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Charlie (H minus 14 Days)
My avatar's eyes avoided looking at my feet. This conference room looked identical to the one in the facility. I wished Whiskey was next to me. Maybe her presence would keep me from trying to analyze my toes.
"Your shyness always throws me off." Nasr said. "After being so bold, so willing to take the extra step, you still act like that around me."
"Sometimes it's easier to not look." I replied, my tone automatic.
"Perhaps. But that isn't why you're here in this dreamspace, though."
"You've never asked me into one of these alone. Not since Nicky."
"You haven't been trying to get in since Nicky." Nasr pointed out.
"Into your head? I couldn't. Not anymore."
"Learn a lesson, of a sort?" Nasr asked.
"Weird." I said. "You never told me there was some sort of lesson to go with that."
"Your Oneiros is one of the most powerful things Hecate cooked up. You can host multiple dreams within your BrainSys. And you've constructed many Daemons, although you never used that word."
"Nicky used that word that word. I googled it. I thought making daemons was illegal."
"Not unless you're working to save humanity." Nasr informed me. "Daemons can do more than just predict the actions of one human and act in anticipation on it. Imagine a battalion of soldiers all acting in sync because they share a Daemon? It isn't a true hivemind, but it feels like one."
"You have a Daemon?" I asked.
The thought didn't chill me. I mean, the upper conscience of my mind had learned that should be wrong. But my gut said the line between Daemons and my Oneiros blurred. Nasr had to have one. It made sense. It sounded useful. A tool we needed.
"You can't fight the enemy without one." I said. "Why didn't I see that before? Of course you need to something to act on predictions before you can approve them. Duh."
Nasr nodded. "Enemy jams most electronics. Only organic BrainSys, without WiFi, exists on the battlefield."
"Anyone who has served has had access to one, then." I observed. "Nicky or anyone who survived a battle knows about it, or could at least find ways to copy the heuristics."
"Has anyone tried to stop that? Wait, I just answered my own question: you can't. Software and designs like that are impossible to stop from leaking out."
"People have been conjuring guns regardless of the bans or lack of updated designs." Nasr said. "You hope that, instead, they fear the technology enough to keep away from it."
"Next to impossible?" Nasr pointed out. "Humans created technology to help ourselves. Naturally we can't unstopper the genie whenever it gets out."
"You said I've constructed multiple Daemons already? I guess you can call them that."
"Your Oneiros hosts plenty. And you can connect dreams with anything that thinks. I remember what you did for Nicky."
My heart pounded for a moment. "I just kept her from feeling pain."
"By writing a subroutine that took hold in her own brainsys. You somehow managed to get into the OS and added something into it." Nasr chuckled. "Her brain took the hint and rewired a bit in response. You rewrote her brain to give her a way to ignore the worst part of the nanosheath. No one has done that before."
My avatar blinked. I looked up at Nasr's Avatar. Unlike most times, it looked like Nasr did in realspace. A olive-skinned man. His dark hair looked like it needed a cut. His eyes drooped from wrinkle lines. Scars crisscrossed all over the skin that poked out from under his clothes. His smile looked strange.
"Thanks." I whispered.
"Eh?" Nasr asked.
"Thanks." I spoke up, a smirk growing on my face.
"Good. You do need to smile more. Your avatar looks better for it."
"How would you know? You always make me look like... like my normal self. You barely seen my dream avatar."
Nasr's avatar stood up. "Well, somethings were necessary."
"Necessary for what? We've been training for over a month. You keep referring to H-day, but we aren't any better prepared than when we started. You keep saying we're all going to die on Mars, and no one will tell us when. When? When do we get to die so you can be right?" I told him.
"Soldiers don't get comforts."
"We aren't soldiers." I spat back. "I'm tired of being treated like some sort of... of..."
"Monster." Nasr supplied. "You are all monsters."
"Well... I..." My voice stammered as I realized I had been yelling at him.
"It's alright." Nasr looked up. Tears streaked his eyes. "I know. It's unfair. It's stupid."
I sat back down.
"Nasr- I'm sorry." After a moment, I added, "sir."
He smiled. "No need. I... I've lost people, Charlie. You remember how I taught all of you about Battle of New Haven?"
"Yes. It was the largest colony Earth ever established. Almost a billion people died when they used the Zeus Protocol."
"Zeus. Protocol." Nasr shook his head. "Something the Romans taught us, that we as a species couldn't stand to forget."
"What's that?" I asked. Romans. My ancilliary brain started to research them. Interesting.
"Salt the earth."
Images of wastelands hit me. My ancilliary brain retrieved knowledge on the Punic Wars. A conflict that wiped an ancient power from the planet. But long before the invention of nuclear warheads or drones.
"That's so wrong."
"That's what it feels like when you transit as Zeus Protocol hits." Nasr said. His eyes glistened, remembering. "You get to see the world darken. The worst thunderstorm you ever get to experience. Lightning from the incoming nukes. Thunder from the transit."
My stomach roiled a bit at that thought. "You experienced it firsthand then."
"New Haven had people on it. Then we nuked it rather than concede to the enemy. We had to. Charlie, we only ever slowed the Enemy down when we've nuked it. Nothing else has ever worked."
"You are unique." Nasr pointed at me. "New. Different. You are a walking Daemon. That's why I'm making you the troop commander."
"What?" I tried to understand what he said. It didn't make sense. "Me? Why me? I'm the worst possible choice!"
"You are the best option. You can communicate. You don't hesitate. And the others all listen to you when you speak."
"No they don't-"
"Foxtrot is in love with you." Nasr said, point blank. "If anything, I'm surprised you never put that together."
I reeled back from that. "That's... Ok, that makes no sense."
Nasr shook his head. "She'll listen to you. She only clashes with you because she keeps misinterpreting what you tell her. She tries to ask you things, you hit her. She hits you, you run away. At every turn, Foxtrot has tried to tell you what she feels, and you manage to make that seem like a bad idea."
"Even if that were true..." I shook my head. "It can't be. She's the popular one."
"Have you ever visited her dreamspace?" Nasr asked me.
I tried to come up with a answer. I stumbled over excuses. None of them seemed right. I remembered romances from the stories and movies that Aunt Miri had given us to watch over the years. Almost all of them involved couples finding love and being together forever. Some sort of eternal happiness.
"We're monsters." I whispered. "We don't to have that."
"Maybe." Nasr scratched his stubble. "You understand the stakes. You want to know the truth? I do think you could die on Mars, Charlie. And I also think you are the best chance the rest of them have to survive."
"So many uncertainties." I said. "Why can't anyone see or predict something more certain about all this? We can predict the future actions of a single human, but nothing about the enemy?"
"We know nothing about them. We know nothing about what you and your fellow monsters are capable of. You each are unique beings. You each have organic supertechnology no human ever tried to make real before. Hecate has no clue what will happen with you. Charlie, you are the only being, human or electronic, that has been able to construct a Daemon that functions for one of your kind. So maybe you are the best to forecast what will be coming.
"Or maybe you'll do better than that. I believe, from what I've seen, you can find something that's eluded us ever since we first ran into the enemy. A strategy to stop them. A plan. A way to hit them back."
"Or we die." I whispered.
Aftermath 24TIME SKIP!
That's the plan anyway. I'm skipping ahead on my outlined plot, if only to satisfy my own hunger to move forward to something entertaining.
Charlie has two components to her that I like in my characters: one side of her is interested in keeping to herself, the other side is able and willing to act without hesitation. At least, that's a trait my RPG characters tend to have, although rarely together.
She's a worrier. And she's able to act despite those worries.
A part of me wants to make this just her story, the story of a genetically engineered giant with a host of organic quantum computers that let her play in others' dreams like we would go swimming. But another part of me want to explore the other characters and their views on all this.
For instance, I wonder, has Ghale after this time jump talked to Charlie or put it off? Has Moira/Morgan tried to meet her? How is Miri handling the impeding H-Day?
Ah, things to go do story about.