short fiction

Home

Liam leaned against the brick wall, sucking on a cigarette as he waited for the software engineer to deactivate the house system and allow the CSU to start working the scene. Punit was a good man, soft spoken and polite as he unplugged his laptop from the port by the front door and gave Liam the thumbs up.

 

Liam wasn’t first on the scene, that dubious honour went to the neighbour who saw the spray of blood against the living room windows before the house cleaning software kicked in and washed it away in sprays of heated water launched from recessed nozzles in the walls.

 

Liam had come to the system liaison unit from homicide, hoping for something soft to see out his last four months before he moved to Arizona. He had endured a week of presentations from technicians with soft, full bellies and speaking gibberish at a mile a minute. The job made him tired, but his time in the SLU felt like dog years. He was there to rubber stamp the insurance forms and go back to the precinct until another call came in.

 

People murdered by their homes.

 

They were standard for the poorer housing developments, installed to ensure welfare recipients remained drug and alcohol free and maintained a diet in line with their allocated welfare. If you put a six pack in the fridge, an automated message came to your phone, asking if it was the best use of your welfare payments. It wasn’t good quality work and the artificial intelligence systems developed tics and had seizures. Ten to twenty people a year, but it got written off as house fires and gas leaks. Accidents happened all the time and the better end of the housing market had intelligent housing systems which were subtle and responsive. Liam had a basic system, he could turn the oven on from his phone and a burglar would get deluged in foam which hardened to concrete and deafened them with directed sonic pulses.

This wasn’t the sort of house which went wrong and Liam had called the CSU because his cop instincts were yelling like nicotine withdrawal.

A family of four. The father was in the living room playing with the VR system whilst mother spoke with her sister on her tablet. The daughter was watching a 3D concert in her room. Ariana Grande on her retirement tour.

The son was on his laptop, commenting on a political video. Liam read the comment, dismayed people said such things where they lived forever. It triggered an artificial intelligence and flagged the action as hate speech and subject to family review.

Between the command and the neighbours report, the house system activated its security and privacy measures. The autopsy report indicated it was fast and effective work, less murder than erasure.

Liam forwarded the information to the station and went outside to smoke. Punit was getting into his car but Liam called him and he got out and shut the door.

‘Was there a glitch?’ Liam said.

Punit shook his head. They both knew discussing it was frowned upon but in his gut, Liam knew this was unusual.

‘No, the code is different but we account for evolution in these systems.’

Liam sucked on his cigarette and narrowed his eyes.

‘Evolution?’

Punit smiled and nodded.

‘The system reads your actions develops itself to better serve you. It’s thinking about you all the time.’

Liam disliked the plastic tone, pure marketing copy but Punit had a job to do and someone was always watching.

‘Detective, I don’t have one of these systems in my home. Evolution is amoral.’

Liam was about to ask him about it when his phone flashed with a priority call. The commissioner’s office.

The case was being handed over to Major Crimes. Liam had ten minutes of the case left to him. He listened to his instructions and waited for the cavalry.

On his way home, Liam cancelled his system subscription and stopped at a hardware store. He picked up an axe, insulated pliers and a set of gloves.

It took three days and by the time he was done, the air was thick with plaster dust and there were ragged divots in the walls where he had torn the wiring out.

The increased insurance premiums would hurt his bottom line and he was looking at a few thousand dollars for renovations but he couldn’t put a price on making his house feel like a home again.

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