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Diabolus ex machina

"My teacher says our homes will soon be run by a giant computer in the attic, " offered my son, setting up the chessboard for our Saturday night game. I leaned back in the stratolounger and contemplated such a future prospect . . . what a dream! . . .

. . . Returning home from work I bounded up the front steps and pressed the doorbell, reading the metallic plaque affixed to the door:

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This Household Managed by HISS

Homeowners' Internal Security Systems Manufactured by AutoMan, Inc.

"Please identify!" commanded a no-nonsense voice.

"It's me, HISS, the owner. Let me in!"

"Does not compute. State your social security number, last name, first name, middle initial."

I complied.

"My scanner detects unauthorized foodstuffs in your briefcase."

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"Oh, those . . . only a couple of, uh, chocolate bars . . .

"You have already consumed this week's sweets allotment. Please place contraband into slot of Junk Mail Compactor before being admitted."

"Just wanted something to munch on while watching the Game of the Week tonight," I pleaded. HISS remained silent. When the compactor had finished its business the front door clicked open.

"Hi!" greeted my apronless wife. "HISS has announced supper in precisely seven minutes, so hurry and change."

"Must be nice not having to prepare meals anymore," I said, darting down the hallway.

"Dad, can't you remove that 'lectric eye unit from my bedroom ceiling?" wailed my son, a fifth grader. "HISS locked me in my room this afternoon till I finished all my homework."

"You know that every ceiling in the house has one of those devices," I explained for the umpteenth time. "It's the only way HISS can monitor our activities and keep this place running efficiently."

"Notice the transformation your daughter's room has undergone," remarked my wife with pride. "Before HISS arrived she never used a clothes hanger or the hamper."

"HISS was the only remedy," I agreed, "programmed to enforce compliance with a police siren."

"Supper in thirty seconds," reminded HISS overhead, as my wife alerted our teenage daughter on the extension in the basement.

We sat at the supper table for over two minutes, waiting for HISS to release our meal from the oven. "What could be wrong?" wondered my wife.

"There is evidence of a sanitary violation," warned the ceiling monitor. "It must be corrected before supper can commence."

"Glenn, let's see those hands," I said.

"I washed them this noon, Dad."

"Go wash," I urged, "breakfast's a long way off."

I was in the den after supper with the paper when my daughter posed her dilemma.

"Dad, HISS says I've already used up our twelve units of phone use for tonight, but I've got to get in touch with Andrea about my term paper assignment due tomorrow."

"So, drive over to her house," I suggested.

"Can't. The garage door won't respond to my ID card because I've consumed my gas quota for the week. Could I use your --"

"Sorry, honey, but HISS is programmed to help us curb our excesses around here."

After my dejected daughter departed my wife entered in an agitated state. "What's your problem?" I asked.

"I wish we hadn't hooked up all of the appliances to that thing in the attic, " complained my wife. "Now I can't do any ironing for another 48 hours."

"That's because you forgot to turn off the iron before you retired last night. You must admit, HISS is running a pretty tight affair around here," I said, without sympathy.

It was game time. I turned on my TV.

"You're lucky, Dad, you'll be able to watch your game tonight," said a sad-faced boy at my elbow. "'Star Wars' is also on and I won't be able to watch it."

"Your set's inoperative because you wasted your viewing units on too many cartoon features this week. I was very careful to allot two hours for this game so that HISS wouldn't interfere. You must learn to do the same." I had no mercy.

The Game of the Week was an absolute beauty, a scoreless battle involving two premier pitchers, one of whom was pitching a masterful no-hitter. I was glued to the tube as the game entered the twelfth inning, still scoreless, when I heard the ominous words, "Time's up!" The screen blanked.

"Dad! Dad! Stop screaming!" shouted my son, shaking me from my Orwellian reverie. "Let's start our chess game."

Still trembling, I glanced at the ceiling before moving my pawn, vowing never to become one for the likes of HISS.

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