The Antisocial Network – Chapter Seven

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?”

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