Blue’s breath condensed into a cloud as he said: ‘Yeah, but there’s one type of virus that not even the best recognition algorithms can stop. Even if the whole net was shut down, it would still just keep spreading.‘
‘Let me guess. The common cold?‘ I shivered, as I stared out over the deserted streets. ‘Or pneumonia.‘
Blue laughed again. ‘Nah, as long as 95% of people are vaccinated, then there’s herd immunity. No, this virus is far more pernicious. In fact, you’ve probably already succumbed to it. Just check your messages.‘
Tapping into the broken net line on the alleyway wall, I pulled up my public messages. The text box stuttered into view gradually. Since almost everyone else was spending the holidays in cyberspace, bandwidth was at a premium even on authorised connections.
But, when my messages finally came into view, I couldn’t see anything suspicious. There weren’t any messages trying to sell me blue pills, offering me free celebrity pictures, asking me to help out with a bank transfer or claiming that Blue was stranded in another country and needed funds.
‘Mind if I tap in?‘ Blue said. I shrugged.
A few seconds later, three of the messages lit up. One was titled “Fw: Santa’s sleigh“. Another was titled “Fw: The spirit of Christmas“. The last one was titled “Fw: The REAL reason why Rudolph’s nose is so red (hilarious!)”
Blue waited for a few seconds. I just said: ‘Yeah, they’re the usual joke messages and oldies messages that everyone gets at Christmas. I’ve read those three before. ‘
‘Think about it, who actually writes them?‘ He said, disconnecting from my message feed.
‘I dunno, they were forwarded by a friend of my aunt’s.‘ I disconnected too, worried about tracer routines.
‘No, I mean, who actually wrote them? Someone had to.‘ Blue reached into his jacket and pulled out a metal flask. After taking a swig, he offered it to me. It had obviously been brewed in a refinery somewhere, but I wasn’t going to refuse on a freezing night like this.
‘It was probably some randomer. My aunt’s friend said that her grandmother once told her that the “spirit of Christmas” one used to be about someone finding coins, rather than a credit code. It was also apparently posted on the comments page of some dead tree site called the Reader’s Digestive, whatever that was.‘ I laughed.
‘Yeah, but who wrote it and who updated it? Where do the new ones come from?‘ Blue said, with a mischievous gleam in his eyes.
‘How should I know?‘ I said. ‘ I still don’t know what this has to do with viruses.’
‘Think about it. The messages spread of their own accord, transmitted from person to person. They mutate every generation. If that isn’t the definition of a virus, I don’t know what is.‘ Blue chuckled.
‘Yeah, but couldn’t you say that about Christmas too? I mean, before it was an excuse for people to spend two weeks in cyberspace, it used to be a shopping festival, then it used to be a Christian festival, which itself was a modification of pre-existing pagan winter festivals. I’m not sure where the pagans got the idea for it though.‘
Blue shrugged. ‘It probably appeared in their inboxes, forwarded by a friend of a friend.‘