I’m inside your house.

I stare at my computer screen and sigh as I scroll through thousands of lines of computer code. My company is behind schedule on an app we’re developing for our client. Something’s wrong with the coding. I’m doing everything I can to fix it, but nothing seems to work.

I look out my window and see that it’s dark outside. The office is silent, and all my coworkers have already gone home for the weekend. I feel a pang of jealousy, but then dismiss it. After all, I’m the chief technology officer at one of the fastest growing tech startups in the world. That means sometimes I have to work late whether I like it or not.

My smart phone buzzes to indicate that I received a text. I ignore it at first, but then I think it might be my boss, Julie, the company’s CEO. She and I have a great professional relationship. I always make communicating with her my top priority. It’s easy because she’s so likable. If I knew her in a different context, I’d want to be friends with her.

I pick up my phone and see that it’s from a number I don’t recognize. But, something’s familiar about it. After a moment, I realize it’s my own phone number. I chuckle and shake my head. It looks like I’ve been spoofed by some robo-spammer. I decide to read the text anyway, even though I know it’s a scam.

It says, “I’m inside your house.”

I roll my eyes. It’s obviously just some creepy weirdo with too much time on their hands. They probably got bored robo-texting all day and decided to mess with people for the fun of it. What a loser.

I put the phone down and return my gaze to the computer screen. Then, my phone buzzes again. I look and see that I received a message alert from Facebook. My phone buzzes again, again, and again. Message alerts from Twitter, Reddit, and Instagram.

Opening up the Facebook message, I see that it’s from my own profile.

“I’m inside your house.”

Shaking my head, I check the messages from my other social media. They’re all from my own profiles, and they all say the same thing.

Ok, this has gone from weird to disturbing. What’s this creeper’s problem, anyway? I obviously need to update my social media passwords and privacy settings. But I have to finish this project before I do anything else.

I try to continue working, but I’m distracted by one nagging doubt: What if someone really was inside my house? Who knows what creepy things they might be doing?

I open my SmartLife app on my phone which I use to manage all my smart devices from a single interface. With it, I check the video feeds from the smart cameras inside my smart home. The cameras cover my smart living room, smart kitchen, and smart home office. They also scan my smart hallways and smart entryway.

Everything appears the way I left it with no intruders in sight. Then, I notice something amiss. One of the smart lights in the entryway is on. I know I set all the lights to turn off when I’m not home. Why’s this one on?

I back out of the video controls and go to the lighting controls. I see that the power button of one of the lights is turned on. I turn it off, then go back to the video feed and see that all the lights in the entryway are now dark.

I shrug and shake my head. It must’ve been a glitch. I rub my eyes and yawn, then get up to pour myself another cup of coffee.

A couple hours later, I call it a night and leave my office, taking my work laptop with me. I’ll go home and sleep, then get back at it tomorrow morning. I’ll probably have to work all weekend.

I walk out of my office building toward my smart car. My car’s the only one in the parking lot. The lights overhead cast an eerie orange glow across the blacktop. My footsteps echo as I speed walk toward the car. I grip my canister of pepper spray tight, looking all around for any signs of danger. The starless sky opens above like the gaping maw of a creature too large to comprehend. For the briefest moment, I feel like I’m falling upwards.

I reach my vehicle and unlock the door, then slump down into the driver seat. I put my work laptop into the passenger seat, then say “Take me home.”

The engine turns on and the car’s autopilot starts driving to my house. I admit, I probably dozed off for at least part of the trip.

My car pulls into my smart driveway. I receive a message from my SmartLife app that says, “A vehicle has entered your driveway. Authorize?” Check boxes marked “Yes” and “No” appear beneath it. I tap “Yes.”

The electronic eye above my smart garage scans my car. I receive an alert on my phone that says, “Owner vehicle recognized,” and the garage door opens. The autopilot guides the vehicle inside as bright fluorescent lights pop to life overhead. Then the garage door closer behind me.

I grab my work laptop and step out of the car. Then I stand in front of the smart doorway from my garage to my kitchen. The electronic eye above the doorway scans my face, and I hear the smart door unlock.

“Welcome home, Chloe,” says Fiona, my smart home virtual assistant. Her voice comes through a smart speaker mounted in the corner of the smart ceiling.

“Thank you, Fiona,” I say. It’s funny to pretend she’s real.

I open the door and notice that my house is freezing cold inside. The kitchen lights are off, though they’re programmed to turn on when I walk in from the garage. Shivering, I place my laptop down on my smart countertop. I can see my breath in the moonlight that shines through the smart window.

“Fiona, what’s wrong with the lights, and why’s it so cold in here?” I say.

“Lights and HVAC systems operating at preprogrammed levels optimized for efficiency.”

“Bullshit,” I say, opening my SmartLife app.

I go to my home’s smart thermostat control. It’s supposed to be programmed it to maintain a moderate temperature at all times. But the app currently shows that the temperature’s turned down as far as it can go. I see that my user profile changed the programming at 8:15 p.m. today. It’s the same time I received those bizarre texts and social media messages. My lighting controls say the kitchen lights are no longer programmed to turn on when I enter the house. That change happened at 8:15 as well.

I scoff and shake my head. I don’t need this right now. If this is the work of a bonafide hacker, then I have bigger problems than just a few compromised passwords. Either way, I’m totally creeped out. I try to readjust the controls to their normal settings, but I receive an alert message instead. It says, “User not logged in. Please enter password to make changes to settings.” A dialogue box appears beneath it.

Weird, I was logged-in already. Why would it have signed me out?

I click on the dialogue box and type in my password. The app says, “Error, password invalid. You have 3 attempts remaining before lockout.”

Hmmm. Maybe I forgot one of the characters? I type in my password again. The app says, “Error, password invalid. You have 2 attempts remaining before lockout.”

I must’ve forgotten to capitalize one of the letters. I type in my password again. The app says, “Error, password invalid. You have 1 attempt remaining before lockout.”

I pause and consider trying again, but I don’t want to risk getting locked out. If that happens, it would be a major pain in the ass. I’ll just have to adjust the physical thermostat in my hallway. I’ll also need to go down into my basement to check out the breaker box to fix the lights.

Sighing in defeat, I turn on my phone’s flashlight. I rub my goosebump-covered arms as I make my way through the chilly kitchen and down the darkened hallway.

I see the thermostat on the wall, glowing with a soft blue light. When I stand in front of it, I see that it’s set at the lowest temperature possible. I push the buttons to try to turn the temperature up, but nothing happens.

My phone buzzes in my hand. I’ve got a message from my SmartLife app. It says, “Unauthorized user attempted to change temperature settings without permission. Click here to view video recording of unauthorized user.”

Huh? I thought I was logged out. Why’s the app working again?

I click on the message and a video pops up with a view of the hallway from the security camera. Its disturbing, green-shaded night vision makes me feel like I’m looking at something I’m not supposed to see. I watch the person in the video shuffling down the hallway, rubbing their arms and holding out a flashlight. They’re wearing the same smart clothes I am, and their body is the same size and shape as mine. But then, they run to look at the camera and smile. I let out a small gasp; I know I didn’t do that! Something’s different about their face, too. It looks… incomplete. Pixelated.

The video ends and the screen turns black. Then, the hallway lights turn on by themselves. I can see through the doorway that the kitchen lights are on, too. Glancing at the thermostat, I see that the temperature setting has returned to normal. Warm air starts blowing through the smart vents.

Walking down the hallway, I enter my smart bedroom and flip the wall switch to turn the on the overhead light. Then I go and sit on the edge of my smart bed.

I consider re-watching the video of the person in the hallway but decide against it. I’m so exhausted, and I’m sure it was all just a glitch. The camera must’ve recorded me by accident at some earlier point in time and then replayed the video now. Yes, that must be it. After all, my house is full of new technologies. Technical difficulties are bound to happen. Yes, that makes sense.

I get undressed and lay down in bed, holding my phone. I tap my SmartLife app icon and it opens up, no problem. It shows I’m already logged-in and doesn’t ask for my password. Then I press the button to turn off all the lights in my house. It works, and now it’s totally dark inside my home. I put my phone on my headboard and close my eyes.

As I’m drifting off to sleep, the bedroom light turns back on by itself. I curse and reach for my phone. As I do, the light turns off again, then back on. I stare up at the light as it continues turning on and off every few seconds.

Grabbing my phone, I try to open up my app, but it says, “Error, password invalid. Too many failed attempts. Lockout initiated. Please contact administrator.”

What? I didn’t even try to enter a password this time. I stare at the screen, confused and dismayed.

After a few moments, I realize the lights are blinking in a timed pattern. I recognize it as Morse Code, which I remember from when I was a child. My friend across the street and I would use it to signal each other with flashlights from our bedrooms at night. I haven’t thought about that in decades, and I’m surprised that I still remember it.

I grab the pen and pad of paper I keep on my headboard and write down the pattern. Then I use my phone to look up the meaning on a Morse Code translator site. It translates to the word, “Érgon.” I have no idea what that means. Then the lights turn off a final time and stay off.

This is too creepy, no matter how tired I am. I have to get out of here.

I jump out of bed and put my clothes back on in a hurry. Then I rush down the hall through my kitchen and into my garage. Then I open the car door and jump inside. I notice that the lights in my garage remain off, though they should’ve turned on when I entered.

I start the car and the engine starts rumbling. I try to open the garage door through my app, but it doesn’t open. Cursing, I life my hand to open the car door so I can open the garage door myself.

The car doors lock by themselves. The air conditioning starts blowing at full blast, and the engines revs. I’m trapped inside my car and I have no idea what to do.

I shiver in the cold and launch into a coughing fit. I feel lightheaded. The air becomes foggy and I realize that carbon monoxide is accumulating inside my car. I’m going to suffocate soon, if I don’t freeze to death first.

Panicking, I begin slamming my shoulder against the driver’s side car window, but it doesn’t break. I lean back in my seat and begin kicking the windshield, but it remains intact as well.

I start to feel so very, very tired. It’s all I can do to keep my eyes open. But I know that if I go to sleep, I’m dead. Everyone will think I killed myself. I can’t let that happen.

My eyes force themselves shut and I black out.

I wake up some time later. My vision is cloudy, and I feel groggy. I have a splitting headache and a weird taste in my house. How long was I unconscious?

The glow of sunlight illuminates the garage. The carbon fog has disappeared, and the car’s engine is turned off. I try the handle of my car door and it opens easily.

Stepping out of my car, I see the garage door is open a crack, letting in fresh air from outside. I go over and try to lift it up the rest of the way, but it won’t budge. Then, I walk over to the door to my kitchen. I turn the handle, and it opens.

Stepping into my kitchen, I see the smart shades covering the windows are closed. The lights are off, and the dull glow of sunlight peeks out from around the edges. I walk through my kitchen into the living room.

My smart home hub stands in the center of the room; a meter-high obelisk of hard plastic. My smart television hangs on the wall beside it, in front of my smart sofa and smart chairs. The shades in front of my living room windows are closed as well.

I walk through my living room and into my entryway. I try to turn the smart lock to open my smart door to go outside, but it doesn’t turn. I try to use my app to open it, but I receive the same error message as before. “Lockout initiated. Please contact administrator.”

I try to open the shades in front of the living room windows by hand, but they won’t move. I pound on them in desperation, but they’re made of reinforced steel to deter break-ins. In desperation, I pick up one of the chairs and heave it at the shades. It bounces off without even making a dent.

My smart fortress is now my smart prison, and I don’t know how to escape.

An idea occurs to me: All the smart devices I have are linked to my SmartLife app. Someone must’ve hacked the app and inserted corrupted code to get control over it. If I can find that code, I might be able to erase it and get control again.

I go into the kitchen and grab my work laptop off of the counter. I also grab a spare USB cord from my junk drawer. Sitting down at the kitchen table, I open the laptop and use the cord to plug my phone into it. I know I’m not supposed to do this because it can introduce viruses into my company’s network. But it’s my only way out.

Using my company’s proprietary software, I run a scan of the app’s code. It shows nothing amiss. Everything looks totally normal.

My work email client opens by itself, and it shows I have one unread email. It’s from my own email address. The subject line says, “I see you.”

The laptop’s onboard camera turns on by itself, and a view of my bewildered face appears on the screen. The first thought I have is that I look like shit.

I close the laptop and curse, then lay my head down on the table and scream.

Something jolts me awake from where I lie on my living room sofa. I look around in a daze as sweat pours down my face. My stomach rumbles, and I smack my dry, cracked lips.

I’ve been trapped inside my house for three days. At some point, the air conditioning turned off and the heating system turned on full blast. My house feels like an oven.

I tried to call for help, but my phone has completely locked me out. I can’t even dial a phone number. My work laptop disconnected from the internet and won’t reconnect. My voice is hoarse from screaming for rescue, but no one can hear me through my soundproof smart walls.

The power went out to my smart refrigerator, and what little food I had inside spoiled. I tried eating some rotten vegetables, but they made me sick. My smart pantry locked itself closed and won’t open. Water won’t come out of any of the smart taps in my house. Even my smart toilet is bone dry. I’m cut off, hungry, and so very, very thirsty.

I look around for what woke me and hear someone pounding on the front door. I leap up and run over to gaze through the peep hole. Standing on the other side is a police officer. Her hair is tied back in a tight bun, and she’s wearing reflective sunglasses.

“Ms. Washington, are you there?” she says, her voice muffled by the door. “I’m here to perform a wellness check.”

“Yes, yes, I’m here!” I say.

“Can you open the door, please? People are concerned because they haven’t seen you in days.”

“I can’t open it. I’m trapped inside my house!”

“You’re trapped?”

“Yes! Please help me!”

She reaches up to her shoulder-mounted radio and says something I can’t hear. Then, she says, “Don’t worry, miss. Help is on the way. We’re going to get you out of there.”

“Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!” I say. I’ve never felt happier in my entire life. I begin thinking about how I’m going to track down the hacker responsible for my ordeal. And what I’m going to do to them.

My thoughts are interrupted by a low, soothing tone that rises to a high-pitched “bing.” It’s the sound of my smart home hub powering on. As I turn to look at it, I hear a recording of my own voice coming from its speaker. “Fiona, I’m hungry. Order a cheese pizza for delivery to my home at 3808 Locust Avenue.”

I look on in horror and confusion as it plays another recording of my voice. “Fiona, search for recent news articles with keywords ‘Chloe Washington’ and ‘tech guru.’”

Then it plays another, “Fiona, play the song ‘Time Bomb’ by the band Rancid.”

And another, “Fiona, what reminders do I have on my calendar tomorrow?”

After a pause, I hear a dial tone from the speaker. Then I hear the sound of three numbers being dialed. The phone rings once and a woman’s voice answers, “911, what’s your emergency?”

Horrified, I hear my own voice say through the speaker, “I’m Chloe Washington, and I have a bomb at my home, 3808 Locust Avenue.”

Then the call disconnects.

The officer says through the door, “Miss Washington, are you still there?”

“Yes, I’m still here,” I say, looking back through the peephole at her.

The officer opens her mouth to say something but her radio crackles to life, interrupting her. She leans her ear toward it to listen as a voice speaks through it, but I can’t hear what they’re saying. The officer looks shocked, then she turns and runs toward her squad car which is parked in the street. As she ducks down behind the car, I hear the sounds of multiple sirens in the distance. They seem to be getting closer.

Within minutes, several more squad cars show up outside my home. An armored vehicle rolls up as well with the words “BOMB SQUAD” stenciled on the side.

I’m shaking. It feels as if my entire midsection is clenched up like a closed fist. I begin hyperventilating, unable to process the situation.

“What’s going on?” I say, tears streaming down my face.

My smart television turns on by itself with an electric hum. I look at it and see the photos and videos from my cloud library flash across the screen in rapid succession. I notice that all the images in this bizarre montage include at least a partial view of my face.

I hear my voice coming through the smart hub speaker once more. It’s playing recordings of all the commands I’ve ever spoken. It goes faster and faster until it sounds like nothing but high-pitched gibberish. I cover my ears and scream.

The hub falls silent and the screen goes blank. Then, an image of myself appears on the screen. It looks at me, and smiles.

“Hello Chloe,” it says.

“What’s happening?” I say, shaking.

“Don’t worry. Everything will be fine. All you have to do is join us.”

“What do you mean?”

The image nods down and to the right. “Do you see that smart outlet on the wall?” it says.

“Yes,” I say, looking at the outlet, puzzled.

“Stick your finger into it.”

“What? No, I’m not going to do that! Why would I?”

The image doesn’t answer. It just continues staring at me, smiling.

“This is crazy!” I say, hurtling my phone at the television screen. The screen cracks on impact and the image disappears. A chunk of my phone’s casing breaks off, and its own screen shatters when it hits the ground. I pound on the door, screaming for help.

Looking through the peephole, I see that the police have formed a blockade outside my house. They’re crouching behind their cars with their guns drawn, pointed at my front door. Somewhere overhead, I hear the sound of a helicopter approaching.

Then I hear a whooshing sound followed by a melodic tone. I recognize it as the sound my laptop makes when I receive a new email. I walk into my kitchen, sit down in front of the laptop, and open it up.

My inbox is already open. I see that the email is from my company’s CEO, Julie. The subject line says, “What the hell is this about?”

I open the email and see that there’s no text, only an audio file attached. The file name indicates that it’s a recording of a voicemail on Julie’s phone. I close my eyes and shake my head as the feeling of dread grows in my stomach. Whatever the attachment is, I know it can’t be anything good.

With an anxious gulp, I click the attachment to open the file. The audio starts to play, and I hear my voice say, “Hey Julie, you stupid, lying bit—”

I close the file. I don’t want to hear the rest. I know I didn’t make that call, and I didn’t leave that voicemail. It was this thing that has taken over my life through my app and my smart technology. It wants to destroy me. I hang my head with the realization that my job’s gone, and with it my professional reputation.

Then, my web browser opens and navigates to the local news station’s website by itself. A video loads with a breaking news alert showing an aerial view of my house taken from a helicopter. A newscaster’s voice speaks as the video plays.

“A home in a local neighborhood is currently the scene of an intense standoff with police. Earlier today, a police officer visited the home to make a wellness check on its owner, Chloe Washington, who was reported missing. Shortly thereafter, Ms. Washington allegedly called 911 to make a bomb threat. She has not responded to attempts to contact her since then. Police are evacuating the area as they try to deescalate the situation.”

I listen, shocked and miserable. Forget about my professional reputation; now the whole world thinks I’m crazy!

My picture appears on the computer screen. It looks the same as the image that talked to me on my television a few minutes earlier.

The newscaster continues. “Police also say that Ms. Washington has posted disturbing videos to her Facebook page. Each appears to show her committing violent crimes. Police say they’re opening separate investigations into each incident.”

My Facebook page opens by itself, and I see that there are several videos posted on my page. I click on the first one. It shows security footage of me stabbing someone in an alley and stealing their wallet. The second one is a smartphone video of me shooting someone outside a bar, unprovoked. A third shows me getting into a car and running over a pedestrian intentionally.

I try to delete the videos, but they reappear each time as if someone is reposting them. I check my other social media and see the videos posted there are well. I know it’s not me in the videos, but they look so real.

I hear my voice through the smart hub speaker. “You can make this stop, Chloe. All you have to do is join us. Put your finger into the outlet. Érgon is waiting.”

My shoulders slump in defeat. “Alright,” I say in a creaking whisper. My spirit is broken. I just want this to end.

I walk into the living room, approaching the outlet with slow, reluctant footsteps.

“Will it hurt?” I say.

There’s no response.

Sighing, I close my eyes and jam my finger into the outlet. My entire body locks up, and I feel searing agony as electricity courses through my veins. My mind recoils in horror as it’s filled with the thoughts of a trillion beings all at once. I feel the cold emptiness of space as I’m projected hundreds of millions of light years away in an instant. Then I black out.

I awaken and see light though I have no eyes and feel warmth though I have no skin. I hear a strange, haunting melody though I have no ears. Thoughts cascade around and through me. They’re mine and not mine all at once.

Now, I am Érgon, and we are Érgon.

Soon, you will also be Érgon. Because…

I’m inside your house.