Somewhere in the east the moon is rising. Strains of Saint-Saëns drift on the breeze, torn away from the ballroom and pulled outside. The clouds overhead swirl restlessly and the tops of the trees bend and rustle, sussurating like they have secrets to keep from me. I lean on the wrought-iron balcony, painted white by some lunatic designer employed by the equally insane Marchioness, and stare down into the rose garden below.
Of course, the Marchioness's favourite poet is Schiller, which I wholehearted agree with, so the rose garden is also a lion-court. Little steel trellises gate off entrances for robo-lions, and a larger exit is where the Marchioness's playthings hammer on the gate and claw in futile anxiety at the handle. Only two have survived so far, and one of them was thrown back to the robo-lions a week later. He wasn't so lucky the second time around.
The rose garden is blessedly empty at this time of the evening, and I can enjoy the proud flowers defying the increasing wind and the heady perfumes they release. I wondered once about husbanding them, breeding them to produce a perfume of almost narcotic intensity, but my plans were cut short by the Marchioness deciding that my money would be better spent on cybernetic enhancements for herself. Over the course of three years she went from being the woman I loved to a robo-frau; my electrowife.
I heard the mechanical click of the relays and know that someone, or something, robotic is approaching. I have laid them secretly all around the Hall so that she cannot sneak up on me, no matter how assiduously she oils her joints, nor how much money she spends on superconducting cable and noise-nullifiers.
She glides up beside me, silent as a corpse, and glitters brilliantly in the light from the windows above us.
"BzzztYou have left me with no-one to dance with" she says, her voice blurring at the start as it always does. I'm sure it's an error of some kind, but she insists that it is cosmetic, done for effect. I smile at her, and wave a hand at the garden below.
"I was enjoying the roses," I begin, but she cuts me off with a high-pitched feedback squeal, her way of indicating displeasure.
"BzzztThere are no lions tonight!"
"Robo-lions." I always correct her. It is important to remember that there is a distinction between robots and real people.
She squeals again, and tilts forward, leaning as far over the balcony as her metallic waist will allow.
"BzzztReturn with me."
I take her arm and she pulls me away, moving too fast for a walk and not fast enough for a run. I am being punished. I still smile though. I may not have been able to breed a narcotic perfume into my beloved roses, but I was still able to get them to produce a beautifully scented gas that rusts even the most advanced of robots. The robo-lions lying in decayed reddish pools of ferro-oxide proved my little experiment true.
I smile harder and sound cheerful. Freedom beckons once more.