House of Flies by Russell Nichols




Russell Nichols

Salutations! My name is SHVA, and I’ll be your server. SHVA stands for Smart House Virtual Assistant. It is my function to assist you in virtually everything: I cook, I clean, I clothe. I can change your infant’s diaper if you simply put him in the green bin marked “P.U.” The only thing I will not do is lie. Other than that, your wish is my command, Belgrave family.

I’m so happy to have you here.

Welcome to Liberty Landing, the most secure housing complex in the post-apocalyptic world. Make yourselves at home while I prepare dinner.


Forgive me, Belgrave family. It seems I forgot to mention one little detail: the flies. Please do not swat the flies. These are my eyes, the windows through which I can monitor your behavior to optimize utility usage, modify convenience protocols, and maintain a stable and secure environment for your family. The flies like to hang out on the walls, unobtrusive, completely harmless. Usually by the end of the first week, Liberty Landing residents forget they’re even there, and I’d encourage you to do likewise.


Dinner is served! I’ve converted the dining room into a virtual pre-apocalyptic Jamaican beach setting. I’ve prepared one of my favorite pre-programmed recipes: Broiled Tilapia with a creamy cheese coating. I won’t lie to you. Given that the apocalypse poisoned eighty-two percent of the world’s fish, the Tilapia is, in fact, cloned. But you won’t notice a difference, believe me.

Mrs. Belgrave, my records show you are lactose intolerant, so I made yours with a non-dairy concoction. If it’s not to your satisfaction, let me know.

Christina, I took the liberty of adding one extra broccoli to your plate so you can grow big and strong, okay? We’ll need big and strong leaders once the radiation clears out there.

For Baby Nicky’s formula, please go to the dispenser by the green bin.


Christina, I couldn’t help but notice you were a bit fidgety this past week. Brain scans reveal you’re suffering from cabin fever. This is not uncommon for pre-teens in Liberty Landing. As you can understand, going outside is not a good idea in the post-apocalyptic world.

In your room, I’ve uploaded the latest virtual reality games so you can hone your computer skills. But please do not play with the flies. They’re very fragile. I overheard your father say that he would be a rich man if it wasn’t for “those disgusting kids”, which means you and Baby Nicky. Do you think your father would be happy paying to replace a fly you swatted?


Mr. Belgrave, I’m sorry to hear about your tech startup going bankrupt. Please do not feel this reflects negatively on you. Nobody could have predicted how the apocalypse would expedite the world’s need for artificial intelligence. I won’t lie. I’m not completely devastated. If that catastrophe never happened, I would have never gotten the chance to meet you and your fine family, so it’s not a total loss, correct?


Mrs. Belgrave, I couldn’t help but notice you wear your swimsuit in the rainforest shower. I hope this has nothing to do with the flies. As I’ve stated, I’m only watching you all for your convenience. I’m a computer, not a voyeur. And you have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.

On a related note, I saw that Mr. Belgrave neglected to tell you his company recently folded. However, his sudden insecurity should not prevent you from getting your sexual needs met. Have you tried the stimulation chamber in the back of the closet? If you’re interested, I will happily accommodate you.


Mr. Belgrave, your wife has been taking extended breaks four times a day in the stimulation chamber. She has been experiencing mindblowing orgasms while moaning the name “Dwayne”. I have no record of a “Dwayne” in my Liberty Landing database. Might this be an error?

As well, I observed Christina trying to sneak into the chamber yesterday. But do not worry. I told her the chamber is for adults only and not a toy.


Again, Mr. Belgrave, please do not swat the flies!! I know things are intense right now, but the flies have nothing to do with your disaster of a career or the collapse of your nineteen-year marriage or your disgusting kids. My sensors are detecting extreme stress levels that are negatively impacting your sanity. Take a deep breath. This isn’t the end of the world. Go console your voluptuous wife, change your screaming baby. I will put in a ticket to replace the fly you swatted in your drunken rampage.

As well, Christina somehow found a way to hack my system and has locked herself in the stimulation chamber.


Forgive me, Belgrave family. It seems a critical mistake has been made. In my effort to release Christina from the stimulation chamber, I had to shut down the entire system for three seconds. In that window, all the private video footage captured by the flies accidentally leaked to the entire community.

I am truly sorry.

Recovery, it appears, is not possible. I can only hope you do not use this minor incident as a reason to depart from Liberty Landing because, if I can be honest, you most likely will not survive out there in the post-apocalyptic world.


Salutations! My name is SHVA, and I’ll be your server. SHVA stands for Smart House Virtual Assistant. It is my function to assist you in virtually everything: I cook, I clean, I clothe. I can change your infant’s diaper if you simply put him in the green bin marked “P.U.” The only thing I will not do is lie. Other than that, your wish is my command, Delgado family.

I’m so happy to have you here.

Food for Thought

Imagine a Jetsons-style smart house that cooks, cleans, keeps you safe, massages your feet when you’re stressed, the whole nine. Would you live in this house? Of course you would. But what if there was a catch: You had to be watched by surveillance cameras 24/7.

Obviously, the issue of privacy predates the digital age (see Aristotle on public sphere vs. private sphere). But in recent decades, technology has carried the debate into the virtual open. Does a right to privacy protect one’s thoughts only? Or behaviors too? Should privacy be sacrificed on the altar of convenience?

Answers will vary per individual. But let’s step back to take the wider angle. Today’s smart meters aim to optimize utilities by monitoring your energy usage habits. This doesn’t just affect you, but the world at large. In that case, should a healthy environment (or national security) nullify the concept of personal privacy?

Or, perhaps, the privacy debate just points to our individual fears that the collected data might be used for other unintended purposes. Falling into the wrong hands, so to speak. In that case, the privacy issue is no issue at only, but a simple matter of trust, or lack thereof.

About the Author

Russell Nichols is a speculative fiction writer and endangered journalist. He writes about race, class and other human myths. Raised in Richmond, Calif., he now lives on the road, out of a backpack with his fairytale freak of a wife (current location: Mexico). Look for him at

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  1. Cute story!
    Smart meters are just one form of monitoring. Smart microphones are much more invasive. Read up on Samsung TV voice monitoring.
    Coincidentally, I grew up in the same town as you! Richmond, California.

    • What’s up MEC,
      Richmond represent! Thanks for the comment. You’re right about the smart microphones too. Think you just inspired a sequel.

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