2021 - Hambleden, Buckinghamshire, England.
The pandemic has been announced, and the villagers are only allowed out for necessary excursions to access essential shops and services. Philip and Leah are suitably sceptical of the developing farce, but the villagers are at once both comical and sinister in their compliance.
Mister and Mrs Moultby cut a curious image as they queued for the small side-entrance to the Post Office in Hambleden.
He wore his flannel trousers and brown loafers and a country jacket with a tartan scarf tucked inside. Despite the warming weather, Mrs Moultby wore hiking socks up toward knee level, a tweed skirt and an expanse of pink puffer jacket. They both had sustainable canvas shopping bags, with a supply of hand sanitiser, wipes and, of course, paper masks.
Philip and Leah walked out of the Post Office and nodded recognition to the newly-retired couple. Being very British and tolerantly supportive of expressions of individuality, neither Phil nor Leah mentioned the brightly-coloured, three foot long foam sausages that sprouted in four directions from a centrally worn skull cap, tied under the chin with a strap, and worn by both pensioners.
Mister and Mrs Moultby looked like anthropomorphic cartoon helicopters in paper masks. Their ludicrous appearance registered no shame or self-reflection. To them, wearing Proximity-Limiting Safety Headgear was a sensible precaution to ensure correct social distancing, alleviate the strain on a buckling NHS, and of course to save lives.
It was, they had come to believe, a small concession in the fight against coronavirus that, for safety's sake, no socially-responsible person could object to. It was just a hat, after all.
Phil dodged to avoid colliding with a foam helicopter blade.
“Good morning. Lovely day!”
The Moultby's foam appendages wobbled as they nodded agreement. Mrs Moultby was shocked by Philip and Leah's appearance and couldn't help herself from softly chiding.
“You're not wearing your masks!”
Philip beamed with delight.
“No. Masks interfere with my breathing. Besides, they serve no medical function outside an operating theatre where surgeons use them as a spit guard.”
The helicopter blades trembled like an earthquake indicator, and Phil called back, as Leah started to drag him away.
“Actually, I'm just out testing my eyesight. Nothing wrong with that!”
Mister Moultby stepped gallantly forward and accidentally poked a woman, three feet in front of him, in the back of the neck.
“Cummings should have been fired immediately for that! He was putting lives at risk! It's a green light to break the rules!”
“Well, make sure you don't! Have a wonderful day!”
Leah was dragging Phil along like two teenagers in carefree defiance of the world's cares and conventions.
“Phil! You are an absolute monster! I have to live with these people.”
She kept hold of his arm as they strolled further along the village.
“No, you don't. They have to live with themselves. That's a much worse prospect. You couldn't live with someone who blindly accepts the BBC headlines as some sort of self-evident truth.”
“They're not the researching types.”
“Exactly. And when the media say 'don't do your own research, trust the experts, we are your single source of truth,' the Moultbys obey like lobotomised lemmings.”
“They mean well...”
Phil looked down at her, as though the platitude was beneath her analytical intelligence.
“If they meant well, Leah, they would see truth-seeking as a noble and necessary social act. They would read a little more deeply than the lockstep headlines of the Press, and then ask questions.
“I mean, why didn't that dithering old fool Moultby say to me 'here, did you see that leaked German document which shows that all-cause mortality and flu deaths were not above normal after all? There was no plague. It said that the victims of Covid-19 would 'statistically have died this year anyway, because they were extremely weak from old age and pre-existing conditions, in the first place.' You're in the reporting business, Street, what have you got to say about that?'
“But he didn't, did he? He won't even be aware of the information. He wouldn't even look.”
Phil glanced at Leah again.
“And you want to live with that?”
Leah laughed again at Phil's new tough cynicism.
“No. I suppose I want to live with a curmudgeon who's discovering his radical roots and watching with glee as his stance generates outrage among the squares.”
Phil quite liked that.
“Yes, it does take you back to your student days, doesn't it? Maybe there's something about being young that makes you hypersensitive to your surroundings. You notice things that old and jaded adults have gradually been programmed to miss.
“For instance, how many shop windows did you notice with the same poster of that ridiculous Covid graphic? The one that looks like a maritime mine. I bet the older generation remember when the Nazis used it in their merchant harbours with the warning 'Achtung! Minen!' Now the graven image says 'Stay Safe! Download the Test and Trace App! The perfect example of a psy-op.”
Leah was quite in tune with Phil's latest foray into the psychological machinations of the Secret Service. It made her think of conference paperwork that suggested 'push and pull' tactics to persuade governments to adopt medical safety practices, or new drugs for an eager public response. This was all of that, but now discussed openly, above ground, and nightly on the television coronavirus update.
“You see, Leah, when we get to the chapter on mass hypnosis, we've got one hell of a laundry list of results from this operation. Whether they were intended or not, the results are all as corrosive as the behaviour of the Moultbys.
“Complete distrust of each other in society. Christ, did you see her whip out the phone and see if we, or anyone else for that matter, would be within 'pinging ' distance? As a test of the electronic cow bell, that one's really telling.
“Look at the effect it's having on the right of public assembly. People are falling straight in line without a thought. Isolating people is made to seem like a really good idea, and when the elderly are euthanized, there's a sort of sad acknowledgment that the lockdowns must therefore be valid.
“If it means you have to lose your livelihood and then be stood in line to have some undignified plastic swab up your nose, then it's all for the common good. The snitch lines are open for you to report non-compliant neighbours and the police will respond to that if nothing else.
“These people are becoming dependent on the state for their very survival.”
Leah watched the heads-down passers-by who once would have greeted everybody with morning platitudes.
“Yes, I know, Phil. It's like a creeping depression that grips people.”
“Because they're being preyed on by a hostile government. This voluntary incarceration is a short logical step to despair and ultimately suicide. I'd like to see the ONS figures for that in the future.”
“Like moves on a chess board, to trap the king.”
Phil stopped in the street at that comment.
“Yes, it is like a chess board. The gambits were all thought out several moves ago. Have you noticed that, whenever common sense comes to the fore, or some question of legality is mentioned, there is a counter-narrative all ready to go?
“I was reading about the work of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and someone mentioned that, just as the case was all but proven that the worldwide internet was proof of the power of free speech to defuse authoritarianism... bingo! Governments countered it with the ludicrous notion of 'hate speech.'
“Ah no, they said, 'hate speech' is not free speech, and must be banned. By the way, we'll decide what constitutes 'hate speech.'”
“Anything that runs counter to their current interests?”
Phil offered his arm again and they walked on.
“Now you're getting it! Same when crypto currencies were shown to work. The bankers thought, what a wonderful invention with which to reinvent our failing currencies, and at the same time to keep everybody locked in to a single tax and surveillance system. So... our crypto good, but crypto not under our control, bad. Roll out the counter narrative of terrorism, money-laundering, drug-trafficking, child porn...”
At this point in Phil's rants, Leah would have usually felt it a dutiful obligation to fully sculpt the position by offering examples of 'what-aboutism.' Not to be contrary, but to close gaps in the untamed assertions with better references. Something that would stand up to the media's own counter-narrative.
But as they worked on their, as yet unshaped publication, Leah had returned to the very first talking point that she had engaged in with Phil back in twenty nineteen. He had visited her at Biodatr in the same week that she had received an opinion piece and working paper from a think-tank. It was on the logistics of introducing a human serial number that would be everything from a National Insurance ID, to a medical certification and ultimately to that most final and inevitable record, a death certificate.
She had looked further into it since Philip's situation had arisen and, now, the Covid had made it all seem so prescient.
She was almost cautious in fully joining Phil's argument.
“Phil, I wonder if they saw this alternative internet coming. I mean, they've got plenty of computer whizzes working for the banks and the Secret Service. I'd imagine they have their own secret protocols for a closed internet system of their own.
“But now that it's creeping out to the public, and people like Prepper are going around installing private communications equipment, there needs to be a counter narrative.”
“More kiddie-porn and terrorism warnings, you mean?”
“No. More insidious than that. Have you read the latest WEF proposals about the importance of being able to 'prove who you are?' Apparently, it's a human right to have a unique digital ID.”
Phil was frequently fascinated by the tortured logic of the WEF.
“No doubt so that digital souls can claim their Universal Basic Income, food allowances and the permission to travel a few miles?”
“And like crypto, Phil, they want sole control of the medium. I wondered how they might do it, until I went back to those old papers on pre-written death certificates. I looked up the latest developments, and then it struck me.
“In December last year, MIT claimed to have perfected a 'microneedle platform' using these fluorescent nanoparticles called quantum dots which are injected into the skin of an individual. They say it's a convenient way to deliver vaccines and at the same time encode a vaccination history. The unique quantum dot marker can be read with an app on a smartphone. A doctor, or someone else at a hospital, can tell what you've been injected with and when.
“More to the point, it tells the scanner exactly who you are. Now imagine that, in future, your internet-enabled device needed to be able to scan your quantum dot tattoo before you were allowed to access the internet. To 'prove who you are.'”
Phil thought about it for a second.
“Yes. It's what Prepper was calling Internet 2.0. The step after today's use of the device IP address. Tomorrow, you are the IP address.”
Phil turned to look over his shoulder toward the gray metal construction of the 5G mast that was rising above the trees.
“So, the underground has pre-emptively moved to Internet 3. A different protocol altogether, using a communication structure that no government can currently control.”
“Exactly. Now you know why the media are calling it 'the darknet.'”
Phil quickened his pace down the road, pulling Leah along in his wake.
“Come on, let's get back to that 1900 Club list we were working on. We need to gather the resistance in one place. See if those doctors are talking to each other already, or whether they'll sign up to the 1900 Club.”
Leah struggled to hold on to Phil's arm.
“Since Jack's gone back to the Midlands, you've become a man possessed!”
Phil suddenly shouted out to the village.
“Tell the Moultbys I've got the bug!”
Random Skies: Some Of The People is the third prequel to a series of speculative fiction set in a parallel world where the surely unthinkable has already started to happen.