The Antisocial Network – Chapter Nine

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-”

“The zoo?!”

“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?”

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