by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 20

Nothing Lasts Forever

Over the next couple of years occasional sorties into the city by residents to see for themselves what had become of the relaxed and carefree topical city they loved, proved their wisdom in having no part of a society in which queues of unemployed men grew longer, soup kitchens appeared on every second corner, ragged boys begged, and chain gangs of emaciated slaves with picks and shovels were whipped into repairing and building new commercial infrastructure.

With the demise of the two coalition partners, the Lord Cardinal, ensconced in his palace in Brisbane, proclaimed a return to traditional Christian values, whatever that meant. Public executions and floggings continued, but on a reduced scale for political rather than humane reasons. The Christian Kingdom needed to distance itself from their erstwhile collaborators to regain the support of the middle classes. Booming poverty and the enslavement of potential troublemakers had rendered severe public chastisement no longer popular. From now on it would be mainly an in-house affair. And so it came to pass that torture, flaying, castration, rape and similar methods of demonstrating god's love and mercy, were now conducted before select, paying audiences behind the secretive walls of army garrisons, Protector barracks, seminaries, religious schools and cloisters.

However, anyone who thought the purveyors of godliness were going soft on dissent, were disabused by notices displayed on the doors of all houses of worship, warning that opposing the will of god as interpreted by the Lord Cardinal would be punished by death.

Every school became the means by which the Christian Kingdom spread the word of god and not much else. Girls were again permitted to attend school, but in strictly segregated establishments.

The children of wealthy families supportive of the Lord Cardinal and his Cardinal-Dukes and Bishop-Barons, had access to single sex schools that taught all subjects to the highest standards, to the production of future scientists and innovators. Clearly, the administrators were unaware that most new ideas come from those who've had to struggle a bit and so desire change, not from fat cats who enjoy the status quo and have no need to excel.

Under JECHIS, the forward-thinking, secular, pluralistic school that the children of Oasis attended, had been spared the fate of other educational establishments because most of the parents had wealth and influence with the other two religions. As that no longer was the case all godless staff members were being replaced by god-fearing evangelicals. Perses was furious that Alfred, his lover and physics teacher would be one of the banned teachers, so he objected forcefully and publicly. Despite a warning from the other Oasis students, he jumped onto the stage during assembly to denounce the new system. A cheer erupted, only to be stifled when a Protector leaped onto the stage and punched Perses with all his force three times in quick succession, head, kidneys and stomach. Perses swayed, eyes popping, dazed, then crumpled in a writhing heap. The entire school froze in shock as the Protector took one foot and dragged the limp body off the stage, the head banging audibly on the steps. Then without apparent effort he slung Perses over his shoulder, carried him downstairs, and locked him in one of a row of basement storerooms.

Watching in horror from the back of the hall, Alfred followed discreetly, noted which storeroom it was, and then taking great care not to be seen, made his way outside to the rear of the building where small, barred windows at ground level gave light to each basement room. Using the cover of a hydrangea hedge, he slithered on his belly to the window and peered in. Perses was sprawled, unconscious on the concrete floor, two metres below the windowsill. Boxes of textbooks lined one wall; the rest of the room was bare. He jiggled the bars. Steel as thick as his little finger, well embedded. A careful inspection revealed a thin wire checked into the centre bar and camouflaged with paint. The window was ajar so Alfred picked up a small stone and tossed it to land on Perses' cheek. The youth stirred, groaned, opened an eye and whimpered.

'Perses,' Alfred whispered. 'Perses. Can you move?'

Perses tried, and groaned again. Peered blindly up. 'Alfred?'

'Yes. Can you climb up to this window? I'm going for tools.' Without waiting for an answer he slithered back, checked he was unseen, then walked briskly to the groundsman's shed as if on an important errand. It was empty of humans but lined with well-organised tools. Thirty seconds later he was strolling uncomfortably back to the main building with bolt cutters stuffed down the front of his trousers. Back at the cellar window, he tapped on the glass. Perses looked up and smiled groggily. Alfred showed the bolt cutters and mouthed, 'get ready'. While he was removing the five bars, leaving the central one till last, Perses was slowly and painfully dragging boxes under the window. When the fifth bar was pulled away security hooters sounded all over the school. Perses struggled manfully, but had to be dragged through the narrow gap, leaving a trail of blood where the end of the bars scraped his legs and arms.

Thinking it was a fire alarm or bomb scare, the school was emptying rapidly, students hurrying anxiously to prescribed areas to be counted by their teachers, which is probably why they didn't take any notice of the hobbling student supported by his teacher. By cutting around the end of a building they bypassed the assembly areas and approached the car park from the playing fields. After a fifty-metre crawl to Alfred's car, Perses curled up behind the driver's seat, dragged a blanket over himself, and Alfred drove to the gate where a security guard stopped him.

'Why aren't you checking your class?'

'Because I've been fired,' Alfred replied, 'and there's no chance of another job.'

'Poor bugger,' the guard shook his head in commiseration. 'Off you go and good luck.'

But where could they go? Alfred's address was known. Perses was registered as living in one of the fake houses nearby.

'You'll have to come home with me.'

'Your parents made it clear visitors weren't allowed.'

Perses groaned, tried to smile, then lifted his shirt to show a giant bruise. One eye was closed and a large contusion was growing on his forehead. 'I think something's really wrong with me… and with my back.'

'Alfred panicked. 'Oh fuck! Perses. Tell me where to go!'

Minutes later they had driven through the garage of the safety house and Alfred was opening the gate into the forest. He drove through, closed it at Perses' insistence, then sounding his horn wildly, arrived in front of the theatre.

Perses had fainted. Penelope arrived, he was carried to the first aid room where she kept all her tools of the trade, checked him, became alarmed, did all she could for the head wound and broken rib, but the kick in the back was looking very serious. The skin was turning blue-black and swelling. His urine was more blood than piss. He was in agony. Morphine helped. Alfred, weeping silently, helped as much as possible, not daring to ask Penelope for a prognosis. After an hour Perses became calm. His breathing slowed, he gazed up at Alfred and managed a weak smile. Alfred leaned down and kissed him gently.

'I love you,' Perses whispered, then seemed to slowly shrink back into the mattress.

'I love you too,' Alfred whispered. But Perses didn't hear. His heart had stopped beating.

Penelope turned to Alfred, wrapped her arms around him and they hugged desperately.

'My son! My beautiful crazy son. I couldn't save him! What use am I if I can't save my son.' She sobbed inconsolably and clung to Alfred in total misery.

Hercules and the five residents who had been with them, left the room quietly. Perses father, Aristo, arrived minutes later and knelt in wretched distress beside his son, as broken by the news as mother and lover.

Hercules and Hylas made tea and sandwiches and informed the residents as they returned. There would be a meeting that evening in the theatre for the residents to work through the tragedy. The savages would not be there, but whatever the residents decided, they would assist with.

After a dinner that no one could eat, everyone assembled in the theatre. Alfred sat with Perses' parents and gave a detailed account of what had happened. The two Oasis pupils who had witnessed the atrocity, tearfully confirmed it.

'There must be something we can do!' someone said hopelessly.

'Surely a Protector isn't allowed to kick a boy to death just because he opposed sacking all non religious teachers?'

'Perses opposed it publicly. We all knew the punishment for opposing the fucking Lord Cardinal's edicts was death.'

'Yes. But not a beautiful young man.' The speaker subsided into quiet tears of grief, unable to be consoled. Soon every person in the theatre was slumped in hopeless silence, contemplating the world they'd somehow allowed to come into being.

Everyone agreed it was now too dangerous for Oasis boys to go to school; they'd been brought up to be independent thinkers so it was too easy for them to make a fatal mistake, like Perses.

Aristo frowned in an attempt to stop his tears, and asked if Alfred would be permitted to remain in Oasis. 'They'll have looked at security videos by now and know Alfred rescued Perses, so he can't go home.'

'Of course he must stay! What are you thinking Aristo? Alfred, how can we help you?'

Alfred buried his head in his hands. 'I loved Perses so much. So much. We were going to...'

'You have us, Alfred,' Aristo stated firmly. 'Tonight and for as long as you like you can sleep in Perses' bed, and live with us. There'll be plenty of time later to discuss your future.'

Ever practical, Penelope asked quietly what was to be done with the body. The question shocked everyone to silence. He really was dead. The first Oasis resident to die at the brutal hands of the new dictators.

'The authorities can't know he is dead,' someone said thoughtfully. 'And they don't know Perses lived here. Alfred's car has disappeared, so they'll imagine they've gone south, or west, or north…' he lapsed into silence.

'Is there any benefit in keeping Perses above ground?' The elderly man looked around nervously. 'It might sound callous, but we don't have cooling facilities, it's going to be twenty-eight degrees tonight and in the high thirties tomorrow, we…' He sat down, red faced.

'Thanks, Alphonse,' Penelope said softly. 'You are right. Our son is dead. He is not going to come to life again. I would like to sit with him, Aristo and Alfred for a while, and then we must bury him. Will someone ask Zadig to choose a suitable place in the forest and prepare a grave?'

No one felt like doing anything when the three left them to sit with their son, so they remained on their cushions, fighting against the reality of the situation that had been forced upon them. Their little bubble of sanity was not inviolate. Flesh crawled as they understood for what seemed the first time, what was happening all over Queensland, and no doubt the rest of Australia.

Empathy, not one of the things humans are good at, swelled in hearts unused to caring much about others. And involuntary sobs escaped the chests of most men when they pictured the horrors, the pain, shame and misery of thousands of innocent people whose lives had been destroyed by these messengers of a loving God. The women appeared to have more control over their feelings than the men, so after sitting a short time with everyone else, they stood and, as if embarrassed by their inadequacy, patted the heads and shoulders of their menfolk, and left them to grieve.

An hour later, Mort and Hercules, followed by mother, father and lover, carried the young corpse on a bier to a quiet part of the forest where the other six savages had used a mechanical digger to prepare a very deep pit that would not be disturbed by any normal activity. Perses was passed gently down to Hylas, who laid him out, naked as the day he was born, in the earth that had sustained him. Hercules pulled Hylas out and handed shovels to the three weeping mourners who covered the body in earth, pleased to be able to perform this last act of love. Zadig then completed the task and they strewed the grave with leaves, twigs and other natural debris until it became part of the forest floor again.

'Perses is at one with the nature he loved,' Aristo whispered taking the hands of his wife and Alfred.

No one spoke on the way back.

Meanwhile, in the Hercules room, Perses' bed and furniture had been moved next to Aristo's, by men who understood that the two mourning men needed each other. After fifteen minutes of sleepless tossing Alfred was drawn into Aristo's bed, where they comforted each other. Morning found them deep asleep in each other's arms, to the relief of their friends. Now both men would recover completely.

Two days after the interment, Penelope and Aristo stood up during breakfast, thanked everyone for their sympathy and understanding, and begged them to now put it all behind them and carry on as if nothing had happened.

'Please make jokes. Laugh. Have fun and dance and play, otherwise we are constantly reminded of what has happened and that is the road to madness. We can never forget Perses, and we are wiser because of what happened, but done is done. We must move on.'

Nods of agreement, tinged with embarrassment.

'In the great scheme of human folly our tragedy is but one of billions,' Aristo said softly. 'In the two and a half centuries since Australia was colonised our governments have committed almost total genocide against the oldest living culture on the planet, and sent innocent young men into every foreign war they could get into—constantly fighting, bombing, murdering, maiming, burning and destroying the lives of innocent people who have the misfortune to live in a country that our country wants to pillage. Millions and millions of parents have grieved like us for their murdered sons and daughters, and millions and millions of sons and daughters have mourned the loss of their innocent parents. Humans are vile, war-mongering predators, ready to follow the loudest megalomaniac into battle, and die for the benefit of the wealthy few who tell them it is their patriotic duty. Penelope, Alfred and I are merely another statistic in the endless horror that humans call civilization. What we're progressing towards is extermination, which is why, like many of you, I've prepared a way to leave this life when living becomes a punishment. But until that time let's enjoy ourselves as if every minute is our last.'

And they did—sort of. But when innocence is lost, pleasure has a brittle edge. Aware now that their lives had no purpose or value to anyone but themselves and immediate friends, they threw themselves into every activity as if by so doing they might regain the simple joy in living so recently lost.

Only five men now went regularly to work in the city, bringing home news and information that assisted them in what limited planning was possible for those who chose not to join the worshippers of invisible gods and mammon. That left a hundred and ten females and eighty-seven males to be kept busy. Fifty eight were young people between the ages of thirteen and eighteen; thirty-three of whom were females in the grip of puberty, hot for sex, spending most of their time working out how to trap the twenty-five young men who, although also sexually active, were usually more interested in bonding with other youths, honing skills and increasing their physical fitness.

As condoms and IUDs were unavailable, the boys were offered a vasectomy, because early withdrawal was not a certain way to prevent pregnancy, and abortions would be traumatic for the girls who, suffused with pregnancy hormones might reverse their rational decision and want to keep the child. Penelope assured the boys there would be no diminution in pleasure, but warned she would do it in such a way that it could never be undone. As not a single person in Oasis wanted to bring a child into this overcrowded, polluted, cruel world, every young man availed themselves of the operation—even the three who were pretty sure they'd always prefer other males.

Frustration, bitchiness and misery were rife among the girls, cooped up with their mothers at night, breathing oestrogen-laden air, all menstruating at the same time; jealous of boys whose fathers took them out to study the stars, swim in the moonlight, trap foxes, and listen to older men speak about a past that was already seeming like fantasy.

The girls offloaded some of their discontent through the writing of an apparently endless series of exotic 'gothic' dramas in which innocent young virgins were led astray by older men, raped and rescued by a handsome younger hero to whom she gave herself with total abandon. There was no shortage of willing actors and actresses of all ages to take these roles, which proved a convenient way for Fidel and Hylas to experience sex with a female. Both Arnold and Hercules were pleased to learn it was only the sight of their grinning faces in the audience that had made arousal possible. Neither brother thought it necessary to repeat the act—they knew when they were well off.

It wasn't long before the audience tired of watching their daughters copulate on stage, usually with several men, so a deputation asked Mort to select more intellectually stimulating plays, while encouraging the girls to take boys to the 'club house' at night, or find a pleasant glade in the forest during the day. The girls were willing, but the youths, who'd never been indoctrinated with the notion that sex was a dirty activity to be performed in the dark in private, found the act more real, more exciting and accompanied by more earth-shattering orgasms when one or two of their mates were also doing it—or watching.

To compound the problem, when alone with a boy many girls became coy and teasing, demanding of attention, wanting to be kissed and petted, sometimes pretending they didn't really want sex, in the misguided belief that it would make their tunnel of love a more attractive prize. Perhaps in the bizarre duplicitous world of their mothers' youth it might have worked, but not with sexually liberated young men who wanted straightforward honesty in sex, as with everything else.

'Either you want it or you don't,' they would snap when the girl played hard to get. 'I can't be bothered with these stupid games.'

But most girls didn't understand, being evolutionarily wired to flirt and tease to make a man prove he really wanted her, because then he would stay around when the baby was born. But there was never going to be a baby. Women had been telling the world for decades they didn't need men, but their bodies hadn't caught up with that fact—if it was a fact. One of Bart's surveys indicated that most married men preferred masturbating to the fuss of intercourse, and most youths gained the most fun and pleasure from group jerk-offs, seeing who could spray the furthest or come the fastest. As one thoughtful young man said, 'Life is far too precarious and complicated to get bogged down in emotional sexual baggage. If you want a fuck, it's quicker, easier and just as much fun to shove your cock into your friend's hole as go through the fuss of getting it into a girl's.'

At one of the evening discussions before sleeping, one of the boys asked the fathers what they thought about females and sex.

'The reason I'm asking,' he said carefully, 'is that the girl I've been screwing doesn't seem to like it much; she prefers talking. She asked me to tell her about myself so she could know what made me tick, or something like that. So I told her personal things, but discovered the next day that she'd told all the other girls and their mothers. It was totally embarrassing. I felt a complete fuckwit when Lobelia's mother came up and said I was strange because I didn't like killing snails and spiders.'

Every married man laughed. 'Why do you think we haven't bothered to fix up the houses, or clean them away and rebuild? We're enjoying our privacy. Anything we say in this room remains for our ears only; at home it was broadcast to the world wide web of women.'

'He's right. Men don't like being the source of gossip and amusement. Our wives are always on to us about rebuilding again, but I tell mine that for the last twenty years more books have been written by women than men, spreading the idea that women are heroes who can do everything men can do and more. They save the planet, drive fighter jets, know all about computers, fly to other planets, rule galaxies, use kung-fu better than the experts. Men, on the other hand, are portrayed as useless sidekicks making stuff-ups the women have to correct. All my life I've been told by females that men are only good for making babies—but we're also useless at that! So I tell her that as females are superior to men, she should get it organised and do it. I'm happy as I am.' He gave a contented laugh. 'It's weeks since she's spoken to me.'

There was universal agreement and consensus on the warning that if a man gets involved with a female he should be prepared to be manipulated, lied to and made to feel inadequate—it being the feminine modus operandi and the cause of wars—both domestic and international.

Everyone made the effort to leave Oasis at least once a month, to confirm their ideas, attitudes and decisions. Several times a week small groups went shopping for supplies. Most small businesses had failed, leaving only the large super stores, now owned and operated by the Christian Kingdom Corporation and subsidiaries. Food was once again in plentiful supply, thanks to a good season on the Tablelands, but the thousands employed in tourism and service industries, which a few years previously was the economic saviour of the country, were now either begging, or working for a pittance in kitchens, street cleaning, serving the burgeoning body of bureaucrats, or maintaining the churches and collapsing infrastructure.

Protectors were everywhere. Menacing. Masked. Instilling fear into even the most innocent heart. Road traffic was composed mainly of service vans and trucks. The relatively few cars were either driven by the chauffeurs of entrepreneurs who had understood how to win favour with the government, or large black limousines and vans bearing the Christian Kingdom Logo— the letters CK twining around a gold cross. Public transport was the norm. Women, in dresses, not trousers, with their hair covered and preferably wearing gloves and stockings could now work and appear in public alone, but few did for fear of protectors and gangs of thieves and robbers living in the decaying ruins of the old town—unemployed, but doing very nicely.

The financial system continued to function as before, although physical notes and coins never appeared. Debit card theft and torture to extract P.I.N. numbers was increasing. Financial stability for the few people who had reasonable savings, was the major reason for the lack of middle-class revolt.

The return to Oasis always felt like a return to sanity, triggering an almost euphoric reaction that increased the enthusiasm with which everyone joined in social activities. As a tribute to Perses, all the youths stopped wearing clothes, as did the fittest married men. Afternoon Tea Dances run by Robert would have raised a few eyebrows in the city, with superbly dressed and coiffed females being swirled around the floor by naked men, performing intricate manoeuvres and complex ensembles, choreographed by Robert and other enthusiastic dancers who also performed on stage at concerts.

Wrestling with Bart and Robert was very popular among the youths, who found that five minutes of straining every muscle and sinew against another body eliminated frustration and repressed anger. Energy was regained while stretching out on the grass and feeling their body relax, reform, recover and prepare itself for the next bout. It was tough and no holds were barred, although biting, scratching, punching and kicking were forbidden, because the aim was to strengthen muscles, not damage them. For the same reason, the head and testicles were off limits. Girls soon lost interest in wrestling with boys after discovering they refused to limit their strength or adjust their holds to accommodate sexual differences. After nearly being split in two when her opponent pulled her legs apart then threw her roughly onto her belly, crushing her breasts, the last female participant withdrew to nurse her pride and wounds, muttering it wasn't fair. If she'd been allowed to kick, scratch, bite and poke his eyes out, she'd have won.

Even when wrestling with each other the girls seemed unable to understand that it was neither a fight, nor a competition, it was an exercise in strength and technique. Thus they couldn't accept being beaten, and afterwards appeared to hate their opponents. Boys, on the other hand, after each bout would lie side by side, best of friends.

Fidel's art classes were always packed, models for life classes were easy to find, landscapes were popular, and several fine murals were emerging on wrecked houses.

Bridge had become the most popular card game thanks to Bart's endeavours, and the tables were always full at the bi-weekly duplicate tournaments.

Arnold's fitness sessions had everyone's heart pressure and rates improving, and his ideas for theatrical tricks and staging added to the already remarkable back-stage equipment, increasing the entertainment quotient of the burgeoning number of plays and other performances. His spare time was always spent with Zadig in the forest, often pulling older people around in the cart.

Hylas was everywhere. Acting, dancing, working in the kitchens and ornamental gardens. But his greatest contribution was working with the kids who now needed a tutor, especially one who listened, let them work things out for themselves, never hurried or made them feel inadequate, and with whom they could safely share their deepest fears and insecurities. He was always available as a companion to those who liked simply talking, dreaming and thinking.

Perses had told Alfred everything about Oasis, so he was unsurprised by the savages, the architecture, the openness. What he was not prepared for was the friendliness, the acceptance, and sleeping in a room full of men who were calm, spoke in low rumbles, took an interest in others but left them alone. He was amused by married men who preferred being with other men rather than their wives, and amazed that they also sometimes slept with and enjoyed sexual activity with their friends. He was amused when someone would reluctantly excuse themselves from a game of darts or similar because 'Monica is threatening to murder me if I don't fuck her.'

The relationship between Alfred and Aristo grew from friendship to lovers in a matter of days, encouraged by Penelope who was worried Aristo would come to her for support. She was able to cope with her own sorrow, but not his as well. She approached them in the dining room and in front of everyone thanked Alfred for being Aristo's friend and said she hoped their relationship was sexual, because it would be an insult to Perses if it wasn't.'

Aristo had grinned, kissed his wife with more affection than he could remember, and took her advice.

'It's funny, Alfred remarked one evening in the afterglow of love, I was eleven years older than Perses, and you're eleven years older than me. He was very like you.

Despite the increasingly erratic weather, life in Oasis carried on almost as if nothing had happened. Alfred tidied up their Internet access, improved privacy, added another layer of security to prevent spying, and created safe links to a dozen alternative news and comment sites that government censors were constantly blocking or taking down. Pointless censorship, because the few who read the blogs were already disaffected. The downtrodden multitudes who should have been learning the truth about the nation, the economy and the source and purpose of all their misery, believed corporate lies and government propaganda in official news bulletins, and so remained in ignorance, convinced that all those who opposed the government were terrorists. The current state of emergency, they were assured, was temporary and things would soon become normal. What the propagandists meant of course, was that things will soon feel normal.

From pirate internet sites, residents learned about the USA invasion of New South Wales to install a government that allowed unimpeded US access to mines and food resources, and would give unquestioning support to USA plans to create a one-world-state in which the Holy Select would be served by heathen slaves, according to prophesies in ancient religious testaments.

The Christian Kingdom had avoided a similar invasion by acceding to every one of the invaders' demands the previous year, in return for trade deals in which high tech electronic and research equipment was swapped for meat and grain, of which the U.S.A. was perilously short due to droughts and fires. The change of government in New South Wales was a relief to the Christian Kingdom, as trade between the states could now resume; but not free movement. That required passports, and only the Select Few were allowed those.

Alfred also took over some of the teaching load from Hylas, and made himself useful in a multitude of other ways.

Thanks largely to the example of the savages and Bart's philosophy discussions, Oasis had become a model pluralistic society in which everyone, male and female, respected everyone else's personal choices. Who someone slept, fondled or enjoyed sex with was no more important than what foods, music books or exercise they preferred, or whether they chose to wear clothes or not. The only important thing was character. They understood that if people accept each other, are honest, straightforward, decent, clean, and independent of mind—not expecting others to do more than their fair share, and give deserved praise, then everything in the garden will be lovely. Of course no one managed to be quite so perfect; the important thing was that they tried to be. Most transgressions can be forgiven if they were unintentional and the transgressor genuinely wants to do better.

Time passed and youths became young adults, fired with the evolutionary drive to test themselves and others and find their own place in whatever human scheme had survived the revolution. Their fathers would plead, their mothers implore, but that didn't dent their son's urge to explore. Perhaps if the residents had been financially impoverished by the political upheavals things might have been different, but there was money a plenty and the transition to subsistence living that so suited adults weary of the insanity of modern life, didn't suit youths who had never experienced the cut and thrust of life on the outside. The more the adults attempted to dissuade them, the more adventure called—too loudly to ignore.

The older boys started hiring cars and visiting boutique night spots frequented by the glitterati—the sons and daughters of Cardinal Dukes, Bishop Barons, Entrepreneurial Barons and other survivors with the wits to cosy up to whatever clique was in power when it came to making money. In bijou Aladdin's Caves, Desert Island hideaways and other equally pretentious nightclubs, they imbibed the usual drugs with the urbane and debonair sons of wealthy entrepreneurs, and flirted with young women endowed with large gentle eyes, flawlessly painted skins, rich red lips, impossibly thick wavy hair, lacquered nails, perfect teeth, and bodies draped in expensive garments designed to arouse, bedecked with jewels intended to impress and seduce.

But exclusivity comes at a price—a shrinking gene pool. The parents of these young mayflies and their suavely well-fed brothers were in a constant quest for suitable spouses for their brilliant offspring. A detailed search of the credentials of the somewhat gauche young men from Oasis yielded a pleasant surprise… their parents were wealthy dropouts with impeccable records in the accumulation of wealth. They searched deeper and discovered the heretofore-invisible enclave called Oasis. Satellite images were enlarged and enhanced until there was little the wealthy rulers and sycophants of the Christian Kingdom didn't know about the habits, residents, and life of the young men, their families and the desirable real estate going to waste. If they owned such a prime spot it'd be covered in desirable dwellings, a golf course and…

In order to get the best husband for their daughter, mothers have always taught them the tricks of seduction; number one being that physical appearance is but the first part of a successful man-snare. Sweet, longing, defenceless smiles will double a randy young man's heartbeat. Gentle fluttering of long eyelashes can trigger copious flows of lubricating pre-cum. And a seductive little pout with full, glossy red lips, accompanied by light fingers running down the young man's shirt front, drains his brain of blood, diverting it to pulse through his penis, against which a proficient exponent of seduction will press herself while dancing, while gazing chastely up at her man with adoring eyes.

Between dances a girl's total helplessness when confronted with the need for a drink, will send her paramour racing to the bar for the most expensive beverage, ready to do anything, to kill himself, to die for her, to drive her home, to take her for a drive the next day, to buy her expensive presents, to do anything for the sake of a smile and the subtle promise of a root—which he could get whenever he felt like it at home in Oasis, at no cost to self respect, from most of his friends, both male and female. But he was beginning to realise that his old friends lacked class. They were little better than animals. He had graduated beyond that vegetative state and was ready to live with the beautiful people.

It was unfortunate that Oasis girls had never become accomplished flirts and seductresses, because if they had, Oasis youths might have learned to see through the shallow façades, and check for the character beneath. Instead, most eligible Oasis bachelors haunting the pleasure palaces, dining with their girlfriend's family, sitting with them at the theatre, going on lavish picnics, and enjoying weekends at country houses in the mountains, their every whim attended to by a myriad of willing servants, imagined that this life, not Oasis, was the real world that their families had been stupid enough to leave.

It was equally unfortunate that Oasis girls had accepted as normal their treatment as social and intellectual equals by boys who usually considered their differences to be valid behavioural alternatives. Equally unfortunate was the lack of emphasis their parents had placed on the consequences of a life devoted to wealth and social prestige at the expense of everything else.

Inevitably, innocent and gullible young Oasis females cajoled their mothers into teaching them to paint themselves, walk, talk and dress seductively and flirt. Then, when invited to join Oasis youths in nights of luxury and earthly delights, they fell for the suave superficiality of good manners and genteel breeding and became putty in the hands of the sons of movers and shakers, imagining a life in which their future husband would be as thoughtful, devoted, generous and loving as during courtship.

Oasis parents desperately attempted to educate their offspring, but it was too late. No logical or illogical arguments or warnings dented the young people's conviction that they had discovered the right future for themselves. In a last ditch attempt, a general meeting was called in the theatre, chaired by Hercules and Bart in the hope that independent advice would be considered. After listening to arguments from both sides, Hercules informed the parents that they should follow their own rules and allow their children to make up their own minds on how to live. Bart nodded agreement and asked the young men how their girlfriends had responded when told the boys had all had permanent vasectomies.

'We haven't told them.'

'Why not?'

'What difference would it make?'

'They might want to have children.'

'No. They wouldn't.'

'Have you asked?'

'We've talked about everything and she agrees with all my ideas—that's how I know it wouldn't make any difference, she loves me for myself. She loves everything about me and I love everything about her too.'

'That's amazing, and makes it even more astonishing that you haven't told her. Are you afraid to?'

'Of course not.'

'Good. Here's the deal.' He gazed at every young man in the auditorium. 'I've discussed this with your parents and they've agreed that you may marry whoever you please, with their blessing, on condition that you tell your girlfriends tomorrow about your permanent infertility.'

'Can't it wait till Friday?'

'No, tomorrow.' He gazed around. 'Do you all agree?'

'Sure, no worries, Ok…' echoed from each youth.

'Good. But remember, if you don't do it tomorrow, then the deal's off and you'll be telling your prospective wives that your parents have cut you out of their will and you are a pauper. Clear?'

The following evening the theatre was filled with angry young men, determined never to trust the word of another female.

Predictably, the experience of the young Oasis men failed to convince the young Oasis women of the perfidy of others, and by the end of the following year twenty-two were married off to wealthy young scions of prominent parents in a series of weddings designed to outdo an Olympic opening ceremony. This exodus, together with twelve females and six males leaving to work and live in the real world of the Christian Kingdom, and the deaths of twenty-one elderly residents, reduced Oasis's population to one hundred and thirty-five.

The visits of the daughters who married became intermittent due to their shame at having a disintegrating marital relationship and their inability to confess to their parents and friends that they hated the superficiality and being little more than an on-call adornment to an increasingly distant and unfaithful husband.

The young people who had chosen to work and live in the city in their own apartments, visited regularly, offloading into unwilling ears their pity for the repressed under-classes on which their wealth and leisure depended, but unable to see what to do about it.

The dead were planted in Oasis next to Perses.

The remaining residents adjusted, as humans always do, and life in Oasis returned to its previous relaxed state in which males and females had their distinct mental and physical spaces and most tensions were eliminated. The young men remained mightily relieved at their escape from unfaithful, superficial wives and the treadmill of life outside, and like their parents allowed their practical lives to develop along with their intellect, emotions and experience, ensuring they were basically contented. They took increasing pleasure in each other's company, in working hard and keeping fit and strong. Wrestling, dancing, theatre, games and reading filled their idle hours, and sexual satisfaction was provided by their friends, including the five remaining single females.

With more room in the dormitories and zero pressure on older people to be good models for their children, life could not have been better.

Hercules was now forty-two, Hylas twenty-six, and the others in between. No savage was slowing down, but they enjoyed the slower pace that gave them more time to appreciate nature and each other.

And then an official notice of eviction arrived from the Reverend Minister for City Planning. The reason? They had discovered there had been minor irregularities in the original permits issued twenty years before, for building a gated estate in the extinct volcanic crater, therefore the entire parcel of land would be resumed by the government, the buildings demolished, and the land sold to citizens who understood the necessity to create jobs for the many, not playgrounds for the few. They had six weeks to object.

Stunned disbelief. Two of the signatories were the husbands of Oasis daughters. When contacted, they were unavailable.

'We are going to fight this.'


'Blow up government buildings.'

'Shoot the officials.'

'Poison the water supply of those bastards!'

'Don't waste even a second thinking about it. These people can and will do exactly as they please. They hope we'll object so they can gloat and make it worse.'

'How can it be worse?'

'They could demand a fine of our entire bank balances. Declare us criminals and throw us in prison and forget about us. We live in a theocratic dictatorship. A religious police state. There is no independent judiciary, no independent press, and no way to object because we would be disputing the order of the big Ju-Ju; and the penalty for that is death. This is what it's been like for most humans for ten thousand years. We'll survive.'

The savages were as thunderstruck as the residents. Six weeks. Minds blank. What could they do? Where could they go? After Oasis, life in the city or anywhere they'd been on their way north would be intolerable. Mort tried to contact his father, but he had disappeared together with his partner. Washed out to sea during a cyclone, seemed the most reliable information.

What to take? They sorted through everything and discovered that the absolutely essential things could be stuffed into a rucksack. So they packed and then carried on as before, although with heightened awareness of the precious life they were leaving.

And then, with two weeks to go, giant bulldozers smashed through the gates, cleared a swathe of destruction straight down to the gardens the residents had tended with such love and care, and proceeded to excavate giant trenches, metres deep, tens of metres wide in the rich volcanic soil. Other bulldozers followed, their giant blades smashing all buildings, temples, pergolas… everything that made Oasis special, before pushing the lot into the vast hole and burying it.

Surprised residents and savages had only enough time to collect their rucksacks and flee. Dressed in their stoutest clothes and shoes they ran to the western boundary, cut holes in the fences, and once outside, bid tearful farewells; the residents trudging to a nearby suburb where they jointly owned three houses, left empty in case of an emergency. One for the men, one for the women and one for socialising. They had begged the savages to join them, but Hercules and his men understood that something as wonderful as Oasis can only arise naturally, and only once. It was time to move on. And move they did, up suburban roads to the edge of the city, then into the forest, camping for the night near a picnic spot at the base of the escarpment. It wasn't ideal, but wandering through rough forest in the dark would be foolish.

No one could sleep. Their brains refused to blank out the desecration. A lifetime wouldn't be enough to accept that humans could be so callous. They sat, pressed up against each other in the dark and talked. Logically, it made sense for the invaders to clear away as quickly as possible. Obviously the authorities had been preparing this eviction for a long time. But…was that really the way to do it? Possibly. After all, every individual only suffers once, so logically, ten thousand people suffering is the same as one person suffering. No one can suffer for anyone else; we can just feel. Feel what?

They eventually gave up trying to understand and agreed that the only honourable reaction possible was shame. Shame at being human. Shame that the superb intelligence, investigative skills imagination, invention and technical wizardry of which their fellow humans were capable had been used to destroy the organic structures from which they evolved and that sustained them, rendering the lives of other humans miserable in the process. They fell asleep feeling as if they were in an insane asylum from which there was no escape. A place with no rules, no protection except one's own cunning. Surely, the sooner humans extinguished themselves the better?

Three days later the entire crater of Oasis had been cleared. Not a tree, shrub or evidence that any human had lived there remained. The hole that contained it all was covered, and the soil compressed.

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