Felly scurried through the late-night city streets, passing a checkpoint that she got through only because she gave the guard a capsule of Scoop in lieu of a valid night pass. She had to get to Cedric, and fast. The red alarm on her implant was blinking furiously, her head pounding in time. She got to Cedric's building, a post-war hive of concrete and hopelessness, sped through the front door, whose mag locks were always fritzed out, up three flights of stairs and down a murky hall.

Half-collapsed against Ced's door, Felly pounded until she heard the snaps and clicks of a dozen locks, and practically fell onto Cedric himself, looking far too alert for 2 a.m. and not at all happy to be interrupted. Clutching his shirt front, panting in short breaths, Felly looked up and blurted, "I've caught a bad meme. It hurts. I need it out, Ced, you have to get it out."

Peeling her fingers away, he pulled her inside and relocked the door. "You've got a top scanner, and you still caught a looping meme? Did you restart?"

"Yeah, Ced, of course I restarted. It's still there. I blanked the left eye screen but there's still flickers, and I can't get it to stop. My skull is splitting in half." Felly looked it, her pupils dilated so wide almost none of the blue showed, her hands shaking.

Silently Cedric cradled Felly's head in his hands, tilting it to one side, and brushed his thumb over the stats nub. He had an ancient pair of glasses, so clunky even the most desperate thieves passed him by, that he'd modified into a tiny walking interface. He didn't like the 'plants much, though they kept him in business, but he preferred his tech removable. His eyes unfocused as he scanned the readout on his glasses screen.

"Where, um, where did you pick that up?" He didn't move for his toolset, the mag reader, or even ask for payment, but stepped back warily while Felly plopped to the floor cross-legged and tentatively rubbed her temples with her hands.

"I was curious about the silo bombings and started trailing some links. I ended up on this fansite, real weird stuff, and one of the posts had a thumbnail of the floozer meme, so you know, I wanted to see... well, I like that one, a weasel dressed like that, you know? I just wanted to see how in the world someone would caption it." Felly's pupils were still dilated, but her breathing had slowed, and she watched Ced's face crumple in thought.

"It's not weird someone looped a meme, but it is weird your wall didn't block it, or at least ping you. No ping? Nothing?"

"Nada. I got the first meme up, then it started scrolling through a bunch of different captions so I figured it for a pop-up, but it didn't redirect anywhere. It's scrolling, just scrolling nonstop, and it hurts. I've never had a meme glitch like this."

Ced rummaged through the bin next to the computer and came out with an interface cord. He poked an end into the port behind Felly's left ear, causing her to wince, and the other into his stand-alone, the computer he used to prevent the spread of infection. He called up a diagnostics program and stared at Felly while it went to work. She stared back for the first minute or so, then dropped her eyes to her lap and tried to relax instead.

A tiny beep, and Cedric was up like a shot, scanning the readout, clucking and shaking his head. "You've got a tracker, but a new one. It's bizarre. The code is real dense, very elaborate for just a meme, definitely too elaborate for an average pop-up ad. You were looking at... a fansite? Of people who supported the bombings?" Just a week ago, a group had bombed and burned the huge silos at the edge of the city, destroying bread rations for the next month. Why anybody would be a fan of that act was beyond Cedric.

Felly nodded, still staring at her hands. If Ced couldn't fix it, she might have to see a licensed specialist, and she didn't have enough credits for an office visit - plus a pesky outstanding warrant or two. Ced was still staring at her thoughtfully, glancing at the code now and then, and back at her 'plant. He leaned over and tapped the power switch once, to restart. But the red light came back on when it rebooted, and the ghostly flicker of the meme was back in Felly's screen.

Ced sat down and started tapping out a sequence to change the part of the code he thought might be the loop, but when he ran it, nothing changed. He turned to another computer and started checking forums and boards for mentions of a code like this. He figured he'd have heard about it by now, unless it was brand new. When he finally found a mention of similar meme glitches, he sucked in his breath, and Felly whimpered again. If it surprised Ced, it couldn't be good, as far as her experience went.

"Sorry, Felly. It's definitely a tracker. There's not much info on it, and there's definitely no patch up yet. The few people who've seen it are saying to pull the 'plant. And most of them think that's point."

Felly was almost speechless. Pulling the 'plant was a delicate process; the neuroelectrical interface required sterile conditions and a legit upper-level tech, not someone she could trade gas rations and a few Scoop capsules to, like Ced here. "Ced, if that's the point, then... then the council's trying to pull in suspects by forcing them to a clinic?"

Ced nodded tiredly. "Yeah, seems like the best conclusion. If they're willing to risk censure by downloading trackers into people, they might be desperate and pulling 'em in however they can. News has been quiet so if they're not making much progress, well... Unless you can handle it and wait for a fix, the only way to end this meme is to see a tech."

Felly held her head in her hands. It hurt so bad, the constant input and flickering of the meme making her head throb and making it even harder to think. There was another option. A terrible, unreliable, possibly not even real option she'd only heard rumors of. He, or she, the rumors were unclear, had lost licensure at a posh clinic years back but stole enough equipment on the way out to set up... somewhere. The rumors were also unclear about that. Felly's realm was drugs, not tech, and she'd never had to cross that line before. But logging a visit to a med/tech clinic and bringing council security down on her was, in Felly's mind, not much of an option.

Finally she raised her head, looked Ced straight in the eye, and said, "Alright. I'll get it pulled. But I'm not going to a clinic to do it," and as doubt and dismay crept over Ced's face, she finished, "I want you to help me find the Mole."

to be continued

April 2017

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