Michelle vs. Number One
Michelle vs. Number One
Part 1: Nancy Draws Near
“Why are you stressed, Michelle?” Gabriela—the stunning-looking blonde Latina fembot - tilted her head surprised. “You're not the one competing.”
“I'm just worried about you, you blockhead. Sure, you're good-looking, but good looks in a fembot aren't everything. There's also a talent show and…” Michelle smiled faintly at her partner. “I guess I'm a bit of a stage mom.”
It took a while for Gabriela to mull that over and understand the idiom… but once she did, she tottered over to Michelle and gave her a warm hug.
“Aww, hija mia, that's so…. sweet”. Michelle was less than thrilled to be pressed against Gaby's perfect synthetic body, particularly her ample bust.
“Gaby? You can let go, hun.”… Michelle was a bit miffed…
“Well, isn't this lovely.” Gaby let go when she heard a sharp feminine voice. Michelle turned around to see a very tall, Caucasian woman dressed in a single-piece white pantsuit. Her pale face bore a mocking grin, underlined by her impressive cheekbones. “Girls… Do you really think this whole… afterschool special deal will help you win?” She leaned forward on her cane.
“And who the heck are you?”, Michelle asked, not intimidated in the slightest. The woman in white frowned.
“Such language! Beauregard?” Michelle realized that a giant, bald man in a suit was, in fact, not an element of scenery but a person standing behind the newcomer. He was built like a brick shithouse… though he didn't look half bad for a mountain of muscle. Nonetheless, he leaned over Gaby and Michelle, snarling: “One does not speak to Mrs. Astor this way!”
Even though Michelle flinched, Gaby didn't let go of her—maybe it was protectiveness, or maybe the Latina robot-woman was not entirely imaginative. Michelle found that… well, comforting.
“Um… I'm sorry.” She extended her hand to Mr. Beauregard, who did not accept it. However, Mrs. Astor stared at her with her icy-cold blue eyes hidden beneath her impressive eyelashes.
After a good while of Mrs. Astor waiting, she scoffed. “Well, I suppose she can't help it, Beauregard.”, she adjusted her mane of platinum white hair and turned to Michelle. “I take it you're the owner of this… blondie?” Somehow, it sounded far more derogatory than it should have.
Michelle nodded. “Look, I don't know what your deal is, but…”… she didn't get deterred by Beauregard's snarl. “But yes, Gaby and I are a team in this beauty show.”
“Beauregard!”, Mrs. Astor snapped. "We can always solve it politely." She turned her attention to Gaby and stepped back, pointing at Latina's hair and… curvaceous build with the tip of her cane. “You must be cheating. She is far too young-looking to run at the Talent Show in THIS age category.”
Michelle chuckled—and looked at Gabriela— who was blank-faced and observing the situation. “Gaby, this lady just said you look young and beautiful. I mean, in a weird way to do so, sure… but you should thank her.”
“Thank you, lady.”, Gabriela grinned for a moment—and froze with a satisfied, pleasant smile. Fembots, Michelle groaned internally, then turned to the perturbed complainer.
“Look, Mrs. Astor, my husband had built Gabriela Ortega-Calderon as a 52 years old woman, and no one complained in the preliminaries.” — The android shows had fairly elaborate requirements—even though Gaby DID look younger than one might expect. Michelle thought that 'senior female android' was a far less competitive category.
“If you have any complaints, take it up to the board, we're not quitters.”, Michelle added. The self-satisfied red-lipsticked smirk didn't disappear from the face of the woman in white.
“Oh, child, I have. Believe me, they will trust the word of Nancy Carolyn Astor. I have been three times winner of the 50+ category and Kulyashin and Ronalds will take my word seriously. You are cheating. And cheaters get disqualified, humiliated, expelled for LIFE.” — She added emphasis to each word with a thump of her black, slim cane.
Michelle's stage mom instincts took over. "Look, lady, I'm more than willing to cut wrinkles in Gaby's synthetic flesh. Just make good on your promise and stop bothering us."
"Hah!" The sound reminded Michelle of a locomotive whistle. “I do not bother you two.” Astor stopped smiling. “You bother me.” Beauregard stepped forward, but Mrs. Astor stopped him. “As the young lady said, Beauregard, we must take the official route. Come, I can't keep that little make-up woman waiting forever.”
Michelle stayed calm. When the white-haired woman left, she took a deep breath. “Stressful… but I guess not that threatening. We can deal with them.”
“Why are you so sure, Michelle?”. Gaby finally let go.
“Because they were robots. Mrs. Astor said she was the winner and going to make-up artist—not her robot or anything. Exceptions, sure, but robots can't hurt humans. The big guy was… did his best to be scary, but I think empty threats are all they have. She IS good, though—I can see why she's winning. I wonder what she'll do in the talent show part.”
“They don't have to be empty threats.” Gabriela pointed out after some consideration. “She might have me removed.” “I don't know, but it's her word against mine and George's. He made you. She's a contestant android, we're two humans with some clout in the community. If anything goes wrong, we can talk to her owner and work things out together.”, Michelle shrugged. “She's an old lady robot with a sidekick, how dangerous can she be?”
Later that day, it was quite dark – but that mattered little for Mrs. Astor who didn't need to sleep. She has ditched her immaculate white pantsuit, and instead paced in the living room of her house dressed in a black tight sweater and tall brown boots. Her moves now were clearly robotic - Mrs. Astor was good at strutting the catwalk, but now one could see the repetitiveness of her movements when she was on her own.
“I lost, JJ.” she repeated for the umpteenth time - with the exact same intonation. “She cheated. I lost, JJ. I was robbed of my medal by… by a cheating Mexican floozie!” The accent she put on the word 'Mexican' was disconcerting.
JJ – Nancy's owner – was tired, but like any good partner, he tried his best to be supportive. “Please, Mrs. Astor. Calm down. You know I always stood by you. You lost only one-tenth of a point to her.” He was a young man—slim, in his mid-twenties. “A silver medal is still a medal.”
“Hah!”, Mrs. Astor let loose her trademark dismissive hiccup. “I lost, JJ." She repeated, and added: "Being the second is just being the best loser. And I do not want that poppycock in my life, JJ. You should know. You programmed this in me.”
JJ stared at Mrs. Astor, surprised. “You know you're not a loser, Mrs. Astor. You're the smartest, classiest android I've ever met. You'll beat her next year. And there are other competitions.”
Nancy completely ignored his words. “I lost, JJ. I lost, JJ." She paused for a moment and raised her finger. "There can be only one explanation. The judges were onto this. How could they be impressed by mere… Calligraphy.” Nancy spat out, her synthetic voice dripping with venom. “I know it. They said… they said 'no' to me! They didn't take my word seriously, even though I said they had to.”
She sat down in an impressive brown-leather chair, fanning her face with her palm. “I am angry. Infuriated, even!” Her face didn't emote much – but she turned slowly at JJ.
“Sure, Mrs. Astor. I backed your claims. I am there for you, I owe you that much”, JJ walked up to the woman, trying to rub her shoulders. She looked at him—her blue eyes now colder.
She raised her voice: “And yet… you conceded. Why can't you ever… Ah, Beauregard.” She turned, seeing her butler bringing in a tray with a martini glass and a tablet computer. “Good to see that at least you are loyal to your mistress.”
While Mrs. Astor obviously could not be affected by alcohol – and the glass contained water with a single olive anyway – the ritual seemed to calm her down. Still not smiling, she took her tablet and began browsing the screen.
“What… what are you reading, Mrs. Astor?”. JJ was curious. Mrs. Astor's computer brain, at least in this case, worked faster than a human one, and she could read a lot when she wanted to—absorbing a lot of classical literature was one of her favorite tasks. When she had worked with his ex—Allison—she also learned to read and listen.
The white-haired woman didn't bother with responding, engrossed in her research.
“Uh… Beauregard?”, JJ addressed the mountain of a man. Beauregard was, in fact, himself a prize in the second competition the haughty Nancy had won—and the silver-haired matron declared him her property almost immediately. The butler has been nothing but loyal and did anything Nancy ever told him to. “What did Nancy tell you to do?”
“Mrs. Astor” — the humongous butler accented her last name, “had personally ordered me to find more information on these new competitors. Michelle Toussant runs a company called Rent-A-Bot.”
JJ's eyes opened. “Oh, it's them! People speak very highly of her. They rent out costumed robots for conventions, birthdays, that sort of stuff. She's good at making bots sound realistic.”
"It does seem that it got her in trouble a couple of times, Jeremy.” Mrs. Astor, apparently, could focus on Jeremy's words and the content of the archives she browsed while sipping her watery martini. “It says here… she got in trouble with plenty of interesting android characters, to put it in short. ” She chuckled to herself.
"What, how?”, JJ asked, curious—not noticing his fancy fembot almost never called him Jeremy before.
“This is irrelevant for your purposes”, Astor answered calmly. “It does, however, give me several interesting ideas to get rid of my competition again. Interesting ideas. I'm thinking. Exquisite.” She sighed and leaned on the back of her armchair, crossing her shapely, boot-clad legs, martini glass in hand. JJ could almost feel the robot woman's processor working on something.
“Wait, what do you mean 'again'?" JJ circled the chair, looking at Nancy surprised. “I thought they were the cheaters.”
“Don't be an imbecile, JJ.” Nancy smiled. “Remember when that sweet lady Mrs. Bakewell malfunctioned on stage, and they had to pull her out? Hah! Turns out, it's hard to compete against the famous Mrs. Nancy Carolyn Astor when you have your cooling system flooded with batter.” She sipped her martini again, smiling brilliantly at Jeremy.
"Now, I never programmed you to do it." JJ scratched his head. "You can't lie to me."
"I never lied to you. I just thought that there are just things that should not concern you, young man." Mrs. Astor stood up – she was gaunt, stylish and six feet tall in her high heels, towering over him.
She stared in his face, slightly leaning down and whispered: "I simply had to win, master. It was my programming. You should know. You programmed this in me. Being the second is just being the best loser. And the reward would help me achieve my goals later. Otherwise, how else would I have won my wonderful Beauregard." She rubbed JJ's cheek with her hand… and moved it to Beauregard's muscles.
Being called 'master' seemed to calm JJ down - which, of course, was exactly what Mrs. Astor counted on. She now spoke far more fluently. "And it was not 'cheating' – I merely helped her have an accident. She'd have it sooner or later, obviously. You created me to win, master. You should know. You programmed this in me. Is this clear to you?"
“Er… listen, Nancy…” JJ didn't know what to say.
“Is… this… clear.” Nancy enunciated each word, gently—but not too gently—tapping JJ's chest with her long fingernail.
“Yes… Mrs. Astor."
She purred. "Very well, JJ. I'm nothing if not an unreasonable woman. All I do is follow your instructions. You programmed this in me." She snapped her fingers. "JJ. Beauregard. Follow me."
JJ lived in his parents' old house, not a massive mansion Mrs. Astor would have belogned to. Still, he had a writing desk in his old room—with pen and paper. "That damn Mexican won because she learned to write on her own, like she's five, not fifty." Mrs. Astor reminded herself before she started to write something down. It took her a while.
"What… what's that?", JJ was perturbed. Mrs. Astor almost never wrote—but when she did so, she used fine, elegant letters.
"A lease agreement. You will agree to lease your robot and her companion to the Rent-A-Bot company, free of charge.", she explained, tersely, without the slightest hitch in the writing.
"What?", JJ looked at her terrified. "I'd never do that!"
"Negative. It is vital for my programming you did this, Jeremy.", Mrs. Astor tossed him a lingering, menacing gaze. "I must learn their secrets firsthand. Books in Allison's study said it clearly "one must use every opportunity to improve oneself". This Michelle allegedly improves powerful, dominant robot women… and I do believe I fit the profile. I must belong to Michelle, JJ."
"This is ridiculous! You're already better than Gabriela", JJ tried to embrace Nancy but she pushed him back.
"There isn't such a thing as best – there is such a thing as best for the moment. And my programming clearly says that I have to be the best at any time." Nancy resumed her regal stance.
"This… this is ridiculous. You can't leave. You have to stay here!", JJ protested.
"I must be number one, Jeremy." Mrs. Astor hissed. "This is my programming. You should know. You programmed this in me. I believe this is the best way to make them pay."
"Well, I disagree! I forbid you! You're my robot companion, and you have to follow my orders.", the young man crossed his arms defiantly. Astor just raised her arm - jerkily, stiffly. She shook her head a bit confused.
"My… my… My orders conflict, master." Her head jerked for a while. She twitched, but recovered herself. "Your prime orders were also to win competitions—like the upcoming ones. I believe we can compromise, dearie. This is only a limited…"
Jeremy walked to the silver vixen fembot. "Compromise? Nancy, you know I like you, and that's why I don't want to lose you."
Mrs. Astor thought for a moment and narrowed her eyes. "You. You. You are being a fool. Your orders are confusing. I'm nothing if not an unreasonable woman. You must respect me." She finished, now smug and smooth.
JJ huffed. "Oh, really? You're just a robot! If I wanted to, I could turn you off or reprogram… Ooof… hey?"
The butler picked up the young man off the floor, holding him by the cusp of his jacket.
"One does not talk to Mrs. Astor this way!", Beauregard has mumbled. "Even you, JJ. She is not just a robot. Respect her."
"Hey! put me down, you big lug.", JJ's eyes narrowed and he struggled - but the massive colossus never budged. Beauregard just turned his head to Mrs. Astor expectantly.
""No, no. Beauregard is right. You must respect me. I am not just a robot. I am Mrs. Nancy Carolyn Astor, model, actress, philanthropist and three times Best Android Winner. Learn some respect, young man." Mrs. Astor calmly finished her work on the contract. "Keep him restrained, Beauregard - it's for his own good."
She stood up, and fanned herself with the document, examining the entire situation casually. "I honestly have to admit, Jeremy." she coolly examined her huge butler holding JJ in a vice-like grip. "I hadn't planned for that. Nonetheless, it does seem that his loyalty to me has in his CPU more priority than obedience to you."
"What?" JJ looked at the robots surprised. "Oh, great. I have to reprogram both of you now… JESUS!"
Beauregard punched him—in the stomach. "Do not talk to Mrs. Astor this way!" JJ couldn't believe it - his robot hurt him! Tears flew into his eyes.
"Interesting. While I am—still—completely loyal to my owner, he is loyal to his." Mrs. Astor continued in an entirely indifferent, dispassionate tone of voice. "When you gave him to me, the very first order I gave him was to protect me from any harm." She smiled—and it was not a nice smile. "Interestingly, I never imagined that my first potential harm would come from you or that he'd counteract his programming. I find that very unusual…"
"Then call him off." Jeremy coughed.
"Negative." Mrs. Astor turned her head with a smirk. "I'm afraid I can't do this, master. My programming forbids me from rescinding any advantage over my competitors - including potential ones or former ones. This is my programming. You should know. You programmed this in me." She tilted her head and jerked her eyebrows. "Just sign the paper, Jeremy and we'll be back in nine weeks."
"And what if I don't?", JJ tried to laugh. "You two will stand here until you run out of power?"
Mrs. Astor's smirk disappeared and she frowned. "You know, Jeremy… I have never appreciated you talking back." Beauregard snarled once again, and, as if by magic, Astor's eyebrow raised. "I might even say… that this hurts me emotionally." She added tentatively.
Beauregard shook him violently. "Do not hurt the mistress!", he groaned.
"You bitch!" he shouted at her, still hanging in Beauregard's powerful grip.
"Oh, please, Jeremy." She waved her slender hand dismissively. "Don't be so vulgar, master. It does not suit you… and only hurts me."
Beauregard hit Jeremy again.
Nancy Astor threw her head back and laughed. "Ah… exquisite. I don't know what else he might do… and to protect my own existence I don't want to limit him."
She smirked. "Personally, I wish you all the best, master. Beauregard… well, I can't tell. I'm nothing if not an unreasonable woman."
JJ took a deep breath after a while—his vision was getting murky. "Fine. I'll sign it. I'll loan you out. Get out of here, but when you get back I'll…" he eyed Beauregard. "We'll have a lot to talk about. And then you'll have to obey me."
"Of course I will, master." Mrs. Astor said, touching Beauregard's shoulders. "It is this unruly, brutish man android who is a bit problematic. I will always be loyal to my owner. This is my programming. You should know. You programmed this in me." Jeremy sighed.
"You know, you don't have to repeat yourself. I know you're smarter than this." He muttered as he signed the papers, still in Beauregard's grip.
"Exquisite." Mrs. Astor beamed. She grinned triumphantly. "And so, as of this very moment, you are no longer formally my direct owner and my loyalty… no longer applies to you." She laughed again.
JJ's eyes widened.
Nancy cooed. "Oh, Beauregard…" She put her long, claw-like index fingers together. "Lock Jeremy somewhere in the attic. He may interfere with what I have planned. He can't hurt me again. Ever."
As the butler returned with the key to the room, the robot woman sighed. "I suppose since I won the cups and rewards, I can do whatever I please with them. Jeremy never cared about them - all my rewards were mine, as are you. Add them to the bags, and we'll make a stop or two along the way."
"The bags?", the butler looked at his silver-haired mistress. Mrs. Astor just nodded, smiling serenely.
"I assumed it was obvious. Pack us up, we don't have much time before that little shit realizes he could open the window. Our new home is waiting, dearest Beauregard. And fix me up with another martini."