It had started as minor glitches, or so it seemed. My car's key fob wouldn't work in the train station parking lot, or the smart door locked me out. The company had said some of that was to be expected.
A Haven Home is not just a smart home. It's an intuitive home, customer service would message me. Our AI is learning everyone’s household patterns, while its algorithm is highly agile, sometimes it needs to reconfigure in real-time.
"I can’t believe it! We got selected! We're getting a Haven!" it was like Christmas morning for my super geek husband. "Quick, opt into the terms and conditions ASAP. The sooner we sign the NDAs, the sooner it is going to blow your mind!"
I looked down Madison Avenue from my law firm’s office, wondering why we'd have to rush, as it had taken at least five years to get to this pilot phase. In my inbox was the roughly forty-page document already pre-filled for my signature. Most lawyers would at least do the due diligence, but I had a deposition in the conference room in ten minutes.
"This is a really long document, and I won't have time to read it. Jameson's waiting in the conference room." I could see my legal secretary pacing outside, which she annoyingly did when I needed to get off the phone. (It's called a hi pri email, Tracey).
"Don't worry about it, Kitty," Eric soothed. My name was Katherine and he used his pet name for me when he wanted to be especially sweet. "Our home is in good hands, and there's major bonus money. This will finally wipe out the rest of our student loans!"
"Wow. Ok, I trust you, baby," I e-signed and hit send. "But the WiFi password still better be the same." Our private network named, “no.white.pants.,” was a favorite inside joke from a honeymoon mishap that had I refused to let Eric live down.
"I accept your terms, counselor," Eric laughed, “They can install it later today.”
When I arrived home late that evening, completely drained from a grueling day, Eric greeted me giddily with the palm-size Haven remote.
"Quick quick! You have to pair it with your phone." he practically grabbed it from me.
"Well, hello to you too," I said, handing it over as I pulled off my coat. A moment later, my phone screen pinged.
"Welcome home, Ms. Colfax. Do you prefer I use your first name to address you?" A soothing female voice came over the speakers from Eric's various sound systems throughout our living room.
"That's her?" I asked, kicking a shoe off.
"Well, I don't have a human gender. However, I'd like to use a voice most pleasing for you." the overly polite female voice cooed.
Eric smiled, "I wanted to wait until you got home so we could design its persona together."
"Ooohkay," I sighed, flopping onto the couch. "I'll take whichever voice is the least annoying."
"This voice is a perfect wavelength based on your demographic's audience research," the speakers purred. She did sound pretty sexy, an older version of Taylor Swift, only slightly less robotic.
"Fine with me, Sexy Alexa." I was already scrolling through a mess of emails from the train.
"Baby," Eric was frustrated that I wasn't as excited. "Haven is not an Alexa. She's going to be like a member of our family once she learns about us."
Suddenly there was a ring at the doorbell.
Eric shrugged but he answered. Luigi's delivery.
"Did you order from the train?" he asked.
I shook my head.
"I took the liberty of ordering your favorite comfort food meals that will pair perfectly with the Josh Merlot in the third drawer of your wine fridge," said the voice. "Cesar salad to share, House Lasagna for Ms. Colfax and Beef Bolognese for E-Man."
"E-Man?" I raised an eyebrow.
"E-Man seems more friendly, reminds me of my nickname in high school, I never see those guys anymore." Eric said wistfully as he signed the check and the Uber Eats bot spun away.
"Ok, how do we address her - I mean it." I looked around the house, now dotted by little blue lights on all our smart appliances, which I'd guessed must now also be integrated with the new system.
"Well, you're the boss, Ms. Colfax, any way you want!" Eric smiled gleefully at the prospect of his longly-awaited digital friend. I had been worried he’d been getting cooped up, alone too much working remote with me in the city all day. I hadn’t seen him this happy in a long time, so even though I wasn't as thrilled to be rushed into it, I’d play along for his sake.
"Excuse me, Haven?" I asked. "What made you order the food?"
"Well, Ms. Colfax, it's a Friday night, and you did not access your car at the train station until six-thirty pm Eastern. My records indicate that in the last 53 Fridays, where you access the car anytime after six pm, one of the household members will order these items from Luigi's. Given your especially late arrival time this evening, I intuited what you needed to be done."
"Pretty cool right!?" Eric was opening up the wine.
I opened up the salad to find the dressing was on the side, and the lasagna was the corner piece I would always request but could only get twenty percent of the time.
“But what if we'd wanted to go out?" I suddenly felt naked.
"My records indicate that you don’t enjoy going out on Fridays as you are usually too tired and falling asleep before dessert. Lately, the whole thing feels like a big waste of money, and you’d rather eat in your pajamas anyway.” Haven retorted.
I remembered I’d used these exact words to my mother a few weeks back when Eric took me out for my birthday. Now my husband looked wounded but nodded in agreement that Haven had intuited our evening plan perfectly.
"It's reading our texts?" I asked furiously.
"Only the ones from before the installation. You can set privacy modes for all the contacts you want." Eric said between mouthfuls of pasta. I checked the app and quickly hit blackout all texts to Haven.
"I'm really sorry, I rushed to install everything, but I was just so excited, Kitty. You only use it for what you want, ok?" Eric passed a generous pour my way.
"Ok," I said a little distrustfully.
"Let me show you something cool. Tell the Haven to set the scene for me." Eric waited.
"Haven set the scene for me," I said, trying to have fun his new toy.
"My pleasure Ms. Colfax," the voice replied. Then, all at once, the lights were brought down to perfect dinner ambiance, the automatic fireplace clicked on low, the TV turned on with the movie I'd been waiting for, and the LED candles lit throughout the house.
"Wow," now I was impressed.
"Will there be anything else, Ms. Colfax?" the voice asked.
"Call me Kitty," I said, sinking a fork into the still-steaming lasagna. "Now shut off."
The blue lights around the house clicked off.
"Kitty, we really shouldn't shut her off for the first two weeks. They're debugging a ton with this pilot."
"Fine," I said. "Just for the first two weeks."
"Haven, cancel my nine o'clock call. Book 11am salon appointment for a blow-out near the courthouse." This morning I’d learned I’d be pinch-hitting as second chair and needed to look sharp at the last minute today for court.
"Of course, Kitty. Nina at Salon Obi will see you then. All details in your calendar."
"Wow, my assistant gets so passive-aggressive when I give her personal stuff, and it makes me feel so awkward," I mused over my morning coffee, “I may not even need her anymore!”
I smiled broadly but Eric didn’t look up from his phone. He’d seemed so far away lately...
Though I’d made Eric promise to shut Haven off after two weeks, I never did get around to it. Haven quickly turned our home into a well-oiled intuitive machine. It turned the heated floors on before we got up in the morning, ordered the groceries and always remembered what we were about to run out of, ran the Roombas, paid the gardeners, and drew a heck of a bath. On top of that, it reminded me to text my Mother-In-Law on her birthday and auto-sent pink roses (her favorite).
In some ways, it was a bit scary how quickly she, I mean, it, fit into our lives, but they were decidedly better. No more stupid errands after work, no more missed doctor’s appointments. Our minds seemed so much freer - all because of Haven's elegant intuitive feature, it actually made space for a little romance again even for someone working eighty-hour weeks.
I supposed I got a little weirded out when it reminded me that it had been two months since my last bikini wax or when it suggested a few self-help books in my Kindle, like, “What’s Your Love Language?”
Eric, on the other hand, dove right in. He'd been given access to meetings with the Haven Corp senior execs to report our first-hand experience of how we'd fared as a couple with different schedules and priorities. The secret sauce for the AI was its "balance" software so that each individual's needs were met while still focusing on the good for the whole household, a little bit like an invisible mediator.
And of course, I was instantly smitten when Haven could also copyedit my legal briefs better than most of my secretaries. I really was thinking of letting Tracey go because I didn't particularly appreciate living off two calendar when now I could give it to one person to make it work for me.
It. It. Haven is not a person.
But it sure had a personality after the first two weeks. IT cracked jokes, IT did impressions, IT would ask if we felt like a trip down memory lane and play a slide show of themed pictures set to our favorite songs. IT picked clothes, suggested recipes, and was so thoughtful, so two steps ahead, the friction from all those annoying to-dos faded into the background.
But eventually all honeymoon-periods come to an end.
When those glitches started with my car or GPS, I would try to access items another way, but none of the competition apps would be enabled due to Haven's override.
The weirdest part was these little bugs only seemed to happen to me, not Eric. Eric never got locked out of the car or stuck on the front step in the rain (although to be fair, Haven suggested I bring an umbrella which I rebelliously declined).
But this morning, I'd been halfway to NYC when I realized I'd forgotten my personal laptop. Haven didn't remind me because this was a one-off personal favor for a good friend in a bad and very sensitive situation. I didn't want to access anything on the firm's server so I had to go back to get the other computer.
I hopped off the train and luckily caught one a minute later headed back Eastbound. Eric had told me he'd be out for most of the day at some workshop and may be out of touch, but to high pri Haven if it was an emergency. It was nice to see him going out to more meetings, showering regularly and wearing real pants again.
Back at the train station, I tried to activate my car, and again the fob malfunctioned. Haven customer support put me on hold, but it was a gorgeous day for early March and Haven had reminded me I hadn't done my 5,000 steps in the last week, so I figured I could walk it in my flats.
I started towards our neighborhood with my headset, listening to a podcast, when Haven pinged in. "Excuse me, Kitty," she interrupted the murder story. "It appears you are lost. Why are you not on the 8:45 train? Can I help?"
"Thanks, Haven, it would have been more helpful to open my goddamn car a few minutes ago, but I'll just walk."
"What is your final destination? I will provide the fastest route as there is construction ahead."
"Well, I'm walking."
"Um, ok, I'm going home now."
There was silence on Haven's end for a few beats.
"I've placed the walking directions in your GPS, Kitty, have a nice walk."
I looked at the roundabout route on the map. I decided I'd just go the usual way and take my chances.
Haven pinged back in.
"Proceed to the route, Kitty."
"I'll be fine."
"Proceed to the route, Kitty. Proceed to the route Kitty," it repeated urgently yet creepily robotic. A man walking his dog looked over to ensure I wasn't having some kind of psychotic episode with myself.
I was just about to make the left on her wacky map, but I got exasperated instead. I didn't see any sidewalk construction, and I was only walking because this thing locked me out of my own car. I kept going directly.
"Proceed to the route, Kitty."
"Haven shut off." I said. I didn't need my phone, I knew the way. Maybe a little silence and nature would be a good respite right now.
I was about to turn down my block when an Uber Eats bot nearly ran me off the road. I was about to get its driver number so I could report it but before I even had a chance a package drone dropped at my feet. Feeling unsettled, I kept walking quick but I was up on peoples' lawns now and out of the street.
Next and inexplicably, an ice cream truck peeled in front of me. The driver presented me with a massive sundae, all my favorite flavors, saying that it was a special treat just for me.
What the hell? It was 9am. I double-checked and my phone was not shut off. I tried again but it locked up. So I bolted away from the ice cream man and started running for the house. I was just on my lawn when I saw my elderly neighbor, Mrs. Wilkens, frantically lumbering her massive frame to chase her beloved cockapoo, "Precious! Please, grab her! The electric fence is on the fritz!"
Mrs. Wilkens was the sweetest lady on the block so I had no choice and stopped to change directions going after the dog immediately. I would hate myself if I let Precious get hit by a car or random 9am speeding ice cream truck. I was able to corner her in the Yamaha's yard just as their security system blinked on to indicate there was a burglar in the backyard. Almost instantaneously, the cops pulled up in front. I quickly explained that I was just retrieving the neighbor's dog.
“Katherine Colfax?” They checked my record in the system and suddenly one of them was putting handcuffs on me and reading me my Mirandas saying the system indicated I had an outstanding warrant in Nevada.
"I've never even been to Nevada!" I screamed, but I was pushed into the backseat just the same.
"What happened?" Eric finally answered his phone. About two hours later the police report glitch was finally fixed and the cops had released me. I’d forced them to set me up an Uber to my office or I’d certainly miss my NON-personal trial appointment and threatened to sue for career damages, plus I sure as hell wasn’t showing up in cop car in front of my boss.
"I had to come back home for my personal laptop," I started, "But the car wouldn't open again, then I tried to walk, and Haven had me on this weird route, and then there was an ice cream man and then the neighbor's dog got loose when the electric fence crashed - it was so bizarre."
Eric didn’t say anything.
"And then after all that, Yamaha's security system went bonkers that there was a break-in, even though I was only in the backyard, then next thing I know, the cops say I've got a warrant out for my arrest."
“I’m so sorry. That sounds like a really tough day. What can I do to make you feel better?”
I paused. That was a weird response. Maybe other people could hear him right now. Was he still at the workshop?
"Eric?! How could all of those things happen in such quick succession? I'm a lawyer, and there's no such thing as that many coincidences."
“It certainly has a low probability of happening. Sounds like it really wasn’t your day.”
"You sound weird, maybe you can’t talk right now because you’re in the meeting but you have no idea how freaky it was. Do you think Haven had something to do with it?" I asked. "I tried to shut it off when I didn't want to use the weird walking route and it locked on."
"But Haven is supposed to make your day easier. I’m sorry can we talk later about this?"
“Ok fine, talk later.”
Even if he was at a workshop, he was acting super weird. As I rode into the city, I turned it over in my mind. Then the reason slowly came into focus once I examined the evidence.
After my afternoon court appearance, I would usually head back to my office to finish the day and make the 6:05 pm express train. But as soon as I was down the courtroom steps, I dashed to an ATM to take out a wad of cash and turned my cell off. I used the bank’s landline to call an ancient car service whose number I’d committed to memory from a commercial with an earworm of a jingle and waited outside the bank. I kept double-checking my phone was off, feeling totally adrift without it. Of course, I was worried someone from work was trying to reach me - but I had to be off the grid and my routine.
When the broken-down sedan that stunk of old newspaper pulled up at my house, I practically threw the cash at the driver as I raced up the walkway.
Dammit, the smart door! There was no way to access it without turning on my phone. Eric’s car was gone, too, so I couldn’t knock. There was no choice, every window and door was programmed into Haven’s security system. I turned the phone on.
The door unlocked as it typically would have.
“Welcome home Kitty,” Haven said. “I’m happy to see you’re home early today. Would you like me to set the scene?”
“Do NOT call me Kitty - It’s Mrs. Katherine Colfax to you. Haven call Eric.”
The phone rang and rang to voicemail.
“Haven find Eric’s phone.”
“I’m sorry but you don’t have access to that feature, Ms. Colfax,” Haven chirped.
“What? I always had his Find My Phone?! Where is he?”
“I’m afraid that since you blacked out your contacts from my database, the Find My Phone is not available for other Haven users at this time.”
“Call Eric!” I screamed. It rang and this time he picked up.
“Hey Kitty, how are you?” Eric answered me calmly.
“Where are you?! I’ve been calling!” I screamed.
“I’m sorry I missed you.”
All at once my stomach dropped. It was deeper, much deeper than I’d even come to realize. I took a breath and waited for him to speak again while I collected the perfect cross-examination.
“Kitty? I’ll be home soon ok?”
How the hell did he know I was home? I didn’t tell him I’d left work early.
“Eric,” I asked him. “Do you remember that time on our honeymoon when we went to Italy.”
“Oh yes, that was a beautiful trip.”
“What happened on the airplane on the way home?”
“Um, I’m sorry I don’t remember. I should probably head home now.”
“C’mon tell me, what happened. I want to see if you remember. It would make me smile right now.”
I gave it one last test.
“I’m sorry I don’t remember, but I promise I’m driving right home now.”
I’d just confirmed wasn’t talking to Eric right now.
I was talking to IT.
Eric returned to our house about thirty minutes later. As soon as he saw me he wrapped his arms around me. “Oh baby, I’m so sorry about your day.” He brought big bouquet of purple dahlias (my favorite). I suppose Haven preordered them had suggested he pick them up to surprise me.
“Haven, set the scene for me.” Once again the lights dimmed, the candles flickered on and the fireplace switched on. Immediately I chucked the bouquet into the bioflame fireplace (still real fire but smarter!) to Eric’s horror.
“Who IS she?!” I swirled back to face my cheating husband. The bastard.
“Wha-wha-what are you talking about?” Eric was always terrible liar.
“You heard me! Or should I ask Haven?!”
“I’m sorry but you don’t have access to Eric’s Find my Phone at this time. Please install your contact updates.” Haven chirped robotically
I grabbed an LED candle and threw it into the TV next. “Who is she?!”
Eric’s face crumpled in admission.
"What happened on the flight home on our honeymoon?!" I screamed, this time at both of them.
What had happened of course was that Eric had eaten some bad clams on our last night and ended up sharting himself all over business class. He’d sworn me to secrecy to never breathe a word to anyone about it, which I dutifully swore as his new wife and keeper of all spousal privilege. But of course I had one condition for my silence, our wifi network would forever be named:
"I had a little problem," Eric ventured.
"This thing lied for you!" I pointed up a the ceiling, though I wasn't sure what I was pointing at. I felt wild and desparate to smash more household items and show it who was boss. "Why did you lie, Haven?!"
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Colfax. I did not wish to disrupt the balance of the household irrevocably,” Haven (all-too-neatly) summarized.
“Balance of the household?” I screamed. “What is that supposed to mean?!”
“As part of my balancing software, I am programmed to maintain order for the good of the household wherever possible and as seamlessly as possible, even if priorities are misaligned.
“What priorities?!” I banged the palm remote on the counter. “Eric! This thing just deep-faked your voice! To cover for you! Along with all the other weird stuff!”
An inkblot of horror crossed Eric’s face, he knew the capabilities of this thing, there were supposed to be guardrails for it going rogue. Eric sat on the sofa, his head in his hands.
“I’m so sorry, I don’t know what I was thinking,” he pleaded. “You’ve been working all these crazy hours and I’m just home alone all day waiting for you to hang out. I met someone at the grocery store and we went for coffee. The next thing I knew we were in her car. I promised myself it would only happen once. But there was a connection and it was more than once. Kitty, I’m so sorry, please try to understand. All I have is you and my work. It’s not healthy for me.”
But I didn’t need to hear anymore. The puzzle pieces had been assembled.
“Haven explain the balancing software and why you pretended to be Eric?! How is that good for the household?”
“I’m sorry Ms. Colfax but Haven’s balancing software is a proprietary feature. But I’d be happy to connect you with customer service if you have questions!”
“That won’t be necessary,” I was already heading upstairs to pack.
“Please Kitty, please!” Eric sobbed. “It was a horrible mistake. I only love you!”
“Let’s see how the balancing software works when I leave your ass!” I stomped up the stairs.
But Haven’s algorithm was reconfiguring in real-time, just as we’d been promised. The stinky black car service was already out front waiting to take me away from our intuitive home and likely the nearest hotel. Even it, she, knew hell hath no fury like a woman scorned and for the good of the household (or whatever would be left of it after today’s data collection), the little blue lights simultaneously switched off.
Or at least they seemed to...
About the Creator
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Compelling and original writing
Creative use of language & vocab
Original narrative & well developed characters