They left him with a promise that the First Teep would show up to talk to him in person. Eric still wasn’t sure he wanted to stick around for that but it turned out he didn’t have much choice in the matter. They’d locked him in his room.
It seemed like a good time for him to find a corner of the room and panic for a bit.
Unfortunately for that plan, the Han family had never been big on panicking when he was growing up and he’d not bothered to pick up the skills on his own so he wasn’t quite sure how to go about it. He wound up sitting on the bed, his back against the wall, and wondering what Indiana Jones might do in this situation. It would probably be improvised, whatever it was, and Eric had never been any good at improv. He was still trying to think of what to do next when a pair of loud thumps startled him and he looked around in an attempt to find the source.
He found Captain Virgil Hilts bouncing a baseball against the wall.
Technically it was a meme, he could tell that right away as from the angle he was looking at it clearly had no face, but otherwise it was a pretty accurate recreation of the character from The Great Escape.
“Sorry to bother you, Captain,” Eric said, “but this isn’t solitary confinement.”
“Really?” The meme bounced its baseball again. “Because it seems like you’re the only one here.”
He had to give it that one. “Okay, let me put it another way. Why are you in here with me?”
“I’m anywhere someone wants to get out of. Most people just don’t bother to talk to me.” Hilts pulled off its glove, tucked it under an arm and stuck out its hand. Eric reached out to shake it reflexively but naturally found there was nothing there to actually grab. If the meme was bothered it didn’t show. “So should we get started?”
“Started on what?” Eric asked, dubious.
“Breaking you out. That’s what I do.” The meme showed no sign of irritation or exasperation at what, from its choice of words, it must have considered a stupid question.
“Breaking me out of here.” The meme nodded its agreement to the sentiment. “What, aren’t you on the side of the telepaths?”
“I am on the side of getting out of places,” the meme said, its voice taking on enough of a tone to suggest it thought this was a very profound statement.
Come to think of it, when Eric compared the way it was acting to Tails’ meme or Vent’s brainworm, meme, whatever, it was acting really flat and monotone. “Who’s meme are you, anyway? Do you guys just run around and do whatever when teeps don’t need you?”
“I’m the meme of getting out of places. I go wherever someone needs to get out of and tell them how to get out. No one sends me, people just think about me.”
Eric studied Hilts for a minute. Hugo had mentioned that memes were part of the collective unconscious. He vaguely remembered something about that from college but obviously nothing in what he’d studied had covered how the idea might interact with telepathy. It seemed almost like he’d just tapped into everything the human race knew about escaping from places.
But that would be crazy. Who just waves their hand and just has everything the human race knows on a subject available?
Eric decided he’d need to do a little more digging before trusting the oddly helpful meme. “Okay, Captain Hilts, why don’t we start planning an escape then. Where do we start?”
The meme considered Eric for a moment, going so still that, along with it’s totally blank face, it looked more like a display from a history museum than an embodiment of human knowledge. Finally it said, “You’ll need to blend in once you’re out. It’s important to cover that kind of prep work before you think about actually leaving. What you have and what you need to take can make a difference in what way you go. Do you speak the language?”
That was a weird question. “Yes?”
“Good.” Hilts started pacing the length of the small room. “Do you have all the papers you need? Will your clothes blend with the local population?”
“Yes.” Eric wondered how much of this was influenced by the film the meme’s appearance was drawn from. If he was remembering right, The Great Escape had put a strong emphasis on these kinds of details. It would be interesting to see if he could get the meme to show up again in a different guise and find out if there were any differences. Or maybe memes were always the same for the same people.
Hilts was looking over Eric’s clothes with a skeptical eye, as if he couldn’t believe that what he was wearing was the kind of clothing that would blend seamlessly anywhere, but it didn’t comment. “Okay. What kind of person are you going to pose as? It’s important to have a coherent cover story if someone stops and questions you. Making that kind of thing up on the spot is a recipe for disaster. They’ll catch any inconsistency in a heartbeat.”
Eric hadn’t given that any thought. “I don’t know. You’re the expert. Any suggestions?”
“Who is the opposition?” The meme asked quickly enough it had probably anticipated Eric’s question.
“Well that’s kind of tricky. I don’t really know what’s the deal with these guys.” Eric waved vaguely at the rest of the building. “But I do know there’s some FBI wannabes out there looking for me and I’d prefer to avoid them too.”
Hilts thought about that for a second. “A group of irregulars and a Federal agency. You’ll need some kind of a role that will create respect and a desire not to ask questions from both parties. You could try for a doctor.”
Eric thought about it. He had watched some ER but he’d been paying more attention to the actor’s performances than the words they were saying. He didn’t really know enough jargon to pass. But even more importantly, “I don’t look like a doctor.”
“I thought you said you had everything you needed to blend with the local people.”
“I do,” Eric said, pressing down a surge of irritation. “But that’s a lot different from looking like a doctor.”
“I see.” The meme paced some more then seemed to come to a decision. “You need to rely on something else, then. I don’t know if it will work, since most people who do this in the field have a lot of training. But it’s worth a shot.”
“Lay it on me, Captain.”
“You act like you belong.”
Nothing more was forthcoming. “I’m sorry, what?”
The meme took a seat and started tossing his baseball against the wall again. “It’s pretty simple. You are a telepath. If you act like you belong wherever you are people will be sucked in and believe you.”
“Yeah, but believe I am what?”
The meme caught the ball deftly using a glove Eric was pretty sure it hadn’t had a few seconds before. “That’s the real question, isn’t it? You’ve got no way of knowing, it all depends on what they’re expecting to see. And if your actions don’t meet their expectations the illusion won’t hold.”
“I guess that makes sense.” While he wasn’t the greatest improviser to ever walk the boards Eric did know all the stock nonsense phrases you could use to cover over an awkward moment on stage when someone missed a cue or something unexpected happened. Hopefully that and an occasional flash of brilliance would be enough to get him through. “One question. What if I run into a group of people? Will they all see me the same?”
“It depends, but probably not. Of course, they may not realize they think they’re talking to different people until they stop to compare notes. All part of the gamble.” Another toss of the baseball. “That’s one reason why I didn’t suggest it right off the bat. Still, given all you’ve got to get around I think it’s your safest method of approaching the matter.”
“Well it’s nice that you think so but there’s still one thing we haven’t addressed which is definitely keeping me from escaping here.”
The meme caught its baseball and gave him what Eric assumed was a curious look. “What’s that?”
He gestured around at the room. “I’m still stuck in a locked room with no way out.”
“Oh!” The meme sounded genuinely chagrined. “Well that’s easy enough to fix. To start with you’re going to need to crawl under the bed…”