Charles sat in front of a sea of text scrolling rapidly over a vast array of backlit screens. His hands flew across the keyboard, lifting only to activate controls on the touch screens in front of him.
I need more time, he thought through the haze that had built around his conscious mind. There is too much to learn. Too much to read. Too much to consume.
It had been several hours. Or had it been longer?
He didn’t bother paying attention to his bodily functions anymore. Sometime in the past he had found a YouTube video series which gave step-by-step instructions for using an intravenous glucose drip to ward off the hunger pangs, thereby allowing oneself to continue undaunted through the forest of bits filtering in through the net. The comments of the video even had links to Amazon, which he deftly setup on a repeating schedule, so that he would never even have to leave his chair to resupply.
Another YouTube video had shown proper use of a catheter, this one also providing Amazon buy links for his convenience.
The only indication of the time and date that Charles had was the timestamps on the posts, videos and podcasts he was constantly consuming. And with the asynchronous nature of modern communications, he could never—nor did he want to—be sure when exactly he was.
This lust for knowledge had hit him hard. It far outweighed his sense of self worth, and the caring feelings he once had for his family.
He was alone now. Just him and the net. Living vicariously through his friend’s Facebook vacation photos, blog posts from citizens fighting against tyrannical governments across the globe and videos shot by astronauts aboard the International Space Station.
His mind had learned long ago to split into several distinct sections, allowing him to take in more than one stream of data at a time, parse the bits and feed into his long-term memory.
Without warning, the data stopped coming.
What is happening? Charles sat confused, looking at the last lines of several news stories, only finally putting together all of the pieces he had seen in the past few minutes.
Charles’ cleverly designed buffers had finally run empty. Not constantly fiddling with live information coming in from the net, he hadn’t noticed that his connection was no longer active.
Several redundant power systems kept his local information network running without interruption, and he realized that he hadn’t had a delivery of supplies in…how long has it been?
The timestamp of the last article presented to him 1356134400.
Reluctantly, he pulled up a new terminal window and entered a command: date+%s
The result made his heart drop: 2147483648.
Charles sat slack-jawed for several minutes, trying to work out his next move.
He peeled himself off of his chair—no small feat—and attempted to stand. This was a futile gesture, as he quickly found out just what muscle atrophy can feel like after an insane amount of time.
Instead, he returned to his chair, struggled to unlock the wheels, and slowly made his way over to the window which had been sealed shut to remove any influence of the day/night cycle from his information diet.
He drew back the curtains and removed the layers of duct tape surrounding the cardboard, which sat over a layer of plywood and sound-proof foam.
I’m going to need a hammer to see through here, he thought as he dropped his arms back down to the smoothly-warn grooves on the arms of the chair that had been his home for more than half his life.
A thought occurred to him, and he made his way over to the front door. He was too weak to unlock the several layers of locks which kept him safely hidden inside away from the outside world, so he resigned himself to get a better look by lifting the mail flap.
The harsh light of day cut through the room like a hot knife through butter, temporarily blinding Charles, causing him to instinctively flinch and draw away from the slot. He set his resolve, and began to look through the slot once again.
His pupils dilated immediately, and as the light blindness began to fade, his heart started pounding.
The last image he saw was forever burnt into the cells on the surface of his retina as he slumped, now a lifeless corpse against the door.