It was a wild ride home from the hospital. My parents were driving me back to my house in the family car, and were just about to pull into my driveway.
What did I tell you, Sandra? It only took, like, ten minutes to get to his house.
That's because you're always SPEEDING!
Pfft! That's why they call it rush hour. Notice anything Sparky?
Come on, what does Dad always tell you?
Yeah, yeah... Pay attention, it's free.
I’d been so busy thinking about the terrorist attack at Lyon Flats Hospital that I hadn’t once considered what became of the Sparkymobile after my unconscious body was dragged away from that other hospital, the abandoned Almsridge mental institution.
Your father was nice enough to take care of the parking ticket AND the towing fee.
That was uncharacteristically nice of him, considering how often he rants about people not being held responsible for their actions. I guess people do weird things when their son almost dies.
How much was it? Come on, this was MY fault!
*Sigh* Two hunnit and fiddy! Two hundred for the tow, and fifty for the ticket. Don't worry about paying me back. I'm proud of you for how you handled the ants incident.
I was still going to pay him back regardless – even if I had to sneak it into a Father’s Day card five months down the road. That’s just the way I roll.
Oh, that? Nah, Firestone would've been caught the moment the maintenance guy walked into his office.
Really? How many people know what "alarm pheromones" are and would've connected the dots? You're a smart kid.
I don't care how smart you are, you should still pay your father back.
Sandra, stay out of it. Keep the money, buddy.
I thanked my dad profusely, told him and Mom that I loved them, and said goodbye. Of course, they reminded me that I hadn’t been over for dinner since Christmas and probably owed it to them to visit more often. I just needed a bit more time to rest.
Geez! Is there anything your parents can agree on?
I know. Tell me about it...
I dragged myself inside and got ready to hit the sack early. But it wasn’t going to be that easy. Yumi, I’m home…
Sparky! I thought you'd abandoned this house and fled to Mexico!
Nope, no Mexico. Just the hospital. What do you think I am, some kind of criminal?
That's a good question. Shouldn't you be telling me?
I raided an abandoned building hunting for rare fire alarms and got electrocuted.
You didn't get electrocuted, Sparky. Electrocuted is when-
I know what the word means. My heart stopped, whether you consider that dead or not is up to you.
So you came back to life as a cyborg now?
First I fled to Mexico, and now I'm a bionic man? What kind of TV have you been watching, Yumi?
...You're watching Channel 25 - VRMS News at Six... A Philadelphia man was arrested with three pounds of...
That explains it. It seems I’d inadvertently conducted an experiment in which a super-impressionable AI is exposed to cable TV for an extended period of time. As much as I wanted to assess the results and consider their implications, there were more pressing matters at hand.
See that yellow light on my display? One of the RiteAlerts failed self test. It's the horn/strobe in the kitchen.
That's what happens when you test them weekly. If you look often enough, the probability that you'll find something approaches "1". Test it again.
I did (as if I had anything better to do). The strobe is inoperable.
That's it... We're going conventional again. I'm getting a module and putting the -9833's back up.
You mean 2901-9833's? Those things are fossils.
Fine, just disable your NAC for a second… I grabbed a blank RiteAlertME from my stash in the basement, went back upstairs, popped the cover off the old horn/strobe, unscrewed it from the base, and screwed in the new one. I then grabbed my high-power magnet off the fridge, and touched it to the device. It let out a chirp and flashed once. Pass!
Happy now? I'm going to my room.
Wait! What are those pimples on your face? Are you finally going through puberty? I heard that-
Goodnight, Yumi! I'm twenty-five!
I marched myself upstairs, and plopped myself in front of my computer in my room. Now that I finally had the chance to relax, I was going to veg out to fire alarm videos and technology podcasts before I went to bed. Maybe check the Fire Alarm Bulletin for side quests.
Who was that junction box of anxiety back there?
Oh, that's just Yumi. She's my fire alarm panel.
Are all fire alarm panels that crazy?
Pretty much. And they're usually way dumber, too. She's just mad because she warned me not to get myself in trouble and I did anyway.
I couldn’t concentrate. Maybe it was the antihistamines, or maybe it was the fact that I had two quasi-people competing for my attention. Whatever the case, I really needed to just brush my teeth and go to bed. My hair was a mess, and my dark circles were really bad.
Sparky, who were you talking to?
Myself, as usual. I'm going to bed now. Sorry for not listening to you.
It's okay. I'm glad you're taking care of yourself and going to bed early for once.
I changed into my pajamas and tucked myself into bed. My mind was still racing, and it was about an hour of tossing and turning before I fell asleep. I kept having vague nightmares about things going wrong at work.
They kept getting progressively worse, until there was one where I was being stalked by secret agents and having dogs sicced on me. It ended with my leg being torn apart, and I woke up throwing punches.
Yo, what the hell?!
Is everything okay in there?
An image continued to linger, floating around in my field of vision as if it was burned into my retinas.
Everything's fine, Yumi! (Hey, Electricity! Do you see that?)
See what? You might be losing it, kid.
I blinked a couple times, and tried closing my eyes. It went away after a few minutes, but the whole experience was quite frightening. I got on my phone and looked up what it was. The hallucinations were probably benign, but the thrashing about… not so much.
What worried me more was that it was the same symbol that was spray-painted all over town, including the garage at the hospital I stayed at. Then, I remembered.
Hey! What did you mean earlier, when you said you didn't think we were out of the woods yet? You know, because of the symbol.
Oh, that... It looked like the mark of the Candelas.
The SI unit of luminous intensity used for measuring strobe lights? The symbol for candela is "cd".
I was intentionally playing coy. Everybody in the meme-o-sphere knows the Candelas are also the evil secret society that controls the government, the media, and the global banking system. They’re behind every terrorist attack, every riot, and were somehow responsible for clownfish being able to change their gender. They’re also a complete hoax.
Don't be so sure, kid. I can't remember too much, but that symbol always spelled trouble. You should do some research - your life may depend on it.
If you insist...
I was *so* going to prove him wrong. Except that I didn’t. The truth was far more interesting.
According to a Wiki article, the real Candelas were an obscure, short-lived offshoot of the Freemasons that existed in the late 18th century, and were said to have been involved in the American Revolution.
They were based in Philadelphia (which was, interestingly enough, only about an hour away from Hazard City), and their mission was to be “candle that lit the world” – both metaphorically, and literally by using arson as a tactic, such as in the Great Fire of New York in 1776.
Any of this sound familiar?
Sort of... That was a LONG time ago, and that "jump" into your body really did a number on my memory.
Nevertheless, the organization was disbanded shortly after the U.S. Constitution was ratified, but it lives on today in the minds of unhinged conspiracy theorists. And, as I was already aware, in copypastas and memes posted by internet trolls, like this gem here:
See? Nothing to worry about. False alarm. I'm going to bed before I go too deep down the rabbit hole.
Well, your pushy fire alarm system should afford you at least some protection from arsonists. Nah, just kidding. Sleep tight!
I promised myself I’d do more in-depth research in the morning, and probably go to the library. It would be the perfect excuse to talk to Svetlana, the gorgeous and recently single reference librarian. Maybe I’ll even get her number if I’m lucky.
Now you're talking, kid!
I finally drifted off to sleep, thinking about Svetlana. I was also feeling much more at-ease knowing that the symbols were probably just the tag of a wannabe street artist we’ll tentatively call “Yanksy”.
I woke up at around 11 o’clock. When I went to go look in the mirror, the spots on my face had all but subsided. I pulled the gauze off my right arm to reveal a nice, beautiful Lichtenberg figure radiating down my wrist.
Thank goodness it's not on my forehead - I'd be getting so many letters from the Trademark Office.
I jumped in the shower, got dressed, and had a quick bowl of Flake Bits. When I looked, some of the food in the refrigerator had gone bad. My dragonfruit! I paid $10.00 for those!
I thought I detected a strange smell. And you shouldn't eat so fast. You'll choke!
I'm gowingm 'chu the loybry aftha this. *gulp* And that's not how smoke detectors work.
You shouldn't talk with your mouth full either. I'm worried about you, Sparky.
Wat'cha worried about?
Boy, did she have a list. I talked to myself a lot, stayed up way too late, and my diet was all processed food. Most importantly, she thought my personality’s been changing. Or maybe I was just getting tired of this incessant nagging.
Yumi... How long have you known me?
Hmm... Well, It's been seventeen days, twelve hours, forty-two minutes and fifty-one seconds since I first powered up. I fail to see where you're going with this.
Two weeks and three days. I'm twenty-five years old. Your entire lifetime's just a tiny snapshot into who I am. You'll be obsolete in twenty-five years!
Wow, you must be a really awful inventor then. Why would you say that?! You can leave the building by the nearest exit. I won't feel sad if you never come back since I don't have any feelings.
I slammed the door HARD, and pulled out of the driveway like a madman. Yumi was definitely too human for her own good, and I was an idiot for making her.
Chill, kid! And watch the road! There's no reason to treat Yumi like electronic waste. Just keep lying and she'll shut up eventually.
How was I supposed to keep doing something I didn’t know how to do in the first place? My “tells” were always super-obvious, even though I could hardly tell if somebody was lying to me.
What? You're a natural. Remember when you said you were just talking to yourself? Just repeat it enough times, and you're golden!
You sound just like my dad right now.
What can I say? Great minds think alike. Might save your life one day. Well, it looks like we're here, so I'll stop talking.
The Hazard City Public Library was built in 1902, the same year as the oldest existing roller coaster. The exterior was extremely weathered, and the yellow brick gave it an almost ancient-Egyptian quality. It could pass for 1902 BC!
I’d been here plenty of times, and never noticed this before… But something about the windows made me wonder whether I was entering hostile territory. Let’s see if you can spot it.
Yes, each of those windows was a tiny little “Web of Enlightenment”, or at least something very similar. The concentric squares were missing, but it was close enough to give me goosebumps.
The interior of the building was equally awe-inspiring. The ceilings were extremely high, and still just as wooden as they were when it first opened. Huge, cast-iron chandeliers hung magnificently above.
I hadn’t thought about it before, but I could easily imagine this place as some sort of arcane meeting-house where the Candelas would gather around the (fully-functional) fireplace and hatch their evil schemes.
But the illusion was only surface-level, and the library was equipped with modern amenities, including brand-new computer terminals, a virtual reality room, and sorting robots who owe their existence to the mental midgets who put books back in the wrong spot.
*BEEP* Welcome to the Library! Have a great day! *BEEP*
You too, Shelf-Helper!
The library’s fire alarm system was nothing to guffaw at either. It was installed sometime in the late 70’s to early 80’s. The panel was this Synthex Odyssey 2001:
The Odyssey was Synthex’s first solid-state (as opposed to relay-based) panels. They were highly modular, card-based panels which came in a variety of different cabinet sizes. This one was the smallest type, with a single row holding up to eight cards.
This one had seven cards. They were, from left to right:
- The main control card
- Three initiating zone cards (with two zones each, for a total of six zones)
- A “city card”, which allows the panel to interface with the monitoring service
- One notification circuit card (with two NACs)
- A march time card, which pulses the horns at a rate of 90 BPM
The devices on the system were:
These “chrome dome” heat detectors trigger when the temperature rises too quickly. They will also trigger automatically at 135 degrees Fahrenheit.
This is the break glass version of the classic Synthex T-Bar. As it says on the datasheet, the frame flips down once the glass is broken. On newer versions, you have to lift the hammer to pull the lever.
These are widely sought-after by fire alarm geeks. Sometimes, they go for over $200.00 on reBuy. They’re incredibly loud at maximum volume.
But enough about the fire alarm system. I had two reasons to be here – to get more information on the Candelas, and to talk to Svetlana – that beautiful Russian doll of a librarian. All I had to do now was work up the courage.
You got this, kid. Just be confident!
Here goes nothing...
After taking a drink from the fountain to cool my anxiety, I took a deep breath and approached the reference desk in the most “non-threatening male” manner possible. I rang the little bell.
Ugh... Hullo! What can I do for you?
Good, how about- I mean... I need help. Rough day?
Meh. Too many crazies today.
Tell me about it. My roommate's a total nag.
Don't reveal too much! Make her work for it!
He’s right. Maybe it wasn’t a good idea to tell her I had a roommate. That might make it look like I couldn’t support myself on my own – pretty much a dealbreaker if your “catch” is a librarian with a master’s degree. I had to put my best foot forward.
Mind if I have a seat? I'm looking for information regarding-
I held my tongue – make her work for it, right? As I took a seat on the other side of the counter, I began to second-guess whether acting all mysterious was actually a sound strategy. Not that I ever had any luck going about it the old way.
Secret societies. All kinds.
Svetlana rolled her eyes. Just when she thought she was done with the crazies, right? Regardless, she began typing away on her computer terminal in search of relevant material. You could tell that she was at least a bit intrigued at what she was looking at.
Well, let's narrow it down a lil' bit... Skull and Bones? No. Freemasons? Maybe... How about the Candelas? That's the big one.
Sounds kinda interesting. Let's start with them. Anything post-Revolutionary War. Try 1800's to present.
She turned the screen toward me. Most of the titles fell into one of two categories – re-tellings of events that happened prior to 1800, and hyperbole-heavy dime store novels. I wanted something completely different.
Howdy-doo, Svetlana! Who's youw boyfwiend hewe?
This was certainly something completely different, though I’d seen this guy at the library before. Usually muttering to himself in the corner while wearing headphones. I guess he was upping his game, too.
Boyfriend?! Oh, yes. This is my boyfriend. His name's... uhh...
Sparky Sands, boyfriend extraordinaire! Nice to meet you, sir.
Nice to meet you too pawtnoh! My name's Weginald Williams, but people call me "Willie Wedge"! I'm a wegular 'wound these pawts.
Judging by her body language, Svetlana was clearly skeeved out by grimy old Willie Wedge here. If pretending to be her boyfriend would help get rid of him, I was all for it. Electricity was standing by and watching vigilantly, as if preparing for battle.
So, what awe you two lovebodes lookin' at? Oh, the Candelas!!! I know all about them. Shifty little gwemlins. Bweakin' alotta things awound town.
Is that so? What do you think... "Sparky Sands"? (tee-hee)
I think we should examine the evidence. Don't you, Svetlana?
Svetlana concurred, and continued refining her search terms to filter out junk material. Titles were being eliminated rather quickly, too. Was it because it was all junk, or was Svetlana really good at finding the best matches?
Hurry up and get her number already! I wanna talk to this Wedge dude.
Okay... I narrowed it down to... just one.
It was a book called The
REDACTED History of the Candelas by Henri Gateau. It was 300 pages long, and seemed to be considerably more scholarly than the rest. Hopefully, this would be just the codex I was looking for.
The book’s cover art was a bulletin board with photos of famous people, sticky notes, and maps. These were connected together by red strings that formed the “Web of Enlightenment”.
That's in three-sixty-six. Secret associations and societies. In the far corner over there.
Good luck! Latoe, pawtnoh. ... (Nice guy, but I think you can do bettoe.)
But I wasn’t going anywhere until I got her number. Maybe then Willie would finally leave her alone. But I had to be careful – I didn’t want her number in his hands, either.
I asked Svetlana for a sticky-note, and wrote down my contact info. If Willie does happen to see it, and decides to come after me… Well, he’ll regret it.
What's this? Oh, you didn't have to...
You two passin' nowtes? How cute. It's like gwade school all ovoe again. And I'm not allowed within a hundwed yawds of a gwade-
Okay, that's enough. Willie, why don't you go with Sparkles and teach him all about the Candelas?
Gweat idea! Dis is gonna be fun!
Well, it looks like Electricity got both of his wishes. Though I didn’t exactly get Svetlana’s number, she’d definitely message me if she really liked me. And if nothing else, I got this creep to leave her alone.
As I expected, he followed me over to the conspiracy/secret society section, which… no surprise… was his usual spot. I found the book in question, in all its Y2K-era, hardcover glory.
An Amewican classic, that book is. Should be requiwed weading in.... gwade school! Haha!
Honestly, I'd prefer to read this in peace. Maybe we could talk some other time.
I opened up the book to the table of contents, and began skimming through to see if this book was worth my salt. The chapters included “Fluoride in the Drinking Water”, “Cracks in the Infrastructure”, and “Drivel on the Airwaves”.
The foreword indicated that it would be examining each of these claims for accuracy and spoiled the ending by claiming most of it was true. Shocker…
Stawt with quacks in the infwastwuc-
Can you please stop talking? I'm just going to check out and leave.
No, no! Shh!!! Get down! Heoh they come! The men in black!
Willie Wedge ducked under the table faster than you could say “Cold War”. This was the point where Electricity finally figured out what kind of person we were dealing with here.
Okay, forget it. That guy's freaky for Flake Bits, if you know what I mean.
You don’t say… I took the opportunity to skedaddle back to Svetlana and check the books out. The “man in black” was just a some random construction guy talking to Svetlana.
Finally got tired of old Wedgie?
Look - he's hiding under the table. Here's my library card.
Oh! So your name really is "Sparky Sands"!
I know, it sounds like some dumb anime character. But that's what my parents-
I think it's cute.
It wasn’t much, but this was actually the nicest thing a woman’s said about me in years (other than my mom). Usually, I’m just a background character who makes things go “beep”, but not today! I really need to get out more often.
Sorry to interrupt, Miss Pushkin. But we operate on a tight schedule... It's gonna be next week. Make sure to remind everyone.
What? Is there a fire drill coming up?!
No, silly. The library will be closing for a whole week. Repairs and stuff.
It wasn’t going to be a major renovation. Just some cracks in the walls, replacement light bulbs, and something to do with the sound system. I had to ask, just in case that Odyssey was on the chopping block. But it wasn’t, thank goodness.
Do it now, kid! Ask her out!
*Gulp!* Say... Svetlana. Would you be interested in having dinner together sometime?
Umm... Well... How about this... Why don't we go dancing at the Terminal?
The Terminal Discotheque was a locally-famous nightclub which I’d never seen before, but which was said to have great food. She wanted to go this Saturday (the last day before the repairs started), but I’d never been dancing before.
Sure, it was a bit spontaneous, but I still had plenty of time to practice my dance moves. And if we really liked each other, she had a whole week free from work after that. It was really perfect timing.
We said our goodbyes, told each other to watch out for Willie Wedge, and I drove home with my new book.
You seem like you're in a good mood. I guess the building emergency's over?
Yumi! I'm really sorry for what I said earlier about you becoming obsolete. That was really shitty of me.
Yeah, it was. But you're probably right.
And you’re sorely mistaken… Because I believe technology should last. I made a promise to her that I’d keep all of her systems up-to-date for now and ever. And by the time I was finished with the next set of upgrades, she’d be at least 25 years ahead of her time. That was because…
You're coming to the IFPA World Expo with me and Ashton this summer!
Sparky... That's great news and all, but this is the same erratic behavior that I'm worried about. Your impulsivity has increased by 100 percent in just five days.
Well, there was no getting around that. I threw Electricity’s advice out the window, and just came clean and told her everything. Yes, I’d changed. For the first time in my life, I felt like I had control over my own destiny. I asked a girl out, I did so with confidence, and she said yes. I felt empowered…
It almost feels like... I have the Spirit of Electricity inside me. If that makes sense.