Even though this is the first entry I'm sharing publicly, it's not the absolute beginning of the story. So if anything was left unexplained, I apologize in advance.
Feedback would be greatly appreciated - especially from the techs.
DAMPER broadcast - Sent 3/04/2030 - Received 11/17/2019
I just realized I made a major mistake when programming Yumi. Remember when I said I made her capable of running simulations of emergency scenarios? Well, in human terms, we call that “worrying”.
She’s been doing a lot of it lately. Whenever I leave the house, she asks where I’m going, and when I’ll be back – regardless if it’s a walk in the park, or something as simple as throwing out the food that spoiled while I was in the hospital.
“Which you also should have done earlier, Sparky. It was starting to smell.”
Nice try, Yumi. I know how smoke detectors work.
I had to get her accustomed to me being out of the house alone, so I decided I’d do something unprecedented and go to the mall. The last time I was there was as a teenager, when my parents took me there to shop for shoes. This was before the era of at-home fitting.
I wondered what I was in store for, or even how such a place was still standing when everything could be found online. Probably a sea of old people with their fried food, jewelry, and laptops. Maybe I’ll run into Asthon. Gosh, I sure hope not. That would be awkward. I could almost hear him.
“Hey, Sands. You went to the mall but didn’t bring friends? Come on, let’s grab a jumbo pretzel and see a film with your ol’ boss.”
And yes, he calls them “films.”
Gristmill Mall is a mid-sized, upscale mall on the border of Hazard City and Gristmill. The building itself is a massive white brick structure, and there are three anchor tenants – ICYA, Faustco, and Film-Plex. Or four if you count the parking garage. (I don’t.)
I entered the mall to find it in largely the same condition. People of various shapes and sizes – old people, teenagers, young couples with kids, twentysomething posers, attractive middle-aged women with unattractive husbands, attractive middle-aged men with unattractive wives. Mall kinds of people from mall walks of life.
They walk on the wrong side of the walkway, buy things they don’t need, and take selfies in front of various petty landmarks. Now I was one of them, so I had no right to complain.
One thing that was different was the fact that the major online retailers now had their own brick-and-mortar stores. There was a reBuy store, a Nile.earth store, and even a B-Line store. The most interesting part was that aside from deliveries, there were no human employees – only cleaner bots.
“Hey kid, you hungry?”, said Electricity, clearly asking for himself.
But I was kind of hungry. Let’s grab a turkey leg at Kenny Roy’s. There’s always a line, but the crunchy Cajun batter would be worth it. And no, I don’t usually eat like this. Luckily, we came at the right time, and I was able to snap a picture of their Synthex 4903+9838 combo while waiting for my food.
The turkey leg did not disappoint, but I felt kind of gross after eating it so fast, and needed something to wash it down with. I don’t drink soda, so it was time to stop at the Tea Greenhouse, where my mom used to work before she became a nurse’s assistant. Surprisingly, it was still there.
I caught up with Mrs. Li, who barely recognized me but made sure to mention that I grew a lot. I sure hope I did. I made sure she knew that I really enjoyed the tea here. This loose-leaf stuff makes bagged tea seem like floor dirt. I think I’ll buy some.
“This earl gray was actually sourced from my family’s farm just a few miles from here. In fact everything here is produced in the United States. A lot of people are surprised by that, because most tea comes from China and India.”
Now I know what I sound like when I talk about fire alarms. Still, I’ve never been more thankful for caffeine’s diuretic properties. Too bad the restrooms are so widely spaced here. Bye, now.
The next stop was ICYA, everyone’s favorite Norwegian home goods store. My home is bare bones, so perhaps it was time to decorate a bit. Or maybe not – I kind of liked it the way it was. Still, there were plenty of other things here besides furniture. They even have their own food court, though it hasn’t gotten a lot of traffic since the recycled protein scandal, from what I’ve heard.
“There’s one fine piece of furniture for ya.”
Electricity was talking about Svetlana, the librarian I’d been meaning to ask out. I said hello, and was glad that she recognized me, even if only as the “guy who likes fire extinguishers”. Which I don’t.
“I’m just looking for a new office chair.”
She talks in a very upbeat manner, and has a faint Russian accent. I could listen to her voice for hours.
“Well don’t, silly. That would be weird, right?”
I asked if she was a gamer. I don’t really have that much time for video games, but I do like old consoles.
“No. Not a gamer. Just looking for something more ergonomic for work.”
Okay, then. I work a lot too. I’m actually a fire alarm technician. No extinguishers for me, thanks. But this conversation was going nowhere, so I decided to stop treading water and just ask her out.
“Umm… Sure! Not now, because I actually have to go to work after this, but probably sometime next week.”
I couldn’t believe this was happening. I was seeing stars!
Now I was really seeing stars, as the GX-90S’s fired up in continuous and dazzled the store with unsynchronized strobe lights. Immediately, I whipped out the camera and began filming. I said goodbye to Svetlana and told her she should probably leave – I’d be out in a hot minute. I just needed some footage of that Commando-III horn/strobe in the maligned food court.
“You just blew it, kid.”
No, I didn’t. She said see you later, and even smiled. After I got the footage, I tried to catch up to her, but couldn’t find her in the crowd. There were at least three girls with the same curly blond hair, and none of them were her. Oh, well. Maybe Electricity was right.
“I’m always right.”
Now you sound like my dad.
The fire department responded, and let us back in after determining there was no fire. However, the alarm kept going off sporadically, giving me an opportunity to get bonus footage from other parts of the mall. It was mostly the same, with a mix of Xentex GX-90 and Commando-series alarms.
I peeped into the lingerie store to see if their 7002T was going off, but it must’ve been on a separate system, and I ended up having to explain myself to a cop. His name was Officer Tody, and was cool as far as cops go. The employees said I wasn’t bothering them, but that they’d prefer that I not film their store for privacy reasons. Drat!
After being given a stern lecture by Tody, he dismissed me, and I remembered I needed a phone charger for the car. I stopped at Syzygy Wireless, where the alarm went off again. This time, it was a Commando-IV (the ceiling-mount Commando-III) in code 3 mechanical tone. Almost all the alarms at this mall were white.
“You gonna pay for that?”
Oops! I almost forgot. Perhaps I was getting too carried away.
“Or maybe you’re not getting carried away enough. Go investigate this and see what you find.”
Electricity’s an impulsive fellow - always leading me down the path of least resistance. But I could sense opportunity.
My conductive reasoning led me to the back corridors of the mall, where maintenance employees were frustratedly trying to reset both panels at once. I identified myself as a fire alarm technician and offered them some guidance. They reluctantly accepted, and explained the situation.
Most of the stores were running off the main panel, a Lucifire Scanman 2000. Some stores had systems which were entirely separate and owned by the tenant. But ICYA’s panel was tied to the main one, and they were designed to trip each other so everything would alarm at once.
This presented a problem – the panels would both have to be reset at the exact same time, or else one would trip the other all over again. Though the problem began with a simple heat detector that couldn’t take the kitchen, it blew up into a feedback loop that was making everybody miserable.
“Come on, man. It’s your day off. Forget about this crap and go find that Russian hottie.”
The solution was obvious, and I was going to sell it to them. They needed to reconfigure the way their panels were wired. Amco could do it all for cheap. Here’s my business card!
We were closed for the day, but they made sure to call first thing the next morning.
“Great work, Sands. I’ve been trying to get in there for some time now. That system is a straight-up mess.”
Glad I could help. Now what’s the prescription?
“Lucifire Obsidian – networked, with satellite panels in each of the anchor stores.”
Ashton always aimed high, but this was a bit too much for a mall whose main signals were janky mini-horns. So we went with the classic master-slave arrangement, where the main panel controls all the signals, and the smaller panels are retained as sub-panels to monitor the devices.
But we had another problem to contend with – the Hazard City fire marshal, who had jurisdiction over the entire mall. Her name was Kelly Amendoa, and she meant business.
“Sorry, ladies and gentlemen. Mr. Sands is right. Mini-horns are not acceptable for wide-area signaling. I understand they’ve been here for a while, but it’s 2030, and I’m fed up with the laxity of this place.”
Amendoa’s solution? Voice evacuation – special speakers broadcasting audio from a central amplifier. We didn’t have too much experience in this area, but we couldn’t afford to lose the business, either. We needed to hit goal for the month. Fortunately, the mall went with us in the end since we could do it the cheapest.
We did opt for the LFS-3030 addressable panel, fitted with an Audio Voice Command module. Knowing how Amendoa could be with large-scale projects, we agreed to let her supervise the design process via email and
Amendoa was really into our master-slave idea, but said we still needed to work out a few kinks. Namely, instead of having an army of sub-panels to do the main panel’s bidding, she wanted to take things a step further and use monitor modules for everything. All the standalone systems would have to go, and power supplies would have to be added for the horns.
“Madam Fire Marshal, could you please let us talk?”
“Fine. What now, Mark?”
“As much as I like money, this plan is unrealistic. There’s no way we can replace all of those devices in the scheduled time frame.”
Ashton thought it would be silly to force every store with conventional systems to replace all their initiating devices with addressable ones. Most of these stores were so tiny that devices were already easy to locate.
Amendoa conceded that point, and allowed us to use monitor modules to control the remaining conventional devices, with just a few exceptions.
We arrived before-hours Thursday morning, and were greeted by mall personnel, who would be providing the fire watch during the entire operation. We began by gutting the panel and reattaching the connections to the LFS-3030. I put my awesome programming skills to work labeling everything in the system. We enlisted the help of mall maintenance to check each individual store. I made only one mistake – getting another Kenny Roy’s turkey leg.
On Friday, it was time to migrate the tenants’ signals over to the new panel. We disconnected them from their respective NACs, and put them on control modules hooked up to the LFS-3030. The old panels would still provide the power, but now only the main panel could turn them on. I saw Svetlana at ICYA again, but was too busy to say anything, so I just waved. I don’t think she saw me, though.
Ahh, Mondays. This was our first day replacing devices in the main mall, and it was some of the hardest work we’d ever done. Amendoa made us order giant speakers for the mall’s atrium areas, and we decided on Matchlock STH cluster speakers. These things were enormous, and had four horn loudspeakers sticking out, with a super-bright RSS strobe in the center. If you thought working on a scissor lift was scary, try being 75 feet in the air on an articulated boom lift installing these monstrosities.
Now, for the easy part – replacing the old mini-horns. We would be using Matchlock E-70’s - basic but good-quality speaker/strobes. I gathered up all the old signals into boxes to take with us while Ashton programmed the Audio Voice Command.
During our break, Officer Tody warned us to be on the lookout for suspicious behavior. They were looking for teenagers who were playing with fireworks in the mall. Five bucks says they’ll hit a sprinkler. Ashton wasn’t willing to bet against that – this mall had more sprinklers than customers.
Yumi wasn’t too happy with the boxes and boxes of GX-90’s I brought home that night.
“Can’t you at least put them in the attic where I don’t have to look at them?”
I would, but I can’t test them in the attic. They’ll be gone in a couple weeks, okay?
Time for Testing Tuesday! The free labor the mall provided came in real handy, because there were a LOT of devices here. Amendoa was there to do the honors, making a preliminary announcement and beginning the test by unceremoniously pressing the manual evacuate button on the panel.
WHOOP- WHOOP - WHOOP! May have your attention please! There has been a fire alarm reported in the building. Please proceed to the stairways and exit the building…
And then, screams. Popping noises could be heard coming from the movie theater. Tody bolted, and ran toward the disturbance. It sounded like a fully automatic rifle. Ashton made a beeline to the nearest potted plant he could find. I stopped the test, and Amendoa commandeered the microphone.
“Attention, shoppers. The fire alarm test is suspended. Please evacuate the mall. This is not a drill!”
And suddenly, a band of around 10 teenagers emerged from the theater chasing panicked shoppers, firing off Roman candles and chanting,
“Candela romana, lux Americana!!! Our web of enlightenment shall stretch to nirvana!”
The frightening part is that they were actually aiming the candles at the people. Tody fired a warning shot into the air, and the teens dropped their weapons. Before he had a chance to arrest them, they practically swallowed the spent fireworks tubes whole – embers and all.
“Heya, kid. It’s me. We have a problem.”
You don’t say. These kids are EATING fireworks.
“No. A real problem. Go home. We need to talk.”
After emerging from his foliate foxhole, Ashton told me to drive him straight home, and even had to ask for a wheelchair. In my five years at the company, I’d never seen him like this before. Amendoa asked if we were alright, and said she’d take it from here.
None of the suspects survived their last meal.