, of course.

Still, Pam remained on the Castle grounds—and until she was gone, it was critical that she believe Contessa to have been defeated for good. It wouldn’t do for her to be spotted walking around the place, or for Monica and Marie to be seen in their frozen state. The best solution, Contessa reasoned, was to hide the depowered girls… in the dungeon! Yes, of course.

What Contessa called her “dungeon” had once been a crypt occupied by Tidyshire’s robot vampires. Contessa had managed to destroy them, and their former home was now the spot where Contessa carried out activities that the other robots never saw. These were activities that she had come to enjoy in her newly sentient state, but that went beyond her role as a wicked aristocrat—or that were out of place for 1925, even given the normally lenient limits of Tidyshire’s historical accuracy. The dungeon was where Contessa kept her modern books and fashions, her DVD collection and TV, and the bathroom and as-yet-untested jacuzzi that she had forced Greg to install “for basic hygiene.” She had even made Greg haul a bed down here—she wanted a recharging station separate from the bedroom she shared with Calvin, and despite Contessa’s occasional Gothic tastes, she refused to recharge by lying in the vampires’ disused coffins.

Of course, every dungeon worth its salt had secret passages. As Tidyshire’s former crypt, this one came with a few. Contessa was fairly near one now.

“Damn, you’re both big girls,” Contessa muttered, dumping Monica and Marie in a narrow corridor just behind a secret dungeon doorway. “Well, that’s enough drama for today.” She took off her long, black opera gloves and theatrically brushed imaginary dust off her hands. “And now—just another afternoon all to myself. Best company I could ever want. Mwahahaha!”

She sauntered to the mini-fridge that Gregory had installed for her. “Madame La Comptesse needs a nice, tall glass of… Oh, you’ve GOT to be shitting me!” The refrigerator was empty, aside from an improbably huge and frosty bottle of vodka. “And he thinks he can repair ME? He can’t even restock a bar, dammit.” Contessa lit her penultimate cigarette and looked hesitantly at Marie’s butt, then at the vodka. “Well, priviet, kharoshyi drug.

Alcohol had an effect on the Tidyshire androids: their chemosensors detected its presence and adjusted the robots’ behavior accordingly. “Accordingly,” however, did not mean that alcohol could singlehandedly cure the robots of boredom. Contessa, who treated her own mechanical nature like she treated everything else—as an asset or a potential seduction point—was well aware of the fact that her AI required mental stimulation, just as a normal human mind might.

“You two are no fun, you know?” She addressed the frozen girls. “Santa Madonna... and to think some people have a fetish for motionless robots. You’re completely uninteresting like this.” She sat down on a comfortable armchair, chugged some vodka straight from the bottle, and blew a huge cloud of grey cigarette smoke out of her nose. “I am SO unhappy,” she grimly exclaimed, staring at the wall. “I… I wish Gregory was here, so that we could joke, and talk, and laugh.”

For a moment, Contessa paused. A subroutine had started up in her mind—or in plain English, she had remembered her plans for tomorrow, after Pam Devon’s departure. She stared in amusement at the two frozen fembots. “Girls! How about what they call a… a wet T-Shirt contest?”

Contessa took off her coat and most of her second layer, so that she was now parading around in her bra and pantyhose—while keeping her high heels on for style, of course. Then she stripped Monica off her petticoat and Marie of her maid uniform. She stashed the stopwatch in the bed, just to make sure it didn’t get wet. Then, sucking on her last cigarette, she watched as the jacuzzi rapidly filled with water. “I really am BRILLIANT,” she grinned. “I’ve found a use for the two most useless objects in this castle.”

When the tub was full, Contessa dragged Monica to it and bodily pushed her in. Rather than sinking, Monica’s body floated on the surface of the water the way a human’s might. Looking on, Contessa rubbed her hands with glee.

“Well, here goes nothing.” She unclasped her bra and took off the rest of her underwear. With a hint of regret she extinguished her last cigarette and took a chug from the vodka bottle. “Move over, sister!” She pulled Monica over so that she clung to the edge of the tub, then jumped into the cold water herself. “Come on, Archimedes… I know I’m waterproof, but do I float?…” Contessa held onto the edge of the tub for a moment, then hesitantly let go.

She did, in fact, float.

“Yes!... EEEEK!” Contessa had let go and started to cheer her own ingenuity, but she lost her balance and flailed wildly in the tub for a moment. Contessa’s imposing hairdo was messed up; Monica received a few inadvertent kicks. Then, regaining her foothold and composure, Contessa took a deep breath, calmly blew a few strands of hair out of her eyes, and crawled out of the tub. The experiment had ended in success. Monica floated. Contessa floated. Now…

Sei uno stronzo!!” she roared. “Where’s the effing towel?” There was none nearby.

So Contessa did the only sensible thing—well, besides finishing off the vodka bottle, which her AI must have seen as very sensible at the time. She wrapped herself up in the bedlinen. It was as good as a towel, wasn’t it? Hic!

Then, muttering half-consciously about what she would do to Greg, Calvin, and the Duke once the latter two were reanimated, Contessa curled up atop her mattress. And that was how Greg found her half an hour later: naked, drunk, wet, wrapped in linen, speaking incoherently, her long black hair disheveled and sticking to her nude breasts. Her dungeon was flooded with water; she had forgotten to shut off the tap. Nude Monica floated in the jacuzzi, her face a mask of motionless outrage. Naked Marie stood nearby, ankle-deep in water, her mouth wide in frozen fear.

“Bella?!” Greg gasped. “Bella, please tell me what—”

“Oh… Greggie… so good to have you here…” she blinked and wrapped her left arm around him. “I was… I was killed and I wanted to talk with you and Monica was being full of herself and you forgot to buy me wine so I had to drink vodka and...”

“Figures. I’m sure you have a good explanation for all this. Trying to drown Monica? In your jacuzzi, which she shouldn’t even know about.”

“She DOESN’T,” Contessa slurred. “She’sss… powered off. Hic! Put me down, servant, so I can slap you!” She protested weakly as Greg carried her to her bedroom. “It was a... scientifific ex’eriment. Hic!”

“With all three of you naked?”

“I… I wanted to surprise you! You and I are getting along ssshplendidly now, an’ I thought we—we could go swimming, just the two of us!”

“In the bathtub? With a guest still on the premises?”

“No, silly! At the beach! I… I just didn’t know if I could float in water! I was afraid I’d drown!” Contessa hugged Greg closer. She smelled, predictably, of cigarettes and vodka, but he didn’t mind it as much as he used to.

“You could’ve ASKED me if you could float.”

“Then it wouldn’t be a surprise. Anyway, I was right—I can float! So we can go to the beach first thing in the morning,” she smiled as Greg put her down to sleep.

“Bella, first order of business in the morning will be me fixing your victims; getting Marie running so that she’d help me clean the castle; then cleaning your… your DUNGEON...”

“But you will go swimming with me? I shan’t wait for too loooong.” She seemed almost childishly anxious.

“When we all feel better. When it’s just another afternoon.”

Contessa Isabella nodded and dozed off. Greg stood beside her and, in spite of himself, gently tousled her long black hair. “How do you even do it? You’re supposed to be a hated villain, not somebody I’d—” He hesitated to continue. “Sleep well, Bellissima. I’ll see what I can do about that beach trip.”

Under her blanket, Contessa smiled. Things had not quite gone according to her plans. But it was good enough.

The end

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