THE AUDITOR AND THE EXORCIST

 

This story was first published in the anthology Working Futures. Copyright 2019 N. R. M. Roshak. Released here under CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0: you can copy and redistribute this story non-commercially, as long as you attribute it to me. You may not copy and redistribute it commercially, and you may not create derivative works. If you are interested in creating derivative works or redistributing it commercially, please reach out to me in the comments.

 

THE AUDITOR AND THE EXORCIST

by N. R. M. Roshak

 

“Get your god-damn hands off me!”

The woman slapped her partner’s hands away, reeled drunkenly back. Pat’s heart thundered in her chest. She hated this.

The man yelled back, grabbed at the woman’s arm. She pushed him and he fell, stumbling backwards into a bookcase. His head struck a shelf. He sat down hard, roared with pain. The shelf collapsed, spilling books onto him.

Pat leaned forward in her chair and zoomed in. How hard had the man grabbed at the woman’s arm? She ran the video back a few seconds and watched his fingers dig into the soft flesh of the woman’s upper arm. Too hard.

Onscreen, the woman aimed a kick at the man’s head. “Jesus,” muttered Pat. She really didn’t need to see any more. She already knew she was going to ding them both major LifePoints. But the AI had flagged the whole segment for review: she should watch to the end.

A soft moaning caught her attention. Pat peered at the screen. Who was making that noise? Not the man, who was holding his head and directing a stream of invective at his partner. Not the woman, who was lying where she’d fallen when she’d tried to kick her partner, slurring rude words into the carpet.

Pat bit her lip. Was there someone else, off-camera and hurting? Oh, God, she thought, what if these two drunks have a kid?

She pictured a small child, moaning in pain and ignored by the two adults preoccupied with their drama. Pat searched the screen. No kid in view. But the clip, pulled from a single SmartHome camera, only covered a shabby living room. Maybe the kid was in a bedroom, or in a closet, alone and hurting.

She checked the video clip’s timestamps. Barely stale: only about 15 minutes old. If there was a hurt kid somewhere in that home, she still had a chance to help them.

Pat pulled up the same cam’s live feed. The couple was still in the living room. The fight was over. The woman was snoring on the floor; the man was tapping on his foldie phone. But the low moaning continued.

How can he just ignore the kid? Pat shook her head in disbelief. She scoured the corners of the room with her eyes, but still couldn’t see the moaning child. She’d need to find and pull up this couple’s other SmartHome feeds.

Context was the reason social credit auditors like Pat could pull related feeds from a given location, person or time. The AI might flag 10 minutes of yelling and shoving, but miss the crucial context that preceded it: A mortal insult between strangers, or friends agreeing to rehearse a scene in a play? Social credit auditors had to be able to trace an interaction back to its roots.

Pat wasn’t missing context for the fight in this clip, but for the moaning. And she’d been a social credit auditor long enough to know how to spin “context” into a view of the rest of the house. She left the live feed playing in her main window, spawned another window to spool that camera’s feed back until she saw the woman enter the living room, selected the woman, and searched for the last feed that showed her. Bingo! A view of the woman leaving their kitchen one hour ago. Pat switched to the kitchen’s live feed and had a good look around. No kid.

Ten minutes later, Pat had pulled live feeds of their entire apartment. One bedroom, one kitchen, one living room. No kid. No animals. There weren’t any of the usual signs of a child’s presence in the home: no toys, no little bed, no crayons. And yet, the moaning continued, mournful and awful.

Pat huffed out a frustrated breath and sat back in her chair. Red pulsed in the corner of her workspace. Her queue of video clips to review had filled to bursting while she had been fruitlessly hunting for the hurt kid. She wasn’t making any progress, but she couldn’t let it go. If there was a kid who needed help…

But she needed something to go on. She couldn’t call down a social services alert on the home without seeing someone hurt or in trouble.

She pulled the AI’s original flagged video clip back up, paused the live feeds. Maybe she’d missed something in the flagged video clip.

The clip ended.

The moaning continued.

Pat’s mouth dried. The moaning wasn’t coming from the video.

Frantically she rummaged through her workspace, hoping she’d left a live feed open in the background. Nope. She’d just spent twenty minutes snooping through two strangers’ home to find a noise that hadn’t even been coming from them. If she got audited, she’d have one heck of a hard time explaining why she’d done a deep dive on them. Her LifePoints would plummet. And–

Wait. Where was that moaning coming from? If it wasn’t coming from her workspace–

Pat stood up so quickly that she stumbled and threw open the study door. The moaning was louder in the hall. She followed the sound down the stairs, burst into the living room and–

The moaning stopped.

“What the hell?” Pat wondered out loud. She did a cursory search round her living room, expecting nothing and finding exactly that. Pat didn’t have kids or pets; she didn’t even have a partner, not since Melinda had left.

And she’d been living in this townhouse for years, since before Melinda. More than long enough to know it didn’t have any of the usual culprits for strange domestic moaning noises, such as radiator pipes or drafts. It was a thoroughly modern townhouse: a SmartHome, in fact. And the SmartHome app should tell her if anything mechanical was wrong long before it got to the point of moaning.

She headed slowly back up the stairs to her study. She’d go through her SmartHome diagnostics later, when she got the chance. Right now, she had a full queue, and she still had to finish dinging LifePoints from the two dingbats whose video she’d just closed. Pat wiped a hand over her face and sat down at her desk.

#

LifeSocial Inc. WorkSpace v. 3.0.3 Chat

* Alert! You have a new message from KarenHamber *

KarenHamber: Pat your Q is red

PatVanBuren: Hi Karen, I’m on it

KarenHamber: Great. Remember ur metrics K

PatVanBuren: OK

KarenHamber: I pulled ur metrics 4 today & u r way over on review time

KarenHamber: #1 priority is to do a good audit on each clip of course

KarenHamber: But, if ur sure of scoring u can 1.5 speed or 2x to end

PatVanBurne: Right

KarenHamber: Expect to see Ur Q cleared by EOD

PatVanBuren: OK thanks Karen

KarenHamber: U R great teammember Pat hate to see U slip

#

Pat pushed away from the monitor with a stretch. Karen had made it very clear she had to empty her queue of clips to review by the end of the day… but she hadn’t authorized any overtime, meaning Pat’s last two hours of effort had been voluntary and unpaid. On the bright side, every “voluntary” hour of work after quitting time bumped up Pat’s LifeScore a little more: one of the few advantages to working for LifeSocial, Inc. themselves.

Pat ambled into the kitchen, trying to decide whether she had the energy to cook. She flipped open her foldie phone and pulled up her LifeScore. She was still deep in the LOW zone, but maybe today’s unpaid overtime had bumped her social credit enough that a decent delivery company would come out. She scrolled through restuarants, looking for one desperate enough to bring a low-score like her dinner.

Unfortunately, Pat’s choices tonight were, once again: food poisoning by delivery, takeout, or cooking for herself. Pat slapped her foldie phone shut and pulled down the cereal.

“Breakfast of champions,” Pat said to her cereal, “dinner of sad lonely losers.” She’d lost count of the nights she’d called Lucky Charms “dinner” since Melinda had left. At least she wasn’t out of milk.

By the time she collapsed into bed, Pat had nearly forgotten about the moaning that had derailed her afternoon. And if it sounded through her house that night, she slept too deeply to know or care.

#

LifeSocial Inc. WorkSpace v. 3.0.3 Chat

You are in channel #KarensTeam

* JefValentino has joined the channel.

JefValentino: Hi Everyone. Introducing myself. My name is Jef

JefValentino: I’m new at LifeScore Corp. Just started yesterday

PatVanBuren: Welcome Jef!

RaoulMorales: Hi Jef, welcome aboard!

RaoulMorales: We’re here if you have any questions.

JefValentino: thanks Raoul and Pat!

JefValentino: actually I have kind of a dumb question

RaoulMorales: no such thing

JefValentino: why are most of the videos the Ai send us so awful???

JefValentino: Someones always getting screamed at or hit

RaoulMorales: Good question Jef

RaoulMorales: You know LifeScore includes your behavior to others

RaoulMorales: That means LifePoints have to get taken off ppl who are behaving badly

RaoulMorales: Most of the time, the LifeScore AI can auto deduct LifePoints for bad actions

RaoulMorales: but when AI can’t decide whose LifeScore should go down

RaoulMorales: then it sends a video clip to a social auditors queue

RaoulMorales: It has the hardest time with fights, crying, etc.

RaoulMorales: Like “who’s the bad guy here?” Well that’s really hard for the AI to figure out

PatVanBuren: Whenever the AI can’t figure out who the asshole is, it comes to us

PatVanBuren: Bascially Jef our job is professional asshole detectors

JefValentino: LOL

PatVanBuren: welcome to the club

#

The blond man’s voice was so soft that Pat had to strain to catch the words.

“I really shouldn’t be surprised that you fucked up again. That’s what you do, isn’t it. You fuck up and fuck up all day long.”

The vicious words were at odds with his calm face, his relaxed shoulders, his soft voice. But his eyes sparked with malice.

Across the room, a tall, russet-brown man clenched his fists. Pat could practically see the steam coming out of his ears as the small blond man spoke on and on, pouring his poisonous words into the air between them.

“Enough!” the tall man screamed. “Enough already! God damn, Leon, you always think you’re so perfect!” He took a menacing step forward, fists raising.

The blond man’s lips twitched. If Pat hadn’t been watching closely, she would have missed it: a tiny, triumphant smile.

Pat felt her breakfast curdling in her stomach. This felt like watching her breakup with Melinda in a funhouse mirror. Melinda had been expert at needling her until Pat had screamed, yelled, cried. Pat’s LifeScore had tanked dramatically. All the AI and the social credit auditors had seen was Pat, yelling, fists clenched; sometimes, to her shame, even striking out at the woman she’d once loved.

She’d never hurt Melinda, not really. Pat’s actions had hurt her own LifeScore more than they’d ever hurt Melinda. Melinda’s LifeScore, on the other hand, was fine. The AI and the auditors had only seen Pat’s bluster and fists, had never caught Melinda in that small, cruel smile.

Now Melinda had a new job, a new home, a new partner, and Pat was single and stuck in her life-sucking LifeScore job: she didn’t have enough LifePoints to get delivery, let alone pass a reference check for a new job.

Pat stopped the video. She’d watched all she could handle. She took a few LifePoints from the big guy. And she took as many LifePoints from the small blond as she thought she could get away with. The next social credit auditor might not see the real dynamic between these two, but the little blond jerk wouldn’t get away with it on her watch.

Pat let herself savour one moment of bitter satisfaction.

Her reverie was broken by an ear-splitting crash from downstairs. She shot out of her chair and raced into the living room. A vase lay in shards on the floor.

“Who’s there?” she barked out. Silence.

Pat rubbed the back of her neck. She was the only one with keys to the house, and her SmartHome’s intruder alert hadn’t gone off. So there couldn’t be anyone else in the house. Pat shook her head at herself as she swept up the shards. A couple of funny moans yesterday and a crash today, and she was jumping at shadows.

And, she had to admit to herself, a particularly upsetting clip in her queue.

She wiped a hand over her face, as if she could wipe the bitterness away. Maybe it was time for a break. Back in the study, she turned away from her desk, opened her foldie, and pulled up her MySocial feed.

#

Sponsored Content

MOANING AND BANGING in my house kept me awake all night until I called Angie. She helped me find solutions to the unexpected, distracting noises in my house. I haven’t had a bad night since. Click here to learn more.

#

Don’t click on the sponsored content, Pat told herself. She clicked.

The page was a disappointment. Pat had been hoping for something she could fix with the tools she kept neatly arranged in the basement. Say, a problem with the furnace. She certainly hadn’t been looking for advice on “unquiet spirits” perturbing her house. But “Angie” was an exorcist, hawking online de-ghostifying of houses. Pat sighed and closed her foldie. She’d used up her break time, and it’d been less relaxing than some of the stuff in her queue.

A message from Karen was blinking urgently in her LifeScore workspace. Karen wanted to know: Could she work overtime today? The new guy, Jef, needed help clearing his queue.

Sure. Why not? It wasn’t as though Pat had any plans tonight. Or any night. And at least, Pat reflected, she’d be getting paid for this overtime.

#

JefValentino: so I have another question for you guys

RaoulMorales: OK

JefValentino: I noticed maybe 1 clip a day is different from the rest

JefValentino: and it’s ridic happy stuff like kids playng or puppies

JefValentino: wth is up with the puppy videos

JefValentino: why do they need a social credit auditor for that?

PatVanBuren: I know, right?

RaoulMorales: LOL

RaoulMorales: your not the first to wonder!

* KarenHamber has joined the channel.

RaoulMorales: Official response is

RaoulMorales: “Helping train the AI on diverse social situations”

JefValentino: oh ok

PatVanBuren: unofficially though Jef

PatVanBuren: the Ai figures out how often you need to see puppies to keep from putting a bullet between your eyes

JefValentino: r u serious?

PatVanBuren: yep. suicide rate used to be thru the roof til they started w the kids & puppies

RaoulMorales: BTW Jef, I’m sure Karen has mentioned it, but if you ever start to have dark feelings you can ask for 1 session of counselling

RaoulMorales: don’t be ashamed its perfectly normal

PatVanBuren: turns out there are some things even puppies can’t fix

RaoulMorales: Yes, and you will probably see them sooner or later. It happens to us all.

#

Pat finished the day exhausted. The AI had served her a double helping of puppies that afternoon, but the sweetness hadn’t washed the bitter taste of the morning’s clips away. She was still jumpy from the yesterday’s moaning and today’s inexplicably suicidal vase. And she was, once again, too tired to cook and too low-rated to get delivery. She shoveled in some Count Chocula and headed for bed.

Pat drifted for what felt like hours in the borderlands between waking and sleep. Moans and thumpings drifted through the house, or through her dreams: Pat couldn’t decide, and couldn’t wake up enough to investigate.

Dawn was nudging at the curtains when a splintering crash from the kitchen pushed Pat all the way awake.

The SmartCaf carafe was shattered on the kitchen floor, in a steaming puddle of coffee and glass shards.

“Noooooo…” moaned Pat. Her stomach clenched at the thought of facing her queue without caffeine. She rummaged through the cupboards for the last of Melinda’s tea, ran tap water into a pot, and set it on the stove.

Her computer warbled at her from upstairs. Pat winced: that particular alert sound meant a DM from Karen. Coffeepot in shards on the floor, boss-DMs before her shift had even started: the day was not off to a great start.

#

KarenHamber: Pat we need to talk

KarenHamber: I saw u made v unprofessional comment to Jef in chat

KarenHamber: I realzie u have been w LifeScore Inc for 3yrs & it can b trying

KarenHamber: But plz remember

KarenHamber: Attitude is part of LifeScore pts bonus for soc cred auditors

KarenHamber: if ur bad attitide continue I will have no choice but to cut ur LifePoints bonos

KarenHamber: do u understand?

#

Pat groaned and rested her uncaffeinated head on her keyboard. Yes, she understood. It was her own dang fault for getting too comfortable in work chat. You worked with people for years, you made friends, you started acting like you’d act with real-life friends. But the space where you met wasn’t real life. It was subject to random surveillance by the all-seeing, all-hating Corporation… embodied, at the moment, by Pat’s boss. Who was definitely not a friend.

With a sigh, Pat pulled up the SmartStove app on her foldie and turned off the burner. She’d better attack her queue right away, in case Karen was checking up on her. There’d be time for tea later.

#

MySocial Chat Alert! You have a new message from Angela DeVaux.

Angie: Hi! This is Angela DeVaux. I saw that you browsed my page yesterday and just wanted to reach out to you.

Angie: I’ve helped a lot of people resolve strange incidents in their homes.

Angie: Is there anything that you were wondering whether I could help with?

Pat: No. I was just browsing.

Angie: OK! Thanks for your reply.

#

Pat snorted and closed the chat. Well, that’s what she got for clicking on sponsored pages. And she’d clicked on an online exorcist, of all things.

Pat shook her head. Who even knew that “online exorcism” was a thing? Idly, she ran a MySocial search for online exorcism.

There were surprisingly many results. And most were just posts on regular people’s pages.

I’m happy to report that my house is now free of ghosts! Woo hoo! Thank you to Linda Tran who did the exorcism online.

OMG I thought I would never sleep again. Thank God for Stefan in Lithuania who exorcised the ghosts out of my apartment online.

Hey everyone I’m so so glad to report my house is safe again. I was getting scared to go home at night lol. Even the exorcist didnt want to go in. Lucky for me he could do it online haha

… Safe? Pat rolled her eyes. Who was that scared of ghosts as a grownup?

So you guys might remember my post last week when I almost died from getting electorcuted. Then after that, the bowling ball incident. Well it turns out these both had the SAME cause. I almost got done in by GHOSTS. This is the real deal! I am not shitting you! I could of died! If it wasn’t for Sunny Grenfell, I could be DEAD. But thanks to her online exorcism my house is safe again.

Good grief, thought Pat. She took a long slurp of tea.

A hollow groan sounded from the hallway. Pat slopped tea on herself.

“What the hell!” She set the dripping mug down, threw open the study door, and stormed into the hallway. Silence.

“This is ridiculous,” Pat muttered. She knew that she was alone in the house. Still. She poked her head into the bathroom, the bedroom, ran an eye over the living room and the kitchen, even checked under the sofa and bed. She found nothing but the dust bunnies that congregated everywhere the SmartVac couldn’t reach.

#

MySocial Chat Alert! You have a new message from Angela DeVaux.

Angie: BTW Pat, feel free to reach out to me again at any time.

Angie: If you ever feel frustrated, puzzled or threatened by anything going on in your home

Angie: I’m here to help.

Pat: Look. I’m sure you mean well but the last thing I need is an “online exorcist”

Pat: I need to get the furnace guy out or something, not get “ghosts” out

Angie: ? You’re having furnace problems in May?

Pat rubbed her temples. She hadn’t thought that through. The furnace hadn’t come on in, oh, a couple months.

Pat: It’s a ventilation fan or something then. I need to check my SmartHome diagnostics

Angie: Sure. I talk to a lot of homeowners with a lot of different issues. 9 times out of 10 it’s something mechanical in the house.

Angie: I’m not going to come out there and fix anything, but if you want to talk it over with me, I might be able to point you in the right direction.

Pat: Sure. Fine. What do I have to lose but time

Pat: Something’s making a funny noise in my house.

Pat: What’s your diagnosis, doctor?

Angie: Haha! I like your sense of humour, Pat. I’ll need a better description of the symptoms though

Pat: Intermittent groaning/moaning like wind.

Angie: So that noise is the only symptom? That’s good to hear. I’ve seen much worse. Things falling down, things getting broken, doors slamming on people. I’ve even seen stairs knocking people off their feet. Very dangerous

Pat: I’d diagnose that as needing to repair the stairs.

Angie: Ha ha!

Angie: So nothing broken then?

Pat: Nothing related to the strange noise

Angie: Wait. What does that mean, Pat? Things *are* getting broken?

Pat: I don’t have any reason to think that has anything to do with the noise.

Angie: Pat. I’m feeling really concerned about you. Something in your house is moaning and breaking things. Have you been hurt?

Pat: What? No!

Angie: I’m glad to hear that. Now, the broken things. It sounds like they got broken when you were in a different room?

Pat: Yes.

Angie: Good. Maybe you weren’t even at home or awake at the time for one of them?

Pat: Yes, the crash woke me up.

Angie: Good, that’s very positive. Now, we’re not talking anything major like a TV getting broken, right? Were the broken things fairly inexpensive?

Pat: Yes. Well, the SmartPot wasn’t that cheap. What does that have to do with anything?

Angie: Listen. I’m 99% sure I know what’s going on with your home. Would you like to hear what I think?

Pat: Sure.

Angie. OK I’m going to lay it out for you straight. Something in your house is angry. The good news is it’s pretty minor and I can help you fix it.

Pat: Oh, here we go. “For a fee.” No thanks

Angie: No fee. Please. I’d be embarrassed to charge for something this minor.

Angie: 5 minutes of video chat and I’ll have it cleared up for you

Pat: What, for free?

Angie: Right. My business grows by word-of-mouth & reputation

Angie: I’m not going to leave you hanging with a cranky psychic impression making your life miserable

Angie: when I could fix it in 5mins

Angie: But I’m not going to charge for 5 minutes of my time.

Angie: It’s up to you, Pat. LMK what you decide.

Pat sighed. She didn’t believe in ghosts, let alone in online exorcism. But 5 minutes wasn’t a big investment. And if, by some fluke of the universe, it actually worked, it would save her a pile of annoyance.

Pat: OK, fine. 5 minutes.

Angie: Great. We’ll get this cleared right up. Are you on your foldie or a laptop?

Pat: Desktop

Angie: We’ll need something you can carry with you. Video chat me from your foldie.

#

Angie’s face appeared on the screen of Pat’s foldie. Angie was pale and puffy, with frumpy, mouse-brown hair and a calico-print collared shirt. She didn’t look the part of an exorcist at all.

But the moment Pat set foot in the hallway, foldie open, the moaning started up again downstairs. Angie directed her brusquely to follow it.

What followed was surreal. Pat carried her foldie around her small townhouse, while Angie called out to, and cajoled, invisible spirits. At Angie’s direction, Pat followed the eerie noise into the kitchen. Something bumped in the living room. The moaning crested, Angie yelled “Begone!”, and the noise stopped as if on command.

“There,” said Angie smugly. “You should be good to go. If you have any more problems, just let me know.”

Pat shook her head. “I’m not sure what to think. That was… Weird. Thanks.”

Angie smiled. “I’m glad I could help. Take care of yourself, Pat.”

#

Amazingly, Angie’s exorcism actually seemed to help. The moaning and thumpings stopped, and nothing else broke. Pat couldn’t explain it to herself, but Angie’s yelling at her house over video chat seemed to have actually worked.

Pat wasn’t going to make a glowing post on her MySocial page, or anything, but she gave Angie’s page a positive review and kicked her a LifePoint.

#

PatVanBuren: So do you guys believe in ghosts

JefValentino: OMG did you see one in a clip in your Q?

JefValentino: that is like, my fantasy

PatVanBuren: LOL no Jef

RaoulMorales: that’d be a new one

RaoulMorales: “Excuse me Karen, how do I take LifePoints from this ghost”

PatVanBuren: Hahaha! “This ghost is a negative social element, I need to adjust its LifeScore”

RaoulMorales: ITYM “DeathScore”

PatVanBuren: LOL!

#

A week later, the strange noises were back. Pat tried to track the noise down, but it seemed like every time she got close, it shifted to a different room.

The LifeScore AI must have noticed her stress mounting, inasmuch as it could “notice” anything, because an extra puppy video popped up in her queue. But Pat wasn’t able to relax and enjoy the 5 minutes of cuteness. Outside her study door, the moaning had started to take on a new quality. If she wasn’t paying attention, it sounded almost like speech. And what it seemed to be saying, over and over, was kill… kill… kill.

It was a terrible work environment. Pat’s metrics were tanking, again.

When a crash echoed through the house, Pat almost wasn’t surprised. She just sighed, pushed back from her desk, and trudged downstairs to investigate.

The torchiere was on the living room floor. Pat stood it back up. At least its thick glass shade seemed to have bounced rather than shattered.

Pat didn’t know what to think. Angie’s “exorcism” clearly hadn’t worked. She should’ve known better than to think it would have any effect. But still… she’d had a whole week free of trouble after Angie had done her mumbo-jumbo. Could it just have been a coincidence?

And Pat had to admit that the strange noise wasn’t sounding even vaguely mechanical any more. Wind seeping through a tiny, hard-to-find crack, or a failing SmartFan, wouldn’t sound like words.

#

MySocial Chat Alert! You have a new message from Angela DeVaux.

Angie: Hi Pat! Just checking in with you. How’re you doing?

Pat: Angie

Pat: Thanks for trying but your “exorcism” didn’t work

Angie: Oh no! What’s wrong?

Pat: Seemed like it actually worked at first but the noises are back

Pat: If anything it’s worse

Angie: Uh oh.

Pat: ?

Angie: I was afraid this might happen. It’s rare but sometimes negative psychic impressions can be more powerful than they seem at first.

Angie: So sometimes, a positive intervention can actually bring spirits more in touch with their anger

Pat: You mean you made it worse???

Angie: Well not in your case I don’t think. It sounds like it’s less severe than before, previously you were having some objects broken.

Pat: Lamp also fell over. Probably a coincidence tho

Angie: I see

Angie: Hmmm

Angie: I could take another look but

Pat: But what?

Angie: I can’t guarantee I would be in and out in 5mins. Sounds like your case is harder than initially described.

Angie: I’d probably need about half an hour to get a good read on the situation.

Pat: Oh here we go. Im guessing half hour sessions are not free.

Angie: No. But the good news is this kind of thing is almost always fixable.

Pat: Thats what u said last time

Angie: I know and I do apologize. 95% of time that would have done it.

Angie: that’s why I was checking up on you.

Angie: I admit, I was too eager to help you. I shouldn’t have done a 5min freebie wo full examination. It was unprofessional of me

Pat: I’m not impressed

Angie: I understand. I’d like to make it up to you Pat. Lets do the half hour and I won’t bill you unless that gets rid of your problem permanently.

Pat: …

Pat: OK fine. What do I have to lose

Angie: Great. I have another appt now but I can fit you in at 5:30 EDT tonight

Pat: Working til 6:30 MDT here. I could do 7 MDT

Angie: I’ll video chat you at 6:30 MDT sharp.

Angie has left the chat.

#

Angie pinged Pat’s foldie at 6:30 sharp, just as Pat was logging out of her LifeSocial workspace. This time, Angie looked the part of an exorcist: somber clothes, eyes bright with determination, hair more wild than frumpy.

Angie started right away, and Pat’s house seemed to respond. Moans and gibbering swirled around Pat as Angie chanted. The lights went off. Pat’s scalp prickled with fear. She held the phone up over her head, the center of a circle of light in a sea of groaning darkness.

“Begone, cursed spirits! I banish you from this home!” screamed Angie from between Pat’s hands. Something shattered downstairs. The awful moaning crested–Kill, Kill, Kill–and then stopped short, on Angie’s command.

Afterward, Angie looked wrung out. Sweat sheened her brow; her mousy hair hung damp and stringy around her face.

“The spirits in your house are more malevolent than I’d thought,” she panted. “More stubborn, too. This is a tough one.”

“Okay,” said Pat. “That was… dramatic, that’s for sure.”

“Still don’t think you need the help of an exorcist?” Angie asked dryly.

“Weeelll,” Pat hedged. She really didn’t want to be the kind of person who believed in ghosts, crystals, spirits. But her palms were still damp, her mouth still dry from the primal fear she’d felt a minute ago. What she’d just seen and heard–the lights going out, the noises, the crash, and all of it seeming to respond to Angie’s exhortations and commands–Pat couldn’t believe it’d been coincidence, much less a bad ventilation fan. It was hard to understand it as anything but a haunting.

A haunting, in her house.

“Why now?” Pat asked suddenly. “I’ve lived here for a decade. Never had any trouble until the last few weeks. Nobody’s ever died here as far as I know, and for sure not in the last couple of weeks. What’s going on?”

Angie nodded gravely. “That’s an important question,” she said. “Negative energies can linger in a home. They can build up over time. Sometimes, it takes almost a critical buildup of negativity to really activate something that’s been dormant for a while.” She paused, searching Pat’s face. “Only you can say what that’s really about, Pat.”

Pat’s cheeks heated with shame, as she remembered the hours and hours of fighting with Melinda. And Pat wasn’t proud of how she’d behaved. Screaming, throwing things. Pushing.

Hitting.

Yes, Melinda had maliciously provoked her. But Pat had been the one pouring negative energy into the house, soaking it into the walls with every scream, crash and slap.

Pat had to admit to herself that she’d deserved every bit of the drop in her LifeScore.

And maybe she deserved this haunting, too.

Angie’s voice broke into her thoughts. “I can’t promise you that it’s all taken care of, Pat. Whatever happened here left some very potent negative energy. That’s driving an angry and powerful spiritual presence. And frankly, that can be dangerous.”

“Dangerous,” Pat repeated. She hadn’t been dangerous to Melinda. Had she?

“I want you to contact me if you have any–any–trouble. No matter how minor you think it is, contact me. Can you do that, Pat?”

“Yes,” Pat said numbly. After Angie signed off, Pat sat for a long time on the stairs, head in her hands.

#

It was all Pat could do not to groan as she logged in to her LifeScore workspace the next morning. Pat’s LifeScore queue always felt extra daunting when she’d slept badly; and although the house had been quiet the previous night, Pat had barely slept. To top it off, her SmartCaf was still broken, and she was on the last of Melinda’s tea.

The video clips in her queue were surprisingly mellow this morning, and a little bit strange. It took Pat, in her brain-fogged state, a dozen or so clips to realize that they were all strange in the same way.

#

PatVanBuren: I’m getting a lot of indoor fisheye videos from a weird height today, anyone else?

JefValentino: what is fisheye

PatVanBuren: super wide angle. like surveillance cam but this is all indoor & at waist height

JefValentino: oh yea me too! i’ve had like 10 so far today

JefValentino: all of them in ktchens too

RaoulMorales: yes I’m getting these as well

PatVanBuren: any idea what’s up w that

RaoulMorales: So I had to follow a user to another cam for context

RaoulMorales: & saw where this fisheye feed is coming from

RaoulMorales: it was the feed from the coffee maker on their kitchen counter

JefValentino: OHHHHH SNAP

JefValentino: I got an alert in my SmartCaf app this AM about a TOS update

JefValentino: I didn’t read it but I bet that’s what it was about.

RaoulMorales: Yes that would make sense.

RaoulMorales: If smartCaf just agreed to share feeds w LifeScore Inc then SmartCaf wwould have to update its Terms of Service

RaoulMorales: when ppl agree to the SmartCaf TOS update the AI will start to check their feeds for LifePoints

JefValentino: OK but why is the AI putting so many in my Q?

PatVanBuren: in theory the AI is trained on any new type of feeds before it goes live

PatVanBuren: in practice, it needs us to check a lot more of its calls

PatVanBuren: we’re helping to train it on the new type of feed

RaoulMorales: Yes. Every time the LifeScore AI takes on feeds from a new kind of thing, we will see a great deal of clips from that kind of thing for the first few days. When you’ve worked here longer, Jef, you will see.

#

Pat was pulled away from the work chat by a deafening clangour filling the air. The SmartHome fire alarm was going full blast. Pat clapped her hands over her ears for a second, then scooped up her foldie and tapped the SmartHome app whose icon was pulsing urgently on the screen.

“Shit!” Fire in the kitchen! She raced down the stairs to the kitchen. The empty tea box was on the floor, in flames. As Pat stomped it out, the lights flickered, and eerie laughter echoed through the house. Kill–kill–kill!

Hair standing up on the back of her neck, Pat retreated to the corner of the kitchen. What just happened?

She fumbled her foldie back out with shaking hands, pulled up the SmartHome history, found the kitchen cam video leading up to the fire. One minute, the tea box had been sitting on the stove where she’d left it. Suddenly, the teabox had started to smoulder. A sudden gust of air had fanned the flames, and blown the flaming box to the floor.

Pat knew she hadn’t left the stove burner on. She hadn’t even had that burner on this morning.

She turned to the SmartHome device logs. The SmartFan log didn’t show any activity to explain the sudden gust of air. Pat pulled up the SmartStove log. It confirmed that she hadn’t left the burner on. In fact, according to the SmartStove log, the burner hadn’t come on at all.

She went over to the stove, held her hand over the smooth glass of the burner. Hot. Had the stove malfunctioned, turned itself on and off without leaving a trace in the log?

Pat closed her eyes. Stove malfunction. Right. That would explain the laughter, the flickering lights, the gust of air. Stove malfunction.

She pulled up MySocial and messaged Angie.

#

Angie’s face was grave, on Pat’s foldie. “I was afraid of this,” she said. “The presence in your house is now actively hostile to you. Every time I’ve done an intervention, it’s responded very positively to me, but…” She shook her head. “It’s as though you yourself are a provocation to it.”

“It doesn’t like me,” Pat summed up.

“I’m afraid it’s moved beyond not liking you, Pat. The spiritual presence is actively trying to harm you.”

“So tell me something I don’t know.”

“This is no joking matter. I’m concerned for your safety as long as you remain in that house. Do you have someone that you can stay with?”

Pat felt her face harden. “No.”

“I see.” Angie let silence sit between them.

“Angie,” said Pat, “I want you to get this, this ‘presence’, out of my house.”

“Pat… I’m afraid it’s moved beyond that. The presence does respond well to me, but…”

“I can pay you,” Pat blurted. “However long it takes.”

“I can’t be there twenty-four-seven. This presence is actively trying to harm you,” Angie repeated. “It’s deeply attached to the walls, to the fabric of your house. It’s not going anywhere. I can calm it, but when it realizes you’re still there… well, it’s only becoming more hostile toward you with time.” She took a deep breath. “Pat, I can’t guarantee your safety if you stay in that house.”

“What are you saying?”

“This house is not safe for you. Are you renting? Can you break the lease?”

“What? No. No. I’ve had this house for a decade. The mortgage’s half paid off.”

“Then, I would seriously consider selling.”

“Sell my home…” Pat repeated softly.

“And if you can swing it, I’d consider staying in a hotel until the house is sold.”

This is what I deserve, thought Pat. Negative energy: my anger, soaked in deep. I did that. To Melinda, to my house. This is no more nor less than I deserve.

#

The realtor blanched under her makeup as an eerie moan echoed down the stairs. “What the–what was that?”

“Little problem with the furnace,” Pat lied.

“In May?”

“Sorry, I meant with the ventilation system. I’ve got SmartFan, by the way. Really cuts down on the heating and cooling bills. Anyway, the noise doesn’t happen too often, so I haven’t had a chance to pin it down.”

“I… see.” The realtor didn’t seem convinced.

The moaning crested, resolved once again into a horribly familiar chant. Kill, kill, kill.

Pat was almost used to the constant exhortations to murder. The realtor wasn’t. “That’s… That doesn’t sound like a fan,” she whispered.

There was a rattling crash from the kitchen, and a smell of burning wafted out.

“I–I just remembered I have another appointment,” the realtor stammered, racing for the door. “I’ll call you!” The door slammed behind her.

Pat ran a tired hand over her face. “Sure you will,” she muttered, heading for the kitchen.

She couldn’t find the source of the burning smell, but the rattling crash had probably been the hundreds of ice cubes now piled high in front of the fridge. She started scooping them into the sink with the dustpan, trying not to listen to her house moaning about how much it wanted to kill, kill, kill her.

A blood-curdling scream echoed from the living room. Was that the realtor? Did she come back in? Pat dropped the dustpan and rushed into the living room. She stood alone in the middle of the room, staring wildly at the shabby furniture.

The TV switched on behind her with a blare of sound. Pat spun around to look at it–a daytime murder movie?–and the torchiere crashed down right behind her, hitting the carpet with a massive BONG.

Pat screamed. The torchiere’s heavy glass shade had just missed her. She’d felt it ruffle the hairs on the back of her head. She backed away.

“I’m going to get you!” yelled the TV. “You can’t escape me forever!”

Pat broke and ran for the door.

#

“Angie, you have to help me!” Pat was standing outside in the sunshine, pleading with Angie on her foldie. She heard the begging tone in her voice, hated it, but couldn’t help it. “I can’t stay here, but I can’t even show the damn house to a realtor!”

Angie was calm, soothing. “Okay, Pat, calm down. Take a deep breath. I know that it’s upsetting, but we’ll get through this. I want you to find a hotel you can go to for the night.”

Pat grimaced. “Can’t.”

“If it’s a question of money–“

Pat shook her head. “LifeScore’s too low. Nobody’ll take me.”

“There are hotels who’ll take anybody,” Angie said. “Druggies, hookers, ex-cons. I’m sure you can find a place that’ll take you.”

“Those aren’t hotels, Angie, those’re flophouses. And I work from home. I can’t bring my computer setup to a flophouse. If it gets stolen I’m really up shit creek without a paddle.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone use the word flophouse before,” said Angie. “But OK, you need–“

“I need to sell this house and get out,” Pat interrupted. “My LifeScore won’t let me rent a good place or get a decent mortgage, but the mortgage here is half paid off. If I can just sell this place, I’ll have enough to buy a little place outright. I might have to move outside town, but I could make it work. But I need to sell this place first! Can’t you make the ghosts shut up long enough to show it to a god-damn realtor?”

Angie sighed. “You know it’s not that simple,” she said. “If you weren’t there, then yes, no problem. But with you there… Just having you walk around the house, showing it off to the realtor, is a major provocation. And I don’t think you want me doing an intervention over video chat with you while the realtor is there.”

“Ha, no… Well, what can you do?”

“What you need,” Angie said slowly, “is a buyer who isn’t scared of ghosts… Someone who doesn’t need to go through a realtor…”

Pat laughed. “Hell, I don’t suppose you’re in the market for a house? Great condition, only slightly haunted.”

Angie looked surprised. “I never thought of that! You know, that’s not a half-bad idea.”

“Are you serious? You’d actually buy this place from me?”

“I… Hmmm. Well. To be honest, I probably couldn’t afford full market price on such short notice. But then again, you wouldn’t be paying a realtor commission, and you’d have a quick sale.”

Pat ran a hand over the back of her head, where the torchiere’s heavy shade had grazed her hair. “How soon can we do this?” she said.

#

MySocial Chat Alert! You have a new message from Karen Hamber.

Karen: Pat are u there?

Karen: Why don’t u respond on LifeScore chat

Karen: Ive sent you 7 msgs

Karen: Why r u not at ur desk

Pat: Hi Karen

Pat: I’ll be right there

Karen: You didnt mark urself out on break

Karen: You know the rules Pat

Karen: U can take ur 7mins wellness break whenever u need, up to 2x/day

Karen: BUT U must Mark Out On Break!

Pat: OK I’m sorry

Pat: I’ll be back at my desk in a minute

Karen: ur Q hasnt moved in half an hr! U know thats bad for team metrics

Karen: if it happens again it is coming out of ur lifepts bonus!

Pat: OK

Pat: Thanks Karen

Karen Hamber has left the chat.

Pat closed her foldie and faced the house. There was nothing for it. She had to go back in.

#

“To be or not to be,” declaimed the user, staring directly into the camera, “that is the question. Whether tiz nobler to–to–damn it!” He looked down at his script.

Odd that he’s staring right into the camera, thought Pat. Most of the video clips she reviewed were from SmartHome feeds, street CCTVs, the occasional drone, and of course the SmartCafs. None of these were the kind of cameras that people tended to line their faces up with and stare right into. She marked the video clip as Neutral and moved on.

The next clip also featured a single user, staring right ino the camera. And behind them–was that a toilet?

PatVanBuren: Another day, another new feed type?

RaoulMorales: Haha yes Pat

RaoulMorales: I’m seeing a new SmartHome feed as well

PatVanBuren: Users staring directly into the camera

PatVanBuren: At eye level

PatVanBuren: This is a new one on me

RaoulMorales: Even stranger Pat, some of these clips are in the bathroom

RaoulMorales: Normally, SmartHome devices should not share bathroom data

JefValentino: Guys, I know this one!

PatVanBuren: Spill

JefValentino: OK so I have a SmartMirror in my bedroom

RaoulMorales: On the ceiling? 😉

JefValentino: Haha no! On the wall. I’m color blind. the SmartMirror helps me look snazzy

PatVanBuren: No red sox w your green pants

JefValentino: Exactly. Anyway I got a TOS update in the SmartMirror app this AM

JefValentino: & I actually read the TOS becoz of my SmartCaf

PatVanBuren: Brave man

JefValentino: They chgd it to say SmartMirror data “can be used to enhance your LifeScore experience”

RaoulMorales: Yes, that means the LifeScore AI has access now

PatVanBuren: which means we’ll get it in our queues

JefValentino: but I didn’t realize ppl have SmartMirror in the bathroom, that’s messed up

RaoulMorales: I agree

PatVanBuren: The SmartHome privacy settings default to something like… let me look at mine…

PatVanBuren: “Never share video from my personal privacy areas with others, including LifeScore”

RaoulMorales: Hmm

PatVanBuren: & bathrooms are a “personal privacy area” ofc.

RaoulMorales: I wonder if there may be a bug with the privacy settings

RaoulMorales: so that the SmartMirror feed to LifeScore is not picking up that SmartHome setting correctly

PatVanBuren: Looks like it. Glad I don’t have a SmartMirror in my bathroom

JefValentino: Should we report it?

PatVanBuren: Jef we don’t have a process for reporting bugs w SmartHome devices.

RaoulMorales: Yes we can only report bugs in the LifeScore workspace or AI

PatVanBuren: and Karen really hates it when we to do something out of process 🙁

#

The next video in Pat’s queue was another SmartMirror clip. Pat sat bolt upright in her chair, gripping its arms in shock. The face in the mirror was unmistakeably Angie’s.

It was a big no-no to audit a feed from anyone you knew. But a sound from the feed stopped her from closing it.

The moaning. It was the moaning. Not coming from the hallway, or the kitchen, or the living room. This time it really was coming from Pat’s computer speakers. Angie was staring into her SmartMirror and moaning.

The hair rose on the back of Pat’s neck. Angie shifted the moaning smoothly into words. Kill… Kill… Kill. Pat watched Angie’s lips move, shaping the word she’d so often heard echoing through her house. Angie broke into an evil cackle. In the SmartMirror feed, her eyes shone with malicious mirth.

“You bitch,” Pat whispered.

On Pat’s monitor, Angie let the laughter trail off, then gave herself a thumbs-up. “Definitely saving that one for later,” Angie told herself jauntily. The clip ended.

Pat sat, stunned. Angie had been making those moans all along. The conclusion was inescapable: Angie, her “exorcist”, had been faking the haunting all along. But how?

Pat desperately wanted to take all the LifePoints she could from Angie for this video clip. But if Pat’s work were ever audited–and with Karen breathing down her neck, that could be any day–she would lose her job, along with most of her remaining life points, for adjusting the social credit of someone she knew.

Pat huffed in frustration. She might not be able to ding Angie for this video. But, Pat decided, she would find out exactly how Angie had been “haunting” her house… and she would make her pay.

#

Pat decided to start with her own SmartHome video history. If Angie, and not ghosts, had made Pat’s torchiere nearly bean her, that should show Pat how she’d done it.

Pat looked down at herself from the SmartHome cam in the corner of her living room. There she’d been, completely alone in the middle of the room. She’d turned to face the TV, and the torchiere had crashed to the ground right behind her. For the life of her, Pat couldn’t see what had pushed it.

But if there was one thing Pat knew, after years as a social credit auditor, it was SmartHome feeds. She made a clip, imported it to her LifeScore workspace, slowed it down, did a frame-by-frame analysis.

There. The frame after the crash, the SmartVac had been next to the torchiere. But it hadn’t been there in the previous frame. Pat sifted through the clip. At the beginning of the clip, the SmartVac had been next to the sofa. Then it had simply disappeared. It had only reappeared after the lamp had crashed down nearly on her head.

Two conclusions. One, the SmartVac had pushed over the lamp. Two, her SmartHome feed had been edited to hide it.

Pat whistled. Angie must be able to change Pat’s SmartHome feeds. And more than that: Angie could control her SmartVac, and probably everything else that hooked into Angie’s SmartHome.

Pat thought through everything she’d experienced in the past week. Every single incident could’ve been caused by someone controlling her SmartHome. Someone who could turn on a SmartStove without leaving a trace in the logs. Who could make a SmartCaf eject its carafe with too much force. Who could run her SmartFans at will, make her SmartFridge spit out ice cubes, and most of all, make her SmartVac toddle around the house sowing chaos.

Someone who could record hours of awful moaning and have her SmartHome alert system play them back at full volume whenever they wanted. Say, when they were pretending to do an exorcism.

Pat realized she was gritting her teeth. Angie had hacked into her SmartHome somehow and played her for a fool. And Pat had fallen for it: She’d been on the point of selling Angie her house at a discount. Angie had even had Pat blaming herself for the faux haunting. Pat didn’t know how she was going to do it, but she was more determined than ever to make Angie pay.

Her first instinct was to involve the police. There was no way that hacking Pat’s SmartHome devices had been legal. But a quick internet search had her doubting that that would do any good.

#

SmartHome hackers face little consequences

by Chelsea Tritton, special to the Post

Last year, over two thousand police reports of smart-home hacking were filed nationwide. The complaints ranged from the trivial–silly noises late at night–to the grievous–locking devices until a ransom was paid. Yet fewer than a dozen prosecutions have been brought for SmartHome hacking to date.

We asked cybersecurity expert Jan Blackwell what to make of this discrepancy. “Identifying SmartHome hackers, or other device hackers, is very difficult,” she explained. “A device hacker gains complete control over the device, aka ‘owning’ the device. That gives them control over the logs that would’ve revealed the intrusion, allowing them to hide their tracks. And even given the original logs, the police often don’t have the skills to trace the hackers. Finally, in the rare event that police are able to track down the hacker, these crimes usually occur across jurisdictions, making them very difficult to prosecute.”

Ms. Blackwell also suspects that the scope of the problem far exceeds even the thousands of police reports. “Most smart home devices are under-secured at installation,” she said. “And even the properly installed ones usually aren’t patched, leaving them vulnerable to hackers. Unfortunately, many SmartHome users may never realize they’ve been compromised.”

Faux hauntings on the rise

While some SmartHome hackers have been able to wring money from their victims by ransoming their devices, a few trailblazers have turned to a new con: faux hauntings. According to Mx. Blackwell, hackers who have “owned” their victims’ SmartHome devices have almost unlimited capacity to operate these devices; rather than locking the devices and demanding ransom, some hackers have used them as puppets to stage a fake haunting of the victim’s home, then demanded money to “exorcise” the home. The advantage of this scheme, according to Mx. Blackwell, is that few victims even realize they’ve been hacked. Indeed, many of the victims are actually grateful to the hackers for “rescuing” them from “evil spirits.”

Only the unluckiest hackers, it seems, will ever face any sort of consequence for their misdeeds.

#

Pat knuckled her chin thoughtfully. The bit about editing logs had rung true: Angie must have edited her SmartOven logs to make it look like the stove had never come on. If she’d thought to do that, and to edit the SmartHome video feeds to hide her tracks from Pat, there was no way she would’ve left anything in the SmartHome access logs that could point back to her.

Pat had to admit, grudgingly, that Angie seemed like a pretty smart hacker. If it hadn’t been for whatever privacy-settings bug had let her see Angie’s bathroom SmartMirror feed, Pat never would’ve had a clue that she’d even been hacked. She would’ve gone to her grave thinking that she’d deserved for ghosts to drive her out of her house. And Angie would’ve flipped Pat’s home for a tidy little profit.

That would’ve been fraud, if not outright theft. But it seemed like the police weren’t going to be any help. So Pat would have to find another way to make Angie pay.

Pat could’ve abused her LifeScore-altering privileges, but that would risk her job. She rubbed her chin again. One thing was for sure, she wasn’t going to sell her home to Angie. She needed a way to talk Angie out of that without raising Angie’s suspicions. No, she needed to make Angie talk herself out of it. And she had an idea.

#

Pat: Angie I’m SO glad that you are taking this home over

Angie: I’ll do my best to get this done as soon as possible

Pat: thank you so much.

Angie: I’m working on the paperwork right now

Pat: The sooner the better. The spirits are out of control

Angie: Hang in there Pat. I’ll send the paperwork to you as soon as I can

Pat: the Presence has flooded my basement now

Pat: it made a pipe burst, there’s water everwhere

Angie: What?

Pat smiled evilly to herself. Her basement was fine, of course. But Angie had no way of knowing that. There weren’t any SmartHome cameras in the basement: she’d gone down and checked.

Pat: it was just gushing. I turned the water off myself

Pat: but the drywall is ruined

Pat: V. Glad I’m selling the home 2 you AS-IS hahaha

Angie: Wait, how bad is the damage?

Pat: Angie I know u can get the spirits under control

Pat: But plz hurry b4 the spirits destroy the home any further

Angie: …

Pat: if you delay too much you may get mold in the drywall

Angie: Pat I will do the best I can

Angie: but it’s an inter state transaction

Angie: this might delay me somewhat

Angie: so you’d better call the plumber ok?

Angie: and let me know how bad the damage is

Pat: its pretty bad

Pat: worried abt mold

Angie: can you dry it

Angie: I think the paperwork may take me a few more days

Angie: can you please get the plumber & try to dry it out

Angie: and let me know how that goes

Angie: OK Pat?

Angie: Pat?

Pat van Buren has left the chat.

#

Pat smiled as she closed her foldie. She had a feeling that Angie would experience mysterious “delays” with the paperwork until Pat told her the fictional basement situation was resolved. And if Angie did continue to push forward with the paperwork, Pat could always invent another crisis.

Now, Pat just had to find a way to get Angie in trouble. Fast, before Angie realized Pat was onto her and disappeared.

Her work queue was flashing red, and she had seven urgent messages from Karen. Fine. Her LifeScore workspace was a great place to start: specifically, Angie’s SmartMirror videos. Pat might not be able to ding Angie’s LifePoints directly… but maybe she could figure something out.

#

She was interrupted by a sound she hadn’t heard since Melinda’s movers had left: the doorbell.

Pat wasn’t exactly expecting visitors. She pulled out her foldie, thumbed up the front door cam. Two burly men were standing on her doorstep, bearing toolboxes. They wore blue T-shirts reading CAP’S PLUMBERS. The street cam showed a white van emblazoned with the same logo and the slogan “WE TAKE ALL JOBS.”

One of the men leaned on the doorbell, filling the house with chiming. Pat thumbed off the doorbell alert in the SmartHome app, turned on the outside speaker. “I didn’t call for any plumbers,” she said.

“We got a call for a flooded basement at 74 Morningside,” replied the slightly larger man.

Pat’s heart plummeted. Of course. She’d given Angie her address for the real estate transaction. “I don’t know what to tell you,” she said. “I didn’t call you.”

The men glanced at each other. “We’re gonna have to put this in as refused service,” said the larger one. “That’s a seventy-five dollar charge.”

“If it’s your landlord called us, I just wanta let you know that you’re gonna hafta let us in sooner or later,” added the smaller one. “They only hafta give you 24 hours’ notice, and they’re gonna be pissed about the charge.”

Pat made a face. Angie had called the kind of plumbers that served the plumbing needs of slumlords’ lowest-LifeScore tenants. The plumbers’d taken one look at Pat’s low LifeScore and assumed she was the same.

“I don’t have a landlord!” she snapped. “Maybe someone’s pranking you. I don’t really care. I’m not letting in two guys I didn’t call. Have a nice day.”

Pat turned off the audio. She didn’t need to hear any more… and she didn’t have any time to waste.

There was no question that Angie had called the plumbers, to protect the time she’d invested in stealing Pat’s house. Soon she’d want to know why Pat hadn’t let the plumbers in to deal with her supposedly-flooded basement. And if Pat stalled too much… Pat was well aware that there were other, less pleasant services that slumlords could hire to deal with their lowest-LifeScore tenants. With a chill, Pat realized: Her door had a SmartLock. Angie could unlock her front door. When the plumbers came back, Angie could just let them in.

And Pat couldn’t do anything about that. She couldn’t patch the SmartHome security bugs that Angie must’ve exploited to “own” her SmartHome, without alerting Angie.

Pat had to figure out a way to get back at Angie, and she had to do it fast.

#

Back in her LifeScore workspace, Pat flagged all Angie’s SmartMirror videos for review and pulled them into her burgeoning queue. The article she’d read on “faux hauntings” had given her an idea.

Thanks to her ability as a social credit auditor to get “context,” Pat was able to pull a full week of video history from Angie’s bathroom SmartMirror. She skimmed through a few hours of video at high speed, then used the AI to compare and group all the SmartMirror captures that had Angie in them. When she’d finished sorting, she had no fewer than seven SmartMirror captures of Angie making spooky noises at herself in the mirror. Pat recognized every noise as one that had floated through her home at one time or another.

Angie evidently liked to pre-record her special effects in her bathroom. Maybe she liked the effect of the echo; maybe she just liked making faces at herself in her SmartMirror. Angie also liked to give herself a self-congratulatory thumbs-up at the end of each spooky session… along with comments like “Best one yet!”, “That one’s going right on her SmartHome speakers,” and Pat’s personal favorite, “Nobody fakes ghosts like Angela DeVaux!”

Pat smiled grimly. Those little comments made her blood boil… and she loved them.

#

PatVanBuren: Hey Raoul

RaoulMorales: Hi Pat

PatVanBuren: You remember we were talking about reporting bugs

RaoulMorales: Sure, we can report them but it’s limited to the WorkSpace or the AI, and you need at least 4 clips to support it

RaoulMorales: did you find something?

PatVanBuren: Not a bug. But we can report enhancements too right

RaoulMorales: Yes. We have a process for enhancements for the LifeScore AI

RaoulMorales: Actually enhancements are tough

RaoulMorales: So if we suggest a good enhancement there is a reward

JefValentino: Oh cool, so can we suggest this as an enhancement for the AI: “Don’t look at bathrooms”?

RaoulMorales: Good idea Jef, but, the enhancement should be to help the AI get better at LifeScore adjustments, not to make up for a SmartHome privacy bug

PatVanBuren: Nice try though Jef

PatVanBuren: But I have a better idea

RaoulMorales: What

PatVanBuren: Have you guys seen this article? [[PREVIEW: SmartHome hackers face little consequences by Chelsea Tritton, special to the Post. Last year, over two thousan…]]

JefValentino: I don’t get it

PatVanBuren: Scroll down to “Faux hauntings.” Got someone practicing a faux haunting in her SmartMirror

JefValentino: Whoah.

RaoulMorales: Are you sure Pat

PatVanBuren: Ah that is the part I love

PatVanBuren: She likes to tell her SmartMirror how good she is at faking hauntings

JefValentino: LOL

RaoulMorales: Nice one Pat

PatVanBuren: I’ll send a few clips to both of your queues

PatVanBuren: Take a look and see what you think

RaoulMorales: Sure, no problem

JefValentino: if she’s that obvious, I think she deserves some major LifeScore adjustments

PatVanBuren: Jef, I like the way you think

#

At the end of the day, Pat sat back in her chair, feeling better than she had in a long time. Now, that was a day’s work well done. She hadn’t taken a single LifePoint off Angie herself… but her teammates, between them, had tanked Angie’s LifeScore. Not only had Angie’s SmartMirror recorded her planning to stage fake hauntings, but Raoul and Jef had pulled “context” from Angie’s other home cams and found video of her running her faux exorcisms. Apparently Angie had never thought to erase evidence from her own SmartHome video history. Raoul and Jef had taken away LifePoints for each and every incriminating video.

By the time Jef and Raoul were through with her, Angie’s LifeScore was even lower than Pat’s. She’d have trouble convincing any potential future victims to give her the time of day.

With her revenge against Angie taken care of, Pat had kicked Angie out of her SmartHome system. After work, she’d pulled every Smart device and her HomeBrain offline, reset it to factory settings, and applied every possible patch. Angie was out of her SmartHome, and she wasn’t getting back in.

All that patching had been a pain in the ass, but it could’ve been worse: Pat could’ve had to do it on an empty stomach. With a smile, Pat slurped the last peanut from a carton of not-too-terrible Kung Pao. Simply submitting an enhancement request had bumped her LifeScore just high enough for decent delivery.

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KarenHamber: Pat we need 2 talk

KarenHamber: please open video chat

“Hi Karen, what’s up?” Pat asked guardedly.

Karen was far less elliptical in video than in text. “Pat! I got a message directly from a Vice President about you! Did you submit an enhancement request for the AI?”

“Yes, a little while ago. Why?”

“Well, congratulations. Your enhancement was accepted by the LifeScore AI team. And listen to this. The Veep is, quote, very pleased with the acuity of my team member, unquote! This made our team look great, Pat.”

“Great.”

“And she’s giving you the maximum LifePoints bonus for suggesting it! You should see the LifeScore bump right away.”

“Wonderful! Thanks, Karen,” Pat said.

“To be honest,” Karen continued, “I was getting a little worried about you over the last few months, but you’ve really done a one-eighty. You’ve gone from my worst performing team member to a bonus from the Veep! Can I ask what inspired your turnaround?”

Pat grinned. “Karen,” she said, “You could say… I really got into the spirit of the job.”

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MySocial Chat Alert! Warning: you have a chat request from an ultra-low-LifeScore user. Do you wish to accept this request from Angela DeVaux?

With a smile, Pat clicked No.

Then she closed the window, and moved on.

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