The 1925 English castle of Tidyshire is run by fuddy-duddy Duchess Winifred and her dysfunctional family. Riding, gardening, passing minor laws, the Tidyshires would lead a dull life of aristocratic ease—were it not for clever, sophisticated royal daughter-in-law Contessa Isabella, who will stop at nothing to seize power!
What the royal family doesn’t know is that it’s actually 2025. Tidyshire is a high-ticket California bed-and-breakfast, owned by SimulEnt, a major corporation—and the royal family are the entertainment: sentient, very humanlike robots in sleeper mode. Their guests (and often, lovers) are the castle’s paying visitors; their young butler, "Jenkins," is the castle's one flesh-and-blood resident, directing things from a hidden lab.
But where does the real seat of power lie? With the glamorous Contessa Isabella, of course! The only robot who knows she’s a robot, she has blackmailed “Jenkins”—really called Greg—into giving her almost total control, and now has him wrapped around her little finger. Even as her “evil schemes” succeed or fail in front of giggling guests, Contessa is always in charge behind the scenes!
Or is she?
“There you are!” Contessa Isabella pursed her red lips and looked at Greg, sprawled on his simple bed and covered in a blanket. “I require—”
“Sorry, milady,” Greg smiled weakly and coughed. “I caught something. I asked Monica to check and it’s just a cold… but I’ve got it really bad. I’m taking two days off.”
She stared at him, puzzled. Dressed in a low-cut, sharp green blouse, a white neck scarf and long gloves, Contessa seemed ready for action of some kind. “Your condition does not interest me. Your job is to pleasure me, regardless of… wait, Monica?”
“She actually has some decent nursing programming installed.” Given her personality and interests, Monica was the most likely Tidyshire family member to escort guests into the nearby forest and mountains. She thus knew how to handle animal bites, simple bruises and other minor injuries; and her first aid knowledge often came in handy inside the castle, too. “When I get well, Bella,” Greg added, “I could program you with it, if you want me to. Just *cough* the two of us.”
Contessa looked at him with sneer of disdain. “Me, be a nurse? I’m a powerful dominatrix, a talented assassin, and a bona fide SUPERVILLAINESS. I’m not going to walk around fluffing pillows; I’d rather SMOTHER people with them.”
“As you wish. Well—I’m afraid I won’t be much help for your nefarious evil schemes today.” Greg sniffled, rubbed his nose with a tissue and reached for his laptop.
Contessa gently pulled off her gloves. Then she watched with fascination as her ceramic fingernails extended, visibly growing from her fingers. “I simply LOVE this,” she commented. “Especially since I’m the only robot with this feature. You wait right there.”
“I wasn’t going any—” He cut himself off. There was no point in arguing with her orders, even when he hadn’t planned to disobey them. He chuckled in spite of himself as she twirled around and closed the door.
Greg had gotten about midway through an episode of Monty Python when a knock came at the door. Had Contessa finally learned to respect his privacy? Perhaps not. His guest was Charlotte, the stout, dark-brown-haired middle-aged castle cook, clad in a tall white chef’s hat. She was a fairly dedicated model: apart from cooking terminology, her vocabulary only covered about 5000 words. Why was she here? She shouldn’t be—Greg sighed in both relief and slight consternation as he spotted Contessa standing behind her.
“Charlotte, darling,” she instructed the chef. “Jenkins, here, is—as we say in Italy—cosi-cosi. So-So. Under the weather. He’s going to need something… delicious. Nourishing chicken soup, noodles, vegetable stew—you know, easy on the stomach. Piping hot raspberry tea with lemon and honey…”
Charlotte, as per programming, nodded. “Perhaps a fruit dessert with vitamin C?”
“Che carino!” Contessa beamed. “A menu like that would do us both some good next week. Chop-chop.”
Charlotte acknowledged her orders with a nod and turned away to head for the kitchen, while Contessa—with a mischievous grin—pulled out the robot control device disguised as a stopwatch. With a single flick of her hand, she called up Charlotte’s command scheme.
Click. The dark-haired cook froze in place. Then, still staring at the watch, Contessa nonchalantly gave Charlotte a gentle push. She fell to the floor with a thud. While she was visibly undamaged, it was nonetheless clear that Greg would not be getting that nourishing chicken soup anytime soon.
Contessa waited for a perturbed frown to cross Greg’s face. Then she fixed him with a smug smile. That’s for not doing what I want when I want it, her look seemed to say.
Contessa’s inner monologue went further. This kind of punishment, she thought, was even better than red welts on Greg’s backside. Not as messy or exhausting, but just as satisfying. And the best part? It would keep forever in Contessa’s saved memories. She shivered with childish glee, and licked her lips.
“You did that just to—” Greg started.
“Of course I did!” She laughed quietly. “I’m just the meanest, aren’t I? I guess it’s fried eggs and instant noodles for both of us, unless…”
“Unless what?” Greg ventured.
“Well…” She put the watch back in her coat pocket, took out a cigarette and lit it. “I am not a nurse, that much is true, but—how much would Charlotte’s nourishing menu be worth to you?”
“Nothing.” He sounded offended. “Go away. Murder your in-laws if you want to. Spare Cal and Monica, I really wanted to do a crossword puzzle with—oh, fuck it. Leave me alone.”
“Che rabbia!” She sashayed up to him and sat down very close. “Now, now. I couldn’t leave you… but we both know I AM rather DEMANDING.” With another gentle push, she closed his laptop. “Again—a mercantile offer, darling. How much would you pay me to leave you in gentle peace and quiet? Four hundred dollars? Five hundred?”
“How much to make you nice and polite when I’m sick?”
She blew cigarette smoke in his face. “You couldn’t afford it.”
“What do you need the money for?” He looked at her curiously.
“None of your business, darling. Well—going to cough it up? Or just cough up germs?” She stretched and lay down next to him. Then she reached for the laptop and opened it again. “Have we watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s together? Tell me I’m just like Audrey Hepburn.”
“You’re prettier. And meaner.”
“Right answer.” She flicked through his list of movies. “Of course, my company will also cost you some.”
“I can’t win, can I?” he dramatically sighed—but not too dramatically. Greg Jenkins was a long way from despair. “I’ll give you twenty-five dollars to put that thing down.”
“Done...” she purred, lazily blowing a large smoke ring, as she always did when she was pleased. “...Eventually.”
She made no move to close the laptop. But she did extinguish her cigarette. Then, as the movie started, she wrapped her arms around him and cuddled close. He felt her scarf and her beautiful neck warming his head.
“Are you bugging me just to be annoying, now, or are you trying to cheer me up?”
She looked him over with a raised eyebrow. After a while she smiled. “You know how I work. You tell me.”