They heralded it as the beginning of mankind's Golden Age, once they worked out what was going on and realised that they could use it. But this gold was tarnished and fell apart at even the lightest touch. It was to be the shortest age in our history. Opinions differ, of course, on exactly when the Golden Age should be considered to have started, but regardless of your preferred date, the length of the age in months could be counted on the fingers of one hand. It's a shame, it really is. It started so well, but it ended so very, very badly. However many tons of blazing rock it was that finished the Cretaceous had nothing on this.
Like most discoveries that were to change the world, it came to those on the fringe before it came to the masses. So it was that the first to encounter the phenomenon were those who believed most strongly in dreams that society did not share – the evangelists and faith healers, the fortune tellers and occultists, the psychics and mediums. Slowly but surely, it was dawning on these people that what they did really and absolutely worked. They began to produce evidence, statistically and scientifically reliable evidence, that they could heal by the power of Jesus or that the dead could speak through them.
They started to talk about their dreams, as well, although we of course dismissed it as New Age nonsense. Maybe if we'd paid attention this early, we might have worked out what was happening. But no, we just let them babble to themselves their strange notions that they were dreaming consecutive pieces of one larger dream, and that when they died in their dreams they did not dream anymore.
It must have been a pretty interesting time to be a scientist, too, back in the early days of the Golden Age. Scientific discoveries were coming thick and fast, it was as if almost every theory that was put forward just happened to be true. On March 3rd, a chemical was discovered that was an effective treatment for HIV. On March 14th, they found a cure for cancer. Mid-March also saw great leaps towards the understanding of “Alpha Theory”, a refinement of so-called M-theory and our best attempt yet at a fundamental understanding of the universe.
The statisticians went crazy. The chances of these advances all happening so suddenly were so phenomenally low that people were sure that there must be a common cause. They called what they were researching “meta-science” to start with, but it is from these nebulous beginnings that probably the shortest-lived research field ever delved into, Shaping science, was born.
It was at about that time that the government launched the great Mental Health Inquiry. It was becoming apparent that more and more of those who worked at mental health hospitals, who of course were analysed by a psychologist and pronounced sane before being given the job, were themselves being committed. The hospitals were losing their staff faster than they could replace them, and rumours started spreading about what might be going on inside their wards.
The government launched their inquiry, sending investigators to every mental health institution in the country. The few that returned sane and unharmed described vividly what it was like inside – “as if every patient's delusions were real, all at once, fighting for supremacy with each other,” one said.
They ordered every mental hospital to be shut off from the outside world. Somehow, they convinced us that it was a good idea. More than ever, I guess, we believed what the media told us, almost as if what the newspapers said was real and the world we saw around us was just a poor reflection.
There was another government inquiry not long afterwards, one that was perhaps more important, but that one never returned its results. It was an inquiry into SSDS, or Sudden Sleep Death Syndrome. Barely even recognised, much less given a name, a year ago, it is now a fact of life that we live with and die with. This is the end of our Cretaceous, this is our meteorite.
The latest estimates of the Earth's population are extremely unreliable as there are entire countries with which we have no communication, but they put the value at somewhere around a million. Just a million. Six billion, to a million, in a month. It's still falling, too, and it doesn't look like it'll stop until SSDS has killed us all.
They told us it was all to do with our dreams, and they gave us pills to stop us dreaming. Those who took them went mad, and it still didn't stop them dying. Nothing does, nothing works. There is no salvation. God walks the Earth, they say, but He cannot help us. There are people who say they've seen him, and I don't doubt it. There's people who say Elvis is alive, too, and I believe them as well. I saw at least three of him in one of those mental asylums before they closed them down and killed everyone inside.
It's come down to that, now. Belief. Shaping. It makes what little remains of our life better, but it can't stop the inevitable.
So it came to be that, in the closing year of the twentieth century, we finally began to understand the world. Science didn't give us the answer – they abandoned their precious Alpha Theory before long. We realised that the universe was us. We tell existence what it is, and existence in turn tells us what we are.
As the population fell away, we each began to have more and more control. Not just over society, but over the world itself, right down to the atoms – or, should I say, the thoughts – that make it up. Because we believed, things came true.
We believed that April was a month of sunshine and showers, and so it was.
We believed that food that was bad for you tasted better because of it, and so it was. Have you tried a chocolate bar recently?
We believed that Judgement Day was coming and that God walked the Earth, and so it was.
Children believed that there were monsters under the bed, and so there were. They kill almost as many as SSDS does.
Finally, because it was real, it was science, we believed in Shaping itself. We gave it a name, we gave it power. While the scientists sat reading and writing in laboratories, coining phrases like “cascade” and “resonance”, while the philosophers and psychologists became the modern era's prophets of Armageddon, we embraced our new power while we still had a chance.
We created and we destroyed with a mere touch, a mere word, a mere thought. Our houses became palaces and fortresses, our wallets became chests of gold, the meagre contents of our fridges became banquets fit for royalty, our filthy towns became gleaming seaside resorts. We had anything and everything we could ever want. We became magicians; we became gods.
It's just a shame that people aren't all nice. For every thousand citizens, happy in their newfound paradise, there was one bent on destruction, or on conquest, or on causing terror. But that's all it took.
Now, the sky burns. It's like a beautiful sunset all day long, and we maybe even would enjoy it if it wasn't getting harder and harder to breathe. The world is a wasteland, now, full of scorched earth and decayed buildings and radiation.
We tried to fix it, we really did. Tried to put everything back to how it was before. But, in the end, it's all a matter of belief. We can't stop SSDS. We can't stop the end coming. So, deep in our hearts, we know that we can't fix everything, can't put everything back to how it was.
There are people, a bare few of the survivors, that say they won't fall victim to SSDS, because they'll become gods. Not in the small, selfish ways in which we built ourselves our private Edens, but absolutely. Only when the dreams have claimed us all, only when existence finally ends and they are all that's left, they say, will they be able to rewrite the world from scratch.
They're crazy, of course. But in this age, the Golden Age, the age of lost paradises and deadly dreams spreading like plagues across the barren world, we need all the saviours we can get.