by Erik Koht

Laura was at the stove, preparing a simple vegetable soup. Maybe she should have planned something heartier because all the hauling she had been doing had left her famished. One more crate remained, heavy as sin, containing God-knows-what. Books, clothes, china, whatever. She had made up her mind to buy this house just a few days ago. Buying a house was simple - if you had the credit. She had just needed to speak her name, insert her card and place her fingertips, one by one, on the little blue disk at the entrance. Seconds later the door unlocked. The house was hers.

The stove beeped, indicating the water had reached 80 degrees. Time to immerse the vegetables.

"Please wait a moment, dear lady of the house, your husband will be delayed due to traffic." It was the voice of Mr House speaking. Laura was startled. Though she had spent 48 hours in the house, this was the first time she head him speaking. She soon went from being startled to being annoyed. What had the house computer just said? A husband late for dinner. She had no husband and was not about to acquire one any time soon. This had to be some kind of programming residue left over from the previous residents of the house.

As she slipped a head of fresh broccoli into the hot water she was smitten by that little red devil people are susceptible to when confronted with programming glitches. In stead of correcting the error, she played along.

"My husband will be making his own dinner when he gets home." That did it. Her reply confirmed the false message, thereby reinforcing it. All that evening and into the night she had to invent ever more intricate replies to appease the meddlesome machine. If she had thrown in the towel and told the truth, she risked that the machine would just freeze up, leaving her stranded with no lights, no hot water, no locks, no cooling and no connection to banks and shops. "A house divided against itself cannot long stand." True, so true, never fool around with a house if you plan living in it.

When she was finally able to crawl off to bed, she no longer recalled what she had said and what not. Next morning after breakfast she keyed "disengage", got her torch and proceeded down stairs to the basement, home of the house brain. Carefully she deleted everything that had happened in the house since just after completing the purchase transaction. Having managed this to her satisfaction she called on-line for some reprogramming and subscribed to a couple of neat new services. Finally she went around the house resetting all timers. She was pleased. A few hours of concentrated effort would give her trouble-free, fully up-dated resource co-ordination for months to come.

What she didn't consider was the damage done while she was sleeping. Computers never sleep. In the dark of night Mr. House had called the police, reporting Laura's husband missing. Somehow it had fabricated a lot of data about this virtual man: height, weight and the colour of his eyes to name but a few characteristics. There was more, lots more. That day Laura was approached by the police, the local paper and an insurance agency, all wanting to ask questions but seemingly unable to listen to answers. No wonder, none of the calls involved talking to other human beings at the other end of the line. "If your husband was wearing blue trousers, press 9." She feared the police would be looking all over the country for a man responding to no name, speaking no known language and wearing no trousers.

Her attempt at resolving the problem was no unmitigated success. After a while they stopped calling, but she started getting junk mail in stead, and messengers tried to deliver packages and express mail at her door. Obviously this virtual man, existed on someone's list. His name was George P. Trassop and he was a member of this and a subscriber to that. He regularly supported this and was eligible for rebates on that. To Laura's amazement she started getting checks and internet payment receipts. They, whoever they were, were keeping her busy returning packages, letters and even large sums of money to senders from all over the globe. She returned all she could. She was, after all, an honest person.

Two weeks later George P. won a fully paid trip for two to Paris, France. That almost broke her resolve. In stead she decided to call this George fellow on the phone and tell him what was happening in his name. There probably was such a person out there somewhere in the wide world. Maybe there were more than one with that name. She'd call them all if that meant there would be an end to this harassment. She sat down at her desk and keyed the name into a suitable search engine. Sure enough, there it was. "George P. Trassop". She had been right in thinking there'd more than one. In fact, George P. Trassops filled her screen from top to bottom, and when she started scrolling they kept on coming. A battalion of them, an entire army marching by on her screen. Fifty two thousand George Ps paraded past before the first George Q appeared.

Laura was an honest person but she wasn't stupid. She redirected her mail, stashed the two plane tickets in her handbag and caught the next bus for the air port. When she and George P. got to Paris it was spring and lovers were strolling along the Seine. They never had reason to make the return trip but lived happily in France for the rest of their natural lives and George quite a bit longer.

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