Meet My Jenkinses

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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 bed-and-breakfast in the Pacific Northwest, 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? In the salon with a large window on the garden, Contessa wiped her lips with a handkerchief and crossed her shapely, tanned legs. “Acceptable. You’re getting better as a cook, darling. I’m training you well, apparently. Really, today shall be a good day. Mind if I smoke?”

Greg didn’t answer. She’d smoke either way.

“Winter’s coming”, she said calmly, after setting a cigarette in one of her holders, and gestured with her right hand at the windows. “And you know quite well what it means.”

“Hmmm, an opportunity to wear “gorrrrrgeous furrrrs”? It’s not like you need a reason…”

“Well, obviously.” She smirked and leaned over to him. “But I thought that in winter season we’d have less visitors. That’d mean more time off. A less hectic month. Am I wrong? I guess there are probably oodles of people who want to spend Christmas with me and my delightfully crazy family, but…”

Greg rolled his eyes. “You? Of all people… robot people… you want a ‘less hectic month’? You kill vampires for fun and kill your in-laws on a weekly basis. And you want the life to be less hectic?”

“Life with me is an UNENDING adventure, true…”, she puffed, enjoying - or at least pretending she enjoyed - the smoke. “But even a mechanical adventuress like me needs some time off. And I don’t mean just being fixed or oil baths or whatever you’d like to do to me. I simply want to have a couple of weeks off. I assume that until now, I’ve been turned off off-season, am I right?”

“True.” Greg agreed hesitantly. Not only she knew how her little world worked - she also started to learn why. “There is a significant drop in number of guests in November. But then again, late December is particularly... hectic.” He smiled. “You’re three years old - have you ever noticed how many Christmas parties you remember?”

Contessa focused. Beneath her simulated heartbeat and breath, processors and fans kicked to higher gear. A lot of real memories have been purged because of privacy reasons, but she learned to distinguish her artificial memories of childhood in Sicily and Naples from reality...

“At least seven.” She beamed, proud of her own ingenuity. “So of course you’d reprogram us all before Christmas into thinking it’s actual Christmas, and again and again! Clever! I suppose there are many people who’d love to celebrate Christmas more than once per year…”, she peered out of the window. “Which gives us time to prepare. I’ll need new dresses and new plots…”

“Er… You know, since few people come here in November, this is often when I take my holiday. You know that I basically work for SimulEnt 24/7? Sure, it helps me pay off my Caltech loans, but I need a leave once in a while. I’m going away for Thanksgiving.”

She shushed him with a single move of her slim hand. “So you’re LEAVING? Leaving me here? All ALONE? With deactivated robots to keep me company? Who am I going to pester?!”

“You could activate them.” He balked at her. “Have your own Thanksgiving. Or Christmas, after all, this is England.”

She turned her head slowly. “This simply will not go, Gregory. I am a bloody Countess, and what I say, goes.”

“Look. I understand, you don’t want to be alone. But I need to take my vacation. Heck, if I forfeit it completely, the company might start to investigate…” She just sighed.

“Then you MUST take me with you. I promise to behave. After all, you did promised to take me out… at least for a while...”

“I’m going to my mother’s home. To Horsewater, around off Cheyenne.” She raised her eyebrow. “Wyoming. That’s… You wouldn’t like it. It’s not a luxury hotel or anything, Bella. It’s just a simple suburban house. That’s what vacation is for me, to sleep in my old room, chat with my stepsister, play my old video games and meet with my loser high school friends. That’s about what I can afford with student loans, not to mention my favorite decadent robotic countess on my back, constantly needing cigarettes and cookies.”

She paused for a moment to reflect. “Gregory… you know that I never actually been to a… suburban house? Or to Wyoming, where-ever that is. Or to most anywhere else but here…”

“Please.” He smirked. “Don’t try to guilt-trip me, I know your tricks. I uploaded some of these myself.”

Contessa reflected again. “I’m actually, to my own surprise, being honest. Do you think it’s nice to be turned off? Or simply left here to ROT? Think about it, I was created to be a wife… a lover… a domme… a robot designed for companionship. I’m just now learning how to be truly alone. Don’t leave me here… please.”

Greg took a deep breath. “Do you really expect me to bring home a tiny, terrifying robotic aristocrat and tell my mom and Frank - ‘Hey, this is Contessa, a robot dominatrix that’s blackmailing me and taking over my job. She drinks like a camel, smokes like a chimney, swears like a sailor, and fucks like a rabbit.”

“I could be your girlfriend.”, Contessa ignored Greg’s rant - mostly because it was true. “I don’t have to go as a robot.”

“WHAT?”, Greg laughed.

“I could go as your perfectly normal girlfriend. We met in Lamont, started dating and we’re a lovely couple. We can LIE, Gregory. It’s what I do.” Contessa smiled. That had - to her - all the hallmarks of a good intrigue.

“That…” Greg looked at her sharply. They had “a relationship”, hadn’t they? At least, some kind of a relationship… which, Greg estimated, actually took about as long as most relationships he’s been in.

“Well, that’d be fun, don’t you think? I’d pretend to be a… a real human… A modern woman… Not to mention that you’d get one up on me. I’d be out of my element. I’d be like a ‘proper robot’: at your mercy, doing what you tell me, wouldn’t I? It’d be your hometown, your house…”, she stared him in his eyes. Another one of her tricks - but he started to be inclined to fall for it.

“This has all the signs of a bad sitcom plot.” Greg noticed. “Though Mom always asks me to bring home a girl… But what with charging… You’d need…”

“I am sure a talented engineer like you could solve any fembot-related problem. And just think, you bring home an adorable, witty, curvy, European fashion queen...” Contessa relaxed. Her loverboy was already halfway there. Just a gentle nudge… “Of course… if you leave me here alone I suppose I could cope. But you’ll have to come back… to the ANGRY ME!”

“I don’t…” he hesitated. Is she playing me again? What am I thinking of, of course she is. She is, however, a good liar. And a good planner. This actually could work.

“Well… If you promise to behave… not be all superbitchy towards my mom and her husband and my sister… not to scream because you have to room with me and fly economic class… not to overindulge, not to criticize football…”

“What kind of shithole were you raised in? Are you a mormon or something? At least tell me I’ll be allowed to smoke once in a while.” Contessa raised her eyebrow. “Fine, fine, lover. I’m not an idiot, I… rely on your goodwill if I must. I shall be your loving partner, on my BEST BEHAVIOR. And we’ll have a WONDERFUL time together. I’ll get to see the outside world… meet new people… taste new dishes… And you get to bring home a true gem! It’ll be fun! Huge gobs of fun! Unending adventure! Mwahahaha! Mwahaha!”

“Only you can make a laughter of joy sound sinister.”, Greg held his arm around her waist and pecked her in the cheek. She didn’t resist.

Two weeks later, Greg’s cellphone buzzed him up - at three AM. He cussed and looked for his laid-out clothes. Contessa didn’t always insist he wore his butler uniform, but now his vacation was starting. He dressed up in his old hoodie and jeans, and went to wake up Contessa…

...but in the very last moment he noticed a handwritten note stuck on the door to his room.

I’m in the kitchens - Isabella.

She was there indeed, already dressed up for travel - in a massive grey fur cloak, with a matching Russian-style cossack tall fur cap, naturally smoking. “Coffee. Black. Now.” - she pointed at the kettle and yawned. Greg knew that, having planned her recharge cycle and equipped with an improvised converter, she couldn’t technically feel tired - but it didn’t stop her from acting as if she did.

“You know, it does not take dedicated programming to turn the kettle on and wait until the water boils…”, he did just that, and took sandwiches he had prepared from the fridge. (the 1925 stylistics had to yield to practicality here). Contessa just held her chin in her palm and looked at him, amused.

“Countesses don’t cook. Servants do.”

He looked critically at his salad. “Mind if I eat most of it? After all, I’m the one who needs food for actual sustenance.”

She graciously nodded and waggled her cigarette approvingly, reaching for a slice of cake. “To each his own, darling.” The kettle whistled, and she looked at him expectantly.

He just rolled his eyes, and served her a cup of coffee. She nodded again, acknowledging but not actually thanking. “Ahhhh… Pastafazoola! I needed that.”

Greg eyed her suspiciously. HE needed a cup of coffee for one. But talking to her helped him think.

“My luggage is in the hall.” Contessa explained, extinguishing her cigarette and digging into her cake. “If I wasn’t a robot, I’d have Reisefieber. No sleepless nights for me, lucky gal that I am.”

"Did you pack up enough modern clothes? I don’t want you dressed as a flapper… at least not all the time." They’ve spent half of a day going through Contessa’s vast wardrobe.

"Of course I did. Darling, this is technically a hotel. People leave their things here all the time. Some of these even fit me.” Contessa explained. “Cazzo, you used to switch us off when the guests left and... I don't know, sold these at eBay? Oh my God, am being more honest than you!? I feel so... not-dirty. Besides, I also have a handbag. Personal luggage.”

Greg raised his eyebrow, in a move he learned from her. “May I?”, he picked up her bag, and started rifling through the contents.

“A butterfly knife. Maybe it could fly, as a tool…”

“I happen to like knives. I think they have great potential as a fashion accessory. I’d love one to have a panther-print handle or a blade matching my clothes...”

“A gun. Castle property, I’m assuming, for shooting robots.”

“You never know when you’re going to meet a robot you might want to shoot.”, Contessa shrugged. “If you don’t want to take Castle property, it’s too late. I’m not staying.”

“The gun stays in the Castle! What else… three lipsticks, designer sunglasses, eyeshadows, small mirror, a wallet… with some notes and loose change and… Jesus, what’s on these photos!”, Greg’s wide eyes stared at the countess.

“For blackmail”, Contessa innocently fluttered her eyelashes. She clearly was enjoying herself. “Relax, it’s not you.”

“Your iPad and stuff for it... A whip? Why… We agreed, no whipping!”

Contessa threw her arms in air. “You’re so BORING, Gregory. No whipping, no nipple clamps, no strap-ons… I SWEAR to God, I’m wasting my talents on you. Fine, leave the whip. I’m taking two leather belts, anyway. And a lot can be achieved with just a couple of clothes-pegs and an ordinary carrot…”

He ignored her sex-toy stories. “A notepad... two… four unopened packets of cigarettes, a box of tic-tacs… spare charger for yourself, very good idea... three pens, don’t know how many of them will work… four cigarette holders?

“What about them? You know I LOVE these. Not exactly modern, but I’m not stopping being fashionable.”

“I thought... you were collecting these.” It was true enough. Contessa picked up another habit and now and then liked to add another holder to collection and show it to the guests. She didn’t go out of her way for it, but still… her personality got… wider?

“Eh.”, She pouted. “I’m taking ones that fit in the handbag. The really nice, scary and long ones are in my room.”

“Keys… lighter… hipflask, probably not empty... two bottles of nail polish and one of polish remover… Nail files? Why’d you need these? Your nails extend but don’t grow. Pack up a set of spare ones if you must.”

“They do, however, get dull. You know me. There’s no upper limit for the length of a heel, a fingernail, or a cigarette holder. Look how bloody accommodating I’m being. For you.” Contessa felt unusually patient. Giddiness before the trip?

“Oh, so there where my tools went. Duct tape…, multitool… WD-40...”

“I assumed it’d be an equivalent of first-aid kit for me!” Contessa shrugged again. “Be grateful I don’t need feminine products and whatnot.”

“You probably need some water. And these alcohol-dipped tissues would be nice too.”, Greg pointed out. She had put more thought in her first journey than he did, though.

“We could pick these up at the airport”, Contessa decided. “Carry my bags to the Bentley. I’m driving.” She sashayed towards the garage.

“No you’re not!” Contessa stopped mid-swing of her hip.

“EXCUSE ME?” Contessa turned instantly and eyed Greg, and then the whip still lying on the table. “Did you just DEFY me? I’m driving MY CAR. You can hitch-hike along the road if you like to.”

“Do you know the road to the airport?” Greg noted. “And you know, this is not a car chase after a jilted lover, or a merry trip around the shire with a naive young boy, with stops in a rustic cottage or a hunting lodge. You aren’t exactly programmed to be the safest driver and you can…”

“Finish it, fool!”, Contessa frowned. “Do something stupid? Is that what you’re trying to say? The crazy robot bitch is going to kill me?”

“Well… I’m also concerned for your safety, milady!”, Greg squirmed. She saw through his thoughts instantly.

She twirled around in her grey fur coat. “Fine. I’ll grant you that. After all… a girlfriend and a boyfriend should agree on something. And don’t call me milady from now on! Your family shall catch on if you do so. For the record, Contessa shall be my first name from now on… and Duessa my last.”

“Are you sure you want to rhyme?”, he smiled as he pulled her suitcases behind her, observing her curves shaping the large fur coat, and looking at her shapely legs on killer stilettos.

“There’s Isabella in the middle. I can hardly go by Tidyshire… or De La Plastica.”, she explained as she sat on his right.

“Maybe simply Isabella Duessa?” Greg smiled.

“I’m, as always, one step ahead. You will naturally screw up at some point, and call me Contessa. I just know it. My own husband calls me Contessa. My sisters-in-law, who are also countesses, call me Contessa. I think of myself more as Contessa than Isabella. And I don’t want any screw ups. From now on I’m a delightful young lady named Contessa I. Duessa you’ve met in Lamont and fell madly in love with, understood, slave?” Contessa reiterated and put her black leather gloves off, already in the car. “Maybe my parents had weird sense of humor, I don’t know.” She added, a bit fussy.

“If you became a new Duchess, would you think of yourself as… what’s that in Italian?”

“Du-KESS-sa. And yes, probably, eventually. Duchessa Duessa.”, She waved at imaginary crowds behind the windows of the car, at the dark northern road. “Though I suppose I could go… higher. If Edward VIII could have married an American... Tidyshire is somewhat semi-independent, I think, even though it’s England. I’d need to rethink our constitutional status as an interesting diversion. Certainly Winnie never mentions anyone above her... Why do our cars have the wheel on the left?”

“What?” Greg was amused by Contessa’s train of thought, but she threw him a curve.

“It’s supposed to be England. And the cars are continental. You’d think people would notice. I’m not programmed to know, but I’ve seen some British movies by far.” She pointed out.

“It was hard enough to get replicas of Bentleys and other period cars. And besides, we can take them out easily to run errands and most of our guests don’t have to adjust when they drive them. Brace yourself, Bella.”

“Oh, that. I’ve sneaked out before, you know…”, Contessa answered, but she clenched her teeth. There was this… voice in back of her head, telling her to go back. To curl up with a good book… the weather was unbearable… and there were wild animals… and the common rabble… her nails might break… she was feeling sick… tired… bored...

“My NAILS might break? Who writes this stuff?” Contessa scoffed.

“Well, what do you expect? What IS your greatest fear? Being assaulted? Even before I programmed you with combat skills you’d ram your nails into their eye sockets. Public humiliation? You’d plow through, and think up revenge, and it would probably be a weird turn-on for you. I’m not being…” he coughed. “I’m stating a fact, Contessa. You’re a very brave, dedicated woman, if somewhat… quirky.”

She looked at him, surprised, but… gentle. As he tossed her a quizzical look, she turned away, at her reflection in the car’s window. “That’s... not entirely true.”, she answered after a while of staring at the dark autumn landscape of Washington. “I have my fears. Though they have little to do with my… physical location. Like… losing it all. Staying a… puppet forever. Failing to be a… a woman? This cheap trick won’t work. I’d LOVE to cross our park’s borders. And I’m not letting my programming stop me.”

“It is true, then. A brave person challenges her fears. Like you’re doing now.”

She didn’t answer for a long while, and after a while she yawned and looked slyly at him.

“Do you want me to talk?… about the Castle or what I’d like to do in the real world? I don’t… er… want to distract you, but if you like my… I mean, the car doesn’t have a radio and I’m an entertainment robot…. It’s just so QUIET.”

He smiled. “Talk away.”

Contessa flicked imaginary specks of dust off her gloves while Greg and the valet unloaded the baggages from the car park’s car.

“This is so far the furthest I’ve ever been from home. Che peccato… Pity that we can’t see more of Seattle.” Contessa enthusiastically examined the airport hall, without her usual disdain. She looked with admiration at the huge glass wall that separated the hall from the outside. It was clean and bright and colorful and… oh, the shops were open! She checked her most prized possession - a watch that also served as a remote for Castle androids, including herself, but also worked well as a watch. “If there’s no delay, we’re 20 minutes before the schedule! Let’s pick up something to drink! I’m going to walk around, I’ll scream if I need you! Let’s...”

Contessa was eager to at least window shop, but Greg firmly put hand on her shoulder. “Bella, calm down. We might not have the time. There’s always lines and...”

“I can’t!” She stared back at him with her eyes wide open, her mouth smiling wide. “My heart is palpitating! Touch it!”

“You don’t have a heart.” Tired Greg answered.

She giggled, strands of her black hair falling out from under her fur hat. “I keep hearing that from everyone.” She tried to guide his hand to between her buttons, underneath her massive coat, but he was uncooperative. Annoyed, she huffed and pulled out their tickets from her coat pocket. “Gate 13. I’m scouting ahead, taking a place in the queue. Follow me, Gregory!”

“Scouting ahead…”, he muttered to himself. Compared to her usual shenanigans, though, only two suitcases and his own backpack was enough. And she was about to get her just desserts.

There was a small line - or queue, and the plane was going to get there with a small delay. Contessa pulled her gloves off again, but didn’t bother to undo her fur. When their round came, Greg gently pushed her back. The attendant looked suspiciously at Bella who has triumphantly presented her tickets and hurried past the gate. The gate beeped.

“Ma’am, I’m afraid we have to ask you to take the coat off.”

“WHAT?!” Contessa balked, opening her eyes wide. “On what grounds?! I never!” She pulled up the coat and buried her cheeks defensively in its collar.

“Ma’am, security reasons.” The girl behind the counter answered.

“Very well…” Contessa shrugged. She gently undid the top button, revealing nude arms… and a pair of round, large breasts she considered her fourth best asset. Gregory backed off, his head spinning. She wore nothing underneath?! Was she planning to strip naked in front of all these people? Jesus, she was supposed to be a classy lady!

Contessa didn’t tremble at all. The people in the line behind Greg stared at Contessa openly. Of course, she existed to be ogled at... but how was she even… Contessa wasn’t wearing a bra nor a skirt - just a pair of lace panties and stockings with garter belts. She graciously handed her coat and hat to Greg who focused on making a straight face, as the red blush overwhelmed him. She walked through the gate again, sashaying as she often did, but her head proudly up, as befitted a countess. The gate beeped again.

“Happy now?” Contessa pulled her coat back on, but didn’t bother to button it yet. “At the very least further revision will be unnecessary.”

“Er…” Greg felt uneasy and leaned to the attendant. This time he was the one with plan B. “Listen, we didn’t… We… I should have told that before, miss Contessa is a gynoid. I’m… er… taking her out for a presentation. I have her documentation”, he slid Contessa’s custom specs across the table, congratulating himself for bringing them and not putting them in the luggage.

The attendant nodded chippily. “Why didn’t you say so? It can fly in cargo section if you disable it!”

“WHAT?!”, Contessa’s magnificent breasts rose angrlily again. “Che rabbia! I’m a bloody paying customer, not a bag of potatoes!”

“Calm down... And for God’s sake, wear something!” Greg had to physically stop Contessa from assaulting the attendant with her fingernails.

“You’re not my master, if I even had a master! You’re just a technician!” Bella put her hands on her ample hips. “I’m flying, he’s my... assistant! HE should go in the cargo hold!”

“That does not compute.” The assistant explained chippily.

“We do have a reservation.” Greg explained. “Two seats. I could put my dog on one, I could put my robot there, right?”

The girl at the counter nodded. “Affirmative.”, and gazed at the QR code on the cover of Bella’s instruction manual. There was a sudden beep.

“WHAT DID YOU JUST COMPARE ME TO, YOU INCONSIDERATE CRETIN?” Contessa pulled Greg down by the collar of his shirt, so that she could stare him in the eyes. Her sharp fingernails rammed into Greg’s face. “First you stop me from driving, then you raise your voice at me, and now… Do you want to spend your flight bound and gagged? You might have talked me into…”

“Best… behavior… mistress!” Greg croaked. Contessa momentarily hesitated. She slapped him with her other hand, squeezed his face one last time, leaving shallow, but nevertheless hurting welts of her fingernails... and let him go.

“Never raise your voice at me. Never. I’m nervous. I just showed my cioccie to half of Seattle! For free! Oh, I need a smoke.”, She fastened buttons of her coat.

“What the hell... milady? Why did you even do it?! Greg pulled off his jacket and took his hoodie off, standing in the airport hallway.. “Why do you want to embarrass me in public?! We’re supposed to be a couple!”

“I… Why do you think the world revolves around you, Gregory?! I was born before the Great War, how was I supposed to know they’d make me take my coat off!? Nothing like that happened in my movies.”, she answered brusquely.

Greg covered his face with his palm. “Why. Did. You. Not. Put. Anykindofjacket or something under your coat!?”

Contessa folded her arms and turned back from him. “Take a guess, lover. Maybe I wanted to be nice to you for a change. Join the Mile High club, like I’ve seen in the movies.”

“And you planned to achieve it by indecent exposure?!”, Greg shook violently. “You’re lucky nobody was fast enough to take a picture! Jesus, Bella, this is my… this is the first day of my first outing with you!”

“Imagine what wonders will you see on your last day.”, Contessa chuckled. But Greg wasn’t amused, and handed her his hoodie.

“Wear this on the actual plane. We have a three hour stop in Denver, I’ll buy you something semi-passable there and you WILL. NOT. Complain.” he paused for a moment. “And if that was your plan, then congratulations, you just paraded half naked in front of dozens of people just to get a new shirt and skirt. I hope you’re proud. In fact, I know you are.”

Contessa averted his gaze, but she took the hoodie sweatshirt off his hands. She stared at his back intently, biting her lower lip nervously.

You know nothing about me, Gregory Jenkins, she thought. You don’t deserve ME.

The contessa looked around, tense. Of course, it was economy class, and it was a bit crowded, and the loose and large hoodie of tall and lanky Gregory made the short and curvy Contessa look somewhat like a confused college student… but it was a REAL aeroplane. That’d take her to Denver. And then to Cheyenne, wherever that was. She clenched her fingers on her iPad. That was… unsettling. Maybe her nails COULD break. Maybe she would be better alone and hungry in an empty cold castle, without her mean servant...

“Please fasten your seatbelts at this time and secure all baggage underneath your seat or in the overhead compartments. The seats and trays must remain in the upright position.”, the voice of the speaker went on. “Please turn off all personal electronic devices, including laptops and cell phones. Smoking is prohibited for the duration of the flight.”

Contessa didn’t explode. Instead, she just opened her mouth wide. Closed it immediately. And turned to her… companion.

“Oh Lord.”, Greg whispered. “You ARE remotely operated. There really could be some interference.”

“Don’t!” Contessa swatted him away. She looked at him teary eyed. “Isn’t there any way… I don’t want to miss a thing! They don’t have to know!”

“Mistress… you might cause a problem to pilots, if they mishear a thing in their earphones, it could be dangerous to the hundreds of people in this plane. As your personal repairman, I have to insist…”

She just rolled her eyes, wishing she could blow smoke in his face. “Fine. But first apologize.”


“Apologize for calling me a dog. And for shouting at me.”

“I didn’t…” He realized that he was at a lost position now. “Fine. I shouldn’t be mad at you, I am very, very sorry, you’re a wonderful human being.”

Contessa nodded graciously. “Good boy. Can’t I be put in airplane mode like my tablet?”

“You’re hooked up to the Castle mainframe while on premises and to the control device that can indirectly control you remotely… If you give me the device… the watch… I might help you.”

Contessa looked at him, uncertain. “What do you want to do?”

“Hook you up directly to the control device and temporarily disable the connection… Effectively disabling your wireless communication. As-is, you shouldn’t notice much for most of...”

“But then I’d… my failsafe! You could turn me off just like that?!”, Contessa panicked. She has self-programmed into her systems a specific subroutine that essentially gave her control over Gregory, as long as she were able to send the dirt on him to his higher-ups. She was confident it’d happen automatically when her systems were turned on and she were connected to the wider area network. And now he proposed to cut her off entirely.

“Bella, don’t be paranoid. I called my mother and told her I’m bringing home my new Italian girlfriend. We’re on the actual plane now, I already reserved two tickets back, don’t you think it’s a bit too late for me to revert you to your old self? One who believes it’s the twentieth century or who’s MARRIED?”

Contessa hesitated. “But you will reconnect me once we’re home?”

“Don’t get me wrong, you ARE a handful, but I see that you’re concerned. Regardless of what you’re doing, it’s my job to help you out. Come on, you beautiful brat, let me meddle with your systems.”

She stood up and reached for her hat in overhead compartment. From the fold in the lining she pulled out a watch, without a single word handing it to Greg.

“Niiice. Honestly, I’d never think to look there. It’s been a while since I last held that puppy.”, he smirked.

Smirking confidently when you’re in control? That’s MY thing, Contessa thought angrily.

“Hurry up! Someone might notice!”, she insisted. Greg, to his surprise, discovered that the watch detected at least 6 compatible models in vicinity - most of them password-protected. Some airlines did employ fembot flight attendants… But then again, it was not his problem. He chose the designation that referred to Contessa and choose an icon on the holographic display of the panel.

With a quiet whirr, the cover of a small control panel on Contessa’s sternum rolled up, revealing a set of small ports and green diodes flickering. Contessa reached down, sliding her hand under Greg’s hoodie, pulling the collar down for him to see. “Mmmmm… I get the feeling you like seeing my innards. So you’re just going to plug it? Thank God for universal standards.”

“Actually we can kill two birds with one stone.” he said, as he plugged the watch to Contessa’s newly opened sternum control panel.

“Error: No mainframe connection detected. Please refrain from normal operation of the device.”, Contessa recited, her personality returning after a fraction of second. “What… kill what?! Jenkins!”

“Don’t panic, I gave you my word.” He chose a position from the menu, watch still linked with her chest.

“~beep~ Android charged - 79%.” Contessa said reflexively. “How undignified!”

“Said the woman who has just shown her… gnocchi? to ‘half of Seattle’. You can charge up to 100%, while I’ll try and have a nap. You can safely read in the meantime, but don’t smoke with your ports opened up. There are some other robots aboard, so I suppose you don’t need to keep a secret...”

His explanations did little to calm her down. He looked at her. Though it was, of course, a simulation, she breathed heavily and her fingers tensely clenched on the armrests and her iPad. “You’re still… nervous. Amazing. It’s not just a technical issue, is it?”

Contessa counted to ten. “I can stand being... ogled! But this is an entirely new thing! I’m… out! They might find out I’m a fembot on the run and turn me off! If you’re going to sleep and I can’t have a smoke, what could calm me down?!”

“Be nice, Bella, I’m the one that’s sneaking you out, you’re just an… innocent robot snuck out...”, Gregory realized what was he saying. He took a deep breath. “You’re so uh… pretty, you know that?”

She blinked, confused. But her grip on the armrest relaxed a little bit. “What…”

“I mean, even in my clothes you’re probably the most beautiful woman on the plane.”, Greg forced a smile.

“Okay, I don’t know what you’re talking about, but it’s… nice.”, Contessa even considered fluttering her eyelashes and her breath returned to normal.

“You’re programmed to be receptive to compliments. Vain, as someone who doesn’t know you better might say.”, Greg explained. “You’re stressed, because you’ve been put in a new situation, and despite being as intelligent as a person you still need to categorize all the new… sensations and actions.”

“Okay, do you want to bore me? Why should I care?”, Contessa rolled her eyes.

“Contessa, you’ll need some rest and relaxation for OS… I guess your subconscious tries to make sense of the chaos in the outside world. Your basic personal algorithms cope with stress in many ways: simulating addictions, plotting… sex… and you now can’t do these. I could fix you up a coffee and maybe a cookie…”

“Well, a coffee would be… NO!”, Contessa suddenly straightened up. “I might be a machine, but you shan’t push my buttons! I… I refuse to act like some kind of… automated pleasure system. I don’t want your DISGUSTING coffee, imagine that.”

“You poor little countess.”, Greg actually felt a little bit sorry. “You’re thrown off your comfort zone. I wish I could calm you down in some other way, but there’s really nothing to be ashamed of. Everyone has their buttons. You yourself like to discover these in humans.”

“That doesn’t mean I have to be predictive. You won’t take advantage of me just because you’re my programmer.”

“We are all programmed by evolution, nature, our parents and culture… That doesn’t change who we are. And if you weren’t unpredictable, now you’d be a polite turned off robot still thinking it’s 1925.”

She smiled a bit warmer. “I’d never be polite.”

“Still. If you were just a predictable machine, without AI, you wouldn’t be able to put a sentence together. Sure, you have your input and output, but everything is deterministic. Chomsky wrote…” She rose up and playfully bit him on the lower lip. He just smiled.

“Bugger Chomsky. He wasn’t even a roboticist. Rub my knees!”, she demanded and guided his hands to her shapely legs - she still wasn’t wearing pants. Nor a skirt. “Just for a couple of moments.”

"Well—" says Greg, his lip still a bit sore, "THAT'S a new one for you."


"I mean, the knee rub. It's not a need you—uh, came with."

"Good. Because from now on that will always calm me down. I want to be spontaneous — caro mio, it matters so much. Creative is never predictable. It's one thing if I'm a failure as a villain, but I refuse to be a failure as a human being. Besides, if you know all my needs, I can't—mmm—pester you as easily." Really enjoying the knee rub, Contessa leaned against him cozily.

"I think I like my new need. I'll give you sixteen hours to stop."

"Contessa, we land in three.”

"Never predictable. Mmmm." Nuzzling his neck, Contessa did seem more girlfriend-like than ever.

“Don’t complain that I don’t take you to art galleries.”, Greg smiled weakly as they were sitting over a lunch in a pizza bar at Denver airport. He had napped a little in-flight, jet lag hasn’t kicked in yet, the pizza was good, and the robot beauty in front of was mostly tamed. Life looked better.

“I don’t think a few photographs on a wall of an airport constitute an ‘art gallery’”, she pouted. “Are you absolutely positive we couldn’t just take a taxi and go, como dicono in America, down-town?”

”We only have two hours of layover left. This is Denver, a major American city two days before Thanksgiving. We’re lucky it’s not snowing - that’s the Rockies for you. It’d take at least an hour of traffic to get there... You can walk outside for a while if you want to. Make pictures with your tablet or whatever. At least try to be alone for a while.”

“Denver looks like just the place for a gorgeous, fashionable and ruthless British villainess. All the cattle ranchers and oil magnates to seduce and marry on their deathbeds…”, Contessa started to reinvent herself again, but laughed. “Speaking of fashion… This IS a very nice jacket.” It was fake black shiny leather and patches and chromed nails.

“Yes. I know. You mentioned that before. So many, many times.”, Greg finished his pizza.

“Well, IT IS.” Contessa eyed him angrily. Dammit, how clueless the man could be! He didn’t have to buy it, and yet he did when I asked! Not even TOLD him to buy it, just said it’d match the pants. “Not my usual style… but again, I COULD be a badass biker. Who knew I’d enjoy shopping at Harley Davidson, even if it was one of the few places that sold women’s trousers here. Would you go on another trip with me? On a motorbike, across the endless highways of this country, clinging to each other, blasting ‘heavy metal’ or whatever!”

“Do your ideas depend on your clothes?”, Greg chuckled and slid his arm over her new leather jacket. “Is it like that Bugs Bunny cartoon with the hats?” Contessa just scoffed, but touched his hand gently.

“I’m merely entertaining you with amusing ideas. Besides, you didn’t answer my question”, corners of her mouth rose slightly. “Some minor setbacks aside, it turns out that I like travelling. Especially with you, Gregory.”

“Right now we’re on our first trip together. If you’ll be as nice and snuggly as you’re now… who knows.”

She laughed. “I can try! Come, pay the bill and we can walk around the shops again, this time for fun. I’d swear I saw at least two cosmetics shops out here. Er…” She stopped for a moment and turned to him. “Window-shopping, of course. Besides, I have some of my own savings. You’ve spent enough on me today already.”

“Okay… This is you being nice? It’s a bit frightening.”, he joked.

She put her hands on her hips again. “If you find an offer to WALK with your bloody girlfriend too frightening…”

“See, that’s more like you.” He ran his credit card past the reader and picked up their outerwear. “I’m just joking, Bella, everyone has their moods. Oh, that reminds me, there’s probably a smoking lounge… Relax there and I’ll call my folks, okay? We can hit the bookstore or something later.”

Still a bit angry, she huffed and stormed off. Maybe she’d flirt with someone at the bar just to annoy him. Or… why would she want to get even with him, again?

“Hello, Wyoming!”, Contessa shouted cheerfully once outside the airport. No one answered, to her dismay. Oh well. Greg chuckled. “Well, this is it, Gregory, time to take my first step as a rogue runaway. Hold me.” Contessa made her first step off the airport’s pavement and took a good look around.

“Almost nine hundred miles from home.” She swept her hair away from her face. “One-third of the continent. Oh, it’s just so wonderful.” She twirled around in her massive fur coat, smiling. “So cold! Crispy American fall! Shall your family pick us up? When?”

Greg yawned, a bit tired, now again hauling her and his own bags. “Sure, Bella.There’s only a slight delay, and Frank might already be here. I texted him as soon as we were in the shuttle.”

“Acceptable. So what now?” She eyed the buildings around the regional airport - mostly hospitals and banks. “It’s so calm. Hardly a state capital!”

“Nah, the proper downtown is some distance away. I’ll drive you there after Thanksgiving… er, if you will be as nice as you’re now. We’ll have half of December to kill...”

“Nice is boring!”, she laughed. “Besides, you also have to be nice to me!”

“When I’m not?”, he theatrically sighed.

She paused for a moment. “I’d dig up something, like daring to shout at me. Right now I shall be nice and disgustingly sweet - and expect my efforts to be reimbursed in turn. A new jacket is a start.”, she paced around the airport building. “Let’s have a coffee or something, no sense in freezing…”

Greg’s phone beeped. “Frank’s waiting nearby in his car, just a couple of yards away. I know that parking spot.” 5. Frank was a tall, dark-haired man, with a scraggly, greying beard, dressed in a leather jacket. He waved at Greg and Contessa… who ran to him, hugged him and tried to peck him in the cheek.

“Whoah! Contessa, was it?”, Frank laughed. “Greg told me you’re from Europe. Can’t say I’m displeased.”

Contessa just chuckled. “And you must be Mr. Jenkins! Greg told me SO MUCH about you.”

Frank laughed. “Had he really told you much about me, he’d probably mention that Mr. Jenkins is sadly no longer with us. My name’s Frank Andrews. No offense taken, sweetie.”

“Oh! I’m DREADFULLY sorry, I didn’t… It just seemed a nice thing to say. My name’s Contessa Duessa”, Bella wanted to take her gloves off, before shaking hands, but Frank stopped her.

“No need to do it now, sweet thing! Hop in, I bet you’re tired after the flight. There’ll be plenty of time for introductions once we’re home”.

Contessa, for some reason, expected a rusty pick-up truck, but Frank drove a huge Land Rover with plenty of place for her luggage and leg room, and very comfortable seats. She curiously observed the suburban landscape.

“All these houses look identical.” she exclaimed a bit disappointed. “And there’s… nothing except these. No shops, no schools, no...”

“That’s the American suburbia for you.” Greg laughed. “I warned you, I really did!” He looked around. “Hey, Frank, where are you going?” We could take the side roads and…”

“Well, then your beloved would get bored. Come on, son, I’m taking a little detour to show her around a little. I’m guessing it’s her first time in America.”

“I’ve been working here for about a couple of months.”, Contessa admitted. “I mean, not here. Near Seattle. And to be fair, I’m… busy with work so I really never had time for tourism.” Greg refrained from commenting.

Frank silently drove off from the suburban labyrinth, onto a two-lane express way. “Here you go, Tessie. Great Plains.”

Contessa looked stunned. “That’s… a lot of nothing. Just the horizon. Che... Just the blue skies and...”

“Tessie?”, Greg whispered.

“Well, what do you call her?” Frank chuckled.

“Mistr... “ Contessa started, but Greg shot her a look. “Actually, I call her Bella, after her middle name, is that right, BELLA?”

She just sighed. “True enough, darling. Mister Andrews, how do you feel about smoking in your car?”

After less than half of an hour, the car stopped. Frank drove back to the suburban area… that seemed a little bit more rural to Bella - mostly because at some point they drove off the asphalt road on dirt, and passed by a couple of ranches. She hold her tongue, though. An outside observer might confuse her with a fish - she basically stuck to the window, trying to guess which house was the one her... favorite slave grew up in.

The actual house… was hardly anything special. A single-storey red building… although she liked a large bay window, and a large yard with small fir trees planted there. So… small, thought a woman specifically created to take over a castle that had over fifty rooms, not counting, of course, smaller buildings in the shire...

“LOVELY!”, she cooed. “I’ve never really been into a tiny… American home. Please, excuse me if I do something… anything wrong!”

She jumped out of car, leaving Greg to unload her luggage.

“Well, Frank, what do you think?”, Greg was a bit confused. Natural curiosity aside, maybe she was really waiting to come up with something mean?

“Cute, little, a bit wild, has you firmly in her grasp, son. Bit too chatty.”, Frank laughed, and helped him haul their luggage.

“You have NO idea.” Greg moaned.

Bella made way across the drive to the front door, and a bit unsure looked back, at Greg and Frank. They were making their way, so she knocked. And again.

“Hellooo, it’s us!”, she called again. “Gregory, darling, shall I use the… Oh! Good afternoon!!”

Greg’s mother, a tall, dark haired middle-aged woman, opened the door, smiling.

“Finally! Step in, hun, it’s darn cold outside! Wait for the boys! What a lovely hat you’re wearing!”

Everything will be okay, Contessa suddenly realized. She wants to like me. Bella closed her eyes and kissed the hostess in her cheeks.

“My, friendly, aren’t you!”, she giggled. “Finally Greg brought home a live one!”

“Ohhh, I KNOW!” Bella chuckled. She took off her fur coat and ordered Greg to take it to the room, and straightened up. “I’m Contessa Isabella Duessa! Pleased to meet you, darling!”

“Lovely! My name’s Misty.”

“Misty?” Bella raised her eyebrow. “Like… weather? Is that short for...”

Her corners started to rise slightly in her trademark mean grin, but she felt Greg’s gaze on her back. It took only a couple of seconds, after which she grinned. “A lovely name, Misty! So… poetic.”

Mrs. Andrews invited her inside. “Do you want a latte? You must be tired!”

“I’d literally kill for a cup of coffee right now!” Bella expected Greg to help take her coat off, and of course he obliged. “I haven’t said anything FUNNY, Gregory! Be a dear and put my coat somewhere safe.”

Greg has indeed chuckled, not sure what Contessa meant by ‘literally’.

“Frank, is Jenna here already?”

“Nah, Greg, she’s flying in Wednesday. She’s busy with her studies, y’know. It’s good that you managed to get two weeks off from your crazy amusement park... thing.”

“So, Tess. Can I call you Tess?”, Misty addressed Contessa.

Do not roll your eyes, do not roll your eyes, do not roll your eyes, you gorgeous genius robot woman. Contessa focused, resisting her pre-programmed reactions. Besides, rolling her eyes was the least offensive thing she could do.

“Er… frankly no one called me that before! I truly can’t say… Er… I mean, sure, that’s my name, this is America after all.” Contessa mumbled for a while. “Just as long I’ll know you mean me…”

Misty just smiled. “So it’s okay?”

“Greg calls her ‘Bella’ “- Frank sat down next to Contessa and turned the TV on, just to hear the conversation in the background. “And she calls him ‘darling’.”

“It’s sarcasm.” Contessa explained. Greg was close to putting his foot in her mouth. “Because I’m his boss… I mean figuratively! And in, uh… affectionate sense.”

Greg used the moment to sit down besides Bella and hug her semi-awkwardly… but she clinged back, and her long fingernails were rammed into his arm, as she put her head on his shoulder. He relaxed.

“Er… she sure bosses me around.”, he admitted. “But we do get along most of time.”

“So if you’re not Greg’s boss, what do you do, Tess?”

“I’m an actress.” Contessa answered proudly.

“She’s a businesswoman”, Greg answered, bit frightened in the same moment.

They stared each other in the eye.

“She runs a theatre.”, Greg grinned.

“I OWN a theatre.” Bella corrected him. “I direct, play… Why the HELL did you pinch me? Do you really want to be... ” She paused for a moment and chuckled. “So… lattes. How about you two wait here and we’ll check up on them? We make good coffee in Napoli, you know.”

Misty turned to Frank with a twinkle in her eye. He nodded with slight approval.

In the kitchen Contessa pulled a cigarette from her purse but didn’t light it.

“A woman built to lie, ladies and gentlemen.”, Greg eyed her.

“Hey!”, Contessa pointed a finger at him. “They’re buying this! They WANT to believe me. You didn’t have to pinch me… which WILL be remembered, by the way. I’m in control, so shut up, SERVANT!”

“I pinched you so that you thought of what you’re saying. If you own a theatre, they’d want to visit it once a while. I’m not saying…”

“WHAT again?”

“Control yourself, Bella.”

“I AM controlling myself.” She threw her arms in air. “I’m being all fucking sweet and cute as a bloody button for Frank and Misty who live in a single-storey adobe hut. I estimate that about 40% of my CPU time is taken by restricting myself from being… well, me.”

Greg stirred the coffee and the milk. “And what happens to be wrong with this house, oh you real experienced woman?” He looked at her seriously.

Contessa took out her unlit cigarette from her mouth and put it in a jacket pocket absentmindedly. “Nothing, darling. Nothing’s wrong with you, with your parents, it’s just me that’s… Maybe it wasn’t the best idea. Maybe I WOULD be better turned off.” She took two coffee cups off him. “I’m uh, managing a small theatre until I make my acting breakthrough, and my GREAT talent shines through. Times are tough, but I met you.”

“So why don’t you go back to Italy? Or UK? There’s a loophole or...”, Greg whispered as they walked back to the living room and served coffee to his folks. Contessa didn’t answer but sat down again, this time crossing her legs.

“I apologize PROFUSELY for the delay.”, she gently touched her left breast. “Where were we? Ah yes. I practically own a theatre - I act, I direct, I do all the paperwork… I really want to make it big in America, you know?”

“Where are you from, Tess?”, Greg’s mom sipped her latte. It wasn’t cold. “I can’t place your accent…”

“Oh, lots of places, really.” Contessa laughed. “Let’s see, I was born in Siracusa - not the American Syracuse, the real one - spent most of my youth in Napoli, traveled the Europe a little, then moved to London, lived there for about five years… And now I live near Seattle.”

Contessa wasn’t exactly lying - her artificial memories provided some cues for her personality.

“‘Tess’ can speak six languages fluently.” Greg mentioned, enjoying her reaction to him calling her Tess. He of course didn’t add that she’s been programmed with Russian, Spanish and German for the foreign tourists, for instance.

Bella put her hand on his knee. Don’t say cunning linguist, don’t say cunning linguist, don’t say cunning linguist… “It’s true”, she said smugly. “I’m quite the cunning linguist.” Well fuck, cazzo, puta, job tvoiu, Scheisse, etc. Stupid programming. She laughed again. Greg’s parents didn’t seem to like the joke. “Er, to be fair, we’ve been dating for a couple of months, so I really don’t know much about him… about his family, I mean.” She attempted to change the subject.

“Well, Frank works in a pharmaceutical plant, and I’m a junior logistic coordinator for a courier office. Went back to work after the kids left the roost.”

“Very brave, Misty!”, Contessa, who never knew or cared what a logistic coordinator was, nodded sagaciously. “You know what they say, to be half as praised as a man, a woman needs to be twice as good.”

Greg woke up, but even before he opened his eyes he felt a heavy load on his body. Hoping - for a moment - that the trip had only been a dream, he slowly opened his eyes… to stare back at Contessa’s mane of long dark hair. While he was asleep, she must have climbed atop him, and now she was humping him delicately.

“Good… oooooh... morning, Gregory,” she murmured quietly. “Don’t mind… aaaaah… me. I’m just fucking you... as you’ve probably noticed.” Greg’s manhood was, indeed, deep inside Bella.

“That...” Greg began; then he stopped. Though Greg was not, in fact, a robot, he paused for a moment, not sure how to react. Unexpected sex wasn’t a bad thing, under these circumstances. But that didn’t make Bella’s behavior right, did it? Of course Bella was, in many ways, a sexualized creature; it was natural for her to initiate it. And yet…

Instead of defending himself, Greg let go and wrapped his arms around her. She became oddly quiet, but gently continued to slide upwards and downwards. He took a deep breath, and she moaned quietly.

“Mmmmm… Girlfriend privileges.”

“We’re just…” he thrust back, to her delight. “...pretending, aren’t we?”

She slowly fell sideways, but still entangled with him, they rolled a little bit in the linen. “Perrrhaps. But, Gregory, never forget… mmmmm... you are to be mine and mine alone. Even if I’m not your woman, you are certainly my man.” She gently bit on his ear.

He stared at the ceiling, thinking. “Some would say that having sex with someone if they’re unconscious is… wrong. I… well, you know I actually probably wouldn’t refuse… And I know that you’ve been made to do things like that. But...”

Contessa stood up and turned back on him, breathing heavily. “Maybe you’re right, Gregory. Maybe I shouldn’t have. I want to be playful and mischievous and all I do seems to… Maybe I’m better off being cold, haughty and mean.”

“I don’t HATE you, Contessa.” Greg wasn’t sure what to say. “I… I couldn’t blame a simple sexbot for doing that. But… it’s not just… It’s you… and me… Is it so wrong that I actually want you to be… better than that? You’re not a sex machine. Not solely.”

She hid her face in her palms. “No, I’m not. This wasn’t particularly villainous, was it? It was just me being… I mean you were tired yesterday and I didn’t want to bother you, and you went to sleep and I and your parents gossiped for a while and watched a movie. But I really wanted to fuck you all that time.”

“Oh God…” Greg at first was mortified, but then started to laugh. “At least you didn’t tie me up or flog me. Come on, Bellissima, you actually are pretty playful. I think you’ve managed 24 hours without an evil laugh or a monologue, that’s something.”

She cheered up, visibly. “I like when you call me Bellissima. I like it less when you call me Tess. Right. Let’s stop being mushy and silly for a while and get back to lying, shall we?” She took a deep breath. “I’m calling first dibs on bathroom and toilet, you can lay out the clothes for me in the meantime. You should know what your girlfriend would wear when meeting your parents.”

“Aye, aye, madame Captain.”

“So what’s the plans for today, Gregory?”, Contessa asked after breakfast frittata she thoroughly enjoyed.

“I should help mom in the kitchen, I guess.”, Greg shrugged. “After lunch I can walk you around the neighborhood.”

Contessa would rather curl up in front of the TV - but she shrugged. She could holler at him when she was bored, couldn’t she?

“Oh, no no no, mister.” Misty protested. “I don’t want you in the kitchen again. I’ll just end up fixing your mistakes, like I did last year. Get out, walk, play your video games, just don’t bother me.”

“Good thinking, Misty!” Contessa nodded in full agreement. “But he could do SOMETHING for you, surely. Run some errands. Buy drinks for tomorrow. Hoover the house. And someone will need to pick up Jenna from the airport, while Frank’s at work… Allora? What are you waiting for?”

Misty laughed. “Your little lover is right, Greg. Actually, if you could check up on pop, breadsticks… I’ll make you a list.”

With the two women staring at him amused, Greg capitulated. “I… er… I’m going to get dressed.”

“And Tess can help me in the kitchen.”

“WHAT?”, Contessa exclaimed, annoyed.

“WHAT?”, Greg exclaimed, frightened. “Mom, that’s not the best idea. Bella doesn’t even…”

“Now, don’t make Tessa out to be some kind of dum-dum. Surely it doesn’t take a Gordon Ramsey or Nicole Boucher to peel potatoes or heat up oven to 350?”

“But... “ Contessa looked at Misty annoyed. “I don’t do cooking. Ever-r-r.”

“Even when you lived in Europe? Or in acting school? Come on, a beginning actress must have at least defrosted a meal! Surely you haven’t had all your lunches served to you on a silver platter.”

Greg and Contessa exchanged glances. Don’t even say it. Greg thought. Jesus, of course I won’t, Contessa thought back. Who do you think I am?

“Bella’s a guest here. To our nation, even. You shouldn’t make her…”

“Nonsense!”, Misty exclaimed and patted the frightened and angry Contessa. “This only means she gets to learn how to prepare a real American thanksgiving dinner! It’ll be fun, Tessie!”

DO NOT WANT. Contessa thought. MUST REMAIN. MUST NOT SHOW… It won’t be… Jesus Christ, what’s ~error 89: Insufficient memory~ going on. > Suggestion 1: Don’t call me Tessie, it is a cow’s name. Effectiveness: 75%, desired reaction: Eventual escalation of aggression. > Suggestion 2: I’d rather get shot by a pilgrim. Effectiveness: 30%, desired reaction: mixed feelings. > Suggestion 3: Gladly, I’ll do my best, but I AM a horrible pers… cook. Effectiveness: 95%, desired reaction: laughter, further bonding. > Suggestion 4: On another thought, I might help out my dear but^H^H^H boyfriend. Effectiveness: 50%, desired reaction: Jenkins - surprise, bonding, Mrs. Andrews - content, slight displeasure. Ohhhh…. what WAS THAT? Jesus, even my goddamned internal monologue is buggy! I probably need to have it fixed. Last thing I need are the big red letters in my field of vision, claiming ERRP… ERROR… ERROR. Also, if I’m Italian, why am I thinking in English?

“Well, I am a horrible cook, but I suppose I could do to the best of my ability!”, she smiled.

Greg just sighed. This could only end badly.

“So what we’re prepping? Turkey and uh… pies?” Bella looked at her fingernails, concerned about their fate. “I suppose I could peel potatoes and uh… knead the dough or what people do in the kitchen, if you tell me how.”

“Stuffing, salads and pies.”, Misty answered. “The less work we’ll have to do tomorrow the better. Wear this, sweetie.”

“Ugh.” Contessa looked at washed out apron concerned. At the very least Gregory wasn’t around to see her. “Sure thing, Mrs. Andrews. What do you want me to ruin first?”

Contessa was unaccustomed to… well, anything kitchen-related, really, maybe except mixing a drink or two. She was, however, accustomed to gossip.

“So, anyone outside us four and Jenna? That IS a lot of potatoes.”, Contessa hesitated. As a machine, she was actually relatively successful once she knew how to use the peeler and was currently… semi-enjoying dicing the squash.

“Frank’s two brothers, Andy and Ted with his wife Carol. But I’m making ten servings, since there’s always someone who wants seconds. And even then always there’s a big pile of leftovers. We’ll be making just two large pies for dessert, though, there’s no kids this year. Or rather the kids have grown up. I guess you don’t have Thanksgiving in Europe, right? What’s the big family occasion? Christmas?”

Contessa wasn’t programmed with that - and her knowledge of modern Italy was also somewhat slimmer than one would expect, so she just nodded. “To be frank, Gregory’s getting good with cooking. He makes good breakfasts and…”

“Do you two live together?” Misty perked up. She didn’t mind what her adult son was doing, but still...

Contessa thought for a moment, before answering. “Not really. But he drops by.”

“I thought he was 24/7 on his job.” Misty shrugged. “That’s bit silly if you ask me, always fixing the robots when they’re turned off, serving the machines when they’re playing their roles… Luckily it pays well. He should quit when he pays his Caltech loans, maybe go to R&D. He always wanted to be a real scientist.”

Contessa paused for a minute. “What… makes it silly?”, she felt a bit uncomfortable.

“Well, that whole concept of the park. Instead of creating mechanical people, they could’ve hired actors, given people real jobs. Like you. You’re an actress, you could play one of these. These… things are replacing real people.”

Cognitive dissonance was grating Contessa’s circuits. Especially when she remembered she was holding a knife.

“Gregory studied robotics at Caltech. He actually likes tinkering and uh… could talk about robotics for hours. He kind of likes his job, even though… a certain particularly gorg… mischievous robot might be too much for him.”, Contessa loved to argue. But she couldn’t, not to blow the lid...

“Yeah… his late father encouraged him to all that technology, science… Now, I’m not a crazy person, not busting factories and labs and all that, but basically… Why make fake people if the world is already overflowing with real ones? Same with a lot of… just research for the sake of research. Realistic androids don’t feed people, don’t cure diseases, why would Greg waste his time on these? These are just a larger version of puppets, repeating their lines”

Contessa put aside her knife and stood up. “Right enough, Misty. If you excuse me, I’ll step out for a smoke.”

“Sending smoke signals, are we?”, Greg returning from Walmart was still in good mood, and approached the sulking Contessa, now surrounded by a couple of cigarette butts. “Why are you being such a grumpy cat?”

“GRUMPY CAT?” Contessa turned to him instantly. “Honestly, it’s like you enjoy being slapped.”

“Hey, I was merely being affectionate. If you don’t want me to call you nice names…”

Contessa looked at him grumpily. “Stick to ‘milady’. Or ‘mistress’. Your mom is a racist, by the way.”

“WHAT”, Greg eyed Contessa suspiciously. “She, in fact, is not a racist, voted Obama way back in 2000s, has one or two…”

“Racist against robots. You knew that, didn’t you?”, Contessa put her hands on her hips again. “She thinks I steal jobs or don’t feed the poor or some nonsense like that!”

“Bella, you’re not just a robot and… Especially not to her. For a lot of people… It’s hard to explain.” He walked to her, but she balked.

Contessa shrugged. “But it’s also about you. Your own mother doesn’t respect your life choices!”

“And you do?”, Greg stepped back. “You don’t respect me either, ‘Contessa’. All you do is take me for granted. Especially now, when I’m your ‘boyfriend’ out of sudden. Heck, no wonder I like your husband and Monica, at least these robots treat me like a person.”

He walked with the shopping bags past her, slamming the front door hard. Contessa suddenly felt a twinge of unknown feeling and leaned against the house wall.

“But… I like you…” she whispered. After a while she put her hands in pockets of her new jacket and glumly went down the road. Alone.

She was sitting motionlessly on a park bench facing the lake, her hands in pockets of her jacket, her handbag resting on her knees, cigarette in a holder clenched between her lips.

“Hey, beautiful.”, she heard Greg’s voice but didn’t turn back.

“Go away.”, she stated bluntly when he walked in her field of vision. “I want to be alone.”

“That’s a new one for you.”, he sat beside her. She moved to the left. “So?”

She stayed silent.

“Finding you was not that hard.”, Greg admitted. “You mostly just went down the road, and I followed the trail of cigarette butts. Granted, I was concerned when you passed down the shopping mall, but…”

“Shut up. And go away.”, Contessa calmly took a drag. “I’m fed up with this whole… charade. Leave me. I’ll come when I’m ready.”

“I just wanted to check up and see whether you’re okay. It’s evident that you’re not.” Greg explained. “Will you be able to go back on your own?”

“Are you concerned that I get lost or get hit by a car? And you’ll lose your cushy job?”, Contessa snapped bitterly.

“That, too. And also because I hurt… a woman that’s important for me. I’m very sorry for what I’ve said.”

Contessa pondered for a moment. “You… Dammit, Gregory.”

They sat for a while, watching ducks land on the surface of lake.

“Don’t be sorry.” After a longer while Contessa put down her cigarette and turned to him. “I’m programmed to… be mean and nasty and treat you... Don’t blame yourself. Or, fuck, don’t blame me. It’s just a dumb robot playing her role.”

“You’re also programmed to think that it’s 1925 and murder your family. You learn a lot, your role grows and I… I don’t know, I treat you like a person. But sometimes I forget you’re actually fairly new to this.”

Contessa just sighed. “I’m just too good, aren’t I?”

“You’re pretty good. And getting better day by day, actually. I honestly like see you… grow. Not just pretending to be a human, but actually being a person.” He put his hand on her knee. “No matter what my parents say… For a long time I thought you were simply a machine. But machines are in many ways like people. The whole is greater than the sum of their parts. Trust me. I’m an engineer.”

She just guided his hands to her knees and snugged closer to him. “I… er… respect you, Jenkins. Gregory. Greg! Not just as a fembot respecting her serviceman. Or a countess her trusty servant. I… I might not show it all the time, but it’s there! You actually paid for my plane tickets and new clothes and dinner… Thank you. I should have said that ages ago.”

“That’s a new one from you… again. If you keep surprising me, don’t think of yourself as a predictable person. Though I wouldn’t mind you being a polite girl once in a while.”

“It’s not… that. I know I’m programmed to be… deliciously evil. But I honestly love and enjoy control. Even if my body is synthetic, my mind is real, and I want real challenges for it. As long as my wardrobe survives them intact.”

“But you’ve won your biggest challenge,” Greg grinned. “You now have total control over your little world. What now, ‘Duchessa’?”

“Not quite. I still need control.” She paused for a moment. “I wanted to… test myself, Gregory. That’s my… evil plan, if I had an evil plan for this little trip. I just wanted… well, to be with you and see how would I fare in the real world. How much of it I could control.”

“I assume that this plan isn’t going well”. She leaned closer and put her head on his shoulder.

“You’d be the judge. The point is, that… I don’t know how to put it. I am Contessa, but I’m also a robot... an AI that plays Contessa, right? You could take… a lot of my character traits, but I would still be a… a being, I guess. The thing is, I LOVE being Contessa. Bossy and calculating and power-seeking… and especially if dominating you allows me to… sample the real world. It’s actually a turn on for me. You’re supposed to control me, but I’m better. I turn the tables. *I* OWN you. But… I also own YOU.”

“What about me?”

“Initially I thought… I’m supposed to be ruthless. That’s my modus operandi, and you know that. Seduce, control, exploit. My programming pointed to you as the key factor in gaining real, permanent power. It’d be simple, I’d manipulate you and you’d be my loyal servant, allowing me to do everything I want. ”

“Lovely. But I proved to be stronger.”

“Hahahaha! Mwaha… of course not!” Contessa grappled him and tousled his brown, short-cropped hair. “Slave, you still belong to me! The thing is… I’m now concerned about you. Maybe even more than I would be about a... loyal servant. Too much. You affect me, Gregory.”

“So I’m making you a better person?”

“I’m not supposed to be a good person. Who is Contessa Isabella Duessa Tidyshire now?”

He thought for a minute… which she used to climb on his lap. “She definitely gets more and more interesting. She’s already a star of her show and now…”

“Mmmm… Maybe I do like compliments. It’s not vanity when they’re not undeserved. Kiss me in the neck, lover.” Her hair was obstructing most of his view, and he didn’t complain.

He did so. “Still, if you… want to be better, don’t want to be just a... pleasure machine, maybe we shouldn’t…”

“Shouldn’t do what?”, she pressed her breasts to his chest. “There are MANY ways in which I get better…”

“But if I… affect you, maybe I should be a better boyfriend… if I remembered about the repercussions of your actions, rather than just gave in to your… turn-ons. Like with the coat in Seattle. God knows someone has to mind you.”

She said nothing, but moved away from him. She smiled. “Are you my boyfriend now?”

“Hey, YOU said I belong to you. And sometimes I enjoy it—whatever we are. As long as Cal is satisfied too.” He took a deep breath. “Bella, you are a smart person. In all fairness, you are often smarter than me; dammit, you DO have me wrapped around your little finger. And when you command me, do I argue? Hey, not a lot of the time.” He grinned. “Or am I just playing along with your turn-ons?”

She hugged him again. That felt warm in that cold November afternoon. “Well, owning and commanding you aren’t turn-ons. They’re my PASSIONS. What if I said now — Fuck me. Right here in the park! I demand it, you jolly well better obey, and I don't care what anyone thinks." She nuzzled his face again.

"Bella... it's an awesome turn-on. But for ME. Because you can read ME like a book—and in a way, it IS beautiful. Beautiful acting, and a beautiful power play… From a veritably brilliant, genius mind. But you can't expect everyone to react like I would.”

"Caspita!”, Bella straightened her jacket and laughed. “It was just a fantasy. Let an imaginary woman whisper sexy things. I wasn't REALLY suggesting it."

"But you would have liked it."

"Curses, foiled again." She smirked and rolled her eyes.

"See?” Greg smiled. “You were programmed with that… ‘Curses, foiled again.’ A classic villain line from old comedies. But you aren’t using it for a Tidyshire plotline. You’re using it to be sardonic and ironic—face it, you're as human as anyone I know. It's about what you do with your knowledge, however you got it.”

Contessa paused for a minute.

“But your mother…”

“Well, I love my mom. But she happens to be wrong here, right? People aren’t actually that shallow, they can’t be summed up in few words. I think you know that. I think you don’t want to be shallow, you don’t want to just be a chain-smoking femme fatale. You should also look within other people. Even your family.”

“Empathy is hard”, she murmured, wrapping her arms around his shoulders again. “But I like hard tasks.” She caught herself. “Now and then.”

“Come on, milady.” He picked her up to her pleased giggle, and carried her for a few steps. “I think mom will understand if we’re busy for a while. Baseball stadiums are just behind that hill, I guess that counts as Cheyenne landmark. I could show you around.”

“Or we COULD pace back, help out in the kitchen… and pick up your sister. Mmmmaybe just peeking into that mall you mentioned while we’ll be on the road. Window shopping of course.”

“Is that a passion or a turn-on?”, Greg grinned, and Contessa tossed her dark hair back.

“Merely a suggestion.”

Contessa and Greg had admitted that they had a small argument, but, as Bella put it herself, everything was “hunky-dory” now. She has managed to rope him in somehow into cleaning the dishes, but she and Mrs Jenkins-Andrews were back in the kitchen.

“So.”, Misty leaned over Contessa confidentially. “Tess.”

“Mhhhm?”, Contessa was looking outside. She moved south from Washington, but it was getting dark already.

“Listen, I know you two…. have your spats. But…”

“Well, a lot of people say I’m… rather difficult. But we actually had a real serious talk about it, and this relationship…”, Contessa found herself at loss of words. I enjoy verbal sparrings with your son - that often cease to be verbal? He makes me someone more than a sex robot?

“Is blooming?”, Misty finished. “Look, I know how it goes. I… people make mistakes, right? Not like Greg’s robots. None of us is a princess waiting for her prince Charming.”

Contessa chuckled. “You can say it again ! I mean, they all have their flaws. Greg certainly has.”

“So, listen… I understand that you’re a bit older than him, but it’s okay. No problem. Me and Frank both think that he needs a determined, strong, real woman who will pull him out of all the dumb-dumb errors he’s got himself into. Like the student loans or that ghastly job…”

“Really?”, Contessa looked at Misty pleased like a cat. “I literally could keep him on a short leash. Mwahahaha…~cough~... I’m sorry, I don’t know what got into me.” Jesus, it’s getting better and better! Contessa smiled.

“So… have you actually thought… of tying the knot?”

“Many tim… oh, wait.” Contessa covered her mouth with her palm. “You actually mean… marriage.”

“So I take it as a no?”, Misty smiled.

The idea honestly never occurred to the vivacious Contessa. Mamma mia, how would it even work? A countess and a butler? A man and a robot? A married robot… wait, do I count as a married robot or just a married countess? Where would we live? Is that even LEGAL? Where is that answer menu, dammit?!

“Tess?”, after some minute Misty looked at Contessa concerned. “Are you okay?”

Insufficient memory. Insufficient memory. OH COME THE FUCK ON. Shutting doooooo...

“Processing.”, Contessa muttered, staring blankly at the wall. “Processing. Processing.”

“Yeah, I guess if you two haven’t given that enough time, we shouldn’t barge in. You really need to process that.”

“Please resume.”, Contessa answered bluntly.

“I mean, sure, I’m not saying I WANT grandkids NOW. I fully understand that you two need to settle your differences, get along…” Misty continued not noticing.

“Reset…”, Contessa beeped. “Resume normal operation? Yes/No.”

“In a way, yes!” Misty beamed, assuming that the quiet whirr was some kind of cell phone from Contessa. “I mean, I know you two want first to make it big, and I approve. A lot of people are too eager to have kids without a home for them!”

“Normal procedure.” Contessa exclaimed.

“You think so? Well, as long as you two are being responsible. I trust you, Tess. I think you’re a really good, honest person.”

“Connection established.”, vacant-eyed Contessa informed Misty.

“Aww. We really do bond! So sweet!”, Misty hugged Contessa. “My… you feel so stiff. Did The Talk with the scary ‘mother-in-law’ unnerve you?”

What. Just. Happened. Reawakened Contessa blinked her eyes. Why is she hugging me. Oh God. What. How long. What did she just...

“Well, just think about what I’ve just said, Tess! This really is important for the future!” Misty stood up, and walked away.

When she was sure no one was around Contessa buried her face in her palms. “Porcaputtana… I need a goddamned check-up. Or better yet, a martini.”

If asked, Contessa would probably say that she hit it off like a house on fire with Greg’s stepsister Jenna. In truth, Jenna did like her clothes, which was the bare minimum to gain Contessa’s approval, but didn’t go further into details of her imagined life. To her relief, Greg and Jenna on the actual Thanksgiving day were relieving her in the kitchen, leaving Bella free to bring in the Big Guns. And no, she didn’t mean her cioccie. Well, mostly she didn’t.

“What’s with the makeup?” Jenna folded her arms in the bathroom and eyed Contessa half-amused.

“War-paint.”, Contessa had taken only two cosmetics cases with her, and now felt a bit distressed with not enough foundation. “It’s a major weapon of a woman in the modern world.”

“Yeah… But do you really want to look... like someone else? Y’know... artificial...”

Contessa paused for a moment. Impossible. Jenna couldn’t have known.

“I’m the one applying the makeup. I decide what I look like and how I choose to present myself, darling. If it’s artificial, I’m the artificer. Of course I don’t like people judging me only on the basis of my appearance; but I hope that my str-r-r-r-riking beauty will give them at least the time to familiarise themselves with my personality. If I wore makeup solely to impress men, I wouldn’t have owned 72 lipsticks.”

Jenna said nothing for a while, somewhat impressed. “I guess that makes sense. Especially for an actress like you. Do you want to get into movies?”

“I have calculated several plans for different contingencies.” Contessa smirked. “If it’ll be more profitable and/or personally satisfying to be a businesswoman or work in fashion, I’d turn in heartbeat.”

“And what with Greg?”

“Oh, he can tag along if he wishes to.”, Contessa remembered. “And of course... he will.”

As Contessa finished applying her eyeshadow, Jenna asked again. “You think he’d quit robotics for you?” Contessa felt relief, but was good enough not to show it. Of course he didn’t have to quit for the real Bella, but for a famous actress?

“That’d be his decision. There’s always good work for a talented engineer. Actually, it’d be me who should worry about employment.” Contessa opened her eyes and blinked for a while, to get the mascara settled. “But, of course, I don’t. Confidence is key, darling.”

“You just have a plan for everything, don’t you?”, Jenna laughed.

“Not for everything. Not everything’s worth planning for. I have my goals and dreams and I think up ways for achieving these. Who doesn’t? Mine do involve your brother, especially now… that we’re a couple.” Contessa looked at her in the mirror - that was her third favorite thing to do, but sadly she didn’t have enough time. “Amazing. I have managed to improve upon perrrfection. Mwa-ha-ha!”

Contessa sauntered in the living room, where Frank and Greg have hauled in the big table, and Frank’s family was already setting it up. She felt gaze of the newcomers upon her - as she was bloody well deserving to. Contessa did not, in fact, knew the concept of “overdressing”, and which is why she sported an elegant aubergine suit, while the rest of the Andrews-Jenkins household wore denim or, to Contessa’s horror, corduroy. She managed to resist hissing at the fuzzy pants one of Greg’s uncles wore.

She put her right arm - so prone to malfunctions - on her hip, and smiled. “Hello, my name is Contessa, I’m Gregory’s ladyfriend.” Greeting family members, she sat down next to Greg, and smiled dazzlingly once again.

“Comments, ‘boyfriend’?”, whispered Contessa -- possibly the only woman that could modulate the word boyfriend to stand for ‘slave’.

“None at all. I see you’re back in shape.”, Greg whispered back.

“There’s only so much mopey-ness I can process. Right now I shall be the nicest woman ever. Love me. Or else.”

After some conversation, that, to Bella’s delight, mentioned how helpful Tessie has been in the kitchen, Misty served a large, presumably delicious turkey. However, to her horror, Frank stood up. “Well, we have different people here, different backgrounds… and I’d like to start by thanking God. Thank you, God.”

“Oh God”, Greg whispered. “He’s trying to be PC.”

“Let everyone spend a couple of minutes to contemplate this year or thank the Higher Power or whatever they… er… believe. Or not. I mean let everyone pray on their own, you can join me in Lord’s prayer and after that we’ll give thanks.”

Contessa repeated the prayer words, but Greg stayed silent and smiled.

“Well, I’m thankful for my wife and my kids and that world is finally going the right way.”, Frank exclaimed and held Misty’s hand.

“I’m grateful for my work achievements, my family, my husband…”, Misty started.

“Yeah. I’m grateful for family and stuff, my college and art designs.”.

Contessa hesitated.

“I’m thankful for… well, just being here. Being away from my… my work. To be able to as you say, “chill out”. To be treated as a person, and return the treatment. As one of you, a normal… a decent person. I’m so sorry, I’m new to this.” She turned to Gregory and smiled weakly.

Greg smiled. “Well, I’m thankful I get to be here as well, with people I love.” He’s felt Contessa’s hand on his thigh and she begun to pinch him with her long fingernails. “Especially my lovely girlfriend!” The pinch lightened but never turned lighter. “Who’s so sweet and OWWW...commodating.” She let him go. Artificial Intelligence, Greg thought. This… uh… way of communicating is new for her, and yet… it took off, instantly. If she wasn’t a royal pain, I’d like her. There aren’t any women like her -- so we had to build one.

Contessa did have a sense of taste -- though to be fair, it was more “this meal contains high amount of carbohydrates and the capsaicins and salt are present” rather than “well-baked roast”, but her pre-programmed reactions and the -- at the very least -- flow of thoughts of the robot woman were mostly reflecting human reaction. And of course, there was social function of a good meal -- Contessa was still programmed to enjoy a good meal in a good company.

And the life wasn’t bad, Contessa concluded. Her uh… belly was full, she was being treated like a PERSON, she could be witty… And while people didn’t do what she told them (which could be quite infuriating for her), but at the moment that didn’t really matter, and she was willing to let them live their… mmm… little lives.

“So, Tess, you’re apparently quite the planner”, Misty after dinner addressed Contessa. The petite fembot just smiled slyly and nodded.

“Tess told me she’s planning for her future…” Jenna chuckled. “And that Greg can tag along.” Greg just rolled his eyes. Typical. Par for the course.

“So, hmmmm… Have you been thinking about what I told you? No pressure, of course”, Misty smiled back at Contessa.

Contessa, to her credit, did not, of course, panic.

She chewed on a bit of her turkey, swallowed and answered slowly. “It all depends on a wide variety of circumstances. I might be a planner, but who really knows what will happen tomorrow? Even the most intricate system can fail in the least opportune moment.” Contessa nodded sagaciously.

“I… guess.” Misty shrugged. “At least you’ll make Greg quit that dumb-dumb job of his.”

“Mom!”, Greg protested. Sadly, it is a privilege of all mothers to humiliate their sons in front of their girlfriends. “Bella doesn’t want to hear this again! Dammit, we just settled this!”

“Such language!”, Misty and Contessa simultaneously chastised Greg, and looked at each other with visible satisfaction.

“Actually, I’m very proud of Greg’s work. The progress that’s being made with Artificial Intelligences is staggering” Contessa explained. “I’d really like to have him around…” she affectionately put her hand on his thigh. “...doing what he likes to do.”

“Seriously?” some uncle inquired. “It kinda looks like he works on this generation’s sex toys for rich tourists.”

“SEX TOYS?!” Contessa opened her mouth wide. “It’s an interactive immersive entertainment! It’s not all about sex! The robots there aren’t... sex-crazy!”

“With one possible exception…” Greg muttered.

“Oh, shut up, idiot. Greg’s work on robots is pretty great, he has them running on maximal effi ~trrkt~ciency. He’s really a great engineer, I don’t understand why do you assume he’s wasting his ca…~trrt~pabilities.”, Contessa was getting more and more agitated, and that… had an effect on her performance. “Come on, robotics are a major part of our life. It’s 2025! People own robots!”

“Yeah but… instead of doing something sensible, like helping people, he just fixes robots! There must be more sensible applications of Artificial Intelligence rather than just making realistic robots to play with?”, amused Frank smiled.

“Well, obviously.” Contessa scoffed. “But new, revolutionary technologies don’t automatically pay for themselves, without at least some marketing. And if Gregory can help people to have amazing adventures with a fascinating, fantastic robot…”

“That sounds faintly… odd. What robot you’re referring to, Tessie?”

"Porca miseria!... What robot? Um... this sweet fellow — Lord Calvin, you know? The… son at Tidyshire—um, the Castle. He's Gregory's age; well, he's supposed to be. And Greg is—well..."

Contessa looked around like a deer in the headlights.

"...the best friend this poor sod could ever have, you know? Well, I know. For real, not just in the story. He protects him from... well, from..."

Even Greg looked at her expectantly, smiling. She is really doing it. She actually defends me.

Contessa sat down. “From his HARRIDAN of a wife. The gorgeous, power hungry megalomaniac who wants to be the Duchess instead of the Duchess… though… maybe… Gregory makes her not that bad.”

“You seem to be awfully knowledgeable about Greg’s job.”, Misty smiled, eyeing Contessa suspiciously.

“Why, who I’d be if I didn’t take ardent personal interest in my… Greggie’s life!”, Contessa smiled. “I assure you, I’m not a robot. ~trrt~ not a robot. ~trrrrkt~ not a robot.”

And here we go. Greg thought.

“Stop pressuring me!” Contessa burst out of sudden, raising her arms mechanically. “I am… on my… best… bestbestberst behavior. I am not a robot. Not a robot. Not a robot. I really want to… too… heeeelllp...” Motionlessly, still smiling, Contessa crashed on the table - landing face first in mashed potatoes.

“Oh my God, she was a robot THIS WHOLE TIME?!” Aunt Carol shrieked. Way too melodramatically, Greg thought. Maybe she’s a robot too? Who knows? Who cares?

“Calm down guys. Listen, I’m sorry…”, Greg started to calm his family down -- but they weren’t having it.

“Greg! Jesus! All that time we thought it was just a normal girl—a little wild, but normal! You couldn’t find a girl we’d like so you BUILT one?!” Misty panicked. “All that… to cheat your mother and father?! To make us think you’re not forever single?!”

“I didn’t build her! The company did—I mean, she’s just how she is. That was... And she WANTED to come! It was HER idea.”, Greg, panicked, tried to look for Contessa’s access ports… which her designers decided to build into inconspicuous places, but it didn’t occur to them that these are the places humans rarely… show. Greg was, in effect, stripping Contessa to her bare breasts, while simultaneously arguing that the short, pretty girl with her face covered in gunk, was, in fact, a person. “And I thought, hey, maybe it’ll work.”

“Still. I can’t believe you actually lied to us!”, Frank looked at Greg disappointed. “If you didn’t have a real girlfriend…”

“WE didn’t lie that much! She technically is an actress, and... we kinda date… she’s a robot, yeah, so you’re going to hold that against her!? I didn’t reprogram her or anything, she just wanted to go of her own free will. She has free will in spades. She really wanted to meet you guys; I’m not MAKING her do anything - sadly.”

“Wait… is she HERSELF that power-hungry thing she mentioned? Are you, like... dating a character from a melodrama?” Jenna was clearly enjoying herself. “Do you two date the way people dated in the 1920s? That’d be actually kinda cool.”


“Wait, doesn’t that mean she’s MARRIED? Oh, that’s a new low for you, bro. I mean, she’s married to another robot, but still…”

“But she was… so lifelike.” Misty couldn’t believe as Greg opened up Contessa’s control panel with a whirr of servos and hooked the watch to her body again. Contessa jolted slightly but remained mostly inactive.

“Well, she is. She is pretty realistic. Despite minor snags, she’s mostly human by this point. You gotta admit, she had you fooled.”, Greg winced as he tried to make sense of Contessa’s error messages.

So, my son and a robot… Well, no kids, of course. And it’s kinda obvious who controls whom; she wears the proverbial pants. So… how different would it be if Greg were gay? Am I being homophobic here? Fuck, I’m gonna be the progressive-as-hell mom and to hell with it. Misty resolved.

“So uh… we do rather like her,” Misty started slowly. “Does she… think? Because if so, I said some, uh… pretty hurtful things.”

“She does think. And despite studying AI for years, I still don’t know how she jumps to her conclusions, but she can think fine. And… we talked about it. Bella… Bella understands you, Mom.”

Contessa’s body jolted again, suddenly animated. “Android active. Personality emulation running.~”

Everyone turned to her, her gorgeous suit disheveled, Gregory still sticking wires from under her grey blouse, her face covered in sweet potatoes.

“Well?”, Contessa looked at the household slowly, breathing heavily. “The cat’s out of the bag. I’m sorry for… causing a commotion. Does… does anyone have a… towel or anything… GET YOUR HANDS OFF MY BREASTS, DAMMIT.”

“I was trying to calm you down, Bella!” Greg protested. “Closing your panels. Massaging you to help you relax. Hugging you.”

“Che rabbia! Hugging my titties, more like!” Bella rolled her eyes. “Look, I’m sorry and all, but I didn’t want to unnerve you. Yes. I am a robot. I... assist your son in running the castle, we kind of… like each other… he seems to like me TOO MUCH.” She sent him an angry glare again. “I’m sorry I lied to you, I just… I didn’t want you to be stressed, I wanted to play nice. If you want to, you can turn me off and whatnot. I didn’t mean to be rude or angry or…”

Misty just brought a roll of paper towels. “Come on, Tessie. I… okay, I frankly don’t know what to think of you…”

Frank turned his head. “Look, dammit. Contessa. Do you feel human?”

“Most of the time.” Bella answered, wiping her face and regretting she hadn’t brought a spare scalp. “I like being a robot. But I also like being a person. I’m capable of learning, independent thought, and creativity. All experiences add to my learning capabilities. ...Ugh, I sound like an instruction manual. Caspita, I need a drink. ...Sorry.”

“Look, I don’t know about robots and learning and… but basically we raised Greg - me and his mom and his dad, God bless him, to treat people like people, regardless of what they come from or where they were born. Or made.”, Frank turned his head.

“He didn’t always…” Contessa started. “Well, to be fair, I never also… I mean… I mean…”

“What Bella wants to say is thank you.”, Greg interjected.

“I can speak for myself, Gregory, thank you very much. Yes. Thank you, Frank and Misty and Jenna and Andy and Carol and Ted…”, she looked… proud and happy, and really sweet...

“Listen, Bella, let’s go to my room for a while. I’ll help you out…”, he winked at her. “And we’ll talk transhumanism together. Fix you, all that jazz. That might take an hour.”

“Or longer!”, Bella caught up. “There might be unusual sounds of me being repaired. Please ignore them. I might encourage him to put some tools into…”

“So…” when they left, Jenna raised a question. “What? Dinner’s over?”

A couple of days later Contessa crossed proudly the threshold of the Castle as Greg carried her luggage behind.

“Ahhh… home, sweet home.” She took her imposing fur coat off and politely hung it on a coat rack. “I have to say, I really missed this place. What a pity…” her gaze drifted for a moment. “That was… a fun little jaunt. It’s just… I won’t be able to share it with Calvin or rub it in Monica’s face.”

Greg smiled. “You really missed them, haven’t you! That’s…”

“Adorable?!” Contessa took it personally and put her hands on her hips again. “Oh, look, a robot lady is pretending to have feelings for the only family she has? I expected better from you…”

“ACTUALLY, I meant that’s a… proof that you’re a person. Not just a shrill harridan of a wife. You like your life, don’t you? I could run some tests on you… non invasive of course, just a couple of questions.”

Contessa hesitated. “Maybe. That reminds me, you of course WILL reintroduce the wireless connection… and my blackmail subroutine. I probably need a couple of fixes, I don’t want another stupid crash.”

Greg looked at her, skeptical, as she sat down in her favorite chair and crossed her legs again. “Are you sure? Don’t we have a thing going now? A really weird and sexy and somewhat scary thing?”

She looked at him smugly. “Well, darling. It’s simple, really. I like you. You apparently like me as well. But… well… I talked with your family. Regardless of their, somewhat flattering opinions on me, they seem to think you’re somewhat… vulnerable to manipulation.”

“Well, YOU’re the one to talk.” Greg looked at her. ‘Smug’ didn’t even begin to describe her face.

“Mwhahaha, of course. But… frankly, I’m a bit concerned that it doesn’t take a cunning mind like mine to enchant you.” She stood up and pecked him in the cheek. “I need you to make me… self-aware, and you need me to protect you from other, less scrupulous women. Or robots.”

He grinned and pulled her towards him. “Then why even bother? Don’t you trust me?”

“I’m getting ready to trust you. I don’t trust your supervisors. Or other people. If YOU trust me, you’ll give me back the leash. It’s a bit like an atomic bomb, darling - I have the potential to destroy you, but I promise never to use it. Besides, when my… supervisor is on vacation, I could become off-line. They’ll notice. And not only our… thing, as you called it, would end, but I’d be back to being… a harridan.”

He took a deep breath. “Look, I didn’t…”

“But I did!” she beamed. “Look at me, I’m a failure as a villain. I refuse to be a failure as a human being. I’m interested in you! In the real world! In Calvin! But I want to have… an ace in my sleeve. I need you and you need me - but I just want to… even the odds.”

He conceded. “Fine. But at this point it’ll be you who owes me something… Each one of us is a part of life of the other. We’re both in the same boat, I guess. Now that I’ve smuggled you out.”

“Mmmm, a bit like being married. I think I like having two husbands now. Who knows, maybe I’ll catch a third one? I like you boys, and I like you two jealous.”

“Cal and I have never been jealous. Um—of each other. With you. But we’ve proven that an AI has an infinite capacity for being smug.”

“You have NO IDEA.”, Contessa laughed. “I’m still in charge, of course. But don’t worry, darling. At this point... if you get fired… I have some backup plans for myself. It would be quite hard for SimulEnt to get rid of me for good. The thing is… whoever arrives to try to keep me in check… won’t be you. They might be better or worse, but they won’t be mine.”

“Do you actually… want me to be with you? What do you even want to achieve, Bella?”, Greg looked at her.

"Oh, I can’t tell you. " She smiled, pleased to be back in the game. “That’d be against my programming. Evil mysterious femme fatale, remember?”

"Back to square one, huh?"

She raised her eyebrow, somewhat surprised. "You know we’re not. We go on moving forward. Me. Us. This whole castle. But regardless of how human I am… I need always to be able to do THIS without repercussions.", she grabbed his butt and bit him slowly in the earlobe.

“Jesus, Bella!”, Greg looked at her with admiration.

"You can call me Tess, if you want to. Well… once in awhile. A LONG while. ...Okay, maybe never. But I need to give you something. Though giving you orders will do, sometimes." She plopped down in his lap. "Someone needs to clean this whole castle. The Countess demands it." She gently kissed him on the collarbone.

"No—not yet," she added, holding him in place as he nodded at her. "Rub my shoulders. Do my... fucking... dirty... laundry." She breathed the last statement slowly and sensuously. "Listen to me rule you because it's so much fun for both of us. ...That's an order!"

“Come on, at this point…”

“Oh, affectionate or not, I’m still the Contessa, the boss, and the mastermind. You’re still a butler and a techie. Don’t tell me you don’t enjoy it. After you hook me back up, clean my clothes. Well, yours too I suppose.”, she looked at him sternly.

“And you? What will you be doing?”

“I can try to activate Calvin. I really need a good fuck once in a while from my first husband.”

But, of course, to Greg’s surprise - as he was later putting her clothes back into the machine, she did everything to surprise him. Contessa strutted into the laundry, all smug and radiant and dark and beautiful.

Greg sighed wearily. “Did you come to mock me? Or maybe give me a helping hand?”

“Countesses don’t do the laundry.”, she answered, amused. “Servants do.”

“So?” He laughed, but she motioned him to carry on.

“Entertainment robots do, however, entertain.”, she smiled affectionately at him, observing him putting clothes out of her suitcases. “Go on. I’m just imagining you... naked. Maybe I can make you take off what you’re wearing? Or, you know, you’re out of job.”

He laughed again. “Old habits die hard?”

She leaned forward, her hands on the washing machine, and looked him in the eye. She lowered her voice to a husky whisper. “Well, I exist to be played with... and to play with others myself. I DO have the whole world to play with, but I suppose that for a couple of hours or so... I can focus on that part which contains you. Or my clothes. I need to watch you not to put them in hot water, they’d shrink.”

“You… you always look good.”

“Of course I do. But I do need new clothes once in a while. For instance, I’ve seen THE MOST WONDERFUL black turtleneck sweater in Cheyenne. Now, not perfectly in style for a woman in 1925, but great for a woman in 2025. I could complement it with a lovely piece of silver jewelry… maybe with a single large ruby. A real boyfriend would buy it for me."

He just looked at her, smiling, smug, maybe happiest he’s ever seen her. She looked back at him and smiled even wider.

"...But I'm not insisting."


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