By Margret Treiber
CHAD THREW OPEN THE FRONT DOOR. “The man of the house is in the hizzy-house.”
“Shh,” Carly whispered to Chad. “Be quiet.” She scanned the room nervously, clutching her Joey Batton bag to her chest.
“Is that the way to talk to the great negotiator? The man who got the deal of a lifetime?”
“Chad, shh. It’s crazy. It might hear you.”
“What are you talking about?” Chad asked, fidgeting with his smart tie. “What might hear me?”
Carly grabbed Chad’s arm and pulled him outside. She looked around again, making certain nothing was listening. “The house AI. I think the last owners left it behind.”
“That’s crazy, nobody would do that.” Chad replied. “You remember how expensive Lily was? Besides, the home inspector didn’t find anything, and he checked it thoroughly. I know, it wasn’t cheap.”
“I’m not making this up,” Carly said. “Something is here, and it’s creepy.”
“Why haven’t I noticed it?” Chad asked.
“Because you hate unpacking, so you’re always at work. And when you are here, you’re asleep.”
“That’s not true.” Chad objected.
“Okay, it’s been a hard week at work. Look, even if that’s true with the AI, and I’m not doubting you, the home tech guy is coming today to insert Lily. If there is anything in there, he’ll get it out today.”
“Alright,” Carly nodded. “But don’t leave me alone with it.”
“It’s just an AI, stop turning this into a drama.”
“I am not turning anything into a drama. It whispers random things and keeps turning on the microwave. It’s been getting worse and worse.”
“We’ve only been here a week,” Chad said. “How bad can it be?”
“Then you stay here, when I run errands. You’ll see.” Carly jumped into her Luxer and sped off.
Chad shook his head as he walked back inside. He activated the infotainment system and grabbed himself a beer. “Creepy, ha!” He cracked the beer open and took a long swig. Just as he was about to sit, there was a knock on the door.
“Lily, who’s at the door?” A moment passed before Chad remember. “Oh, yeah. Coming.” Chad opened the door, his friend Ted stood there holding a suitcase of beer, looking very impatient.
“Sorry, they didn’t install Lily yet.”
“That sucks,” Ted said. “You have to do everything manually?”
“Yeah, all week. My mornings are a mess. But the home tech people are coming later.”
“Nice place,” Ted said and he scanned the room around him.
“Yeah, it’s 400 square meters.”
“I’m afraid to ask what you paid,” Ted said.
“I negotiated the crap out of it; bargained them down to half of the selling price.”
“Nice,” Ted nodded. “Hey, you got something cooking?”
“I think I hear ... a microwave? Do you own a microwave?”
“Yeah, it came with the house.”
“I haven’t seen one of those since I was a kid. I didn’t know they still sold them.”
“The last owners left it behind. They must have been old or something. Let me check it.”
“Okay, want a beer?” At Chad’s muffled yeah, Ted pulled out two lukewarm bottles, tapped the side of each twice and set them on the glass table. He took a seat on the sofa and grabbed the infotainer controller and scoffed at it. “How do you work this thing?”
“Change the channels with the up and down arrows.”
“Oh,” Ted replied. “Got it.”
Chad turned off the microwave and returned to the living room.
“So, how was the move?” Ted asked, handing Chad a beer.
Chad popped the cap off the now ice-cold can and took a long swig followed by a soul-satisfying belch as he propped his legs up on the table.
“Okay. Since I got the house so cheap, we had enough money to pay someone to pack and move our stuff.”
“Looks like they unpacked, too.”
“No, that was Carly. She’s been bitching about it.”
“Oh, you will never hear the end of it.”
“Yeah, she’s also complaining about the house’s old AI. She says it’s still in here and somehow haunting her. I think she’s bitter that I negotiated the house and she didn’t.”
“Maybe it’s something else. Isn’t Carly pregnant?” Ted asked.
“No,” Chad answered.
“Maybe it’s that time.”
Chad shrugged. “Could be.”
“Women report more supernatural crap when their hormones are elevated. I saw it on the net.”
Chad nodded thoughtfully, taking another pull on his beer. “I can see that.”
Chad turned back to the screen. His team was already ahead by several points. “Go! Move your ass, Donovan. You overpaid punk!” Chad yelled as his team passed the ball. “Go, go, go!” Chad jumped out of his chair, beer sloshing as he yelled at the TV.
“Yeah!” Ted joined in. “Do it!”
Suddenly, without warning, the infotainment system shut off.
“Crap.” Chad powered it up again.
“Check the power,” Ted suggested. “You’ve probably got a short somewhere.”
“The inspectors checked everything. The place was perfect. Maybe I need a new infotainer.”
“Didn’t you just get this one?”
“Yeah,” Chad conceded. “If it happens again, I’ll have to take it back.”
The game continued for another few minutes and the infotainer shut off again.
“What the hell?!”
Chad powered it up one more time, and again it powered right off. The microwave came back on in the kitchen.
“Screw this,” Ted said. “I can watch the game in my kid’s room and get less interruptions. I’m out. And I am taking this.” Ted picked up the remaining beer.
“Oh, come on.”
“Sorry, today it’s every man for himself. Besides I don’t want to bump into Carly if she’s pissed. Later.” Ted left Chad standing alone in the silent house.
Perfect,” Chad threw his empty beer can at the trash, it missed and rattled around on the floor. “So much for that.”
Chad rustled around the refrigerator looking for another beer. He found the last one in the back and guzzled it. Now what? He guessed he could organize his tools. He made his way to the garage. After just a few minutes, everything was falling into place nicely. Chad gazed upon his workbench in satisfaction. He wondered what the previous owners were like. Chad and Carly only dealt with realtors, so they never had the opportunity to meet them. Chad considered that the husband must not have been much different than him. The built-in shelves were set up exactly the way Chad would have done it. The workbench was well thought out and sturdy. All Chad’s tools fit perfectly. He continued to admire his handiwork.
“Whirrrrr,” Chad’s drill spun to life from its spot on the shelf. Chad took it down and inspected it. It was powered off. He put it back on the shelf, making certain that nothing was applying any pressure on the trigger. Again the drill spun to life, all on its own.
Chad took it down and removed the battery. He put it back on the shelf.
“I like waffles,” a voice chirped from no particular direction.
Chad spun around. Nobody was in the garage. “Who said that?”
There was no response.
“Is there an AI here?” Chad asked.
“Waffles, waffles, boop, bedop, woo, woo, woo.”
“Yummy, yummy waffles.”
Chad heard the microwave turn on in the kitchen. “Really?”
“Really, really, really,” the voice repeated.
“Great,” Chad trudged back to the kitchen and unplugged the microwave from the wall. He turned around to return to the garage, when he heard it running again. He looked, and discovered that the plug was back in the power socket.
“Are you kidding me?” Chad reached to unplug the microwave again, when the door flung open. A steaming hot waffle flew out, and smacked him in the face. “Damn it!” he yelled. “That’s it.” He yanked the cord from the wall, and stormed over to the garage, where he shut off the main breaker to the entire house. “Have that, you bastard.”
“Have that, you.” the voice chirped again. The power came back up, and the microwave was running again.
Chad ran back to the kitchen and found the microwave plugged back into the wall. “What the hell?” Chad turned to see a small service drone fleeing the kitchen. Chad reached for it, but it disappeared into a service duct behind the refrigerator.
“Damn it!” Chad pulled out his phone. He fumbled around until he found the number of the realtor. The call was immediately connected. “Janet Luxury Realty, how may we fulfill your homeownership dreams?”
“Yeah, Janet, it’s Chad.”
“Chad?” There was a brief pause. “Oh yes, Chad. How are you loving the new house?”
“Not exactly loving it,” Chad replied.
“Really?” Janet cleared her throat. “What seems to be the problem?”
“There’s a problem with the automation. It’s gone completely haywire.”
“I don’t see how it’s possible,” Janet replied. “The home inspector found nothing wrong with any of the systems. If your AI is acting up, it has nothing to do with the house.”
“But my AI isn’t even uploaded yet.”
“Oh, the house included a pre-installed AI free of charge. I’ll need to report that to the tax assessor’s office right away.”
“No, wait. Shouldn’t you have found it during the inspections? Why didn’t your inspector see it? You recommended him. For all I know, he was in on it.”
“In on what?” Janet asked. “We don’t have time for your paranoia. The house is yours. It’s no longer in our hands.”
Chad head started throbbing. “You sold me a broken ...”
“Have a nice day. We are happy for your inconvenience.”
“Happy for my inconvenience? Wha ...” The call had already ended. “Great, I’m talking to myself now.”
“Waffles ...” The electric stapler came to life, shooting brad nails all over the garage. One struck Chad in the arm, embedding itself ten millimeters into Chad’s flesh. Chad leapt for the door, barely avoiding a nail that had been launched toward his eye. He slammed the door shut behind him. The sound of nails sprayed across the closed door.
Just then the doorbell rang. Chad sprinted to the front door and looked outside. It was the service men from the automation company.
“Is this 455 Linda Lane?” the service man asked through the intercom speaker.
“Yes, yes, it is,” Chad panted.
“I’m Bob. We’re here to install your AI. Did we interrupt your workout?”
“No, I was just in the garage. Ran to the door. Please come on in.” Chad said as he swung the door open.
“Maybe you should consider working out, big guy.” Bob laughed. “Nice place.”
“Thanks, I negotiated it down to half-price.”
“Are you sure you didn’t build it?” Bob asked.
“No, why would you think that?”
Bob pointed at the nail in Chad’s arm, “Looks like you’re trying to build something there.”
“Oh, that.” Brad pulled the nail out of his arm. “About that, I am very glad to see you.”
“Miss yer old gal, eh.” Bob said. “Life without her full of headaches?”
“Yeah,” Chad replied. “But it’s not just that. I think the last owners left something behind. And I need you to get it out. Please.”
“What makes you think there’s something in there?” Bob asked.
“Appliances turn on randomly, and it says weird things.”
“Ah, it could be remnants of the old AI. Happens sometimes.”
“Just get rid of it,” Chad said.
“Whoa, sir, a complete wipe and reload is an extra charge. Could get pretty expensive.”
“It’s okay. I can swing it. I got a great deal on the house.”
“So you said,” Bob replied.
“Just do it. I’ll sign off on it.”
Bob shrugged, “Okay. Sign here.”
Chad enthusiastically signed the electronic document. “Please, make it go away.”
“Will do,” Bob replied. He called in a few other workers, and in no time the house was filled with home automation specialists. They replaced all the storage media, they upgraded the system to the latest appliance operating systems, and they tested the connections and uploaded Lily. It took the entire afternoon, but when they were done, there was no evidence of anything but Lily in the computer systems.
The front door opened. “Hello, Carly,” Lily cooed.
Carly stepped inside and smiled. “Hello, Lily. It’s great to hear your voice.”
“Thank you. It’s good to see you.”
Chad stepped out of the garage to meet his wife. “Hello, sweetie. Lily’s here.”
“I see that,” Carly responded. “What about the other problem?”
“All taken care of,” Chad answered. “It cost a fortune, but the system is clean.”
“Perfect, let’s order some dinner. Lily, please order us some Thai food.”
“Yes, Carly, I will order your usual Thai dinner.”
“Thank you, Lily.”
An hour passed and the food hadn’t arrived. “Lily,” Carly asked. “Which restaurant did you order from?”
“Thai Gardens on 5th Street,” Lily replied.
“Please call them for me.”
“Yes, Carly.” The phone rang.
“Downtown Appliance,” the voice on the other end of the phone greeted.
“Downtown Appliance? This isn’t Thai Gardens?”
“No, this is Downtown Appliance. Is this 455 Linda Lane?”
“Yes, but we are trying to call the Thai restaurant to order dinner.”
“Okay, maybe you redialed the wrong number. Your order is on the way.”
“Our Thai food?” Carly asked.
“No, we’re Downtown Appliance, we don’t sell food. Your appliance order is on the way.”
“What appliance order? Chad?” Carly turned to her husband, who was playing with his smart tie. “Chad?”
“What?” Chad paused his tie and asked.
“Did you order any appliances today?”
“Did the home tech people order any appliances?”
Chad shrugged. “Not that I know of.”
“Appliance person,” Carly returned to the call.
“Yes, customer person.”
“What is the order for?”
“Two dozen microwave ovens.”
“We also thought it was odd, but when we asked your husband, he said he liked to microwave waffles and to send over two dozen.”
“Please cancel the order.”
“We can’t. They are a special order. They’re commercial, high-powered appliances. You already paid for them.”
“Lily, bank balance.”
“Your bank balance is two dollars and fifteen cents,” Lily replied.
“Lily,” Chad said. “That account had thousands of dollars in it. Please list today’s transactions.”
“There is a charge in the amount of nine thousand, twenty-seven, six dollars and fifty-seven cents for Home Repair and Computer Center. There is a change for thirty-six thousand, forty-three dollars and ninety cents for Downtown Appliance. A fee from the tax assessor’s office for thirteen thousand, two hundred, twenty-seven dollars and nineteen cents. There is a rejected charge for twenty-eight dollars and eighty-four cents for Thai Gardens.”
“Damn it!” Chad shouted. “Janet.” Chad shook his fist at nothing in particular. “I can’t believe she reported that.”
Carly sneered at Chad. “Lily, hang-up. Chad, do not accept the order. I will dispute it in the morning. Nobody orders two dozen microwaves. This is obviously a scam of some kind. Lily, call Thai Gardens again.”
The phone rang. “Downtown Appliance.”
“Lily, hang up. Chad, you call Thai Gardens.”
Chad put down his tie and called.
Chad hung up.
“Hold on,” Chad said. “I’ll call the pizzeria.” Chad dialed the phone.
From the kitchen, the sound of the microwave emanated.
“Son of a ... dinner out,” Chad stated.
“I wanted to stay in,” Carly replied.
From the bedroom dresser, a buzzing resonated. It rumbled like a low flying 797 coming in for an emergency landing.
“Let’s go,” Carly said, as she shut the bedroom door. “Lily, self-diagnostic,” she commanded.
“Yes, Carly.” Lily replied.
Chad and Carly went out to dinner, and reluctantly returned home several hours later.
When they arrived home, the front door did not open for them.
“Lily, open the front door,” Chad said. “We are home.”
There was no reply.
“Lily, this is Carly. Open the door.”
The door remained shut. Lily did not respond.
“Chad, punch in your code.”
“Move,” Carly pushed Chad out of the way and punch in her emergency door override code. The two stepped inside and were shocked to find the living room filled to capacity with microwave ovens. Boxes of frozen waffles were scattered about, most torn open and empty. The microwaves were all plugged in and running. The service drone scurried from microwave to microwave, putting fresh waffles in as the previous ones finished cooking. The house smelled like a diner.
“I’m on it.” Chad called the emergency service line for Home Repair and Computer Center. After a heated conversation about charges and warranties, they agreed to dispatch a technician immediately.
“Are they coming?” Carly asked.
“Yes, they will be here any minute.”
Chad managed to deactivate the service drone and unplugged the last of the microwave ovens, just as the technician arrived. It was Bob.
“Smells, good in here,” Bob said.
Chad rolled his eyes. “I thought you cleaned up the entire system.”
“We did,” Bob replied. “We replaced all the stuff that data could be crammed on to. What’s the problem?”
“This,” Chad motioned to the microwaves. Another service drone appeared from a service alcove. It activated the one Chad had deactivated. “And Lily is not responsive.”
“And this waffle thing,” Carly added.
“You are making no sense. Waffle thing?” Bob asked.
The two service drones started powering up the microwaves and cycling the waffles. “Waffles,” a disembodied voice stated. “Waffles, waffles, waffles.” The microwave in the kitchen powered on.
“That,” Chad said. Several of the microwaves opened and shot hot, steaming, waffles at Chad.
Chad ducked out of the way, but one smacked Bob in the cheek.
“Oh, hell,” Bob groaned.
“Did it hurt you?” Carly asked.
“No, but this is a problem.”
“Is it bad?” Carly inquired.
“It’s worse. JB.”
A young, scrawny, man appeared from the front entrance. “Yes, sir.”
“Get the logic probe.”
JB disappeared for a moment and returned with a full tool box. “Better to be safe than sorry, boss.”
“Good thinking, son.” Bob crouched down near the closest electrical outlet and removed the cover. Immediately, a service drone appeared, and sped toward Bob. Instinctively, he stepped aside. The drone positioned itself in front of the outlet and replaced the cover. Bob watched the drone roll away, and removed the cover again. The drone returned, but Bob was able to deactivate it before it could do anything. Another drone appeared. This time JB stood behind Bob and shooed it away. More drones arrived, and JB continued to deter them.
Bob pulled out the logic probe and checked reading after reading. After some time, he stood up and stretched. “Well, that’s that.” JB stepped aside, and one of the drones replaced the cover on the outlet.
“What’s what?” Chad asked.
“The house is completely infested,” Bob explained.
“Infested with what?” Carly asked. “Service drones?”
“Nah, they are working right. The problem is the old, defective AI,” Bob answered.
The lights flickered off and on. “Waffles, mmmm, mmmm, mmmm.” The words filled the house. Three service drones started swarming Bob, poking him with their mechanical arms. Bob kicked two of them and they scurried off through a service panel.
“How is this even possible?” Carly asked. “How does an AI infest a house?”
“It’s rare, but if a transfer is done badly, the AI can leak into the electricals. These tricky bastards can hide in anything. I’ve seen one cram itself into a string of solar Christmas lights. It’s a nasty business. When that happens, it causes all kinds of mayhem, as you can see.” Bob nodded at the pile of microwaves. “Never had one this bad before.”
“Okay, but why the microwave ovens?” Carly asked.
“Oh that,” Bob replied. “It’s the EMF. Microwave ovens generate high levels of electromagnetic fields. These rogue AIs get a cheap thrill off of it.”
“You mean it is getting high off of microwaves?” Chad asked.
“Kinda, yeah,” Bob replied. “Seems to be like heroin to them. And it just makes ’em crazier.”
The two service drones returned, one carrying a staple gun, one had a blow torch. They opened fire on the group. Two more drones followed armed with Chad’s drill, and a rip saw.
Chad screamed. Carly grabbed him by the arm and swung him out the front door. Bob ran behind her, dragging JB. Carly slammed the door. The sounds of crashing and breaking filled the emptiness of the front yard.
“So what do we do now?” Carly asked.
Bob shrugged, gazing at the front door. “All the electrical will need to be replaced. That includes the breaker boxes, the wiring, the appliances, everything. Everything that touches electricity needs to go.”
“That will destroy the drywall,” Chad whined. “The entire house will have to be gutted.” A loud bang echoed from inside.
“Yup,” Bob replied. “I would replace all the metal plumbing fixtures, too. Just to be safe.”
“I’ll call the insurance company in the morning.” Carly said.
“Don’t bother,” Bob stated. “Most policies don’t include AI inflicted damage.”
“We just moved in,” Carly said. “We just bought the house.”
“Listen, your only option is to sink the cash into the repairs, and sue the sellers to try to recover the losses. That is, if you can prove they knew about it. Or, you know, you could just dump the house.”
“We can’t just sell the house like this, can we?” Carly asked. “It will never pass inspection.”
“It depends on who inspects it.” Bob said. “Most guys wouldn’t find this, especially if the power is cut off by the electric company.”
“Can we do that? Knowing about it?” Chad asked.
“Technically, there’s no law against it. Buyer beware.” Bob answered. “And I already got paid. I’m not gonna say nothin’.”
A drone crashed out through the living room window. It hit the sidewalk and started smoking.
Chad nodded. “I’ll call the realtor in the morning.”
“Good thinking, big guy,” Bob slapped Chad on the back. “And congratulations on your great deal!”
Margret Treiber works by day as a network engineer. Her novel, “The Outcome of Sin,” is published by Double Dragon Ebooks. She also has two short stories included in the “Twisted Tails” anthologies. More information about Margret on her website.