Hodges, Hillsy, Phil Dick, McGill and McGilly, amongst others, prepared for their raid on the Archway Tower. They approached it across the Heath, past Highgate Ponds, through ruined terraced streets, and into Highgate Cemetery. They passed by the heavy, black bust of Karl Marx, seemingly shrugging his shoulders and saying, “I told you so!”
They reached the arched bridge over the old, deserted A1 road. Looking to the right, they could see the glimmer and sparkle of water in the moonlight, where the flooded Thames had swamped the vacant City. It shone on Phil’s helmet, too. Ahead, down the hill to Crouch End, dogs howled in the empty, unkempt gardens. On their left they spied the Tower. Carefully, they surrounded it, hiding in the overgrown shrubbery. On their backs, Phil, Hillsy and McGill were carrying packs of home-made explosives, which they had made following the instructions gleaned from the Web through Mac’s head terminal.
“We should try to get inside.” whispered Phil. “It will do more damage.”
“Won’t there be locks and cameras and alarms and things?” asked Hillsy, nervously.
“Of course!” replied Phil. “But we’ll go in through a window.”
They circled around, looking for a likely spot. However, all the ground floor windows were covered in zinc sheeting, screwed and barred. They saw an old refuse store, which unbelievably had a roof level with a first-floor window. There were piles of junk and sheets of metal lying around. They climbed on to the store and began to make a bridge; their extemporising skills coming to the fore. Standing on rotten planks, resting precariously on the sill, Phil cut a hole in the double-glazed window to the flat, pulling the glass out with rubber suckers. He did the same with the inner pane, and reached in for the handle. It wasn’t locked, and had no alarm. What were these people thinking of!
Stealthily, they all crossed the rickety, improvised bridge and climbed into the room. It was a bedroom, bare of furniture except for a recently slept-in bed, but still tastefully decorated and lined with mirrored cupboards on one side. They heard a tinkling sound from another room.
“There’s someone here!” breathed Hillsy.
“Shhh! Be quiet! I’ll go and look,” whispered Phil, as he carefully opened the bedroom door and crept out into the hall.
He could see a light behind an open door at the end. Noiselessly, he moved towards it and looked in. A partially naked woman was sitting on a chair, her back to him, drinking a cup of coffee. With long blond hair waving down over her shoulders, she was gorgeous, but Phil had no time for that. He crept forwards, put one hand over her mouth, the other arm in front of her, his hand cupping her right breast – no time for that! – and pulled her backwards, the chair falling beneath her long, athletic legs.
She struggled; she was strong; she elbowed back into his stomach, and he almost let go, gasping for breath.
“It’s OK!” I won’t hurt you!” said Phil, hoping to calm her frenzied struggling.
Hodges and McGilly came in the room then, and tried to reassure the woman, smiling at her, and telling Phil to let her go. Hodges offered her coat to cover her swinging breasts, admiring them, but more worried by the possible effect on Hillsy than her modesty. The woman took one smell and reached for her own jumper and jeans lying on an adjacent chair.
“What the fucking hell are you doing here? In my flat? Are you squatting here?” exclaimed the woman, not at all bothered by her semi-naked state.
“We thought everyone had left.” said Hodges. “But we don’t live here. We’ve come to blow the Cloud up!”
“Like hell you will! This is my flat. I don’t live here, now, but I needed some things.” explained the woman, exasperated. “Who are you, anyway?”
“We are the Rebels.” said Hillsy. “We are striking a blow against Oodles and all this control freakery of theirs. We have to put a stop to all the wanton greed and commercialism that is threatening to destroy the world!”
“Well, good luck to that!” she said. “I want out, too. I’ll help if I can. My name’s Jacqueline d’Arcy.”
“Not, the Jacqueline?” said Phil, in awe, remembering a few Sensories that he had watched illicitly through Mac’s be-sozzled skull.
“You’ve got it, Baby!” she said, grinning. “But I’m not doing that anymore. I’ve had enough. It was only to keep a few dozy old Crystal-Heads happy, anyway. I’ve had my fun, now it’s just boring!”
“Come on!” hissed McGill. “The Enforcers will be here soon, with all this racket. No doubt she’s still plugged in and everyone else is listening!”
They made their way out of the flat and started to go down to the basement via the emergency stairs, but Jacqueline stopped them.
“There’s someone else here,” she said. “A friend. He wittered me a message saying he would be here by now. That’s why I came back.”
“Who is it?” asked Hillsy, suspiciously.
“Don McBurn. He’s had some trouble in Israel. Now he wants out, too.” she replied.
“Whaa! Don McBurn the reporter?” enquired McGill, incredulously. “Now there’s a guy I’d like on our side. Aye, let’s away an’ meet ‘im.”
They retreated back up the stairs and climbed to the fifth floor. Jacqueline knocked at a door, shouting, “Don! Don! It’s me, Jacqui!”
They door opened and they all fell back, aghast at Don McBurn’s seared face. He looked over Jacqueline’s shoulder at the motley band of raggedly dressed dissolutes crowding in the passage behind her.
“Well, you’d better come in then. It’s all over now, anyway!”
“What do you mean, Don? What’s happened?” asked Jacqueline, concerned at the old trouper’s resignation and lack of fight.
“It’s started!” he exclaimed. “They’re throwing nuclear missiles at each other. It won’t be long before the radio-activity spreads. I think I’ve already been contaminated.”
“Who’s doing this?” exclaimed Hillsy, not as au-fait with Current Affairs as he should be.
“Israel and Iran. It’s the end!”
“Not before we blow this place up! Are you with us?” asked Hodges.
“Why?” asked Don, puzzled. “What’s this place got to do with anything? I thought it was more or less deserted, apart from the odd tenant dropping in now and again.”
“One of the Clouds is operating from here. It’s in the basement,” explained Phil.
“Is that a good idea? I know there are other places, but you risk destroying everything; all the records, all the data about our history, what we’ve done, what we’ve achieved. All our art, history, music, paintings, sculpture. Many things are only in digital form now, since one environmental disaster after another has destroyed the cities, the art galleries, museums, theatres, concert halls. The Tate’s gone. Look at Sydney; the Opera House is under three metres of water and it’s surrounded by burning bush and eucalyptus.”
Tom and Maddie, who were at the back of the crowd, pricked up their ears at this. They pushed forwards, eager to hear more.
“All very well,” said Hillsy. “But what about Oodles’ control over people’s lives? The Founder only lets people see what he wants them to see. Only what is commercially profitable, and what maintains his control over everyone else.”
“Yes!” agreed Hodges. “We want to start again, or die trying! If you don’t want to join us, stay here and keep out of the way. Tom, Maddie! Stay with Jacqueline and guard this guy. We’ve got work to do!”