As Mrs. Brownstone chirped incessantly about the two-car garage and hands-free faucets, the small group of men and women meandered through the spacious halls and rooms of 2208 Carpenter Lane, recently abandoned by its former owners.

"You see, the builders spared no expense on the exterior - but what really makes this house stand out is its interior. The engineering here is positively 21st century. Maybe 22nd," she added, snorting mightily at her own joke before continuing. "It has all the modern conveniences - built-in refrigerator, high-speed Internet, security system, electrically-controlled blinds, the works. It even has -"

Mrs. Brownstone's well-rehearsed spiel was interrupted by a mild shriek and the loud, sickening sound of shattering glass. Everyone made a concerned rush to the source of the accident, near the kitchen. There they found a young girl, maybe ten years old, standing at a guilty distance from a pitcher on the floor, spread out in a hundred dazzling fragments. The girl ran to her mother, who quickly checked her hands for cuts and gashes. Just as she began to enter her angry-mom rant mode, Mrs. Brownstone let out a slightly off-key laugh that captured everyone's attention.

"Well, this young lady here has actually done us a favor! You see, the designers of this house know that accidents will happen. You just can't prepare for everything, after all! So they built the most wonderful toy known to a housewife. Watch this!"

Mrs. Brownstone plucked a tiny remote from her briefcase and tapped two of the buttons. Somewhere in the back of the house, a small motor could be heard whirring. Then, in a moment of rare science fiction becoming fact, a three-foot machine rumbled into the room at breakneck speed. It deftly dodged two of the gawking clients and stopped in front of the broken pitcher. A tiny suction tube lurched out of its side and began to suck up the pieces. It moved around the area deliberately, collecting its treasure with impassive grace. And then in a flurry of motion it was gone from the room, the floor immaculate.

The stunned silence was music to Mrs. Brownstone's ears.


Two weeks later, after the proper papers were filed and a small fortune was handed across Mrs. Brownstone's desk, the Grimes family moved into 2208 Carpenter Lane.

Settling into the house took only a matter of minutes, as 12-year-old Paul and his younger sister Diane began romping around the house, looking for rooms to claim as their own. Diane had wowed her brother with the story of the robot who could clean up messes - her own experience with the pitcher was proof of its magic. The two agreed in secret to test the device regularly.

Terry and Gina Grimes were a bit more pedestrian, slowly unpacking their clothes and furniture amidst swigs from a fresh bottle of Chianti. Terri's business dealings had finally afforded him a chance to live the high life, and the two were still on cloud nine from the whole ordeal. They hardly noticed when a bit of the wine ended up on their new white carpet; even less so the scrubber bot that emerged and removed the stain virtually instantaneously. Their work continued unabated.


The novelty of the house wore off rather quickly. The old saying that new technology breeds new problems was proving true. The hands-free sinks occasionally stayed on for hours; the projection TV bulb exploded after only two weeks of use; and the coffeemaker could hardly find the time to grind the specialty beans Terry liked so much. About the only thing that worked well was the cleaning bots.

At first, Gina had discouraged the kids from just dropping their trash on the floor; a bad habit, she chided. But she had to admit it was just as efficient as putting it in the disposal - maybe even more so. Pretty soon she was following along, tossing her cans and dirty clothes down with childish abandon. The bots would emerge silently, scooping up the trash and laundry without complaint. Yes, everyone agreed, this had been done right.


As Paul sat lazily in front of the TV flipping channels, he saw a movement in the corner of his eye. Turning his attention to the distraction, he found himself looking at one of the cleaner bots. It sat curiously still, as if it were looking at him, too. "Go on, get out of here," Paul barked, feeling foolish a moment later - the bot couldn't understand him. As he expected, the bot just sat there in silence. Maybe its motor's run down, Paul thought. But as he got up to investigate, he heard its motor spring to life ....


Diane played in the bath, watching her fingers slowly prune in the ever colder water. As she emerged from another plunge into the deep, she was interrupted by a pleading bleat from one of the scrubber bots. She watched with mild fascination as the small automaton scrubbed the sink clean of last night's toothpaste gunk and soap scum. Suddenly it stopped, as if it was aware of being watched. Slowly its red optical lens rotated until it was pointed directly at Diane. And there it froze in a soulless stare ....


Gina lay on her bed, an icepack on her forehead. She was nursing her third hangover of the week, and two discarded icepacks lay on the floor beside her. When she threw down her latest remedy and heard it ricochet off the others, she had a curious thought: where are the cleaner bots? She looked down, and sure enough - they had not arrived. Great. One more problem in this hell house. She wandered off into the kitchen to grab herself another icepack ....


That night, as Terry walked in the door from work, his mind was lost in thought. He didn't notice that the living room TV was still on, though no one was watching it. He didn't notice that Diane's dolls were still scattered across the den, or the light dripping of water from the ceiling above the kitchen. He called out idly to Gina twice and then gave up, chalking another night up to wine and suburbia. His suspicions were confirmed when he went to the kitchen to make himself a sandwich: a small scrubber bot was furiously rubbing at a large red stain on the floor. Terry clucked his tongue at Gina's carelessness, finished making his sandwich, and took a seat in his study with the day's newspaper.

Finishing the last bite of his meal, he carefully folded the newspaper and left it on the armrest. As he stood up, he watched with mild amusement as the same bot that had been cleaning the kitchen rushed into the study and scooped up the few crumbs he had distributed around the chair. It whirred off into the darkness, rounding the corner of the kitchen. Strangely though, right before its exit, it paused and made a gruff honking noise, as if giving off a signal. As it did so, Terry almost mistook the noise for righteous indignation. But that would've gone against the nature of 2208 Carpenter Lane. Rather, it would've proved to be quite inconvenient. Most inconvenient indeed.

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