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.