They spent the evening on the porch drinking beers and smoking joints. All motion seemed to stop, as the backyard faded out like a screen going black. There was a flash from a bug zapper.
"What do you mean, our world is just a clever illusion?"
"There are aliens in the world. Embedded in the patterns of all the particles around and beneath us. They are the real inhabitants of Earth. We are just surface illusions. A type of camouflage."
It was a strange thought. "Maybe that's why things can't get interesting. I always though the news cycle was too dull."
He heard ticking from the standing clock in the den behind him. There were millions of dark caves under the world where hardly anything moved.
"Worse, we aren't even making progress anymore. This last decade seems like it just flew past, but it has actually lasted for centuries. All humans have continuously updated false memories. From the outside it appears we are stuck in a rut, something that happens to many primitive civilizations. But it also makes us look harmless from very far away."
Now, not even a glow remained behind the trees to the West. Just how long had they really been sitting here?
"Why are the aliens going to all that trouble?"
"You have heard of Dyson Spheres. That's when an alien super-civilization builds a 'shell' around its home star to capture all its sunlight. They use that energy to support a vastly larger population than could exist on any planet. The shell can be half a billion kilometers wide."
"Amazing objects if they exist."
"It turns out Dyson Spheres don't radiate waste heat like was expected. They just accumulate the emitted starlight inside the Sphere. That energy is then converted into more matter, which becomes part of the Sphere. That's why telescopes can't really detect them. There are many more Dyson spheres than anyone predicted. In fact, Dyson Spheres form most of the Missing Matter of the universe."
"Sound like living organisms almost."
"They're even more than that. Building a Dyson Sphere takes immense effort, all focused inward. Sphere builders become highly introverted species. They don't even have diplomatic relations with each other, to prevent cultural contamination. But they take great care to ensure they all have the same approximate technology level. It took many, many billions of years to get to where they are now. But they are endlessly patient."
"So Earth is a type of nature reservation then."
"More like a secret forward observation base. The earth is permitted to continue to exist only because so many rival Dyson empires want our solar system. There can be only one Dyson civilization per sun. They are competing hard for the remaining undeveloped stars. The rival empires would rather let this solar system lie barren, than let a rival have it."
"Amazing if true."
"One of these empires secretly managed to infiltrate our world, but they don't dare start converting our solar system's planets into a new Dyson Sphere. They think no one else knows, but a few other empires infiltrated observers here too. The false memory trick had a subtle flaw."
"That seems like an unstable situation."
"It will be. Eventually, each Dyson civilization will begin to disassemble its core star. A difficult job, but not impossible. The star contains 99% of the matter within each Sphere. It can be converted into power plants, factories, habitats more efficiently."
"And then what?"
"Without central stars, they won't need to live in Spheres anymore. They can begin to disassemble themselves, and spread out in cosmic swarms. Once decentralized, the various civilizations can begin to mingle with less risk to each other. Then it will be safe to start harvesting the remaining natural planets and their stars."
"We'll be done for!"
"Probably. We'll know when the first stars in the sky start to go out."
Overhead, there seemed to be a million stars in the sky.
"Well, what can we do about it?"
"The only solution is to get off our asses before it's too late. We must build our own Dyson Sphere right here!"
"Will the aliens inside the earth let us?"
"They must, or the other Dyson empires will notice their interference."
"How do we even start such an immense project?"
"That's your job, Elon."