And by update I mean no update. The Antisocial Network will not updated tomorrow and will continue on the 1st of 2016. See you then!
Eric hadn’t mastered the strange art of forming a meme. In fact he hadn’t been thinking about it much at all even though his time with the Network and his own observations suggested it was pretty central to what telepaths did. The day after Rachada got in touch with him Eric wasn’t working so he spent part of the day taking care of basic things, like writing his parents to let them know he was okay and picking up some cheap Goodwill clothes to wear. As he poked through the racks of discarded clothing he absently wondered whether he’d see anything he’d left behind in his apartment again.
With that done he turned his attention to the all important task of figuring out what the heck a meme was and how he made one.
Hugo and Tails had both talked a lot about the collective unconsciousness, not something he really understood that well. All he really had to go on was the idea that everyone was somehow connected at the back of their minds, which he supposed the existence of telepaths kind of supported. He knew from theater classes that people really had two levels to their personality, who they thought they were and the thoughts and motives below the surface. Showing both was one of the challenges of the stage and, he was guessing, one of the challenges of being a telepath, because a meme sounded a lot like the below the surface part of a character.
And it was really a kind of character, since the way Tails had described hers made it sound more like a stereotype or an archetype mixed with elements of herself. That kind of went along with Rachada’s theory that meditating, a thing that Eric guessed put you in touch with your subconscious to some extent, had given her a very realistic meme. It was mostly her, with very little cliché. On the other hand, Eric figured he was an actor and it would probably be easier to go the other way entirely.
He was going to go with as much cliche as he could. He’d had a whole class on the hero’s journey, it’s importance and unimportance to film and theater, that kind of thing. But most of that was unimportant because most people agreed on the important part: The hero’s journey was one of the biggest cliches there was.
Actors leveraged cliches all the time, it’s why there was such a thing as “character actors”, another thing Eric had a class on in school. Slipping into the persona of a vaguely naïve, well meaning and optimistic would-be hero was very easy. To his immense frustration making the jump from that to meme wasn’t. After pacing around his friend’s apartment for a few hours Eric finally broke down and went for a walk.
Indianapolis wasn’t big on parks but it did have a pretty good sized zoo and after some debate Eric decided to head there to clear his mind. Tickets weren’t expensive but he didn’t want to shell out the money and, after a moment of guilt, he fired up the “I belong here and you know it” aura he’d used when walking away from Hugo and the Network. The zoo employees at the gate didn’t stop him for anything, barely looked up from the textbooks and college ruled notebooks most were reading, and once again Eric worried about what people without morals could accomplish with these kinds of powers. He wondered why Rachada hadn’t been more worried about it.
Thoughts about national security kept him from noticing the meme until it cleared it’s throat. Eric started and shook his head. “How can your own thoughts sneak up on you?”
“Surefire sign you aren’t using your head enough,” the meme replied. Cheekiness aside it was a pretty bland thing, dressed in unremarkable khakis and an unbuttoned collared shirt with sleeves rolled up to its elbows. It was built like a runner and had hair that was both longer and several shades lighter than Eric’s and like all of its ilk, save for Rachada’s meme the night before, it had no face whatsoever.
Eric frowned. “You’re the archetypical hero?”
“Well not yet,” the meme replied with a shrug. “We’re still early in the journey. We’ve just crossed into an unknown world-”
“You always wanted to go on a safari when you were younger,” the meme said, talking around Eric’s interruption like it hadn’t happened. “So we’re in the unknown and it’s time to tackle the real challenge.”
This was going to be more complicated than he had planned on. “Okay, what do I need to do?”
“Not get run over by a car?” The meme shook its head. “I don’t know, but if I’m the hero it’s going to be me doing the work, right?”
Eric hadn’t counted on that. “So I can just tell you to look for someone and you’ll find him for me?”
“I guess. Although that’s not a very heroic thing to do.” The meme didn’t sound very enthused at the prospect of playing messenger boy.
“Think of it as looking for a mentor,” Eric said, fairly sure that was a default part of the meme he was trying to generate. “That leads to the bigger goal.”
The meme nodded, some excitement starting to creep into its movements. “That makes sense. I’ll look for Vent and be back ASAP.”
The meme faded out of sight leaving Eric standing in the middle of a path into the zoo with a few people nearby looking at him strangely. He ignored them and started walking again, a little discomforted. Somehow he’d thought that finding Vent would be more of an involved process, not just a matter of asking a meme to go find him please. In fact, he hadn’t even asked the meme for anything it had just sort of read his mind and gone. That was an uncomfortable thing to think about.
Hugo and Tails had told him letting the collective unconsciousness touch someone’s mind was potentially really dangerous but the meme he’d just talked to had done it twice, first when it learned he’d wanted to go on a safari and again when it had pulled the name Vent, and presumably what the guy looked like, strait out of his head.
And now, from the sound of things, the only way for the meme to stop looking for Vent would be for Eric to get hit by a car, or presumably have something else equally traumatic happen to him. No wonder the teeps were so worried about those brainworm things. No matter what you did it sounded like stopping them would take something nasty. Telepathy was sounding like it had more and more dark sides to it every minute.
Hopefully Vent would show up in the next few days and give him some idea of the upsides.
As it turned out Vent showed up within the next hour. Eric had just finished an ice cream cone and was thinking about heading for the exit when he spotted the tall, black cloaked meme crossing an open plaza and coming in his direction. It was immediately obvious as a meme, Eric could see the faint outlines of people through it as it approached and the top hat with steam leaking from the top confirmed that it was the exact same one he had seen when his own telepathic abilities woke up.
At least, Hugo and Tails had seemed sure there was only one of these guys and Eric figured that was as close to an expert opinion as he was likely to get.
Eric approached the meme, dodging other zoo patrons as he approached it. As he got closer to it, it held out a hand and waved him towards a secluded corner of the plaza where it situated itself on a bench. After all that had happened to him after the first time he’d seen this meme Eric approached it warily, coming to a stop a good ten feet away.
The meme spoke first. “Hello, mirror maker. You meme was a very nice bit of work, a perfect echoer if I’ve ever seen one. Which I actually haven’t, that was an entirely new breed of meme to me and that alone is more than enough to get my undivided attention.”
“A perfect echoer?” Eric asked dubiously.
Vent tilted its head to one side, the blank face somehow more disturbing than a scrutinizing stare. “Perhaps it wasn’t a deliberate creation but just a true reflection of its maker? Either way, pretty impressive stuff. You wanted to talk to Vent, Mr. Echo, so I came to talk. What do you want?”
A quick check revealed that there were no men in suits getting ready to burst in and drug him into submission again. Eric felt a very minuscule amount of tension ease out of his body. “Am I okay?” He demanded. “It kind of depends on whether I’m going to be dragged out of here unconscious, doesn’t it?”
“Pretty much impossible,” Rachada said with a wan smile. “I don’t know where you are. When people communicate like this they only have a vague idea where the other person is. I only know what the room looks like because I’m piggybacking on what you see.”
Eric’s eyes narrowed as he looked Rachada over hard. “Weird. You look like you.”
“I look like- oh.” She waved at her face. “You mean I show the full range of human expression and all?”
“Well, close. It’s not perfect.” Eric leaned side to side to get a look from multiple angles. “You’re see-through in places. But yeah, it’s pretty accurate to life.”
Rachada shrugged. “I did a lot of meditation when I was young. It helped me develop a really good imagination. We think it may be part of the reason I have such strong memetic presence.”
“Dr. Thorwald and some of the others working on our project.” She planted her chin in one hand and watched as Eric went back to inventorying the bar. “There’s a lot we still don’t know about how telepathy works, though. We’d like to be in touch with the telepath group that talked to you, glean some of what they know and maybe build a better idea of what’s going on.”
“Afraid I can’t help you there.” Eric headed into the back room to get some fresh bottles. A curious glance over one shoulder showed him Rachada drifting along behind him, still seated on a barstool behind a section of bar that suddenly existed on its own, apart from the rest of the building, and followed him at a distance of about six feet. Weird. “The fact is I bailed on the telepaths ASAP after we left you. Not really eager to get back in contact either.”
Rachada made a mildly disgusted noise. “That’s disappointing.”
“I’m sure you’ll get a subject to dissect sooner or later.” Eric headed back to the bar, Rachada repeating her moving barstool trick except in reverse.
“We need to understand the physiology of stable telepaths better, we don’t need to dissect anyone to do that. And there’s still a lot of things they can do we don’t understand. Case in point.” She tapped the side of her head. “Whatever that woman did to me in the van has left me disassociated from my body.”
It took Eric a minute to parse that and figure out what Rachada meant. “You mean your stuck in an out of body experience?”
“Basically. Dr. Thorwald says I’m in a REM catatonic state, which hasn’t ever been recorded before.” Rachada pushed herself up off the barstool and took a stroll around the room. “We’ve been running a lot of experiments and it looks like I still have the full suite of telepathic abilities we’ve recorded before. I just can’t wake up. I was hoping you could ask them for me.”
“Where are you right now?” Eric asked, watching her and wondering if she was trying to figure out where he was from the room’s decor.
“A facility somewhere just outside of Chicago. It’s where we were taking you when we got hijacked.” She looked back at him over one shoulder. “How are you doing, by the way? Any sign of complications?”
“Not yet.” Eric considered what he should say. He knew it wasn’t really his fault Rachada was in a bad position, he wasn’t sure he could really be considered responsible for most of what had happened to him in the past few days. But his gut told him he should help out in some way or another. “Apparently I’m lucky in that respect. I got my telepathic abilities from a guy who’s a bit of a rogue on both sides of things. The telepaths call themselves a Network and they’re looking for him and Vent doesn’t sound like one of yours.”
“That’s what they call him. Nicknames sound like a thing with them, maybe because they’re worried about people like you. Vent sounds like he likes to tinker.” Eric mimed working with a wrench. “He might be kind of like you and your doctor friend, working to figure out what telepathy can really do, except he’s not working for anyone.”
Rachada nodded. “He does sound like a person worth knowing. You’ve met him?”
“Not yet,” Eric said, giving the bar top a final wipe down. “Although I’ve been thinking he might be a good person to try and get in contact with. Maybe I can finally get some straight answers from someone.”
Rachada looked down at the ground and her meme got more transparent. “I’m sorry, Eric. I know there’s a lot you want to know but there’s limits on how much I can tell you if you’re not under oath. Especially now that I’m officially out of the field, Dr. Thorwald was very emphatic that I wasn’t to try and contact the telepathic Network until my brain is fully recovered.”
“You’re talking to me.”
She gave him an amused smile. “You’re a convenient loophole. A telepath outside the government and the Network isn’t off limits.”
“How did you know I hadn’t joined them?” Eric stepped out from behind the bar and headed towards the back door. Once again his distance relative to Rachada didn’t seem to change.
“They actively avoid us. There are ways to avoid contact if you don’t want it, most of it is unpleasant.” Rachada flicked a hand in his direction and Eric experienced a moment of vertigo. “It’s like how they knocked out Franks and Beane in the van, kind of like the telepathic equivalent of screaming in someone’s ear. We have reached out to the Network before, they just don’t want to talk.”
Eric hesitated at the door. Rachada had mentioned she saw what he did, or something like that, he wasn’t sure he wanted her to get a look outside and possibly realize where he was. “How would I go about talking to the Network if I don’t know where they are? Or you for that matter?”
“Basically you build a meme and send it looking for whoever you want. Eventually it gets back to you and you’re in touch.”
He heaved a sigh. “I only understood half of that, Rachada.”
“What more do you want, Eric?” She shrugged, the closest he’d ever seen her to exasperation. “You won’t let us help you figure out your gifts and you won’t work with the Network. You’re bound to be missing out on a lot. I don’t know where you are but I can tell you’re not anywhere nearby. Talking to you is already becoming tiring and I won’t be able to keep it up nearly long enough to explain everything you need to know.”
“Okay, fine, I get it. Some of this is my fault. Pardon me for being paranoid about the men in black suits.” Eric massaged his temples, feeling something he figure was an approximation of the exhaustion Rachada must have been suffering. “Tell me, if I need to get ahold of you again how do I jump the distance between us?”
“That depends on how many telepaths there are around,” Rachada said. “As near as we can tell there’s a collective boosting effect. One telepath has a range of a couple of miles but they can piggyback across the subconsciousness of other telepathic minds to expand their reach, like an actual phone network, or a bunch of them can work together and boost a signal. A group of a dozen or so can make contact with another telepath anywhere on the continent given practice. The piggyback route is trickier. You need a line of telepaths stretched out like breadcrumbs. We think the Network uses bundles of telepaths scattered through the country to stay in touch with each other.”
“Got it.” Except, of course, he really didn’t. But what she didn’t know couldn’t hurt him. “Rest up, Rachada. If I hear anything that could help you recover I’ll be in touch.”
“I can’t ask for more than that.” Her meme faded away and left Eric alone in the back of the bar.
Eric slipped out of the building and onto the street. He hadn’t been lying when he said he’d be in touch but at that moment he was determined not to talk with Rachada or Hugo and Tails again until he knew more about telepathy and what it might mean for his brain. And if he was going to get answers to those kinds of questions without tangling with either the Feds or the Network he figured there was only one place to go.
The only real question was how he was going to find Vent.
Under the watchful supervision of Captain Hilts Eric managed to wiggle one of the old springs on the mattress frame until it broke off and straightened the wire into a lockpick. Actually picking the lock in question proved to be more of a challenge but took less time overall. All in all it took him nearly two hours to get out of the room and according to Hilts that was the easy part.
As far as Eric could tell, this was the first time the meme was wrong. Although it took a little caution and timing to make sure he never encountered two people in the building at once all he had to do to effect a disguise was pretend he was a telepath. An evil telepath, aparently. After some consideration he decided to play at Spock, since the Vulcan was at least cold and sometimes unsympathetic and he couldn’t think of a truly evil telepath vibe. So he just acted like he belonged among the Vulcans.
To his shock and not inconsiderable horror it worked.
Not that he wasn’t happy to be out on the street and under his own power again. But it barely took him three minutes to get out of the apartment, down the stairs and out the door. He passed four people in the halls and none of them thought to stop him.
It was possible that one or two of them were too new to realize he didn’t belong but four of them? Hugo had certainly made it sound like the place was a central hub for teep activity. Surely most of the people there knew one another already. At least one of them should have stopped and said something, even if it was just a quick “hello” before moving on.
If it was that easy to go through a building full of telepaths undetected it was no wonder the X-Files were so worried. Imagining what a bunch of teeps with no morals who knew the technique and wanted into military bases or research centers could do gave him the shivers. The next question was where he should go now that he was away from everyone who wanted him locked up, at least for the moment.
It didn’t take him very long to decide that he wanted to leave town. If the government was only watching major cities the telepaths couldn’t be spread much further. After all, no matter what the movies made it look like running a resistance movement across an entire country was pretty expensive and took a lot of people and cash, things he was pretty sure the teeps wouldn’t have. At least, not people. The whole process of “awakening” a telepath sounded tricky, especially with what Rachada had added about complications. He wasn’t sure if that just came with the brainworms Hugo had mentioned or if it was a universal danger but he was willing to bet it was the latter. The experience had been – still was – pretty freaky.
After a little thought he decided the right move was to go someplace big enough to blend but small enough that neither of the groups interested in him would have outposts there. Indianapolis sounded like the right bet. Indiana wasn’t a particularly notable state but capital cities were always happening with lots of coming and going and he was pretty sure there was regular rail service there.
Still, he wanted to check without drawing too much attention to where he was going. And there was something else worth checking out too. He wasn’t sure if the Hilts meme that had helped him escape was some kind of fluke related to being around a bunch of telepaths or if it was something he could do anywhere and trying to check his travel plans seemed like a good way to get a confirmation of some kind. Once he got to the L station he climbed into a car and started to think real hard about where he wanted to travel.
At first all that Eric saw were the same kinds of memes he’d spotted floating around the cars earlier, all clearly attached to people and kind of aimlessly directed into the space in the center of the train. Not what he wanted. After a few minutes, with no miracle answer meme showing up to impart wisdom Eric switched tactics. Rather than thinking hard about going to a city he’d never actually been to in his life he started focusing on the idea of travel by train. Then he switched to thinking about Amtrak and finally just movies with trains in general.
After about ten minutes, by which point he was almost to his next stop, a new meme made it’s appearance. This one had taken the appearance of a conductor with luxurious mutton chop whiskers (but no other facial features) in a uniform from the late 1800s. If pressed Eric would have guessed he came from some version of Around the World in 80 Days.
Eric stared at it for a second, wondering if he could talk to it just by thinking hard. Eventually he decided that it was probably best to just stick to what he knew worked. So he looked around, saw no one paying him a lot of attention, and said, “Can I get from here to Indianapolis?”
The meme thought for a minute or two and then rattled of a list of possible ways he could do just that. Eric tried to figure out what the best move was and wound up asking the meme to repeat itself a few times. He noticed that he got different answers the more he asked but, as with so much he’d seen that day, he had no idea what was going on. He started trying to work it out but quickly decided he didn’t care anymore and wouldn’t care until he’d had a good night’s sleep.
As it turned out, whether by luck or due to the strength of meme-Hilts’ advice, he managed to get to the Amtrak station and out of Chicago without further incident.
As it turned out he got almost two nights’ sleep before thinking about it, although not back to back. With only the money in his wallet to live on he’d been forced to go out and find a job as soon as he got to Indianapolis. The city didn’t have a large theater scene, at least in comparison to Chicago, but Eric still knew a couple of people in town he’d gone to school with. It only cost a handful of change and a few minutes at a payphone for him to track one of them down and get a couch to crash on.
Money was still an issue so the day after Eric arrived his host brought him to the bar where he worked and Eric had something of a job by the end of the day. Eric briefly considered trying to use telepathy on the bar owner in some way to get the job in the bag but he wasn’t confident enough he could influence the woman without hurting her.
So he worked that night as a bartender, collected his tips and got invited back to work the next evening. So Eric slept another night, went back to work and was given the dubious privilege of closing bar that night. Eric never liked closing, not because getting the last few drunks out the door was a chore or because he had to walk the deserted streets at night but because once the bar was closed he had to clean out and restock the bar.
Every bar had it’s own idiosyncracies and learning them was always a pain. He was in the middle of running through the hard liquor trying to remember what went where and make sure it was all in the right place when he felt the hair on the back of his neck standing on end. He’d never been a real believer in sixth senses but after acquiring telepathy he’d started paying more attention to the voices in the back of his head. So he looked over one shoulder and took a look around the bar room. At first glance it still looked empty but, just as he was about to write it off, he caught a meme fading into the room at the far end of the bar. To his surprise it wasn’t Hugo or Tails or even Vent.
“Hi Eric,” Rachada’s meme said. “Are you doing okay?”