Freems: The Life And Habits Of An Endangered Species
(compiled by A. M. Bruce, B.A.)


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The Freem (l. Freemicus Digitalis) is a rare creature of uncertain origin that only recently became known to the academic community. It has not been studied in great detail as of yet, because no one can decide who should study it. Biologists claim it to be a Computer Science matter, while Computer Scientists claim it to be a biological matter.

Origins:
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As far as anyone has been able to tell, the Freem began to appear in the mid-1980s, as more and more inexperienced computer programmers began to ply their trade on the newly-introduced "Personal Computer". Most researchers now agree that the Freem began as a benign software "bug" and evolved into ever more complex forms through the years. Many of these researchers believe the defining moment of the Freem's evolution occurred when it was attacked by a sophisticated computer virus and instead of being destroyed, it was mutated into a sentient being. Many other researchers argue that there was a Creator involved. They claim that this Creator, who they call "The Great Coder," shaped the Freem from pure light and energy and then breathed His spirit into it, probably during an all-nighter programming session (and the next day, He rested). The majority of researchers do not agree with this theory, saying that the belief that computer-based creatures could have a creator is absurd. The debate rages on between these two camps.

One researcher, Dr. M. T. Hedd, insists that Freems are extra-terrestrial creatures. He says that they crash-landed on Earth when the cosmic rays they were using as a carrier wave and food supply were unexpectedly bent by the gravity of Jupiter into a direct collision course with the Earth. Dr. Hedd has yet to find support for his theory outside of his immediate family. This is mainly because of his insistence, despite all of the accumulated evidence to the contrary, that the Freems chose the Commodore 64 computer to inhabit upon their arrival on Earth. This is absurd, the other researchers contend, because it is a well-known fact that the C64 was an evolutionary dead-end, like the Macintosh and the Amiga. Dr. I. B. Emm points out that "If the Freem was truly an advanced, space-faring extraterrestrial as Dr. Hedd claims, it would not have chosen a computer so obviously non-standard and doomed to a quick obsolescence."

Habitat:
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Just about all of the researchers agree that the Freem began as a computer phenomenon, and so they feel that its original primary habitat was the digital circuits of the computer. The Freem still exists today within the computer, feeding off of the computer's power source, and hibernating on computer disks when no power source is available. With the advent of the Internet, the Freem has spread quickly and energetically across the world.

These days, the Freem is no longer so restricted in its habitat. The Freem can be found in and around most electrical fields, both within buildings and on the streets of most cities. It tends to be very territorial and quite a loner, staking out its electrical field with magnetic lines of force. The Freem draws its sustenance directly from the power line, and will defend its food source if necessary by giving an electrical shock to any creature that tries to touch its power source.

Many readers of this article will doubtless be quite sceptical by this point, citing the fact that they have never seen a Freem outside of the computer screen, and even then, it does not move. This is because the Freem has evolved many effective forms of defence, as will be discussed in the following section.

Physiology:
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NOTE: IF you have trouble seeing the picture below, it is due to one of the Freem Poisons listed in the Life & Death section. Try making your screen 80 characters wide and make sure that your browser is displaying this text in a fixed font.

+--------+  The Freem (figure 1) is a two-dimensional, ASCII-based life
|   \/   |  form that feeds off of electrical power sources and travels on
|  [oo]  |  streams of electrons, usually in its "travelling form", which
|  /()>  |  is a string of 0's and 1's. The Freem excretes disorganized
|   db   |  digital information, collecting its excretions into a "dung
+(fig.1)-+  ball" until a sufficient amount of excretion has been 
            collected.
When the limit has been reached, the Freem will eject the ball into the nearest stream of electrons, causing the stream to become contaminated with random characters, data corruption, or static. If many Freems inhabit a single computer or telephone line, their excretion can become quite a nuisance to the human users.

As stated above, Freems live anywhere an electric field can be found. Because of their two-dimensional nature, however, it is very difficult to see them unless they are fully facing you. The Freem will usually stand "edge-on" to a human viewer, making it completely invisible.

The best way to view a Freem is to catch it on a computer screen or printout. Most Freem researchers argue that printouts of Freems are only pictures of Freems, while the Freems on computer screens are actual Freems, only they are "captured". If a Freem is "captured" on a computer screen, the researchers claim, it will freeze (in defence) until the file is closed and then wander into the circuitry to feed. Once "captured" in a file, the Freem is "leashed" to the file, and when the file is re-opened, the Freem will be forced onto the page and frozen until the file is closed again.

Other researchers simply state that the computer screen Freem is also only a picture of a Freem. They claim that a Freem can never actually be seen, only "experienced" in an act of faith. This debate also rages on.

Life and Death:
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The life span of a Freem is yet to be determined, but it has been shown that there are several things that are poisonous to these creatures. Being ASCII based, they cannot tolerate proportionally spaced fonts, and will fragment into misaligned pieces upon contact with such a font. They must be kept fully submerged in a fixed-space font like Courier. Because the Internet, especially e-mail, tends to be mostly in fixed fonts, the Freem continues to live free and wild throughout the network. Freems tend to shun the World Wide Web, as most browsers are not freem-friendly in their font choice.

Reproduction:
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Nobody knows how Freems reproduce, although there are many theories. The "Cut-and-Pasters," as they are known, believe that Freems reproduce as all other computer text reproduces, through file copying and cutting and pasting from the clipboard. Others point out that if the Freems that can be seen by humans are nothing more than pictures, then this is an absurd argument.

Some believe that not all of the static and data corruption that humans experience is freem-dung. They claim that some of this might actually be spores, sperm-packets, eggs, "proto-freems", or other kinds of reproductive objects, ejected into the flow of electrons in the hopes of finding other Freems. Others (admittedly, a very small group) have speculated that some of the "static" might also be caused by Freems having digital orgasms.

One of the major problems of researching Freem reproduction is that no one knows how to sex a Freem, or even if there are sexes involved. No visible differences have been detected on Freems. It is possible that Freems simply clone themselves, since differences in Freem specimens have been small and usually related to differences in computers or display fonts.

One thing can be said for sure about Freem reproduction. It is a very interesting and thought-provoking subject. It is also probably none of our business.


I hope this document helps to clarify some of the issues regarding these elusive creatures of our modern environment.
© 1998: This site and all poetry by Alan M. Bruce, updated in January '96.
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