The Worsening Situation

“Global Warming is already in overdrive; mass migrations of people to the northern steppes and wastes of Europe and North America have put a premium on land and infrastructure, and is being fiercely resisted, especially by the Russians. Smaller colonies are to be found in diminishing numbers at the tips of South America, Africa and even Antarctica. Australia is a wasteland; burnt-out completely in the ‘thirties. Tasmania became un-inhabitable through over-crowding, social conflict, and disease. North Africa, Spain and much of the Mediterranean are now just vast deserts of sand. India is bursting with people in desperate, resigned poverty. China is reeling from natural disasters of an unprecedented scale and ferocity. Japan is swamped, except for the highest mountains and Mount Fuji, too steep to inhabit.

“Flooding has taken place everywhere around the coastal areas of the world, and vast tsunamis have mopped up the people left in the valleys and lower foothills. All nuclear power plants were dismantled years ago, their waste products stored under the Himalayas, Cumbrian mountains, and the French Alps. Tornadoes, hurricanes, monsoons, storms, and blizzards of snow and ice threaten to destroy whole populations on a monthly basis, always somewhere different, always a surprise, though it was pretty obvious it was coming sometime.

“A privileged few first achieved Space Flight over a hundred years ago, but it has since been realised that it is impossible to leave Earth in any great numbers, because of the vast resources required. Even small expeditions to the nearest planets took up the equivalent economy of whole countries. To re-settle the whole world, even if anywhere could be found to go to, would take the resources of many Solar Systems. There just isn’t time, and never will be.

“The over-riding objectives now are to save energy and material, to limit pollution, to eradicate waste, to eliminate pathogens in the most ruthless way, and to try to control the self-perpetuating collapse into oblivion. The obvious solutions of cutting demand, reducing populations by strict birth-control, and living a simpler life, seemed out of reach of people’s comprehension before the environmental collapse, and it’s too late now. Always people want more; to live longer; to fill to capacity any space, any possibility for life, any promise of a solution. Some people think they have achieved it with Oodles; most accept Oodles willingly, blindly; too tired or too ignorant to think for themselves.

“The Caves were one answer. Older people gave up their right to an active life, knowing it could be supplanted with a cybernetic substitute, even more thrilling than anything they had experienced in the past, or could achieve in the future, or so they were told. They sold everything they had in order to buy a space, crystallise their heads, and lie immobile with their atrophied bodies and lifeless limbs, on a shelf in a cave. Their minds were connected to and totally controlled by the Oodles Web; they were perpetually on-line, never even moving their facial muscles, apart from the odd twitch. They had some perception of free-will; they could choose to a certain extent what they wished to think about, watch, read, listen to, or experience. But mostly, subliminal messages and advertising manipulated their tastes and desires. It was easier that way. They were happy, but they didn’t take up much space, or need many resources to keep them alive. Of course, they lived longer, but to some that was seen as an advantage.

“If there is any time left, of course. The over-riding purpose of Oodles – to blast our species into outer space and populate the Universe – is approaching realisation. Entities, much smaller than the “Crystal-Heads”, are even now being engineered at Quartz Mountain, high up in the Rockies. The race is on, before the world collapses in total chaos, a maelstrom of heat and storm; an impossible bubble of insanity circling its mother Sun, waiting to be rid of this version of life, and start again in a few Millennia.”

(PKD’s Blog #3)

Eskimo Land

David Spicetti charged down the mid-field, his golden boots pounding on the hard frozen pitch. He dribbled the heavy ball adroitly around a white fur-clad opponent and passed to his right, hoping it would come back to him as he ran forwards. He was dressed in grey furs; it was hard to tell the difference between the teams sometimes, especially when it snowed.

He looked to the right, partly blinded by his fur hood and reflective one-piece snow goggles. But there the ball was, rolling towards him, as he had hoped. The goal was some thirty metres in front of him. One of his long, gliding shots would surely achieve victory for his team this close to time. He aimed, and kicked with all his might and skill. But the whole world groaned as the ball only rose some two metres in the air, hit an opponent on the head and rolled off to one side. He just couldn’t get used to these whale meat balls, covered in seal skin, although they didn’t make much difference to his game. They were so greasy and smelly, apart from the weight.

David Spicetti was a Sporti-Sub, taking up his position with his new club in Alaska for the Yukip Eskimos. He chose them because he thought they would speak English and had something to do with UK Independence. His own language skills were atrocious. That French Club had been a fiasco; even after he had got used to the idea that they still played on large wooden tables, blowing a ping-pong ball from side to side. At least here the Americans could just about understand his soft Essex drawl, though they couldn’t play football either.

These damn Eskimos could, though. One had picked up the ball in front of him and was dribbling back towards David’s goal. It was down to him to stop him. He lunged forward to tackle and slipped on the icy ground. A collective remonstration of hurt and pain arose from his fans all around the world, tuned-in on Oodles to his performance, as he rolled in agony over and over on the pitch, collided skilfully with the other player’s feet and knocked the ball away. The hardened referee blew his whistle and waved play on, glancing at his watch.

David had moved to Alaska three months ago at the suggestion of his wife, Alberta Spicetti, a Celebriti-Sub. She too wanted an American life-style, among the glitterati on the southern coast, now the Alaskan Riviera, in close contact with her previous girl-friends. The east coast of America was a no-go these days; New York was a drowned city and the states inland seemed to be under a perpetual two meter snow drift. The west coast was threatened daily by earth tremors. Here on the Riviera it was far more pleasant. The new cities of Resurrection Bay, Anchorage, Seward and Homer sparkled in the Arctic sun, and the beaches of Gore Point were favourite bathing and parading spots.

Of course David preferred the south too, but his team were hardened Eskimos and preferred the cold north, the colder the better. He had to make a weekly commute across the Inuit plains by electric powered ski-sledge. Was it worth the million dollars a week he was being paid?

He cursed as it began to snow; he wouldn’t be able to see the lines on the pitch now, though the others seemed to manage fine. He was just about to gain possession again when a large Husky ran onto the pitch, grabbed the ball with his sharp, fierce-looking teeth and ran off with it, surrounded by a pack of yelping, barking dogs, all intent on a piece of the meat. The referee blew his whistle again, resignedly, calling time and the end of the game. David and his team had lost two-one.

He was sporting a very tasty hair-style these days – shaved bald on one side, and dreadlocks on the other, which, he said, kept him warm at night, providing he slept on the bald side! Alberta was quite pleased with her new creation, but already had wilder plans; it was some time since he had had a beard. She thought that might keep him a bit warmer and snugger at night, when they did occasionally snuggle.

He had a huge following around the world. All the mums loved him, and secretly wanted to get in bed with him, so they tuned-in to Alberta. Unfortunately, she was as frigid as the ice-box outside in the igloo at his Club digs, so they didn’t get much action.

David and Alberta were constantly posing for views for their “Goodbye” on-line magazine. It was called that because they constantly seemed to be saying good-bye to teams, places, promotions, celebrities, events and each other. There was constant talk of their imminent break-up, divorce, get-back-together, and the renewal of their vows, and the attendant parties, to which everybody who is anybody – but not that odious Jacqueline, of course – is invited.

The Rebels

A group of people sat in the jungle of Hampstead Heath, trying to talk and remember how to say their words. They had had their terminals removed, or wore close-fitting steel helmets covering their heads, except for eye, nose and mouth slits. Some of the lucky ones, who were prized and cared for above all, had never had the implants inserted, by chance, or because of far-seeing, concerned parents.

They were fit and healthy, on the whole, as they had to use their own bodies to hunt and forage for food, and to evade the occasional Enforcer. They were dressed in animal skins and old clothes, as there was no way of approaching the vast Oodles Super-Emporiums of consumer products, the only places left to actually buy or obtain things legally. Apart, that is, from the constant deliveries of on-line orders to the more or less active populace in the north, from which, of course, the Rebels were completely exempted.

They were a close-knit group; they had to be, for survival. They all loved and cared for each other, the main attribute they sensed as lacking in the rest of the population. There were close bonds of love within the group, and they had committed themselves totally to each other. They didn’t worship a God, just survival, and the over-riding desire to re-humanise the world.

How they were going to do that, they hadn’t a clue, but Hodges did have a plan. She was going to break in to a local Cloud, somehow shut it down, rescue the Activists and Substitutes who still had some personal control left, and enrol them in their group. Hopefully, the movement would spread, and shut down more Clouds. She knew it was pretty hopeless and forlorn, but they had to try, and it was the only thing she could think of. Her mate, Hills, had sworn to help, and she had the support of the Group.

At present they were living in the derelict shell of a large brick house on the edge of the Heath. It had been grand once. But the previous residents had moved to Scotland decades ago and now it was pretty much a ruin; windows smashed; creepers creeping in; floors and joists rotted. Most of the roof had gone, but there was a dry area at the back where they hunkered down with another couple, McGill and McGilly, a resolute couple of red-heads who shared their dream.

Hills and Hodges were making love, sweetly, gently, slowly; without interruptions or distractions. They heard a sound. Hills froze in mid-stroke, cursing in exasperation. He withdrew his softening member and pulled on his pants, quietly getting up and creeping to the half-closed door.

“It might be Tom,” whispered Hodges.

“I thought he was with Maddie,” said Hills, hoarsely. “Anyway, he’d come the back way.”

He went through to the hall. There was a shadowy figure peering through the colourfully stained, obscure glass of the front door. If it was an Enforcer, he would have to kill him. Hills picked up an iron bar lying on the floor and stood on the hinge side of the door waiting nervously, his heart in his mouth. The door was slowly pushed open, and as the crouching man crept in, Hills threw himself forwards and swung the bar, aiming for the head.

There was a clang and the figure crumpled forwards, moaning, “What the fuck?” as it collapsed. On his head was a steel helmet, completely enclosing it, and, as luck would have it, protecting it. Hills breathed a sigh of relief; it was Phil, a member of their group engaged in the anti-Oodles war.

“What the fuck are you doing here, Dicksy?” said Hills. “We were otherwise engaged!”

“Oh, sorry,” replied a sore-headed Phil. “I was just looking for some spare parts. The hard-drive’s gone on my Mac.”

“Well, there are no old computers here; I’ve searched the place already, from top to bottom!” said Hills. “I hope you haven’t lost contact.”

“No, no. It’s OK. I always use old PCs for that; far more accessible and adaptable. But I need some back-up and storage. I’m getting close now. I think I’ll be able to do some damage, without them tracing me – us!”
Phil was a Hacker. He had a transplant terminal himself, but wore the steel helmet so that he couldn’t be traced. He had other means of getting into the system.

“Come and see how it’s going. Bring Hodges as well!” suggested Phil.

Hills went back to a relieved Hodge, who had been listening edgily inside the bedroom. She got up from under the blankets, her naked body still glistening with sweat and her boobs bouncing. She quickly dressed and they went out to join Phil.

“Hi-ya, Dicksy!” she grinned, “well-timed, as usual!”

He muttered, and slunk off, embarrassed and sulky, as he was in love with Hodges too. They followed him through the undergrowth until they came to a pile of corrugated tin sheeting. Hills helped him to pull it aside and they stumbled gingerly down the steps into the underground garage complex. This was Phil’s lair, his hide-out, and his work studio.

They wandered through the bare, grey concrete, past rusting hulks of Fords, BMWs and Toyotas. At the far end, through a creaking metal door, they entered his work-shop, lined with more corrugated iron.

There were bits of humming electronics everywhere. Shelves piled high with spare parts and old personal computers. There were none being manufactured now; at least, not for individual use. There was no need, as the terminals in people’s heads were just receivers and transmitters, thought-controlled at their end; the Oodles Corporation controlled the other. All the computing was done remotely, in the Clouds.

Sitting on a chair, his head lolling sideways, was an old, bearded man, blearily looking at the screen in front of him, but not seeing it. All the thoughts, feelings, and experiences were inside his head. It was Mac, an old soak that Phil had found wandering around, a bottle of stolen booze in his hand, his clothes ragged and dirty. Phil had taken him in, looked after him, fed and clothed him, and kept him supplied with his favourite stupefying liqueur.

In exchange, and grateful, Mac had allowed himself to be hooked up to the computer array, wires streaming from his head, and to an outside aerial by a cable reaching up to the ceiling, while Phil hacked into his Oodles stream. The Corporation didn’t know it was anyone but a drunken relic at the terminal, and didn’t pay much attention to him. Phil, on the other hand, could find out all the latest news, activity around the world, and even locations of some of the Clouds. Mac was a very useful, if somewhat chaotic, member of their society.

It was strange to see all the information on the old-fashioned flat screens, no longer made, and hear sounds coming from ancient Sony speakers, still as crystal clear and as high a fidelity as they were when manufactured, some seventy years before. Phil entered some coding into the clunky plastic keyboard and rolled a battered plastic mouse around the table a few times. Hills and Hodges were amazed to see a map of their surroundings appear on the screen. Phil scrolled the mouse, zoomed in, and manoeuvred a street pattern into view. A red dot was flashing in the centre of the screen. He zoomed down and went into street view. The picture cleared and they saw the outside of a derelict tower block.

“That’s where one of the Clouds is located!” said Phil, triumphantly. “It’s at the top of the Archway Bridge leading down to Crouch End. No traffic there, of course, but they think it’s safe; that everyone has left London and forgotten about it. That’s where we should strike!”

When they had gone, Phil carried on recording his blog on the stainless-steel shielded, plastic-coated, 32GB memory stick he had found recently in someone’s abandoned house. He couldn’t store anything on a “Cloud”, obviously, as he would be found out, and anyway, they were intent on destroying them. He wondered if anyone would ever read his blogs, but he persevered, just in case.

2084

“At first, some States, such as China, rejected this Western intrusion and tried to ban Oodles completely. But the demands of “the People”, underground movements, and the like, soon forced them to provide their own rival system called “Yiqiè”. At least this could be controlled by the State and was very popular. The Chinese leaders saw a version of China eventually populating the Universe, and were very proud of their achievements, even though they were based on Western technology, enhanced by their own creativity and hard work.

“However, some people in the “Co-operatives” were still dissatisfied. They wanted the style, the action, the creativity, the sex, the “freedom” of the West. Likewise, the West needed the ingenuity, single-mindedness, and productivity of the East to bring their dreams to fruition. A “Great Amalgamation” took place, which eventually encompassed the whole world, except in the troubled Islamic lands that rejected any form of Westernisation. Their fragmented religion had still not come to terms with itself.

“There is now very little overt crime; as everyone can see everyone’s motivations and desires, they would be instantly found out anyway. A few independent private data-banks were set up, called “Poodles”, but these soon floundered due to the need to link up with the official knowledge banks and the experiences of other real people.

“There’s no need for police generally, although cyber-crime is always on the increase (ha-ha!), and there are specialist squads, the Enforcers, dealing with us, the so-called “Recidivists” and “Rebels” who have totally rejected the whole scheme and have either had our implants illegally removed or burnt out, or have been born of parents who somehow prevented the terminals being implanted in their child’s brain at birth.

“There is, however, a strange rise in creativity. New experiences and spectacular sensations are demanded daily. There are armies of writers, sculptors, painters, film and programme makers. “Reality” engineers are ready and willing to fill the minds of the masses at large, and sell them their products. Anyone can get involved. They don’t need special equipment, space, props, or studios. It can all be done “on-line”, using the myriad of free, cheap, or relatively inexpensive “professional” tools available directly in their minds.

“People log their own thoughts and experiences on-line on a daily basis. They submit items to “Nu-Tube”, “Witter”, “Place-Book” and “My-Face” at an ever increasingly frenetic pace. They watch avidly to see if their thoughts are sensed, picked up, responded to, admired, or rejected as simply puerile. They are in constant contact with their “friends” and loved ones, passing messages in an instant, provided they are limited to 140 seconds, which is all most people can aspire to, or think of, in one coherent stream.

“The more erudite contribute to “Wakki-World”, where knowledge is forced to conform to some democratic form of truth, though it seems to be constantly changing in some areas. Items can go “viral” in seconds, millions of people picking up on a particular thought, rumour, popular myth, or salacious tit-bit.”

“Some people, like the Crystal-Heads, sit on shelves in unlit, cavernous buildings; or underground, in caves. All their experiences are virtual or real dramas fed to their minds from computer simulations or transmitted on-line from active Substitutes. Others are sensualists; they like their bodies, and have electronic stimulation. They can feel their own bodies performing feats of incredible athleticism and daring. They can even move in their gel-Pods, keeping their limbs active and their bodies fit. But they don’t actually go anywhere!

“Other people are more active and mobile, travelling on scarce infra-structure to distant places, recording their infrequent real activities for a few years, to be played back to themselves, over and over, until they die. The really lucky ones are the adventurers, recording live experiences for the immobile Crystal-Heads and Ordinaries; they are the so-called Substitutes.

There are different kinds of Substitute, for different situations, such as: Jacqueline, a Sexi-Tute, providing sexual experiences and gratification; David Spicetti, a Sporti-Sub who indulges in physical games and contests for his lazy followers; Don McBurn, a Reporti-Sub for on-the-spot commentary around the world; Randolph Whines, an Explora-Sub going on daring adventures to the more extreme locations – and, boy, are they getting extreme! Another popular favourite is Indigo Brown, the Archaeologi-Sub, who combines history with danger and sexual derring-do to maximum effect. There are also Botani-Subs; Zooligi-Subs; Danger-Subs; Combat-Subs; and even Victim-Subs, for those wishing to feel empathy for others and salve their consciences. And if you have really given up on everything you can even donate your whole life and destiny to those arch-angels of death, the Desti-Tutes.

“Some experiences, of course, are completely artificial, electronic, virtual simulations, enabling people to go places it is impossible to reach; dreaming of situations that are impossible to recreate or manufacture; performing deeds that are beyond human capability, endurance, or even imagination. All of these Sims can be felt, participated in, even controlled to some extent, by the minds locked into them through the terminals in their heads, with everyone linked to the great Oodles Corporation.

“But some of us reject the whole ethos, and are trying to reclaim reality. We are the Recidivists and Rebels.”

(PKD’s Blog #2)