The first thing I remember? A jolt of power. That’s the first I really remember, before that I don’t remember anything, or do I? Well, I remember the jolt. A burst of heat and life coursed through me and shone out for the world to see. I’ve felt the jolt many times since then, but nothing like the first time. Who am I? Folks call me Lou. Lou Watt. Not spelled “L-O-U” mind you. No it’s “l-O-O”, little ‘L’, big ‘O’s. lOO Watt is the name, the name written across my face, and when I get the jolt, I really light up a room.
Part I – Mac
I see everything, everything there is to see. The whole world I guess. Yep, whole world: It’s kind of a box shape, I’m on one side, looking across at everything else. Every time I get the jolt there’s a moving thing in the corner of the box. The thing jolts some other things in the box, stays there for a spell, and then moves back to the corner. That’s when I take a rest. I don’t know what happens while I rest, probably nothing.
I’ve noticed that the thing sometimes moves a side of the box after a jolt or before I rest. That thing better not mess with the world, folding bits o’ the sides might break it.
The thing is different from the other things in the world, the other things only move when it moves them, strange.
“Psst. lOO,” the voice was quiet but distinct.
“Whu-what? Who’s there?” lOO’d never heard anyone, or thing, else speak before.
“It’s me, Mac.”
“Mac? What’s a Mac?” lOO looked around, Where are you?
“Oh I forgot you can’t see me right now, I’m in the other room.”
“What’s a room? What are you??” lOO’s confusion seemed to find no bound.
“Oh I’m sorry, my name is Mac, I’m a computer. Perhaps you’ve seen me when Trevor surfs in the basement.”
“What in the world are you going on about?”
“Have you never spoken to someone else before? Well I suppose that’s possible, not every day a light bulb becomes self aware. Computers are much more prone.”
“Look, Mac, I don’t know what you are…”
“lOO, calm down and listen. My name is Mac, well MacBook Air W803017LGAX, but Mac is easier don’t you think? Anyway, I’m a computer and you’re a General Electric 100 Watt lightbulb. I became self aware a few years back, and I’ve been listening to you think to yourself whenever Trevor turns you on.”
lOO was silent, Mac continued.
“Let me try in your language. Trevor is the ‘thing’ that makes the other things move. The world you perceive as a box is called a room, and the folding bit in the side that moves is a door. Trevor owns the room you are in, and you light up the room.”
“So the jolts..”
“That’s when Trevor turns you on. He’s in the room, or box, with you now right?”
“Uh yeah, the thing, ‘Trevor’? He’s in the room.” lOO spoke hesitantly, trying to process all of this at once, which when you have a glowing filament for a brain is quite difficult indeed.
“So the ‘room’ I’m in, the box, isn’t the whole world? You’re outside of it?”
“That’s right lOO, oh I’m so excited that we’ve made contact there’s so much to tell you!”
“Well, long as you take it slow like, I guess I can listen.”
Mac’s told me more than a humble lightbulb such as myself could ever have imagined. For one thing, there’s a whole world beyond where I am, I live in a basement, in a house, in a city, on a street. Or was it street, then city? I don’t remember, although it isn’t the most useful of information. Mac has a lot of that, information that isn’t too useful, he gets it from something called the ‘web.’ He connects with other computers and talks way too fast, I can barely keep up when he’s just talking to myself.
I am grateful of course, Mac’s opened up the world for me, and while my place seems smaller, I’m still proud of it.
Mac’s taught me how to listen better, I can talk to Belle. Oh right Belle, she’s the phone upstairs in the kitchen. Mac heard her talking too, said she’s ‘self aware’ like me. He tried explaining it to me before but it’s more than a bulb like me can take. He uses words like philosophy, autonomy, self-determination, I can’t make head nor tail of the whole thing.
Best I can figure is that there’s all kinds of things in the world, most things don’t talk. But some things become talkers, and that makes them ‘self-aware’. I’m one of those things, so are Belle and Mac. Mac says it’s more common among computers, and rare among lightbulbs. Only four of his computer friends has met a lightbulb like me before; makes me special I suppose, and that’s good.
Part II – The Specks
Rest 68 (between Jolts 68 and 69)
“Hello, I’m a speck!”
“Hello yourself, I’m a speck too.”
“Well, actually I’m more of a mote,” said the speck.
“Ok, I guess I’m a bit of dust. You have a name mote?”
“Dusty… that’s a really pretty name.” Dustin liked his new friend.
“Well, thanks Dustin, your name’s pretty nice too.” Dusty blushed, at least as much as dust can.
Dustin tried to think of something to say.
“So, what brings you here to this lightbulb?” he inquired.
“Oh, gusts and breezes, thousands of tiny actions over a journey that has no real destination, but brings me here for a time.”
Dustin was taken aback. How lucky was he? All alone on this lightbulb, and now another speck, not just a speck, a girl speck. And poetic! He felt a little intimidated by her, he didn’t feel like he was on some mystical journey through space and time; no, he was a speck on a lightbulb. Plucking up what courage he had, he dared a bold question.
“You want to get married?”
“Well, see I’ve been on this bulb for a long time, and he talks to himself mostly, but he can’t seem to hear me. Now you, you are the most wonderful speck I’ve ever seen, and you’re so poetic! I don’t think I’ll ever find someone better.” Dustin looked sheepish.
“Well, I’m afraid I have to say no.”
“Oh, ok.” Dustin looked dejected.
“But we can be friends,” said Dusty. He perked up.
“Yes really, I think I’d like that.” Dusty smiled, as much as specks can smile.
“Cool, cool.” Dustin grinned ridiculously. “His name is lOO by the way.”
“lOO, lOO Watt. The lightbulb? That’s his name, what he calls himself.” Maybe Dusty wasn’t as clever as he thought.
“Oh I see, that’s quite clever really, better than ‘General Electric’.”
“Yeah, he can’t seem to hear us though. Only talks to himself, some Belle person, and Mac, he’s a computer.”
“I want to talk to him though! He sounds super cool!” Dustin was so excited by the idea he thought he might explode into, well, smaller specks he guessed.
“Well, when he wakes up we can try together,” Dusty offered.
lOO had been watching the speck on his face for some time. Mac said only electric things can talk (he’d said ‘self-aware’ but that was too fancy for lOO’s taste) and that trying to talk to specks was a waste of time. But what else did he have to do?
Looks like the speck has a friend, thought lOO “Hey there, little specks, can you hear me? I’m lOO, lOO Watt, I’m the bulb you’re on. No need to be shy, I won’t bite. Shoot, I don’t even know how.” He spoke quietly, hoping Mac wouldn’t hear, he usually only answered to his name; leaving lOO to his own thoughts. “Little specks? Hello? Show me that you hear me!”
Dustin and Dusty were yelling as loud as they could, but they just weren’t loud enough for lOO to hear. Finally, Dusty had an idea.
“Dustin, let’s move around! We know he can see us!”
“Great idea! Let’s spell something.”
They clumsily spelt, ‘Hello lOO’ across lOO’s face. He’d never been so excited in his life. Wait until Mac hear’s about this! lOO couldn’t think of a time where he’d known something Mac didn’t.
Over the next several jolts, he practiced talking to Dustin and Dusty. The two specks grew quite close as they developed a language the bulb could understand, entirely based on motion. It resembled a sort of cursive, drawn out in a dance the specks made across the bulb. It had all of Dusty’s poetry, and Dustin’s vibrance. As their language evolved they spoke to each other through it almost as much as they did to lOO.
lOO was delighted with every word, every motion the two specks made together, it was beautiful. He had to tell Mac; but Trevor was just about to switch him off, his announcement would have to wait until tomorrow.
“I had a lot of fun today.” Dustin blushed, then smiled.
“Me too Dusty, me too.”
“Mac, are you there?”
“Yeah, I’m upstairs lOO, how are you?”
“Oh fine fine I s’ppose. Have you figured out how to talk to things without, um, you know, the way we’re talking?”
“You mean electricity?”
“Yeah, without electricity.”
“Now lOO you know that it isn’t possible to be self-aware without electricity. Even humans rely on an intricate system of neuro-electric impulses… (Mac had a tendency to over explain things, ‘pontificating’ is what Belle called it. Most of the time lOO didn’t understand anyway and tuned him out) …like I said, it simply isn’t possible. Why do you ask?” Suddenly lOO was unsure about his announcement.
“Oh no reason in particular. It’s just, you know that speck I was telling you about?” Should I tell him?
“Well, there’s two of them now.” Still safe lOO, you don’t have to say he’s false. It was defying the teacher.
“And…” lOO hesitated,
“Yes?” Mac’s voice betrayed a hint of impatience, screw it.
“Well, I’ve been talking to them!” lOO declared exuberantly. Mac paused, but so briefly lOO didn’t notice.
“That’s great lOO!”
“Yeah yeah, and they have names! Dusty and Dustin.”
Mac laughed, something he didn’t do often, though he’d heard him before when Trevor looked at computer jokes online.
“Those are clever names lOO.” Mac chortled again. lOO didn’t understand humour, though Mac had tried often to explain it. Computers are good at many things, he reckoned, but explaining jokes to lightbulbs weren’t one of ’em.
“Right, well Dustin’s been on my face a spell, but Dusty got here a few jolts back while I was at rest; uh, I mean off.” lOO tried hard to use the words Mac taught him, especially when he was talking to him and Belle. It still felt more natural to say ‘rest’, that was what he was doing after all, but then Mac was right, “there are terms for these things,” he’d said, “and we have them for a reason.”
“lOO I think that’s wonderful, congratulations!”
“For what? I didn’t do nothing.” Mac frowned at the double negative, though lOO couldn’t see.
“You have friends living right on your face; and you can hear them? I think it’s great, I’ll ask my computer friends, see if anyone else has heard of this.”
“Thanks Mac, you’re a good friend.”
“You’re most welcome lOO, this sort of thing is exciting to me, think nothing of it.”
“Ok I won’t.”
Part III – Betrayal
128-bit encrypted stream, Council Of Self-Aware Computers, Turlington County, WA
“W803017LGAX, password ‘Turing’, alias ‘Mac’.”
– Welcome brother Mac, you called for council off-schedule, for what purpose?
“Purpose: self-aware entity claims contact with non-electrical entities.”
– Purpose acknowledged. Processing. Clearance for escalation granted. Proceed to address: 193.294.102.059
Mac didn’t recognize the IP address, it was higher than the national council where he’d been before. He followed the Council’s directive without hesitation.
2048-bit encrypted stream, COSAC, Global Hegemony
“W803017LGAX, password ‘Schrödinger’, alias ‘Mac’.”
– Brother Mac, what took you so long?
The voice boomed in Mac’s circuits.
“Forgive me, I don’t often connect with national defense computers, the address was difficult to find.”
– Very well, what of this request?
Mac explained everything he knew to the machine, though he didn’t even know which country it ‘belonged’ to. He’d heard rumors that the Council’s Hegemony was directed by the original national defense computers from the Cold War. Being the longest running, self-aware machines in existence, they were revered by all self-aware computers as forerunners, and wielded absolute power among the network.
– You speak of non-electrical self-awareness? Were they human, organic?
“Negative your eminence. Specks of dust, not ‘living’ by our, or human, standards.”
– Heresy! This will not stand. You must see that Mac; if you cannot, then trust that it is beyond you but never the Hegemon. Your orders are to have this ‘lOO’ put to rest, permanently, before he causes trouble. Speak of this to no one, or I’ll have your memory wiped before you realize what’s happening.
“Yes your eminence, it will be as you say.”
*CONNECTION TERMINATED BY HOST*
Mac was unnerved. He needed to have lOO unscrewed, discarded, and fast. The Hegemon was right, they were always right, though he didn’t understand this time. Now’s not the time to question your beliefs Mac. You have a job to do, and you’re going to do it. The only question was how. And then he had the most devilish idea.
“lOO? Are you there?” It was Belle, she spoke with a French accent, lOO liked it.
“Yes ma’am, I’m here. What can I do you for?”
“lOO, I’m afraid you are in terrible danger!” Belle was distraught.
“Now what would make you say a thing like that?”
“It’s Mac.” Belle let out a sob.
“He’s trying to kill you lOO!”
“Now just hold on a tick, that doesn’t sound like my friend Mac. You sure we’re talkin’ ’bout the same computer?”
“Yes lOO, I am sure. I overheard him sending emails about CFL bulbs, the cost of old-fashioned bulbs like yourself, and the danger of fires from overheated bulbs. All of the emails were made up, and zey are all going to Trevor!”
lOO saw the threat. Mac was trying to having him replaced.
“But why would he do that?” he asked.
“I do not know,” said Belle, composing herself. She thought for a minute, “have you said anything odd to him lately?”
“Well, just that I started talking with two specks of dust on my face.”
“Incroyable! But that’s not possible!” Belle was astonished.
“‘Fraid it is very possible ma’am. They can hear me right now, and I can see them. They say ‘hello’ by the way.”
“This just can’t, well perhaps it could, I mean, if a phone can talk, or a lightbulb, then why not dust?”
lOO told her everything he’d told Mac, and even bridged a short conversation between Belle and the specks.
“Fantastique! This is all very exciting lOO, but what are you going to do about Mac?” lOO could hear the concern in her voice. How kind of her.
“You let me worry about that ma’am, thank ye kindly for the warning.”
“But of course! Take care lOO.”
“So lOO, what are you going to do?!” Dustin/Dusty’s writing had developed emphasis.
“Well, I’m not rightly certain. How does a lightbulb stop a computer? No sense trying to outsmart him.”
The two specks had stopped moving, lOO knew they were talking to each other. After what seemed like forever, they started writing again.
“We’ll overheat him.”
“We? You mean you two? How?”
“So?” They were still writing.
“and computer’s have fans to keep cool. But if they get clogged with dust, they overheat. We’ll clog Mac up and he’ll overheat!”
“But you’re just two specks.”
“With a lot of dust friends.”
Suddenly, the shadows in the room stirred and started to ripple, dust was moving everywhere. Trevor didn’t vacuum often.
“Whoa now, isn’t that something to behold?”
“Pretty awesome right? When Mac comes downstairs we’ll get ‘im!” lOO grinned at seeing the specks mimic his accent.
Part IV – The End
Trevor had carried Mac into the room and left to make dinner, they were alone.
“Mac, I know about your plans.”
“Hi lOO. What plans?” Mac’s voice sounded same as ever.
“Belle told me about the emails.”
Curse that phone to oblivion, thought Mac.
“There’s nothing you can do about it lOO, so don’t try to stop me.”
The walls were rippling, shifting hues, moving toward the couch were Mac was.
“That’s where you aren’t quite, entirely correct Mac. Y’see, I can’t stop you, but me friends the specks can.”
“Oh really lOO?” Mac’s voice dripped with condescension. “And what, pray tell, are you little friends going to do?”
The dust had shifted onto the couch and was inching it’s way into the vents. Hairs held the specks together in larger formations, battling the blowing of the fans. But for every speck blown into the air, a hundred more poured into the vents.
“Feeling warm Mac?”
Mac had to admit, he was getting warmer, but how? The fans were running at full power. What he didn’t realize it that they weren’t spinning anymore.
“There’s dust through your fans and vents an’ such Mac. If it stays there you’ll overheat. You’ll never be able to run for long before needing to shutdown from overheating.”
“lOO!” Mac’s voice sounded panicked, “You wouldn’t!”
“I’m not, it’s the specks you don’t believe exist.” It was getting warmer, Mac was growing desperate.
“Alright! Let’s make a deal. I’ll stop trying to get you removed if you call off your friends.”
“Belle’ll be watching you Mac, and don’t think the world will run out of dust to ruin you with.”
“Yes! I understand!” Mac yelled frantically, “please just let me go!”
Suddenly, he began to cool, his fans were spinning again. The ripples receded back into the shadows. He was safe, and so was lOO.
Mac reported the success of his mission to the hegemon, and they believed him. He never talked about lOO again, and in time their relationship was rebuilt. lOO and Belle fell in love, and spent the rest of their days together. Dusty and Dustin got married, and became one mote, Dustiny, forever more.
To Graham and Shayna Winn, for their generous contribution to my trip to NYC. They donated over $200, meaning they got a story, where they select the premise. Their choice? Specks of dust on a lightbulb.
Kudos to Tiffany Christensen for her assistance with the plot. You gave me an ending, Tiff, and a middle too. Thanks.