As was expected of him, the president’s son returned to the States for a month in the summer, electing to leave his household up and running with Bella at the helm, rather than mothballing the house and deactivating the droids as his compatriots did. When he returned on a rainy August afternoon, he found the house clean and welcoming, and if he hadn’t known full well what Bella was he would have sworn she was pleased to see him.
Later that night, having reacquainted himself with the delights of her splendid body, he lay back against a bank of pillows and grinned.
“Did you miss me?”
She frowned at him.
“I’m a construct honey. I’m not capable of emotion.”
“That wasn’t what I asked you.’
“Then I don’t know the answer. I do know that my circuitry runs smoother when you’re about. And I also know that it shouldn’t be the case. Will that do?”
Sensing that somehow he was causing actual distress to a creature that should be unable to feel distress, Earl backed off.
“Sorry honey. Just joking about. Because I missed you.”
He grinned and drifted into sleep, leaving his mechanical lover to stare into the darkness and wonder why her logic circuits were malfunctioning.
Bella became such an integral part of Earl’s life that there were times when he wondered how he was going to manage when his life in England was over. On his second summer vacation he broached the subject with his grandmother, who looked at him fondly.
“You can keep her boy. In fact I’d advise you so to do. I’ve seen the cold fish your grandfather has chosen for you to marry.”
“It doesn’t seem right to me…”
His grandmother shrugged. “You are an idealist like my own grandpapa. Just don’t let your father or grandfather notice that.”
He grinned wryly and took the tiny indomitable woman in his arms.
“I know Grandmama, believe me, I do know.”
It was while he was away that a very well-manicured gentleman in a Crombie and a pork-pie hat accosted Bella in the park as she walked a neighbour’s poodle.
“I am here,” he said threateningly, “to remind you that you have just one purpose, and that you can be broken down into your component parts quite quickly should you prove a failure.”
Bella stopped walking and turned a pair of cold blue orbs on the red-faced blusterer.
“A clean sweep is required,” she said in a voice wholly devoid of inflection,” and the place and time have been selected”.
He backed away from the emptiness he saw in her eyes and all but ran from her presence. She carried on walking as if nothing had happened.
That night, as she sat knitting a jumper for Earl, Bella thought about her creators and what they had made her for. She wondered at the obsessive hatred that drove some humans, and something solidified inside her breast. Her hands fell still as she began to make her own plan for the time when she was taken to the States to join her owner’s family.
The third year of Earl’s course passed as swiftly as the blink of an eye, and before he knew it the young American obtained his degree. Nobody from America was either interested in, or permitted to attend, graduation so he dressed Bella in a conservative grey suit and had her along to watch him receive his scroll. In a funny sort of a way it felt right to him that the one entity who had nurtured him and watched over him as he learned and grew up should be there, smiling with apparent pride, as he was named Bachelor of Arts.
Packing up the household was accomplished with minimal fuss, and most of the droids were deactivated and boxed for transportation. When Bella would have arranged a crate for herself, Earl put his foot down.
“No. I need you beside me to organise a smooth journey. Besides which I find I dislike the idea of you in a wooden box.”
She opened her mouth to protest, but he silenced her with a finger across her lips.
“We’re flying in Air Force One so there are no practical problems. You travel as my secretary. And that’s my last word.”
She shrugged, attempting, he thought, to distract him with the unrestrained movement of her magnificent chest, but he was not to be deflected from his purpose.
“I’ll have your word, miss.”
And that is how a being conceived and constructed in the USA, and shipped out of the country in tiny pieces, returned to the land of her ‘birth’ on an executive jet dressed in expensively modest clothing, and in sole charge of the disposition of the belongings of the only male child of the First Family. You can be sure that the irony was not lost on certain people who observed her from afar.
An apartment had been set aside in the White House, and Bella set about putting it to rights, while Earl visited with his mother. He returned in a very disturbed state of mind.
“It seems” he said thinly “that I am to meet my intended bride tonight. And, by all accounts, I’m not going to much like her.”
Bella eyed him narrowly.
“Were you expecting to?”
“So man up and smile. If she’s truly impossible we’ll find a way out for you.”
He grinned at her.
“I love you Bella” he said facetiously and ambled off to get his shower.
She stood for a very long time gazing sightlessly at her own hands before making a tiny sound as if something inside her broke.
That evening, as Earl was being scrupulously courteous and charming to the plain, lumpy daughter of one of the richest men in the world, Bella sat at her desk and wrote a long letter explaining her own genesis and the purpose behind her very existence. When she was done, she sealed the letter with a wax wafer and slumped in her chair. For the first time since the day she was activated, she wished she could cry, but of course she couldn’t. Instead she felt the weight of dull misery pressing against her chest as a physical pain.
It was only with a great effort that she could greet her returning owner with tolerable composure. Fortunately, he had so much to share with her that he didn’t notice how unusually quiet she was.
“The girl is plain and overweight, and it was obvious that all the men in the room, except me, held her in contempt for her lack of physical attractiveness. Even my mother and grandmother looked down their patrician noses at her, and the poor thing seemed almost pathetically grateful that I treated her with civility.”
“Poor thing indeed. But not as bad as you feared.”
“No. Not bad at all. Just a bit pathetic. And reminding me just what my family is like.” He shuddered.
Bella petted his head and he turned into her embrace.
The next morning Earl went to meet with his bankers and trustees to hear an accounting of their stewardship of his personal billions. Bella watched him go, then straightened her shoulders, dressed with careful modesty, and trod the corridors of number 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to the door of the Presidential office. She was admitted immediately and the old man behind the desk actually stood up to greet her.
“I have come to report on your grandson’s time in England.”
“Good. I’ll have his father brought here. Unless there is anything he should not hear.”
“No. His life was pretty well exemplary.”
“Good. But we’ll have a report anyway.”
In a very short time, the big thickset bully who had fathered Earl strode into the office.
“Yes” he snapped, and his own father just stared at him. For a moment he met the old man’s icy gaze with his hot brown orbs, then he bunched his shoulders and looked down.
“Better. You are here to listen to an accounting of your son’s time in England. Speak robot.”
Bella spoke for some minutes before reaching into the folder she carried.
“Here is a list of the Master’s social contacts.” She put the paper down on the desk and both men leaned over it. Closing her eyes, Bella put a finger into her mouth and pressed one tooth very hard.
The explosion was surprisingly muted, but it had the desired effect. Two headless things and a bundle of wires and components were all that met the eyes of the security guards who ran into the room with their guns at the ready.
“Oh fuck” the oldest guard said as the other two looked grey-faced at the carnage in the Oval Office.
***** ***** *****
It was very much later that same day when the twenty-two-year-old who was now the most powerful man in the western world firmly waved his entourage away and strode into his bedchamber.
On his pillow there was a folded sheet of paper sealed with gold wax. He picked it up and looked at the elegant calligraphy, recognising the work of the wide-nibbed pen he had bought on a whim at Waterstones in Oxford and presented to Bella. He turned the paper over and over in suddenly shaking hands, before breaking the seal and looking at the words.
‘My dear and only love,’ he read, ‘I will dare to call you that just once in this world before I leave you…’