On Monday mornings, I send out a story via email: ultra-brief tales of 1,000 words or more, usually in genres including horror, science fiction, and the supernatural. Those stories collectively are called Once Upon A Time. I’ve also published several ebooks and compendium volumes of those stories so far.
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Garrison’s home was a marvel of smart integrations.
Every lightbulb was centrally controlled. The heating system sampled the temperature in every major room, and the building was split into various thermal zones, each perfectly balanced. There were interconnected carbon monoxide and smoke sensors throughout, plus a silent alarm system connected not just to passive infrared, but also trip sensors on windows and doors. And needless to say, the surveillance features were beyond comprehensive.
He had made his money in day trading, but his great love had always been the dozens of graphs and charts which were the foundation of his buying or selling decisions. Garrison loved data, and the ways in which it could be gathered and presented, and so it was no surprise that his life-long hobby was that of electronics and computers. He had drones, robots, every kind of monitor and sensor, microcontrollers and single-board computers, and a web of cabling and wireless connectivity permeating every part of his house.
He was single now, and he didn’t mind. There had been relationships, but never marriage or children, and he was quite content to live without close companionship — except for the cat who was not quite his, but who deigned to periodically accept some attention and affection before disappearing again for days on end.
Garrison had retired a few years earlier, at the enviably young age of forty-five, and now spent his time engrossed in an endless stream of personal projects. Some involved wood, and laser-cutters, and saws; some involved filament and CAD files and 3D printers; and some, or rather the majority, involved tiny computers and soldered headers and a parade of electronic components, all controlled by custom software that he wrote himself, albeit with considerable help from friendly fellow tinkerers on the internet.
The house was enormous, as befitting its owner’s net worth. There were luxury cars in the garage, and the interior design was impeccable, with no expense spared, but very few of those things were selected by Garrison himself. He paid for people to make style choices for him, and gladly went along with the first option that he liked. He cared little for such things, instead preferring to keep his mind on the current project, or indeed the next one. A house was a place to live, but his toys and gadgets and machines were his true passion.
He employed a manservant to manage the day-to-day business of his home and his life; a late-middle-aged Irishman named Brennan, who had been with him for almost ten years. Brennan was faithful, capable, and proactive; almost a father figure at times. One of his primary duties was accepting the daily stream of parcel deliveries of new things to experiment with.
On this night, as usual, Garrison was working late, and Brennan had already retired for the evening, after checking that his master required nothing further. Garrison was in his downstairs office adjacent to the library, cataloguing the selection of miniature displays he had acquired, with the intention of finding uses for them. There were IPS LCD screens, OLED displays, e-paper both monochromatic and even colour now — though Garrison remained unimpressed with the refresh-rates of the latter, or the rudimentary colour-depth — and all kinds of niche variants too.
An insistent chime sounded from a nearby device, and Garrison looked over at it immediately. It was one of the many display units for his exterior surveillance system, and he felt his pulse quicken as he saw the three men in dark clothes moving stealthily through the grounds and towards the house.
The day has come, he thought, and then he pressed a control which he had wired up himself. Elsewhere in the house, the front door silently unlocked, and Garrison left his office and entered the library, opening that room’s own wide doors to allow the light to spill out into the corridor.
“Computer, respond,” he said, in a normal tone of voice, and from high overhead in the double-height room, there was immediately a soft tone. Satisfied, Garrison sat down in an oxblood Chesterfield chair, and awaited the arrival of the intruders. They did not keep him waiting for long.
Less than thirty seconds later, the three men burst into the library, two of them bearing bladed weapons, and the third with an actual handgun; a very uncommon sight in this part of the world. Garrison feigned surprise at their sudden appearance, even as the lead man advanced upon him.
“Money, jewellery,” the man said, in a thick, guttural Eastern European accent. “And then we leave. Or we stay, and you will be unhappy.”
Garrison nodded slowly, hoping he looked shocked and afraid. He slowly raised his hands in a gesture of surrender, and took a deep breath. He had practiced for this moment hundreds of times, not least because he had to provide a suitable phonemic model for the machine-learning algorithm which interpreted his various trigger phrases. This particular one was chosen not just for theatricality, but to avoid any possible chance of accidental invocation.
“Computer, by inferno’s light, do thy deeds darker than death or night,” he said.
By the time he had uttered the fourth word, an array of both visible-light and infrared cameras as well as beam-forming positional microphones had already identified every human being in the room, and used facial and body recognition to exclude Garrison himself. If Brennan had been there, he would also have been excluded, of course.
A series of micro-servos then targeted the necks and other exposed skin areas of each unapproved visitor, and when Garrison had completed the voice command, less than a third of a second passed before a gas-pressure system launched a hail of tiny darts, each one tipped with a very simple compound synthesised from common wild plants and a few easily-obtained chemicals. Perfectly legal, but extremely effective. The three men had just enough time to look surprised before their eyes rolled upwards and they collapsed bonelessly to the floor.
Garrison stood up, thoroughly satisfied. The system was already summoning the police, and also an ambulance, just in case one of the intruders had an adverse reaction to the drug. His own wealth and status ensured that there would be no judicial difficulties, and he had an understanding with the local police force — which was significantly enhanced by his socially-minded financial donations.
All three of the men on the floor were unconscious, and would remain so for more than long enough. The test was a complete success, and Garrison would note the fact in his development log. His smile was wide indeed.
He just loved making things.
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