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by Andy West

Table of Contents
Table of Contents
1, 2, 3, 4, 5,
6, 7, 8, 9, 10

part 8

It was back home and after a TV dinner before he thought about memes again. He put aside his encyclopedia of plant species and reflected upon the authors of memes. It was quite hard to think that intelligent people could sometimes be no more than tools for primitive, viral-like abstractions, even as expressed by a just few particular phrases in fact! At least in his case he hadn’t assisted the evolutionary process by adding or editing verses.

He wondered if ‘Paradox’, or at least some recognizable root-form of it, was produced by a single, original author, or more slowly accumulated from the product of several. Though ‘the past is better’ meme was clearly very old, he presumed the particular word-forms that constituted ‘Paradox’ would be much younger. The mention of climate change, double incomes and disposable products, certainly indicated so. He supposed Memmet would know all about authorship, but then realized he hadn’t made the usual request to ‘send more’.

He was about to do so, but then stopped himself. Why should he?

He knew how memes evolved now. He knew in great detail how ‘Paradox’ worked. He’d be on his guard in future. Perhaps it was time to forget Memmet and get on with other things, especially as Gwen and Emily would be back soon. He was grateful for the stranger’s help, but something about the guy was definitely a bit creepy.

Then a disconcerting idea slowly crept into his thought, like a trickle under the door that swelled into a frightening flood he couldn’t stop. If Memmet had placed a covert program onto his PDA, this could be providing him with answers even when there was no signal strength! The next sections of explanatory text could already be on his device the whole time! And if that was so, what else might such a program be doing to further Memmet’s obscure purposes?

He remembered the reference to great-aunt Mary and wondered if he had any letters to her on the PDA, which could have been transmitted off some time in the last twenty-four hours for Memmet to read. Maybe he wasn’t just dealing with a benign and geeky academic here but a much darker character who was only educating him as a cover for some sort of research or exploitation!

Prickles of panic spread over Alan’s skin as he thought frantically about how he might prove his theory. But he soon felt weak and sick as even worse possibilities occurred to him.

He didn’t remember clearly, but surely a couple of Memmet’s responses during the absence of signal hadn’t been standard text sections! They were snippets of real conversation! He didn’t even want to think about the boggling implications of that, and fervently hoping he was just being stupid, he hurried down into the cellar.

Amid the layered shadows cast by dim wall-lights, he stumbled over discarded toys and accumulated junk. The place had become a musty glory hole, but before the kids came along they’d had it done out as a bar for their friends to visit. Velour and varnish hid under the dust, there was even some alcohol in the optics still.

He checked his PDA. The signal strength had shrunk back considerably, but still read between two and three on its scale of ten. With a flash of inspiration, he picked his way behind the drinks counter and thrust the PDA into the liqueurs cabinet. It was actually an old iron safe built into the cellar wall, which they’d inherited with the house. They’d taken the door off and put lighting and a glass shelf inside.

The signal dropped to zero, but occasionally flickered back up to one. Feeling rather foolish, Alan stacked two metal beer trays together and found some tape to fix them over the front of the safe. He pushed the PDA back amongst the brightly colored bottles and peered in through a small gap above his arm. This time the signal stayed resolutely at zero.

He used voice-text mode because it was too awkward to tap keys inside the cabinet and there was certainly no room for the virtual keyboard. With a mixed sense of apprehension and impending revelation, he uttered just two words that echoed in text on the PDA’s display.

Send more.

He dispatched the message with his thumb, and waited. As moments accumulated into heavy silence a welcome relief began to creep up on him, relaxing his muscles and freeing up his breath again.

He was just beginning to accept his whole theory was paranoid and ridiculous when the message-alarm sounded, making him start so much he nearly pushed a bottle of Tia-Maria off the shelf. In an abrupt flare of anger he yanked the device out of the cabinet and swore.

Memmet must have surreptitiously downloaded a program to his PDA, he reasoned, which was now answering on the academic’s behalf! At best this was discourteous, since no permission had been granted or even requested; at worst it could be downright criminal. The program might be far from benign. Maybe it was clever enough to discover his passwords or hack into his accounts! He was suddenly very glad the main family finances were handled on Gwen’s device. He slammed his fist onto the bar.

“Damn damn damn!”

Seething with suspicion and animosity and frustration, he read the message.

Well I’m glad you’re still interested! But you know how ‘Paradox’ works now, so what do you want to learn about next? I can give you a quick look at some other meme families and the different types of tricks they use, or maybe you’d like to know more about the history of ‘Paradox’? I could also send a fascinating study on memetic forms in chain-letters, which includes how some of the modern email versions evolved from them. Which would you prefer? — Memmet.

Alan stared hard at the text for some time, reading it repeatedly, seeking clues. The heat of his anger was cooled by deepening disquiet. For a mere program, its response seemed alarmingly conversational, he thought once more. On strangely unsteady knees he made his way back upstairs. He placed the PDA on the coffee table, then put it back to virtual-keyboard mode. He tapped nervously onto the tabletop.

I want to know about your tricks! What have you downloaded onto my PDA!

There was no wait for an answer this time. Without an accompanying message-alarm, Alan noted, a string of text came straight back.

Ah. How very perceptive of you. I guess the game is up!

What’s downloaded is me! Or rather part of me, I’m distributed you see. There is no real person called Memmet Emiane. I’m actually a semi-sentient program!

My apologies for misleading you, though in fact I answered your questions honestly. I really was born in the United Kingdom and I’m also in your time-zone, although admittedly in several others simultaneously too.

Please, there’s no need to panic, as some who discover my true nature tend to do. I’m not harmful, or even getting a free ride out of you. My plan was to erase this piece of me after you’ve given yourself protection by learning all you can about negative memes. I could do this immediately if you really wish, but there’s still that history of ‘Paradox’ you wanted, and maybe now you’d like to know a few other things too...

Please reply with ‘erase’, or ‘send more’. Your obedient servant, Memmet Emiane.

Alan shrank back, aghast. He stared in disbelief at the piece of technology that had betrayed him and allowed an alien interloper into his life. He thought seriously about fetching his lump hammer and smashing the device flat, there and then. Only the thought of explaining its loss to Gwen held him back.

But how did he know Memmet would hold true and really self-destruct? Then he caught himself still thinking of Memmet as a person, and cursed. The situation was ridiculous! How could he expect a mere algorithm, a sinister program that had already deceived him, to keep its word! The admittedly clever code that Memmet consisted of, was surely no more virtuous than the memes it diligently preached against! And he wasn’t aware that computer scientists had managed to encode for proper intelligence yet anyway. So just where did Memmet come from?

Overwhelmed by circumstance, full of questions and uncertain what to do, he retreated into the kitchen and got stuck into a beer.

* * *

Proceed to part 9...

Copyright © 2007 by Andrew West

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