“More stims!” Erad fumed. He shouldn’t have to vocalize it; his neural ping should have been enough. Comps were bogged down, and he was slowing up. Their attacks were coming faster. His threespace interface itched, but he didn’t have time to step into physicality again. The rest of the interfaces on his crown were all working at max. One itch would be fine. He moved the nanobot shielding tighter over the atmosphere, intercepting the missionic torpedoes before they were able to break through. He viewed the report, pinged five more men for changes in the programming, and specified where to place the new shielding as he changed perspectives and moved through three different theaters of the battle.
He needed to move faster. Neural ping: his men were all busy following his orders, reprogramming the nanoshields to his specs as the torpedoes changed tactics. More stims wouldn’t come for at least five minutes. Five fatal minutes. Erad lagged. One of the torpedoes made it through, crashed into the atmosphere, broke apart in the air, releasing its payload. He raised a memo to Burning Department: Immolate Edo Province. Three million dead because he missed a torpedo. Three million dead because no one brought him stims to help him move fast enough.
The itching increased in the threespace interface. He physicalsmelled metallic burning. Notgood. He passed the processes to his subordinate, just before his comps crashed, leaving him in darkness.
– – – –
“We’re sorry, Admiral. Your crown completely burned out. You were able to log out before the virus spread, though. Who would have thought they’d be able to get through and disable our interfaces? But now, because of your sacrifice, we’re already developing a counteractive. You have served your people well. Be proud.”
Erad physicalheard nothing past the second sentence. No interface. He was useless. No replacing the interface without a full lobotomy. Then he’d be more useless.
He was out of the war.
– – – –
Two dimensional display of three dimensional space and no hyperlinks to simultaneously interact with other spacial grids. The human eye was not designed to interact with multiple environments at once. It left Erad bored. One space at a time for his mind to wander, one two-dimensional display of a single three-dimensional reality. And he couldn’t command his troops anymore. He wasn’t just useless. He was powerless.
He breathed deeply of the frigid air. The sky was gray. He’d never noticed that before; he’d always used the uplink to look beyond. Gray was boring. Useless.
The park around him was abandoned. He saw things with only his physicaleyes. No, it’s no better than at home. Boxed in, trapped. He couldn’t soar through the realities of the uplink. No interfacing with the colonies. Divested of power, cut off.
A rustling in the bushes to his left. He turned. A girl, no more than fourteen. A beat-up crown on her head, but fully interfaced. She pushed out of the brush. She smiled at him. “Oh, hello. I never see anyone here. What’s your name?”
He grunted before responding, “Erad.” He tried pulling up a search on her face in three different databases. Habit. Didn’t work. Crown, and uplink with it, still fried. Still useless.
The girl nodded. “I’m Dani.” She stood for a moment, watching him. “You’re not used to vocalizing, are you?”
“Uplink was more efficient.”
He pointed at the burned scars, a circle of pain around his skull.
Dani nodded, stepping closer and craning her neck to see. “Yeah.” She paused for a minute. “Um. I should go. I have a place to be.” She trotted across the park and vanished around the corner.
– – – –
No one vocalized, except by accident or passion. And no one talked to Erad. Not anymore. The military took good care of him. Plenty of food, plenty of old-time entertainment. No interface, no contact with others. Everyone lived on the uplink.
Except Dani. She passed through the park nearly every day at the same time. Their talks grew longer, lasting five, even six sentences at a time. And then one day she said, “I respect you a lot for what you did.”
Erad nodded. “Thanks.” Kid probably entered a search on his face. He was jealous.
“I don’t think I could do it. Willingly step away. You remind me of someone I want to know better, actually.” Her voice hung on the wind as Erad furrowed his brows. She answered his silence. “You know, being able to do almost anything on the uplink and then stepping away from that, going away from… everything. Why’d you burn out your crown?”
Erad clenched his fists. If his crown were working, he’d be entering some harsh text. He lacked the vocal words.
“It’s just amazing to me. I only know one other person who willingly gave up everything he was, and I don’t know why you did it, but I know he did it for a good reason. Stepping out of everything to become nothing.” Her words were coming more quickly. “I turn off the crown when I spend time with him. It’s amazing. There’s a lot of us. Do you want to come?” She looked down and away. Usually she looked at him, but now she stared at the ground.
Erad’s mental texting paused. She wanted him to join her to meet someone else?
“Who… would give up their crown?”
She smiled. “Not just his crown. Everything. He gave up everything he had. Everything he was.” She struggled to find the right vocalizations. “It was amazing.” More struggling. “Come meet him. His name’s Jesus.”