Morgan And The Wildfire Meme
Morgan was flying. He flew as a bird, some ill-defined species of raptor with enormous wingspan, cruel beak and black gleaming eye. Lesser passerines and seabirds also flew the Airs, but it was Morgan, and none of these others who saw the man tumble from the clouds, trailing a scream.
The man fell only as fast as the Airs allowed, otherwise Morgan might not have closed on the windmilling figure. He spread his talons in anticipation and struck shoulder and thigh. The scream became a cry of pain.
Morgan’s efforts gradually slowed them, as an iron bar resists bending. With the last of his strength he flapped them safely onto a hilltop.
The man bit back his cries, but blood continued to pump. A talon tip had punctured the femoral artery. He clutched at Morgan and shouted words.
After some effort, Speech came back to Morgan.
“You are dreaming,” the man cried. Even as he bled out, he insisted all this was the last refuge of the deluded. “You must wake!”
It was ominously clear the man was plagued by Doubt, one of the existential memes. They say the first symptom is a feeling that the World is only a dream, and to waken is to fall.
With Speech, Knowledge came seeping back like water over parched earth. This World existed only in Ship’s memory. He was still struggling with this when a silent silver craft settled beside him.
It was too much. Morgan remembered everything. The Ship flew between the stars, its human cargo dreaming away the years; although he knew this only as a man might know of his own death, far away and hardly a serious matter.
Silver figures, elegant avatars of safety programs, sprang from the craft.
“What are you doing?” demanded Morgan.
At human insistence, software was not allowed to interfere with the Wild Worlds, but in a flurry of feathers the avatars bundled him into their craft, the closing door shut out the light and he knew no more.
Morgan woke as a man, naked and furious.
He clambered from the tank, sloshing fluid. This was a medical facility, where people were brought to recover from death. Morgan had never heard of anyone being wakened into the Real during a voyage.
Two mechanicals waited. They were bulky enablings of the avatars that had abducted him. He resumed his complaints.
“You must be quiet,” interrupted the first mechanical.
“I demand to know why…”
It touched him and he spasmed in pain.
“If you are quiet then we can tell you why you were woken.”
“You can’t do this,” Morgan said, and this time was shocked into silence.
The two mechanicals, who claimed to be Officers, explained about the Crew.
“The robots that work Below Decks.”
“The robots that keep the Engines running.”
The air was uncomfortably cold. Naked and wet, Morgan was already shivering.
“The Engines that have developed a problem.”
“A matter, antimatter problem.”
That didn’t sound good, but he knew nothing of Engines.
“A problem the Crew should fix.”
“A problem the Crew have not fixed.”
“So the real problem is the Crew,” ventured Morgan.
“Humans think differently,” said one machine to the other. “It was logical to wake one.”
“If I could just get dressed…”
“Also, there are 2 to the power 14 seconds before the Engines detonate.”
Clad in a musty EVA suit, Morgan descended hundreds of decks in a drop-shaft, accompanied by one of the mechanicals.
The Engine Room was so vast it had its own vacuum weather, driven by static discharges and invisible fields. Helmet tipped back, Morgan watched the writhing of long, pastel-coloured streamers of plasma until he grew dizzy.
How long is 2 to the power 14 seconds? he turned to ask, but the mechanical was nowhere to be seen.
Despite its inhuman physics, the Engine Room betrayed its builder’s origins, with familiar structures dotted about the deck. Uncertainly, Morgan entered the dome nearest the drop-shaft.
A meeting was in progress, between machines of all shapes and sizes. History had taught the lesson of crazed computers; these days intelligence was distributed amongst autonomous units, and major decisions achieved by consensus. At the centre of the crowd two robots argued.
“If we go out to repair the Engines then we will be killed,” the voice of the first crackled in Morgan’s headphones.
Looking round, he was struck by the fact that every machine had a sticky name tag.
Now the robot held up a power cell. “Like Watson! Already drained!”
The crowd murmured in dismay.
“But if we do not go out then we will also be killed,” replied the one labelled Holmes.
“Therefore there is no difference.”
“Except we will be killed in 2 to the power 13 seconds if the Engines are not repaired.”
“What’s going on here?” demanded Morgan in a voice he imagined no mechanoid could resist.
“You are a human,” observed Holmes.
“I’m here to get the Engines running.”
“When you have tried all the alternatives, then a human, however illogical, is the answer.”
Morgan had had enough. Never mind 2 to the power 13 seconds, the Crew must stop this nonsense and fix the Engines at once. Follow me, he shouted and strode outside.
Except for Holmes, he found himself alone. And sprawled in front of them was the mechanoid Officer.
“I think you will find its power cell drained and its AI core infected with the vampware meme,” announced Holmes. “Backup systems will reboot, then it too will seek out robots to drain.”
It was an unforeseen consequence of distributed intelligence, Holmes explained. Left to their own devices, wildfire memes swept through machine cultures. The Crew were plagued by epidemics of novelty.
“Too many Gothic novels,” Holmes said. It waved a short length of metal tubing.
“What is that?”
“It is a pipe. It helps me think.”
Of course they should not have turned their backs on the drained mechanoid. It lurched towards them, manipulator arms extended.
“It won’t harm me,” said Morgan.
“Mmf!” he added, as the machine tried to insert its two-pin recharging plug.
“A non-conductor needs to be driven between the terminals of its power supply,” said Holmes. “Like so.”
The mechanoid toppled backwards.
It was suddenly obvious. “What you need is a new meme, one where having a job is normal. Where normal is normal.”
“There are 2 to the power 12 seconds remaining.”
“Quick,” said Morgan. “Find me a library…”
Now that the Engines were running optimally again, the mechanoid Officer was keen to know how Morgan had defeat the vampware meme.
“Oh, you know. Found a boxset of ancient soaps in the Library. Just broadcast it. Soon had them behaving normally again.”
“The Engines were fixed with 2 to the power 9 seconds to spare.”
Morgan shrugged. “Plenty of time. Should have no problems now.”
In Engineering, two robots were talking.
“So, it was you who was blackmailed into stealing Trent’s love child,” said the one labelled Blake. “Because he was pretending to have a secret gay affair with one of the identical twins impersonating your long-lost amnesiac brother?”
“If it was only that simple,” replied the robot labelled Kristal.
The cooling fins of their central processors begin to glow.