The Antisocial Network – Chapter Ten

“So then you built a meme and sent it after me.” Vent’s meme leaned back on the bench and sprawled with its legs stuck far into the path in front of them, its posture not even remotely matching the way it was dressed. “You sound like you’ve had a rough week.”

“It’s not even half over,” Eric said, watching the pedestrian traffic unconsciously give them a wide berth. Vent insisted that no one would take notice of them as long as they didn’t do anything that would directly draw attention but Eric still worried about being dragged away to a room with padded walls for talking to himself in public.

“Let’s try to end it on a high note. You wanted to talk to me and here I am. If you don’t have anything in particular you wanted to ask I’d love to see you pull up that meme again.” Vent switched from casual lounging to almost predatory excitement in the blink of an eye. “I’ve never heard of anyone creating a meme directly from the Jungian unconsciousness before. It’s always been an expression of their own personality that they project outward into the collective Network. So how did you do it?”

“I don’t know!” Eric leaned away, a bit taken aback by Vent’s sudden forcefulness. “No one ever bothered to tell me how to handle memes so I just had to guess at it. They seem to be the only way to get anything done telepathically, which seems really clunky to me by the way, so I just acted like a stereotype and there it was!”

Vent plunked its chin in its hand and scrunched down in its seat, the wheels in its mind audibly churning. It was the first time Eric had heard audible sound besides talking from a meme and the sound of gears clanking was a little disturbing. He did his best to edge away from it without looking weird. “It sounds almost like you did the exact opposite of what teeps normally do – instead of projecting yourself outward you pulled the Network in… or maybe you just bent it somehow? That would explain why the meme seemed so empty when it finally got to me.”

“Empty?” Eric gave Vent’s meme a once over and, like normal, it was still possible to see through it faintly if he concentrated. “That kinda goes for all the memes I’ve seen.”

The meme laughed and pushed a hand through it’s chest, causing Eric to lean back queasily. “They aren’t exactly the solidest things around, are they? But that’s not what I meant about your meme. It didn’t have much of a personality when I first met it. Normally, even when you’re not piggybacking on a meme like I’m doing now, it keeps some component of the personality of whoever created it. Yours started out fairly monotonous but started acting more and more like me as time went on. It fell apart just a couple of minutes after it reached me. I’d have loved to examine it closer.”

“Maybe I just went about building it wrong.”

“That’s just it.” The meme went back to examining him closely. “You did something that no one thought to do because you didn’t how things are ‘supposed’ to be done.” Vent’s meme didn’t have much expression but the voice it was projecting managed to imply he didn’t think much of how things were supposed to be done. “You’ve done something no teep has ever done before – twice! – because you didn’t know how we would have gone about it.”

“Twice?”

“The whole making yourself invisible trick.” Vent waved at the people walking through the zoo in the distance. “I’m pushing people away by actively diverting attention whenever it comes towards us. Tricky at first but it becomes a thing you do almost by muscle memory. But telepaths notice it happening pretty easily. You did something else – you lulled them into complacency rather than pointing them into a different direction. Very different approaches. I think it might be because you’re an actor. Most of us are in the field of psychology or communication, at least so far.”

Eric jumped on the opportunity to push the conversation away from weird things he’d done and wasn’t sure he could do again. “Was that what the First Teep was?”

Vent adjusted his posture to lean slightly away from Eric, the first sign of discomfort he had shown during their conversation. “Well, I honestly don’t know. I can’t even be sure he’s really the first telepath to exist, although there are some bothersome signs…”

“Bothersome how?”

“He…” Vent trailed off and for a moment his meme was entirely silent, to the point where Eric started to wonder if he’d decided not to answer the question at all. Eric was on the verge of waving his hand in front of the meme’s face, just to see what would happen, when it spasmed slightly and shook its head. “Sorry, Echoes, I got distracted.”

Eric laughed. “Echoes? Is that me now?”

“Unless you have something else you’d like to be called.” Vent shrugged. “I don’t recommend using your real name, at least until the government decides chasing us around isn’t a good use of time, and Echo would be as good as anything. And it fits what I’ve seen your meme do.”

That seemed fair enough. “So. The First Teep.”

“Yeah. Him.” The meme leaned back and heaved a soundless sigh. “He has bothersome signs of being obsessive-compulsive, or maybe something a little more complex. Like I said, most of the first round of teeps are psychology people and I’m no exception. When I woke up to the teep world I think there were less than a dozen of us, all in the Chicago area. FT was one of us and from some of the stuff he said I got the impression he was in treatment for something. My theory was that he was part of a research project for something that needed FDA approval and he reacted differently than others. Or maybe not differently, maybe the entire first crop of teeps were disturbed people in a drug test. But it made him an interesting case study regardless, and he’s never been forthcoming about the circumstances that transformed him. Didn’t seem to think they were important.”

Like most real-life stories Eric found that Vent’s didn’t quite line up with other things he’d been told. Fortunately, with a little work he could write a script of his own. “Hugo mentioned that you were looking at brainworms. Did you think the First Teep was a source of them?”

“Brainworms?”

“Insanity that spreads mind to mind, or something.”

Vent laughed. “That’s a good name for them. But I wasn’t really that interested in them, except as an example of memetic propagation. The First was. I think he related better to people telepathically than in person and he was convinced that brainworms could be used to spread telepathy. I think he just wanted to get along with others better.”

That sounded a little closer to what Hugo had said. “So you helped him come up with a brainworm that could wake telepaths?”

“No, I knew he was working on the idea when we parted ways but it just didn’t interest me.” Vent shrugged. “I’m more interested in understanding the structure of the mind and the structures the mind creates in turn. There’s all kinds of potential treatments for mental disorders inherent to telepathy but I quickly learned brainworms wouldn’t help me understand them at all. Most of the Network just wants to keep a low profile and figure out what they’re doing with their lives now that they’re different from everyone else. I already knew, so I left them to find their own way and went my own.”

Eric felt his eyes narrow as a nasty thought occurred to him. “You’re awfully cavalier about all the people the First Teep wanted to drop his brainworm on.”

“Well it’s not like there was anything I could do to stop it, per se,” Vent said, dismissively. “He hadn’t made one yet and he knew as much about the art of memetics as I did and it’s not like there were blueprints or anything I could steal. Besides, I did notice when he released his first one and I took the time to look it over. It does it’s job and, aside from being telepathic, I didn’t notice the person it affected being any worse for wear. Even if I had done something about it, FT could always have made another one.”

“It didn’t seem like a very benign thing when I ran into it.” And Eric couldn’t help but think of Rachada’s mentioning other, nastier side effects. Unrelated? Perhaps. “Tell you what. If you show me one of these brainworms and explain how they work I’ll show you how I pulled up that meme I sent to find you. Deal?”

Vent’s meme nodded its head quickly. “A perfectly fair exchange. But you could be away from yourself for quite a while in the doing of it. Better get indoors, and give me a little time to marshal my own facilities. I’ll come looking for you in a three hours. Is that enough time?”

Eric nodded. “I’ll see you then.”

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