Sex and Violence

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Mysteries of the Castle

Sex and Violence

Part 1

The 1935 English castle of Tidyshire is the home of fuddy-duddy Duchess Winifred, dully handsome Duke Alfred, and their dysfunctional college-age children: romantic Dorothy, cynical Calvin, and rebellious Monica. 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 2036. Tidyshire is a high-ticket California bed-and-breakfast, owned by SimulEnt, a major corporation—and the royal family are the entertainment: sentient, very humanlike robots in sleeper mode. Their guests (and often, lovers) are the castle’s paying visitors; their young butler, "Jenkins," is the castle's one flesh-and-blood resident, directing things from a hidden lab.

But where does the real seat of power lie? With the glamorous Contessa Isabella, of course! The only robot who knows she’s a robot, she has blackmailed “Jenkins”—really called Greg—into giving her almost total control, and now has him wrapped around her little finger. Even as her “evil schemes” succeed or fail in front of giggling guests, Contessa is always in charge behind the scenes!

Or is she?

Gregory Jenkins had learned by now that to enter areas belonging to Contessa Isabella—which, depending on her mood at the moment, could include the entire castle and possibly the entire world—one had to knock first, and wait for her response. Today he had knocked once, but she didn’t answer. Nor she did after the second or third try.

“Milady? Are you okay?” Greg gently implored. No answer came. He gently turned the knob and slid inside Bella’s and Calvin’s private apartment. Calvin, still deactivated, was lying on Bella’s bed, posed as if asleep. Greg looked forward to waking him; the snarky but likeable young lord was a close and genuine friend, despite being unaware of his robotic nature—and despite having been forced, with Greg, into a Contessa-driven polyamorous relationship. As Calvin saw it, his wife was too much for any one man; if she should “cheat,” best that it should be with a close friend who could lighten Calvin’s load.

Around the bed were strewn items from Bella’s impressive wardrobe; her books and her antique dressing table was also in notable disarray. A great sleuth might have guessed by now where Contessa had gone; Greg Jenkins, being Greg Jenkins, simply returned to the dungeon.

This cat-and-mouse game could be tiring, but it was the easiest way to keep tabs on Contessa—and had been, ever since Contessa seized the control device that monitored the location of all androids at the Castle. Greg might also have kept tabs, of course, by buying Contessa a cell phone; but a means of such close communication could cut two ways, and Contessa kept Greg on a short enough leash already—sometimes literally. As long as she didn’t ask for a cell, he felt he’d be better off letting sleeping dogs lie.

She was not in the dungeon, either. The lights were on, so she must have been here recently; but the place looked unusually orderly for Bella, with the bed made and the books mostly in order. The lab? Library? Kitchen? Contessa was emphatically not an outdoorsy kind of person, but she could occasionally be found sitting in the garden and reading.

As a general rule, when guests were not visiting, Contessa typically woke up fairly late in the morning, screamed at Greg to make her breakfast, spent some time on her makeup and hairdo, screamed at Greg for being late with breakfast, went to her room to read or watch movies, had a light lunch, then started to bother Greg again—leaning over him as he did his job, and insistently sharing her opinions about the just-watched films, or about politics, or her “dreadful” life as a “prisoner” at Tidyshire, or her robotic family being “unbearable”... until Greg did something—anything—to offend her. But she would nonetheless insist he join her at dinner, and then she’d be relatively personable—even more so when she wanted something from him. There was wine and cuddling and sex, and she could be quite witty and classy and charming. That was her good side.

“Ecotti qui! There you are, Jenkins!” She stood in the main hallway, dressed in a simple little black dress and—naturally—stilettos. “I’ve been looking all over for you, ragazzo. Must you gallivant all over the castle when you’re needed?”

“Well, I’VE been looking for YOU—”

“Silence, servant,” Contessa raised her left hand and frowned. “We have an important guest coming in tomorrow. You should know the drill by now: activate everyone, give me time to plot, et cetera, et cetera. Chop-chop.” Contessa’s Italian accent was mostly inaudible by now, but she trilled her R’s whenever she wanted to appear sexy or dangerous... which was admittedly most of the time.

“What? A guest? Why didn’t I know anything about it?”

She smiled wickedly. “Because who runs the castle now? That’s right, the one and only evil Contessa. I have found the perfect sap, rich, stupid and easy to manipulate. A potential fan, to be sure. Why did you want to see me, Gregory?”

This was not Contessa’s good side, but Greg tried to make do. “I… frankly, I wanted to ask you if you were going to Lamont. I need some writing supplies…” Lamont was a small town nearby; Contessa and her friend Maddie patronized a small android repair shop there, and once she was familiarized with the “real world” Contessa liked to visit the fast food joints, the local library and various small stores—paying for goods, of course, with an allowance Greg “voluntarily” gave her.

“I am not your bloody errand android,” she answered proudly. “You want something? Walk there yourself.”

“Walk?! It’s five miles away!”

“Darling, I’m not just going to give you MY CAR,” she said, walking up to him with a smugly amused smile. “Does it not belong to the owner of the castle? You could drive me on my errands there, yourself, and deal with your own little problems on the side—but we don’t have time for THAT, do we?”

He smirked. “I thought you said you respected me now. ‘Not just as a countess respecting her trusty servant.’ Remember Thanksgiving?” Contessa had gone home with Greg to visit his parents—her first trip very far from the castle—and despite a failed attempt to conceal her robotic nature, she seemed to have gained a greater sensitivity to the kindnesses Greg showed her.

Contessa smirked back. “Oh, but I DO respect you. Otherwise I’d smack you silly for interrupting me and not praising my innate beauty.” She sashayed closer to him and guided her hand so that he could feel her shapely posterior. “I respect you… but that doesn’t mean you don’t still BELONG to me. And constant training is crucial in achieving obedience, non è vero?”

“What the hell have you been reading lately?” He rolled his eyes with a grin in spite of himself.

“The Gospel According to Isabella,” she replied playfully. “Carrot and stick, darling. Oooh, speaking of sticks—” She wrapped her arm around his waist and gently groped at his midsection. With an affectionate laugh, he leaned back against her and returned the gesture.

“Careful now, darling.” She squinted, smiling, and put a finger to his lips. “Maaaaybe we’ll get it on once Calvin’s activated—just so I have both of you to embarrass. But for now, I’ve got to get to the dungeon and practice some new... combat moves. I think some swashbuckling action will be in order this week. When everyone’s up and running, tell me.” Contessa relished in her newfound combat capabilities, and despite them very rarely came up in Castle scenarios, she almost forgot the times when she was incapable of Olympic-level fencing moves.

“Do you have a particular intrigue in mind—heh, milady?” Greg began to slip into his public role as butler, while deliberately keeping things just a little tongue-in-cheek.

“I always do, darling,” she grinned, freeing herself from his embrace. “You’ll find the data on Mr. Thomas Ransom on your computer. That’s our guest. He’s naturally a legitimate customer, and apparently he’s best-known for creating a popular internet forum... website... thing...” Seemingly lost in her train of thought, she pulled a cigarette seemingly out of nowhere and gazed expectantly at Greg. He whipped out a lighter to match. Click. He had learned by now always to carry one on him. Maybe training IS crucial, he thought, grinning in spite of himself.

“Grazie,” she smiled serenely, puffing a cloud of smoke straight into his face. “Don’t worry, darling, I’ll make this adventure worth your time. And when Mr Ransom leaves, well—Mistress promises to take you shopping.”

“With MY money?” he smiled. He quite liked her in this mood, and most of the time she kept her promises.

“Well, not with MY money. I’M just a poor little love doll,” she laughed breezily, radiating that peculiar aroma of nicotine, alcohol, and perfume that seemed to match the overprivileged brat that she had become. She nuzzled his face and gave him a nip on the neck before they parted ways.

That went relatively well, Greg thought. At least she ENDED the chat sweet and nice. I wonder what Ransom is like?

Contessa could indeed be sweet and nice when the mood seized her—not least because her internal logic told her that rudeness opened fewer doors than politeness. This did not mean, however, that she gave Greg a lot of leeway. Some time ago, after gaining self-awareness, Contessa had assigned herself admin privileges in the system and changed certain passwords, locking Greg out. He could still perform most repair operations on Castle androids—especially when using the mainframe in his lab—but Contessa herself remained off-limits without her permission. Greg missed the simple command functions of the remote robot control, disguised as a stopwatch, that Contessa had taken from him upon her awakening. It permitted immediate access to any android in the area. It detected the presence of all forms of electronics. It displayed all necessary diagnostic messages. It even told time.

Restricted now to handling most duties on the mainframe, Greg was faced with the unenviable task of physically returning to the lab—often—to make sure things were running well. Sometimes this handicapped his troubleshooting; he was closer, more now than ever, to actually feeling like a butler, and not just to Contessa. Suppose that one day in the sitting room, Monica developed a facial tic, with a mechanical twitch interrupting her speech and movement. In the past, Greg might have used the watch to freeze Monica and all other robots in the room; run a simple diagnostic, and perhaps even open Monica’s panels to check her wiring, erasing all memories of it even happening. Now, deprived of a remote control, Greg would have to cajole Monica into staying in one place, run down to the lab to remotely shut her down, run back to the sitting room to collect her, then physically haul her back to the lab before diagnostics could even begin. Luckily, the rest of the Tidyshires were generally programmed to ignore such interruptions. Unluckily, now and then they noticed something, forcing Greg to ask—no, BEG Contessa for help. Of course, that was just the way Contessa liked it. Obedience...

“Good morning, Gregory—I mean, Jenkins!” Monica greeted him with a warm smile and a playful poke. She wore a silky white nightshirt as she strolled toward the first-floor dining room. “Wouldn’t you know I overslept,” she added with a stretch. “Must have been that late-night swim. But—” she gave a conspiratorial grin, “I regret nothing.”

The athletic girl hung a chummy arm around Greg. “One night you’ll come with me to the river, too,” she mused. “And after a few laps, lay back in the water; relax and keep schtum, and imagine the current carrying you someplace far off... someplace like America, with FDR and Amelia Earhart... someplace more daring than draughty old Tidyshire—land of the midnight social mores!” Programmed as a rebel, at once wistful and bold, Monica burned for growth and change. She had no idea how much of her life was a repeating subroutine, or how fluid memory and progress were for her.

“Speaking of social mores…” Greg looked closely at Monica’s nightshirt, short enough to show her legs in a flapperish way. “Are you really going to have breakfast in that? You WANT your mother to blow a fuse, don’t you?” Greg had started out to deliver a warning, but it ended up almost playful.

Monica ran her fingers through her short-cropped dark hair. “Oh, no—I think Mum is used to me. She only ACTS like a stuffy old bag when visitors are about, doesn’t she? But you might say I’m gunning for Sis… I mean, Contessa. She’s fun to tease.” Like almost everyone around the castle, Monica used Isabella Duessa’s title as her de facto first name. “Fashion is like a religion to her, and I’m about to commit one of the deadlier sins.”

“I’m afraid your sister-in-law won’t be joining us for breakfast,” Greg stated rather formally, trying to get back into his butler role.

“Pity. She’s always got something interesting to harp on about.” Monica’s opinion of Contessa was partly pre-programmed; but Contessa’s position as a semi-outsider—having just married into the family, often aggravating the imposing Duchess—naturally appealed to Monica’s rebellious instinct. Of course, Contessa’s supposed new arrival wasn’t really so new. If asked, the Tidyshires would say that Contessa and Calvin had married “recently,” and if pressed would add “a couple of months ago.” To her bitterness, Contessa by now knew that this “couple of months” had lasted for her entire existence—almost three years.

Let me guess, Greg thought, imagining how Monica’s fashion experiment would be received by the rest of the family. While they’re capable of improvising, many of their favorite subroutines are still predictable. The Duchess will frown at the sight—but she won’t want to say anything in front of me, the servant. The Duke will wink, and tell Monica one of those slightly rude ‘funny’ stories management made me install in his databanks last year. Roger will—will probably whistle, and Dorothy will either sulk, or try to calm him. But maybe not? And Calvin…

Greg began thinking out loud. “Well—Calvin will do whatever Contessa says, because that’s the way he is.”

“You’re blooming well RIGHT,” scoffed a sardonic voice behind him. “But you should talk; you obey her too.”

“Oh—morning, Calvin.” Greg hadn’t noticed the young lord behind him, headed toward the breakfast room. Of course, was Greg’s first reaction. Cal is programmed to complain about his relationship, isn’t he? To suggest he doesn’t love Contessa any longer—the better to tempt guests into screwing up their romance. Predictable.

But Cal next surprised Greg, turning back to face him with concern. “You—you DO realize she’s still important to me, right?” He clapped Greg thoughtfully on the arm. “I might complain, but bloody hell—I LIKE the excitement she's brought me.”

Then, as if not wanting to seem too sentimental, he added cynically: “It’s a cut above playing draughts with Mum… and swimming with piranha… and exorcising Kaiser Wilhelm, I suppose. And besides, Tess fancies YOU, too. That takes some of the heat off me.” Cal raised an eyebrow and grinned.

This free, fully unexpected insight from Cal reminded Greg that the Tidyshires weren’t so predictable after all. While Contessa might be the only who actually knew of her robotic state, Calvin—as Greg’s de facto friend, and his only one around the castle—had picked up nearly as much depth and complexity, just by sharing chats and activities with Greg. “I’m a fool,” Greg mused.

“No, you’re not,” Cal offered, believing Greg spoke of their shared relationship. “It’s poly... polyarthritis? Sod it—it’s being a bohemian. Her liking us both is an incredible tension reliever. I keep trying to tell you: I’m not GOING to get jealous.”

“No,” Greg shook his head, recalling how Contessa had flirted with them both during the Castle’s vampire-hunting storyline several months before. “You’re just going to prove my theory before I fully figure it out.”

“That’s what friends are for," Cal grinned, heading in for breakfast. “Chin up, we've got a surely awful guest and the usual miserable week ahead. I shouldn’t care about my family’s HUMANITY when they invite these blighters—but I do.”

Humanity. Fuck, thought Greg. Following Calvin into the dining room, Greg never liked the idea that anyone truly sentient was being abused by the Castle’s storylines. Contessa took everything amazingly in stride; but how would Cal, his genuine and overlooked friend, react if he truly knew? The prospect of Greg’s robot charges becoming more human was not necessarily a bad thing; but it alternately felt potentially tragic and even a little scary.

“Nnh.” A wordless murmur caught Greg’s ear, and he noticed Monica making eye contact a little nervously. The Duchess, entering the room from the other side, had just caught sight of Monica’s attire as she got up for a pitcher of milk. Monica stuck rather uselessly near the wall as if to avoid becoming the center of attention; defying the Duchess this way must have seemed more fun before she actually tried it. “Gregory—I mean Jenkins—” the girl whispered turning to him desperately for some moral support.

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