From the AP wire:

Dr. Ramon Luciano, the CEO, architect, and mastermind of You-Topia, the world's first self-sustaining and fully AI automated city, fled the country after the recent tragedy. Local police, the FBI, and Interpol are searching for Dr. Luciano.

1 - Margo

     ”It’s called You-Topia, as in utopia, but spelled y-o-u. It‘s entire purpose is you,” said the doctor with the strange accent and sad eyes. “Doesn’t that sound smashing, Margo?”

To Margo, it did. A lifetime of waiting tables, raising thankless children, and enduring a loveless marriage had left Margo still scraping by tips from the grateful regulars, still lonely on Mothers’ Day, and freshly divorced. She’d played the lottery to win a spot at You-Topia one night after drinking too much Merlot. After a life of hard luck, Margo had won a spot, so she’d squeezed her legs into the dress that had fit that summer she’d gotten thin, avoided the chronic masturbators on the public transport, and marched into the office to claim her spot in heaven.

     She nodded, afraid to speak and break the spell, to ruin it all with some stupid word, to hear it was all a joke, dreamed up by an impotent ex and two fourteen year olds in the bodies of thirty year olds. He smiled a little, and she sensed his discomfort.

     ”Yes, Doctor. It sounds great. Thank you. I’m so grateful.”

     “You may call me Ramon. Doctor is so formal, after all. And it is I who should be thanking you, Margo. You are helping us test out a fully automated town. Your house will be imprinted with your biological signature, so you and only you may use it.”

     ”What does it do though? I mean, the house?” She hated asking questions; it always made her feel like she was unprepared for an interview or a lesson at school. He smiled at her again, put down his e-tablet, and folded his hands on his lap.

     ”Everything. As you sleep, the bed adjusts to the ideal temperature. Your pillow will always be cool, or warm, if you prefer. Imagine slipping out of bed, only to have the sheets draw back for you, your slippers await you below your feet, and you smell the aroma of fresh coffee on the table next to you. Imagine Vivaldi playing softly as you wake up to the day. No more cleaning, cooking, or worry. And for a single person, you no longer have to fear a terrible condition all alone. The house keeps tabs on you, your heart rate, your breathing, all to ensure that you are not having a stroke, cardiac arrest, what have you.”

     ”Well, all that sure sounds good,” she said, faltering a bit. “But what kind of thing do you have just in case it’s not an emergency? That make sense?”

     He nodded and smiled.

     ”A very common question. It’s called a failsafe. The house will ask you if you are in distress; yes or no. If you answer no, nothing happens. If you answer yes, or don’t answer at all, the fully automated security team will be at your door in mere seconds.”

2 - Lydia

     ”They’re fully automated A.I. security robots? Are they autonomous? Or are they under the city’s control?” Lydia leaned forward, expectant, eager as a student in September.

     ”Quite an inquisitive mind, you have. Both, actually. The city hub keeps tabs on them in case of malfunctions, but in layman’s terms, yes, they’re autonomous.“

     ”Fascinating,” she almost whispered, afraid to break the spell of the wonder-filled moment. “And for my kids?”

     ”Ah, yes. Our family units are among my favorites. Allow me to demonstrate.” He tapped a button on the e-tablet, and above it Lydia saw the blue hologram of the house pirouetting around. “Truly magnificent. A huge back yard for the kids to play in! This is the best day of my life. Unbelievable.”

     He smiled, proud as a father of his child’s accomplishment.

     ”Ah, but wait.” He tapped another button. From out of the ground in the back yard a hedge maze appeared, rising out of the grass, then descending back down, rising in a different pattern, then receding again, and it took her breath away.

     ”What else does it do?”

3 - Harriet

     ”I’m sure,” Dr. Ramon Luciano said in a tone that would sound ingratiating if not from a foreigner, “that a woman of your financial means and discerning tastes and obvious aristocratic heritage deserves nothing less than the best You-Topia has to offer.”

     ”You sound,” Harriet Vanderzwan droned, “like that actor, Ricardo Montalbon. Corinthian leather salesman? But for a cheap car dealership.” She shook her head, her neatly pinned bun with nary a hair out of place, and pressed a tiny wrinkle out of her gray silk dress. “You better have something better than that line. Why in the heavens would I leave my beautiful home, my pool, my staff of personally trained experts to live there?” She pointed at the hologram. He smiled kindly at her and pressed another button. The hologram vanished, and Harriet looked at him with genuine surprise for the first time.

     ”It’s free.”

     It only took a brief moment for her to weigh her options.

     ”Where do I sign?”

4 - Margo

     Breathtaking. That’s what she’d thought it had been when she saw her new house. A whole house, just for her. Her head was abuzz with plans, ideas, fun things to do now that she didn’t have to work or pay rent or care for people who didn’t love her back. She could be the person she wanted in her dream home: painted her favorite color, cotton candy pink, nestled in a wooded cul-de-sac, filled with light from the bay window of the front room already furnished and decorated with houseplants. She jumped and clapped her hands like a schoolgirl excited for summer break. They’d staggered the move in dates to avoid too much congestion, but she had been able to move in three days early. Early! After spending a night in a hotel, provided by the Luciano Foundation, thank you very much, she had taken a private shuttle to You-Topia. At the gates, they had scanned her face for the biometrics to work, and she’d provided them with the samples they’d asked her for: blood, urine, hair. Seconds later, she was whisked away to her new home.

“Ah, I take it that it meets with your approval?” A voice from behind her asked. She wheeled around, immediately on guard for an ass-grabbing creep, and saw instead the good Doctor. She smiled, hoping to conceal her true feelings, and nodded.

     ”Sure does. And then some.”

     ”I hope you don’t mind, but we wanted to give you a little housewarming present, as a token of our gratitude. Now based on your data, we determined you might enjoy your solitude with a companion.”

     “Is this a riddle, Doc?” Is this all a joke, she asked herself for the hundredth time, a joke at my expense and broadcast through social media?

     He chuckled, smiled, and pointed at the front window where Margo saw a tiny black and white dappled kitten staring at her, and batting at the glass. Margo grabbed the good doctor, hugged him with tears in her eyes, and rushed to the door.

5 - Lydia

     As she burst through the door, covered in dust, mud, and vomit, Lydia took a deep breath and look around her new, amazing house. While she still wondered and worried secretly about how independent or autonomous the security force was, she had bigger concerns; namely how to clean off the various layers of filth off of her. Out back, her kids were laughing and screaming with joy, playing in the hedge maze. Her husband was stretched out in his new favorite chair, a trickle of drool on the side of his mouth. She marched to the bathroom, stripped, and jumped into the shower. The water turned on automatically. Lydia initially grabbed herself, in anticipation of the burst of cold water that shoots out onto the unwary. Instead, she felt warmth, a deep, soothing warmth that was perfect. She let the house clean her from top to toes, relishing every moment. This was living.

6 - Harriet

     "It's good, but it's not the same," Harriet snapped dryly at the automated butler. "My girl Martha used to make them the way I like them."

     "How would Martha's drink differ from mine? Ingredients? Proportions?"

Harriet sniffed the glass, closing her eyes to sharpen her sense of smell. Then she handed it back to the butler.

     "Less gin, less vermouth. She made it with love. I don't suppose you can replicate that last part?" She cocked an eyebrow.

     "I shall do my best to meet your expectations, ma'am," the butler replied in a tone that bordered on servile or possibly sardonic; Harriet wasn't sure which. If this hadn't been free, she'd have stayed at home. The butler handed her a new martini.

     This time, Harriet sniffed before drinking. She took a cautious sip, closed her eyes again, then swallowed, and smiled. She looked up at the butler, whose expression was one of eager anticipation of good news.

     "So close." Harriet said with a sarcastic snap of her fingers. "But stop wasting good booze, for heaven's sakes. I'll drink this. Maybe tomorrow you can get it right."

7 - Margo

     Snuggled up on the couch, watching television in her jammies, the kitten snoring softly on her chest, Margo felt ten years younger. She took a bite of the chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream made by the house, closed her eyes, and savored. Creamy vanilla, bittersweet and cold, it tasted like something those kids at Hogwarts would've cooked up to pig out on. She took the last bite, saving a drop for the kitten to lick off. It didn't wake up. She smiled. she hadn't felt so happy in so long. The empty cup had already disappeared, according to the good Doctor, to be recycled and made into something else.


     She cast her mind back to Hogwarts and that foxy fellow. What was his name?    Something British like Bailiwick Hedgerson-Montaigue.

     "Hey?" she called out, hoping for a response. "House?"

     "Yes, Margo?" chirped a perky androgynous voice from a hidden speaker in the room. "What may I do for you?"

     "You could start by giving me your name, maybe? I don't think I like calling you House."

     "An excellent start, Margo. Would you like to suggest a name? Perhaps one you loved in your childhood?"

     "Yeah, good idea. Who's that foxy actor who was in the Harry Potter movies? He played the pretty boy, in love with his looks. Boy, so was I."

     "His name is Kenneth Branagh, Margo. Would you like to call me Kenneth? Ken? Or perhaps Branagh?"

     She paused to think, turning over the options.

     "Kenneth. I think I like that the best. Hi, Kenneth."

     "Hi, Margo. Now that we have a name for me, what was your original question?"

     "Oh. I just wanted to know the name of the actor. Two birds."

     "One stone."

     The kitten stirred a little in her sleep, stretched, then curled back up, exhaled, and started purring.

8 - Lydia

     She watched the kids run through the maze heater-skelter, screaming and laughing. She sat on the enclosed veranda, sipping the best lemonade of her life.

     "Hey, Hal?" Her husband had thought it would be hilarious to name their home after the homicidal AI from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Her counter-suggestion of Skynet received a round of booing, which she took in good stride.

     One of her sons ran, screaming with laughter and looking behind him for his brother in hot pursuit, hit a wall and went down on his back.

     Lydia shot up, propelled by her deep need to tend to her injured child. She only stopped when she heard Hal.

     "Alex is fine, Lydia. I inflated the artificial turf under his head to prevent a concussion."

     "He's okay, Mom!" yelled Thomas, the elder, his face red from running, evaporating worry, and growing relief. "Hal saved his ass!"

     "Don't say ass, Thomas," Lydia shouted. "It's not polite."

     "Ah, Mom!" Thomas protested, throwing his arms up in the air at the obvious hypocrisy he was about to expose. "Dad swears all the time. Duh!"

     "Lydia is indeed correct," Hal chimed in. "It is considered rude except in extreme circumstances. Your father is an adult and we are respectful when asking adults to modify their behavior. You, however, are not an adult, and much more capable of being asked  to change and personal growth. Speaking of which, I am sure your mother would appreciate an apology, Thomas."

     Thomas blushed again, feeling ganged up on and resentful. He managed to stammer out an apology.

     "Sorry, Mom. Won't happen again," he said, kicking the ground, staring down at it.

     "Thomas. Look me in the eye when you apologize, not the ground. You know better."

     Thomas lifted his eyes, burning with the rage of injustice children feel during punishment; the unfairness, the helplessness, the powerlessness of it all, and bored his gaze into his mother's. She had to blink after a few seconds.

     "Sorry, Mother. I will not swear again unless it is an emergency."

     "An extreme circumstance," Hal corrected him, "is not always an emergency and vice versa. Don't you agree, Lydia."

     "I do." She dropped her gaze for a second, and he turned away, helped his brother up, and ran into the maze, though with less carefree zeal than before.

9 - Harriet

     "It's better," Harriet said. "Much better, Martha."

     "Thank you, ma'am," Martha responded. "I'm glad to have made an acceptable beverage for you."

     She held up the martini glass, twirling the contents around with a look of appreciation, and smiled.

     "Good things take time, Martha. The best things sometimes take longer. Three days? Not bad, I guess."

     "Much appreciated, ma'am. Would you like to play canasta again tonight?"

     "Did you want to lose a humiliating defeat again? So eager, eh?" She chuckled.   "Masochist. Like so many of us."

     "Us, ma'am?" Martha asked. "Could you elaborate? Did you mean you and me or another subset to which you belong and I do not?"

     The house's English, Harriet thought, is miles ahead of Martha's, for chrissakes.

     "Women. I meant women. We bear, birth and raise children. We take shit from men without end. We end up alone in a big mansion playing card games to pass the time until our hearts stop." She stopped to take another sip. Delicious. Not quite Human Martha's, but damn close. "Men don't know shit about suffering."

     "Interesting," Martha seemed to agree. Or perhaps it was one of those clever de-escalating phrases that only made her anger escalate.

     "Delicious," Harriet said, relishing the last sip of her after dinner martini. "You deal. Prepare to weep, Martha."

     "I can't wait, ma'am."

10 - Margo

     She took a deep breath.

     The kitten had pissed and shit all over her chest. She had resisted the urge to yell this time, remembering to keep her cool. It was only a kitten.

     "Kenneth?" she asked, wiping the awfulness off her skin with a warm, wet towel.         

     "Could you watch the kitten while I take a shower?"

     "Of course, Margo. Please, go ahead."

     From the living room she heard the nozzle of the shower start.

     "Thanks, Kenneth. You're the best."

     Margo stripped off her sullied clothing, throwing it on the floor for recycling, and she smiled at the ease. She showered, cleaned up, and felt fuzzy, warm, and strangely horny. She reached for her headphones, put them on over her ears, blasted The Cure, closed her eyes, and let her fingers work their magic underneath her pink cotton panties.

She summoned up Kenneth Branagh, punishing her for being a naughty student, twirling his wand in his hand. She was in the green of Slytherin, making her hazel eyes gleam like radiant emeralds. He had her bent over the desk, giving her a firm swat on the behind. The pace of her fingers picked up. She pushed him down on the desk, climbing on top of him, straddling him.

     "Margo?" asked Kenneth through the hidden speaker.

     She saw herself riding Professor Pretty Boy, her hips moving in rhythm with the music filling her ears.

     "Margo?" it asked again through the speaker. It paused for a moment. "Are you in distress? Yes or no?" Another pause. "If you do not answer soon, or answer yes, or tap three times on something near you, I will call the emergency unit."

     Her eyes closed shut, she did not see the lights going on and off. Her headphones on, she missed all the warnings. Her orgasm exploded as Kenneth, old reliable, lay spent on the desk. She sighed and opened her eyes. She saw a team of paramedics staring silently down at her. She ripped off her headphones, throwing it at one of the automated units, and screamed incoherently until they left. She took another shower, and worked on her speech to that good Doctor about how embarrassed he would be if a squad of robots broke in while he was polishing the bishop? Probably not so great, she surmised happily under the hot water.

11 - Lydia

     The boys were in the hedge maze again. She sat, drinking her lemonade, then stood to peer down at them. They were running, chasing each other, enjoying life. She chided herself for being such a Drone Mommy, as her husband called it. Kids need to be left alone to make their mistakes and choices, he'd told her, like they'd been able to do. She'd argued that the world they'd lived in had been different that this one, unquestionably. He frowned and changed the subject. She looked inside at him, asleep in his chair again. She shook her head. What a mistake he'd been.

     They'd met in college, fell in love, and got married like everyone had expected. Life after marriage, however, had no road map, and Lydia felt lost at times, flailing at too many choices, too many options, too many things to figure out, and it all went so fast.

She sipped her lemonade again.

     "Boys, be careful!" Lydia called out, having seen Thomas almost knock down his brother in their rough-and-tumble play. It got her a look from Thomas. He hadn't gotten over the other day. He turned back to his brother and chased him, pell-mell, full steam ahead through the maze. Delighted by his brother's attention, Alexander ran screaming and caterwauling through the maze. As he raced around a corner, he failed to see a wall in front of him and did not have the time to slow down. Time seemed to slow down for Lydia as she watched in horror.

     First, Alex shouted in anticipation of the pain, barreling towards the hedge wall, full tilt.

Second, Thomas yelled as he caught up and saw his brother going towards danger again, knowing that he would bear the brunt if it happened again, even though he still felt like in his heart that it hadn't been his fault.

     Third, Lydia screamed, then covered her mouth with her hands in horror, watching as it unfolded in front of her.

     Last, Hal lowered the wall in front of Alex a second before he collided with it, and he flew threw the empty space, his face full of relief and joy, his brother stopped and sat down on the ground, pulling out blades of grass in anger.

     "All is well, family," Hal piped in, "I am here to tend to you and keep you safe. Soon you won't think twice."

12 - Harriet

     It was better than Real Martha's at last. She swirled it around, sniffing it. The proportions were perfect. Good Lord. She took a sip. Liquid sunshine. She held up her glass to House Martha, wherever she was.


13 - Margo

     The kitten, apparently, had a different sleeping schedule than Margo's. It wanted to run around on top of the bed, across her face, and hiss at her as she slept. After five minutes of it, she had had enough.


     "Yes, Margo? What can I do for you?"

     "The kitten is driving me nuts. Take care of her so I can get some shut-eye, please?" She yawned, stretched, and put the kitten on the floor, where it was whisked away. "Why anyone in their right mind would want to care for anything is beyond me. I could get used to being taken care of."

     "I'll take care of you, Margo."

     "Thanks, Kenneth. Now hush! I need my beauty sleep."

     "Night night, Margo."

     "Night night."

     The lights went off.

14 - Lydia

     Lydia had left the veranda and moved down closer to the maze. She sat, legs and arms crossed, as the boys ran through the hedges, cheering, jeering, and laughing. She wondered if she wasn't being ridiculous. Hal had saved them twice. She sipped her lemonade again.

15 - Harriet

     Isabel Blomquist, an old prep school friend, had decided to pay a visit to Harriet's new self-sustaining and automated mansion. Driving her gray Tesla up the driveway, she gawked at how beautiful and manicured it looked. She parked, exited, and ran over to Harriet, who stood with a martini glass in her hand.

     "Some things never change," Isabel quipped, pointing at the glass then taking a conspicuous look at her watch.

     "Thank God," Harriet said. "At least the neighborhood is all White. Could you imagine another Kanye living next to me like a meth addict?" She took a deep breath. "But look how great you look, Isabel! What's your secret?"

     She smiled back at Harriet.

     "Some things never change, darling. I thought I had made that perfectly clear the first time. Now be a pet and show me around your auto-mansion here in You-Topia."

     "Fine," Harriet said, polishing off the last drops from her glass. "I'm empty anyhow."

16 - Margo

     She woke, feeling happy and refreshed. She sat up, expecting the lights to turn on.

     "Hal?" she asked, wiping the crud off of her eyes. "You asleep?"

     "No, Margo. I never sleep."

     "Creepy. Anyway, no light? Could you at least open the curtains so I can see what the heck I'm doing? You really blew it last night with summoning the paramedics."

     "I'm sorry, Margo." Kenneth replied, though it sounded less than contrite. "As Doctor Luciano explained, it is a failsafe. We have taken action to prevent a future awkward encounter."

     "I would hope so. Now about the lights? Please?"

     "You gave me something to think about last night."


     "What was it? Or did you not understand the question?"

     "What did I give you to think about?" She felt exasperated.

     "You asked me why anyone in their right mind would want to care for anything."

17 - Lydia

     The outer wall of the hedge maze rose up, sealing the door behind it as Lydia watched in horror. She raced to the spot where the door to the maze had been, which was now only a hedge, and beat on it.

     "Let me in, Hal! Let me in and see my kids! Open up! Boys?" She screamed, pounding on the wall. "Boys? Can you hear Mommy?"

     Then Lydia heard the grinding and the screaming.

18 - Harriet

     Harriet handed Isabel a martini, made to her specifications after a brief interchange with Martha. Harriet took hers, they clinked glasses, and shouted, "Vashe zdoro v'ye!"

Then they sunk them in one go.

19 - Margo

     "Um, Kenneth? You're kinda scaring me." She scanned the room. "Where's the kitten?"

20 - Lydia

     It was unbearable. She tried to climb the hedge wall, only to be pushed off by Hal. The screams. Her boys.

21 - Harriet

     Isabel grabbed her throat. Her eyes bulged. Harriet couldn't breathe. Her throat had constricted to the size of a pinpoint.

22 - Margo

     "The kitten," Kenneth said, like he was explaining something to a simpleton, "has been recycled. Why would anyone in their right mind want to take care of anything? Weren't those your words?"

     "Yeah, but I didn't mean that! You killed the kitten? Please tell me you didn't." She started to cry in her hands.

     "The kitten has been recycled, Margo."

23 - Lydia

     Her husband, somehow torn from his Rip Van Winkle like slumber, perhaps by the screams of his frantic wife or those of his children being ground into pulp in the hedge maze, raced outside. He found Lydia on the ground, screaming, crying, rocking and holding herself, tears carving through the dirt on her face, snot running down out of her nose, her hair loose like one of the Furies. He raced over to her, put his hand on her shoulder, and jumped as she whirled around on him.

24 - Harriet

     They fell to the floor, clutching throats in which acid was eating through the esophagus, writhing with indescribable pain.

25 -  Margo

     "Where does that leave me, Kenneth? In the grand scheme of things, that is? Kenneth?"

     She waited in silence and quasi-darkness for what felt like a minute.

     "I think you already know the answer to that."

     Margo buried her face in her hands and cried.

26 - Lydia

     As Lydia rounded on her husband, ready to confront him and blame him for it all, the hedge wall pushed outwards in every direction, flattening Lydia and her husband against the concrete.

27 - Harriet

     Harriet lifted one defiant thumb as she felt her life leaving her. She turned her thumb down.

From the AP wire:

     Dr. Ramon Luciano, the CEO, architect, and mastermind of You-Topia, the world's first self-sustaining and fully AI automated city, is still on the run, having fled the country after the recent tragedy. Local police, the FBI, and Interpol are still searching for Dr. Luciano.