Alpha-Centauri

Ten years after leaving Earth, Captain Church and his lonely, weary crew found themselves in the middle of the Alpha-Centauri complex. They had slowed down to one-hundredth light-speed and had passed a number of stars, some many times larger than the Sun. They had seen planets, large and small, some were apparently inhabitable; but most, according to their instruments, were definitely not.

One small planet they had passed quickly by was about Earth size, and even bluey-green in colour, but they hadn’t seen any land masses on their side. The panic of avoiding its moon, which suddenly appeared out of nowhere, had caused them to reject it and explore further. They did, however, report its existence and coordinates in their Ship’s Log, beamed back to Earth, if there was anyone left to receive it.

Aurora suddenly stiffened in her seat. “There’s an incoming signal! Straight ahead!”

“Is it possible?” said a shocked Captain Church. “We had better investigate.”

The screen in front of them showed a small white dot. The superimposed false-colour radio signal emanating from it was definitely pulsing regularly. They sent their own signal back: “dot, dot, dot; dash, dash, dash; dot, dot, dot.”  The planet’s radio signal immediately repeated it, as if understanding and encouraging them.

Doctor McFly was analysing the planet’s size, motion, environment and other characteristics.

“This place looks perfect!” she gasped. “But there is obviously some intelligent life-form here already. Will they accept us?”

“Only one way to find out!” said Captain Church. “Shall we go down, Welchy?”

“Righto, bach!” the Engineer replied. “There we are then!”

They were met by the Aliens, far more superior beings, and were instantly wiped out.

The Aliens ridiculed the pathetic amount of information known to Humans – it could all be contained in just a few cells; they needed whole civilisations.

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)

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.