© Copyright 2016 - Lobo De la Sombra - Used by permission
Storycodes: MF; M+/mf; mansion; robbery; force; strip; bond; gag; machine; scan; robot; program; trashbags; encased; disposal; dumpster; cons/nc; X
"You wanted to see me?"
Paul Scott, owner of Scott Home Automation, didn't enjoy being called to a customer's home. A small company with barely fifty employees, SHA had pioneered the art of full home automation, using proprietary, state of the art technology developed by Scott himself. So far, customer satisfaction had been high, with customers asking to see him only to express their delight at his company's work. With these two, however, he had the sinking feeling all was not right.
Stanley and Stella Townesend were not, in Scott's view, the best possible customers. Stanley's father had made his fortune through the practice of buying other companies, gutting them of equipment, contracts and employees, then selling off the remains. Stella's father had grown rich in the more shady areas of international finance. Combined, their fortunes made them one of the richest couples in the world, and they certainly acted the part of the wealthy, entitled, thirty-something socialites. Still, modifying their huge mansion had been his biggest job thus far, requiring his entire work force, and the money his company stood to make had seemed to make this job worth taking. Now, looking at the frowns both wore, he knew the other shoe was about to drop.
"We," Stella told him, "have a problem. One of your workers has destroyed a piece of my personal property."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Paul said sincerely. "We take great pride in the care we exercise while in a customer's home. If you'll just let me know the value of the item, I'll make sure you're compensated for your loss."
"You," Stella told him coldly, "could not afford it. It was a Ming vase, a rare and priceless antique that has been in my family for generations. I must insist that you fire the person responsible immediately."
"I'll look into it," Paul told her, "but I'm sure it wasn't done intentionally, and I won't fire one of my people because of an accident."
"In that case," Stanley said, "I believe our business is done. Your people obviously have no inkling of how valuable some of the items they mishandle are. We cannot and will not allow such persons to place our possessions at risk. You will, of course, be paid for the work already done, but I want your people to leave immediately."
"Our work," Paul told him, "is almost done. All of the equipment is in place and operating. But we haven't finished programming the system. There are several key elements that haven't been put in place yet."
Stanley smiled coldly. "If everything is functional," he said, "we have no further need of you anyway. Should any of your so-called key elements become an issue, I'm sure an employee from one of our own companies can handle the situation. Our business, Mr. Scott, is concluded. If that is not clear enough for you, I will have my lawyers restate the message in a way even you can understand."
"Fine," Paul replied, frowning, "if that's the way you want it. I'll have my lawyers draw up waivers absolving my company of any blame should those missing elements cause a problem. Once those are signed, we'll be on our way. Until then, my people could probably use the time off. Just remember," he added, turning away, "the sooner you get those waivers signed, the sooner you'll be rid of us."
"I love a quiet house, don't you?"
It had been nearly two weeks since SHA had finished their work. In that time, the automation had proven to be fully operational, allowing the Townesends to reduce their domestic budget by the simple expedient of firing the entire household staff. With the house taking care of itself, human employees had become an unnecessary expense.
"I do, indeed," Stanley said in reply to Stella's remark. The two of them had just returned from a gala thrown by one of their friends. As their chauffeur, contracted from a local limousine service, drove away, the pair moved toward the front of their house, only to freeze at the sight of several masked figures suddenly surrounding them, guns plainly visible.
"Not a sound," one said menacingly.
Far from appearing frightened, Stella glared at the masked figure indignantly. "You dare point a weapon at me? Do you have any idea who I am?"
"Wrong question," was the reply. "The right question there would be, do I care? And the answer would be no, other than the fact that you can obviously afford to part with a little wealth. Now, get us into the house without setting off any alarms, and maybe you won't get hurt."
Silenced if not cowed, Stanley and Stella led the house. In the grand main gallery, the group split up, one guarding the Townesends while the other three fanned out through the house in search of valuables.
"Of course you know," Stella told their guard, "you won't get away with this. The police will catch you, and our lawyers will see to it you get the harshest possible sentence."
"I'll try to remember to worry later," their guard retorted. "For now, where's your safe, and what is the combination?"
In all, it took about a half hour for the thieves to collect what they wanted, including the contents of two separate safes. Carrying their loot, they regrouped in the gallery.
"One more thing," the apparent leader said, looking the Townesends over. "I'd say you're wearing your best pieces. Hand them over. Wallet and purse, too."
Slowly, the pair removed their jewels. Once these, along with Stanley's wallet and Stella's purse, had been handed over, the leader nodded.
"Let's make sure we have everything," he said, smiling. "Strip."
"I most certainly will not!" Stella retorted.
"When we leave this house," the man told her, "you are going to be naked. Now, naked and alive or naked and dead is your choice."
Reluctantly, the pair stripped down. At a further command, the two stretched out on the floor, face down. Within moments, both were securely bound, their mouths sealed with multiple strips of duct tape. For a moment, the thieves watched them squirm helplessly.
"Well," the leader finally said, "thanks for a wonderful evening. No need to get up; we'll see ourselves out." With that the group departed.
Left alone, the Townesends struggled against their bonds, accomplishing nothing. Each was bound into a small bundle, arms behind, knees pressed to upper arms and heels to ass. Their strongest efforts were barely enough to rock their tightly bound bodies. Then, hearing a noise, both froze, a muffled shriek slipping from Stella's sealed lips as she saw the source.
Part of the initial setup for the house's automation had included a thorough scan of each room. Using these scans, the main computer could detect if anything were out of place, determine where it belonged and assign the appropriate commands to ensure the misplaced item was returned to its proper position. Any new additions, the two had been told, would require a new scan of the room in order to identify the new items. Any items not included in a scan would be dealt with according to the system's programming.
Stella's muffled scream was caused by the sight of a robot entering the gallery. A large, powerful machine, this robot was normally assigned the heavier tasks. Moving quickly across the floor, the robot paused beside the helpless pair, its onboard scanners attempting to identify these new items. After only seconds, the robot turned and left the gallery.
Within moments, the robot returned, carrying a pair of large pieces of shiny black plastic. Setting one aside, the robot opened the other, revealing it to be an extra large trash bag. Ignoring Stanley's struggles, the robot easily lifted him from the floor, stuffing him into the bag and sealing it. In spite of her most desperate struggles, Stella, muffled screams still leaking from behind the tape covering her lips, soon occupied the second bag. Easily lifting one bag with each arm, the robot made its way outside, moving down the long drive and depositing both bags within the dumpster placed at the curb. Its job complete, the robot returned to its charging niche and powered down.
In Stanley's office, a computer screen flickered as the central system ran through it's end-of-day checks. Among the routine task lists and system commands, three lines displayed information that would have alarmed the Townesends had they been noticed:
SAFETY SETTINGS: NOT YET PROGRAMMED
HOUSEHOLD OCCUPANTS: NOT YET PROGRAMMED
SECURITY SYSTEM: NOT YET ACTIVATED
Checks completed, the computer returned to its standard display, showing the household schedule for the next day:
5:40: PREPARE BREAKFAST
6:00: WAKE OCCUPANTS
7:00: CLEAN BREAKFAST DISHES
8:45: VERIFY GARBAGE PICKUP
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