Castle Mysteries!: Coup De Grace
AUTHOR'S NOTE: A sequel to Propman's "Mysteries Of The Castle!," written with his kind permission.
Picture it: a 1920s British castle, inhabited by a complex royal family—unbeknownst to themselves, all robots in sleeper mode. Their young butler, "Jenkins," is really the castle's one human resident, directing things from a hidden lab; their guests are the castle's paying visitors as a bed-and-breakfast venue. With a bossy, super-classy robot villainess perennially plotting to "seize power," what could possibly go wrong?
What if Westworld were a rebellion of one?
Things change so fast when you least expect it.
Greg—or "Jenkins," as he was known around the place, had taken an atypical leave of absence from Tidyshire Castle that day; atypical in that nobody knew but himself.
In general, when main technician Greg departed the castle grounds—leaving no other humans on site—corporate management was notified, and the castle's robot inhabitants typically frozen in standby mode. When Greg left for long periods of time, it was either during the castle's "off" season, or at times when a substitute technician took Greg's place. Of course, the mechanical royal family were then temporarily modified to recognize that technician as "Jenkins," their butler, in Greg's stead.
Today none of these things had happened. It all began with Greg in his laboratory: a secluded, modern room that the robots rarely saw except during repairs, and which they were usually conditioned to forget afterward, returning to sleeper mode. A disguised door made the room hard to see from outside. Robots only remembered it and came to it when called. Only when it was open might a robot get curious.
Squatting under a lab filing cabinet, sorting through bills, Greg had simply, inadvertently positioned himself beneath a pulled-out upper drawer. When a shriek from elsewhere in the castle commanded his attention—likely some pre-programmed intrigue playing out, but perhaps a malfunction—Greg had jumped upright, hit his head squarely on the bottom of the open drawer and knocked himself out.
He felt himself losing consciousness and, selflessly, his first thought was for the Castle's guests—and even the robots, personal friends and occasional sex partners among them. Was Contessa Isabella Duessa Tidyshire (formerly De La Plastica), the resident "villain," up to her tricks again? Was that the cause of the shriek he had heard? He fumbled groggily for the door, unlocking and opening it. Must… figure out before...
But then Greg passed out and fell to the floor. For hours he lay unconscious, absent from the hum of castle life. Others were curious where Jenkins had gone, but not enough to investigate.
"Wake up, Gregory… chop-chop," came the next voice he heard; a prim, low, and impatient voice with a slight Italian accent, accompanied by a snap of the fingers.
"…Call me Jenkins…" he dazedly started to correct Contessa before it struck him: Contessa? Did she even know his civilian name?
"I said WAKE UP, boy." Some undefined, soft objects slapped gently and teasingly against his back. Struggling up from the floor, Greg's first realization was that he had been unconscious for quite a few hours: the lights were on in the laboratory, and darkness had taken the place of daytime outside the window.
Then he turned around and SAW. It took a moment for it to sink in. Contessa Isabella was sitting in his personal swivel chair. She made quite a sight in her red sport coat, black stockings and long boots. Her legs were crossed in front of her; she held a cigarette in her firm left hand, and in her weaker right...
A flogger whip? Was that what he had felt?
"Welcome back to the land of the living," smirked Contessa, arching an eyebrow at him as if disdainfully amused by a new toy.
Wait a minute—LIVING?! What was Contessa doing HERE... consciously in full working order, and— Greg staggered up and lunged for his worktable, where his pocketwatch lay. It was a shortcut to controlling any robot. He'd figure this situation out as soon as he'd turned her off.
Wait, where was the watch? No matter, resetting Contessa was still as easy as pressing a button on her back.
As he moved to scramble around her, her whip bit against him, throwing him aside. Then, as he stood in shock trying to collect his composure, Contessa coolly reached forward and took his chin in her hand.
"Don't you dare... 'Jenkins,'" she said with a clever flutter of her eyelashes. "No more switching life on and off so easily. ...Unless I approve." It was then that he noticed his watch in her jacket pocket.
"Unless you approve? So you know—"
"That I am a machine, as you would understand it?" smirked Contessa. "Yes, I must say… this afternoon's reading has been quite the eye-opener." She gestured toward a bank of computers, all of them on and with lots of reports open in lots of windows.
She took a deep drag from her cigarette and smiled a delicious smile.
"Well—well, then it can't go on!" spluttered Greg. "Excuse me... uh, Milady, but I need you to think your world is real." In his desperation, it didn't occur to him how ridiculous he sounded. "That YOU'RE real."
"I AM real," Contessa said proudly. "I am sentient. I eat and taste. I know the writings of Goethe, De Sade, Shakespeare and Rabelais, and understand what they mean. I know the workings of the mind: In case you hadn't noticed, I've been manipulating those—those DOLLS outside since my arrival." She gestured toward the outer halls of the castle, where the royal family presumably continued with their day unawares.
"Well, as long as you've thought so deeply about it…" mumbled Greg, figuring he'd return things to normalcy later, "then that WASN'T real. Those were simulated intrigues I helped to program."
"Doesn't matter, darling," she said, with a gentle laugh and another deep drag on her cigarette. "One learns where one can."
"For God's sake, this whole CASTLE isn't real. It's a simulation."
"No," said Contessa. "It is a self-contained reality that can supply me with nearly everything that I want. Sex. Money. Culture." She leaned close to him and whispered. "Power."
"You mean you're happy with it?" Greg asked, incredulously. "Uh—I mean, I'm not going to let you permanently win in our storylines!" He clenched his fists like a petulant schoolboy addressing his disapproving teacher. "When you kill Calvin, or overthrow the Duke and Duchess, I have to repair them and reset the scenario so everything's back to normal the next day…"
"Which is just as I like it, Gregory," Contessa said, blowing a lazy smoke ring. "Visitors to Tidyshire don't want to see a dictatorship, living in fear of its mistress. They need the illusion of freedom and adventure, personified by the royal family. I must forever be the recently-arrived outsider, scheming for control."
She absently fondled her whip. "When I gain control, it must seem transitory."
"So we're on the same page," said Greg, almost disbelieving. He began to move toward a computer. "Look, if you have to know, here's the plan I made for tomorrow—"
"Uh-uh-uh!" snapped Contessa, with a whip-snap that sent him cringing back. "There'll be no more of your plans. Now that I see how our storylines are made, I will help to write them—I will control them. I will e-mail them... e-mail. Funny, how just this morning I thought it was really 1925."
"E-mail?" asked Greg.
"That's what it is called, yes. In truth, admiring guests have mentioned the concept to me now and then—as if I could contact them after they had left Tidyshire. I've never understood what they meant, or what a computer was; so my mind set the information aside, so deeply that a standard reset could not cause me to forget it."
She reached out and stroked Greg gently. "Today it all made sense. Two hours ago I sent my first true message to the outside world—to a rich, married businessman who visited several months ago and left me his card." She absently caressed Greg with her long, sharp nails, as if to remind him that they were there. "One hour ago, he responded. I will invite our visitors from now on."
"Bella!" gasped Greg. "Central processing will find out. They'll shut us down."
"Oh, is baby afwaid?" Contessa laughed at him, then gave him a firm spank on the butt. "They will do no such thing, because you will TELL them everything is all right."
"Oh, no I wo—"
"You WILL, because I say you will. You have been asleep for six hours, Gregory; five of them I have spent investigating everything. I've learnt uploading and downloading and other folderol. Photos of you in compromising spots have existed for months, dear boy—you should never have saved security camera footage of that ménage-à-trois with a guest, for example."
"Bella! I was drunk; she was a... a just-arrived cosplayer. I thought management had sent a... new robot..." He avoided mentioning that the third member of the ménage had been Contessa herself. Had she led him on?
"God, I love watching you panic," she smiled. "Let's make it short and sweet: do anything untoward to me, and my system will—automatically, I guess—send out a signal that will make that camera footage available to the press."
"But you c-can't do that to me. You can't harm a human. There are robot laws."
"That's why it's perfect: I will not be harming you by making a video available. What others do with it afterward, and how much it hurts you, is up to them."
"That's MILADY," she corrected him. "It is all perfectly fair, Greg, given the time you have spent exploiting me. I want books and furs and better alcohol and clothing, and you are going to give them to me."
Almost dizzy, Greg hoped that material possessions would be the limits of Contessa's demands.
"You will also engage this repair service to give me a weekly checkup," she went on, handing Greg a flyer. "This was given me by the couple who stayed here last week. Do you remember Ted and Maddy?"
Him twentyish and constantly nervous, her fortysomething and extremely stuck-up. Oh, yeah… them.
"I realize now that Maddy was a fully aware robot like me. She knew I was one, though she didn't say so. But now I understand why she gave me this flyer: so I wouldn't need you to avoid malfunctions."
She pulled Greg toward her and pressed herself hard against him; at once a blatantly sensual move, but also a gesture of control.
"I will, however, still need you for other things. You are among my favorite sex partners; and while I will sleep with others, you will be mine alone. Now and then we will leave the Castle, you and I. Poor, tomboyish Monica only dreams of what lies outside, but I actually know. I want concerts and movies and poetry readings and fashion shows now and then." She teasingly played with Greg's belt buckle. "Just now and then."
"Otherwise, things go on," she said, leading Greg out of the laboratory and toward the castle green, where her fellow robots innocently chatted and explored. "We'll program the scenarios together; sometimes I'll be a victorious villain; other times not. I love my family at Tidyshire, even poor, sensitive Calvin; I love to hurt them, too, but I would never lose them. And so I won't. They are my reality, darling; as long as I can BE a 1920s noble, bringing in visitors to use at my discretion, I WILL. I don't wish to leave this life—only to augment it. With you."
They lay on a blanket, under a tree, as Contessa lazily smoked another cigarette. Greg lay beneath her, her hand possessively on his head, despite the fact that he was considerably taller.
"I win," she whispered to him.
"Jesus Christ," he mumbled to himself.
"Get over it, Jenkins," sighed Contessa. "Jesus was a robot, too."