“So they’re dangerous then.”

“No, not all of them.” Dr. Vellie Dee Antonacci spoke with authority, twangs of her formative years in the Mississippi Delta bubbling up when she grew excited. “Think of it like a virus. We tend to think of a virus as universally bad, when in reality the vast majority of them are benign or inconsequential–computers or human bodies.”

“But still requiring a living host.”

“Yes, and being functionally immortal,” Dr. Antonacci said. “But otherwise the analogy is only useful as just that–an analogy. Take this, for example. A memetic entity that was catalogued in 1967, one of the earlier ones in our records.”

A few clicks on the Institute’s computer, and the projection changed to an image of a child’s drawing with three eyes and three arms.

“Looks like something my Briley would draw,” laughed Thomas.

“Yes, and that is one of the reasons why it can be so hard to see memetics when they express themselves through the very young,” said Dr. Antonacci. “Of course, they can take the form of any organized, coherent information. Drawings, a melody, even a memory.”

She clicked, and the image was replaced by what looked like a high schooler’s notebook. Its margins were filled with the same three-eyed, three-armed entity, now drawn with a much more authoritative hand. Often, the doodles had advanced art techniques like chiaroscuro shading and graphite smudging for texture.

“This was ten years afterwards. Note how the expression is very similar, even though the subject has clearly learned more about art. This subject, in fact, later became a professional artist, which allowed the Institute a very thorough paper trail.

More clicks, revealing the triple-being in increasingly sophisticated renderings in the margins of a standardized test, as a part of a pattern fr textiles, as a background element in a children’s book cover illustration, and across lined paper. By now colors–a clashing and unpleasant rainbow hue–had been added.

“Why is that last one just on notebook paper?” Thomas said.

Dr. Antonacci cocked her head. “Are you sure you want to know the answer to that question?”

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